“I can’t remember… The other car came out of nowhere…” Connor will relay mechanically in his dissociated state. Stitching together his fragmented memories for the police report after the accident. He will stare at the scene of the crash, glancing at each piece of scattered shrapnel reflecting his broken thoughts. The lights from the cruisers, ambulances, and nosy rubberneckers will cause his head to throb, adding to the chaos of his universe. Eventually the shock will pass and he will collapse to his knees on the cold pavement in agony, grief overwhelming him. One vision will burn into his psyche, silencing the growing cacophony of his own thoughts. A seemingly innocuous item which will fester in the back of his mind until he ended his own life many years later, a bright yellow bumper sticker.
Earlier that evening, Connor was enjoying a late, quiet, Autumn drive with his wife Megan down a lonely residential road. He was admittedly dizzy from the night’s festivities out with their mutual friends but he insisted he was sober enough to take the wheel. Despite his assurances, he pressed the accelerator a bit harder than usual hoping to make it home before any cops had a chance to complicate his evening.
The couple sat in silence entwining their hands between them, falling under the spell of the rhythmic strobe of passing street lights. Megan kept her eyes trained out her window at the changing leaves, squeezing her spouse’s hand intermittently. Connor ogled her with a lazy drunk smile on his face. Turning back to the road, he snapped out of his hypnotic state and slammed on the brakes in response to the quickly approaching tail lights which threatened a meeting with the front of their own car.
“Jesus!” Connor spat as he and his wife lurched forward. “Where the hell did this joker come from?” He cried aloud.
He hadn’t noticed any car ahead of them when he looked at the road only seconds before. A feeling of anger rose within him as his pleasant evening drive was interrupted by over cautiousness.
“Honey, you need to relax. You were going too fast.” Megan said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah well, this idiot is going slower than 30! There’s nobody around, speed up!” Connor shouted as if the newcomers could hear him.
The driver ahead, showed no signs of hearing his demand and continued to cruise at a glacial pace. Connor took note of the “Baby on Board” sticker on the bumper. A bumper which had caved in, most likely from another car slamming into its slow backside. He rolled his eyes knowing his car had the same sticker on its bumper. Earlier he protested putting it on the car he shared with his wife but Megan had been adamant about it.
“Why would you want to advertise having a kid, especially with potential kidnappers everywhere.” Connor reasoned but Megan insisted other motorists would drive more carefully around them knowing they had a child in the car. Connor felt the collapsed bumper of the other car as evidence of the contrary. He kept this thought to himself.
Connor leaned on the horn and flashed his high-beams. As he did so, he noticed there was a passenger in the car. The two figures faced ahead, neither turning in their seat to acknowledge the noisy car behind them. They didn’t pull over to the side, instead they continued at their leisurely speed.
“Seriously? They’re going to pretend we’re not here? Come on!” Connor honked a few more times but there was still no reaction from the other car. He took their indifference as insolence which ignited his anger into rage.
“You’re getting angry for no reason.” Megan said coolly.
“We need to let the babysitter go, I’m not paying him for an extra hour.” White knuckling the steering wheel, Connor swerved to the oncoming lane and before he could floor the accelerator the car ahead merged into the other lane swiftly along with them. The car remained in front of Connor and his wife, blocking their advance.
Seething Connor yelled, “What the fuck is this guy’s problem?”
“It’s obviously some stupid kids messing with us. Let’s just stay calm and not give them the satisfaction of riling us up. Forget the babysitter we’ll be home shortly.” Megan soothed.
Connor wasn’t having it. Now he was hell bent on either passing the pair in front of them or cornering them and beating their asses, the liquor fueled his bravado. He maneuvered back to the right lane but the car matched his path exactly. The ease of their maneuvers confirmed Connor’s suspicions that the occupants of the other car had harassed other drivers before.
Wanting to get away from the nuisance Connor tried to think of another way to bypass the other car. Unfortunately, the road on which they traveled didn’t branch off anywhere to get around the offending vehicle. Their only chance was at the end of the road where there was a red light for a T-intersection. However, that light was still a few miles away and Connor’s patience was wearing thin as the other car continued its deceleration.
Determined to circumvent the sluggish car, Connor tried one more ploy, this time he swung to the left cut short and swung back to the right hoping the other car would be caught off guard. They weren’t. Instead the other car seamlessly matched Connor’s position shifting left then abruptly changing course back to the right lane.
The way the other car matched their position struck Connor as odd. He hadn’t noticed it before but there was no hesitation from the other car, no split-second pause to consider Connor’s next play. Their movements weren’t that of a copycat, rather it was like they knew what he was going to do.
Connor’s brief feelings of confusion were overcome by his feelings of anger and he responded to the other car’s tricks in the most childish way he knew and quickly flipped them the middle finger. He watched the shadowy figure driving the other car do the same. Again, there was no hesitation as the other driver’s hand shot up along with Connor’s. Wanting to test a theory, Connor allowed his hand to linger in the air longer than necessary, waiting for the unknown driver to put his hand down but instead it stayed hovering in the air.
Connor’s anger subsided a bit. In its place a sense of unease crept in. He unfolded his other fingers, twisted his hand to present an open palm to the other car and gave a small wave. Connor, eyes widened, gawked as the silhouetted hand of the other driver slowly formed an open palm, turned to face the windshield and waved out to the empty road ahead of them. Every motion was in harmony with Connor’s actions. The mild gesture sent a ripple of fear down Connor’s spine.
He yanked his hand back to the steering wheel and observed the other driver do the same.
“Did you just see that?” Connor flinched at the edge of panic in his voice.
