I’m a bit embarrassed by this particular story, as I only had my husband beta read it, and sometimes he isn’t very good at picking up pacing issues, etc. I haven’t even read it since submitting it, because I feel so badly about it. I didn’t place with this story either, though I received some good feedback for it. The short story contest is for 2500 words, rather than the 1000 word limit of the Flash Fiction, so this story is a lot longer. Be warned…
Genre: Ghost Story
Subject: A Road Trip
Character: A School Teacher
Synopsis: Eva is running from her recent past. She’s on her way to Mexico, but something sinister has found her along the way. Can she really escape the ghosts of her past?
The landscape was changing at every bend of the road. Eva felt as if the closer she got to her destination, the more foreign everything felt. She had crossed the Texas border sometime around 5pm, and she had assumed then that the rest of the way would be as smooth a ride. It hadn’t been smooth, so she was 4 hours in with 3 more left to go.
“Eva, can you please organize for new lab equipment?” Eva remembered Mr. Matthews requesting two weeks ago. “School board should approve it.”
Indeed the science lab was in need of some new equipment, but after a bit of unnecessary spending, Eva wasn’t certain how the school could pay for it. After all, they couldn’t even afford a full-time treasurer. She had been delegated the role alongside her other math teaching duties.
But now she skirted all that responsibility. Eva had to escape.
The highway was dark with the moon hardly visible. And since she was trying to conserve fuel, she had rolled down her windows, so the cool breeze of the night could linger through her car. But instead she was only met with a humid stillness. The only wind she felt was from her car speeding down the street.
The radio was playing, and it was really the only thing keeping her awake now. 13 hours of changing channels and listening to the same-sounding DJs. Mostly, though, she regretted the decision to leave I-35 back in Dallas, as now she had to pay extra attention to her exits and the speed limits, as they frequently changed.
“Kansas City police are looking for the whereabouts of a mathematics teacher and school treasurer –“
Her gaze drifted for a moment away from the road as she changed the channel. Eva blinked and yawned. Only a few more hours to go, she thought to herself.
The first light in miles glowed around the bend in the road ahead. For a brief moment, she saw a flicker of movement and heard a screech. Suddenly wide awake, she tried to find the source as she sped around the bend. Panicked, she thought she had seen a person run across the road, but when she slowed and looked in her rearview mirror she saw nothing.
Eva shook her head in disbelief. She was half asleep, and it was likely just hallucinations.
A few more light posts lined the road, and Eva breathed a sigh of relief. At least she must be nearing another town again. Bored of the station again, Eva pressed to scan for another station.
“Here’s something a little new! I love this song already. I hope you do too,” the DJ said. “From Phil Collins, this is called ‘Don’t Lose My Number.’”
“Archived footage?” Eva asked herself as she tried to scan for another station.
“Billy, Billy, don’t you lose my number,” Phil crooned from within the radio.
Looking down again, she scanned for the next station.
“Billy, don’t you-“
Frustratingly she looked down to scan again. She looked up and jumped, stunned to see someone in the middle of the road. She swerved to miss him and looked back.
No one was there to berate.
Her heart raced, and the lights ahead started to dim. A blanket of fog approached the car and, with it, a sudden change of temperature. Signs on the road as she drove on told her she was at the city limits of Tombstone, TX. She pondered on the name choice. She had already driven through Paris, Rome and thought she had seen a sign for Bogata. Texans sure were unoriginal.
But as she drove further in, the fog grew thicker. Goosebumps spread across her arms, and her heart continued to pound. Eva rolled up her windows. She could barely see the road now. The fog was so dense that condensation oddly settled onto her windows. Focused on the road, she ignored Phil singing, “Oh Billy, you better, you better, you better run for your life.”
The fog lightened up slightly to reveal a gas station on the right hand side of the road. Eva half smiled. A coffee would go a long way. And she could finally check her map.
She pulled up to the pump, and a station attendant came out. Folding up her map, she grabbed her handbag.
“Do you take card?” she called out as she closed her car door.
“Cash only,” the attendant said as he lifted the pump. “Filled?”
Eva was surprised as he started to fill her tank for her, but she nodded all the same.
