"Somewhere in Indiana," I said. "Hell if I know where. The directions don't give the names of the little towns here, they just tell me what routes to turn on."
We'd left the interstate almost an hour ago, following the map I'd gotten off the internet earlier in the day. It was after three in the morning local time (the clock in the dash was still set for New York time, and was an hour ahead), and the road we were driving down was pitch black. There were no houses, no streetlights, and not even any traffic going in either direction other than our little blue Ford Focus. My headlights illuminated the edges of the road, revealing brush and the occasional small gnarled tree.
"God," the Muse said. "Where does Miranda live? Hooterville?"
I chuckled. "You said 'hooter.'"
"Boobieboobieboobieboobie," she said. "There. Feel better?"
"Much." We passed through a patch of thick fog, and I slowed the car a bit. "Man, I haven't seen fog in a long time. I miss it."
"This isn't San Francisco fog, though. It's too... dry? Does that make any sense? San Francisco fog is more fluid, like it's dancing in slow motion. This stuff just sort of hangs there."
I pulled my arm in away from the window. "It's kind of sticky, too. That's a little creepy."
"Probably a pesticide cloud," the Muse said. "I hear that farmers in the boonies like to spray at night, because they can use the more deadly chemicals without getting caught."
"You suck, Muse," I said, and put my arm back out the window. "And if I get a chemical burn, I'm going to beat you with the stump of what's left of my arm."
She snorted. "Some people would pay good money to get smacked with a stumpy arm. You don't scare me."
I leaned forward suddenly and peered at a road sign that emerged glowing from the fog. "Is this our turn? Check the directions, I can't remember."
"Jesus!" the Muse exclaimed. "What's that fucking smell!" She began waving at her nose. "My eyes are stinging!"
"It's cow shit, Muse. Nature's perfume. Check the goddamn map, would you? I need to know if I turn here or not." I slowed the car to a crawl.
She turned on the overhead light and checked our map against the sign in front of us. "Oh man, keep driving. This isn't us, and thank God for that, because the smell is starting to burn the skin off my body."
I sped back up to cruising speed. "How far is it, since you have the map?"
She turned off the light and put the map on the floor. "How should I know? That road wasn't in your directions. We just keep driving until you we get to the road we want. It could be around the next bend in the road. It could be in fucking Winslow, Arizona."
"Don't start." We drove on, I don't know how long. Time tends to stand still when you're driving through a thick fog, when there is no scenery passing you to mark your travel by. Eventually, minutes or hours later, we came across another signpost, another road.
"That's the one," the Muse said. "Turn left here."
"Got it," I said, and put my signal on, even though there was nobody around to see it. We drove on, still in the pitch blackness of agricultural roads. After another ten minutes or hours, a soft glow appeared on the roadside. As we got closer, the lines of a building began to take shape: a drug store.
"Thank God," the Muse said. "Civilization."
"Well, a Walgreens, anyway," I said. We drove past it, and other buildings began to appear, scattered at first like the houses on a Monopoly board, then more and more tightly grouped. Streetlights and sidewalks followed, and then, finally, some scattering of traffic. "We have arrived," I said. "Look for a gas station. I have to call Miranda and tell her we're in town. We've got to wake her up or we'll be sitting in the car outside her apartment until dawn."
She pointed ahead of us. "There you go. Chevron. I'm assuming they have a phone."
The station was on the corner, and there indeed was a pay phone, on the edge of the property. "Let me give her a ring," I said, "and I'll be right back." The Muse nodded and dismissed me with a wave of her hand. I took a pile of change from the cup holder and went to the phone, lifted the receiver, slipped two quarters into the slot. A recorded voice told me, "Thank you for using an MCI pay phone," and then I was promptly disconnected. My change was not returned to me.
"Shit," I said, and dug out my calling card. Fucking phones, I thought. I dialed in, used my PIN number, and redialed Miranda's number. This time, the phone rang on the other end. After two rings, there was a click, and Miranda's voice, thick with sleep, mumbled, "Yah-h'lo?"
