Reads: 8

1

Audrey sat in her car with no memory of how she got there. She couldn't remember walking away from Alan Mills, opening the car door, nothing. It was all a blank. She'd never been much of a smoker, but if she had a pack, she would have lit one up. She put her hands on the wheel, then recalled she didn't have the car started. But why is the steering wheel shaking? She looked down and was amazed to find that it was her hands, not the wheel, that vibrated. Why in the world was she so shook up over two strangers' disappearance? She thought of calling Detective Stevens, but after a quick scroll through her contacts list, she realized she hadn't saved his number. Dammit! Calling the station was out of the question, too. If John answered and recognized her voice...

Tap-tap-tap. Audrey almost jumped out of her skin. She had been looking out the passenger window, and didn't notice that Alan Mills was standing right outside her car door. She turned the key back and rolled the window down. It was the safest way to talk to the boy; she didn't trust her shaking legs to hold her up.

"What's wrong?" she asked Alan.

"I was wonderin' the same thing 'bout you. You seemed a li'l shook up."

"I'm fine. Thanks Alan."

"No problem. Are you going home from here?"

"I don't know yet. Probably. Are you working today?"

Alan laughed, a harsh, bitter sound. "When your dad owns a furniture store, you're always workin'. I'm on a lunch break, which means I'm bringin' dad his lunch." He held up the grocery bags. "An' I better get a move-on, too, or he'll be piss – mad at me."

"Bye Alan. Nice talking with you."

"You too ma'am." If the boy tipped an invisible hat to her, it wouldn't be a surprise. She smiled, thankful for the few friends she'd made in Blackwater Springs that hadn't been murdered.

Yet, her conscience spoke up. With the way things are going... Especially since now two more people are dead. "They're not dead," Audrey said aloud, startling herself. It was true. The strangers that had gone missing on Sawmill Road hadn't been presumed dead. Yet. But from the way Alan had described the vehicle, something fishy had gone on out there. Go and see, her conscience whispered again. You might be able to help. Audrey shook her head. If she'd been in Lexington, maybe. But that was back when things were normal.

Now, the thought of going to check on a suspicious accident, on a road she'd never been on, terrified the hell out of her. She didn't know what she'd find and she didn't want to know.

And yet, there was that persistent little voice that she knew wouldn't shut up until its curiosity was satisfied.

She started the engine and backed out of the parking spot.

2

 

Sawmill Road was no more than a dusty, deserted strip of land, bordered by woods on both sides. Any trace of an actual sawmill was long gone, judging from the size of the visible trees. A few half-rotted cars and a dilapidated shed were the only remnants of civilization. Audrey even saw a tree the height of a four-story building growing out of one of the cars. And that was just within the first mile.

Audrey passed a dead end sign, then a parked car on the side of the road seconds later. She drove another half mile before she found a spot wide enough to turn around. She almost expected the car to be gone by the time she returned. She rounded the curve and there it was, surrounded by yellow police tape. The sun glinted off the Camaro's metallic green paint, and nearly blinded Audrey, even with her sunglasses on. She stepped out, squinting, and debated crossing the tape. A quick glance around proved what she already knew; she was the only one out here. As quiet as it was, she'd be able to hear a vehicle coming. Audrey lifted the tape and ducked under it.

The car was an older model, but Alan had been right. Except for the fact that the doors were missing, the car was in perfect condition. The paint job looked brand-new, the leather wasn't cracked or cut, and nothing inside looked like it had been moved. At least, not from the passenger side. She walked around the  front of the car. The hood and grille were in pristine condition. Her heart rate picked up a bit. Okay, so they weren't hit from the front. That's all that proves. The driver's side wasn't much different. No marks, no dents, nothing to suggest it had been in an accident. Same with the back, she noted.

