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Near Miss

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It is true that it was very late at night, and that Bob Durran was tired. It is true that that night it had stormed very hard. It is also true that Mr. Durran’s driving has been described as rushed and possibly distracted at best, when he was actually calm and not in any hurry, and that on that night he was very irritated since he was late to a dinner party that his dear friend, who at that moment went by the name of Howard Montang, was holding in honor of his very first book being in publication, thus making his driving even more erratic. And it is definitely true that he was driving on a very particularly dark and winding stretch of road.

All of these facts are true, but absolutely none of them have any cause in what happened on that night.

Observe, the man on the side of the road was dressed in all dark clothing, right down to the black hood hiding his face. Even with his headlights on, which, of course, they were, Bob could not have possibly seen him leaning against the side of a large and concealing oak. Also, the man jumped out in front of his car when he would have been a mere five feet away from the front of the car, thus making it impossible to stop in time.

Faced with these facts, we are led to believe that none of this incident up to this point is Bob Durran’s fault.

Also faced with these facts, Bob was left with no other choice but to slam on the brakes and swerve to miss the poor fellow, which landed him on the side of the road, the right headlight compressed against and around a tree, and his air bag nearly breaking his neck.

When he opened his eyes, Bob first felt the airbag, then saw it, saw the windshield, saw what was outside the windshield, smelled the smoked, and that was when he realized what had happened.

Like the seat was being electrified, he burst out of the car, nearly forgetting to unbuckle himself. When he had ran ten feet from the wreck, he thought it safe enough to stop and turn to see just what he had climbed out of.

He used to have a nice, light blue car that was not retro nor sports nor feminine nor masculine nor luxury nor utility, but was simply a car that he drove around in and picked up pretty women who had a particular fancy to it, or the driver. Now, he had a one-eyed metal frame that had half of its face crushed by a tree that was smoldering despite the rain that was pouring down upon it like a divine fire hose.

Bob was so wet himself at this point that he didn’t even feel the rain anymore. He just felt his cold skin and his hot temper. It was all that damn idiot’s fault. If he hadn’t jumped out in front of his car....

Bob did a sharp, surprised inhale. His heart fumbled, then came back again at break neck speed. It started to hurt even, but all Bob could think of was the fact that someone had jumped in front of his car. And now, no one.

Because there was nothing left of him.

But that would have been impossible. He didn’t feel any impact. There wasn’t any thump. Surely he would have seen the...

A sudden, bloody image splashed across his mind, and he gagged. His knees weakened from the blood rushing to his brain and his heaving stomach. He gagged again, and again. He was sure he was going to vomit all over the road. He was about to when the man called.

“Hey mister. You okay?”

Bob’s stomach was quickly under control. He craned his neck to see the man in the solid black rain coat walking towards him. He had his hood up, but Bob could clearly see his long, elliptical face. It reminded him of comic drawings of Dracula, except that this man’s face didn’t look malicious like the Count’s, but concerned and owned by a man of good humor. He pulled his hood down, exposing a buzz cut cap of tree bark hair, and Bob realized that the rain had lightened to a mist, and that he was freezing wet.

“Oh my God,” he said.

“Something wrong?” the man was right in front of him now. He was much taller, a little thinner, and much younger than him. That was obvious because the stranger had all of his hair.

“You’re alive,” Bob said.

The man wasn’t looking at Bob at that moment, but instead at Bob’s car. With an expression of absolute disgust, he said, still looking at the car, “My... I’m sorry about your car. Ah, damn....”

Bob didn’t feel the need to turn and look at what he already knew the stranger was cringing at.

“That’s—alright,” he said slowly, “I’m just glad I didn’t kill you!”

“That was awfully stupid of me,” then he changed the subject, “You need a ride, don’t you?”

Bob laughed dryly as he said, “Yeah, I do.”

“My car is back a little ways,” he said, “God, I’m awfully sorry about your car there. You’re insured, right?”

Bob snapped his head up, as if surprised by the question. He said, “Yes, of course.”

The stranger began to continue his trek across the road, expecting Bob to follow him with a simple, “Name’s Todd.”

Bob waited until he could barely see Todd to follow him. He didn’t think himself stupid. He wasn’t stupid. He didn’t want to trust this man. Still, his car was wrecked, it started raining again, and there was no way he could get any cell phone service. Still, this man had already tried to kill him once.

