Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Places I Ought Not Go

Several years ago, I helped my sister move back here to Texas from New Jersey. On the second night of the drive, I drove until my nerves began to fray, so my sister took over for a while. Unable to unwind, I just silently stared out the window, and let my mind wander. I noticed that when we’d drive up to an animal like a rabbit or raccoon on the side of the road, it’s eyes would seem to glow even before the headlights would reach it, and then after shining on it, it’s eyes would glow red. Well, my imagination ran away with this, and after about an hour or so of my imaginary travels, my sister asked if I was asleep.

“Nah,” I said, “just daydreaming.

“Tell me about your daydream, so I won’t get sleepy,” she requested, and this was the story I told her:

I’m driving down I-10 at night in Louisiana on that long, flat, boring stretch of highway that cuts straight through Louisiana’s swamp land. It’s a series of bridges connected sporadically by patches of dryer land. By day, this straight line of pavement roams as far as the eye can see, but at night, the infinite blackness of the swamp seems to swallow it up along with the light from my high beams. Visual stimuli is limited to the occasional passing car, the mesmerizing reflective road stripes, and the glowing eyes of local inhabitants of the wet lands I’m passing through. Oh yeah, and speed limit signs, which are easily neglected when the monotony lulls me into a trance, and then recalled after awakening to the excitement of red and blue flashing lights behind me.

I pull over, and the officer pulls up behind me, sitting in his patrol car for a few minutes before approaching me. I put my car in park, but leave the engine running, even though I’ll be sitting here for a little while. I’m a bit spooked about being in the middle of nowhere alone, and probably a little tired from the hypnotic drive. He asks for my license and insurance, and as I reach over to get it, I’m suddenly overwhelmed by an irrational fear of some lurking evil in the swamp. Trembling, I hand him the requested documents, and try to compose myself. “It’s just my overactive imagination,” I say, hopefully to myself, but the officer is looking at me oddly, and the feeling persists.

“Are you ok, ma’am?”
“Yes sir.”
“Have you had anything to drink tonight?”
“No sir.”

Now, I’m only vaguely aware of his presence, distracted like a B movie horror flick when there is foreboding music playing in the background, but in reality everything is eerily quiet. The feeling grows stronger, as if the evil is moving closer. I can hear my pulse as I struggle to maintain composure. Then I notice the officer staring off into the farthest reach of the high beams. I strain to see past them, hoping to find what has caught his eye, when finally I find the glowing eyes.

“Get in the car!” I blurt out abruptly.
“What?” His voice cracked with surprise.
“Get in the car! It’s heading toward us!”
“What are you talking about?!”

“Don’t you feel it?!” I’m yelling now, but I’m not sure he hears me, because I’m rolling up my window, and throwing my car into gear without thinking about the legal ramifications of what I’m doing. To my surprise though, he jumps in the back seat.

“Lock all the doors!” I scream even though I’ve already hit the main control button for the electric locks. He reaches across the car anyway, and slaps his hand down on them just to make sure. At this point, the headlights are highlighting a shadowy outline of a figure running toward us, and it’s eyes are turning red. I slam my foot down on the gas pedal, but it's blocking my only escape route, so I steer straight for it. I never really get a good look at it; just hear the thud as it bounces off the hood of my car.

“Did you see it?!… Did you see that?!” I turn around to look back. “What was that?! Did you get a good look at it?!”

Glancing back to my rearview mirror, I’m praying he has answers to my questions, but he just stares blankly and shrugs. Feeling that my paranoia has just been justified, I’m hysterical now. No more trying to hide it. I’m white knuckling the steering wheel, and repeatedly muttering, “oh my God.” He, however, was in a very different frame of mind.

“We’ve got to go back,” he mumbled.

“What! Are you insane?! I am not going back there!” I could not get far enough away fast enough. The little four cylinder engine of mine whines as I drive at speeds faster than my speedometer can register.

“Ma’am, you really need to calm down.”

I begin to wonder if this lunatic in my back seat is having delusions of being a hero.

“Shouldn’t you be radioing in for help or something?”

“And tell them what?!” His calm demeanor snapped. “That I left my squad car on the side of the highway with the keys still in it, jumped into a car with a crazy woman who thinks she can ‘feel’ a monster’s presence, and then runs over God knows what?” He pauses for a second, “Probably some poor motorist who was stranded and looking for help… I’m gonna lose my job over this one.”

