09 Apr Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear
“Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear”Written by Kyle Harrison Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 9 minutes
Have you ever driven down a road and glanced back at the rearview mirror and thought to yourself, “That car wasn’t there before?”
It’s a common enough phenomenon; there are so many merging lanes and exits and ramps on most highways that it’s easy to not notice a car coming or going.
The stretch of highway I was on is uninterrupted, though; no other cars for miles to be seen. I turned on it a ways back, thinking it would be a shortcut to make it home. It’s been too long since I’ve been home with my wife. I was trying to beat bad weather, and also short on funds, so every ounce of gas counts.
So naturally, it’s a bit jarring when I see a pair of headlights in the mirror suddenly appear. Especially when I’m sure that they weren’t there a moment ago.
The car gets closer, and I feel my pulse quicken. Something about the encounter does not feel right. It’s in the air, making the whole night feel suddenly very electric. I increase my speed and try to lose the trailing car. But every time I look back, it’s there.
It’s so dark, I can’t see a driver. Then I get this odd and dreadful feeling. Maybe there isn’t a driver at all.
I’m not sure why this thought crosses my mind. I’ve never really believed in ghosts. But still, the lingering doubt persists.
The other vehicle is almost on top of my own and I can hear the revving of their engine. Are they trying to hurt me? Run me off the road?
I decide to pull off, let them go by. But just as my car moved over to the side, I felt something hit the bumper. It feels like a jolt of electricity, or when you awaken from a bad dream. The car shouldn’t be that close. I have no other choice but to keep driving so I can avoid losing all control of my own vehicle.
By this point my hands are clammy, my nerves are shot. I think about calling the police, but as I look down at my electronic display, it shows I have zero reception.
I think to myself that I am going to die here. This car is going to keep trying to make me have an accident.
Then just as I am sure that they will collide with my bumper again, I see a diner on the side of the road. This is my salvation. I look back at the glaring headlights and push down on the accelerator.
But every time I increase my speed, the other vehicle seems to be able to catch up. I’m starting to think I won’t make it. Or that I can’t.
The diner seems impossibly far away. The highway is stretching on forever. And the dangerous car is only inching closer.
Then an even more impulsive thought runs through my head. If I slam on my brakes and move to the oncoming lane, the car will fly by. It will give me a short window of escape.
I look at the mirror again, convinced more than ever this is no ordinary encounter.
This is a specter from hell, driven to kill. To destroy.
Suddenly the diner is right on top of us; my chance to leave the highway is almost gone. I tilt the steering wheel as hard as I can, almost causing my car to flip. I slam on my brakes and drift into the parking lot of the isolated restaurant.
As soon as my car is off the road, I dare to look back and see if the demonic vehicle is still following me.
But the highway is empty. I’m alone.
I gripped the wheel hard, letting myself calm down as I looked into the foggy windows of the diner.
Was this place haunted, too? Or more like a guidepost for lost travelers like me?
The only way to find out was to go inside, I knew.
But before I did, I reached into the glove compartment of my car and took out a small firearm.
Then I reconsider. All of this feels like an overreaction. I put the gun back and close up the compartment, heading inside.
My eyes are still on the lonesome highway as I enter the diner, the welcoming jingle of a doorway bell only sounding faint as the glass swings closed.
What had I encountered? Would I encounter it again when I left this oasis?
The diner itself is empty, and it feels almost foreign to me. Nothing about it is inviting or reminiscent of the cafes that used to dot the roads when I grew up.
But then I considered its location. No one was coming out here, except foolhardy lost drivers like me, I thought.
I sat on a barstool and tapped the service bell on the edge of the grimy counter, wondering if anyone even worked here at all.
I actually felt a wave of relief when I saw a middle-aged woman turn from out of the kitchen, smiling warmly at me.
Finally, something normal, I thought.
“Lost, hun?” she asked as she poured me a cup of hot coffee.
For some reason, her question sounds more like an accusation. I feel on edge. But I shrug it off.