He followed him far into the brambles. The mud and thorns made desperate attempts at his shoes and legs. He realized that he was now relying on the sound of Todd’s footfalls, the alternating crisp snaps and the softer gushes that his feet made. He couldn’t even see him except for a vague, tall blur in the distance. Then lightning flashed, streaking across the sky like a pulsating vein. For the instant it lived, everything was clearly visible, including Todd. He had his hood up again, and he look taller, more powerful than ever. The woods seemed to cower away from him in the sick, fearful respect of a tyrannical ruler. The lightning had seen Todd, and it gave him a title: the King of the Woods, and it gave him more strength than Bob dared imagine. The whole image lasted for less than a second, then the light was there no more.

That shadow king had taken it away.

Bob stopped in his tracks, now knowing the mistake he had made in trusting this man.

The thunder resonated all through the trees, but Bob could clearly hear the stranger’s voice saying, “Hurry up!”

Bob obeyed.

All hail the King of the Woods.

Todd’s car was a red Jeep, middle aged. Mud took away any youthful off-the-lot shine it might have had, but Bob could clearly see that it was in excellent condition.

Todd went straight for the driver’s door. He was about to open it when Bob suddenly blurted, “How ‘bout I drive?”

Todd gave him a strange look, as if he didn’t quite understand what he had said.

“It’s just that,” a blushing Bob explained, “I know the way there pretty well. I just need a ride.”

Todd looked from Bob to the steering wheel.

“Come on,” Bob pleaded. He had to win this fight. “I’ll give you directions to wherever you need to go after I get there.”

“Okay...” Todd said, and Bob pushed him out of the way as he bolted to get in the seat before he changed his mind.

He smiled to himself. He had won. The strange shadow named Todd couldn’t hurt him now. He controlled the car. Any funny business, and Bob could simply veer this way or that, brake and bail out, anytime he pleased.

But how well can that really work? Bob tried to convince himself otherwise. After all, Todd wasn’t driving, and anything was better than letting that man take the driver’s seat, surely.

Todd got in, Bob started the engine, and he drove out until the tires splashed out onto the asphalt.

As soon as Bob headed the car for the direction of his friend’s house, another vast, writhing net of lightning was cast across the sky.

“That’s strange,” Todd said.

It was strange, because the only rain the clouds had left was a fine gossamer veil of mist.

Right before the bolt died, an audacious clap of thunder rolled through the world. Bob jerked the wheel to the right a fraction of an inch for a second, and he nearly went into the ditch again.

“Watch it!” Todd yelled. His voice was shaking almost as much as he was.

Another slicing bolt illuminated the sky. Todd put up his hands to shield his eyes. Another bass boom of thunder sounded. Bob jerked his hands so hard it was a wonder that the wheel didn’t pop off. It went on and on and on. Lightning bolts, raging whips of godforsaken fury, stretched across the sky like banners for supernovas. Thunder exploded across the landscape, bombs landing from a forgotten war. Bob was simultaneously blinded and deafened.

Through a sudden jolt of panic, Bob stomped hard on the brake. The car’s squealing tires could not be heard above the roll of thunder. At last, Bob was thrown against his seatbelt, and was still.

Still, the lightning continued. Bob could still see it through his closed eyes. The sky was a writhing nest of tangled lightning strands, screeching like hungry raptors. He was sure that the veins of the bolts would be burned into the back of his eyes like tattoos.

Then, there was silence and darkness. Bob heard Todd’s whimpering, “Dear God. What was that?”

Rather than answering, Bob opened his eyes and slammed on the accelerator. He wasn’t sure why going forward was so important, but he just knew he had to.

The lightning flashed again, but something was different. The bolt was much weaker, much shorter than the others, the lame one of the herd. The thunder following was more of a rumble. Five minutes later, it happened again, and kept happening every five minutes or so.

“Well,” Todd said, “This is better.”

Bob didn’t think so. He was afraid of this new lightning even more than he was of the earlier fireballs. Every time he felt its thunder, his ballistic heart threatened to stop entirely. He barely had his eyes on the road because he was staring so intently at the sky in anticipation. He wasn’t sure why he was scared, except that now he had no reason to stop.

He wanted to stop. He wanted to just brake the car right there and abandon Todd as he backtracked back to his wreck and beyond, just as long as he wasn’t going forward, not on this road.

He felt a pain in his hands. Looking down, he saw his knuckles were white.

“Hey,” Todd said, “How far did you say the place was?”

