Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
Long gone are the days of wrestling with road maps, searching desperately for certain road signs, and sheepishly swallowing your pride to ask locals for directions. Today, in the modern world of technology and convenience, you rely on a GPS to get you where you need to be.
You trust its direction to lead you through foreign territory to your ultimate destination, and back home promptly. It tells you to go left, you go left. It tells you to go right, you go right. It tells you to exit the highway, you do. The threat of taking a wrong turn and prolonging your journey prevents you from defying the device, regardless of what your intuition tells you.
But you still question it sometimes.
Like now. Your destination is just as irrelevant as who you’re meeting or why you’re going there. All that matters is that, without your GPS, you would have no idea where you are. You’ve been driving for a couple hours now, but you’ve only covered a fraction of the total distance.
As the sun begins to fall, you watch the scenery pass with skepticism. You don’t know much about where you are going, but it certainly isn’t suburban. Regardless, the population seems to be drastically thinning with each passing mile. Turn right. Drive straight for three miles. Take another right. Skepticism slowly blooms into nervousness as the cow-town gives way to a full-fledged forest.
Night has fallen. You knew you wouldn’t reach your destination until the early morning hours, but that hadn’t troubled you. You had expected an endless highway, the path ahead marked brightly with a spattering of streetlights and the taillights. Reality brought none of that. Even the gentle moonlight that had lent a softer impact to the towns you’ve passed has been completely blocked by the withered leaves dangling from interlocking tree cover above.
The darkness is stifling, growing an almost menacing edge as you follow the gently twisting, unlit road further into the brush. The windows are closed and the heat is blasting, but goose bumps still prickle across your arms in an effort to fight an inexplicable chill. Even the comforting familiarity of the shitty pop songs playing on the radio doesn’t dampen the fear settling in the pit of your stomach.
Just keep going straight for eleven miles, your GPS says. Then you’ll be turning onto an eastward-bound highway. Then everything will be okay. Right?
Judging by your white-knuckle grip of the steering wheel, you aren’t very convinced of that. You’re considering turning back. Strongly considering it. But that would require stopping, and while it feels like a million eyes are glaring daggers at you from the brush, you like to think that you’re safe while you’re moving. Your headlights slice through the darkness blanketing the road ahead, but leave everything else draped in an impenetrable blackness. Even with your high beams on, visibility of anything beyond the immediate is minimal. With four miles to go, you are pushing your car into each turn with nerve-wracking speed, but somehow your fear of crashing seems to be less important than your need to get out.
Then your GPS goes black.
The sudden darkness is jarring. Your eyes fly to the device, dearly hoping that it lost its signal (why would it go black?) or was turned off (by whom?) or it just needed to be plugged in (who unplugged it?) or—
You tear your eyes from the machine long enough to catch a shock of blonde hair, a boyish face stretched by surprise, and wide, clear blue eyes. It lasts only a second. Then your frame, your car, your world is shaken by a sickening thump. You slam on the brakes on reflex, tires screaming to a stop.
This is where it gets dangerous.
This is where you have a choice.
On the one hand, you could choose to disregard the lessons that every horror movie has taught you, swallow your fears rooted in the darkness thriving all around you, and ignore the voice in your head screaming at you to get the fuck out of there and open your car door. On the other hand, you could take the other option offered by that crucial moment. You can listen to that voice in your head, put your fear for your own life before the one that you may have inadvertently ended, heed the words that you’ve screamed at numerous television screens in the past and don’t fucking go out there.
You gather all the courage you can muster and take option one.
As you step from the perceived safety of your vehicle, you feel an inexplicable calm wash over you. With each step you take from the driver’s seat to the back of the car, you feel the knots of uneasiness firmly tied in your stomach dissipate. By the time you peer beyond the trunk of your car, any malice you thought you felt is completely gone, replaced with the gentle tranquility of a mid-fall night.
When you are greeted by the sight of an empty road, you laugh quietly to yourself. It must have been a bump in the road, you decide, and your paranoid mind just conjured the imaginary boy as a reason for it. What would a boy even be doing in the woods alone at this hour?
You marvel at how silly you’ve been acting as you sit back in your car, noting with relief that your GPS is happily displaying your route again, and shifting into drive and continuing the journey. The darkness of the woods has lost its menacing edge. Instead, there is just the comfortable ambiance of the thriving forest’s wildlife calling into the night.
You find your way out of the forest and onto the highway without complaint. You move at an unhurried pace, but it you cover the distance much faster than you would expect. You arrive at your destination sooner than anyone, including yourself, thought possible.
When you try to return home, your GPS routs an entirely different course that takes hours longer, but it insists that it is the fastest. Even when you try to consult a map, you simply cannot figure out how you got there so quickly.
The event will be a bit of a mystery, but not worth the energy that would be spent by continuing to wonder about it.
