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“Beep-beep! Beep…beep…beep…” my car echoes through the black air and bounces off of the tall, dark, silent dorm rooms.
Glancing to my left and to my right, there are no other students to be seen; everyone is already homebound for the warm pumpkin pies, mushy mashed potatoes, and lethargic turkey of Thanksgiving. I am relieved to finally get out of here after finishing up my research paper; it looks like it is starting to rain and my body shakes with the sharp whip of the icy night air as I dig myself further into my University of Rhode Island sweatshirt.
Finally inside my car with the luggage situated behind me into neat piles, I search in the abyss of my backpack for my iPod. My fingers finally wrap around its freezing, thin form and I read the inscription on it, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY WINNIE!” as I plug it into the stereo of my 2003 Toyota Camry and click-click-click my way to the playlist of my favorite songs. By now is past eleven o’ clock, my car chugs awake at the turn of my key and the headlights brighten the darkness like two glowing eyes lurking from a dark closet opening.
As I drive along the deserted highway, I can barely keep my eyes open. Staring at the computer in the library for three hours straight has worn me out and I cannot wait to just get home and rest with my family. Luckily the drive is less than an hour, and I should be home in no time. I continue my way along, the little highway lights guiding my way through the storm that has developed as fat raindrops pound on the windshield to be quickly whooshed away by my high speed wipers. Only fifteen more miles and I will be back to my hometown.
Suddenly I see up ahead a bright, orange, blinking sign growing larger and clearer:
“HIGHWAY CLOSED DUE TO FLOODING. DETOUR ? ”
You’ve got to be kidding me, I think as I direct my car onto the exit and off of the highway. Where am I? What town is this? I do not recognize anything; then again, in this weather I probably would not even recognized my own house. The songs on my iPod begin to play Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as a high voice hushes “It’s close to midnight, and somethin’ evil’s lurking in the dark…” It is probably the worst song to be listening to in this situation but I do not have time to fumble with the iPod, I have to concentrate on the detour signs that are growing more and more sparse.
Before I know it my car stops facing a narrow dirt road, no detour sign in sight. My headlights cannot reach into the dark void that lies ahead, the cheese colored moon is just bright enough to highlight the silhouettes of the tall slim-branched trees hanging over the road, forming a suffocating entryway. Glancing into my rearview mirror is a black curtain, and I safely put the car into park and pull out a map. I let out a big yawn as my eyes blinked slower each time, despite the chattering of my teeth and the adrenaline rushing through my body cautioning me to turn back and find any other way possible to go home….
The car is crawling at less than 20 miles per hour; dark outlines of trees pass me by slowly, and I jump at each twig that falls and bangs on the outside of my car in the strong winds that push the car and wave the branches like the shadows of arms screaming for help. I cannot tell how long I have been driving; every part of the road looked exactly the same. Nothing is visible in this weather, and I pray that I will at least stay on the road and not drive into a ditch.
Without warning, a bolt of white flashes in front of my eyes and I slam on my brakes. I mistake it for a flash of lightning, but the bang that follows is not thunder, it sounds like I actually hit something.
What if it was a poor innocent deer? I should at least try to see if it is okay.
I check my phone first, but I do not have any service. I just have to check it out alone, it is probably nothing major. Fumbling for the flashlight in my glove box, I finally find it, a four-inch, slender piece of metal that emits a dim light with a small turn of the top. Holding it out in front of me like a shield and sword, I venture out of the car.
My Nike sneakers crackle on the dead leaves as I pull my sweatshirt hood over my head, it has finally stopped raining but the cold air is absolutely unbearable. The darkness makes it impossible to make out the front of my car, but with the aid of the flashlight I am just able to make out a large dent, the size of a cantaloupe.
Turning my head to the right to where the animal would have scurried off to, I cannot find a sign of anything. I turn back to the left and shudder as a white figure stands, a girl of seven or eight years old, her black eyes gaping at me, her mouth set in a straight line. Her hair flows over her like ink on white paper, staining the vintage-style, bleach-white communion dress that ruffles around her tiny body. Her arms lay at her sides, and the dark form of a giant tree with a trunk at least five feet wide and thick, gnarled roots that rose from the earth like a long Lock Ness monster emerging from the top of a murky ocean frames her. She is the exact persona of the old legend around this area, a girl who supposedly drowned on the day of her birthday party many, many years ago and still haunts these woods.
I blink and open my eyes wider but in that instant she is gone. Paralyzed to my core with the urge to jump back inside my car, I slowly creep backward; my fingers searching for the handle of my car while my eyes search for her. My chest heaves up and down as I try to gulp oxygen into my lungs while trying to pull my rushing thoughts together. I don’t know what it was that I saw and I shudder as the smooth handle meets my hand as I quickly turn around to face the driver’s side of the car.
As I pull the handle toward me, it stops short. What? I thought, How could the car be locked? I didn’t lock it…the keys are still in the ignition...unless she……
I glance up and see the white girl standing four feet in front of my car, still staring right at me. I open my mouth, wanting to let out a blood-curdling scream but the sound doesn’t come out. Her features soften and she slowly steps closer, with each small movement of her foot I sink lower and lower into my sweatshirt. I pull at the car-door handle desperately, up and down, up and down but it will not give and she slowly crees closer, her head shaking in a sad left to right movement, almost like she is saying “No.”
“Please!” I gasp out in a burst of a frantic whisper and she stops so abruptly that I stop too, locked in her haunting gaze.
After an instant of silence, a soft click sounds and the car is finally open. In the moment that I realize this, I hurdle in and slam the door shut, locking it even though I know it won’t offer me any protection. I look out through the front of the windshield and she is still there, staring. Then she her mouth slowly curls into a slight smile and she fades away into the rest of the darkness. I bury my face into my arms crossed over the steering wheel, and try to make the image of her fade from my mind…
I startle awake and my eyes burst open, the map fluttering from my face in a loud crackle and crinkle. I am seat-belted in my car, as if I never moved.
Could that have been a dream? I wonder. I am still parked on the dirt road, no ghost girl to be seen in sight. I cannot decipher the exact spot that I am parked on this road, but without another thought, I turn the car back on, make a three point turn, and head back in the other direction as fast as I can possible drive. The thoughts of the girl still hang on my mind, but it must have all been a dream. I reached the end of the mysterious dirt road and went back until I find another detour sign. According to the map, it looks as if I had made a wrong turn, but now I am back on track and should be home in less than fifteen minutes. I am so worn out and tired that the thought of crashing on my comfy bed and curling up in the covers is beyond ecstasy. As I pull into my driveway, I grab the couple of luggage bags I have and my backpack and run into the house to be greeted by my family: Mom, Dad, and my sister and two brothers. I tell them all about my ride home and how crazy the weather was, and especially my bizarre dream.
I figure I will wait until tomorrow morning to look for the dent in my car.