“It’s about ten minutes from where we are now,” Bob answered, “You’ll be able to tell in a minute.”

Because shortly the trees would have thinned and Bob would have turned onto the road that led to the residence of Mr. Montang.

Bob eagerly anticipated the turn off. He leaned forward in the driver’s seat so he could better see it.

But there was no road to turn off to, and the trees still flowed forth in a vehement army of branches and leaves. Bob sat back in his seat, stunned. Maybe it was too soon. Bob drove a little further and a little further. The trees still stood, there numbers strong as ever. Todd stared at the clock embedded in the radio.

“It’s been twenty minutes,” Todd said with smoldering anger, “You said it’d be ten minutes. Where the hell are we going?”

Bob was shaken. It took him awhile to finally speak.

“You—you don’t understand,” Bob stammered, “The trees—they shouldn’t be here. We’re supposed to be driving through a clearing. These trees aren’t supposed to be here!”

“But they are!” Todd yelled, “Did you miss the turn?”

“No!” Bob was trembling now, “No. The turn is in a field! And look around! Do you see anywhere where I can turn onto?”

“What the hell are you trying to do?’ Todd’s voice shook a little, “The trees didn’t just move in front of your turn.”

Bob’s stomach contracted, and threatened to vomit again.

The trees didn’t just move in front of his turn.

“But what if they did?” Bob mumbled to himself.

“What?” Todd demanded.

Before Bob could say anything, he had to stop.

Standing in the middle of the road was a young lady, no more than twenty. She had dark brown hair woven into a braid, a sharp nose, and big, wide, lime green eyes. She was turning slowly in sloppy, small dazed circles over and over. It was as if she had just landed there, or took so many drugs she’d forgotten where she was.

Bob got out, walked to her, and said, “Excuse me.”

She just kept turning like a twisted chain.

“Miss,” he said as he grabbed her arm, “Do you need help?”

She whipped her head around, and her eyes faced his. They looked clouded for a quick moment before she blinked and they shone forth in crystal clear fright. She swat his hand off of her and began to back away.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“My name is B—“

“Where did you come from?”

“Miss, I saw you in the middle of the road. I stopped my car to keep from hitting you. You better be careful or—“

“What car?”

Bob turned back to glance at the Jeep not two feet behind him. It was still there.

“Ma’am,” he said, “ It’s right there.”

“I don’t see anything! Where did you come from?”

“Miss, I just want to help you.”

He walked towards her, but she began to run backwards, hugging herself.

“Please go away.”

“Miss,” he reached out to her.

She slapped him in the cheek before screaming, “Stay away from me!” and disappearing into the woods.

He was only able to be stunned for half a second when he heard the Jeep’s engine start up behind him.

Without thinking or blinking, Bob spun around and jumped in front of the vehicle before it was too fast to stop.

The brakes worked, and he heard Todd mutter a curse. He bolted for the passenger door and got in as the Jeep was accelerating. He was about to close the door when he felt a heavy blow to his ribs. He turned to see Todd trying to push him out of the car with his fist. He kept punching him like a lunatic, but Bob grabbed hold of his seat as he reached for the door.

“Todd, stop!” he yelled.

“Get out of the car!”

When Todd saw that punching wasn’t working, he rearranged himself and started kicking Bob instead, miraculously maintaining a straight path as they barreled down the road at about thirty-five miles an hour. Bob winced each and every time Todd’s steel-toed boot meet with his shoulder, arm, ribs, and stomach. But just as his hold was weakening, his frantic hand reached the door handle and pulled it closed.

“Get out of the car!” Todd screamed, still kicking Bob.

As Bob opened his mouth to speak, Todd’s foot made contact with his jaw. Bob grunted as his hands went up to his face. He tasted his own salty blood pooling in his mouth. His tongue felt a tooth that was loose but in no danger of falling out. Todd was still kicking his sore side.

“Todd, Todd, TODD!” Bob screeched. As he said his name the third time, his own fist collided with Todd’s stomach.

“Agghh!” Todd said, and the car started to swerve maniacally all over the road. Bob gripped the dash board for support, watching as the car curved where the road was ramrod straight. Coughing, Todd managed to get his foot back to the driver’s side and straighten the car out.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Bob said.

“Me?” Todd wheezed, “You’re crazy!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Remember when you stopped for no reason and got out—?”

“There was a woman in the middle of the road!”

“No there wasn’t!”

