Drama Mystery Science Fiction

The car moves steadily forward, smooth on the newly paved roads. The sky is a dark purple, fading into dusty pink, the trees just silhouettes against the night. The stuffy smell of musty cigarettes is replaced by the sweet night air, pine needles and a light breeze as I roll down the window. Mars sleeps in the back, curled up on the leather bench. The trunk holds our three suitcases full of clothes and books, a Trader Joe’s bag with food- apples and bread, a can of beans, bottles of water. Our only belongings. Mars whines as I accelerate, speeding down the road, the horizon flashing by us, the desperate need to get away catching up to me. She props up on one elbow, her wavy brown hair cut to her shoulders, messy, eyes sleepy, clothes that had been put on in a hurry, unmatching, a blanket thrown over her legs, dirty orange flip flops lying in a pile on the floor of the car. 

“Where are we daddy?” She asks, voice still drowsy. I swallow down the lump in my throat.

“I’m not sure.” This is the truth, or at least mostly. 

“Are we near Grandma’s?” 

“No honey.” And that too is the truth- my mother’s house is in the complete opposite direction. “Go back to sleep. We’ll stop soon at a motel when we get to a town.” 

“Ok daddy.” She settles back down, and I feel that pain in my chest whenever I see her lying there, so small. So innocent. And I wish I could do better for her. Wish I’d tried harder. Wish I hadn’t done what I had. 

We’d been on the road for eighteen hours without stopping, except for the occasional gas station and restroom. I look outside. The forest is turning to fields, which means there’s sure to be some sort of town coming up, though it might not be for yet another hour. Mars snores softly in the back, snuggling into her blanket. I look away, eyes glued to the road.

Out of nowhere, a city reveals itself on the horizon.

“Mars?” I ask, hushed, trying not to wake her too suddenly. She sits up, rubs her eyes.


“Can you check the map please, I think you had it back there.” She bends down, peeking under the seat, pulling out the map, holding it up so I can see. 

“This one?” She asks. I nod. 

“Good. Now can you find…” I squint to see the ‘Welcome to…’ sign better. “Erutuf on the map?” She flicks on the reading light she has back there. I continue driving as she searches. 

“I don’t see it.” She concentrates, holding the map at different angles. “Where would it be close to?”

“Um. Harrisville was the last town we passed.” I think back, then nod, confirming what I’d just said.

“I found that one…But it says the next after that is Leonard Town.” She looks again to be sure. “Yah. There’s nothing between them. Maybe it was just built?” She guesses, but I shake my head no.

“Do you see it Mars? Some of those buildings are huge, practically skyscrapers. It looks almost as big as Cambridge.” I only got that map last month. It can’t be that outdated. 

“It’s not here daddy.”

“It must be. Let me have a look.” I pull over to the side of the road as she passes me the map. I look it over. But she’s right. “We might as well ask around.” I figure, shifting the gears back into drive, pulling back onto the quiet highway. We haven’t passed another car for what feels like miles. 

We glide down the road, passing the sign. The city starts off as small houses, as we drive, I start to recognize the scenery. I rub my eyes. Blink. But nothing’s changed. It’s like one of those dreams where you can’t move, but you need to. You’re frantic, your body won’t respond to your brain and no matter how much you try, it just doesn’t work.

Something’s different about this place though, even if at first glance it looks just like Cambridge. It’s newer. Fresher. Tall glass buildings, intricate details in the trees, bushes shaped like eagles or butterflies or cats, cafes with clean white surfaces mixed in with the old ones, dark brown brick. 

“Daddy, are we back home?” Mars asks, frowning.

“I don’t know Mars.” I reply, and that too is the truth. 

“I need to pee.” She complains. I know we’ll have to find a place to stop, but part of me doesn’t want to. It makes me uneasy. It’s creepy, because it looks exactly like Cambridge, but an improved version of. There’s no one outside either. It’s dead quiet except for the hum of the engine. No cars rushing down the road. No drunks singing off tune. No teenagers lurking about. I scan the surroundings for somewhere to go to the bathroom. Quick. In and out of here as fast as possible. I can feel my eyelids like bricks weighing them down, but I’m sure I can make it. Just to Leonard Town and then we’ll stop some place where I can catch up on sleep. There’s no dep around, none at all. There’s a cafe, but all the lights are off inside, closed for the night. 

