Lights by the Roadside

📅 Published on January 4, 2021

“Lights by the Roadside”

Written by EmptyPodium
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
Please wait...

I’m an EMT in my childhood hometown of Hillhaven, Montana. There’s only one hospital worth the name in the whole county, Hillhaven General, so when I moved back into town after ten years living in Helena, that was the only real choice for a freshly-licensed EMT.

Like anywhere else, the job has a pretty comprehensive set of rules we have to follow. Most of them are pretty simple, and common sense. Don’t break the speed limits, especially on dirt roads. Don’t try to do maintenance on the vehicles yourself, we have mechanics for that. One rule always stuck out to me as pretty strange, though: Don’t stop for someone signaling you along the road if you can’t see a car with its hazard lights on nearby. It made some sense; don’t stop the vehicle to help someone else when you have a patient is pretty reasonable. But that isn’t what it said. After thinking about the rule for most of my first six weeks of working at Hillhaven General, I stopped Jamie, one of the Emergency Medical Dispatchers who’d been working at the hospital for years.

“I have a question about one of the rules, Jamie. The one about not stopping for someone signaling you without a car. What’s going on with that?” I tried to be nonchalant about it, but from Jamie’s glare I knew I’d failed pretty badly.

“Just don’t stop. Simple as that.” Nothing else, no explanation, no stories, nothing.

No matter who I asked, I got the same answer: “Don’t worry about why, just don’t do it.” I dug through old referendums and meeting notes from the last twenty years, but even there was nothing about the rule. It was never mentioned by anyone on the hospital’s CEO, or any of the Head of Departments. It was just a dead-end, so I gave up, deciding nobody actually knew why the rule existed but since it didn’t come up much, they never got around to removing it.

Weeks went by, and I mostly forgot about the rule, until I was given the duty of helping out the new guy on the team, Tom. Tom was an out-of-towner, not a common sight in Hillhaven, and so needed someone to help them get the lay of the land around the county. We’re pretty sparsely populated outside of the three larger towns, and a lot of the roads date back decades with little to no good documentation of them. Not a problem if you’re from here, but hell if you’re new.

So, rather than send Tom out into the wilds and hope, they gave him one of the older non-transporting vehicles, a beat-up old SUV without most of the supplies in back, and sent the two of us out into the backwoods for several shifts. The first two were day shifts, just to get him comfortable enough with driving by landmark rather than GPS, but after that, they swapped us over to the night shift.

Three night shifts in, and Tom still had no idea where he was the second we left a paved road. We would go in circles for hours with me pointing out the same landmarks over and over again, and Tom just not getting it. He was doing badly enough I was considering trying to get someone else to train him, just to see if it was him or me that was the problem.

As it was nearing the 3 AM mark of the fourth shift, I started to notice lights swinging around in the woods off to the vehicle’s left. Tom was so focused on his driving I don’t think he would have noticed deer charging the vehicle head-on, and it was probably some kids screwing around in the woods anyway, so I kept it to myself. But as we rounded a blind corner, three lights swung around in the brush off the road.

They looked like a pair of flashlight beams and an older lantern, kerosene maybe, bobbing up and down. Tom slowed the SUV to a stop, staring at the flashlights oddly. His head was cocked to the side, like he was trying to hear something better, and his eyes tried to track all three lights despite them bobbing in different patterns.

“Looks like some people need help.” He said, slowly breaking off from the lights to look at me. I was struggling to find the right words to tell him this was a bad idea; something was wrong when he put the SUV in park and started to undo his seatbelt. “I’ll hop out and see if they need a ride back to the road.”

The weird rule came back to me and I grabbed Tom’s arm, gripping it tightly. “Tom, the rules say to look for a car’s hazard lights, and I don’t see any cars around. How did they get out here? It’s like a thirty-minute hike from anywhere they could have parked a car.”

“They’re probably just dumb kids who got lost in the woods. It’s our job to help people out, remember?” Tom tugged his arm out of my grip and grabbed a flashlight, one of the few pieces of equipment remaining in the SUV, out from the back seat. It was a big spotlight style flashlight, but as he flicked the on switch, only a dim yellow glow drifted out of the bulb.

Tom smacked it a couple of times, but the light didn’t brighten much. As he opened the door and slid out of the driver seat, I switched on the SUVs mobile radio and started to broadcast. “Dispatch, this is EMT Garcia in Vehicle 22. Do you read? Over.” Tom walked out into the center of the one-lane dirt road, his flashlight’s battery dying by the minute.

Tom started to sweep the dying spotlight around the forest’s edge as the radio crackled with Dispatch’s response. “We read you, Garcia. What’s the situation? Over.”

“EMT Williams has stepped out of the vehicle to investigate some flashlight beams we can see in the brush nearby. Looks like three of them. Over.” As I finished speaking into the radio receiver, I realized that there were way more than three lights in the forest now. A dozen more lights came to life behind the first three, and at least that many more lit up the forest on the other side of the road.

The new lights were far more varied than the first three. Some looked like modern flashlights, their beams bouncing off of trees and bushes. Others looked like lanterns, their light ruddy oranges, and yellows. A few even appeared to be torches, casting a sinister red light around them. The lights looked wrong somehow, and then it hit me. I couldn’t see anyone holding the lights. I could buy not seeing the person who held the flashlights, but the lanterns and torches would have to illuminate the bearers.

The radio started talking again, and this time the voice on the other side was laced with as much panic as static. “Do not leave the car. Try to get Williams back into the car, now. And then get the hell out of there, immediately.”

