GPS

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Man finds himself lost with a strange companion

Submitted: January 14, 2012

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Submitted: January 14, 2012

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1.

He couldn’t remember how long he had been driving.  It seemed to him that he had been on this particular patch of road forever. Out of the windows he could see endless rolling green fields, without so much as a herd of livestock to break up the monotony. He was alone in his van, with nothing but the steady green glow of his GPS to keep him company. On the screen of his GPS was an electronic simulation of the road he was traveling on, and a blue arrow that represented his car. This little gadget also told him how many miles were left on his journey, and gave him an approximate time of arrival. As of now it read, “438 miles to destination, arrival time 0830.”

“Wonders never cease,” he thought to himself. He remembered making road trips as a boy, with his father driving, his mother the navigator. The heap of road litter from fast food joints and tourist traps piling up in the footwells of their old, blue station wagon. There had been no GPS back then.  All their travel was done the old fashioned way, by following the thin, blue lines laid down by the good people of rand McNally in their road atlas. He wondered briefly what his father would make of something like his nifty little GPS. He would probably consider it cheating. A faint smile played across his lips as he imagined showing his father the wonderful device that made his travels so much easier. He took a quick glance at the GPS, still smiling faintly, lost in his daydream, and was horrified by what he saw. Instead of the computerized road and car, printed on the screen in letters as black as midnight were four words; YOUR FATHER IS DEAD.

2.

A small scream escaped him and the van swerved dangerously across the center line, if there had been anyone coming the other way they both would have been pulverized in a head on collision. He jerked his eyes off of the GPS and focused quickly on the road, getting the van back under control. He took another look at his GPS and saw that everything was as it should be. The road was back, his arrow was back and he noted that his mileage and arrival time were back, “438 miles to destination, arrival time 0830.”

“What the fuck was that?” he asked the empty van. I’ve been on this goddamn road way too long, he thought.  He knew he wanted to stop and take a break, get out of the van, get some fresh air, clear his head. He automatically reached out to the GPS so he could pull up where the next rest area would be, and then drew his hand back as if from a burner on a hot stove.” Come on, asshole,” he whispered to himself, “you probably fell asleep for a second, had a mini dream or something.” He realized he was talking to himself and shut up. YOUR FATHER IS DEAD. Well, at least the damn thing was still accurate, he thought. His father had been dead for the past five years, a victim of too much fast food, too much beer and not enough exercise. There wasn’t a more American way to die. He steeled himself and once more reached out to touch the GPS and bring up its menu.

Not supposed to use the fucking thing while you’re driving, He remembered, then;  Fuck it, I haven’t seen anyone out here to arrest me for the past five hundred miles. His fingers touched the flat surface of the screen and a small hiss of air blew past his clenched teeth. It was freezing, like touching a steel pole on a cold winter day.  He glanced at the patch of sunlight shining through the windshield, the GPS sitting smack in the middle of it. What the hell, he thought confusedly, this thing should be warm. He briefly considered an electronic malfunction then dismissed it. He wasn’t an electrician but he knew that when electronics went to hell they got hot, not cold. He decided he had had enough and violently pulled the plug out of the GPS. The screen went dark. Fuck you, you piece of shit, I’ll find my own way. He had a brief feeling of satisfaction, as if he had just accomplished something very difficult.  His satisfaction began to fade though, as he realized he didn’t know where he was going. Not that he was lost, and didn’t know which way to go, but that he actually had no idea of his destination.

“West, sweetie. We’re  going west”, a soft voice whispered from beside him. He jerked his head around to the passenger seat, but of course, no one was there. He glanced into his rearview mirror and scanned the back but it was empty as well. He turned around in his seat as far as his seatbelt would let him and looked in the back again, not trusting the view in the mirror. It was empty. He turned back around and tried to focus on the road. Alone, he thought, but he didn’t feel alone. He wasn’t sure how he felt, only that the van seemed to be too big, too empty somehow. All of a sudden, a feeling of loneliness so powerful it was almost crippling washed over him. You weren’t alone, he thought, but you are now. The feeling passed almost as quickly as it came and he wrenched a deep breath from the air.

