The wheeze grew louder.
Darcy drew breath sharply, and leaned on the gas. If the car couldn't make it she'd have to hike through dirt fields and another patch of woods to the main road, and walk three miles to her farmhouse.
The dark, the chill didn't concern her so much as how tired she was, how her feet ached after every double shift, these days. She was getting close. Pretty soon she wouldn't be able to do these hours any more.
The cold came crawling into the car like smoke. Two of the windows were stuck at three-quarters shut and would never close completely. Darcy had to run the defrost at full to see through the buildup on the windshield.
It was a contest between the defrost and the wheeze. One would top the other, then drop abruptly...
She decided to take the only shortcut available. She wasn't afraid of the night, or the woods. She grew up here. Knew it too well. Almost escaped, but there you go.
All the years she'd worked at the diner, while her parents were alive and after they died, she was never afraid to drive home alone. More than once she'd had to hike partway or all the way home: Flat tire. Transmission finally had it.
But Darcy never accepted a ride from anyone. Never. She was her father's daughter. She knew the only thing to fear was another person. She kept her life as simple as possible. Clean as a well tuned engine. That was a joke they shared.
The turn-off was coming up soon, a flash in the dark leaves, impossible to locate unless you knew the area as well as she did. The Honda bumped along into more dense forest. The wheeze kept pace with Darcy's wheels.
She went gliding past one of Burt Sanders' old signs, made of cedar, nailed to a tree trunk. The sign had split and fallen halfway apart. She figured no one had the heart to take down the signs, peeling and sagging after more than a decade of wear with no upkeep. The transportation department would pull them down, someday, if they ever got around to giving this road a real name.