Driving, to me it is more then just getting from point A to point B, it is a way of life. Some find peace at a spa or on a beach but for me peace is the interstate at 2am with nothing but the open road ahead of me. I am a second generation trucker and I was raised on the road. My father taught me all he knew about driving and how to rely on my instincts and knowledge. I know that nowadays anyone can use the GPS on their phone to find their way around but I don’t believe in that nonsense. Those people will never know the thrill of dodging traffic on the narrow back roads, will never understand the accomplishment of carving your own path. For 23 years I have been trucking on my own skill and I have never gotten lost. That was until last night, a night I will never forget as long as I live.
I was running a load of farming equipment out to rural Kentucky. This is a common route for me and one I know like the back of my hand. I drove all day with the blazing May Kentucky heat blaring down on me. Finally when the sun went down I was able to relish the sweet cool embrace of night. As PM turned to AM the traffic began to die down and I found myself with clear peaceful roads ahead of me. I was in my happy place, making great time and feeling energised by the feel of my tires treading the pavement. This was the perfect time of night.
That was until I came over a steep incline and saw the two colors that every trucker and motorist hates. The flashing orange of construction signs and the red of break lights as far as the eye could see. Nothing makes my blood boil more then sitting through stop and go traffic, especially in my big rig. I began to grumble until I saw a small side road on my right almost shining like a beacon from God. Most people would be unwilling to take an unknown side road but I am not like most people. If you simply can keep your sense of direction and use logic then back roads are nothing but a slight detour. I turned down the lonely road giving a slight wave to the traffic gridlock as I breezed by.
The road was narrow but thankfully deserted as not many would be traveling roads like this at 1am. The path led through a wooded area and I slowed my rig down. Nothing ruins a run like a rogue dear embedded into your front grill. The woods were dark but the darkness was no match for my power lights that cut through it like a blade. I kept my focus on driving but allowed myself casual glances around. It was not often that I traveled through the forest at night and I wasn’t going to neglect the beauty of nature. The woods seemed quiet and I don’t mean in sound, just simply dead. I have driven around enough at night to know where to keep an eye out for nocturnal creatures but there were none here. There were no birds in the trees or foxes darting between the bushes, not even a squirrel watching from the distance.
I traveled to a fork in the road and using my knowledge of the highway system I knew that I needed to keep right to get past the construction and towards my goal. I turned right and continued down the wooded gravel road. I traveled for minutes on end with no sign of anything but trees. No other side roads, no country homes, not even power lines. Around the one hour mark I noticed a gnarled tree to my left. The tree looked centuries old with rotted bark and branches that looked like long clawed fingers reaching for me. Despite the heat I felt a chill run down my spine. I kept on the road for another 20 minutes when something strange happened. I know it was impossible but that same clawed-fingered tree was to my left again. I know trees can look alike but this one was far to unique to be anything but the same one. I shook my head violently trying to shake out the impossible thoughts that were in my head. I convinced myself that it had to be a coincidence until I saw the same tree again and this time on my right.
The wind moved through the branches causing those great claws to shake and almost look like they were trying to grab me. I didn’t care about safety and I pushed my gas petal almost to the floor. I zoomed past the tree and thankfully it never returned. Time passed like sand through an hour glass and still I had come across no turns or civilization. The silence was beginning to grate on me so I turned on the radio for some companionship. The radio was nothing but static which shouldn’t be possible as I have one of the best satellite radios on the market. I kept the static going as at least it was something to distract me from the strange feelings coming over me.
Perhaps the radio was a good luck charm as I finally came to another fork in the road. I judged the distance and used the brightness of the sky ahead of me to try to determine if there were any towns or highways ahead of me but to my dismay it was nothing but pitch black. I decided to turn left and hope my instincts would pay off. I couldn’t have gotten a mile before another turn came before me and this time I turned right. Half a mile this time before another tight turn presented itself. I continued right and was immediately faced with another turn. There was barely enough room for my truck to turn left. I don’t know who designed these roads but I would like to interduce them to all 18 of my tires.
I found myself down another impossibly large stretch of road and began to become concerned. I should have hit some manner of highway by now. I changed my radio stations rapidly but still nothing but static. Despite being used to the isolation of trucking I found myself feeling lonely and desperately wanting some contact with the outside world. A bright light on my left hand side may have answered my prayers. Through the trees on another deserted road was a big rig just like mine. I could almost have cried in relief. I matched the trucks speed and began blowing my horn in the age old trucker’s S.O.S. Signal. I awaited response from the trucker but received none. I repeated my signal only for my cry to fall on death ears. There is no trucker alive that would not respond to that call when issued. Through the darkness and the trees it was hard to see inside the cab of the truck. Suddenly the other truck moved to a reckless speed and moved past. I glanced at the licence plate hoping to be able to warn other drivers of someone breaking our unwritten code. It was hard to make out with his speed but what I saw almost stopped my heart. The last 4 digits were identical to mine.
I shook my head back and forth trying to make sense of things. There were millions of licence plates out there, some would have to have similar numbers. “On another big rig in who also happened to be in the middle of no where?” A voice inside my head said. I chose to ignore the voice and looked for signs of where the truck could have gone but all traces of it and the road it was traveling down had disappeared. I was starting to feel extremely uncomfortable and I was begging for the familiar tread of highway, even stop and go construction was better then this. The radio’s static continued but every now and then I could almost swear that I could hear voices coming through. I turned up the volume and for a moment I thought I heard two words that shouldn’t be coming from the radio, jingle bells.