“Now daddy, please, I really need to pee.” The only place that seems to be open is the hotel. The Hyatt Regency, where I’d stayed the first time I went to Cambridge, before I moved there with Mars, six and a half years old. She’s eight now. Time passes fast.

The parking lot is deserted, but warm light beckons me from inside. I turn the car into the lot, spot closest to the hotel, stop the car. I unfold my tall frame from the seat and Mars hops out from the back, her backpack thrown on. I grab mine, sitting next to me in the front seat, our one-night packs. Head toward it. The glass doors are tall and luminous, made of glass. We step inside. Mars’ jaw drops at the sight. There arel glass elevators, shaped like diamonds that don’t seem to be attached to anything, they go up, down and around. But there’s no one on them. The check-in desk is in the center of the room, smooth light wood. A smiling dark skinned woman stands behind it, smiling. Another man is checking in. There are waterfalls, calming. Mars runs over to one, sticks her hand under the rush of water, letting it pool into the glass basin, intricately carved with floral patterns. It seems to start on the top floor, you can see all the way up. It’s an indoor courtyard we’re standing in, upstairs there are rooms after rooms, at least twelve floors. According to the pictures, on the top floor there’s a swimming pool under a glass skylight with a jacuzzi and spa and three water slides. Mars, having momentarily forgotten her need to pee, runs up to my side, entranced. 

“Look at this place.” She wonders, blue eyes bright. I agree with her, it’s beautiful. But something still seems off. It’s too perfect. It’s too similar to Cambridge, it’s too unsettling. A chill wanders down my spine. I try to shake it off. It’s fine. I tell myself. It’s fine. Just stay the night, then you’re out of here. Just one night. It can’t hurt, can it? You never have to come back, you don’t have to think about it twice. Just enjoy the peace, the break of driving. 

“Daddy, where are the bathrooms?” Mars asks, remembering her need. The man finishes at the counter, and we step forward. The woman answers Mars’ question

“Hello. Welcome to Hyatt Regency hotel. The bathrooms are that way.” She points down a clean carpeted hallway to our left that I hadn’t noticed before. Mars runs for them, leaving me alone with the woman. “Do you have a reservation?” She asks politely, teeth perfect pearls, wearing a dark blue blouse with a pin that says ‘Marianna Welsh. Hyatt Regency Hotel.’ With the logo. 

“No.” I reply. Don’t think about this too much, I tell myself. One night, then out of here. Her face hardens a second, squints, so brief I wonder if I’d imagined it.

“You..Do you…” She seems at a loss for words. “Nothing. Sorry. I must be mistaken. You said no? Not a problem, we have plenty of space. Just fill out this form please.” She passes me a thin white rectangular plate. It’s polished, shining with a silver border. She nods at me, as if to say, go on. I shake my head. Frown in confusion/

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” I try not to stutter, not to flee. Mars bounds back up to my side, energy back at 100%. She tugs at my arm.

“Daddy, daddy, the sinks have waterfalls too- and the toilets are purple, my favourite color! And the soap- you can choose it’s scent!” She stuffs a hand in front of my face, smelling like raspberries. I pull it away. Something’s wrong here. I want to turn and leave, find somewhere we can stay in Leonard Town, but the woman at the desk stops me. 

“Please,” she says, “stay. We even have included babysitting for the little one and an arcade and an indoor playground. The newest models of course.” She smiles, but I can tell it’s strained. Suddenly, Mars, staring at the large screen TV setup behind the desk, formerly blank, gasps in awe. 

“Look!” She marvels. The woman smiles. 

“Yes, it’s programmed to know what you would like to watch. Mars Sailor? You like her? I shouldn’t be surprised, she’s very popular with kids your age.” A pause “Oh, it looks like they’re doing an interview about her father. Let’s turn that off, watch something more pleasant, no?” I freeze. My blood runs cold. Mars cocks her head, eyes wide, watching intently. There on the screen, a picture of a twenty year old girl, a streak of turquoise in her brown hair, done up in a messy bun, blue eyes piercing, surrounded by mascara, lips painted purple, cheeks a light pink, mouth quivering, eyes sad. 