“There’s no way in hell I’m going back there!” I just could not bring myself to see where he was coming from. “Besides, you felt it too. I could tell.”

He didn’t argue; just sat there thinking for a moment, and then quietly asked, “Will you please slow down?”

He radioed in, while I replayed the events over and over again in my head. Was there really something evil out there, or was I having some kind of night driving delusion? If it was just some poor stranded guy, why the awful dread before we saw him? And, why was the officer scared, as well? I tried desperately to remember what it looked like, searching my memory for a clue. In the background, I could hear dispatch ask for a description.

“It was wet and slimy, like the swamp,” I pipe in, trying to make the whole horrifying event sound real, and failing miserably.

“I thought you didn’t see it?”
“It?” A voice on the radio inquired.
“I mean him,” is his flustered reply.

“There’s green slime on the hood of my car.” I offer as proof, hoping to make him realize that we weren’t crazy, but the sound of my words makes me question my own sanity. Really, it was too dark to see what color the wet substance on the hood was or if it was indeed slimy.

“Just have someone pick me up at Al’s Kountry Korner.” He says to his radio, trying to ignore me.

After finishing his conversation with dispatch, he starts giving me instructions on where to take him. The last thing I want to do is leave the main interstate to drive down some dark winding exit ramp into the swamp. I want to keep going until we hit civilization, not some backwoods convenience store whose name is spelled with K’s. Pulling into the parking lot, there is a patrol car waiting for him. He tells me to wait while he speaks to the other officer. I can see that the other officer is annoyed.

He returns, and says, “Look, I’m not going to be issuing any speeding tickets tonight. Really, I’d like to just forget the whole thing happened. You’re free to go.”

Free to go where? Baton Rouge was probably another hour or so away, …and I’ll be alone again on a dark haunted highway in the middle of the swamp. As I watch him get into the patrol car, I realize that I will never know for sure what happened back there. Did I really run over somebody, or are those two cops on their way to be gutted and gored by some hideous creature that I thought only existed in Sci-Fy movies? How could I live with the possibility that I might have injured someone innocent?

What would you do? Would you go back, like all those stupid people in the horror movies do?

There was a long pause, and then my sister answered, “ Wow. You really need to write that one down.”


Elena said...

I came via Domestic Scribbles to look for your Therapeutic post and found this one. I LOVE IT! You have an amazingly creative writing gift. Hope you don't mind if I follow. Stop on by to visit my Therapeutic post too.
Elena of MyQuest

bluerose said...

Hi Elena. Sorry, I'm running behind today. Feeling a bit under the weather. Thanks so much for stopping by. I have my Therapeutic post up now, and I'm on my way to visit yours. Thanks again!

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I love it--a few little touches and you could have a great short story!

bluerose said...

Thanks so much, Mary! I would love to hear your thoughts or suggestions on it, but completely understand how busy you are right now with the books you're working on. Thanks for reading.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I just reread it--it's really dripping, interesting and maybe even funny!

I suggest, if you have time, that you rewrite the story from the policemen's POV. Keep the other story, of course.

(And what happens afterwards in the life of the cop? I realize the reader doesn't need to know that to make YOUR original story,as is, WORK. However, it might shed light on what is going on.

Or--even from the POV of the guy who comes to pick up the cop at the Korner Konvenience.

The reader of course wonders that was really there. You do NOT have to tell him or her. But you do need to be aware that inquiring minds want to know and make a choice whether to tell them or not.

You also have to decide if this is going to be fiction or nonfiction. If nonfiction, you can decide how to tell it. If fiction, you can alter it to best suit the story's needs.

I think there's a good story here--it's already a good story.

bluerose said...

oh wow, thanks Mary! I hadn't really thought about making it into a story. These are some really good suggestions. I'll have to think about how to do this. I'm not sure how to write from the policeman's POV and keep the first person POV. Maybe write it in third person. It would definitely have to be fiction, then. I think that I like leaving the reader wondering what they would do in this situation. Maybe I should focus more on that aspect of the story, like in a Twilight Zone story.

Thanks so much for your ideas! I really treasure your advice as a writer.