I unbuckled my seatbelt and leaned out of the open driver’s side door as far as I could safely. “Tom! Dispatch wants us back at the hospital!” I yelled at him, hoping that would get him moving. But he just stood there now, his dimming flashlight held loosely to his side, pointing at the ground. Then the lights began to get slowly closer. “Tom! Let’s go!” Still nothing, not even a twitch to show he had registered I existed, let alone that he’d heard me.

“Dispatch, Williams isn’t responding. I’m going to go get him. Over.” Not waiting for the dispatcher to try and stop me, I pulled myself back to my side of the SUV and opened my door. Carefully, I stepped out onto the road, and walked over to Tom. “Hey, buddy, you okay?” I asked as I reached out to grab his shoulder.

Tom may have been made of soft wax for all of the response he gave. Only his thin wheezing breath told me he hadn’t died standing up somehow. I shook him, and he swayed for a moment before coming back to rest. I walked around to face him and tried to look into his eyes. They were unfocused, blank, and unseeing. I started to reach for him again, but before I touched him, a noise started to come from his mouth.

It started as a low moan, deep in his chest, but as it gained in volume, it became higher and shriller, becoming a scream of pure fear and insanity. I had to cover my ears and back away from the cacophony, away from Tom’s madness. As suddenly as it began, the scream cut off, leaving the forest quieter than the grave. My own footsteps seemed muffled as I backed away towards the SUV, uncovering my ears as I went. I closed the passenger door, trying not to break the immense silence that built around us, and started to climb into the disturbingly silent vehicle. All the while Tom continued to stare unseeing into the darkness peppered with the ever-encroaching lights.

And we simply remained there, Tom standing in the center of the road, and I watching from the SUV’s driver seat, unsure what I could do, or if I even should, for what felt like hours, but the SUV’s clock told me was only a few minutes. All the while, the lights grew closer, never rushing, and their numbers ever-growing. First, a dozen more on each side, then a hundred, then a thousand, until I couldn’t understand why the whole forest wasn’t lit up by their light.

Finally, a flickering orange-yellow campfire light reached the edge of the road. I still couldn’t see what held it up, just the light itself. It was the size of my fist and hung there five maybe six feet in the air. Flickering is the wrong word for what it was doing to create different colors across its surface; the surface was mottled in a thousand shades of yellow and orange, and those colors seemed to dance and shift second to second.

Long seconds went by, but it approached no closer, apparently content to sit at the edge of the forest, its colors dancing. Tom however began to change. His head snapped to where the orb hung, and I could just see his left eye lose its distance and focus on the light. He started to walk towards the orb as if in a dream, stumbling and shuffling at the same time. I realized it might be my last chance to try and bring him out of this trance, broke the silence, laying into the SUV’s horn.

Tom stopped for a second and looked at the SUV. I thought I had finally gotten through to him and started to roll down the window. Before I could tell him to get in the car, his head returned to the orb, and he began his walk towards the forest again. I honked the horn again, but he didn’t react at all this time, just continued his slow walk to the trees.

I watched him step past the orb, going ever deeper into the dark trees. Quickly, I couldn’t make him out, just the dim yellow light from his flashlight’s dying battery, and eventually not even that. The other lights, orbs, stayed surrounding me for another five minutes before I rolled the window back up, put the SUV in drive and rolled away from them. They followed me for a few miles, but stopped once I reached one of the battered, but paved, roads.

I drove the hour or more it took to reach Hillhaven General in silence, trying to gather my thoughts and put them in an order that made any sense to me, let alone anyone I’d try and tell this insane story to. When I reached the vehicle bay and parked the SUV in its customary spot, Richard, the guy who ran the motor pool took me aside, leading me away from the other people working there, and into his office.

He sat me in the one other chair of the office, and sat at his desk, patiently waiting for me to start the conversation. I tried a dozen times, but each word died on my tongue unspoken. Finally, I asked, “What do we tell his family?”

Richard nodded his head slowly. “He finished his shift like normal, but you thought he was acting weird. He got in his car and drove off, for home, we guessed. When he doesn’t come in tomorrow, someone will call his home, and either we’ll be ‘told’ he never returned home, or nobody will pick up. Eventually, he’ll be another missing person’s case, and the Lord knows we got enough of those.”

“What were they? The orbs?”

“Nobody’s sure kid, they’ve been around forever. You said you had lived here when you were a kid, right? But you moved before you learned to drive, didn’t you?” I nodded my head. “If you’d learned here, you probably woulda been taught to avoid them.”

We sat there, neither speaking for a long minute. “What do we do now?” I asked, fairly sure what the answer was.

“We move on, and you try to get past it. If you wanna quit, we understand, but would prefer you didn’t. Most folks don’t come back from seeing them, they just go away like Williams did.” I nodded and left.

I ended up taking a week off but did return to the hospital. They kept me on day shifts for a couple of months, better to keep an eye on me, I guess. I moved back onto the night shift, and have had a few different co-drivers since then, all locals that don’t need to be told why not to leave the vehicle at night along empty roads when a couple of flashlights try to flag you down.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
Please wait...

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by EmptyPodium
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: EmptyPodium

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

More Stories from Author EmptyPodium:

No posts found.

Related Stories:

No posts found.

You Might Also Enjoy:

Average Rating:


The Grey Man at Lost Lake
Average Rating:

The Grey Man at Lost Lake

Recommended Reading:

Where the Light Stops Dead: 50 Short Horror Stories by Mr. Michael Squid
Unread: 32 Horror Stories
The Art of Fear: How to Write Scary Ghost Stories that Terrify Your Readers
The Children at the End of the World

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Skip to content