What the hell is happening to me, He wondered. He decided he wasn’t going to wait until the next rest stop to pull over. After a brief glance in his mirror, he signaled with his 4 ways, although there wasn’t a single car to be seen in either direction, and began to pull onto the shoulder. He heard the steady drone of the pavement under his wheels turn into the crunch of gravel and loose dirt that the shoulder consisted of. He slowed to a stop, both hands on the wheel, breathing rapidly. He put the van in park, twisted the ignition to the off position, pulled out the key and threw it on the seat. He squeezed his eyes shut, and put his head on the wheel, trying to gather his thoughts. After a minute, he groped blindly with his left hand for the door handle, found it, and opened his door. He stepped out of the car.

He heard the crunch of his boots land on the dirt, and then, silence. He pointed his face up to the sun, eyes closed and let its heat wash over him. Gradually he became aware that he couldn’t hear a single thing. No birds singing, no cars on distant highways, not even the low, almost imperceptible hum of power lines. He opened his eyes and glanced around. There were no power lines. No poles, no nothing on either side of the road. Odd, he thought, when was the last time you saw a road with no power lines? He couldn’t remember if he honestly ever had. It seemed like even the most remote, out of the way roads had some power lines, not to mention major highways like…. Like this one? He wondered. The thing was he didn’t actually know what road he was on. He glanced around to see if could see a sign, or a mile marker, or anything that would help him identify the road. There were no signs, no posts, not even a piece of litter. Whoever adopted this patch of highway to keep it clean took their job way too seriously, he thought, then cackled to himself a little wildly. It seemed that the sound of his mad laughter fell out his lips and shattered soundlessly on the asphalt below. Silence again, then from behind him, a short tuneless electronic melody. His balls shriveled up and his skin instantly turned ice cold, as if his body recognized the sound before his mind did. It was the sound the GPS made when it powered on. He turned around slowly and looked into the van. The GPS was back on. His gaze followed the trail of the cord that powered the GPS and he saw that it was still hanging out of the power receptacle.  He slowly traced the cord back up to the device on the dash. On the screen a message was once again printed where his map should be. It read simply, “GET IN.”

 

3.

“Huh uh,” he whispered out loud, “Not this guy, no thanks, I’ll walk from here.” He realized he was backing away from his van and was now standing almost in the middle of the road. He glanced around and made sure he wasn’t about be run down, and stopped moving. He stood there in the road, his shadow stretching out behind and crossing the center line. He looked first one way, in the direction he had been heading, and then the other, the direction he had come from. He couldn’t see a single discernible difference between them.  Fucking middle of nowhere, he thought . He knew he couldn’t just start walking, he didn’t remember passing any towns on the way out here, and he didn’t want to take the chance that the next place  might be 3 or 400 miles away. He knew he had no choice but to keep driving. He peered into the depths of the van, and saw that the GPS was still imploring him to “GET IN”. As he looked, he realized he could hear a low sound rising from the East, the direction he had came. He looked back that way and was horrified all over again by what he now saw.

About fifty miles back, everything was gone. A massive black wall rose out of the land and continued up for as far as he could see. He squinted and realized that the wall wasn’t really a wall at all. It was just a black void of pure nothingness. The sound he heard was coming from deep within that void, and as he listened he realized it was getting louder. It sounded like the footsteps of some enormous prehistoric beast, magnified a million times. As he stood there and listened he changed his mind, the sound was too rhythmic and purposeful to be footsteps. He decided that it sounded more like some prodigious machine, with massive pistons driving deep into the earth. And, he realized as he listened, it was getting closer. A new sound arose from much closer. It was an electronic  beeping sound and he knew it had come from the GPS. He took a look into the van and saw that the message on the screen had started to blink rapidly.  Each time “GET IN” flashed on the screen it was accompanied by the beep. He glanced back eastwards and thought the black void was moving closer. It was difficult to tell because it was so far away, and because he had no previous experience dealing with existence erasing phenomena. As he looked he became sure that the void was catching up with him, and he began to feel as if it knew he was there. He felt hunted, as If there were some kind of sentience deep within the blackness that wanted him. The beeping from the GPS became more rapid and he looked back at it. He stood frozen with indecision, looking back and forth between the horror rising in the east, and the horror in the van.

