11 Dec The Wrong Way Man
“The Wrong Way Man”Written by Rick the Intern 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
If you see this man on the side of the road, don’t drive home.
We have this urban legend in my city called the Wrong Way Man. Supposedly, you might see him standing on the side of the road when you’re driving. Some say it’s always when you’re on your way home.
I’ve seen pictures of the Wrong Way Man. They circulate among us by text message. They circulate among students, workers, friends, and family here. Oddly, I’ve never seen any of those pictures posted online. I’m not sure if it’s because of fear, because those who’ve taken the pictures want to perpetuate the mystique of our local urban legend, or because of something else.
I was pretty sure those pictures had been a hoax, just someone dressed up as the Wrong Way Man. Maybe it was the same person every time.
As far as what the Wrong Way Man looks like—he wears his tattered clothing backwards, usually a flannel shirt and jeans. His painted smiling face looks eerily realistic, until he turns to the side and you can see it’s a smooth surface. It seems that he shaves his hair off, paints a face over the back of his head, and puts a shoulder-length wig on that covers up his real face.
Those who I’ve met who claim to have spotted the Wrong Way Man say they waited a week before driving home, staying over at a friend’s house or a hotel and not even bothering to go home to pack a suitcase. I’ve also heard, though, that you need to wait a month. The common consensus seems to be, if you see him while driving home, don’t finish the drive home. Turn around, go somewhere else, and wait for at least a week.
I thought it was a bunch of nonsense, until my date and I saw the Wrong Way Man when we were going back to my house from the movies.
It was Katy who spotted him.
“Slow down,” she said. “I think I see that Wrong Way Man you told me about.”
Katy had only lived in my city for half a year, so one of the things I had told her on my quest to share with her as many interesting things as I could had been our local urban legend about the Wrong Way Man. Was it a coincidence that we’d just been talking about him a few days before?
I had never seen someone dressed as the Wrong Way Man in person. Pictures, sure. But never in person.
My foot was shaking as I eased up on the gas.
It was dark, nearing midnight dark, and there were either no streetlights or they were off.
My car’s headlights lit him up. On the side of the road, he was facing us.
Actually, he had his back to us. That painted face was facing us. The jeans and flannel shirt and wig were all turned our way as well. His arms and legs looked wrong. They were shoved down in his clothing the opposite way. I wanted to be amused, but I was alarmed.
When we got to be about ten feet away in my car, he turned his painted head towards us. Those painted eyes, realistic but forever held too wide, seemed to be staring right into mine.
As we drove slowly by, I waved to him and laughed to try to ease some of the tension. He did not wave back. I looked at Katy. She was waving too. But she wasn’t laughing. I glanced back in time to see the slick side of that person’s shaved, painted head, and the optical illusion of a real face being there was shattered. Shattered, but somehow worse for it. Also, when I peered into the rearview mirror as we increased our distance, I thought I saw something glinting beneath the shoulder-length wig he wore.
Then he was gone. Lost to the darkness. I picked up speed. He hadn’t been walking, but somehow I was worried he would come after us too quickly.
“So what do we do now?” Katy said. “We can’t go to your home, or mine.”
I glanced at her, and soon we both started laughing.
“Well,” I said, “after tonight, we’ll be able to tell everyone around that we saw the Wrong Way Man and went immediately home.”
“I wonder who was pretending to be the Wrong Way Man?” Katy said. “I wonder why they were doing it? Do you think we should turn back around and try to talk to them?”
“I’d rather we didn’t,” I said. “They could be dangerous. But I’m sure it’s just someone looking to keep the urban legend alive.”
“It’s your car,” Katy said. “But if it was mine—”
“Alright,” I said. “We’ll turn back around. My grandpa used to say, if you’re in doubt which turn to make, you can always make a U-turn until you figure things out. He used that as a metaphor for life.”
But as I did my U-turn, my heart was thrashing in my chest. We drove down the entirety of that dark street without seeing that person again. It was a couple of miles long in that direction, so there’s no way they could’ve walked or run the distance so quickly.
Katy and I decided that the person dressed as the Wrong Way Man must have left the shoulder of the road for the surrounding woods. The idea of them hiding in the woods as we drove by again made me feel like I had spiders crawling over my flesh.
We did another U-turn, and during that whole time I kept glancing around in case that person jumped at us from out of nowhere.
But soon we were heading back in the direction of my house with no second look at the Wrong Way Man.
Katy and I tried to laugh it out, and we tried talking about other things, but both of us were pretty scared. We couldn’t stop chatting about everything and nothing or glancing out the windows or into our side mirrors.
We turned into my subdivision. Then we turned onto my street.
And everything changed.
As soon as we turned onto my street, we started to go backwards instead of forwards.
“Did you put it in reverse?” Katy asked. Her hand was gripping my arm. It was as cold as ice.
I stopped the car. Both of us were looking down. The car was in drive.
I took my foot off of the brake and put it onto the gas pedal again. The houses, familiar houses I saw every day when coming home, were moving away from us.
“Maybe something’s wrong with my car,” I said.
But when I tried driving forward again, I looked to the side and then in the rearview mirror. We were not moving. Not according to those views. In front of us, the houses receded every time I put my foot on the gas, but from the side and rear it appeared that we were standing still.
On my street, everything was well lit. There were tons of streetlights. So we couldn’t argue it away as if it had anything to do with limited visibility.
“Let’s get out of here,” Katy said. Her voice was almost a whisper.
“Yeah,” I said, in a similar way. “But how are we going to leave?”
