Note: This is the second installment of a ghost story. It’s not meant to be read by itself. If you’d care to start at the beginning, click here.
“Whose dumb idea was this, anyway?”
Jake sighed, trying to tune out the voice from the back seat, but without any luck. He’d had a thing for Clarice for over a year now, ever since Comp Two, and she was half the reason he took this folklore class to begin with. Tall, slender, pretty, blonde, and he was beginning to realize she had a whine that could etch glass. Which she used far too much; right now she was going on about all the other things she could be doing instead of taking a long ride to nowhere.
When they’d left campus an hour ago, he’d thought – hoped – she’d sit next to him, but instead she got in back with Mike. That left the front for Sue, who was her exact opposite — short, quiet, glasses, and just this side of chunky. Jake was starting to gain an appreciation for quiet, at least.
“The turn ought to be here somewhere,” he muttered. Sue sighed loudly and they shared a look as Clarice went on, oblivious. The road had turned to gravel a while back, and it crunched loudly beneath the tires — not loudly enough to drown out Clarice, though.
“I just don’t see why we have to drive all the way out here in the middle of the night. I mean, it’s a class on folklore. What folklore? There’s not even any folk, just trees!”
He tried to keep tuning her out, but a clinical part of his mind noted, She’s right. For a good ten minutes there’d been no sign of humanity apart from the road itself and the occasional Keep Out sign from some sort of wilderness park. Be one hell of a place for a flat.
One more corner and that changed. Up ahead was the familiar red reflection from a stop sign, and something was underneath it, nothing but a dark blob. He slowed as they got closer, and squinted, trying to make it out. It was a four-foot chunk broken off a sheet of plywood with a word on it in green paint. “Myra,” he read aloud.
They had arrived at a T-junction at what seemed to be the edge of the world. The headlights, never powerful and now dulled with road dust, shone out into black nothingness ahead, with gravel road stretching left and right. Jake blinked, unnerved, as the car idled at the stop.
“Which way?” came from the back seat, along with considerable speculation. Jake ignored it, trying to make sense of what he was looking at. Walls of impenetrable blackness weren’t common in his experience, particularly not while he was driving. He felt like the world was spinning just a little.
He became aware that Sue had said something. “Back up,” she repeated, and he could see the sense in that. Further from that strange blackness… He shifted into reverse and eased the little car back. “Stop,” she said, and he obeyed. As the car rocked to the brakes, for a bare moment he could just see the edge of his headlight beams on treetops far ahead, and his sense of perspective reasserted itself. The cross road was quite a bit higher than the surrounding ground, and their own road sloped up sharply just before it. The headlights had been shining off into the sky; that was all. Quite the illusion.
“Hunh,” he said, by way of explaining his new insight.
“There’s an arrow.”
“An arrow,” Sue repeated patiently. “On the sign. There’s an arrow.”
Jake looked. There was indeed an arrow next to the painted MYRA, and it appeared to point the way straight across the road into that inky black gulf. He blinked, instinctively rejecting that, and saw that the sign wasn’t quite straight after all. Someone had walked down off the road and leaned it against the stop sign on a diagonal from the left-hand side, which meant the arrow actually pointed to the…
“Right?” he asked uncertainly. It wasn’t leaning very much.
“Or straight,” Sue offered.
“There doesn’t seem to be a straight.”
“So go right already!” came from the back seat. Clarice wasn’t the patient type. Mike said something, but that near to her nasal braying, his low rumble didn’t have a chance in hell. She rode right over him, explaining in detail how bored she was and the big waste of her time. Jake ground his teeth, then hit the blinker and the gas at the same time. The car slewed around to the right, and gravel sprayed behind them. The flow of words paused, shocked, and then started up again with variations on a theme of bad driving and long walks lost in the woods.
The new road was both broad and high, crowned slightly in the middle. To either side was a sudden drop that looked to Jake like a good ten feet (but was probably more like four, he thought), with the trees cleared well back. On the left were high poles; it took him a moment to realize there were high-tension power lines running next to them. The continual complaining from the back seat continued without any noticeable pauses for breath.
She’s going to spoil the whole night, he thought. I wonder if she has any idea how she sounds. Aloud he said, “Just try to think of it as an adventure, Clarice.”
“An adventure! Didn’t you ever read “The Hobbit”? Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves and the Ring?” Even as he asked he knew the answer was no. Clarice was not the hobbit type. Still, he went on cheerfully; after all, talking was better than listening, particularly to her. “The road goes ever on and on, and all that? No? Well, you’ve missed a great story.” Unexpected singing from the seat beside him made him stop; that was quiet Sue, eyes shining.
The Road goes ever on and on,
Far from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone
And I must follow if I can.
She smiled briefly, there in the gloom of the dashboard lights, and Jake smiled back at her. Then from the back rose a deep resonance you could feel in your bones. Big Mike was making himself heard.
Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
Through dungeons deep and caverns old…
Jake grinned. He barely knew his passengers, but suddenly he was aware he was among friends.
“I don’t get it.”
Well… mostly friends.
The next installment is now up. To continue, just click here.
Image credit: Junior Libby, by way of PublicDomainPictures.net
Songs from the works of Tolkien