“Shit”, he said to himself, and was amazed that the sound from the east had become so loud that he was unable to hear himself at all. He hurried back to his van, and began to get in. He hesitated for a second with one foot in the van and the other still on the road. He looked back once more and realized he was now able to see the actual land being sucked up into the blackness, pieces tearing free from the ground and disappearing into the void. As he looked he saw a hundred foot chunk of road torn from the surrounding land. He realized he could still see the double white line painted down the center, and then the piece of road was torn into a thousand pieces. It struck him suddenly that that was a piece of the same  road he was currently standing on. He hurriedly stepped into the van and slammed the door. Silence descended. He was stunned by the difference. He looked into his rearview and saw nothing but road stretching back the way he had come. No giant wall of blackness, no land tearing itself to pieces. He twisted around in his seat again and looked out of his rear window. Nothing but road and green hills for as far as he could see.  He looked back at his GPS. “438 miles to destination, arrival time 0830”, was cheerily printed on the screen once more.

4.

“Now what?” he asked the empty van. He didn’t expect an answer and didn’t get one, from the GPS or from the silence of the vans interior. He briefly considered getting back out of the van and looking back east to see if the void was still there, even though he was unable to see it through the mirror or the window. He quickly rejected this course of action, however, because he was in no hurry to see that again. He decided that his only option was to keep driving. He grabbed his keys from the seat and fumbled out the ignition key. He put it into the ignition slot and twisted, expecting the van not to start because that’s what seems to always happen in the movies in this kind of situation. However, He didn’t remember Hollywood ever coming up with something as strange as the situation he now found himself in. When the vans engine turned over and began to hum he thought it may have been the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. He put the van in drive and pulled off the shoulder back onto the highway.

He found that the mundane task of driving seemed to calm him a bit. As he drove he tried to think about what was happening to him. I must be going crazy, was his first thought. I’m hallucinating, maybe I’m locked up in a padded room somewhere, and this is all a terrible dream. He tried to latch on to this idea, but then dismissed it. It didn’t feel like a dream, or even a nightmare. It felt real. Furthermore, it seemed to him that dismissing all this as a dream and waiting to wake up would be dangerous. He didn’t know why, he only had a feeling of purpose. He felt that he had to keep going and reach his destination. As he thought that, he looked at the GPS again. “438 miles to destination, arrival time 0830”. “That’s not right”, he said aloud. “That’s what it said when I got in, and I’ve been driving for at least five minutes.” He knew that he had come at least five miles or so, but the GPS was telling him he hadn’t moved. He revised that thought though, because if he hadn’t moved then his arrival time should have changed too. He cast his mind back and realized that the GPS hadn’t changed the mileage or arrival time since it had told him his father was dead.  His brow furrowed in concentration as he tried to remember when he had last seen it update his whereabouts. He realized he couldn’t remember. He looked back at his device and was almost not surprised to see a woman’s face staring back at him from the screen.

As he stared into the woman’s face it occurred to him that he knew her. He didn’t know from where, or from when, or even what her name was, but she was familiar.

“I know you,” he said to the GPS. There was no reaction from the woman, at least as far as he could tell. She just stared, eyes unblinking. She looked as though she might be in shock, or catatonic. “I know you,” he repeated. He couldn’t think of anything else to do. He was haunted by her eyes. He felt as if he wanted to be with her, to console her, tell her everything was going to be ok, anything to get rid of that thousand yard stare. As he watched her, that sense of loneliness he felt before came crashing back, and he hitched in a deep breath and tried not to cry. Abruptly the GPS switched back to its regular screen and he yelled “No! Bring her back damn it, BRING HER BACK!’ he let go of the wheel and grabbed the GPS with both hands. He pulled it free of the suction cup holding it to the dash and began to shake it. The van swerved wildly from side to side on the road. He realized he was still driving and grabbed the wheel with one hand to steady its course, while still holding the GPS in the other.

