The road bumped a hard ray of light into Jenny’s eye. Reactively she reached forward and dimmed her rear mirror to block the Traffic from blinding her.
She was not yet halfway home, but the Traffic had already consumed her.
It always started the same way; she stayed back at work slightly later to avoid the worst of it, but she often questioned why as it felt no different. It was usually one of her mirrors that triggered the mental metamorphosis, or she would see the face of another driver in the Traffic and in an instant see it all.
She tried to shake the thought, but all she felt was frustration. She often debated herself on the slow drives home, arguing that it is the luxury of modern day suburbia to be able to live in an oversized house with a spacious backyard. It had always been her dream. She had been working on Tom for years to convince him of the lifestyle change.
“The children” she always lead with, “think of how beautiful it will be with a pool and some space for a dog”. Larry, the golden retriever, had passed away the same time as the children moved out. Fast are the years of youth. One day you are playing with blocks and then you wake up the next morning to attend a graduation. You dare not go to sleep again because you know when you wake you’ll have an empty house with nothing left but a full mortgage.
Her foot jolted her thoughts to a stop, she was at the lights on the hill already but didn’t remember going over the bridge. What was there to remember, but a series of red lights flashing then rolling in a rhythmic pattern.
Green. Orange. “Go you idiot” she cursed the ignorant driver in front, for not squeezing through and joining the wait on the other side of the lights. She caught a glimpse of his eyes as they flickered up in the mirror. For that brief moment, they were locked together, Jenny could see beneath the eyes, to the void that was left by the Traffic. Everyone was the same; it didn’t matter who it was. There was no Life behind the sullen eyes, each tense brow held not only the inescapability of the situation but were weighed down by the burdens of days past. There was not even any camaraderie when eyes locked, no union to fight the Traffic like men at war. Instead, the gaze conveyed a darker truth, like men in line to the gallows, a frantic search to use another in sacrifice for one’s own benefit; anything to get out of the Traffic.
Jenny tried to shake the thought and turned her music up. The sound emanating out and up, combining with the chocking of engines to form a grand symphony high above the clogged streets. From there Death couldn’t help but smile at the illuminated veins of light running out of the city. Creeping through major arteries and slowly expanding out over the great vast suburbias. It was in these moments that Death felt strongest, most alive for lack of a better word. The slow draining of thousands of souls, slowly dying, minute by minute. The beauty was in the subtlety, in times past Death had tried more extreme measures. Wars. Plagues. Holocausts. Too eager for victory were these attempts, too visible and crude. Man saw the hand of Death in these — admittedly often rather late — and fought back, righting wrongs, killing dictators, passing laws. As stubborn and slow Man’s learning is, after a handful of wrongs he seems sure to not make the exact ones again.
Death had originally thought nothing of the Traffic. He gained but little from the initial small and infrequent road fatalities, but as time crept on, as wars killed fewer and fewer men, Death grew worried. Mankind was prospering, cities growing, families spreading out to live a life of luxury and affordance. Medicine was improving the lives of all, increasing the lifespan and compounding its benefits throughout the world.
Then it hit. The tipping point, when it all started to change. Luxury was no longer a special privilege but a right that mankind demanded. The sprawl which had seemed so unquestionably beneficial began to crack at the seams. Like an apple rotting from within until one day when teeth are sunk through the surface, only to realise the trickery, the emptiness that pervades the soul as it crawls home in shackles.
At this point, Death had already claimed victory. The genius of the illusion was too great. Men who had killed for their freedom — free men — slowly dying in shackles for no cause but their own excessive consumption.