I have seen horrors in my darkest nightmares which made me cry out for help into the night. Horrors that make me shudder at the thought, despite all the years that have passed since their creation. The fear I had for them was most pure the second I awoke and time has only diluted that fear, till it became no more than a faint, but noticeable bitter taste in my existence. Fifteen years ago, I felt a fear that would not subside.
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The story of the greatest horror I beheld begins fifteen years ago, to this day. I ventured beyond the safety of my hometown into a city far away. I rode down massive highways, across a desert, through many other cities, before I turned off the beaten track onto a crumbling one. A path that would be better forgotten than remembered.
It appeared to me then, none too different from any other. Speckled with small craters which served to keep me focused on the road, which only helped as daylight began to dwindle on the horizon. My lights cut through the darkness and I found myself leaning over my steering wheel to better see where I was going.
I encountered no cars, which I didn’t notice until I reached the cursed cities limits. A sign flashed past me, but I didn’t think to read it, far too concerned with the state of my tires more than the destination. All the same, I did notice the sign from the corner of my eye, letting me know there would be a civilisation ahead.
The ominous figures of buildings ahead of me stood out so clearly and I breathed a sigh of relief, my exhaustion catching up with me. Yet, I pondered the curiosity that was these buildings as I drove between them. For although there were many and several towering sky-scrapers, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of lights. It was a passing thought I soon forgot about, spotting a lone lit location ahead to my left.
It was exactly what I was looking for.
A motel, open and, since there were three cars in the parking lot, I assumed inhabited as well. Rolling into a parking space, I turned off the radio which served only to fill the silence and approached the lobby. Once inside, I located the front desk quickly, but it took me a moment to notice the woman at the desk.
Slumped over her keyboard, she sat so close to the computer that her eyes were less than an inch from the screen. When looking over the computer, one could not see her skinny form at all. Yet, I did notice her eventually. I began to stammer an awkward greeting, before requesting a room. Her shaking head turned to look at me, eyes bloodshot to the point where there was more red than white, and what was white turned yellow from the damage. Disturbed and disgusted by the sight of them, I cannot recall her saying anything, just her hand pushing the register forward with my room keys resting on the page.
She sighed so happy as her eyes returned to the computer screen, to burn in their harsh light. Quickly, I filled in the register, taking the keys and leaving money in their place.
As I tried to shake the thought of the self-destructive receptionist from my mind, I entered a pathetic motel room. It wasn’t a surprise to me, as I had slept in many on my aimless journey across the country. It seemed fine initially, but by the time I placed my bag on the bed, I could smell something off.
I began walking towards the bathroom but immediately stopped, realizing the horrible odour came from the wardrobe. Without a touch of caution, I pulled the cheap plastic slide door, revealing two wire coat hangers, peeling wallpaper and the corpse of an unshaven, ragged man. Immediately, I could tell from the fingerless gloves, several layers of clothing, the messy hair and sunburnt face that he was homeless.
I gagged as the wave of deathly scent overwhelmed me. I had seen a dead man before, in an accident long ago and it felt like I was staring at a familiar face. Yet, the smell, the blood and gore, the sheer scene made me shake in revulsion.
Bobbing from foot-to-foot, my mind tried to figure out what to do. I wanted to run, I wanted to call for help, I wanted to pick up the phone and call the police. I settled for the first option. I clutched my bag, slinging it over my shoulder, marching straight to the door. My fingertips just graced the doorknob when the hiss of static followed by voices played from the television.
I turned in surprise, seeing the homeless man sitting at the foot of the bed, the cold light of the television illuminating his features. He stared at the television, alive, with no blood or wounds insight. I would think of myself as a reasonable man, one who tries to make sense of everything, even the bizarre, but I knew better than to challenge my mind to find the logic in all that I saw.
Collecting what was left of my mind, I left the room, not taking my eyes off the dead man. I descended the stairs, reaching the lobby where I found the receptionist still glued to the screen, although this time that phrase was more accurate. I had no intention of talking to her, only leaving, but I caught sight of the blood on her keyboard, having run down the screen in two, dripping lines of crimson.
The receptionist looked up at me, her eyes burst, bubbling terribly in her eye sockets.
My mind retreated. I couldn’t react, if I did, I would find myself breaking down in that motel. I knew it was more important to simply leave and never return. I climbed into my car and left tire marks as the car screeched into motion. In a mindless state, I didn’t realize what turns I had taken and found myself deep in the city.
