20 Dec A Long Drive Home
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"A Long Drive Home"Written by
Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
The past week has found the highway blanketed in snow. I keep forgetting to put on my snow tires. I should pin it on my fridge someday. Usually, I take Highway 22 as my route going home but due to recent weather conditions, I’m afraid I’ll have to take the old scenic route which carves through Mount Rickson. This takes an extra 20 minutes to reach home.
My sedan cuts through breaths of snow as I make my way towards a fork in the road. The left path leads to the Mount Rickson scenic route. Towards the right is Highway 22 which I will not be taking for about a couple of weeks or so until the weather clears up.
The snow looks like needles resting on the car’s hood. I am distracted by the flakes slowly melting upon reach of the engine’s heat. Snow-covered pine trees border the roads. The sky is a faded gray.
I glance at my watch and it reads 4:42 P.M. This is the first winter in years that I find myself forced to take the old scenic route once more. Highway 22 would usually be fine during the winter but I wonder why this year proves otherwise. My phone buzzes with a message notification. Janice, my wife, asks me to pick up some roast beef for her and Spencer, my 14 year old son. I alternate my glances from the road to my phone and vice versa. I never got the hang of texting while driving. The car’s a tad slippery on the road, too. Should’ve really changed these tires.
I text her back — Ok, should i get from gino’s? Pls check my snow tires in the garage
I toss my phone back onto the passenger seat. For a split-second, I had to squint because some sort of glare had hit my eyes. A truck on the opposite lane has got its high beams on so I flash my beams back at it. The truck lowers its headlights. A few seconds later, the truck loses grip of the road. I tried to avoid the truck so I swerved. But the truck writhed on the road uncontrollably so it hits my car and our vehicles clash. I heard what sounded like the roar of metal against metal. My vision was getting dim and blurry. A certain nausea had hit me. I found myself slowly losing consciousness and dozing off into what I assume would be a sleep-like state.
After what felt like an indefinite period of time, I awake unscathed inside my car. It is parked near the office where I work. I glance at my watch and it is exactly 4:30 P.M. and it is still the same day. Strange, I thought to myself. I immediately checked my inbox for that text my wife had sent me about picking dinner up. Nothing. Inbox says the last message was not until last night. I exited my car and went to check for any damage. None. My car is unscathed and so am I. I begin to feel a bit unnerved.
Had I just fallen asleep inside my car? Had I only dreamt of the accident? I call my wife’s cell hoping to get some peace of mind. I know I’d get it from hearing her voice.
“Hey, honey. Are you on your way home?” says my wife.
“Oh, thank God. The weirdest thing just happened to me,” I reply.
“What is it?”
“I think I had a dream that I got into a collision. It was by the Mount Rickson scenic route. I don’t know, honey, but I just woke up and everything felt too real. Like I had really been in a crash.”
“Relax, honey. I’m pretty sure you’re okay. You’d best take care, though. Your snow tires are here at home. You keep forgetting to put them on,” she replied quite sullenly.
“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. I’ll take extra care on the way back.”
“That’s good. Anyway, I’ll run up a bath in a while. Feel free to jump in when you get here,” she says as she lets out a cute laugh.
“Oh and one more thing, honey—” she follows up but I interrupt.
“You want me to pick up roast beef?” I respond hastily.
“Yeah, how’d y—”
The signal weakened. My wife’s voice sounded all chopped up on the line. After, the call died. I glance at my phone’s screen and there was no longer any cell signal. I tried to phone her back again. Nothing. Call failed — it says on the screen.
Anyway, I shook the whole thing off my mind and thought instead that I should really be heading home. Somehow, I managed to convince myself that the whole thing had been one strange dream. One so strange that I could still recall most of what happened. Normally, I’d forget my dreams right after wake up. I could only salvage a few interesting bits and pieces but then they’d get lost somewhere in my memory after a while. A stiff breeze brushes by my neck. I should really be heading home. I start the engine and make my way towards the old scenic route.
I keep driving until I find myself at the fork dividing Highway 22 and the Mount Rickson scenic route. This is all too familiar. I take a left to the scenic route. I glance at my watch and it reads 4:51 P.M. I turn on the radio to take the edge off. I tuned it to the news. I am greeted by a few seconds of static and then a man’s deep voice comes out of the speakers. It started out as a low grumble but then it unfurled into clear and distinct speech. The hurried pace and worry in his voice gave a hint that breaking news is being reported.
