Driving late at night was never something I enjoyed. There were too many variables that could go wrong. A headlight could go out, I could get lost, maybe even fall asleep at the wheel, and worst of all break down with no one else awake to help fix the car. But I had work in a few hours, and I’d already taken off as much time as I could. Dealing with sick parents wasn’t easy, especially when you had to help pay medical bills.
With the radio playing softly, I spared a glance back at Sam who lay sleeping in the back seat, his white tipped ears relaxed against the side of his head while his paws twitched as if someone were tickling his feet, but he was too tired to wake up.
Turning my attention back to the road, I groaned as we approached a stoplight. Why they had these sprinkled through the long empty expanse of highway I didn’t know. It wasn’t like anyone else was going to be awake at two in the morning. If they were, they were likely just as irritated about stopping as I was. All I wanted was to be home. To get a little bit of sleep before dragging myself out of bed for work.
Easing down on the break, we crawled to a stop. The front end of the car kissing a long white line that you weren’t supposed to cross. Sighing, I relaxed against my seat and took a moment to close my eyes. This was a mistake. Every part of me wanted to curl up and fall asleep on the back seat right next to Sam. He’d be warm and more than happy to share. He’d most likely spare me a few kisses to the cheek for good measure before using me as a pillow.
Muttering a curse, I forced my eyes open to find that the light was still red and impossibly bright. Its vibrant red glow reflected across the dark road creating a radius of light that far surpassed normal stoplights while intensifying with each second. Part of me knew it was impossible to have a streetlight that bright. There were regulations to follow for the safety of drivers, but there it was. Like an angler fish luring in unsuspecting prey. Glowing intently in a realm of darkness.
“Change already,” I grumbled, running out of patience. There was nothing worse than having to sit and wait at an unreasonably long light. “I can’t believe this, Sam.”
Startling Sam awake as I uttered his name, he poked his head out between the driver and passenger seat, ears swiveling about on high alert. I got the impression that he could hear the hum of the strange red light. That the electricity within was so intense it fried the wires encased in black metal.
Still, the light didn’t change. My impatience turned into anger and against my better judgment I placed my truck in park before opening the driver side door. Sam made a move to leap into my now empty seat when I stopped him.
“Stay. I’m just having a look, okay buddy? Something has to be broken.” Giving Sam a pat on the head, I rolled the window down so he could still see me before shutting the door. He hated when I was out of sight and I hoped this would soothe his nerves.
Sure, part of me knew I could just run the red light, but I had the worst luck a person could have. A cop would inevitably fall out of the sky to ticket me should I attempt such a mildly illegal action in the middle of nowhere.
Running a hand through my hair, I scanned the side of the road for an electrical box. Maybe someone had hit it and rather than reporting the incident drove off leaving everything inside slightly askew. Only, from what I could tell, there was no electrical box. Rolling my eyes, I turned back to the cross section of road.
Walking out into the middle of it I glanced left and right thinking that maybe an electrical box was on one of the other adjoining roads. Tucking my hands in my pockets, I fished around for my phone in hopes that the flashlight would illuminate something I missed.
Fingers brushing against the device, I pulled it from my pocket when a gust of wind ran its ice-cold fingers down my spine. It startled me enough to drop my phone. It landed face down in the road, the flashlight miraculously turning on to blind me with red light. No, that wasn’t right. How could it be red?
Blinking furiously, I bent down to collect my phone when another gust of wind swept through the intersection. Along with it came the smell of thick stifling oxygen. I didn’t realize there was a dense coating of fog drifting across the road until my phone’s red light danced through the suffocating cloud.
“Great. Now there’s fog. How the hell am I supposed to drive in this?” Returning my phone to my pocket, I turned curtly on my heel. If anything, I could get back in the truck and wait for the fog to clear out. It never lasted more than a half hour from my experience, but as I turned around, I found myself face to face with more fog. The truck was nowhere to be found.
At first, I figured I was too tired to have remembered my journey away from the truck. I had to have turned about in the wrong direction; but after completing a full circle my heart started hammering in my chest. I couldn’t see a thing beyond a few inches in front of me.
“Sam?” My voice rang out in a panic. One that he would have easily heard, and as if on cue, he barked in reply. “Good boy Sam! Keep barking!”
He offered up a few more calls much to my relief. Listening intently, I did my best to walk towards them. One foot in front of the other was easy enough until even my feet disappeared in the fog. Swallowing tightly, I tried not to panic more but the entire situation was so unreal I felt like I was hallucinating.
No matter how many steps I took and no matter how much Sam barked, I didn’t seem to be getting any closer to him. Stifling a panicked yell, I closed my eyes like I had before. That’s when all of this started. Maybe I had fallen asleep after all. Maybe I was dreaming. But when I opened my eyes I was met with a set of lifeless ones in return.
A gaunt pale looking fellow stood before me. Their eyes were cloudy and white. Blind. Their hair thin and wispy, their skin translucent and yellow.
“What the fuck?” Scrambling back a few steps, I tried to create as much space between myself and the stranger. That’s when my eyes settled on their feet. Fragments of what used to be shoes stuck to their ankles and toes with fresh and dried blood. Their skin was blistered, raw, and shredded. Their left foot much worse than their right with sections of bone exposed on the ends of their toes. “Oh my god. Sir. Are-you need help.”