“Were you staring at the damn clock again? She was right in front of us!”

“All I saw was you talking to yourself and grabbing air.”

Bob sat in angry silence as he soak in all he had heard.

“Okay,” he said at length, “so what if I’m crazy? You’re driving and I don’t have anything to hurt you with. Look.” He emptied his pockets, which had a couple of dollar bills, a wallet, and his cell phone in them.

“All right,” Todd said, “I’ll drop you off at a gas station and you can call someone who will get you, okay?”

“Fine,” Bob said.

There was a silence for about thirty seconds before Todd said, “Remember this if you think about trying anything: I’m younger than you, I’m probably stronger than you, and I sure as hell can get angrier than you can. Besides, I’m not afraid to ram this Jeep into a tree, and I’ll make sure it hits your side first.”

“Fine,” Bob said.

Todd drove and drove and drove. They never saw a gas station. Or any telephone poles. Or any people. The only thing Bob saw besides the ugly trees and the road was Todd’s eyes darting towards him every five seconds.

And the kids in the middle of the road.

Really, they were teenagers, all past fifteen, but in your forties, everyone under twenty-five is a kid, and sometimes they can even be a little older. They were three boys. Two of them, the littler ones, had hold of their buddy’s royal blue and saintly white trucker hat, who was at least four inches taller than both of them. They seemed to be playing a warm game of monkey-in-the-middle with it. A Kodak moment. Friends forever young playing in the middle of the road. All was right with their world.

Bob wasn’t scared just yet. His jaw set, his eyes widened, and his skin contracted as a prelude to a cold sweat, but he wasn’t scared. Just concerned.

“Todd,” Bob said with much effort, “Slow down.”

“What for?” he said innocently.

“What for?” Bob demanded, “You’re about to hit three kids!”

“I don’t see them,” he said calmly.

He barreled forwards. The boys kept playing. Picture. Perfect.

“Todd, for God’s sake, stop!”

He didn’t. Bob could see the boy’s euphoric laughter. No worries. Footloose and carefree.

“Look,” Todd said as if he was explaining math to a kindergartener, “You said it yourself. You’re crazy. Those kids aren’t real. I can’t hurt them.”

He just kept coming at them like a bullet made wrecking ball. Now Bob was scared. He tried to think of something, but the horror of what was happening blocked all the synapses that were trying to help him. But one message got through to him, crystal clear like it was spoken to him.

He lurched forward and grasped for the car horn. He almost reached it when Todd punched him right in the eye. Pain went all through his face as he instinctively grabbed for his eye.

“Please honk,” his mouth managed to say, “Warn them, please!”

Through his good eye, he could see that they were almost upon the kids. The bigger one had his hat back, and they were standing around talking about whatever the hell adolescent boys talked about. Girls, school, jerks, how they got the scar on their knee. All was well.

“Stop stop stop stop,” Bob yelled and kept yelling as he prepared for the kind of impact that would happen when the boy in a plaid shirt and a green windbreaker was thrown under the front and back wheels of a thousand-pound Jeep Cherokee.

He wanted to close his eyes. He wanted desperately to avoid watching the unfortunate boy get killed, but he just couldn’t close his eyes. It was like he was hypnotized into watching every little detail of what was to come.

Suddenly, the boy in the plaid shirt grabbed the tallest one’s trucker hat, and he chased both of the shorter boys to the other side of the road.

The car missed the plaid boy by inches. Bob thought he saw the very end of his jacket slap against the car as he bolted for the other’s hat.

Bob realized he wasn’t breathing. He exhaled, inhaled, and exclaimed, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I told you—“

“They were there, damn it! And you almost hit one of them!”


“You could have kill a kid, Todd!” Bob’s throat was starting to hurt, but he didn’t care. He just kept screaming, “You almost killed a child! Someone’s baby boy! You want a boy’s blood on your hands?”

“Listen to me!” Todd screamed in defense, “There were no boys! The road was completely empty as it is now!”

Bob shut his ears. He didn’t want to hear this from Todd. He didn’t need to hear it at all. He saw those boys. And that girl. He knew it. Then he remembered how oblivious they had seemed. The kids didn’t even know the car was coming...

Bob looked out his window, at the trees that repeated themselves over and over. It was like the entire woods was set on a rotating screen, spinning around and around and around to make it seem like he and Todd were moving when they were actually still in the same place. It seemed at this point that they would be kept in that same spot forever...

