ECHOLALIA


(Note: This is a series of short stories I’m uploading onto my site. You can find the other short stories on this page.)

(Additional Note: bahaha this is the short story that I hate most because it’s the one I wrote at my youngest BUT funnily enough this is the one that is actually published in a tiny anthology put together by a New Zealand Writing Society for high schoolers. You can find the anthology here but honestly I’m about to post you the story below for free—albeit the unedited version—anyway so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)


ECHOLALIA

The early morning sun burned her eyes.

Thisbe stood right in front of the trunk as she attempted to type out a last text message with a one hand. Her parents yelled for her to hurry from the front seats. The bustling of traffic was beginning in the distance. Thisbe threw her phone into her open bag on the floor, zipped it up, and heaved up on the straps.

A horrible, grating sound of metal against metal echoed from the exterior of the car.

Thisbe stumbled back, pulling the bag away.

“Oops.”

***

“Dad, you’re going the wrong way!”

Thisbe was thrown hard against the door as Frank swerved to fix his mistake.

“Give your sister the map,” he said, gripping the wheel tightly.

The trees blurred past. The sun casted its last, muted rays along the ridges of the faraway hills.

“But–”

She was interrupted by her mother. “Frank, Nadia has her hands full with the fixing the GPS that you broke.”

Frank casted a glance at Meredith, who had placed her delicate fingers onto the bridge of her nose.

“Besides,” Meredith went on smoothly, “we’re on the right path now.”

A horrifying wheeze for breath echoed from Nadia immediately. Concerned, Thisbe looked over to her sister right as Nadia jerked her head up, eyes wide and wholly dark under the light.

Pothole!” Nadia screamed. 

Thisbe cringed back. Nadia’s voice was like broken glass, piercing the quiet hum of their car.

That was the first word she had spoken all day.

Frantically, Frank wrenched on the wheel, avoiding the giant ditch in the road.

He hadn’t even cleared a few metres down the side route when another car shot out from the intersection. Frank slammed down on the brakes, but not before the other car skimmed their bumper, scared a scream out of Meredith.

As it continued without pause, Frank was rolling down the window like his life depended on it.

“Learn to drive!” he roared into the night. 

The other car was already long gone.

They jerked back into movement.

Nadia had retreated back into her little nook.

Night had fallen. Only the road ahead was visible; a smooth, black blanket shrouded everything the headlights couldn’t touch.

“Nadia?” Thisbe tried. No answer. Thisbe turned her head away, gazing out the window again.

They rolled to a stop under a haze of the red.

There was only the clicking and beeping of Nadia’s GPS as they waited under the dilapidated traffic light.

“That’s weird,” Frank commented after a while.

“That the light still isn’t changing?” Meredith said.

“No,” Frank replied, fiddling with the dashboard. “The clock has stopped. The digital display is supposed to run on the battery power.”

“Well, what did I tell you about buying second-hand?” Meredith muttered under her breath. Louder, she said, “Just go. There aren’t any cars coming and there’s a queue starting up behind us.”

Thisbe startled. She swivelled at her waist to see dozens of headlights beaming back at her through the rear window. “At this hour?”

“Let’s go, Frank!” Meredith snapped. 

Frank pushed down on the pedal, and ran the red light.

Thisbe leant down to examine the map again. Squinting, she held the map closer, unsure if she was imagining the lines and colours almost blurring together or if it were a trick of the light. Thisbe rubbed her eyes, holding back a yawn.

Frank pressed down on the gas slowly. He rolled up his window, surrendering any attempts to stick his head out and distinguish some bearings outside.

“Thisbe, where are we going?”

“Um—” Thisbe forced herself to focus, but for the strangest moment, she couldn’t keep her gaze on the map. “Straight ahead.”

“Are you sure?” Her father glanced back for a moment. “Because—”

In a flash of a second, the interior of whole car was illuminated with white light. 

“Frank, watch out!” Meredith screamed. 

Frank didn’t react fast enough, but thankfully the other car did. Thisbe’s hand flew to her heart as the other car screeched against the road in its haste to stop.

Faintly, an angry male voice yelled something out at them. And Thisbe could have sworn they had said Learn to drive!

“This is why you keep your eyes on the road!” Meredith chided.

Frank made a noise deep in his throat. “Nothing happened, did it? I know what I’m doing.”

Thisbe blinked. Once. Twice. Had she heard correctly?

“Thisbe, directions,” Frank snapped, bringing her back.

Thisbe glanced down. She thought the main road kept going forward, though if she was honest, she had already lost track of where they were. She wished Nadia would hurry up with the GPS.

She held the map up to the bare-bone moonlight that still clutched at the horizon.

“Take the next left that comes up,” Thisbe said. 

They drove for what felt like eons, bumping along gravel and then back onto smooth ground. Nadia had begun humming a cheery tune, taking the batteries from the GPS and shaking the device. 

Thisbe winced.

“Are you nearly done?” she asked her sister gently. 

Nadia looked at her. Blinked. Shrugged.

Thisbe crossed her arms and leaned against her seat. They slowed down as a queue appeared before them.

“Where are all these cars coming from?” Frank demanded, tapping his thumb against the wheel.

“There must be another light ahead,” Meredith commented. 

Seconds ticked by, but the queue did not move. The vehicles stretching ahead of them were uniform mounds of dark shadows under the weak shine of the waxing moon now high in the night.

Thisbe frowned, undoing her seatbelt.

“Dad,” she said, leaning into the front. “Turn your headlights onto full beam.”

Frank furrowed his eyebrows. “May I ask why?”

Thisbe reached over, and did it herself. 

The car in front had the exact same scratch at the base that Thisbe made with her bags this morning, sitting just to the right of the number plate. 

DED129

They also had the exact same number plate.

Slowly Thisbe dipped the headlights again, and sat back into her seat. If she peered closely, she could see movement in the car in front, a silhouette in the backseat reaching over to their companion.

She couldn’t quite tell if it was a hug or attempted strangulation.

Thisbe’s hands were shaking as she attempted to open her door. It did not budge, not even when she thumped her foot against the bottom viciously.

“What the hell is this?” Frank demanded.

The only answer was Nadia starting a staccato rhythm against the dark screen of the GPS with her fingers.

She was mumbling something over and over again, and Thisbe was so surprised at this conscious stream of sound that she leaned closer to hear what her sister was trying to say.

“Nothing else remains on the Earth we knew.”

Thisbe scrambled away, gasping for air, smashing her fists against the window. Ten, twenty attempts, and they just kept bouncing back like it was rubber rather than glass.

Another car rumbled into the space behind them, stopping. Its headlights lit through their rear window as the beam turned up to full, and then darkened again in dip.

Thisbe screamed.

 

FIN

 

© Chloe Gong

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