Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
Driving along the back roads at night can be a little eerie. Not if you’re country folk, like myself, but if you’re used to lights and other cars and night life, a back road at ten o’clock at night can seem pretty unsettling. There are millions of back roads in upstate New York. Roads that pass through foggy fields, dense forests, old forgotten cemeteries, ancient churches and abandoned houses. Because of the manner of the back road, fast driving isn’t suggested. A hidden turn can flip a fast moving car right over, or send a speeder rocketing into the trees. When you’re on a back road, you drive carefully, with your brights on, hoping nothing jumps out in front of your car and strands you on the road, where you’re out of luck as far as cell phone service goes. There aren’t many towers in rural New York, and getting a signal out here is about as likely to happen as striking oil.
But I’m used to these back roads. I’ve been driving on them for years, and I usually know how to navigate one pretty easily. I already know the pointlessness of cell phones when the city lights wink out, so I don’t feel the surge of fear for losing all my bars. I keep driving, keep my eyes on the road, and never stop for anything.
It was a chilly night in late September, the night sky filled with stars while the moon was new. I had just finished a shift at the hospital, and took one of the many back roads home. It’s a good way to avoid traffic and police generally. I had the radio tuned to a local station, just passing the drive with some mindless pop to break up the silence of the ride home. It was just an average night home, no one else on the road but me. Until the fog rolled in.
Now, fog in September doesn’t happen often in Upstate New York, especially not in late September. It’s starting to get too cold for that, the water in the air just froze as frost. However, one moment I was driving past an open field, and the next my car was blanketed in icy cold, impermeable fog. The temperature in my car sank immediately, even as I cranked up the heat. It was as if the fog was trying to get into the car itself, wrapping itself around the tires and engine in an attempt to choke the life out of it. Breathing fog at this point myself, I applied a little more force to the gas and pressed on, forced to turn down the lights on my car as the high beams just created an ungodly amount of glare on the fog.
It wasn’t long before I saw the frost creeping over my windshield, like lacy fingers clawing across the glass. It grew quickly, cutting swirling bolts across the glass as the fog thickened. The defroster did nothing, and my car was slowed to a creep as the passenger and drivers side windows iced over. Still, my foot remained stuck on the gas, and I peered through the veil of frost and fog as best I could. There could be no stopping on a back road at night. Even as the engine began to sputter and whine, the car inched forward continuously, refusing to stop for anything.
At some point, I began to become aware of shapes just beyond the frost on the windows. It was impossible to tell what they were under the layer of delicate ice. Impossibly white, but somehow lacking in light, their forms were impossible to discern. The car pressed on at a snails pace, as the white figures danced closer and closer to the car. They were like sheets caught in the wind, only capable of reflecting what was shone at them. Apparently shapeless. It must have been the interaction of fog with the ice on the glass, I just refused to look at them. No stopping, do not take your eyes off the road.
The fog must have dampened the signal to the radio, because soon the only thing blaring from the speakers was screeching static, garbled words thrown in from the mangled bubble gum pop song that was playing just a moment earlier. It was when the words started to make sense again that I shut the radio off entirely. Whatever was coming out of there now, it certainly wasn’t music, and it definitely wasn’t helping me drive anymore. I would have taken Justin Beiber over… whatever that was. But it seemed to coalesce with the motions the white figures outside the car were making. The car kept moving, and my eyes stayed on the road.
The creaking and groaning the engine was making was starting to turn into a steady thumping. At least I assumed that it was the engine making the thumping, until the sound started to rattle the back seat windows. My fingers tightened on the steering wheel, and the thumps turned to desperate scrapes, nails dragging down the iced over glass. I didn’t look back at what was making the sound. I didn’t even blink, my mouth and eyes starting to dry out as the scraping was accompanied by a different sound.
A steady, incoherent, hideous gurgling. The white figures had gathered, dancing around the car, skirting around the front of it as it pressed into their ranks and past them. Faces pressed against the iced over windows, sometimes revealing faces, or half of faces. Sunken, beady eyes, lips that had been chewed to ribbons, or noses that were either barely there or had long since been eaten away. Nails screamed over the metal hull of my car, the gurgling both pathetic and horrifying as the car occasionally hit an especially giving bump. It rolled over the lump slowly, and it was impossible to miss the organic, visceral crunch under the tires. Words were mouthed against the glass, pleas distorted by pulped tongues and rotted throats. My teeth were clenched tight, until they ground against each other in my jaw, one threatening to pop and break. Still, my foot never left the gas, and my eyes never left the road.
The entire car rattled, I could feel it shaking under my hands, the cough and whine of the tortured engine, the grinding of gears and the hollow racket the dashboard made as unseen hands pounded and scraped against the car. There was only forward, there was no back or stop. Not now, not ever. Don’t look away, don’t panic, just go forward and-
The fog broke. The car inched out of the mire, and almost immediately the ice began to melt from the windshield. The engine sputtered once and then roared, the tires churned up grit beneath it before I slammed on the gas and rocketed through the rest of the ride home. Don’t look back, don’t stop. I made it back to my house an hour later, and was quick to run into my warm room and bury myself under my blankets.
My dad had a few questions for the the next day. He wanted to know who had keyed my car up so badly at the hospital the other day. Each door on the car had long, raking marks down it, the sheen of the metal underneath glaring through. I told him I didn’t know.
I think I’ll be taking the main road home tonight.