Phantasmal

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It was late when the pavement turned to dirt. Rachel had finally started to doze, when the clunking and shaking of a hectic ride up a rocky first road woke her up. She'd been leaning her face against the window. She blinked her eye open slowly at first, but as her mind registered what she was looking at, a tingling energy zapped up and down her spine. She jerked upright looking around wildly.

The car was clamoring up a steep incline. The three of them were tilted at a diagonal, as if they were seated inside of a roller-coaster, not a car. The road was unrealistically narrow. If it even was a road. There was just enough room for the car to push through, but not without slapping into branches that grew into the thoroughfare. On either side of the car, the widows were struck with one branch after another. They made a thick whap! sound and the windows were painted with green and brown. It was a little like being inside of a car wash.

"Are we almost there?" Rachel asked.

Her voice didn't sound like it was coming from inside of her.

Tierney looked back over her shoulder and smiled.

"Yeah, it's not too far up ahead," she said. "You excited to see this place?"

Rachel watched Tierney's expectant face. She wrestled about inside, flipping over the events of the past few moments. She didn't know she was going to have to be excited. She didn't know that excitement was going to be required of her. Tierney's face told her that she wasn't really asking. She was looking for the correct reaction.

She dragged a smile onto her face. The muscles in her cheeks and lips fought her the whole way.

"Yes," that voice of hers said again. "I am excited. Very excited."

"It's not too much further," Tierney said. "Maybe another five."

Rachel nodded, twisting her hands together in her lap. She wondered what Nan was doing right now. She supposed that Nan must be too upset about her mom being sick to worry about her. She'd only met Grandma Bridges a handful of times. She'd always seemed really crabby, as if she didn't want their company. She only wanted to be left alone. Maybe she wouldn't be sad about dying then.

Dying didn't seem so bad...not really. Rachel wondered if her brain would shut off when she died. Then she wouldn't have to think or be afraid any more. She couldn't remember a time when existing was easy. If she could just step out of her head, just for a minute, then maybe she would be okay. That wouldn't eliminate her problem of spontaneous combustion. That could happen at any moment to any person, but nobody else seemed as concerned about it as she was. And even if it never ever happened, she would never get away from it. It would always be this thing that she was waiting for. Every day it didn't happen was just a day that it hadn't happened yet. 

The trees finally started to come away from the car. The road, and again, if it could even be called that, widened. The headlights shone out into the still darkness and all at one, both the trees and the road ended entirely. They drove into a large open space. Peering around, Rachel guessed that the space had to be about four times the size of the recess area behind her school; the combined space of the playground area, large field of green, and then beyond the fence, an expansive plot of land comprised of sandy yellow earth and oblong patches of hardened red clay. It went back almost as far as Rachel's vision could make out, but just as it all started to become fuzzy there were ghosts of silhouettes. A metal fence and the peaked roofs of small ranch houses. It was the largest chunk of outside that Rachel had as a reference, and this dark clearing in the center of woods had to be at least four of these. Rachel could hardly see the trees in the distance.

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