With each passing mile, the fog grew steadily thicker. He was used to this, that’s why he opted for the fog lights on his sporty, 2-seater BMW Z4 when he drove it off the lot two years ago. After another ten minutes of driving, however, the fog was almost too thick even for the extra illumination. He dropped his speed a bit from Bat Out of Hell to plain old Maniac and, adjusting his seat, geared himself up for what could turn out to be a very hard rest-of-the-trip.
Six hour drive across two states and now fog, I don’t need this shit, he thought to himself. Three days of sales meetings and not one Goddamn sale. What a waste of a month’s work. He picked up the empty Starbucks cup for the sixth time, pausing when the weight suggested what he already knew. Instead of putting it back in the holder, he crushed it in his fist and tossed it in the back seat, imaging for a moment that it was the face of that one company president who actually smirked when he finally told him “no.” His thoughts drifted to his bed and the down pillow waiting for him another 90-something miles away.
The only good part about this trip was now he was back on His Highway. The state actually owned it but he felt that his history surrounding it gave him rights to call it his, too. As a teenager he worked alongside his father patching holes in it, his house sits a scant 92 feet from it, he managed to push his father’s Dodge over 100 MPH on it, he hauled his friends to countless parties in Anderson’s fields along it, he’d been driving on it for the better part of 30 years. It was an old, two lane concrete highway with faded lines and wheel grooves worn into the surface from generations of traffic. It had become like a favorite pair of jeans to him. No matter what kind of crap the day threw at him, once the wheels of his BMW hit His Highway, everything took a back seat.
That is, until tonight. The Sunday paper said construction work was to begin next summer to expand it to four lanes. That means they’d be tearing out the concrete and putting down pitch black asphalt. He hated asphalt roads. Concrete really gave you a sense of driving, it had character. Next summer would be the beginning of the end. He felt like he would be loosing a friend and that just pissed him off all the more. End-to-end, it was one hundred and eighty-two miles of driving excitement but it would soon be gone forever.
Those miles ticked by in slow succession. The low hum of the engine, the periodic “thum-thump” of the tires rolling over the seams of the concrete and the gentle swirls of fog were working extra hard against his already tired mind. His blinks stretched out from near instantaneous to almost a full second while his chin made a slow but steady descent to meet his chest. When a leaf flew up from the front bumper and over the windshield, his mind conjured up the image of a small-to-medium, nondescript animal, or maybe it was a small child – he couldn’t remember. What he can remember is his head snapping up, eyes wide open and the quick burn of adrenaline as he jerked the steering wheel to the left, “Shit!”, then to the right, “Fuck!” finally settling the car somewhere between the yellow and while lines of the road.
“Son of a bitch! Okay. Okay, calm down.” The sound of his own voice did little to reassure himself but it did break up the droning sound of the engine. He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled as his muscles finished the last of their epinephrine and norepinephrine cocktail, generously supplied by his adrenal glands. “Music. I need some tunes to keep me going.” It sounded like a good plan but driving in the mountains meant piss-poor radio reception. The presets were all static, his only salvation lay in the power of the Seek button since the CD player stopped working when he spilled coffee in it last week.
shfffffff..Back in the high life again..kssshhhhttttt
“Seriously, who the hell plays Steve Winwood at 11 o’clock at night?”
scuurrrr..ffffttttterrgoff the rails on a crazy train.
“Okay, Ozzy. It’s you and me, buddy.”
Whatever station it was, it came in clear and was a head banger’s paradise. ‘Crazy Train’ gave way to ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ which gave way to ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ which gave way to what sounded like “Welcome to the Jungle” which gave way to some metal band that sounded like Dokken, followed by another metal band that sounded familiar but the name kept escaping him. When his head snapped up for a second time, he turned off the radio after realizing the music was having the opposite effect – deep, thudding drums and power chords were lulling him back into sweet oblivion.
His mind scrambled for a Plan B. Stay awake, idiot, or you’ll end up a red stain on the side of the road. Try the windows. When he opened both windows, the blast of cold air shocked him awake. He glanced at the temperature gauge on the rear view mirror. It said 46 but his speed and the thick, wet fog made it feel more like 36. The cold was almost as effective as adrenaline but had different side effects, such as the hairs on left his arm doing a brisk march up and down, side to side. He quickly noticed that the left side of his shirt started feeling damp as it took the brunt of the moist wind. As the interior temperature lowered to match the exterior, a few wisps of fog would stretch an inch or two into the car, only to vanish into nothingness. On the positive side, it did help clear out the funk from 4 day’s of hard driving during this sales trip. It actually smelled like a spring rain, even though it was late November.
