I sighed deep and heavy.
I was in my car, driving on the highway, on my way to California. I had been driving for three days straight, so I was starting to lose my grip on what was real and what wasn’t, as most do with over fifty hours of seeing nothing but road and talking to no one except for themselves. I hadn’t started to talk to myself until the second day. Since the third day, for miles and miles around, there was nothing but desert. It was a dry, arid sandy plane with a single, two lane highway divided by a median. The sun bore down and caused the need for air conditioning.
It was on the fourth day that things began to go horribly wrong.
Until then, I had simply pulled off to the side of the highway and slept in my car whenever I began to doze. I had three containers of gasoline that each held thirty gallons. I had a full tank and two remaining containers in the trunk. The car dealership said that my car got “the best gas mileage this side of the Rio Grande” and I was inclined to agree… until the fourth day, that is.
The day started off as any did; I woke up, brushed my teeth with a dry toothbrush, had a breakfast of beef jerky and Arnold Palmer, relieved myself, and began driving. The first thing that I noticed was that the highway was dead. No traffic, no trucks, not even a sound. There was no wind whatsoever. I couldn't even hear the sound of my own car running. It felt like I had gone deaf, so I shouted to myself inside the car just to make sure I could still hear.
The silence was awkward and incomplete. At first it was a dead silence. But then, after so long, I began to hear two soft thuds, a double bass that was faint in the wind. It slowly grew in volume but still remained quiet. It grew louder slowly but surely. After a while the silence became frightening, so I turned on the radio to distract myself. Smooth Jazz started to play over the speakers and I bobbed my head along with the beat. I reached up and wiped the sweat off of my forehead. Silence wasn't that bad, was it? Of course it wasn’t. It wasn’t like the silence was a real thing; something that could hurt me.
That came in the form of something else equally frightening, if not, even more.
I saw, in the distance, a dark shape on the side of the hallway. As I approached him, I saw that he was a man. He appeared to be a homeless man; his clothes were ragged and his hair and thick beard were matted. He was a hitchhiker, I guessed because of his sign, painted in red on a cardboard box that said “California or Bust”. Now, being a nice, friendly man, I decided to slow down to a stop beside him and see if I could offer him a ride, or at least help him along. Now being as close as I was, I noticed that his eyes were bloodshot, the blood vessels in his eyes had burst in a peculiar pattern; they formed a spiral. The man approached my car and motioned for me to roll down my window, so I did.
"Going to California?” he asked.
"Where to?” I asked him
"Just California,” he said. " Hop on in, I’ll give you a lift,” I said.
The man’s face shifted, only for a moment. His face was replaced by a skull, barren only except for small scraps of skin and blood. The most terrifying of all of it, was the fact that his eyes were still there, the same color, the same shape, the same size, the same blood vessels popped and bulging. I shouted; terribly frightened, and shoved my foot down on the gas pedal. The car lurched and peeled down the highway.
My heart was pounding and my thoughts were racing. In order to calm myself, I tried to rationalize what I had seen. I tried not to think about the grin that had crossed its face before I had driven away. I felt a chill run up and down my back. Not thinking, I ripped open a pack of beef jerky, my last one, and began to gnaw on a piece to fight my urge to vomit.
It was then that my air conditioner stopped working.
I checked my phone to see what time it was; my radio’s clock had been acting funny since the beginning of the trip, so I never actually knew what time it was. I just pulled over and slept whenever I began to feel really tired. My phone said it was nearly nine at night. I noticed that my signal had gone dead.
The cold feeling had settled around my lower back. Now it crept up my spine. I saw another dark figure in the distance. This time, I saw it was a man but did not slow down. As I passed, I saw that it was the same man that I had seen before. The chill wrapped itself around my throat and slipped down like an ice cube into my stomach. I reached up to wipe the sweat off my forehead; there was more this time. I drove on, only looking at him briefly; just long enough to meet his eyes with mine. I stared into his electric blue, spiral bloodshot eyes for but a second, and I was mesmerized. I almost stopped a second time, but decided against it and sped along. I looked again at my phone. It was ten thirty. The sun had long since set, and now it was black as pitch all around the highway. Only the small circles of light coming from my headlights allowed me to see anything.
Once again the chill began to climb my spine. I saw a dark figure in the distance and sped up; as I passed I dared not look at him in case I met those eyes of his. Those spiral, bloodshot eyes. I checked my gas and saw that I had a little under a quarter of a tank left. Soon enough I would have to stop, get out, and fill up the tank. One container would fill up the tank, but I only had two containers left.
I began to feel tired. This by itself terrified me.
I checked my phone again; it read midnight. I had less than an eighth of a tank left, so unwillingly I pulled over to the side of the road. I opened my door. There seemed to be a barrier in the doorway of my car; inside the barrier I heard the radio. Outside, I did not. The air was deadened of all sound. I couldn’t even hear myself breathe. The darkness was a thick blanket all around me, if I held my hand two feet from my face I could just barely make out its silhouette. I unlatched the trunk and grabbed one of the containers, only to realize I had grabbed the empty one.
I heard footsteps behind me. Far away, but getting closer. I hurriedly took out the other gas container and dumped it into my car. I barely had enough time to twist the cap back on and close it, slamming my trunk closed, before the footsteps were loud enough to be directly behind me. I threw the container on the ground and sprinted into the driver’s seat. I shoved the key into the ignition and slammed on the gas pedal. I checked my phone. It said low battery, and told me it was twelve thirty.
The radio’s music took a dark turn. It went from happy renditions of jazz songs to chilling stories told by a baritone voice. Every time something intense or frightening happened, a sound effect played. The chill took its familiar place climbing my spine. In the distance, I saw the figure. My stomach dropped. He wasn’t on the side of the road; he was standing on the median. Just as I was going to pass it, he jumped in front of the car. I hit him going as fast as I could.
I dared not look back. If I did, I was afraid what I might find. My heart thudded in my throat.
I was now going nearly ninety miles an hour. I checked my rear view mirror for whatever reason I told myself, and saw nothing but blackness. In the back seat, I was shocked and terrified to see a square of cardboard sitting in my backseat, painted with red. It read “You should have picked him up”.
I checked my phone again. It read one forty five. I was badly frightened.
My radio died. It didn’t slowly fuzz out, it simply stopped. As if something had switched it off.
Or killed it.
Silence enveloped me. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I heard a small, maniacal laugh.
I heard footsteps behind me, getting closer.
The chill climbed my spine quickly and nearly strangled me when it slipped down my throat. I looked back at the sign. In red, maybe paint, maybe blood, it read “California or Bust”.
My gas light came on.
<My phone died.
I traveled for what I assumed had been around half an hour when my car had begun to go slower. The footsteps were growing louder, and the laughter had returned. It lasted longer each time it occurred.
My car died.
<I sat in the unmoving car for hours. The footsteps continued to grow and the laughter was now constant. It became more of a shrieking after a while.
The sun rose on the desert in beautiful purples and oranges. I pushed the gas pedal and turned the steering wheel, fully expecting this to have all been a dream, but the car refused to move. I pulled my keys out of the ignition. The footsteps could have been my own at this point, the laughter as well. It was so loud they felt as if they were in the car with me.
The chill climbed my spine and fell into my stomach. I checked my rear view mirror to see if I could spot the figure, lurching along with its twisted, broken form, still somehow alive.
When I looked into the mirror, I screamed, perhaps to make sure I could still hear.
When I looked into the mirror, I didn’t see out of the back window. I saw my own face. I met those eyes again, for the last time.
Those terrifying, electric blue eyes stared at me from the mirror. Those terrible, spiral bloodshot eyes.