The screen slowed. Bob looked over to the windshield to try to see why.

There was a man at the side of the road, a hitchhiker. He was old, about in his eighties. He wore a thick navy jacket and a fedora with tufts of snow white hair curling up from the bottom. He seemed apathetic. He didn’t need this ride. He didn’t need any ride. He was just bored and decided to give it a shot. Bob thought his whole life must have been boring, since his wrinkles were so light that they were hardly there.

The car stopped right besides him. Bob rolled down his window and asked the man, as politely as he could, “Need a ride?”

“Actually,” the man put his raisin hand on what was left of the window. It seemed older than the rest of him. “I was going to ask if you needed directions.”

“What makes you think we’re lost?” Bob asked.

“Son,” his whole forearm was on the window now, and he was smiling, “You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t lost.”

He was speaking to Bob and Bob only. The man kept looking at him with those smooth, strange gray eyes the whole time he spoke.

“We’re looking for a gas station,” Bob explained, “Hopefully someplace with cell phone reception.”

The old man’s grin widened as he said, “Keep driving. It’s not too far now.”

Bob was going to thank him, really, but Todd stomped on the accelerator, and the car was jerked forward at breakneck speeds.

“What was that for, you—“ he stopped as soon as he saw Todd’s face.

His eyes were wider than if he was looking into the headlights of the car that killed him. His face was even paler now, a new model of the moon. Sweat dribbled lazily down his face and he was breathing deep and short breathes. He didn’t looked like he’d seen a ghost. He looked like as if, for a few terrifying minutes, he had been a ghost.

“What’s wrong?” Bob asked.

“That guy back there—“ Todd’s head jerked a little, cutting himself off, “You saw him!”

“Yeah,” Bob said, “He was very nice.”

“Nice!” Todd said, aghast, “He was Death!”

“He was not dead.”

“Not dead, Death! Personified! The Angel of Death! The Grim Reaper! Death.”

“What?” Bob wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or scared out of his mind. The old man that Bob had spoken with couldn’t have been Death Personified. A thing like that doesn’t just appear by the side of the road to give you directions. That meant that Todd, the driver, was definitely crazy.

Or maybe they were both crazy.

“He’s not the Grim Reaper!” Bob said in his sanity’s defense, “He didn’t look anything like a skeleton!”

“He didn’t have to!” Todd said, “You could just tell. It’s like this message he sent.... Oh God.”

“What?” said Bob, making up for Todd’s sudden drop in volume with those last two words.

“You’re dead,” he said.


“One of us has to be,” Todd said calmly and chaste, “and you’re the one who’s been seeing all of those people that weren’t there...” his voice went quiet again, “They must be dead, too.”

“I’m not dead,” Bob protested, “I certainly don’t feel dead.”

“So?” Todd asked, “It doesn’t matter if you feel anything. Dead is dead, and you’re dead.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“You’re the one who jumped out in front of the car, not me. You’re the one who looks so pale, not me. You’re the one who truly saw Death, not me.”

“But I’m not the one who hit a tree. You are. I’m not the one who’s been seeing other dead people. You are. And I’m not the one who was so chummy with the Reaper. You are.”

“Well, Mr. Smart-Ass,” Bob said, “What are you going to do now?”

“Kick you out,” Todd said. And then he pulled over to the shoulder, and stopped.

“I’m not getting out,” Bob said defiantly. He saw nothing to be afraid of.

“Get out,” Todd said, “or I’ll make you.”

For some reason, Bob was less confident as he said, “How do you plan on doing that if I’m dead?”

“Get out,” Todd said, “Now.”

“No,” Bob said.

In response, Todd got out, walked to Bob’s side (Bob could just feel his feet sinking into the hard ground as he stomped on it like a row of ants), opened his door (Bob was surprised that he didn’t rip it out of its frame), and pulled Bob half way out by his upper arm. Bob grunted in sudden pain. It wasn’t his arm that hurt, but his pelvis, which was forced to stay in his seat, held in by the lap belt, while his upper half was being hurled out by Hurricane Todd.

“Wait,” Bob cried, “At least let me get my seat belt off, damn it!”

Todd stopped pulling him, but his hand still clutched his arm. It was only then Bob realized the pain that gripped caused him. It was crushing his flesh against his bone like a compactor, and the pressure of the blood pooling against the human tourniquet threatened to turn his forearm into a water balloon.