Audrey had enough. She'd come out here on a wild goose chase to ease her mind, and it had only raised more questions. She started to walk back to her Prius, but as she passed the hole where the driver's door should be, she felt a sudden warmth on her neck, strong enough to move her hair. Her breath caught in her throat; the air was warm, granted, but it was also still. Come to think of it, she hadn't felt a breeze since she'd been out here. Or heard any animals, birds included. Something's definitely not right out here.

Snap.

A noise from the woods made made her freeze in her tracks. Her eyes widened, straining to see past the thick foliage, and her hair stood on end when she caught something moving in her peripheral. Something black. She spun in that direction.

Nothing.

She exhaled, relieved, and turned back around. She took a step, then another, concentrating on each one and how much closer the brought her to her car. She felt her hair stir again, then felt the heat at her nape. Her skin prickled, and she picked up the pace.

She wasn't quick enough. She hadn't taken ten steps before someone, something, yanked her backwards by the hair. She screamed, but the sound caught in her throat. Whatever had her had such a tight grip on the handful of hair, she couldn't even turn her head to see who had her. What had her, her mind supplied. She was dragged back to the driver's side of the car. Audrey felt small hands -paws? she wasn't sure- pick her up easily, then throw her into the car. She struggled to right herself on the seat.

She wished she hadn't sat up after all. Right outside the door were two of the small black creatures from the Café, and  if their glistening fangs were any indication, they intended to eat her alive. Movement at the treeline caught her eye. There were more of them, hundreds of ravenous, dog-sized monsters, heading straight for the Camaro. Audrey's vision blurred, then doubled, as the creatures swarmed closer.

She was thankful for the blackness that enveloped her moments later.

3

"Audrey." The voice seemed to come from far away. Audrey didn't welcome it; she was enjoying the peace and quiet and darkness death provided. "Audrey, wake up." The voice was vaguely familiar. Where had she heard it? Oh well, doesn't matter. She tried to sink even deeper into the abyss, but the voice was just so damn persistent. "Audrey, snap outta it. C'mon now." It was closer now, louder.

Go away. Whatever happened to respecting the dead?

"I'm not goin' away 'til you wake up." Even closer.

Had she said that aloud, or could everyone in limbo read minds?

"Audrey Matthews. If you don't get your ass up..."

"Leave me alone, Bradley!" Her head jerked up and her eyes flew open. Detective Stevens knelt by the car. His mouth was pinched with worry, and several short lines radiated from the corners of his eyes.

"Good, you're awake."

Audrey looked around. The sun had disappeared behind a mountain, and crickets chirped in the background.  "What time is it? Where am I?" She looked into Bradley's blue eyes, and was amazed at how they stood out in his tanned face. Her heart skipped a beat. At least I'm not in Hell.

Bradley looked at his watch. "It's a quarter 'til seven. You're on Sawmill Road. Your husband has been lookin' for you ever since he got home and found you gone."

Ugh, John. Maybe she was in Hell. Surely she would be single in her personal Heaven. Or at least available for Detective Stevens, with his tight jeans and strong shoulders and...

"Is somethin' wrong?

Audrey gave him a blank look. " No, why?"

"You just groaned. Are you hurt?"

She gave herself a cursory glance. "I don't think so." She watched the detective uncap a bottle of water and chug half of it at once. Audrey licked her dry lips, surprised that it had taken her so long to realize she was thirsty.

"Want some?"

Audrey flushed scarlet. She didn't think he'd be able to see her staring in the twilight, but apparently he had better eyes than she thought. "Yes please," she croaked. He handed her the half-full water bottle, and she poured its contents into her mouth. Room-temperature water had never tasted so good. She closed her eyes as she swallowed, making content little hmms.

"So, the million-dollar question. What are you doin' out here?"

She racked her brain for an answer that wouldn't have her committed. "I met Alan Mills in town earlier. He said something about there being an accident, so I...umm...I thought you might need some help." Lord, that was close. Good thing you're not in an improv troupe. "How did you know where to find me?"