“You waving at the guy you’ve been bitching about for the last 10 minutes? Yeah I was there for that.” Sarcasm tinted her voice.
“No. There’s something weird going on.” He couldn’t take his eyes off the mysterious figure.
“He’s just messing with you.”
“No, I’m not sure what’s going on but it’s as if he knows what I’m going to do. I don’t think we should be anywhere near this guy anymore.” Connor’s eyes darted around the empty road hoping for some signs of life to provide help or at least comfort but it was only him, his wife and the couple in the dented vehicle ahead of them. Megan noticed nothing so Connor tried to push his worry aside but he couldn’t shake the feeling.
They continued driving in silence, Connor’s hands tightened their grip on the wheel straining the skin along his knuckles. The tension increased with every passing minute until the quiet was cut by the sound of Megan’s phone ringing which caused Connor to jump in his seat. Without turning he felt her eyes on him, the same eyes she’d penetrate him with whenever he was “overreacting.”
She reached into her bag and produced the phone. The phone pressed to her ear and Connor gaped at the passenger of the other car who also put something to their ear. He was certain now that he wasn’t hallucinating everything. The anonymous pair were, somehow, mirroring Connor and his wife.
Megan hung up and mentioned something about the babysitter but Connor was too engrossed with the occupants in the other car to hear what she was saying. Fear began to sink in thinking about whoever or whatever was in the other car.
Both cars drove slowly for the remaining few miles of the road. A million things ran through Connor’s mind. He worried that the pair in the other car were sociopaths, part of a cult, possibly gang members and that him and his wife were involved in some unnerving gang initiation. He wanted to turn around but that would mean driving miles back the way they came and he was afraid the shady couple would turn to follow them and that was worse than having them lead.
Mercifully they came around a bend which brought them to the red light at the T-intersection. Both cars stopped to wait for the light to change.
When the light slipped to green nothing happened. Connor and Megan waited for the other car’s turn signal but it never came. The two shadows stared ahead at the empty intersection, idling at the light as if to dare Connor to give way first. He gnawed on his cheek hoping the other couple would just speed off and that whatever was going on was just some horrible practical joke but they didn’t budge.
“Why aren’t they moving? The light is green.” Megan asked her husband confused.
A few more seconds of the standoff and Connor steeled himself to put a stop to whatever it was the dark couple was trying to do. Connor cautiously stretched a hand into the back seat, fearing he might spook the shadow couple if he moved too quickly, and snatched the ice scraper from the floor. It was a poor excuse for a weapon but he needed a defense in case the other couple was dangerous and with every second that passed Connor became more convinced that they were.
“Megs, I need you to stay in the car. Make sure you have 911 dialed on your phone and get into the driver’s seat. In case something goes wrong I want you to be out of here and calling them.” Connor implored.
“Connor, you’re overreacting.” She tried to calm him down but she was visibly nervous.
“Maybe so, but still, get into the driver’s seat and put the car in reverse so you’re ready to take off.” She recognized the seriousness in his face and nodded.
Connor took a deep breath to prepare for whatever he was going to face and opened the car door. He was surprised that nothing stirred within the other car. He stepped out into the cool night air and his wife slid into his seat. She closed the door behind him and locked it.
Warily Connor shuffled toward the driver side of the sinister car and raised the ice scraper, clutching it tightly in both hands. His heart knocked against his rib cage. He caught an incomplete view of the front of their car but noted it was similarly devastated as the back of the vehicle. He licked his lips attempting to get strength into his voice and barked to the occupants in the dented car, “I’m not sure what your problem is but get the hell away from–“
Suddenly the car accelerated and shot across the intersection. Instead of turning it plowed through the guard rail along the intersection. The sound of screeching metal on metal punctured through the night and Connor watched the savaged bumper and comical sticker of the other car disappear and plummet 100 feet into the vegetation below.
Dumbfounded, Connor froze mid step. A few seconds of his wife’s shrieking finally coaxed him back from his shock,
“Megs, call the police right now! Tell them someone drove off the road and may need help!” He whipped his head to see her nod in compliance but she shook terribly.
The ice scraper lowered and Connor ambled across the intersection. He loitered near the part of the barrier still intact. He hesitated before inspecting the scene, not wanting to see body parts or any mess that was down there. He breathed deep and peered over the cliff. There was nothing.
Connor’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He squinted harder to scrutinize the dark underbrush but he could discern nothing. There was no glow from the tail lights, no glint of moonlight on the car’s surface, and no sound of a constant blaring horn. The barrier was torn through, evidence that an object crashed through it, but that object somehow disappeared.
Without glancing back Connor called over his shoulder, “Megs the car is gone!”
“What?” She shouted back.
“There’s no car!” Connor spun around in time to witness an enormous semi-truck slam into the back of their car. Like a rocket their little sedan, with his wife inside, bolted across the road. The gust of wind created by the car’s speed was enough to blow him back and steal the air from his lungs. His eyes met his wife’s terrified gaze for a heartbeat, her glossy green eyes wide and fearful, then she disappeared over the edge.
A moment of disbelief passed, then Connor roared Megan’s name. He stalled, reluctant to look over the edge again. He had a small glimmer of hope that once again nothing would be at the bottom of the cliff. He agonizingly dragged his gaze back to the depths and this time a car lay there in ruin. A crushed metallic heap at the bottom of the dark pit.
Before he falls into shock unable to think coherently, before the police arrive too late to save his wife, Connor noticed one thing. The unmistakable “Baby on board” sticker, which clung to the remnants of the collapsed bumper on the back of their car. It was unsettling to him how familiar that bumper seemed…