I noticed, amongst the missing lights, there weren’t any street signs either. Aside from the usual yield, stop signs and even traffic lights, there were no street signs or directions out of the city. I wouldn’t let that trouble me and I chose a direction at random. I would reach the end of the city, then drive till I found a highway out of it.
My plan was a smart one, as I soon reached a wide river. I could see open country across it, I need only find a bridge. Seeing one in the distance, I sped towards it in blind eagerness, seeing the figure in my way too late.
At first, I wasn’t sure what I hit. I waited and listened. I didn’t see her, but I did hear her. A woman was weeping in front of my car and with shreds of my humanity still clinging to my godforsaken form, I climbed out of the car.
Her form was damaged, but whole. A dress, a light sunflower yellow, made to look sickly in the headlights of my car. I took a single step forward at the sight of her but stopped when I saw the baby carriage. A wheel was still spinning, her arms pulling her closer towards it. My heart began to sink in my chest, my eyes welled up with guilty tears.
My sorrow was immense as much as it was momentary. From the carriage, the woman withdrew the severed head of the homeless man from the motel room. I didn’t need the woman to brush the hair from her face for me to see she was the woman from the reception. I collected myself, climbing into the car and started it.
Speeding onwards, I turned off the road and onto the bridge. Less than a minute later, I had trees passing either side of me once again. I didn’t breathe easily for a long while. When I looked in my rear-view mirror, I could see the silhouette of the dark city against the starry sky. Solemn, silent and sinister, I cursed the sight of it and focused on my driving.
Still, I pondered what I had just seen, recognising some natural shape amongst the black pillars, then found myself checking the rear-view mirror again. At the very corner of the mirror, I could see the silhouette of a shoulder, the clothing warped around it. I couldn’t make out who it was in the dark, but I didn’t need to. I already knew who it was and he already knew I was looking at him. The coldness I felt, the guilt.
I would trade all I had to be someone else at that moment.
The figure spoke to me, as I drove, breaking the silence. The voice was scarily kind, old and tired. I could sense sorrow behind it, a sadness that comes with great loss.
“Where are you driving to?” the man asked me.
I couldn’t answer straight away, my throat dry. I wheezed in reply, then tried again, but forgot how to speak. It felt like many essential parts of my body had shut down and when I woke one part up, the other would fall asleep. Yet, I didn’t have to struggle long, as the man knew the answer.
“Nowhere, huh?” the man repeated softly, before coughing a laugh.
Silence again, this time heavier. He wasn’t trying to scare me, he was just trying to talk with me. He had something to say...or I had something to say...or I simply needed to...make sense of something.
“I met a lot of people in my life,” the man began. “Good people, bad people. The kind of people you could count on...sometimes even trust them with your life. I met a young woman, once, who asked me for help. It was strange, usually, I was just ignored or people helped me...mostly ignored. But, someone wanted my help and I wanted to do everything for her. I would do anything for her, because of that feeling she gave me.”
There was a pain in my throat.
“Sweet, brave girl, was blind,” the man continued, crying softly. “Didn’t know who I was, was just asking the air, hoping someone would answer. But, when I offered my help, she took it. All she wanted was someone to help her cross the street. I helped her and she gave me money. She knew what I was, probably from the smell. I helped her every day...and for me that was everything. As small as it was, it was a purpose and one I could cling to.”
I clutched the wheel tight, my eyes watering as I fought the memory.
“I knew her well and she knew me well,” the man murmured. “One day, she asked if I could help her back when she leaves work. Her friends couldn’t drive her back like they normally did, and I agreed. Late at night, the streets were empty and I realized she always walked back. It was so quiet she could tell if a car was coming. I was simply her friend and she wanted to talk to me again. Even though I tried...that night...to get us out of the way, the driver was swerving too much...and...”
I closed my eyes.
“I’ve met a lot of people, good and bad. I’ve met people going somewhere and people going nowhere. The ones going somewhere have something to do when they get there, sometimes good, sometimes bad. The ones going nowhere...they are always escaping something they did, always something bad.”
I heard cars and opened my eyes. Horns honked and I swerved back onto my side of the road as oncoming traffic approached. Surrounded by other cars, many voicing their disgust over my driving, I felt safer. The backseat was empty, occasionally lit by the street lights flashing past.
I read the signs, picked my route and drove back to where I was driving from. Once there, I admitted my guilt to those who needed to hear it. I turned myself in, I felt the coldness of metal wrap around my wrists, I heard the final bang of the gavel and stared at the same wall for the past fifteen years and I will continue to see the same wall till my last day.