Melody’s eyes closed for a heartbeat, and her old Honda Accord drifted off the side of the lonesome two-lane road, and veered towards the rock of the mountain wall. The shaking vibrations of the rumble strips on the edge of the pavement ripped her back out of dream land.
Bloodshot eyes burst open, and she slammed her foot on the brake pedal, bringing the car to a screeching halt. She sat in a silence for a moment, letting her heartbeat still, and brought her hands up to rub her eyes.
Jesus, she thought.
Melody reached down and grabbed the thermos sitting in her cup holder, raised it to her lips, and took a long swig of the lukewarm coffee. A close call. The digital clock on the radio read 11:45, a quarter to midnight. 5 hours, she told herself, halfway home.
She’d been studying for her finals at Ohio State when her father had called from Florida. Mom was in the ER. It’s bad. Come quick. Now she was somewhere in the mountains of Tennessee, following a one-way road that looked carved from the flesh of the earth by some willful deity.
Melody blinked a few dozen times and set her thermos back down. When she looked up again, she noticed the shapes illuminated in her headlights. Her eyes focused and she realized a mass of crosses lay off the edge of the road.
There were dozens of them, and they spread out as far as the dim beams from the Honda could illuminate. Some were bare wood, all ornamentation washed away by years of exposure to wind, sun, and rain, but many more were decorated. Painted in a rainbow of colors and bedecked with flowers and the pictures of deceased loved ones.
Melody tore her eyes from the crucifixes and examined the road ahead. It gently curved along the slope until reaching a tunnel carved in the mountainside. No sharp turns or steep angles. Nothing to explain the loss of so many lives.
Her eyes went back to the memorials, and a shiver danced down Melody’s spine. Doesn’t need to be any hazards, she thought, a little sleep deprivation and a moment of weakness do the trick. She shifted her foot from the brakes, and gently pressed down on the gas, leaving the monuments to the dead behind.
Melody drove until she came to the tunnel mouth, slowed to a crawl, and turned on her high beams, edging her way inside. It was dark as Hades, and the ink black recess drank in the light like a man dying of thirst. The space looked ancient. Cracked, interlocking stones made up the interior. They dripped perspiration and moss and fungi grew in clumps all along the surface. Graffiti decorated the walls, draping the stone in crisscrossing letters in a myriad of shapes and styles.
Melody scanned the calligraphy and her face twisted in puzzlement.
“What the hell?” She whispered.
Instead of the bawdy jokes, or the declarations of love she had expected, she found each and every bit of writing was a name, and all the names were painted on in the same crimson hue.
Almost looks like blood, she thought, and put her foot down on the gas with more force.
The tunnel was short, but the minute long crawl through its bowels was like an eternity. Melody made it to the arch of the exit, and her heart shuddered. Painted at the top of the tunnel mouth, still dripping wet, was her own name.
Melody rubbed at her puffed up eyes and blinked, but the letters didn’t change. That can’t be right. Gooseflesh rippled down her arms and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end.
A coincidence, she told herself, clearing the exit. She slammed her foot on the gas, eager to be done and away with the lonely stretch of mountain road.
She drove hard and fast, doing her best to look ahead and not back at the black maw that had spat her out. A few hundred feet away from the tunnel, a sudden light reflected in the rearview and bathed the cabin of the Honda in glaring white. Melody had to squint her eyes to keep from being blinded, and when she looked up to the mirror, she made out the silhouette of a colossal semi, lights burning as bright as a dozen suns, pulling up behind her at an incredible speed. Where did it come from?
In a matter of moments, the truck had closed the distance with Melody. It pulled up within a few feet and let loose a thunderous peel of noise from its horn. The sound was a physical force in Melody’s skull, and her ears rang with the violence of the din,
She turned on her blinker and switched over to the right lane. The semi didn’t pass. Instead, it followed her over, pulled up close enough to almost kiss her bumper, and sounded the siren again. The shriek was louder this time, and the tone was different, higher, distorted, wrong.
Melody beeped her own horn, its tinny whine a pathetic retort to the ear-shattering clamor of the truck’s.
“Pass me!” She screamed, her face red, eyebrows narrowed in fury.
Once again, Melody flashed her blinker, and made a lightning-fast lane change. The truck careened in behind her.
What the fu-.
Melody’s thoughts were interrupted by the savage impact of the semi smashing into her rear.
The collision sent shockwaves through the little Honda, lifting its back tires off the ground and flinging it out of control. Melody fought with the steering wheel to regain traction. The guard rail on her left rose up to greet her and she yanked to the right, swerving to the next lane. A string of curses exploded from her lips, and she slammed the gas pedal to the floor board.
For a split second, she had a lead on the semi, but it closed the gap in a few heartbeats. The truck drew up beside the Honda, and Melody finally saw her tormentor. A raw, savage scream tore from her throat.
The fell vehicle was hewn from obsidian, the black mirror sheen reflecting the hell fire crackling along its length. The cab windows pulsed with a burning, bloody light and the smokestacks belched noxious fumes from severed, blackened human skulls.
The juggernaut made a swift turn, careening towards Melody. It pushed against her car’s frame, forcing her closer to the jutting rock of the mountainside.
She slammed on the brakes. Momentum threw her forward into the steering wheel as her engine shrieked and tires squealed. She fell back behind the semi as it smashed into the mountain, rebounded with the collision, drove through the guard rail, and sailed off the edge and into the night air.
There should have been the calamitous noise of tons of steel slamming into the ground below, but Melody heard nothing. Her car puttered to a stop. Melody shifted the Honda to park and she sat in the middle of the road, her fingers gripping the wheel with white-knuckle tension.
Her body trembled, and tears welled in the corner of Melody’s eyes. What the hell just happened? She wanted to brush the whole thing off as an insomniac hallucination, but the skid marks, and the twisted metal of the shattered railing bore testament to reality. What was trying to kill me?
Melody drew in a series of deep breaths, fighting against the panic threatening to consume her mind. I’ve got to move, she told herself, and put the car back in drive. Get off this mountain, find a fuel station or a welcome center, and get help.
She went to shift her foot to the gas, and as she did so, glaring luminescence reflected in the mirrors, blinding her. The semi was back. Melody let out a wail and crushed the pedal to the floor.
She pushed her little car into the red, but she couldn’t escape. The truck grew closer and closer, until it had pulled up right beside her. The semi let loose with another hellish screech from its horns, and to Melody, it wrung with the tortured laments of the damned.
She went to slam on the brakes again, but the demonic engine didn’t give her the chance. It smashed her right side at full force, herding her to the guard rail. Metal ground against metal in an ear-piercing screech, and sparks ricocheted away from the contact.
The last thing Melody saw before the railing buckled and she was sent flying down the mountain, was her own screaming face reflected in the flickering light of the truck’s dark surface.
Brendan Burton is a fledgling writer beginning to dip his toes in the murky water of publication. After being laid off in the COVID shutdowns, he took to constructing short fiction to pass his newfound free time and he’s been addicted ever since.