Sleeping Traffic Lights

by The Cowl Editor on April 26, 2018



Traffic light
Photo courtesy of

by Jonathan Coppe ’18

1:35 a.m.—Two brutes sitting in an SUV. Intersection along Route 50. Traffic light is the only outside illumination; no moonlight; their headlights are off. Inside the car the overhead cab light is off. SUV parked on the side of the road, in the dirt and grass. A voice comes over the speaker:

“Still no sign. We’re guessing, maybe, another 40 minutes.”

The fat one in the car shoots back:

“Who’s we?”

No response.

2:00 a.m.—The other man in the SUV, who is toned and muscular and wears a pinstripe buttondown, has taken out his phone and put on music. They are now pushing an hour and a half in the vehicle. Still no sign of the target.

The nearest cellphone tower offers no internet; they are confined to the one album stored on the phone.

Only the Lonely by Sinatra, now set to play on repeat for the rest of the night.

No cars pass by. A coyote occasionally wanders past. The wind blows. The traffic light makes its round of colors: Red, green, yellow; red, green, yellow; red green yellow; red green…

“Maybe we can go get some girls after this. What do you say?”

2:10 a.m.—The fat one picks up the mic and wires over the radio:

“Any sign yet? We’re almost at that 40 minutes.”

Dead static for a moment. The reply:

“We’ll let you know when we see her.”

The coiffed one (taking the mic):

“Are you sure she’s coming? Might’ve gotten spooked, you know. Maybe she knows we’re out here. Think she heard tell somehow?”

No response.

“Do we have someone checking up on that?”

Dead static.


All quiet outside, and inside Frankie over the tiny phone speaker, “…It’s a lonesome old town when you’re not around. How I wish you’d come back to me…”

“You got any smokes?”

2:30 a.m.—A couple cigarettes apiece, ashes out the window. On to talk about baseball and their girls at home. Fat one has a skinny one. Coiffed one has a ditz. Ditz won’t put out, though, and he’s not happy about it. Fat one’s girl won’t either, but that’s okay; he doesn’t mind; he likes spending time with her; she’s smart.

“She’s real classy, and, like, vintage style. She’s got these cute glasses, you know, and a red polka-dot bandana she wraps over her head. It’s cute. Real 1950s-style, with the way those glasses poke out of the bandana. Real cute.”

“So you don’t want to see about any girls after this, huh?”

“Huh? No. You can, though. I’m not stopping you.”

“Nah. No fun when you’re the only one.”

“I guess not. Anyway, it looks like we’ll be out here all night. No way this chick’s coming. Something’s got her spooked.”

“Yep. Just gonna sit here ‘til dawn, it looks like. Then that asshole over the radio will wire in and tell us to go home. Fuck us, man.”

He chuckles. He sighs. “How many smokes you got in that pack?”

2:40 a.m.—A voice over the radio:

“We see her. We’re shutting off the light now. Expect her in about 10 minutes.”

And with that the traffic light suddenly goes black.

2:45 a.m.—Two car headlights appear on the horizon, speeding down the road toward the SUV. Everything else is black, black and quiet. There are only the speeding car headlights.

“There she is.” (The coiffed one, his voice eager.)

The fat one turns the key in the ignition and the engine starts. It is the quietest part of the night. The men listen to their breathing and to the sound of the tires rolling along the road in the distance, getting steadily closer, steadily louder, always closer, always louder.

2:48 a.m.—The woman’s car is in clear view now. A sedan, ’90s model. The coiffed man clutches his assault rifle tightly. The fat one keeps his foot hovering over the gas and checks the pistol on his side, making sure the holster is unlatched and the safety  switched off.

They are breathing heavily now and watching the car. They wait for the right moment.

2:50 a.m.—The car is so close they can almost smell it, suddenly it slows down to a halt.

“She knows something’s wrong.”

Indeed, out of the corner of her eye she has seen the base of the traffic lights and realizes they are off. Terrified, she stops.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit…”

Her car idles right in front of the SUV.

“That’s it!”

The coiffed man jumps from the SUV. He aims and pulls the trigger. The shots burst into the night. The woman’s wheels screech loudly and her engine revs.

“Shit shit shit…”

The SUV revs and screeches and speeds forward to ram her. The timing is all off now. It only makes contact with the side of the trunk. The car swerves, but the element of surprise is lost. She keeps her foot on the gas.

The car is not all in her control, however, and she cannot keep from swerving off the road. The coiffed one keeps his aim on her. She barrels towards him. He pulls the trigger. Shots bray out into the night and the bullets pierce her windshield, but the car barrels on. He plays chicken and jumps away at the last moment, but his foot is caught under the tire.


The car slows to a halt. The fat one has run over. No movement. He goes over to the still car and looks inside. He turns to the coiffed one and gives the thumbs up.

Back in the SUV, he picks up the mic:

“All good. She’s taken care of.”

The traffic lights wake up, and the land is quiet again.