"I talked to Alan Mills, too. But that's besides the point. You thought you could help trained officials? No offense, Audrey, but that's the worst excuse I've ever heard." If Audrey had a mirror, she was sure she'd see that her face closely resembled a ripe tomato; she thought she'd lied pretty good, given the situation. "What were you really doin' out here? No lies, no excuses."

She swung her legs out of the car and stood. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you." She attempted to stalk off, but her foot was asleep, turning her deliberate movements into more of a comical limp. Sure, she was stiff and tired, but she'd be damned if she was going to le Detective Stevens see it. 

He caught up to her easily. "Audrey, you can tell me. Strictly off the record, just a talk between two friends." She turned her back to Bradley. "C'mon, just about everyone in this town has seen a ghost or two."

"They're not ghosts."

"Okay, they're not ghosts. What are they?"

She kept her back turned. "I don't know. Just these little...things."

"What do they look like?"

"They're little black round things. About the size of a Chow. But they're not dogs. They've got sharp teeth, almost fangs, really, but it's the eyes that scare me. They've got the sockets for them, but they don't have eyes."

"How long have you been seeing these...creatures?"

She turned to face the detective as she said, "Since I moved here." She looked up at him. The look on his face was unmistakable. He doesn't believe me. He thinks I'm crazy! "You think I'm making this up! You think I've lost my mind!"

"No, Audrey, it's not like that! Not at all. I believe that you saw something-"

"-'but my subconscious turned something ordinary into something sinister'? Is that what you were going to say?"

"No, I just-"

"I'm outta here." She stomped to her and got in. "Call John and let him know I'm on my way home. And keep in mind that the talk we just had was off the record." She gassed her car, leaving Detective Stevens in a cloud of dust.

4

Audrey could see the glow from the house before the house itself came into sight. John was on the porch when she pulled up, and he didn't look happy. Is he ever happy anymore? She stepped out the car and braced herself for the onslaught of questions and accusations that were sure to follow.

There were none. Instead, John ran down the steps to meet her, and folded her into a hug. "Audrey, I was so worried. Where were you?Are you okay."

"I'm fine. I went for a drive and lost track of time." I'm getting pretty good at this lying-on-the-spot thing. Unless I have to lie to- No, she wouldn't think of him. Not after he'd pretty much called her a liar and crazy in the same breath. She just hoped he hadn't told John anything.

"Did you leave before or after the phone call?"

"I haven't had my phone on all day." It was true; she'd forgotten all about her cell until just then.

"No, someone called for you here. They left a message. Do you want to go inside?"

She followed her husband up the steps and in the house. He shut the door behind them, and Audrey just knew he was going to start yelling and screaming about what a horrible wife she was and how she was irresponsible to make him worry. He turned toward her, and she was surprised to see his brow furrowed and his lips pinched together. "Aud, you better sit down. I'll bring you the phone." He went to the kitchen, and Audrey sank onto the couch. John was acting like, well, he was acting like John, before the move. Wonder what's going on?

"Here." He handed her the cordless phone. Audrey took it and pressed the flashing red button. There was only one message.

"Audrey?" A familiar voice came through the receiver. "It's your mother. I'm in town, at Central Baptist Hospital. It's your grandfather. I'll try back later..."

5

" I thought you said your mother died? That that's why you lived with your grandparents?" John askedcuriosity dripping from every word.

"I did."

"Then who's this woman on our answering machine?"

"I-I guess it's my mom."

"But you said-"

"I know what I said. I lied." Simple enough explanation.

Not good enough for John, though. "Why?"

"Because..." Because I didn't want you to know my mother was only one in the sense that she gave birth to me? Because I didn't want you to think I'd follow in her footsteps? "...because she was never a mother to me. She is dead, to me, and I'd rather not talk about her."

A million questions swarmed in John's eyes, but something about Audrey's expression kept his mouth closed. She took the phone out on the porch to call the woman she hadn't spoken to in fifteen years.

The discussion was over.

 

 


Submitted: January 09, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Maria Snell. All rights reserved.

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