“Wow. Not many full service gas stations around anymore,” she said. “Do you serve coffee at all?”
The attendant looked at her blankly and continued to fill her tank.
“Oh….kay?” she said and walked towards the service station.
She couldn’t find any coffee within, but she figured a coke would keep her awake. So she grabbed one and carried it to the counter. The clerk turned to her; his face had an angry scar covering the whole left side.
“Can you help me?” Eva asked, as she pulled open the map. “I think I might be lost. I’ve never seen this much fog at night.”
“You better run for your life,” the clerk muttered.
“What?” Eva said, both uncertain of the words he said and concerned by the menace in his voice.
“Run. Run… I ran. What good it do me?” he said, his voice rising slightly.
His head turned to her car.
“You don’t know yet,” he laughed. “You won’t know.”
Eva turned to look at her car. Fuel was flowing out of the pump, down the side of her car. No attendant was there.
“Nobody ever does,” she heard beside her. His laugh echoed in the station. “You’re doomed.”
Eva grabbed her handbag and bolted back to her car.
Tears flooded her eyes, as terror and memories all flooded her thoughts at once. She pulled the pump out, and stumbled back into her car.
Her whole body shook as she tried to put the key in. The voice echoing in her mind, “You’re doomed (doomed) ((doomed)).”
Sobbing, Eva turned the key in the ignition.
“RUN AWAY!” she heard.
Looking in her rear view mirror, she jumped. The eyes of the clerk filled her mirror. Shrieking, she put her foot down and raced out. The gas station exploded just as she was out of sight.
Eva drove as fast as she ever had before. Her mind would not settle.
“Mr. Matthews was the only one wearing protective gear,” she recalled hearing yesterday, the words spoken through snivels from a fellow teacher.
The words had echoed in her mind all through the night and early morning hours.
“You were their teacher!” she had screamed at herself. “You had a duty of care!”
But how was she to know?
A new start would fix it all. She would just run away from it all. She would get to Mexico tonight. She had to.
The fog slowly dissipated, and she slowly regained some composure.
“Don’t you forget about me,” she heard the radio suddenly spring back to life.
Eva tried to turn it off, but the power button didn’t work. She cried inwardly, but accepted defeat. The radio was less important than getting safely to Mexico.
Eva recalled the first time she got away with it. It had been something so small and insignificant. Her husband had just left her, and for the first time in her life, she had to take care of menial tasks. Eva didn’t know how to mow the lawn. She was short on money, so she hired a landscaper and paid with school funds.
She justified the act and continued it. She hadn’t been caught yet.
Hail dropped on her car, waking her up from her musing. A heavy deluge of rain and ice battered her car and the road. Seconds later her car scratched the pavement from a large pothole that she hadn’t even seen it coming. Worried, she started to think about other accidents she could have on this stretch of road. She had not seen a single car on the road, but it would only take one pair of lights coming towards her to make her swerve. Not to mention the unfamiliarity of the road.
Just as she thought about stopping, lights appeared just ahead. The signs were flashing, and though she could not make out what they said, she was happy to see them nonetheless. She slowed her car down, and pulled into the parking lot. There was a steep hill up, and as the “Tombstone Cinema” sign came into view, so too did the bright flashing lights of the entrance.
Eva pulled her car into a space, grabbed her handbag and sprinted up to the box office.
Squinting, she tried to read the movie titles, but the words were blurred and indecipherable. The box office clerk grinned at her widely, “Which’ll it be?”
“Whatever is starting now,” she answered hastily.
“Ah, Brazil. Here you go, miss,” he said as he handed her the ticket. His hand was like ice as it scraped her skin.
“How much?” she asked.
“Nothing. It’s already been paid for,” he smiled.
“Oh? Uh… well, thanks for that,” she said returning the smile.
Eva walked into the theatre and was immediately met by another man dressed in an old fashioned usher uniform.
“Ticket please,” the usher said. She had never experienced this type of service before at a theatre. She was both impressed and perplexed by it.
She handed him the ticket, and he asked her to follow him.