As soon as the click of the seat belt being released was made, Bob flew from the car and landed on the ground. He landed on top of the arm Todd was strangling, and he thought for a minute that his lungs had either blown up or been crushed to a bloody pulp. It took a minute for him to take a decent breath again. He gasped like a fish, and then the rest of his body got a chance to shoot pain through his synapses like an angry, anarchist mob.

“You’re fine,” Todd said, “You’re dead.”

Bob’s eyes were closed, so he didn’t see what happened next. But he heard Todd’s door slam shut. The engine roared awake, and leaves and bits of gravel whimpered as they were crushed beneath the tires. One last, long howl, and then the Jeep faded from existence.

Still Bob stayed on the ground. He wasn’t sure why. Most of the pain had faded away, but he just lay there, unmoving. He didn’t really want to move, though. He just wanted to stay there, face in the mud. It felt better than getting up, anyway.

Then he heard the woman call, “My God! Are you alright?”

Slowly, and with some labor, he raised his head. She was standing above him. Velvet brown curls dangled from and around her head. She had eyes a shade darker than her hair, and with tiny sparkles in them, like glitter on a doll. He thought she was very pretty, and then he realized...

She was glowing.

Warm, yellow light, a little brighter than a candle, shown from her skin, her hair, the dress she was wearing. Coming from any other source, it would have been soothing. From her, it was horrifying.

He quickly got to his feet, and stood there. Everything told him to run, but to his horror, he couldn’t. Worse, he felt drawn to her. He never wondered, but he now knew what a bug zapper looked like to a fly.

“Are you okay?” she said, genuinely concerned.

“What are you?”

She didn’t say anything. She stared blankly at him, as if he’d asked her the one question she didn’t know.

“You need to come with me,” she said at last.

“Oh no,” Bob said. Tears lay just beyond his eyes, making his eyes sweat but not close enough to spill. “He was right.”

“Sir,” she gently took hold of his arm and began guiding him, both gently and chaste like a snooty flight attendant, “Come this way.”

“I’m dead,” he rambled on, “It’s true. I didn’t believe him, but he was right. I’m dead. I’m really dead.”

“Oh dear,” the woman said, oddly apologetically, like it was on behalf of a rude uncle.

“Was I not supposed to know?” Bob might as well have been given Novocain at this point.

“No,” she said, “You’re not dead at all.”

“But Todd...”

“He’s the one who’s dead.”

“But how?” Bob said, suddenly sober, “I saw all those ghosts.” It was strange now, the way he talked about those people he saw. It was the first time he used that word, “ghosts,” for them. He knew it was right, but it didn’t feel right though. As if those people were still among the living.

“When souls,” another strange word, “travel along this road,” she explained, “they tend to think themselves the only ones on the road. Death is a very lonely experience, you see. You don’t feel like anyone is with you. You’re all by yourself, unless you are one of those rare occasions that have your closest friends die with you. Tragic, but true... So, the souls along this road only know themselves to be here. They see no one else on this road.”

“But how can Todd be dead?” Bob asked, “I didn’t feel him hitting the car. I didn’t kill him, did I?”

The woman shook her head the whole time she spoke, “You did hit him, Bob, but that’s what he wanted. Todd was trying to kill himself.”

“Oh,” Bob said.

“You didn’t see his body then, did you?” she said.

Bob shook his head.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “He died nearly instantly. Hardly felt a thing.”

“How come I didn’t see him? And why am I here if I’m not dead? Why was I even allowed to come with him in the first place?”

“When you hit the tree, you were knocked out. You could say you’re having an out-of-body experience right now. Here’s your car.”

Sure enough, they were now standing in front of his car in all its blue crushed pride.

Bob looked around. Then, he looked down and under his good old hunk of metal, and then he said, “Where’s Todd?”

“You need to get in now, sir.”

Bob realized that she would not answer his question. Ever. He yanked open the door to the smoldering piece of wadded up metal. He was a little surprised to find that his body was not in there, but he knew better than to expect an answer from the woman standing behind him.

Yet he couldn’t help but asking, “Are you an angel?”

“No,” she said, and then she was gone. Bob didn’t have to look behind him to know that.

He got in, buckled his seatbelt, and closed the door.

Suddenly, he opened his eyes and his head jerked forward a little bit. He felt like he had just woken up. He wondered what had happened, and why his airbag was inflated....

Just like that, he remembered the tree, driving off into the ditch, and that someone had jumped in front of his car.

