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Off The Map

Liz A. Vogel writes everything from high fantasy to low espionage, with quite a bit of science fiction in between. "Off the Map" is her first published story.

The car idled in the driveway. On the dashboard, the navbox waited patiently, its screen lit with a list of common destinations. There was a keypad for typing in a whole address, but it was easier just to narrow down from the pre-set options.
Oren tapped the navbox. "Evantown," it said in its computerized voice, precisely calculated to provide maximum reassurance and instill a calm and focused attitude in the driver. "Sunset Grove," it added in response to his next selections, and then "Four one nine." Oren selected Guide Me, and when the navbox told him, "Turn left," he did.
In the passenger seat, Tera frowned. "It's taking us up Darrin," she complained. "The traffic's always terrible on Darrin."
"So, request a reroute," Oren shrugged.
Tera poked at the navbox. "Turn right in two miles," it said in response. Oren did.
The new route was little better, with red ranks of taillights from the backed-up cars. Tera tapped at the navbox again. "Maybe I can get it to take us up Causewell?"
"Warning: Causewell Avenue under construction," said the navbox, still calm and reassuring.
Tera said a rude word, and followed it with, "We're going to be late."
"Can't be helped," said Oren, in a tone much like the navbox's.
They inched along. "Hey, what about that?" asked Tera, pointing at a small side street.
"What about it?"
"Why don't we try that way?"
"It's not on the navbox."
"So? It's going the right way."
"How do you know? It's not on the navbox."
"I've heard," Tera said, her voice conspiratorially low, "that all the best routes aren't on the navboxes."
"Oh, come on," Oren scoffed. "Everything's on the navboxes."
"That isn't."
"Well, then it must not go anywhere," he said firmly. "Or not anywhere anybody wants to go, anyway."
"I want to go there," Tera insisted.
"You do not. You don't even know what's down there."
"So, let's find out."
"Try it. I dare you."
"You're going to get us lost."
"How can we get lost with a navbox?" Oren glanced aside to see if she was making fun of him, but she seemed entirely serious.
"Well...." The car ahead of them honked at the car ahead of it; neither moved. "Okay." Oren turned onto the little side street.
"Warning: Diverging from route," said the navbox.
"Yes, we know," Tera told it. In light of her sarcasm, Oren resisted looking at the screen; it would only be showing him the red arrows of a U-turn anyway.
The street seemed fine; there weren't many potholes, and there was no other traffic at all. Tall brick buildings lined it close on both sides. The first few had signs, names and slogans for businesses long gone; as they went along, the signs became fewer and the buildings were simply blank brick walls. Doors came farther and farther apart, and the few windows were long since covered over. There were no people that they could see.
The navbox hadn't spoken since they'd turned, but surely it would have picked up their location and calculated a new route by now. "What does the navbox say to do next?" Oren asked nervously.
Tera tapped it, then pulled it loose from the dashboard with a Velcro rrrip! and shook it. "It doesn't," she said in a very small voice.
"It doesn't say where to go," she quavered.
"It's just recalculating. Give it a minute."
"No, it's not," Tera said, and turned it toward him. The screen was a blank grey square.
"That's impossible," Oren protested, looking from the navbox to the road and back with wide eyes.
The brick faces of the buildings seemed blurred now, the corners of the bricks smudged and indistinct. The road was smoother, without the bump and jostle of potholes and patches, without the rumbling personality of pavement. Up ahead, the view eluded the eye, faded and undefined.
"Maybe we should turn around." Oren was slowing down, leaning forward in his seat as though that would let him see better. As though there were anything to see.
"There's nowhere to pull in, though," Tera pointed out, and she was right. The street had become a featureless smear, the buildings subsumed by an emptiness that loomed like walls that weren't there. It was almost uniformly grey, as grey as the navbox's blank screen. The view ahead was no better.
"Maybe if you turn it off and back on," Oren said desperately, nodding at the navbox. Around them, even the emptiness had faded away. There was only grey, ahead, beside, and behind. There was nothing stopping them from turning around now, but there was nowhere to turn around to.
Tera hunted for the navbox's power button for a minute, then resolutely pressed it.
The greyness was unrelieved and undisturbed. No road, no buildings, no sky. No cars disturbed the nothingness, and in the lost places where the navboxes showed no roads, there was no one there to care.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Author Comments

This story started in response to an article about how businesses that aren't on the most-recommended routes have seen a decrease in trade since GPS navigation has become so popular. Add in the philosophical concept that perception determines reality, and this story is one possible outcome.

- Liz A. Vogel
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