Who the hell was playing jingle bells in May? None of it made sense and I convinced myself that it was all in my head, but that was when I saw it. Out of my left window were was a patch of swamp with snow piled high. That was completly impossible. Even in the tree canopy, there is no possible way snow could have survived in this May Kentucky heat. Yet there it was shining in the light of the moon, fresh as a cup of coffee in the morning. I began to slow down. I had to check to see if what I was seeing was real. I pulled to a stop and started reaching for my handle when a large shadow moved past my door. I was completely startled and my blood went cold. I looked all around for what made the shadow and yet nothing was around. Whatever made it had disappeared and it wasn’t the only thing. The snow had completly vanished as if it had never been. I began slapping my face to feel the sting that told me I wasn’t dreaming.
I put my truck back in drive and began traveling again. I was more lost then I had ever been. I looked to the sky to see if I could get my barring’s by the stars but the sky was completly clouded over. “Wasn’t the moon shining just a few minutes ago?” My inner voice asked. I was so confused and starting to become frightened. A thick and unnatural fog began rolling in obscuring my vision and increasing my discomfort. Finally I had reached my limit and I had to do something that I had never done in my life. I turned on my truck’s preinstalled GPS. I could feel my father rolling over in his grave but I didn’t care. I wanted back on the main road and I wanted it now. The computer fired up and began searching my location but what it found only increased my unease. I was off the map completly and only a field of black met me. The stupid technology was broken, so much for the wave of the future. I drove on hoping to catch a signal but nothing was working.
On the radio I could hear voices coming through periodically but only strange whispers came through that I couldn’t catch. The fog became thicker and thicker outside almost obscuring my view. I squinted out and could swear that there were shapes moving in it’s mass. The GPS dinged almost giving me a heart attack from the shock. I glanced at it with hope but what came through was that I was somewhere in Western Europe. I ignored it and kept going quickly as I dared. The stupid machine kept changing it’s location. Melbourne, Indiana, Nebraska, Udney, none of it making one bit of sense. The whispers on the radio grew louder and louder, driving me insane. Finally when I could take no more the fog lifted slightly in front of me and the road reached a dead end and trees with sharp branches stood in front of me.
I jammed on the breaks as hard as I could and by the grace of God the truck stopped before impaling me on the trees. The fog began swirling around me almost like it was caressing my truck. Through the trees the fog began to part slightly and illuminated by my lights was the hint of a figure in the distance. I should have felt relieved however there was something not right about the silhouette before me. Despite my brightest lights blaring on it, the entity reminded hidden in shadows as if it reflected light itself. I couldn’t help but stare at it’s haunting form and then it began to move towards me. The thing did not walk like a person but almost glided like a spectre through the fog. The whispers on the radio grew. Loud and clear I heard my name whispered by some macabre voice.
Tears poured down from my eyes and I jammed them shut. “It’s not real. Please dear God let this not be real.” I clutched the steering wheel with all my might just begging to be back home on the road. I could feel a dark presence surrounding my truck and I could hear a slight scratching at my window. Again I heard my name whispered, not from the radio but from directly outside. “PLEASE!” I shouted to the heavens and ripped my eyes open. I found self at a corner of a highway on a nicely paved road. I looked all around but found that the forest, fog and that horrible entity were all gone. The radio had returned to normal and Charlie Daniels’ voice filled the air. Asleep at the wheel? In 23 years of trucking I had never found myself asleep at the wheel before. I hadn’t even remembered feeling tired. I looked to my right and I saw those oh so familiar golden arches awaiting me and I had never pulled into a parking lot so fast. I parked my car and took a couple of deep breaths. I was home and I had never felt so relieved. I glanced at the GPS and for a moment I thought the stupid thing was broken again. The screen was telling me that I was a mere 5 miles from my drop off point when I wasn’t due to be there until noon at the earliest. There is no way I could have driven that far in a mere couple of hours.
I ran into the restaurant in hoping some black coffee and salty fries might clear my head. I don’t know how long I sat there trying to make sense of this horrific night to no avail. Finally I went to the restroom to splash some cold water on my face. When I got to the sink I saw something that had me dropping what was left of my coffee to the floor. There in the mirror was a man I did not recognize, at least not completly. The man in the mirror was me but not as I last saw myself. My hair which had a few sprinkles of salt in the pepper had now gone completely grey. My smooth skin was now wrinkled with a hand full of liver spots. Somehow in those couple of hours I had aged no less then 15 years. I would have sworn I was dreaming if I could not feel the sting of the hot coffee on my leg.
I have dropped off my load and am now sit in a parking lot for the first time dreading the drive back home. My sanctuary has become a prison and I now fear that I can no longer stand to drive those long trips. I face a future where I have no idea of what I am supposed to do with my life. I still have no idea what I encountered last night but I know deep down in my soul that it was real. I leave this as a warning to all drivers who would dare traverse the dark back pathways of the world. Please for the love of all that you hold dear, stick to the road.
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