He looked back and forth between the GPS in his hand and the road unrolling in front of him. His loneliness was still there. He set the GPS back onto the dash and twisted the suction cup on to hold it in place. I knew her, he thought, and tried to remember from where. He felt he almost had it, like when something is on the tip of your tongue. Abruptly it danced away from him and he was left baffled. Damn it, he thought. He thought that if he could remember her, he might be able to figure out what the hell was going on.

“Who was she?” he asked the GPS, feeling a little bit foolish. Even though it had shown him some weird things lately, he still considered it a machine. He thought it would be like asking the toaster where his keys were. He didn’t expect an answer, and was surprised when the road blinked off of the screen and the name BETH appeared in large block letters.  “Beth”, he whispered to himself and knew it was right. She was here, he thought, she had been here with me. He glanced at the empty passenger seat. He was beginning to remember her. Her name had been like a key to the locked door of his memory. Images began to flood him and he took his foot off of the gas pedal. The van coasted to a stop in the middle of the lane. He didn’t even notice.

6.

They had been driving west, to visit her parents. They lived on a small ranch somewhere in Montana. It was raining. The sky overhead was black. He was having a hard time seeing the road. He glanced at the GPS for a second. “434 miles to destination, arrival time 0830.” It was two thirty now.

“I'll be happy to get out of this rain,” he said, “I can’t see a goddamn thing.”

“Would you like me to drive?” Beth asked from the passenger seat. She had been reading a book, and glancing out the window at the darkening sky.

“No, I think I can manage,” he said shortly. He knew she was just being helpful, but it always frustrated him when she offered to do something he was perfectly capable of.

“Well, let me know if you change your mind,” she said and turned back to her book.

The rain was really coming down. It sounded as if the van was being pelted by small stones. He glanced upward out of the windshield to look for hail. He saw none, only huge fat droplets of rain.

A small voice piped up from the back seat. It was his son, Nathan. He had been sleeping, but the sound of the rain had woken him.

“Where are we?” he asked from his car seat, his voice still sounding sleepy. He was five.

Beth closed her book, and twisted around in her seat. “We’re still on the road sweetie, but we’ll be there soon. Did the rain wake you up?”

“Yeah,” he said, yawning a bit and stretching his arms, his pudgy little fists clenched. “Which way are we going?”

Beth smiled a little and said, “West, sweetie, we’re going west. We’re going to see Grandma and Grandpa, remember?”

He was only vaguely aware of his wife and sons conversation, he had to focus all of his concentration on staying on the road. He thought briefly off pulling over and waiting for the rain to pass, but he was able to see a few patches of sunlight off in the distance ahead of him. He thought that they would be there soon and out of this hellish…

Lightning struck the ground ten feet in front of the van, effectively blinding him. He heard his wife and son scream. Although he had been slowing down since they hit the storm, he was still traveling at close to sixty miles an hour. He felt the wheel go mushy in his hand as his power steering and all the electrical systems in the car shorted out. He still couldn’t see, and was trying desperately to remember where the road was. He stomped on his brakes, and knew immediately that he had made a mistake. The van began to hydroplane back and forth across the wet road. He felt the van begin to tip and knew that they were going over. The van tipped onto his side, and he felt the glass of the shattered driver’s side window pelt him on his face. He could hear road scraping the side of the van as they slid. Then, suddenly it was over. They had stopped. The van had come to rest on his side. His vision was beginning to clear.

“Are you guys ok?”, he asked frantically, “Beth? Nathan? Answer me!” he almost screamed. Then he realized he could hear Nathan crying.

“Yeah, I think we’re ok,” Beth said shakily, “I’m ok, Nate’s ok, what about you? Are you ok? You’re bleeding!”

“I don’t know yet, I think I am.” He raised his hand to his face and felt a few small cuts. “From the window, I think.” His vision had come back enough so that he could see something dangling in front of his face. It was the GPS. Although all the cars electrical systems had shorted, this little thing was still on. It was hanging from its power cord and the screen showed “438 miles to destination, arrival time 0830” I don’t think so, friend, he thought.  He glanced up at his wife, and said “Sorry babe, I guess I should have let you drive, huh?” She smiled sweetly and said nothing, fumbling with her seat belt.