But what happens if you take the second option?
You prepare to find out when, instead of opening the door, you speed away from the scene, heart hammering in your chest because holy hell what just happened.
When you glance into your rear-view mirror and see a pair of clear, blue eyes staring back at you, you begin to realize that perhaps you’ve made a horrible mistake. Or maybe that you should have fled without that second of hesitation, because seriously what the fuck was that. Your breath is coming in labored puffs as you begin to hyperventilate. The radio cuts off from the generic love song that was playing, replacing it with a deafening silence. Tears are prickling at your eyes because what the fuck when your GPS blinks back to life. You release a sobbing cry of relief, thanking every deity you can think of for– oh Christ.
“Left turn to The End in three miles.”
The tinny, halting voice of the GPS cut through your hope that this was over. You grab the machine, praying with all your heart that you heard it wrong, but no. There it is, bland print firmly displayed on the screen. Your stomach drops like a stone.
You want to turn around. You really, really do. But then you would definitely run into whatever-that-was again. You watch the tree line for an opening big enough for your car, but it’s just too dense. Even if you got passed the outer ring, the forest would definitely be too thick within. Driving straight ahead is your only option, and you hate it.
“Left turn to The End in two miles.”
Tears are rolling down your cheeks unabated and gasping sobs wrack your frame. Your radio crackles back to life, releasing a torrent of whispering voices from your speakers. Among the nondescript voices, the loudest is that of a young boy. You can hear tears in his voice, but he’s laughing. It’s wobbly and feeble, but grows in strength as you continue forward.
“Left turn to The End in one mile.”
You start seeing him. You barely catch a glimpse of him each time, nearly hidden amongst the brush as he is. Every couple of seconds, your frantically darting eyes will fall upon his clear blue ones as he watches you from the trees. It’s the boy you hit.
The first time you spotted him, he just stared at you, completely expressionless and ordinary. You know you’ve stopped breathing, but you’ve forgotten how to start again. Each time you see him, he’s a step closer to the road, and his face is slowly contorting into a manic grin. Bile rises in your throat, forcing your lungs back to work with a gagging cough of an exhale. The laughter from your speakers is deafening. He’s in the road now. He just stands there, appearing closer to the middle each time. You don’t have to swerve to avoid him yet, but you feel like that won’t last long.
“Left turn to The End in zero-point-one mile.”
Your headlights go out. You almost feel relieved. You won’t have to see those eyes anymore. On reflex, your foot jams on the brakes, only to find them useless. When the accelerator compresses itself fully, you start laughing. This is the end, isn’t it? Took long enough to get here.
But then you remember that you don’t want to die. With each wispy chuckle comes a gasping sob. As the dim lighting offered by your car’s position lights reveals a tree in your path, that brief moment of acceptance resolves into defiance. You snap the wheel hard to the left, pulling your car into a diagonal skid. Impact is inevitable, but when you hear that terrible crunch, your momentum pulls you to the passenger seat instead of the windshield, saving your head, but tearing at your abdomen.
Your world becomes pain and a cacophony of squealing metal. Your seatbelt is cutting a line of fire across your chest and whiplash leaves your head spinning. A metallic taste is slowly filling your mouth and everything hurts. But when the wreckage of your car settles, you are alive. You’ve won. It’s over. You laugh. You laugh and laugh until your lungs hurt (which, admittedly, isn’t very long).
You struggle to regain your breath, but it catches in your throat. Your heart stops. Dread rises in your gut. You still hear laughter crackling over the radio. The whispering has stopped, and the boy is quieter than before, not as tinny, but definitely still there.
Your heart stops when you realize it isn’t coming from the radio.
He’s there, with you, in the car now. Behind you. Your eyes fly to your rear-view mirror and are caught by blue. His eyes pin you where you sit. You see pain and madness in them. Despite the smile contorting his features, his cheeks are wet with tears.
You feel his bony fingers on your face. As they reach for your eyes and press down, your body takes pity on you. You fall unconscious before you feel the pain.
It takes six hours for your body to be found. It will be right where you left it, strapped into the wreckage of your car, discovered in the wee hours of the morning by a well-meaning hunter. The disused road on which it is found is hundreds of miles away from anywhere you had any business being.
Your injuries are just as curious. Some are understandable fractured ribs, subsequent internal bleeding, and maybe hemorrhaging in the brain from the crash. Your eyes, however, are gone, inexplicably gouged from your head, nowhere to be found. Upon inspection, none of your injuries caused your death. Your heart simply stopped beating.
Your death is a mystery to police. They treat it as a possible homicide, but ultimately it gets tossed into the cold case bin. The report does take note of something strange, though. From when you are first discovered until the lead detective shouts for someone to shut the infernal thing off, your GPS is on, caught repeating the same phrase over and over.
“You have arrived”
Credit: K Beans