“…by the Mount Rickson scenic route. A truck and a sedan are stalled on the road. Authorities are making their way to the scene as of now,” exclaims the man on the radio.
This is all too strange. It seems like the man on the radio had alluded to something oddly familiar. I drive for a few more minutes until I arrive at a recognizable location. Just as I had felt it would be, I identify the truck as the one from my, dare I say, dream from earlier. It appears to have engaged in a head-on collision with a sedan from the opposite lane. Things start to appear more familiar to me. I feel like I should go on home but curiosity was tugging forcefully at myself. I slowed down and pulled over by the roadside. I got off my car and started walking towards the accident.
There are around a handful of policemen and a pair of EMTs gathered around the scene. They cordoned off the area around the crash. I assume that the towing services have yet to arrive.
“Sir, you might wanna step back a bit from the vehicle,” warned a cop to me as I got nearer to the truck. His uniform said Johnston, G.
“Pardon me, Officer Johnston, but may I know what happened to the people in the cars?” I ask.
“I’m sorry to say this but both of ‘em are dead,” then he waves his hand over to the EMTs loading two bodies into the back of an ambulance. A strong red glare glows from the ambulance. I could hear its engine groaning.
Just then, the atmosphere got a little darker and heavier. The whistling wind sprinkled about an amount of snow. The whitened pine trees swayed in the background. I notice a line of curious drivers slow down to look at the accident then speed up as they perhaps get their curiosity satiated.
“Do you happen to know any of the deceased, sir?” the cop asks and he shows me their IDs. No, I replied to the cop. I do not recognize them both, I say.
I walk away from the scene feeling a little stranger. I make my way back inside the car and sit there for about a minute. I turn on the radio. It’s the same voice from earlier except now he’s interviewing someone. I paid little attention to the radio. I start my car and continue to traverse the old scenic route. The snow falls in blankets from the darkened sky. Some flakes had stuck to my wiper. I hit a switch and the car flicks the snow off. I breeze past the trees. They look like crude smudges in my peripheral vision as I keep driving.
In the distance, I could see the neon sign of Gino’s Diner. It is glowing a bright blue and red. It is written in smooth cursive. The letter r from the sign is flickering on and off. Finally, some calm — I thought to myself. I park my car around the back of the diner. There were only three other cars parked. I make my way up the steps to the front entrance. I open the door and I am greeted by music from the jukebox. It is about halfway through some slow ballad.
Gino’s Diner is built like a log cabin. When one first steps into the place, he would feel like the rest of the world had slipped away. The place feels like something extracted from the seventies and merged with today. Its walls are adorned with pictures of Gino’s family. I’ve known Gino for quite a while now. I notice that most of the booths are empty. A few people were seated on the bar stools. Usually this place would be packed around this time but it isn’t. Inside it is quiet. A couple is having a conversation in a booth near the window.
“There you are! I think the roast beef for the missus is a bit overdue.” Gino greets me with a warm laugh as I enter. I see him wiping muck off the bar.
I attempted to reciprocate his demeanor but I fumbled with my words.
I thought, How had he known that I was picking up some roast beef? Hmm, maybe Janice had told him that I was coming.
“Say, you catch news of that collision about half an hour back?” I ask Gino. His smile turned into an expression of confusion for about a split-second.
“Wait, there’s been another one?” he asked agitatedly.
“What do you mean another one?” I ask back, slightly puzzled.
“There couldn’t possibly be another accident. Just yesterday a truck and a sedan got into a head-on collision about some mile from here,” Gino said, confused.
What did he mean by just yesterday, I thought. The accident had taken place no longer than an hour ago. And with that thought, I felt the peculiar nausea hit me back. I am struck by this strange feeling once more. Could Gino had been kidding around with what he said? I doubt so.
“Your wife’s been looking everywhere for you since last night! She told me that you were on your way to pick up some dinner for her and Spencer but you never returned!” said Gino.
“Please tell me you’re not pulling some sick joke on me, Gene. This ain’t funny,” I replied. I notice a slight harshness in my tone.
“Now, why would I do that? Here check my phone. Check the messages your wife left if you won’t believe me. Why do you seem so spooked anyway?”
Gino handed me his phone. I checked the messages. I checked my watch for the date. I could not believe my eyes. My watch and Gino’s phone show that an entire day had taken place. I check my phone and it proves similarly. I do not understand whatever is happening. How could I be missing for that long and not feel the passage of time? Was it not that only a couple of minutes back, I was just driving on the road back home?