Nathan had begun to calm down a bit, but was hitching in large gasps of air as he tried not to cry. “I’m sidewise, momma,” he said.

“I know sweetheart, give mommy a second, and I’ll get you out of….” she stopped midsentence and screamed. Out of the shattered windshield he saw a pair of headlights barreling down on him. He never heard the crash.

7.

He sat in the driver’s seat, head down, panting heavily, with tears rolling down his cheeks. He picked his head up slowly. Through his tears he could see the road ahead of him, seeming to go on forever.

“Where are they?” he whispered. He looked at the GPS; there was nothing on the screen.  “Where are they?” he asked again, louder this time. “WHERE THE FUCK ARE THEY?” he screamed and reached out for the GPS. He stopped suddenly, his arms outstretched, staring at the word that was suddenly printed across the face of the GPS. “ALIVE.”

“Alive,” he said quietly, “thank God, alive, thank God!” he couldn’t seem to stop saying it. Then something occurred to him and he was quiet once more.

He looked back at the GPS, and asked quietly, “If they’re alive then I’m…” he trailed off unable to finish. The GPS went blank for a second, and then printed the word he had been unable to say. “DEAD.”

He sat stunned for a second then said “No, No, I can’t be dead. What the hell is all this? This isn’t dead; I’m driving my fucking van for Gods sakes!” DEAD stared implacably back at him from the screen of his GPS. He began to hyperventilate. He felt as though the van was closing in on him, crushing him and stealing his air. He groped for the door handle, opened the door and fell out onto the road. Immediately he heard the sound of massive machinery, only much, much closer this time. He looked back eastward and saw that the void was now less than a mile away. It stretched away into the sky, a tsunami made of nothing. It was coming. He was able to feel its pull, and he saw small pebbles flying past him, being sucked into it.

As he lay on the ground it occurred to him that this is what happens. This is what happens to people who can’t accept the fact of their demise. Although they live with the knowledge their whole life that they each owe a death, when their time is at hand, they struggle with it. It’s the only universal truth we rail against, again and again. We deny the only thing that we can ever be certain of. Those who continued to deny the truth are taken by this black entity. There were no ghosts, he realized, no one left behind to wander aimlessly for eternity. This thing got them, as it would get him if he couldn’t accept his fate.

He crawled back to his van, risking one look back. The darkness was almost upon him, his clothes rippled as air was sucked past him. He reached up and grabbed the door, pulling himself to his feet. He stepped into his van and pulled the door shut. Silence once again. He looked at his GPS for guidance and saw on the screen the interior of a hospital room. His wife lay in one bed, her arm in a cast, and a large bandage covering her forehead. Nathan lay beside her, his head on her shoulder, her arm draped around him. There didn’t seem to be a scratch on him. Tears began to leak from his eyes. He let them. He had always tried to be a good father, and a good husband. He had tried to give them a good life, and to treat them well. He knew he hadn’t always succeeded, and had slipped sometimes, but don’t we all? We’re never as good to one another as we intend to be. We get angry, selfish, frustrated, impatient. Sometimes we put our own wants before the wants of others. But, he thought, maybe the key is to keep trying. To never give up on one another or ourselves. To push ourselves to be better and learn from our mistakes, while trying to help others avoid the same ones. He didn’t know if he was a good person, he only knew that he had tried.

He put his fingers to his lips and kissed them, then put them on the screen. “I love you guys,” he whispered. “I always will. Take care of each other and live. Just live. I’ll look in on you if I can. Goodbye.” His voice cracked on goodbye and he swallowed. He looked out the window and saw that there was now a sign on the side of the road, where no sign had been before. “Elysium”, it read “5 Miles.” He looked back at the GPS, “5 miles to destination.” No arrival time was given. He wiped tears from his eyes to clear his vision, took a deep breath, and began to drive.

 

 

 

 


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