The words barely left my mouth before, yet another gust of wind sent a new plume of fog to sweep the man away. To my left I heard sobbing. With an intense worry, I turned towards the noise. The cause of it was a young woman stumbling about and shielding her eyes while bare feet left a trail of blood in her wake.
“Ma’am?” Again, the fog came. It swept her away like it had the man, and it was then that I realized it was sweeping me away too. All the while the red streetlight grew brighter and brighter until it became unbearable. Were these people lost? Was I lost too? Would I become something like them?
Heaving in desperate breaths of air, I struggled to come up with some sort of logical conclusion to this mess. There had to be a cause to what I was seeing, but when a third person miraculously appeared in front of me, I ran. I didn’t know what else to do. I needed to find my truck and leave as quickly as possible.
“Sam! Sam!” My voice tore from my throat sounding harsh and ragged. There was no response this time. I was alone. Now, with tears streaming down my face I wandered around arms extended and hands grasping. All I wanted was to touch the familiar metal frame of my truck and lock myself inside.
Shivering from head to toe with a thick layer of sweat coating my skin, I pressed on. There was no telling how long I walked for. Whether it was hours or days but all that drove me was desperation and rage. Rage to get out of this suffocating red light. It bounced off the fog bombarding my eyes from every angle. It became so intense, so bad, that my retinas began to ache. That’s when I closed my eyes, promising to never open them. That didn’t work. The light was so intense it burned clear through the backs of my eyelids and into my brain. Searing any sense of sanity I had left.
I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, wandering, weak, tired, and blind. I would die here inevitably. Still, my legs moved until they couldn’t anymore, and I was left in a crumpled heap upon what I assumed was the road. Fog devoured me like a flesh hungry beast and part of me wanted it to win. To consume me and put me out of my misery.
It must have sensed my desire because a wet slobbery tongue raced across my cheek. Hot breath danced along my face, and I knew I was a goner. It had finally beaten me into submission. That stupid red light had won.
Then a soft gentle bark resonated in my dying ears and the greatest sense of relief I’d ever felt washed over me. “Sam.”
I’m not sure what happened next. All I know is that I regained some form of consciousness in a blurry white room where incessant beeping bombarded my senses. I could barely make out a set of wires dancing along my arms when a door eased open and in walked someone decorated with a lab coat.
“Ah, you’re awake. How are the eyes?” They asked, their voice gentle but prying.
“I can barely see,” I rasped, my throat feeling like it was full of razor blades.
“I see. Well, we can get an optometrist in here shortly- “
I didn’t let her finish.
“What happened?” I demanded, aware of the doctor settling a blanket across my mid-section. I had a vague sensation of coldness racing along my toes.
“Officers found you miles away from your car clear into the next county. You were missing your shoes,” the doctor explained, pausing as if debating whether they should tell me more. Truthfully, I didn’t remember losing my shoes. “Your feet were shredded. You’ll need skin grafts in the coming days to help them heal. Your dog is the one who led the police to you. When they found you, they said you were rambling about a red light.”
As the last two words of her sentence registered, my heart sank into my stomach and everything from the previous night came rushing back to me. All I could see was the bright red light searing into my eyes. I couldn’t look away no matter how hard I tried. We stared at each other even as a plume of fog rolled in to consume me. Smother me. Kill me one mile after the other as I walked aimlessly in red colored silence. It was here, with me in this hospital room. I could feel it. The same impending dread and doom along with the growing pain in my eyes. It wasn’t going to leave me alone. Not now, not ever.
“Sir. Calm down. You’re safe.” The doctor’s voice was muffled in my ears. Mixed in with the sound of quickening beeps. She called out for help, her voice filled with the panic and fear I felt. People rushed around me, poking me, prodding me, but all I could see was that light. Bloody and red like my feet.
Of course, the doctors and police got talking with one another after that. They said I had some sort of psychotic break the night of the drive and its effects carried over into my hospital stay. That the stress of my parents had triggered something in me. That being tired and driving hadn’t helped. That something deep within me snapped. They wanted a psych evaluation to help me, but it didn’t matter. Ever since the doctor said those fateful words all I could see was red.
It never left. Never faded. Not until I made it. They told me they couldn’t save my eyes. That was fine. I didn’t want to see that damned red light anymore. But no matter how many times I told my story no one believed me. Not the doctors or the psychologists or anyone. I know what I saw. I lived it and I have the scars to prove it.
Maybe you’ll believe me or maybe you won’t. Just listen to me when I tell you this. Don’t drive in the early hours of the morning. Don’t waste your time at a red light like I did. Run it. Run it fast and don’t look back. A ticket is less of a pain than gouging out your own eyes. And if you do stop at the red light and it stares back at you a little too long with a little too much intensity. Don’t get out of your car.
An angler fish knows when it’s captured its prey. Knows how to keep it locked behind a set of teeth unable to leave without help. Knows how to devour you slowly. Those red lights? They’re traps. And if you aren’t careful the fog will find you. Just like it found me.
Credit: Emily S.
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