For October and the haunted holiday it brings, I thought it would be fun to tell some creepy tales. Keep coming back for more frights all month long.
Here’s my fifth original story, entitled Safe:
A winding rural road at night isn’t so scary at 50mph with Joni Mitchell on the radio. When two tires blast like cannons from the shadows, however, the comforts of a new sedan are paper armor for the still and quiet horrors outside.
After she slammed on the brakes, it took Diana through the end of “Last Chance Lost” to realize she was okay, even if her car was down for the count. Was that an animal? Wait. Call the tow truck first. She had roadside coverage through the car manufacturer, her credit cards, and their auto club, but she couldn’t find any of the numbers, despite Frank’s insistence on saving them in her expensive phone.
She always considered Frank to be a bit too cautious, or scared rather. High insurance, never less than half a tank in the car, firearm in the bedside table. That’s why it was so shocking when he said he wanted a divorce, and not so shocking when he already had a woman waiting in the wings. Shocking again when he called tonight so late, and with such hysterics. She never heard him sound that way and she couldn’t understand what the urgency was, but he was frantic and pleading. I’ll call Frank after the tow truck.
When the dispatch operator said it would be an hour, Diana was angry, but also relieved to think someone was coming to help. She never liked to admit it, but Diana hated being alone. She called Frank, but he didn’t pick up. What could be happening? Probably a fight with the new girlfriend. Diana couldn’t help but smile. Things aren’t working out like you thought, Frank? He wouldn’t call because of a fight though, would he? Oh god, he killed her. No. Oh god, does he want to get back together? Maybe he wasn’t thinking about reconciliation when he called, but he was thinking about me. If things are rocky with that bitch then he might be weak. I might be weak if he does that thing where he smells my neck. Joni was crooning about fallen women in “Magdalene Laundries,” as if her mission in music was to make everyone cry.
“You’re not helping, Joni.” Diana switched to FM and AC/DC was playing. She didn’t know the name of the song and she didn’t think it really mattered. They’re all the same song, she thought, and there’s nothing romantic about any of them. “Good,” she said, then she looked at the gas tank. The car was still running and it read less than a quarter of a tank. Frank would be livid. “Not good.” She shut off the engine and remembered. The Thing in the road.
Diana looked in the mirrors but it was too dark to see anything. What if it was an animal? Her internal self went to war. So what? You’re no vet. But it could be suffering. Stay in the car. But it’s alone. So are you. You can’t save it anyway. I have to look. Stay. Diana opened the door just a bit and leaned over, but she couldn’t hear anything except the wind. She grabbed her coat from the backseat. She knew real fur coats were frowned upon, but she told everyone it was faux fur and wore it anyway. Screw them. It’s warm. I just hope no real foxes come by and take offense, or try to hump me.
The flashlight on her phone lit up the road and there was definitely something there. It was about thirty yards back, not big, and not really rounded like a body. Just long. Something snapped in the woods and she turned. She stared past the phone’s glow and into the deep shadows. Her heart pounded, and when the leaves moved again she sucked in a breath. It’s the wind. No it’s not. Get in the car. She held still for a minute, listening and adjusting her eyes. She wiped the cold sweat from her hands onto the dyed fox fur. She thought the blue color would be more convincing to the faux story, and also it was just beautiful, even if the brown one was on sale and this one wasn’t. It’s nothing. Find out what’s in the road.
Diana continued to the long dead Thing in the road, her fur coat moving with the cool breeze. I hope nobody hunts at night. I look like a bear. Oh god, are there bears here? That’s Frank paranoia talking. Stop it. She shined her flashlight in the woods again and for a second she thought eyes reflected back at her. She moved the light and they were gone. I was never meant to live in the wilderness. Everything is just so damn…wild. An owl screeched in confirmation. Okay, I don’t care what it is. Going back to the car now. Just look you big chicken. “Fine,” she whispered, and she rushed over to The Thing.
The Thing was a 2×4. Just a big piece of wood. Probably fell off a truck. But there were nails in it, lots of nails, and they all pointed up, like one of those spike strips the cops use. Diana froze. Footsteps in the leaves were unmistakable. She brought her phone up. There were the eyes again. There was a man. Diana screamed and ran for the car and then she heard Frank.
She slowed as her panic was traded for confusion. “Frank?” she asked, then turned around. In the dark of the road stood the outline of her ex-husband.
“What the hell are you doing here? Why did you scare me like that?”
He didn’t answer, but he walked toward her. She paused, then matched his steps. They met in the middle, between the car and the road hazard. The moon was taking the night off and even at a short distance she could barely make out his face.
“New coat?” Frank asked. “You look like a bear.”
“Shut up. It’s a nice coat.” Her heart was still going fast. “Why are you here? What’s wrong?”
“Jolene is pregnant.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
Congratulations? Sorry? Why’d he make me drive to him to tell me? How did he end up here where I hit that Thing? Diana looked around in the black silence, trying to understand. Frank’s hand was out like he was reaching for her. A flash went off with a pop, like an old time camera, and Diana’s stomach felt wet. “What was that?” she whispered, hardly noticing that Frank was guiding her back to the car. “What did you do Frank?” He opened the trunk and he pushed her in. She was tired and she didn’t mind laying down inside. His shadow stood there holding onto the trunk lid of the sedan.
“I can’t afford alimony and a baby Diana. I’m sorry.”
Frank, you asshole. Frank, so full of fear. Keep the tank half full for emergencies. We need more insurance. Don’t be afraid of the gun. It will keep us safe. When Frank left, Diana didn’t feel very safe anymore. He took their safety net with him. Luckily their lawyer, the one Frank kept on generous retainer, sided with Diana.
Frank’s monthly cheques were more than she needed. She didn’t spend much of it at first beyond paying bills, but somewhere along the way she felt he owed her that money. If he couldn’t be there for her, then the things his money could buy would fill the void. The things made her happy. The things like her big sedan, her warm fur coat, and the handgun she kept in the car trunk. They made Diana feel safe.
She reached for the bag the handgun was in. Frank was still watching her, though neither of them could see much in the pitch. Keep waiting, Frank. Not dead yet. The zipper was an innocuous sound. Just undoing my coat Frank. He doesn’t know it buttons. She twisted so she could point the gun at him. Just squirming because of the pain, Frank. She extended her arm and pointed it at what she thought was his chest. Reaching for you, my love. He grabbed her gently by the forearm and slid his fingers back to find her hand. When he reached her wedding band, Diana pulled the trigger. Frank’s shadow disappeared from view and he collapsed into the road.
The sounds of the forest slowly returned. Singing crickets. Leaves rustling in the wind. That screeching owl. The black became blacker and Diana felt the peace of it all. I still don’t want to live out here, but it’s not really so scary. She felt safe, the safest she had felt in a long time.
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