He tore out of the car like the seat was being electrified. He didn’t really feel the rain anymore. He just felt his cold skin and his chilling disgust.

He had looked around for the man when he had first gotten out, but he couldn’t find him, standing and alive, or lying down with his blood drowning him. Now, however, that he was looking at his car, he could tell where the man that had jumped out in front of him was, and it made him nearly vomit.

It was too dark to see the blood pooling all around the head for anything other that leaked motor oil, and all the bruises would have been hidden by his clothes. What really got Bob were the legs, one of which was clearly bent at the thigh, and the fact that they were wearing steel-toed boots.

Todd continued driving down the road at an insane speed. He was trying to outrun the dead man, trying to outrun Death.

Trying to outrun the trees.

The damn trees kept coming and coming and coming, like a legion of paralyzed zombies. They were all he could see by now, just rows upon rows upon rows of their dead, wizened trunks and the inescapable cage of all their clawed, intertwining branches. The farther along he went on this road, the closer the trees seemed to be to the edges of it. Pretty soon they were right up on it, their wormy roots creating small to medium bumps on it.

Todd was beginning to feel claustrophobic. That’s the word he used with himself, claustrophobic. Because he was too proud and scared to use the other, more accurate alternative, paranoid. That would force him to accept what he was suspecting.

They were closing in on him.

Immediately, as if they had a wire in his brain or simply realized that he was on to them, Todd heard the loud, furious outcry of snapping bark. He slammed onto the brake at just about the same time he saw the tips of the falling tree’s branches come over the road. Even with his foot jamming the brake to the floor board, he knew that he wouldn’t get stopped in time.

As his car skidded/barreled into the sizeable tree trunk, he threw his arms up over his face, both in an effort to protect his face and so that he didn’t have to see what happened next.

Surprisingly, the impact wasn’t near as dramatic as he was anticipating it to be. The jolt of being hurled against his straining seatbelt and hitting the inflating airbag was very unpleasant, too be sure. His heart was thundering incessantly behind its cage, and he thought, oddly enough without any embarrassment, that he felt the warmth of a small puddle of urine in his crotch region. Other than that, however, he was perfectly fine. More than fine. In fact, as he got out of the Jeep to look at the hood which was now slightly caved in to the curvature of the trunk, he was tempted to say that he was in the calmest state he had been in during this entire ordeal.

Of course, that tranquility only lasted for about three or five seconds. Then the tree and Jeep disappeared.

It was just like a circa 1969 episode of Bewitched. One second both the tree and Jeep were less than a foot from Todd, then the next they were completely gone. It looked to him as if they jumped out of existence. His eyes swiveled about in his skull, searching for them, but he didn’t physically move, not even his head. He just stood there, tensing up as if to brace for the next impact, the next falling tree, the next one of this goddamn road’s dirty tricks.

Sure enough, her heard a voice, a woman’s, call from behind him, “My God! Are you alright!”

He didn’t really trust this place enough to turn around, but then again, it would’ve been hard for him to defend himself if he couldn’t see what he was supposed to be defending himself from, wouldn’t it?

Slowly, and with much reluctance, he turned around. She was standing practically right him. That she could have gotten so close without him noticing startled him more than the tree and his Jeep disappearing. Velvet brown curls dangled from and around her head. She had eyes a shade darker than her hair, and with tiny sparkles in them, like glitter on a doll. He thought she was very pretty, and then he realized...

She was glowing.

Warm, yellow light, a little brighter than a candle, shown from her skin, her hair, the dress she was wearing. Coming from any other source, it would have been soothing. From her, it was horrifying.

He backed up about two feet, and then he stopped, unable to go any further. Everything told him to run, but to his horror, he couldn’t. Worse, he felt drawn to her. He never wondered, but he now knew what a bug zapper looked like to a fly.

“Are you okay?” she said, genuinely concerned.

“What happened to my Jeep?”

“It’s right where you left it.”

Todd couldn’t answer, but the look on his face felt as if it said plenty.

“That wasn’t your actual car. That was an illusion.”

“What? But how?”

She didn’t say anything. She stared blankly at him, as if he’d asked her the one question she didn’t know.

“You need to come with me,” she said at last.

Todd’s heart was set to fluttering in his chest. A great, heavy sense of dread began to spread out within him.

“Don’t tell me I was wrong.”

