This story is by LJNewlin and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The last sign indicated that Emily reached the six thousand foot mark. The higher she drove the denser the fog. Visibility down the road diminished to a mere few feet. The headlights: useless. The windshield wipers were loud as they screeched and thwopped. This due to a tear in the blade of the driver’s side wiper. It didn’t matter there was nothing to see but a thick grey soup. Several times the white lines in the road vanished, forcing her to stop for fear of driving off the road.
Emily, a cautious young lady, succumbed to the wiles of Brent. He was her advanced Chem Lab partner that semester. Like her, he was studious, yet reserved. At times, he seemed wiser than his years. Most of the girls at school fawned over him for his good looks. Brent gave them no attention but every time Emily entered the room, he lit up with a genuine smile. Oh, how special she felt in his presence. She wasn’t homely, but her shyness prevented others from noticing her, not Brent. He surprised her with an invitation to a weekend at his folk’s mountain cabin. Stepping out of her safe place, she accepted.
Her excitement and anticipation undaunted even in the face of a barrage of obstacles. The car brake pads needed replacement. Tuition paid, books bought and dorm fees settled before she left. All she had was thirty dollars until her next paycheck. Her mother cautioned, “Listen to the universe. It will tell you when to move forward or stay behind. Mother earth will always warn you of danger, just listen.” Emily followed science not her mom’s new age ways.
Creeping along the road at fifteen miles per hour, the right front tire hit something. Then she heard a swoop, swoop, swoop of a flat tire.
“Great! Now there’s no turning back.”
Emily picked up her phone, no signal, no GPS, no AAA, no cars on the road. With no help in sight, fear rose in her chest. The more anxious she became, the more she talked to herself.
“Okay, I knew this would happen one day. Dad showed me how to change a tire. I just never thought I would have to do it. Now, turn the phone flashlight option on and get the spare out.” Of course, this was going to be a feat in and of itself, for Emily was almost five feet tall and not quite ninety pounds. Her athletic endeavors began at lighting a Bunsen burner and playing chess. Then ended with reading Jane Austen novels.
With all the junk out of the trunk, she lifted the cover to the spare tire.
“Great, it’s flat. Now, what do I do? Stay in the car, go forward, turn back? Will my phone battery hold up for a flashlight?”
In the diminishing daylight, she heard whispers from her right, no in front of her, no behind her. She rushed to the driver’s side door and pulled at the handle. Locked.
Searching her pockets, panic set in when she found nothing.
“The trunk,” she remembered.
As quickly as she could, she grabbed the keys out of the lock. She fumbled with the keys, then dropped them. Finally finding the door lock she jumped inside, locked the doors and started the engine. The headlights shone out about two feet, then nothing. She plugged her phone back in to keep it charged and the engine died. It wouldn’t be long before she would lose the comfort of headlights, too.
A slight wind kicked up, swirling the fog before the lights. With the wind came the whispers. Emily reached over and opened up the glove box, hoping to find a weapon.
“Come on, where is it? I know I put it in here?”
As she grabbed hold of the knife, the interior light went on, then off. The radio came on like a scream and then went off. Her body froze in horror as a sound of pulsating wind rocked the car. Something akin to the sound of wings flapping but this had to be an enormous bird.
“No, It can’t be.” Her mind cycled through all the possibilities. “You’re just imagining things. There’s no such thing as a giant bird that could make that sound.” It was science; she had to think of the science.
The headlights revealed a large dark figure rising in front of the car, then nothing but darkness. Covering her head with her hands, she screamed.
A tap on the window, followed by a bright light shining in her eyes caused her to scream again.
“Hey, you alright there missy?” An old man’s voice cracked out. “It’s pretty dangerous to stop in the middle of the street on these old mountain roads. You need some help?”
“Oh, yes, please, can you help me? I have a flat and now the car won’t start…”
“No need to go on,” the old man interrupted. “I’ll give you a push to the side of the road. I’m just up a ways. You can use the phone there to call for service but you best be ready for a long wait. They take their good ol’time in this weather.”
“Thank you so much. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life.”
Even with the old man’s mag light, Emily stumbled on the rocky terrain. She felt as though they walked for miles. All the while, she listened for the whispers in the eerie quiet of the night.
Stooped over with age, the bedraggled old man let her in the small cabin. He threw a couple logs on the fire and she sat down in an overstuffed chair by the hearth.
“I know it ain’t much but it keeps the cold out. Would you like some tea to warm you up?”
“Yes, that’s very kind of you.”
Emily warmed her hands on the cup and sipped its golden liquid. As she relaxed into the chair, a wave of sleepiness washed over her. It was an unnatural kind of drowsiness. A new panic rose in her chest.
“Where’s your phone?”
When she spoke, her words slurred. Now, she knew something was terribly wrong.
The old man pointed to the table next to her.
“So kind of you…what’s your name? I want to tell them about your kindness.” Emily feigned sweetness in her voice, trying to pretend she was unafraid.
Whispers swirled around her head. “You know my name.”
The figure rose in front of her, first as the old man. Then he seemed to transition to her lab partner, smiling his warm welcoming smile.
Emily wiped her eyes, feeling relief at seeing Brent, but she couldn’t make any sense of it. For just a moment she believed this a dream, a lucid and scary dream. Just like the little nightmare children’s books her mother read her.
Only it morphed again, was she hallucinating? She thought she saw something writhing under his skin. His muscular arms reached out, grabbing her hair with long bony fingers. Bunching her hair at her ears he yanked, pulling her closer. His hot breath covered her neck and his stench filled her nostrils. She didn’t want this. She wanted to tell Brent she loved him. She couldn’t understand why he was doing this to her. Filled with terror, she wanted to cry, but the tears didn’t come. Her pulse quickened, breathing ceased, and voice froze. Then her body paralyzed with fear, betrayed her need to fight or flight. Now, darkness enveloped her whole body.
The whispers screamed, “You should have run when you had the chance!”
The tow truck operator hooked the old beater to the chain and pulled it out of the ditch onto the flatbed.
Officer Davis read the registration, “Yep, this is the car of the girl reported missing a couple of days ago. That’s the third girl in as many months. Are you new to this area? I haven’t seen you around.”
“Just came here a few weeks ago, work part-time to keep busy. Retirement doesn’t suit me.” The truck operator spoke in an affable manner.
Mountain people tended to be odd. But Officer Davis thought to himself, “There was something not quite right about him.” He would follow up by checking the tow company’s records.
As the tow truck disappeared around a bend, whispers filled the cab. The old man pulled the truck over.
Angrily he shouted, “Nobody can hear you unless I want them too.” Then he smiled and calmly spoke. “It’s time we moved on.”
As Officer Davis approached the abandoned tow truck, a sudden gust of wind rocked his patrol car.