It’s midday, and there aren’t many other cars on the road. It’s also cloudless and sunny—if you can call Indiana’s low-altitude, watery haze sunny—and so sticky hot that I’m cursing my battered Ford’s broken air conditioning. The edge of the earth is visible in all directions, a shimmering indistinct line that barely separates land from sky. Everything looks pale and flat, even the occasional cow or tree. It’s all weathered cardboard and faded paint. A poorly done stage backdrop.
A small black dot appears on the horizon in my rearview mirror.
I glance at the dashboard. The speed limit is 75 mph, but I’ve set the cruise control to 79 because I’ve heard state troopers will overlook an extra 4 mph. Cruise control was invented in Indiana by a blind man. I think I know what inspired him. He sensed the unwavering monotony of this place in his inner ear and it frightened him. He needed to flee to a place with texture. I don’t want to be here, either. Nobody wants to be here. They want to be anywhere else, and quickly. No wonder more interstate highways connect in Indianapolis than in any other U.S. city.
The dot gets bigger, and I can see it’s a car, pale blue like the sky above me but with an unmistakable man-made metallic sheen. A Chrysler sedan. It’s gaining on me. Whoever’s behind the wheel is driving like he’s late for an appointment in hell with the rebel actor James Dean, who was born in Indiana but got out before the boredom killed him, only to die in a fiery car wreck a few years later.
I shut off the cruise control and let my speed drop to 75 without braking. Cops don’t usually drive Chryslers, but I don’t know what they do here. If it’s a trooper, I don’t want him to see my taillights blink. I don’t want a speeding ticket. Another ticket. Now I’m sweating and paying more attention to the car in the rear view mirror than the road ahead of me. That’s stupid, but I’m mesmerized by this approaching missile.
In an instant, it’s behind me, veering into the passing lane like it’s surging toward the checkered flag at the Indianapolis 500. I figure it’s going 120, more if that’s possible. As it pulls beside me, a turbulent gust of air shakes my Ford. I turn my head to see the wild man who’s not afraid to drive a boxy sedan at suicidal speeds.
But it’s not a man.
It’s a nun.
Sister Speed Racer is blowing by me with split-second ferocity, but time drips like cold honey and I see everything with stop-frame accuracy. Her tunic is blue, a shade darker than the car. She’s wearing a white scapular over her shoulders and a white coif with stiff white wings similar to the ones worn by certain orders of French nuns, except shorter, and less aerodynamic looking. She’s sitting ramrod straight, eyes fixed on the road, both hands clenched on the wheel, one at 10 o’clock, the other at 2 o’clock, like they teach you in driving school. There’s another nun next to her, and two more in the back seat. They’re young. Staring straight ahead. Not talking. Looking grim.
As they pass, the nun in the passenger seat swivels her head like a mechanical doll to glare at me. Her eyes shine black, and she scowls. Scowls. I look away self-consciously. Seconds later, the car is a dot again, this time ahead of me.
I slump into my seat, confused. Why are four nuns tearing through the countryside like they’re being chased by demons? Where are they going? Why?
The highway stretches in a straight line toward an unseen abyss.
My stomach pitches and my mouth goes dry.
I don’t want to be here. I desperately want to stop the car and turn around. Yet I’m following Sister Speed Racer and the Silent Brides of Christ directly into the white-hot heart of this place.
The thought is chilling. I shiver, and suddenly notice that the stripes dotting the pavement are whipping by like bullets. I’ve absentmindedly pressed the accelerator to the floor, and I’m going 95, 96, 97. I blink and swallow hard, setting my cruise control back to 79.
The wind outside my open window growls like a hungry wolf.
Michael Whiteman-Jones is a longtime journalist and editor who has won a few press awards that he keeps hidden in a box in the basement. He believes there is more truth in fiction than in facts, and in recent years, has written several hundred thousand words of short stories and essays on an iPad with his thumbs—a feat that probably truly deserves an award, or at least a visit to the chiropractor. He lives with his wife and family in Denver, Colo.