It was a black night and the only thing visible was the winding road lit by the high beamed headlights.
Jeffrey Marshall had been driving for 18 hours now and was still a day away from his destination. His car radio had long lost any connection to local radio stations and he was beginning to talk to himself. Well, he thought he was. Perhaps his one-sided conversation was only taking place in his head.
“I’ve never seen a night so dark.” It was impossible to make out anything except the road ahead. It was eerie. It was like the only things that existed in this world were him, and the throw of the light. Before the radio died the last news bulletin warned about the possibility of a serial killer. It was the only thing that could explain the disappearance of 12 people in and around this area over the past few years. Jeffrey didn’t want to think about that. He hated to dwell on things that were unexplainable. All he knew was that people were capable of very bad things. Even good people. And that there were no answers to anything. Well none that made sense anyway. Things were what they were and it was best not to send yourself nuts looking too deep into stuff. He checked his petrol meter and still had half a tank. This was not a place to run out of fuel. He picked up the speed as though wanting to leave this night behind him.
He turned a bend and suddenly there was light and smoke. And a shadowy figure waving him down. Jeffrey was tempted to keep going but it looked like the man had misjudged the bend and his car had landed in a ditch on the side of the road. Jeffrey, against his better judgment, pulled to a stop some distance from the crash. In his rear view mirror he saw the dark figure slowly walking towards him. The man moved in a way that was unnerving. He almost glided in slow motion. Jeffrey hated himself for stopping but he had no control. It was as though he was giving in to the inevitable, and there was a liberating feeling to that sense of free falling.
Finally the stranger reached Jeffrey’s car and tapped on the side window. Jeffrey hit the button and the window came down. He looked into the stranger’s face but the night, and the hood the man was wearing, hid most of his features.
“Can I get a ride with you to the next town?” asked the stranger.
“Of course,” replied Jeffrey.
The stranger opened the door and got in. Jeffrey started up his car and they continued weaving through the black night.
“You misjudged the turn back there huh?” said Jeffrey, stating the obvious in an attempt to kick start a conversation. But the stranger said nothing. He looked straight ahead as though mesmerized by the light and the road.
“Are you okay?” enquired Jeffrey.
Again, there was silence. Just as Jeffrey was about to charge ahead with another question, the stranger answered, “Yes. I’m okay.”
“Have you ever seen a night like this? It’s pitch black. Not a star, not a moonglow, nothing,” observed Jeffrey out loud.
“There is a light. Out there.” The stranger pointed to where the dense forest was to their left.
“A light?” asked Jeffrey.
“Maybe lots of them,” answered the stranger.
“But that’s impossible. There’s nothing out there. I know this area well,” answered Jeffrey.
With that, the stranger slowly turned his head to look at Jeffrey. Suddenly Jeffrey could see his features, his sunken dark eyes and a smile filled with the conceit of somebody talking to a stupid child.
“I know what I saw.” answered the man.
“I’m just saying that there’s no town or energy plant or anything that would be generating a light. That forest is very dense. It’s a death maze. You got lost in there you’d never get out. So, where would a light be coming from?”
“Do you believe in aliens?” asked the stranger.
Jeffrey looked at the man and suppressed his desire to answer, “Well, not until now.” But he didn’t. Instead he gave one of those answers you give when you can’t be bothered considering such things. “I only believe what can be proven.”
The stranger smiled again and said, “So how do you explain the light?”
Now it was Jeffrey’s turn to go silent and stare at the road ahead.
After some time, the stranger added, “And how do you explain 12 people gone missing from around here?”
“Oh that I can explain.”
The stranger waited for the driver to elaborate but instead Jeffrey steered his car to the side of the road and turned off the engine. He shut down the lights and got out of the car walking slowly around to the passenger side and opened the door.
“What’s this then?” asked the stranger.
“I don’t really know. It’s just something that happens and, like your lights in the wilderness, can’t be explained. Now get out of the car please.”
The stranger got out and rose to his full height. It was several seconds before he realized he’d been stabbed. Then again. And again. He felt the blood with his hand just to be sure. Then he looked into the face of Jeffrey Marshall. But there was no trace of conceit, or pleasure, or any discernible emotion on Jeffrey’s face. The most unnerving thing was the sheer nothingness of what he felt and saw.
“Why?” asked the stranger.
“I stopped asking that a long time ago. It just is what it is.”
Four hours later Jeffrey was back on the road. He was exhausted from the ditch digging and pushing the stranger’s car off the road and someway into the forest. His clothes were muddy. He’d have to stop at a motel, clean up, have some sleep, get dressed in some clean clothes and throw his bloody muddy ones into a nearby river. He felt some tingling of satisfaction watching them rush off towards the sea and wishing it was him. They were clean and free. Yet he was chained to this dirt. He had tried many times to stop but it was no use. He was good at it and it calmed him for a time. Then whatever it was inside him would build to it again. He had long ago accepted that this was his lot in life.
It was almost nightfall again by the time he got back on the road. It was another black night. He kept looking for answers in the final expressions of his victims but the truth is there was nothing. No anger, no fear, no confusion, nothing. Strangely, there was a peace. If anything, a relief that it was all over. Jeffrey justified his deeds as acts of compassion. If you believed in a God then wasn’t it destined that Jeffrey and his victims would meet on such a night? And that he would play his role as well as they played theirs. Wasn’t Judas just as chosen as Jesus?
He suddenly thought about the lights in the heart of the forest that his most recent victim, Number 13, had seen. Had he been hallucinating? Was it a premonition and he was glimpsing the lights of heaven? “It doesn’t matter. And it don’t do any good to think about such things,” said Jeffrey to himself.
Jeffrey had never seen a light in the darkness. Only a road. One that bends and goes on forever and, occasionally, along the way, things would happen.
(c) Frank Howson 2014