“Just trying to make my way home,” I tell her. It feels like I’m trying to convince myself of that statement, too. Why *had* I come here?
“Mighty brave of you to come to this stretch of road, and from the looks of your tremblin’ paws, I’m guessing you know why I say that,” the waitress said, leaning against the counter.
I hadn’t realized that my hands were shaking, but now that she has pointed it out it seems I can’t get them to stop.
I feel the sudden urge to ask the question I had hoped I wouldn’t need to.
“Is this highway haunted?”
She runs her fingers through her hair, and for a second I thought I saw a fresh wound. Was she dead, too? Was I losing my mind?
“Some say it is, or that it was. My boyfriend says it’s all a load of bull. But when he shows up you can ask him the details of the stories. He knows this stretch of road backwards and forwards,” she said.
“Shows up? Is he the cook?” I dare to ask. The waitress chuckles. I’m not sure why but it feels like she is laughing at me, pitying my lack of understanding.
“He’ll be here soon. Let me go whip up some grits while we wait,” she suggested.
In the pit of my stomach, I feel like I should leave. Something about the encounter still feels very wrong. But then I think of the demon on the highway, and I reconsider.
I wouldn’t last five minutes out there being chased again. So I choose to wait.
The clock strikes three-thirty, and I hear another vehicle drive into the parking lot. The sound of the engine alone makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Is it the same vehicle that followed me before? I tell myself that’s impossible, but still, I don’t turn around to look.
The waitress comes out again, just as the newcomer enters, and she smiles warmly. Her friendly demeanor relaxes my stressed body. This must be her boyfriend. He looks like a grease monkey, covered in oil and soot, his clothes tattered and old.
“Babe, this fella wanted to know about the legend of the highway. I figured that no one knows it better than you,” she said softly as her arms wrapped around the muscular mechanic.
“Sure,” is all he says as he sits down beside me and then asks where I am headed, just like she did. Once again, the question sounds like I’m being interrogated; there is no friendly chitchat happening here. But I reiterated my story.
“I just want to get home. But I don’t feel safe getting out on that highway again,” I admitted as I sipped my coffee nervously. His cold gaze makes me uncomfortable, so instead I focus on the waitress as she returns with two plates of grits for us.
“You have a right to feel scared. A demon roams these parts. A collector that will take your soul if you aren’t careful,” he responded.
“Is there any way to escape it?” I asked.
“Do you have someone that you care about?” he responded. The question feels out of place. Almost an accusation. But I answer it anyway.
“My wife. I haven’t seen her in a while, and I’m ready to get back home.”
“That’s kinda ironic,” he said, shooting a smile at his girl. “The Headless Highwayman is a scorned lover.”
I swallowed instinctively, feeling my throat run dry. “…headless?”
“Story goes that he and his wife just celebrated their honeymoon, and they were on their way home when she announced that she didn’t love him. On top of that, she said she had been sleeping with someone else before they ever had their nuptials.”
He howled with laughter as he slapped his knee. “Can you even imagine? This poor fool was thinking she was his one true love, and here she was, just using him.”
I saw his girlfriend get deathly silent, and I suddenly felt a bit worried about their relationship. Had something similar happened to them?
“Anyways, the driver claimed that it didn’t bother him one bit and just kept on driving. The highway stretches on for a while, so there isn’t a need for a posted speed limit. He pushed down on the accelerator, going faster and faster until his cheating wife became worried,” he said. His attention was entirely on his girl now. She seemed hypnotized by the story, hanging on every word. I couldn’t help but admit that I was, too, imagining every detail.
“As they drove on, he saw a tunnel up ahead, and he pushed the accelerator down as far as he could. Rushing down the highway, his lover became confused and scared. Certain he would smash them into the tunnel walls. There isn’t another way around; a river runs through that countryside. Only under the tunnel. Closer they get, the more she can see the fire of determination and fury in his eyes. She can’t stop it from happening. Then, finally, they are mere meters from the tunnel, and he stands up, just enough to be above the visor of his sports car. His head hits the edge of the tunnel perfectly, knocking it clean off.”
