I’m from the east. I live in a subdivision, in a small city, in the middle of the hill country of the south. I had thought, compared to giants like New York City or even Birmingham, I was in the middle of nowhere.
That changed on my first cross-country road trip. Somewhere in the North American midwest, I had stopped realizing where I was at all. In fact, there was a point where I was on a stretch of road through coarse dry land, and I had been on that single road for four hours without seeing another sign of civilization.
As it stood, I could probably make it another four hours before needing a gas station. I hoped my sedan could make it, and continued onward.
No houses. No cell service. No road signs.
It was eerie, like I was on a randomly paved section of another planet. The sky above was pale blue from horizon to horizon, not a cloud in sight. Nothing but emptiness above, and reddish-brown ground beneath.
But there was also… one man.
I nearly slammed on my brakes out of shock, even though he was still several hundred yards away from me. There was a man out here. Had his car broken down?
But the man wasn’t celebrating my arrival or anything. He just watched from the side of the road, waiting for me to approach.
I crept closer for a moment, close enough to see that the man was turning his head to follow me. No other part of his body moved, but for his long sun-bleached hair in the nasty wind.
No other reaction.
I shuddered, and held out for a few more seconds. The man probably needed help. He might have had heat stroke, or something similar, being out here for a while. I should really stop and ask him if he needs help, because there isn’t any help for hundreds of miles.
I swallowed and floored the gas. My sedan zipped past the man, leaving dust in my wake. I couldn’t stop myself. I held down that pedal, speeding a good five miles in three minutes before I slowed back down, sweating profusely.
Guilt overtook me. I should go back.
But something wasn’t right there. My instincts told me to get going as soon as possible. There was something not right with that man.
I continued on.
Less than an hour later, I had mostly calmed down and convinced myself I was right. Nothing good could come out of a man out here like this. I owed it to myself to be safe. The man could have been a serial killer, or mentally ill, or on psychotic drugs. I had made the right decision.
Or so I thought, until I came across another man.
This one was standing in the middle of the road, blocking an old wooden bridge that ran across a long-dry riverbed.
He watched me.
I slowed and crept forward. Once I got close enough, I realized, with bone-chilling certainty.
This was the same man.
I had a choice to make. Did I play chicken with this man, run him down in my haste to escape? Or did I stop and talk to him?
Thinking logically was not going to help. Perhaps I really was on another planet, or in another space. He couldn’t have beaten me here.
Despite every part of my psyche screaming at me not to, I stopped the car just feet in front of the man and rolled down my window. He walked around to meet me.
I should run. He’s not in front of me anymore. I could–
“Hello, sir,” the man said. He had a thick drawl, but it wasn’t quite a southern slur. “What are you doin’ out here?”
I gulped. “Heading to Oregon, mister. I’d say that the real question is for you. What are you doing out here? Do you–” I had to swallow again. Sweat poured down my face. “Do you need some help?”
“Naw.” The man straightened up. “This here’s my land, you got it? Mine. I live here.”
I looked around. Nothing but flat, dry land, as far as the eye could see.
“I see,” I said. But I didn’t.
The man scowled. “They think they can make a road through my land wit’out consequence,” he said. “Look at how it done defiled my fine soil.”
“A travesty,” I said, shaking my head. The rest of my body was shaking, too.
The man’s eyes narrowed, piercing me. “When you go back home,” he said, “Go another way.”
The man stepped away from the car and waved. I watched him in my review mirror as I drove away.
The dust overtook him, and he vanished without a trace. I blinked several times, to be sure, then pushed on the gas again and ran until I hit the state line, where there was a rest stop and gas station.
I stepped back into the real world that day.
Turns out, when I looked on a map, that route should have taken me three hours, tops. I don’t know where I was at that time, or where that road took me.
But I don’t want to go there again.
This was an interesting piece to write, and a difficult one. I don’t often write supernatural or horror, as it lacks the snark and flair I usually try to write in. I like dealing with the ‘known’ better than the ‘unknown,’ especially when my characters are monster hunters or magicians.
Writing a normal person is quite difficult, and I don’t know that this unnamed vacationer had much to say other than that he was scared.
But then, I would have been scared too.
See you around,