“It’s only just started, ma’am,” the usher said as they reached the theater. He opened the door and the sounds of the movie echoed through the foyer. She nodded her thanks and entered the room. The small hallway leading into the theatre was dark and a curtain acted as a door to the auditorium. The door closed behind her, and she pulled open the curtain.
“Welcome home!” a terribly dark and scarred face was standing directly in front of her.
Eva screamed and fell backwards. She had only blinked, but the person was gone. And now the entire setting had changed. A hallway stretched out in front of her. Lockers were on either side of her, and doors to classrooms were all closed.
Eva panicked. She turned her head, but she did not see theatre walls at all. She was in the hallway of her school.
“Run. Run… I ran. What good it do me?” she recalled as she rose and sprinted down the hallway.
She passed the lockers, and immediately the doors to the classrooms opened. The sound of chalk on boards and chatter filled the air. Teenagers walked past her, transparent, void. Eva shook her head in disbelief.
“How much has she stolen?” she heard a familiar voice ask. She turned to look and saw both Mrs. Stewart and Mr. Welsh talking in the faculty lounge. She gasped as their heads turned to her, faces melting, exposing only their skulls.
“But they’re alive!” her voice echoed through the hall.
Eva continued to cry as she ran. The halls stretched as she closed in on the exit.
“Leave me alone!” she screamed.
Eva slapped herself in the hopes that she was asleep, but nothing changed. It was not a dream.
The school bell chimed, and students started flooding the hall. Some were the same as they had always been, but others were terribly disfigured or burned.
A hand touched her arm, and she was swung around. Eva had been grabbed by her prize pupil, Kyle. Rage in his eyes, he squeezed her arm harshly. She sobbed, “I’m sorry.”
He suddenly erupted into flames. Agony on his face, he pushed her down and screamed.
“How could you?!” she heard behind her.
Before she could even see who said it, she was jerked by the arm and dragged.
Eva kicked about, narrowly missing the students beside her. The whole school watched from the sides of the hallway. Faces of hate, pain, and anguish stared at her as she tried desperately to escape. She was helpless.
Her oppressor stopped pulling after they entered a room. The words on the door read, “Chem Lab.”
Eva screamed as student after student came into the room.
“Don’t come in here!” she cried. “Just run. Run!”
But all of them kept walking.
“Oh! New equipment?” one of the students said.
“No! Don’t! Don’t come any closer!” Eva pleaded, her free arm reaching out to them.
Suddenly her oppressor let her go and walked to the head of the class.
The chemistry teacher, Mr. Matthews, stood in front of the class in his protective gear.
“Today I’m going to show you a bit about combustion,” he said. “Everyone will need to go to the back of the class. Wouldn’t want you to get burned.”
Eva cried as she tried to pull at least one of the students out of the room.
“You’re doomed,” she heard.
Fearing what came next, Eva left them all behind, and just as Mr. Matthews started to squeeze the striker, Eva ran out of the room, seeing the explosion only as it had started. The alarm went off, but the sprinklers never triggered. Teen after teen poured out of the classroom doors covered in flames. They all rushed towards her.
“Wake up,” she heard.
Eva lazily opened her eyes. It had been a dream. She was in her car again, parked outside the movie cinema. The man in an old usher uniform was tapping on her window.
“Miss, you alright?” he called out.
“I….I must have fallen asleep. I’m sorry,” she mumbled back.
“Well, you best be on your way then,” he said, turning back towards the cinema entrance.
Eva turned the key to the ignition, but the car wouldn’t turn on. She tried again and again, but nothing happened.
“You better run,” she heard again.
Eva looked in her rear view mirror and saw Kyle in the backseat.
Her scream was immediately muffled with his cold hand; he pressed her hard against the seat as handprints covered the car windows. The faces of all the dead faded into view. Their eyes bore into her soul, and they started chanting, “Let go. Let go.”
Eva slumped in her seat, defeated. She had no cries left, no more screams. She released the handbrake and let go. Her car crept forward at first, and then dove into the street below, crashing into the truck speeding down the road.
The truck driver tried to save her, but her body had flown out of the windscreen. As she let the life go out of her, she mumbled something about the cinema and the nice usher.
“Usher?” the driver said. “But that cinema’s been closed since 1985. After a string of arsons.”