It was supposed to be a fun night out at a bar with a couple of my colleagues. Usually, I would have stayed until everyone left, but on this particular night, there was some creepy guy hitting on me relentlessly, so I decided to leave early. My house wasn’t too far, and in my inebriated state, I decided it was a good idea to walk home.
The street was empty, so I drunkenly walked in the middle of it, stumbling down the black asphalt. It was a small street with little to no traffic, especially late at night. As I made my way, the sounds of the night – the wind, the birds, the dogs barking in the distance – went silent. I brushed this off as ‘one of those things’, dreaming about crawling into bed with my boyfriend when I finally got home.
My heels caught on something laying in the street, almost sending me tumbling to the ground. It was a large red button – as big as a manhole – and beneath it, the word “EXIT” was written in large white letters. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared intently, as curious as I was confused. I had walked down this road a thousand times before and had never noticed this.
As I raised my head, looking down the street, my jaw dropped in shock. The buildings, trees, and everything else had vanished. All that remained was the asphalt road, stretching endlessly in all directions, disappearing into a sea of darkness.
“Hello!” I yelled frantically. My voice echoed listlessly into the night.
Fearing I’d lost my mind, I banged my palm against my head, hoping to reset it like a faulty computer. My head hurt, but nothing else changed. My hands began to sweat, breath became irregular and my heart was racing. Panting like an overheated dog, I ran in circles, screaming at the universe.
“No, no, no, no!” Pulling at my hair, I begged for it to be over.
The sun rocketed over the horizon, but it was far too early. The sun’s rays had a fierce whiteness that stung my eyes. Shining in the morning light, the “EXIT” button lit up like an unholy beacon. I was in an unbridled state of panic, unable to think clearly, and that word – exit – was the only thing that mattered; I wanted out of there, by any means necessary.
Crouching down, I extended my arm in an attempt to press the button, but it wouldn’t budge. I tried jumping on it, but it still wouldn’t move an inch. No matter how hard I tried, the “EXIT” button remained rigid, mocking my efforts.
I sat next to the button for what felt like hours, hoping I would snap out of this nightmare… but I didn’t. The sun had grown increasingly bright, raising the temperature to intolerable levels.
The air vibrated in the distance, making the asphalt look wet and shiny. Dizzy from the heat, I convinced myself there was a lake just in the distance, and walked for hours to find it. By the time it dawned on me I was chasing a mirage, my feet were raw and swollen. Still, I continued to trudge forward.
Some time later, I spied a small dot dancing on the horizon. Unsure if my eyes were deceiving me once more, I did a double take, but it was still there. Cupping my hands over my mouth, I yelled hoarsely, “Is there anybody there?”
Entranced, I meandered towards the dot with dead eyes, but then, in a wisp of smoke, it disappeared from view. Teeth clattering, I continued forward.
A while later, I can’t recall exactly how long, another speck of light appeared on the horizon line; only this time it was perfectly still. That light felt like hope, and I clung to that hope like a drowning man to a wooden board. Feet bloody, I sprinted towards it. The sun was stagnant in the sky, unmoving and burning hotter than ever. Sweat drenched my body, and the first signs of dehydration were starting to show.
The road sloped upwards drastically, but it only made me run harder. As I reached a plateau, I collapsed into a heap in front of a rusted road roller. The sun’s light was catching it’s metal frame, blinking sporadically.
I approached cautiously, opening the driver’s side door. A pile of trash was stuffed under the seat. To my relief, I also found a partially-drunk water bottle. I took a small sip, hoping to make it last.
A pair of yellow key dangles from the ignition. Without a thought, I turned the key, the engine roaring to life. My father was a contractor, so I’d had the chance to work with these behemoths before. Pushing my foot on the gas, the road ruler rumbled down the road, with me behind the wheel.
All I could think about was that button. Exit, that meant freedom, and freedom, that meant getting the fuck off this road. I may not have been able to push it down, but I was sure a twenty ton vehicle could. Thing is, I had no idea where I was going. There were no identifying markers, just the road. Still, somewhere was better than nowhere, so I drove on regardless.
The sweltering sun continued to beat down on me and my water was quickly running out. Lips painfully chapped, knuckles dried and cracked, I began feeling faint. There seemed to be an endless amount of gas in the road roller, but that meant nothing if I died.
“I just want to go home!” A flickering dot moved over the horizon line, as if responding to my agonized call.
The dot got bigger and more detailed. It soon became apparent that it was another road roller, as rusted as the one I was manning. Its engine sputtered, kicking into a higher gear. As it approached, its gears groaning, I saw the impossible. An identical copy of me, down to the clothes, was driving the other road roller. The dogglehanger’s head turned slowly, greeting me with a sinister and knowing smile. She picked up speed and roared away, leaving me shivering in the heat.
This exact interaction continued for days. I’m not sure if there were multiple doppelgängers, or just the one, but they passed with such frequency I’m inclined to believe the former to be true. I’d try and communicate with them, but they’d only smile and wave.
The sun never moved throughout this time, fixed in a single position. My skin was burnt, and the little water I had was gone. Death seemed imminent, but I wasn’t ready to give up.
An excited holler caught my attention. Less than a hundred yards in front of me was the “EXIT” button, and closing in fast, was one of my doppelgängers. Her eyes were wild, completely fixated on the button. Her head snapped in my direction, a wicked sneer crossing her lips. As soon as we locked eyes, she cackled with crazed laughter.
“Stop!” I yelled.
She turned around and stuck out her tongue. It was impossible for me to pull ahead with my road roller, so I jumped off and sprinted with every ounce of strength I had left. Road rollers were powerful, but they weren’t Ferraris.
Running alongside the cab, I pulled myself into the passenger’s seat. We struggled for control of the wheel, scratching at each other’s faces. With a wicked elbow to the jaw, I managed to daze her. With my last bit of strength, I pushed her out of the roller, her momentum taking her in front of its giant wheel.
Her screams sounded like a call with a bad connection, cutting in and out with a distinct glitchiness. The blood splashed everywhere, coating the road like a gruesome Jackson Pollock. I tried not to look as I steered the road roller towards the “EXIT” button. As the road roller passed over, it pressed down with a satisfying click.
Dark spots overwhelmed my vision, and then, everything went black.
I opened my eyes groggily, even though I couldn’t remember closing them. I could hear the birds again, see buildings, and I knew I was home. My relief was short lived though, as a portly man immediately came running toward me, screaming bloody muder. The blurriness in my vision receded. I realized I was in an idling road roller that stood in the middle of a destroyed playground.
I stumbled out of the vehicle and landed in a pool of blood and viscera. My head started spinning, dread settling into my stomach. The hysterical man was now on the phone, pointing at me like I was the devil. Picking myself up, unsure of what to do, I ran into a small forest nearby, ignoring the man’s furious directives to stop.
My phone has been ringing non-stop for hours, the text messages coming in like a flood. I glanced at one text from my mother: What have you done?
I can hear police sirens closing in, dog barking in the distance, and just beneath it all, cackling laughter like a staticky radio.