A Drive Through The Woods that Ended Someplace Strange
My father died on a Tuesday afternoon. Heart attack. My mother called with the news that evening. I lived ten hours away, at university, at the time. I promised her I wouldn’t do it. She even told me then that the trip could be dangerous. But immediately after my mother hung up the phone, I hopped in my car, pulled down the windows of my old Jeep Wrangler, and started the ten hour drive home. The trip took me through the dark, lonely roads of Pennsylvania; in the middle of the night.
I didn’t plan it well.
I left at ten. A massive storm overtook most of the Northeast by ten thirty. Ice cold rain blanketed the highways. Yellow jacketed police officers directed traffic through incoming lanes and outgoing floods. Traffic on the local roads added another hour to my timeline. The darkness and lack of proper lighting probably tacked on another towards the end. I barely knew where I was going. I never drove this far before. Panic crept in like a leech at the back of my brain. Self-doubt pushed it the bug a little bit further. But the old fashioned Garmin GPS on my dusty dash pointed towards ‘Home’, and I had to, I had to trust it to do the rest.
I cursed through even red light and lane change. I sung along to Spotify to relieve some angst. I tapped on the wheel like a drummer all the while trying to keep my growing anxiety at bay. And then, finally, mercifully, after that miserable, unbearable first hour; the traffic split. The road split and opened up to an empty highway.
And then I felt free.
The rain pounded my windshield like a battering ram all the way down the empty pine tree lined road. The windshield wipers on my Jeep worked overtime just to keep the windows clean. I knew I shouldn’t drive so fast. I knew I should slow down. It felt terrifying, to be honest. My wheels slipped and skidded more than a few times. But I didn’t care.
I didn’t care about anything.
The only thing that mattered to me was home. Simple as that. I needed to see my mother. I needed to make sure she was okay. I needed to see my brothers, who were young still, and would not understand what just happened. I needed to see my family. I needed to be with them. And, corny as it may sound to extenuate myself further, I was not going to let a God-forsaken, shithole of a storm take that from me.
“Well it rains and it pours when you’re out on your own,” my playlist agreed. “If I crash on the couch, can I sleep in my clothes?”
I rocked along to all my favorite playlists for the first leg of the trip. But the damn cell phone died just after midnight.
The lack of music left me with only the steady rain to, I don’t know, think about my thoughts. I despised the prospect. I turned to the radio instead. I was somewhere in the sticks outside Harrisburg by that point. The shitty weather and lack of reception limited my options to two stations. One of them was at commercial break. So I settled for the second. I recognized the horrible drone of local radio almost immediately.
“Welcome back, welcome back. This is 96 FM, Radio Nowhere, we ARE your one stop shop for late talk. We are again located at nine-six-dot-three on your FM dial and are humbly serving the proud folks of the absolutely awe-inspiring Tanner Falls. Do consider looking at our website and do consider donating. Now that that’s all out of the way, let’s take our first caller. Who do we have on the line, Margaret?“
It didn’t take long to realize that I should have brought my CD case.
“Okay, Margaret tells me she has bagged a live one. We’ve got Jim from Mother Teresa Avenue on the line. Jim, talk to me.”
A passing storm caused the frequency to shift up a bit. I could hear tones of Home Sweet Home from probably some distant city over Jim’s heartfelt confession. I turned the dial to get it back. But Radio Fuckface only became clearer.
“I want to talk about something the whole town is thinking about. And I haven’t heard it mentioned yet on your show, Stephen.”
My ears perked. The road dipped and rose through the hills as my Jeep
“Go ahead,” the host purred, “I’m listening. We’re all listening, son.”
“Do you think the killer will strike again tonight?”
The host whooped over the air. Jim spoke with the nervousness of a man who knew he would be cut off at any moment.
“Twice in the past two weeks, Stephen. Always on a Friday. Always in the night. These animals follow patterns. When are we going to do something? Do we have to wait for three for the FBI to get involved?”
The host spoke quietly for a few moments, out of earshot, to I suppose Margaret, before he came back to the microphone and spoke quietly.
“Okay, now, we’ve disconnected the caller. I want to take a moment to answer him honestly. We said we wouldn’t talk about this. We don’t want to talk about this. We don’t want to bring and attention and glory to this. But I can understand why people want some reassurance.*”
I don’t remember most of the details here.
It felt like hitting a patch of black ice. My Jeep t-boned a guard rail and landed a somersault right side up. The wreck left me concussed and stunned off the side of the road. But I was alright. My car, not so much. I turned the engine. Nothing happened. No whine. No whinny. Just a couple cracked displays and an all too familiar cackle of the radio. I remember it continuing when I came to.