“-We would go one road trips, sometimes for weeks, settling down somewhere new before having to uproot yet again. I didn’t know, not until I was thirteen. I found out by mistake what he had done. I don’t think I minded moving around, I thought he was just a wandering spirit. He told me my mom had been the same. But when I found out why we really kept moving, what really happened to my mother, I was devastated. That’s why I started singing actually, to get out that anger.” I gulp. I look around for some sort of remote, but can’t find one. Stop, she can’t see this! But my voice doesn’t seem to work. She’s not supposed to know yet. We have to get out of here now. Something’s wrong, very wrong. I don’t know what this place is, part of me doesn’t want to. I look over at Mars, watching, eyes glued to the television. I take her by the arm, trying to be delicate.

“Come on, Mars, we have to go.” My voice comes out frantic, loud, trying to drown out the sound of the TV. But she won’t move. She brushes me off. 

“He was a liar. That’s how he should be remembered. I know I will end up at his funeral, I know I’ll be there, because I feel like I have to. And of an overdose too. He never used drugs, never.” The girl on the TV starts crying, hurting. “But I’ll never forgive him for what he did. He killed my mother. To think I could’ve grown up with her, but he prevented that. He ended a life. I can’t. I just can’t understand. I guess he was running from time. We would settle in, but then something would set him off. A remark about my mother, someone asking him what happened, someone asking him to see a picture, if I looked like her. I started asking too many questions. So he told me. He didn’t admit to killing her, but...But I did some research, I asked some of his friends what happened-” The lady behind the desk finally clicked off the TV. 

“That’s really rather unpleasant, why don’t you finish checking in and get to your rooms. The little one must be quite tired.” Mars shakes her head fervently.

“I’m not tired. But I’ve never met anyone else named Mars before. Or heard of anyone named Mars before. Are you sure she’s fam-” I put an arm around Mars, speak, cutting her off, panicky, shaky. 

“I’m sorry, but we really have to go.” My breath is coming out ragged and short. As an afterthought, having dragged Mars halfway to the doors. Over my shoulder, I ask. “Do you know the date?” The woman behind the desk thinks a while. 

“It’s the seventeenth of September. Year 2041.” Mars frowns, face scrunching up in confusion. 

“No-” She starts, but I turn around to go.

“Mars, honey, we should get back on the road.” I pull her close to me, turning her toward the door.

“But Daddy, it’s so cool in there, and that show had someone named Mars in it, and Mars Sailor too and that’s the last name of Adrien, my best friend from kindergarten! And they had soap that smells like rasberries!” She’s smiling, uncertainly, and noticing my frown, starts off again. “What’s wrong? You don’t like it?” She asks, perplexed, like that would be ridiculous, but I answer truthfully.

“No. No, Mars, I don’t like it at all.” We step out into the night air, the sun starting to peek out over the buildings. 

“Daddy-” I open the car doors.

“C’mon, get in.” I order, sorry if it comes out slightly harsh. She settles into the backseat. I hurry to the driver’s spot, locking the doors, starting up the engine, pulling away, driving. Speeding. As fast as the car goes. Everything flashes by in a hazy blur. We have to get away. We don’t stop in Leonard town, we drive for another day, until other cars pack the roads, until my heart stops hammering, until the video stops replaying over and over in my mind. I didn’t kill her. I didn’t. But I know no one will believe me. I know there’s no point in trying to convince anyone. She was happy. They said. She was always smiling. A single father with a one week old baby, leaving his apartment with just one suitcase and his backpack, a body left behind, running from his grief, running from all the signs he’d tried to ignore. A man who wouldn’t talk to the media, the judges, anyone who asked any questions. I was suspicious. My name, John Smith, I could lose myself, hide from it all. They hadn’t been able to track me down. That’s why I’d named Mars Mars- she couldn’t be a coward like me. I’d been running, yes, for years. But I swear, I did not kill her. Not the way they meant anyway. Yes, I ignored those signs that my wife was ill in a way not prescribed by the average type of doctors, like I should’ve ignored the ones that pointed to my future. To this city.

I’m shaking, from fear, from adrenaline. We have to move. The car hurtles down the highway, breaking all the speed limits, but it doesn’t matter. Time is catching up.

August 31, 2020 21:12

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P. Jean
21:36 Sep 09, 2020

Amazing the different way writers have written this prompt. This was excellent! I didn’t guess where it was all going. You brought us along at just the perfect speed!


Cal Emery
21:50 Sep 09, 2020

Thank you so much for reading it!


P. Jean
21:58 Sep 09, 2020

You are very welcome!


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