The call came in at a quarter to midnight: a large cheese pizza, no sauces, no drinks, and no sides. Nobody would’ve minded either, if the location wasn’t an hour out of town, but we were in a nowhere town in a nowhere county and making distant deliveries was part of the job.
We were running a skeleton crew of five that night. It was Sunday, so business slowed down quickly as people went to bed to catch some sleep before trudging off to work tomorrow. Once the pizza was placed in the oven we had something to resolve.
“So are we drawing straws or what?” asked Charles, an older man and current shift manager.
“If we are I call dibs on the long one.” quipped Jen.
“Very funny, but in all seriousness how are we doing this?”
“However you guys do this, count me out,” chimed Paul. “I don’t even like driving home from here at night and that’s only a ten minute drive.”
“I’ll go,” their heads all turn to me. “It’s fine, I like to think when I drive anyways.”
“If you say so,” Charles says hesitantly.
Not long after I’ve volunteered, the oven’s timer dinged. It was a short walk through the parking lot to the 2002 Civic; the air inside was warm and musty, the telltale sign of a graveyard shift in Kansas. The key clicked a half dozen times before flame filled the cylinders and the engine roared to life. After a few minutes I’d left town and entered the barren plains outside Scott City.
I don’t normally like driving at night, and I’m not sure what exactly came over me when I volunteered for the task. Perhaps I wanted to get away from everyone; my shift started with some snide remarks from Jen about stains on my shirt. What did she know anyways? It’s not like she’s the one working two jobs on her weekends.
There are very few cell towers in Scott County, and even fewer radio signals coming our way, so it wasn’t long before I was left with nothing but the purr of the engine and the sound of tires gripping asphalt. I watched the road intently because it was the only thing I could do. My mind drifted, and I began to think about the raised markers that caught the reflection of my headlights. I thought of how uniform their distribution was and what a pain it must be to install them. When I regained focus on the road I was in disbelief. The road was gone, the outlying brush off the side of the highway was nowhere to be seen. I felt like I was traveling impossibly fast, careening through the void with my only anchor to the real world being the yellow reflective bumps. My knuckles turned ghastly pale as I exerted my death grip on the wheel, trying my hardest to stay on a course I couldn’t see. My windows were rolled up, but I could distinctly feel the whipping of wind on my face. The intensity of the wind increased as I continued to gain speed. The yellow dots began to blur together into two parallel lines, and as quickly as I had left it, I had returned to the lucid world. I was back on the road in southern Kansas, and I was speeding down the highway at twice the limit.
In a panic I slammed my foot on the brake, and miraculously the car held together, despite the whiplash. I continued my journey at a cautious 30 mph, arriving at my destination only a few minutes later. I’m not sure how long I was in that trance-like state, my car’s clock says I arrived at the house about an hour after I left the kitchen, but there’s a 30 minute block of time in my brain that I still feel is unaccounted for. I found my exit from the highway and was promptly funneled down a backroad to a driveway.
This house was not correct. I cannot explain this feeling in any empirical way, but I know that on some primal level there was something wrong with this building. It was a red tumor sprouting from the land, taking the form of a turn of the century farmhouse. There was a gaunt iron windmill that shot out like a needle behind the red growth. I saw two lights, one came from a small shed attached to the house, the other from the lone upstairs window. As I rolled to a stop on the gravel driveway my gut told me not to get out of the car. My lizard brain was sending me every signal and red flag it could to tell me to get the hell out of here. Fear was tearing me in two directions, every instinct was telling me that I shouldn’t be here, but some unknown force compelled me to stay. That force won, and I shut off the car.
I got out, cold pizza in hand, and approached the door. From my periphery I caught a glimpse of a figure upstairs, a backlit silhouette leering from the window. The door was upon me now, I passed the event horizon and now I had to finish what I started. I knocked on the door and was met with complete silence. Against my better judgment I knocked again, this time I heard faint noises on the other side of the door. What sounded like the clutter of furniture being moved and hushed whispers. Before I could knock one last time the door swung open. Standing beyond the threshold was a middle aged woman. Her hair was thin with streaks of gray and she wore a tattered apron over a faded checkered dress,
“Oh you must be here for the dinner party,” she exclaimed. “I’m so sorry that you had to come here so late, please come in and take a seat. Behind her I could see the dining room, a modest table flanked by several empty chairs.
“I’m just here to deliver the pizza ma’am,” I say gesturing with the pizza, “if you could just sign here.” I began to rummage through my pockets for the receipt.
“Oh, that’s not important, please you really must come in, we’re starving here.” As she continued to pester me into entering the house I heard what sounded like the shifting of gravel somewhere to my right. I looked over and saw a large shadowy figure regaining its balance. We locked eyes before it launched into a charge. I couldn’t make out any detail beyond the glint of metal in its hand, and I finally let my lizard brain take full control, I dropped the pizza and made a mad dash to the car and jumped in, immediately locking the doors. The woman in the door had disappeared but the other person was now trying to pull up my hood, the metal in his hand was a knife and it seemed as if he was trying to disable my car. The key was still clicking uselessly when he finally jimmied the hood open with his knife. Meanwhile, the woman had reappeared in the doorway, gun in hand. She raised the rifle to take aim and just as she shot, the car came to life and I floored it in reverse. Her shot went wide and the force of motion was enough to slam the hood shut. Once I had put some yard between myself and the knife-wiled I started to maneuver back onto the driveway and started gunning it back towards the main road. When I was back on the highway I began to speed as fast as I had on my way to the farmhouse. What was an hour long trip one way had been halved going the other.
When I finally got back to Scott City I was going 80 mph on a city street. I caught my breath when I saw my first traffic light in hours and slowed to a halt at the red light. When I finally made it back to the parking lot at the kitchen I saw Charles intently looking through the window. I walked through the door and was greeted by a hug.
“We were getting worried about you, you’ve been gone for hours in who knows where,” he said, exhausted. Jen was notably absent from the reception.
“Did Jen take off early?” I asked.
“Oh that’s right, we sent her to go look for you about an hour ago, she should be arriving at the house any minute now.”