"Hey," I said. "It's us. We finally made it. We're about five minutes from your place."
"Mmm-yeah." She cleared her throat with a soft cough. "I'm asleep. Come on up. Park next to the pool, I'm right next to it."
"Right. We'll be right there. Don't go back to sleep."
"No promises. It's... Jesus, it's after four in the morning! You two took your time."
"It was an eight hour drive, so you can just bite me."
"Get up here," she said, "and I will." She hung up the phone with a click, and I returned to the car.
While I had been on the phone, the Muse had somehow managed to change out of her jeans and into a pair of dark shorts. "She up?"
I nodded. "She's waiting for us. Where's the map say to go?"
The Muse looked at the map, looked at the cross streets bordering the station, then at the map again. Finally, she pointed to the right. "Go that way. We're about five miles from her apartment."
"Okay," I said, and started the car and pulled out onto the dark city street.
The Muse looked around as we drove, passing closed shops and empty parking lots. "Small towns are weird at night. They always look like the part in zombie movies right before every living dead person comes pouring out of nowhere to try to eat the hero."
"If I see any, I'll be sure to put the windows up. I don't want you losing your head on this trip."
"Very nice of you," she said.
We kept moving forward, and the shops gave way to houses, then to golf courses, and finally to expensive-looking apartments complexes. "Are you sure this is the right way?" I asked. "I don't think Miranda lives in quite such lavish surroundings."
She peered at the map again. "Well, I thought this was the right way. The directions said it was right."
"We were supposed to be five miles away, Muse. According to the odometer, I've gone seven."
"Shit," she said. "We'd better go back then."
"Obviously," I said. I pulled into a driveway, backed out, turned us around the way we had come. "You're not much of a navigator."
She snorted. "Fucking internet directions, that's what the problem is. You should have bought a real map."
"Don't blame me for your lack of skills." We went back the way we had come, all seven miles, back again to the same station I had made the phone call from earlier. "Gimme that map," I said. I studied it. "Yeah, see, when you told me to turn right out of the station? We were supposed to go straight. Good one, Magellan."
"Piss off and get us there already. I'm tired and snippy."
"Could have fooled me," I said, and left the station lot again, this time headed straight. We passed more shops, a Target, a McDonald's, some local shops with names I didn't recognize. Again the shops gave way to homes, and again apartments, but then these turned into trees and brush, and eventually there were no buildings at all.
"Gee," the Muse said. "Having a little trouble?"
"Fuck you." I pulled over to the side of the road and turned on the overhead light, checking the map once more. "Five miles. It says five miles right here." I looked at the odometer. "We've already gone six. What the fuck?"
She made a spinning gesture in the air with her finger. "Turn us around, we'll try again."
"Dammit," I said. I flipped the car back toward town, and in a few minutes we were once more at the Chevron station. "Wait here a minute," I said, and got out of the car, leaving the engine running. I went to the phone, and dialed Miranda's number once more.
"Where are you?" she asked when I said hello. "You should have been here fifteen minutes ago."
"We've gotten lost twice now. Where the hell do you live? We keep coming back to this Chevron station."
"What else is there?" she asked.
I looked around. "Um. A CVS pharmacy. I see a Wendy's and a Taco Bell."
"See the Target two blocks up?"
"I live across the street. Make a left at the light, and the apartment is right there."
"Two blocks," I said.
"Yeah, two blocks. You know, this is the sort of reason they invented cell phones."
"Shut it," I said. "We'll be there in five minutes." I hung up before she could get another word in, and returned to the car.
"Find it?" the Muse asked.
I nodded again.
"Let me guess," she said. "It's like right around the corner, yeah?"
Again, a nod.
She forcefully blew a gust of air out between her lips. "Well, start driving. I won't tell anybody we got lost if you won't."
"Deal," I said.
"Totally a deal."
We pulled out of the lot and headed for Miranda's apartment.