My first thought was to phone my wife. I checked my phone but the signal was still dead. I ask Gino for his but he has no signal as well. I ran outside hoping that I could get better reception but I came up with nothing. Outside, it is very cold so I walk back inside the diner.
Gino says that I look a little pale and he asks me if I am alright. He offers me a glass of water and I quickly down it. He asks me where I was last night. I reply that I’ve just been driving for a couple of minutes. I recall that and only that. I was only driving for a while. In no way could I have driven all night long and not feel time pass by. What sort of unexplainable force was taking place? I could not grasp what was going on. I needed to sit down and smooth things out. I lit myself a cigarette. It was relief with every drag.
“Anyway, I could fix you up some dinner if you want. You could surely use something to eat,” Gino offered. His disposition was way calmer than mine. Gino appeared calm yet with a tinge of worry.
I told him No, thanks and that I didn’t really feel like eating.
“Say, Gino, do you ever feel a little bit strange in these woods?” I ask him, my tone projecting a hint of anxiety.
“The cold does tend to take a toll on the individual. But then you’ll get used to it. These woods do get to become a bit odd if they’re all you see daily.”
I finish another glass of water and after that, I decide that Gino should learn the whole story. I needed to let this out somehow. I told him about the weird sort-of dream from earlier, about my wife calling, then about the collision, and then about the disappeared night. I could find no explanation for the events.
“I think you’d like it if I told you that you aren’t the only one who experiences these mysteries. Weird and unexplainable things happen in these woods. I don’t think I have told you my story about that one time a few years back when I felt that I would die,” said Gino.
“No, I believe you haven’t. Go on,” I replied, eager to hear what he would say.
“Anyway, I was working late at the diner because our cook back then couldn’t come to work that day. It was around 2 a.m. and I had closed the diner already. As I was going through the inventory, I found myself drifting off to sleep. Then, I had a dream. In that dream, I saw myself in the third person. My face carried a blank expression and my movement was quite slower than usual. I had walked out of the restaurant and onto the road. It was also snowing in my dream, quite as strongly as tonight. I observed myself walking down the road and a couple of steps further, I saw myself preparing to lie down on the road. I had tilted my head to the face the road. From outside my body, I could hear a car coming on from afar. The light was getting brighter by the second. I was coated in a feeling of dread for I could not move my body but only observe it from without. The fear was welling up inside me and I felt that I would die as the car had come inches from my body. And, then I woke up. It felt like there was no disconnect from dreaming to waking up. The experience felt very unified. I awoke feeling just as afraid as I had felt in the dream. I checked the clock and it was around 4 in the morning at the time. Here’s where things got really strange. From behind the bar, I heard a car’s incessant honking coupled with brakes screeching. Just then, I started to put two and two together. I ran outside and what I saw still haunts me to this day. A car had run over a man lying down on the road. Just as it appeared in my dream except I wasn’t the one on the ground. Worse than having a bad dream is witnessing it come to life. I still get flashbacks of what happened. But they don’t hit as hard as they used to.”
Gino’s story ended at that. I took some form of solace in knowing that I am not alone — that others could come face to face with the unexplainable just as I had.
I finished my last cigarette, thanked Gino, and walked back to my car. As I exited the diner, I felt the cold shifting to an unfamiliar sort. I started the car and slowly made my way out the lot. Gino stood by the doorway and he waved me goodbye. I returned the gesture.
Snow still falls heavily. The trees dance their uncanny dance. The wind howls an unsettling howl. The moon provides little guidance. There is a certain stillness. Tonight feels separate from the rest of the nights.
Sitting in the car, I ponder upon the things that took place. What could I have been doing on the night that I do not remember ever experiencing? Had I been momentarily detached from the world? Had I been put into trance by some sort of unexplainable force? How real was my dream? Gino’s dream? Are they but dreams at the most or are they brief encounters with a different reality? These questions weigh down on my mind and I fear I could find no answer.
It’s been a long drive home, perhaps the longest I’ve had. The disappeared evening still puzzles me. I’d like to believe that I was, in some way, a participant in today’s (yesterday’s?) tragedy and that I somehow encountered a world that is eerily similar to the one I’m in. My lucid recollection would attest to that. But I do not know. I might not ever know.
There’s a certain strangeness in these woods and tonight has been the longest night of my life. I am weary but I have yet a long way to go if I wish to make it back home.