The Reach of the Light by Kieren Westwood




By Kieren Westwood


When that car rolled out of the darkness, there were four people there, watching it come. The gas station roof was lit with new halogen bulbs. The night after the day after they were fitted, someone remarked it was bright enough to read the paper out there, even late on.

Come the next night, when the rush from the factories closing had died down, Trevor, who owned the place, did exactly that. He set up a camping table and a chair and read the paper, waiting on customers. Not long after that, Clyde and his wife Mandy and their daughter Charlene came and sat down with him and played cards and got headaches. Charlene’s boyfriend John, or James, or something, had taken his leave to walk the long, lonely road home a little before, on finding Charlene more interested in Blackjack than in him.

“I’ll stick,” Clyde said. He was the type of person to stick on a thirteen, just in case. Charlene knew that and was fundraising for a trip out someplace where everything didn’t smell like horseshit all the time. So far, she was five dollars up.

“I wonder if they could see us from space,” Mandy said. She’d been gazing out from under the station and into what looked like pure black while the others looked at cards and didn’t look at other cards. “With it being so bright, I mean, and not much else around.”

Trevor folded his paper over and tossed it onto the oil-stained ground beside his chair. They all had different camping chairs and none of them were quite at the same level, so it kind of felt like they were all giants sitting on different-sized hills.

“Why don’t you head out there and wave? See if anyone waves back?” he asked.

“Alright, I will!” Mandy pushed out her tongue towards old Trevor. Mandy was the kind of person who said, “hit me” on twenty, just in case.

Meaning only to stretch her legs and take in some air without the gas smell, she sauntered out from under the roof and stood awhile in the dark.

“Goddamnit,” Clyde said, he tossed his cards onto the table. Charlene said absolutely nothing and tried not to look too cheerful taking the money in case the game drew to a sudden close. She was still a little below target and the night was young.

“You know, some European fellas taking over the bread factory next month. Says in the paper,” Trevor said, mainly to Clyde, but Charlene was the one who looked at him and nodded. Trevor took it as encouragement to expand on the subject.

“Awful lot of trucks come by from that place. Sure hope he don’t change the delivery routes or nothin’.”

“All the stores are still in the same place Trevor, how else they gonna drive them there, underground?” Clyde asked.

“Well don’t take your losses out on me Clyde, I’m only concerned for my bus.”

“Hey, there’s a car coming,” Mandy called over from just beyond the reach of the light.

“They do tend to do that. We’re a gas station you see,” Trevor said without looking up. He was fishing about on the floor for his glasses, which he could have sworn were on top of the paper.

“Oh really? Well, do they usually have one headlight out and swerve all around the road like that?”

The engine was screeching too, and as the car came closer, the others stood around Mandy, a stride or two into darkness with the station lit up behind them.

“You figure he’s drunk?” Clyde said. “Do we do something?”

“What?” Mandy asked.

They all decided to stand at the side of the road and wait for the car to reach them. Eventually, it did and the dark had hidden an awful lot of damage. The windscreen was good and cracked and the front bumper was dragging on the ground on one side. It did, however, appear capable of braking at least, though when it did, it sounded like an orchestra falling down some stairs.

The driver looked drunk and he was having trouble focussing on them all standing there gawping at him as he struggled out of the car.

“I think it’s possible I hit a deer or something,” the driver said. He sank back and leaned on the car.

“I’ve never seen a deer in this town in forty-two years,” Trevor said.

“Charlene, which way did James walk?”

 

Kieren Westwood is writer of short fiction and novels usually focused on the meeting point of literary and crime fiction. He also shares writing experience and flash fiction on his YouTube channel.


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