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Just Go On and Keep Believing That

slipstream by Davina Aw

The hitchhiker was sitting by the road with an arm raised ramrod straight, a curious silhouette cast in black against the fading light of dusk.

It was only as Sarah drove nearer that she realized that she was being watched. But there was something harmless about the hitchhiker, something almost desperate, and Sarah found herself slowing to a stop and lowering the window.

“Are you all right?” she called out.

The hitchhiker scrambled up , a little unsteady, and staggered toward the car. Female. Late teens. Hair short and half-heartedly spiked, crooked shades not quite hiding unfocused eyes, clothes well-traveled and worn down.

“Does this ride go out?” the hitchhiker rasped, grabbing the lowered window for support, not quite looking at Sarah. She swallowed, and with a slightly clearer voice: “You’re the first vehicle I’ve seen. Does it go out?”

“What do you mean, ‘out’?”

The hitchhiker gestured vaguely. “Out,” she repeated, frustration edging her voice. “You know… out of this place.”

Sarah hesitated. “I could take you to the city—”

Nods. “Yeah. Okay. City’s good.” The hitchhiker pulled open the passenger door and slunk into the backseat. Closed the door and slouched down.

“What were you doing out there?” Sarah asked as she started the car moving again.

“Exile.”

“On a road? I know it’s fairly empty as roads go, but—”

“Planet.”

Sarah spared a glance backwards. The hitchhiker was gazing idly out the window, shades still crooked.

“Planet,” Sarah echoed.

“Yeah.”

Just my luck, Sarah thought. A nice quiet drive in the countryside, and I end up picking up some weird kid who got lost on the way to the Star Trek convention.

Sarah jumped slightly in her seat as the hitchhiker suddenly leaned forward and grasped the other headrest in a loose hug. “Hey, you ever been to the halls of Navoren?”

Sarah glanced at her, then back at the road. “No, I don’t think I’ve even heard-“

Sarah looked back at her. One eye half-exposed by the shades, its triangular pupil shining black against brownish-gold…

“Well, yeah, it’s great,” the hitchhiker continued, suddenly animated. “They’ve got these really great bathrooms with high walls and all, and the piped water comes straight from the healing springs so you don’t have to climb all the way up the mountain to get to them.

“They did that with the Akrana fountain of Youth, too. It comes in bottles now. Affordable. Some older folks complain that it’s so commercialised nowadays but they buy ’em anyway ’cause otherwise you have to fight dragons and stuff.

“And the library there has only about a dozen shelves, but they say it has all the books there ever were. I never managed to work out how to get to them, but maybe it’s just advertising.”

The hitchhiker paused to take a breath.

“But still. Great place to stay. Great food, great rooms. Great people. Until they find you hanging around with cross-worlders and exile you to some stupid planet. No offense,” she quickly added. After a moment’s hesitation, she released the headrest and slumped back into the seat.

Sarah continued driving. Now and then she cast looks at her passenger through the rear-view mirror, but the hitchhiker did nothing more, as though exhausted by the rapid monologue.

“What’s your name?” Sarah asked. Safe question.

“Avenn.”

“I’m Sarah.”

Nods. “Hi.” Not looking at her.

Those eyes, Sarah thought, forcing her hands steady on the steering wheel. Triangular pupils. Maybe it was a trick of the light. Or a pair of special contact lenses.

“I’m going as far as Kenselton,” Sarah said. “But I could drop you off in the city if you like.”

A shrug in the rear-view mirror.

“Do you have anywhere to go?” Sarah asked.

“They took all my stuff. My ITDT, my pathfinder, my converter.” A pause. Avenn looked at Sarah. “What currency do you use here? Is time valid?”

“We use dollars,” Sarah said. “Dollars and cents. Notes,” she added, though she didn’t quite know why. “Paper notes, and, you know–round metal pieces.”

“How do you get those?”

In the rear-view mirror Sarah saw Avenn staring at her with a genuine puzzlement.

The kid’s just drunk or high, Sarah told herself. Ran away from home, overdosed on something bad, got dumped out on a road by so-called friends.

But those eyes.

And so, somehow, Sarah found herself explaining Earth’s financial system to the hitchhiker in the backseat of her car.

They reached the city two hours later, street lamps streaking gold past the windows as other cars joined in before and behind. Neon advertisements blaring from buildings. People milling in and out of lighted stores, hunched figures trooping through darkened alleys.

“Busy place,” Avenn commented, peering out the window.

“Yeah, that’s the city for you.”

“Guess I can manage. I’ve lived this long.”

“How long?” Sarah asked, partly joking.

Avenn shrugged. “I can’t remember. You can drop me off here.”

“Sure you’ll be all right?”

“Yeah.”

At the next red light, Avenn hopped out, the door slamming shut with an odd finality.

Sarah watched the hitchhiker’s shuffling form merge into the mass of the night time crowds. For a brief moment Sarah thought of ditching the car, running out and grabbing Avenn; begging her to tell all she knew about Navoren and Akrana and dragons and converters…

But then the lights changed.

Sarah reminded herself that there was no such thing as other worlds. She stepped down on the accelerator and tried to forget, and she drove herself on home.

Copyright January 2010 by Davina Aw

Davina Aw lives in Singapore. Her fiction has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

[Return to the January 2010 stories]

6 Responses

  1. […] Just Go On and Keep Believing That […]

  2. I loved this, the sense possibility and doubt. Keep up the good work Davina.

  3. Nicely done, Davina. The writing is terrific and for all the other-wordliness it’s believable.

  4. Triangular pupils, eh? Had me hooked from the outset and left me wanting to know more. Good stuff!

  5. Great read!!! Thanks!

  6. This is great. Very atmospheric, and I like the ambiguous ending.

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