“…People like to remember the New Testament God. The God of forgiveness and sunshine and rosary and heaven on Earth. They forget the wrath. They forget Genesis. Well let me tell you, caller. The Lord has made a place for this cretin. And the people of Tanner Falls will send him to the place where vengeance is best made; below. We’ve already dug his grave.”
My airbag deployed in my face. The second wave of shock to my head left me more dizzy than the accident itself.
“I don’t mean to get fire and brimstone, folks. This stuff really brings it out in you. Everyone in town knows the brutality involved in these cases. Everyone in town knows somebody affected. Please stay safe. Once again, we are advising folks to stay off the local roads past dark, and to please avoid picking up hitchhikers on Highway 26.”
I opened up my door and surveyed the remains of my crumpled Jeep. I looked down the dark highway. A sign a few yards away read the next exit.
You guessed it.
Shit, shit, shit.
That phrase hung in my mind like a panicked prayer. I dug through my back seat for the charger I knew wasn’t there. I looked in my trunk for it too. I checked my glove box, seatbacks, even that annoying spot in between the cushions. Nothing. I turned the engine over a few times just to check that too. No luck. The clock on my dash read midnight. Radio Nowhere tuned back in with the flailing battery.
“Looks like we’re out of time for tonight, folks, Margaret, foxy little wench that she is, has left me high and dry. Looks like I’m closing shop solo tonight. I would like to end our broadcast and extend a heartfelt ‘be safe’ to all of the good folks of Tanner. Though we walk in the shadow of Evil, we shall not fear It. Boa noite, bonne nuit, buonanotte, goodnight.”
The station returned to static.
I sat in the driver’s seat like a trapped little animal. My options dwindled with the temperatures that must have been well below freezing by that point.
I could get out and walk. The GPS pointed out a gas station thirty miles East. But that route took me right through the supposed hunting ground.
Or I could wait in the car, where it was safe, and locked. But then I became a sitting duck.
As the rain slowly transitioned to snow, I unfortunately settled for the latter.
Something about the drift of static and warm air from the heater made the car surprisingly comfortable. Sleep didn’t happen at first. For the first hour, I surveyed the endless trees and wilderness around me. I thought maybe it would be cool to see a bear, or a wolf, or something different in the distance. The car would at least protect me from that. I dreamed of an entire zoo’s worth of animals surrounding my car and peeking inside harmlessly.
Truthfully, I never expected what came next.
I woke up at two in the morning to the sound of metal being scraped against metal.
My contacts were still in, thank God for that, but they did that thing where they slide to the back of your eye and you lose focus. I took a few moments to rub and gather my sight before looking out through the windshield into the lonely road ahead of me.
The snow was the first and only thing I could see at first. Two inches at least on the roads and probably four in the woods around me. The visibility dropped to about twenty feet.
It took a moment source of the sound became clear. And then it did. Somebody was standing in the road.
I tried to flash my lights at them. But my battery was dead so it only came out in a flicker. I could barely see anything. Walls of white stood between me and the mystery figure. He (or she) had to be about fifty feet away. They wore a heavy coat. They had a mask of some kind. And they held something long in their hand, something that dragged against the gravel to produce that uncomfortable noise. But I couldn’t tell what.
The figure stood tall and straight like an arrow.
Then they fell to the ground and flattened out in the snow.
The bizarre juxtapose of those two movements sent a shiver down my spine. I thumbed the lock just to make sure it worked. I laid down flat trying to hide.
It didn’t work.
The figure stood up again. Then it charged. From fifty feet away, the shadow ran towards me at full speed, and I didn’t know what to do. I knew this could be the killer from the radio. I knew I could be the next victim. I knew all of these things and in my mind that leech of panic reached around to grab every lobe and stem it could find.
A large object collided with the hood of my car.
I leaned up to see a flail smack-down on my windshield. He pulled the round cylindrical ball back with his chain and struck it down on my mirror. I screamed for somebody, anybody, to help. But there was nobody around.
The figure in front of me pulled back the flail one more time. I could see the mask more clearly now. It was a pig face. One of these, to be specific, hair and all. The sick fuck leaned into the passenger mirror and stared at me with that freakish mask like he was trying to look into my eyes. Then he leaned back. I jumped to the passenger seat and backed away as the flail came through the window and sent bits of shattered glass through the cabin.
I knew I was about to die. A gloved hand reached into my beleaguered car and pulled at the lock. The killer opened the door slowly.. It was as if they enjoyed this part more than any other. They must have thought they had me. They must have thought I was done. It must have looked like a cat cornering a mouse. But there was one thing the killer didn’t consider. And it’s pure dumb luck they didn’t.
The car had four doors. Four doors, four exits.
Pig man or lady pulled angrily at the sycophantic device wedged into my hood on the driver side. They were distracted. Now was my chance. I popped out the passenger door, fell into the snow, and sprinted into the woods like the Devil himself was behind me.
Maybe he was.