“Excuse me?” she had already started walking and when she turned her head her face had an odd mix of perplexity and annoyance that accompanied women who’d been coquettishly whistled at.

“Am I dead?”

“Oh,” she said, “No.”

The weight of the dread suddenly evaporated, and he was able to follow this strange, benevolent woman.

“So that other man? He’s the one that’s dead? That’s why he was able to see all those other people.”

“Yes,” he hair seemed to glimmer as she nodded, “Only the dead can know their own secrets, including whether there are others like them present.”

His walking slowed a little as he thought and said, “Wait, if he’s dead, then how could I see him? He missed me. How was I able to give him a ride?”

“He didn’t miss you.”


“He swerved to miss you, but not in time to completely miss you. You’re badly injured, but you’ll be fine. The reason you were able to see him and he you was because you were knocked unconscious when it happened. You could say that you’re having an out of body experience. He saw you, whether he knew it or not, as dead. How you were able to drive your car might be a little harder to understand. The best I can say is that you were under the illusion of having a car. You were, essentially, just going through the motions.”

Just as she finished explaining, they had suddenly reached the wrecked car. Todd was amazed at how fast they were able to get there, but he was even more amazed at the sheer carnage he saw in front of him. He now saw that the car was practically hugging the tree. Shattered bits of glass lay strewn every which way. He wasn’t surprised that the man didn’t survive the crash. He was even more surprised that he did.

“Ah man…”

“It’s okay,” she said, then pointed to a spot of ground besides the wreck, “You fell there. Once you wake up, you’ll be in a lot of pain, but another car is coming. The man driving it will help you. Be absolutely sure to tell him you have no pain in your head, neck, or back.” Almost as an afterthought, she said, “There was nothing you could do. Besides, he died almost instantaneously. Hardly felt a thing.”

Todd instantly got into position, sprawled awkwardly on the ground, feet pointed towards the car. It was a strange position, yet it felt right. That worried him a little bit.

He couldn’t help but asking, “Are you an angel?”

“No,” she said, and then she was gone. Todd didn’t have to look up to know that.

He laid his head down.

He grunted lowly and loudly as the pain swept over him. He tried not to dwell on it, but it felt as if he had just gotten brutally mugged by a bunch of stereotypically leather jacket-donned hoodlums. He definitely broke a leg, maybe a rib or two. Feeling something odd on the bridge between nose and mouth, he ran his tongue gently across his upper lip. Sure enough, he tasted blood.

He was suddenly blinded by two equally intense lights. The car, dark-colored pick-up, drove a little past him and pulled to the shoulder. As the woman had said, a man got out, his face clearly emanating concern. After many failed attempts to call for an ambulance in such a shoddy signal, the man reluctantly conceded that it would be best if it took Todd to the hospital himself, but only after making positively sure that he wouldn’t be paralyzed by a mishandling of a spinal cord injury (“No, I don’t have any pain in my neck, head, or back…”).

As the man started to help Todd up to an upright position on his now one good leg, he found his head had turned back to the car. It was then that he knew why the man wasn’t bothering to give any help to its driver.

The man was staring right back at Todd. His head rested dumbly on the steering wheel, mouth slightly open, eyes already glazing over as if flash-burnt by lightning. It would be discovered that a mechanical glitch caused his neck to be broken by the airbag.

Seeing that man dead in his car filled Todd with a lot of guilt, even though he was totally blameless.

It is true that it was very late at night. It is true that it had stormed very hard. It is true that Todd had fell asleep after working for many, many hours in a small secluded work shop which he referred to as a studio where he welded together various metal sculptures which was intend to put on sale in his friend’s gallery the following week, and upon realizing he had slept so late and that it was in the middle of a lightning storm more than put him in a hurry. It is also true that realizing he had left he had forgotten to lock the studio back up and that he had to go back through the mud and dark put him in even more of a frenzy. And it is true that his hood, which was up, might have obscured his vision.

All these facts are true, but have no relevance whatsoever towards what happened that night.

Observe, he had looked before trying to cross the street. The glare of the other car’s headlights didn’t appear until Todd had started his trek across the road, and they came upon him so fast (the car was being driven at insane speeds), and were so bright that they momentarily held him stunned and in blindness.

Face with these facts, we are led to believe that none of the incident up to this point is Todd Luxome’s fault.

Also faced with these facts, both Bob and Todd are left to figure out just what happened on that night to their respective dead men.

Written by Santo Tigris
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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