“That’s insane,” I whispered.
He was only smiling. “He couldn’t handle what his lover had told him, so he chose to end his life. But now his spirit roams the highway endlessly, seeking vengeance on others who have not made amends with those they hurt.”
I reached for my drink, my hand trembling.
“So, stranger…what do you need to resolve before you reach the end of the road?” he asked. “What are you hiding from the one you love?”
“Hun, you’re scaring him,” his girl finally interjects.
“If he hopes to survive to the end of the road, he needs to confess,” he insisted.
I stood up, confused and frightened by the crazed look in this man’s eyes. “It was just an illusion. A mirage of the long drive,” I said as I fumbled and offered money to the waitress.
“Have a good night.”
The man grabbed my arm as I prepared to leave.
“Don’t be scared to face it. Hurting someone can be hard. But hiding the truth is far more dangerous,” he snarled.
I shook him off and went outside to get in my car, glancing over at the vehicle he had driven to the diner.
A vintage red Corvette, from at least 30 years ago. It reminded me of the vehicle he had described in the ghostly tale.
I glanced inside the diner to see the two lovers quarreling, feeling a pit start to grow in the bottom of my stomach. Had he been telling me the story of him and his lover?
I started my engine and drove away before I could find out, continuously glancing in the rearview mirror as I got away from the diner.
For a long lonesome few minutes, the highway was empty again except for me.
Was I safe? Had I escaped the wrath of this mad man?
My phone buzzed, breaking my thoughts and reminding me to focus on the road ahead. My wife.
“Where are you?” she asked.
“Headed home…I got a little lost, but I’m coming your way,” I said.
“Why have you been ignoring my calls?” she asked anxiously.
“I didn’t have a good signal,” I answered, but then noticed my phone showed the timestamps as though she had been trying to call repeatedly.
“Stop lying. Just talk to me,” she insisted.
Then headlights appeared in my rearview again.
“I’ll call when I’m off the road,” I promised.
I held my gaze at the mirror as the car got closer.
Again I saw no driver, sending a chill down my body.
Ahead of me, I saw a tunnel. A river. It was the one from the story. I heard the car rev its engine and get closer. I stepped my foot on the accelerator as well. I had to make it there first.
My phone buzzed again, and I sent it to the car phone.
“Please just talk to me,” my wife said as I gripped the wheel harder. The demonic driver was almost on top of me.
Every time I looked at the mirror, it was almost there.
“I’m scared,” I admitted to her as I drove faster.
“I can handle it. No matter what it is,” she told me.
The car was grinding against my bumper. Trying to run me off the road. To force me into the bitter cold river of truth. I gripped the steering wheel harder and confess.
“I’m sorry…I haven’t been faithful to you,” I screamed out. The car kept getting closer. Slamming into me. I would face death if I didn’t confront this.
“I didn’t want you to leave me. But it was a mistake. A one-night stand that I regret forever,” I shouted.
I hear demonic laughter over the air as I’m about to crash. The tunnel is right in front of me.
“Please. Please forgive me,” I beg.
There is a second of silence as I look into the mirror again. And I see myself at the wheel for just a moment. Driving to the edge of sanity. Ready to kill myself over my guilt. Driving into the tunnel would be so easy. End it all, pay for my sins.
My side mirror smashes the side of the tunnel.
Sparks fly as metal grinds against the brick.
Then my wife’s voice cracks the air with a few words. “I know. It’s fine. Just come home, and we can make it right.”
I slam on my brakes, and my car slides across the dead highway, out the other side of the tunnel.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the demonic headless creature fly by, and I see his lover. The waitress. Trapped alongside his lie and doomed to drive this lonesome road forever.
It wasn’t anger or regret that drove them to be here, but guilt. Always stuck looking in the mirror, trapped in the past.
My eyes are now on the road ahead, and I can see an exit sign. I’m almost home.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableKyle Harrison Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A