“Go east six miles,” she said, “then turn left.” I woke up with a start and stared around the dark room.
“Who said that?” I asked, immediately feeling like the first idiot to die in some bad horror movie.
The directions repeated, and I realized it was the robotic voice of the GPS woman from my phone. The problem was I wasn’t driving, I was sleeping. The even bigger problem? My phone wasn’t on. I had it in sleep mode, so I couldn’t even receive a call, let alone get directions I didn’t ask for.
I’d been struggling with insomnia for weeks, and I had finally fallen asleep for a few hours, then some weird glitch in my phone woke me up. I wanted to cry.
The voice said again, “Go east six miles, then turn left.”
Now, it could’ve been the lack of sleep, or maybe I was in the midst of a very vivid dream. Whatever the reason, I got up, put on some clothes, got in my car and followed the instructions of the disembodied GPS voice.
Like some mindless zombie, I drove east, turned left after six miles, then waited for further instructions.
Moments later the voice said, “Continue for 3 miles.” So I did. What else was I going to do?
I still wasn’t sure if what I was experiencing was real, but I felt uneasy, especially when it started to rain.
It was more like a drizzle really, but there was just enough moisture that turning on the wipers only spread the dirt around, making it hard see the road. The whole scene reminded me of something … something I couldn’t quite remember, but the hair on my arms stood on end nonetheless.
“This doesn’t feel good, GPS lady,” I said. But she didn’t respond, as if she had some concerns of her own.
“Continue for five more miles,” her voice suddenly blurted out, startling me in the process.
“Ease up, lady,” I said, “You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
I decided to turn on the radio. Music might help relieve that eerie feeling I couldn’t shake.
“Highway to Hell” blasted from the radio. “Um, no thank you,” I said changing the station.
Then the solemn tones of Tracy Chapman serenaded me with “Fast Car.” A little too depressing on a night like this, I thought, and searched for something else.
After the screeching voice of Sammy Hagar began scream/singing “I Can’t Drive 55,” I quickly turned the radio off. “Silence it is, then,” I said to the empty car.
It seemed like I’d been driving a whole helluva lot longer than five miles when the GPS said, “In a quarter of a mile turn right on Highway 21.”
Now here’s a fun fact: There is no Highway 21 where I live. So I was fairly certain that I was experiencing a very bizarre dream. But it sure didn’t feel like a dream.
“Continue on Highway 21 for four more miles.”
Four miles turned into ten, fifteen, then twenty. I just kept going, as if I had no choice. I’m not sure how far I drove, but I couldn’t stop, couldn’t turn around. I continued driving blindly to some unknown destination.
It felt like hours, but the clock on my dash told me I had only been in the car for about twenty minutes.
“This is fucking weird,” I said.
“Please, no foul language.” I had never heard those directions coming from my GPS before, and at that moment, the voice sounded suspiciously like my mother.
The road on Highway 21 was badly pitted, and it felt as if my car’s suspension would soon give way.
Finally, the GPS voice roared back to life. “You have arrived. Your destination is on the right.”
Was it? The only thing on my right was an old rundown cottage.
It looked familiar, in a hazy kind of way, and I could feel some memory trying to push through, but it just couldn’t break the surface.
“Take a closer look,” the GPS lady said in that detached, not quite human voice of hers. Another phrase I had never heard from any GPS before, but I decided to follow her instructions once more.
Slowly, I opened the car door and stepped onto the pavement of Old Highway 21.
It was noisy, very noisy, and the bright lights of the police car woke me out of whatever stupor I had fallen into. I was sitting in my car; it was as if I had just woken up from a dream.
The police officer was shouting questions at me through the driver’s side window, but I couldn’t understand any of them.
He motioned for me to roll down the window.
I did, and he shined his flashlight into the car and looked around. Then he pointed it directly in my face. Reflexively I raised my hand, squinting as I simultaneously tried to protect my eyes, and look at the officer.
“Ma’am, do you know where you are?”
I shook my head.
“Have you been drinking, ma’am?” He asked
I shook my head again. “I don’t think so,” I said. “Where am I?” I asked him.
“Just outside of Silver City. Do you live here?”
“No, I … I uh …” I wasn’t sure of anything anymore. I thought I was dreaming in the safety of my own bed, but I had been driving in some kind of dream state instead.
“Show me your license and registration please.” He was sizing me up; looking at me as if I was drunk, crazy, or both.
“I don’t have it,” I said. “I left home in a hurry.”
“Step out of the car ma’am.”
I kept looking at the cottage. I could almost smell fresh bread, even though there was nothing being baked in the cottage that night.
I blurted out the question even before I realized what I was saying. Then it was too late.
“Did she die?” I asked the officer.
At first, it didn’t register. Then he followed my gaze to the little cottage, his eyes narrowed, and again he said, “Step out of the car ma’am,” this time with a little more force.
He spoke into the radio thingy on his shoulder. “I may have a 480 out on Old Highway 21. The car fits the description of the one from last month’s hit and run.”
“How’s the little girl? Is she okay?!” I was frantic, and yelling at him.
As the officer handcuffed me he said, “She died last week.”
That night came back in a rush.
I decided to drive home from a work meeting in Hagerman. Everyone else took the train back, but I didn’t want to leave my car behind and have to make another trip to retrieve it. I’ll live with that decision for the rest of my life.
It rained, a warm summer rain, and the wipers just moved the dirt across my window, making it almost impossible to see. I remember glancing at the cottage, and my mouth watering from the smell of homemade bread wafting through the open window.
I just looked away for a second, I saw her too late. Then I heard a woman screaming and I panicked and drove away. I know. Pathetic. There is no excuse for my behavior.
“You could’ve at least called 9-1-1,” the GPS voice said in that matter-of-fact tone of hers.
Now it all made sense, the insomnia, the imagined phone directions. What I’d done had taken up space in my head, so much so that I couldn’t even sleep. Now, I finally had to face the consequences.
As the officer took me away, I was about to ask him if he could get the phone out of my car, but it wasn’t on the seat where I thought I’d left it. Then I remembered, in my rush to get going, I forgot to bring it with me. The phone was still on my dresser—in sleep mode.
I was booked on a Felony hit and run charge and placed in a cell until my hearing with a judge in the morning.
The finality of it all gave me a strange sense of relief. For the first time in weeks, I laid down, closed my eyes, and slept the whole night through.