John hated driving more than anything else in the world. Anytime spent behind the wheel of a car was time that John would rather spend in a room with no windows or doors. At least there, he wouldn’t have to worry about some asshole barrelling into him with a big metal death machine.
They were only one hour into a two-hour drive home after visiting Jessica’s parents. They had left late, so the sun was already down and John could barely see the road ahead of him, even with his brights on. The heat in the car made his eyelids heavy and his hands feel light against the steering wheel.
“John, you’re drifting,” said Jessica. She was staring out the window, but John had noticed her hands gripping the sides of the passenger seat during the whole car ride. She had made it clear how little she cared for John’s driving, but he had insisted he would drive back. She was the one who drove all the way to her parents. It was only fair. John steered back into the center of the lane before the wheels drifted too far off the side of the road. “You know, I can drive whenever you’re not feeling up to it.”
“It’s fine,” said John, only half paying attention, “I feel good. I can make it back home.” The truth was John would’ve liked nothing more than to pull over, let the seat drop, and fall asleep for the rest of the night on the side of the road, but he was in a stubborn mood that night.
They drove a couple of miles in silence.
“You’re not doing the speed limit. It’s seventy-five right now.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m doing.”
“I know. That means you can go to eighty.”
“That seems excessive.”
“Well it gets us home faster, and it’s not like there are any cops out to pull us over.”
Jessica was right. There was no one on the roads and the thought of finally collapsing into bed sent waves of euphoria through John. He sped up, watching the glowing needle climb up to 80 and plateau in the middle of the speedometer. He felt dangerous like he was getting away with something. Each curve in the road felt like a roller coaster, filling him with excitement, which was strange because usually, John hated roller coasters.
“You mind if I put on a podcast?” asked Jessica, “Oh, wanna hear that true crime one I was telling you about? The one about the missing girl up in Idaho?” John nodded his head but he was too busy taming a wild beast known as a 2004 Ford Focus.
John’s fun came to an end when they turned another corner and saw red tail lights in the distance. They were approaching the slow-moving car at a rapid pace and John had to brake suddenly to stop himself from ramming into the poor stranger. The Ford went from a speedy eighty miles to fifty in a minute. Neither of them said anything, but both were annoyed with the slowpoke in their lane. Oblivious to everything going on, the podcast host pondered about a murder most foul while tinkling music box notes fell like stars around him.
“Pass this guy,” said Jessica. Normally, John would protest, but something was awake inside him, some kind of animalistic need to establish his dominance over a car that couldn’t even bother to creep by at a speed that was even close to the limit. He jumped into the passing lane and revved up to eighty-five and flew past the slowpoke. As they passed, John tried to get a glimpse of the asshole, but he couldn’t see anyone. If he didn’t know any better, he would have thought the car was driving itself, but John was smarter than that. As he returned to the right lane and left his adversary in the dust, he concluded that the car’s windows must have been tinted.
There were headlights coming around the corner. They peeked out at John from the rearview mirror. Was that the same car? It seemed to be going much faster than before.
A scream reverberated through the car. It drove needles right into the back of John’s neck and made his teeth rattle. He looked at Jessica. The look on her face let him know he wasn’t the only one who heard the scream.
“Was that the…podcast?” asked John. Jessica didn’t say anything. The headlights were growing brighter behind them.
His name came through the car speakers. It wasn’t the vaguely European podcast host. It was low and gravelly like the speaker had been eating rocks.
The car was right behind them now, the brights of the headlights flooding into their car and blinding John’s vision.
“Pull over, John.” The stereo wouldn’t shut up, even after John switched it off. “We need to talk.”
John’s eyes were watering. He sped the car up, determined to outrun the lights. The curves were getting harder to navigate. Had this road always been this twisted? The screams were back on the radio. They didn’t stop. They drowned out everything around him. The rocky voice rose above the screams:
“Pull the car over right now.”
He couldn’t do that. If he did, they’d catch him. John could not be caught. He was an animal.
The inhuman shrieks reached cacophonous heights and the brights behind him grew so strong that his entire world turned white. The last thing he remembered was that rocky voice shouting his name so loudly he thought his head would split open.
When he woke up, he was lying in a hospital bed. His vision was blurry, but he could make out someone on the other side of the room. He thought it was Jessica at first and he smiled as she stood up and walked toward him, but then he heard her speak in a low, gravelly voice, and that splitting headache returned.