“Put it in reverse.”
When I put my car in reverse and tried that, we actually moved forward. But to the side and rear, once again we seemed to have not moved, like we were caught just past the entrance to my neighborhood.
It was when Katy and I had stopped the car and were debating getting out that we spotted someone coming towards us on the sidewalk. They were approaching us from the front of the vehicle, so I’m not sure how accurate the distance was. It seemed like they were already about twenty feet away.
I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this, maybe it was because I didn’t want to, but I recognized my neighbor by the back of his head and by his body shape, which was somewhat atypical. I’d seen him often stopped working in his garden while I was driving by.
He was walking backwards towards us.
When he got closer, he stopped.
Then he began shouting: “Em pleh! Em pleh!” over and over again. Standing stock-still. His back to us.
Only later would I realize he had been saying “help me” in reverse.
I rolled down the window.
“Mr. Nelson,” I said. “What’s the matter?”
He stopped shouting. Now that my window was down, I could hear his body creak and snap. Blood poured out of fissures as the joints of his arms and legs changed drastically. When Mr. Nelson’s head twisted all the way around towards us, I was sure that I saw the light go out of his eyes.
Then, whatever had taken over Mr. Nelson made a first step forward with the new architecture of his body.
Katy and I both began to scream at that first step.
I rolled up the window as Mr. Nelson loped around on strange, inhuman legs. His kneecaps and elbows had become stretched and exaggerated from being reversed. I put my foot on the gas, with the car still in reverse, and through the front windows we seemed to be careening forward. Even though a glance out the sides or in the rearview showed us to still be stationary, we slammed into Mr. Nelson.
Blood splashed across the windshield. The car rose and fell as we went over his body.
To the sides and rear, there was no indication of the car rising and falling. I did not see a lump appear behind us.
I kept my foot on the gas, still going forward in reverse.
I saw a window of a neighbor’s house shatter. A couple I barely recognized crawled out like baby spiders out of eggs, leaking blood and more blood as they scraped themselves against the shards in the window frame. I don’t think it was because they didn’t know how to open windows. When the wife paused in the window, she smiled. She intentionally rubbed her scalp against a particularly sharp looking piece of glass. Meat and blood came away. I think I could see the white of her skull. By then her husband was already on the ground running towards us.
I sped forward.
They and their house vanished in the sides and rear of the vehicle, which were, again, still stuck near the street’s entrance.
More people were coming out of their homes. They came out all twisted and broken, damaging themselves further as they exited. They ran towards us on backwards legs, churning their backwards arms. Everything about them was the wrong way.
Before long, I found myself slamming on the brakes.
“Keep going!” Katy yelled. “They’re going to catch up with us.”
Ahead, I saw my own driveway. Someone that looked like me was talking to another person with a painted face. The painted face nodded. Up and down it nodded like a real face would do. Then, when I saw the wig shuffle and move seemingly on its own, I realized that the true face under that wig was talking. Moving its lips. Breathing. The Wrong Way Man was talking to me or someone who looked like me.
At the same time, Katy was reaching over me, trying desperately to put her foot on the gas.
A couple of twisted pieces of bone and meat collided with the windshield. Two faces with bunched-up folds of neck leered at me out of glazed eyes. These were faces I should’ve recognized. Their twisted arms continued to beat at the window even though their eyes told me that no one was home. A spider’s web of cracks spread across the windshield. Its grooves caught blood.
I slammed my foot on the gas while helping to steady Katy back into her seat.
We flung those two off, and right after we ran over an entire family in quick succession. I didn’t have time to feel guilty. These were not my neighbors. These were not my neighbors. These were not—
Katy and I both began to change.
I heard some of my bones break. I felt it a moment later. Like the reverse of lightning before thunder.
Katy and I started screaming, almost in unison and about in the same tune. It was like a choir of pain and fear and fear and pain had risen up with us as instruments.
“Keep your head back!” I yelled as I strove to keep my head pinned against my seat. “Don’t let it twist around. No matter what happens to the rest of our bodies, we can’t let it kill us.”
“I know!” Katy said. “Just get this car out of here! Make a U-turn or something.”
Make a U-turn, I thought. What was it my grandpa said about life and how if you didn’t know what to do, you could always make a U-turn?
Still in reverse, yet still going forward, I wheeled the car screeching around.
I didn’t glance out the sides or rear. I gunned it, heading back towards where we had come from.
The Wrong Way Man waited. He waited for me at the juncture of my driveway and the street. His painted mouth grinned forever. His painted eyes were too wide and incapable of blinking.
We passed him and drove out of the neighborhood.
Katy and I weren’t out of the woods, though. I was able to get us to a nearby gas station before my legs and arms, which were partway reversed and leaking blood, completely gave out. We crawled out of the vehicle and onto the cold, hard concrete of the gas station.
I blacked out almost at once, but Katy tells me she retained consciousness until the ambulance arrived. I don’t envy her.
We spent months in the hospital with broken bones and torn ligaments and muscle. I think the only thing that had saved us permanent damage might have been the seats of our vehicle resisting our changes. We told the doctors we had been in a car accident. They shook their heads at us and kept asking questions.
I did go back home, eventually. We both did. The reason I went home was because one of my neighbors that we had run over with my car came to the hospital to visit me. They seemed completely fine, as if nothing had happened and the Wrong Way Man had never changed them.
But damage was done to my vehicle and to Katy and me, both physically and psychologically, and while our bodies are on the mend, I don’t think we’ll ever be the same. I feel the wrong way inside.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A