He drove on in silence. He entered a stretch of road that had a few bends but would remain mostly straight for another 35 miles before he started his ascent of the hills leading to Tucker Valley so he kept the cruise control at 85. The dense fog showed no signs of thinning and the temperature gauge showed the outside temperature had dropped another 5 degrees in what he guessed was 5 minutes. The cold and fatigue were stretching his mind to its limits. Every minute or two, he would catch a glimpse of something in his peripheral vision, only to turn his head and see nothing but either the interior of the car or the fog racing past the open window. He shifted in his seat to relieve the pressure on his lower back as his eyes sought out the clock on the radio display. What had felt like an hour of driving in the cold turned out to only be 25 minutes. I’ll freeze to death at this rate. He rubbed his eyes for a quick second and when he opened them, he thought he saw a slender, white tendril of fog creeping through the window and across the dash, but when he blinked, the tendril was gone. Okay, now you’re imagining things.
He drew a sharp breath and let it go, then, slapping his hands down at the 10 & 2 positions on the steering wheel, he directed his full concentration on trying to peer through the whiteness ahead. “You’re almost home. Don’t go cracking up now. You’ll be in bed before you know it.” Every time he thought he saw something out of the corner of an eye, he forced himself to not look. It’s nothing. Just your imagination. Mind’s playing tricks. Keep driving.
He crested the hill known as Archer’s Pass just after midnight and looked across the valley. Somewhere on the opposite side, approximately three-quarters of the way up Jakob’s Mountain, lay his house. Somewhere in that inky blackness was a soft pillow and a warm blanket. The thought of being so close to climbing into bed sent a wave of relaxation over him.
When he had sunk as far into the bucket seat as he could go, he felt a sudden and excruciating coldness on the back of his neck, like the hand of Death grabbing him by the scruff. It sent a shock wave of pain into his brain and down his spine, causing him to stiffen like a board. His hands latched onto the steering wheel in a death-grip, knuckles white from the tension. His foot slammed the accelerator to the floor, launching the car down the highway into the valley like a rocket. Rolling his eyes around he saw a tendril of fog coming through the passenger window creeping across the seat towards him. He tried to move his head but his neck muscles were locked. Shifting his eyes to the left, he saw another tendril of fog coming through the driver’s window. When he opened his mouth to scream, the tendril lashed out and exploded into his face. He felt his nostrils freeze and his voice never made it past his vocal cords, snuffed out by what felt like liquid nitrogen pouring down his throat. When it entered into his lungs, he got the overpowering sensation that he was drowning.
As he struggled to breathe, a different sensation washed over him like a tidal wave: he felt like he had been thrust into a thick, churning black morass. The experience was like the slimy decay of an eons old swamp permeating everything, coating every inch of his skin, his hair, even the inside of his mouth, with a fetid oily residue. Accompanying it was an oder so pungent and acrid, it burned his eyes and nostrils. A wave of nausea flashed over him as he gasped for air, each breath bringing abdominal spasms stronger than the last, eventually forcing vomit into the back of his throat. As he began to wretch, he lurched violently, sending the car into a spin. Through the squealing tires, he heard, not just with his ears but with his entire being, an unearthly sound: a loud, high-pitched trumpet blast that dissolved into what sounded like a mad man laughing while gargling mud. Every thought in his brain was drowned out by a presence – one that embodied the deepest madness overlaid with centuries of loathing of all life.
The police report would say that he was traveling at a high rate of speed, that he was fatigued, that he lost control of the vehicle approximately 275 feet from the Archer Road and Deer Run Lane intersection, that his vehicle left the road surface, became airborne, struck a tree and split in two. The report would include an approximate speed calculated from measurements of skid marks from the scene, that alcohol did not appear to be a factor and that the air bag failed to deploy. It would not describe how the eyes of the victim were bulging halfway out of their sockets or that the tongue was swollen to twice its normal size nor would it describe how, despite the massive trauma and numerous lacerations suffered by the body, there was not a single drop of blood to be seen anywhere.