Two Roads Converged
I got out of the car and took the keys with me. I had parked in a clearing with yellowing blades of grass and a dozen trees scattered around. A half-moon was smiling down at me in the hazy sky. Two paths diverged in front of me, like in the poem. One was for cars because there were tire marks on it. The other one was for hikers. I was neither.
This was upstate New York. Or some part of it. I didn’t really pay attention when I was driving. Tears kept blurring my vision. Tears that never seemed to dry up. I wiped them with the heel of my hand, wanting to scream. My sniffles filled the twilight silence.
Today, I was fired for ‘talking to myself on the job’. Though in truth, I was fired because I refused to let the head of our PR department stick his hands up my skirt. Nobody believed me. And why would they?
I knew what people said about me. That lunatic, she needs to get her head checked. Or, Too bad she’s crazy (this came mostly from men). And my favorite, Why would someone entrust this job to a retard?
A shaky breath escaped me.
Things whispered behind me, like they have been doing for years. Things that were not quite human. Things that wanted to crawl out of the dark into the world of the living.
I leaned against the hood of my car and stared up, up, up. There were no stars. Clouds, painted an impostor shade of blue, swallowed them all. The sun’s last rays bid the Earth farewell before disappearing. Night came fast with a bone snapping chill.
It was Halloween.
I tugged my black jacket closer. The blouse underneath it was nothing but a light halter neck.
The whispers got louder and louder as if trying to warn me. I ignored them. And then someone started wailing. It sounded like a woman. Almost. But it wasn’t. It was something that was pretending to be one. Bracing myself at what I might find, I turned around.
There, by the back wheels of my car was a person crawling towards me on all fours. Its limbs were bent at awkward angles and its skin looked pale and swollen. By all rights it should have been dead… and it was. Its black eyes were glazed over and an overwhelming stench of rot permeated the air.
My heart stopped beating. I went cold.
I didn’t mind most ghosts, like the friendly specter at the mall or the spirits of animals, but this was the kind of ghost I minded a lot.
It inched closer and closer, putting one broken hand in front of the other. The movement was so wrong.
I stepped back, unable to look away from its grotesque form. Then it brushed against the bumper of my car and I ran. I ran not minding the fallen logs or the strands of hair in my eyes. I ran despite my platform shoes breaking. I ran despite the menacing rustle of leaves behind me. The woods became a blur. Branches whipped my face. My breath came out more labored with each stride. Still I kept going. I needed to find a body of water to cross. Maybe it would work. But what if it doesn’t? It is Halloween. No matter. It was better to try than let it reach me. So I picked up speed and I would’ve kept running until I found a river or maybe even a puddle, had I not collided with someone. A tall, human someone.
I felt the bruising impact all over my body as we tumbled down a hill, leaving puffs of damp leaves and clumps of dirt in our wake. All the air rushed out of me. My skin tore at the elbows and shoulder. When the momentum stopped, I groaned and opened my eyes. I was lying on top of the stranger, my skirt hiked up to my thighs. He groaned too. When I realized that it was a man, I pushed myself off him, unwittingly kneeing him in the groin in the process.
I scrambled away from him and checked the hill for that thing. It was so dark that I could barely see my hand in front of me and then… I saw a crawling silhouette creeping down the slope.
I tried to get up. I tried to run but my legs wouldn’t work, so I did the next best thing: I closed my eyes and ears and pretended it wasn’t there.
Still, I heard it making gurgling noises. I smelt the stench. I felt its malicious presence.
But its cold touch never came.
Reluctantly, I opened my eyes.
In front of me stood the stranger, holding a bright flashlight. It blinded me.
“You see them too?” he asked.
“All the time,” I breathed, relieved that I was still alive and in control of my own body, no matter how much the scratches stung. “Could you move that?”
He turned the flashlight off. “Sorry.” Then he helped me up. “What’s a girl like you doing out here alone? You’re aware tonight’s a dangerous night for hiking. Serial killers, crazy clowns, spiteful ghosts and all.”
“Perfectly aware. Are you?”
“Touché,” he said. “But if you must know, my sister said someone would be in need of help out here tonight. She’s a psychic.”
“Hell of a good one,” I noted, straightening my skirt.
He smiled. The stranger was about my age, and had rather amiable features. Still I didn’t trust him one bit.
“You know, I think we should get out of here,” he said, looking around. “Light won’t be much of use on those bastards after midnight.”
He was right. And no matter how much I distrusted him, he was still better than walking back through the woods alone. So I went, not realizing that tonight, and this meeting, marked the beginning of something very peculiar indeed.