Dear readers, tonight we find ourselves on the eve of Thanksgiving. I have many things to be thankful for this year. Among those reasons are two writing-related ones. I released my first book, Dread, and I won a writing contest (read the entry here). I’m also very thankful for you! To show my appreciation, I’ve concocted a little tale for you. Enjoy!
Bernadette was beginning to think that the universe was trying to tell her something. When Mike said they were going to his Grandmother’s for Thanksgiving dinner, she’d envisioned a warm, colorful meal in a cozy little farmhouse nestled in the woods. He had said he wanted to introduce her to the whole family. Maybe a ring was on the menu for dessert!
She had wanted Mike to stay home and drive with her, but he had the whole week off from his teaching job and had gone ahead. He wanted to help his grandmother get ready for the big dinner. Bernadette wasn’t surprised, just like pretty much every holiday they had ever spent with his family, he felt compelled to help out, set up, or spend an extra day visiting.
Her job as a nurse kept her busy right up until about 4 am this morning. She’d gone home for a quick nap and then headed out with the map Mike had drawn for her since he said there was spotty cell service.
Now, she picked up her cell phone from the center console, and sure enough, No Service stood in place of the desired bars. The back-country road was rough and rutted, and it must have knocked something loose because the car sputtered and lurched to a full hissing stop after several jarring miles.
The early dark of winter pushed against the car window, making her feel like the only person left on the planet. Nothing but deep woods on one side and sprawling farmland on the other. She’d have to walk. Maybe somewhere along the way she’d get enough cell service to call someone.
Bernadette got out of the car and locked her door. An owl hooted a hungry cry, and his hunting partner answered, sounding almost on top of her. She looked overhead. A pair of large orange eyes perched in the nearest tree zeroed in on her. She pulled her jacket tighter.
This was the perfect ending to a terrible day. Or was it morning, or night? Her schedule at the hospital had her pretty messed up on time. It didn’t matter; it was always that last patient of any shift that was trouble.
Today, or was that yesterday, she had just looked at her watch and was relieved to see she had about ten minutes left in her shift. Bernadette was making a mental list of the things she needed to do at home before taking the two-hour drive to Mike’s grandmother’s when the ER doors banged open and in rolled trouble.
The woman was fighting against all the safety straps on the gurney, and two paramedics were trying to keep her from escaping.
“What ya got?” Bernadette asked.
“Some kind of accident. She was found wandering down a road. I don’t know anything more than that!” a paramedic answered.
“Ok, room seven,” Bernadette said.
She quickly prepared a sedative and entered the room. The paramedics were trying to wrestle the woman to the bed, but she was winning. Bernadette slipped in and injected the syringe into the woman’s buttocks.
The woman struggled a little more and then went limp. They got her on the bed and put her wrists in restraints, just in case.
“Can you tell me what happened to you? Are you in pain?” Bernadette began.
The woman’s eyes swam in to focus on Bernadette’s.
“He’s waiting for you!” she said, her eyes wide.
“Who’s waiting? Were you with someone?” Bernadette asked.
“He’s waiting for you,” the woman said again and then began sobbing.
“Ok, you’re all right now. We’ll get you taken care of, ok?” Bernadette said.
“He’s waiting for you,” she said through sobs.
“Ok, dear,” Bernadette said, and she gently squeezed the woman’s shoulder.
Somehow the woman’s hand got loose from the straps, and she grabbed Bernadette’s wrist and squeezed.
“You have to listen to me! He’s waiting for you! Only God can help you now!”
Bernadette’s chest filled with dread. She tried to twist free, but the woman had her in a vice-grip, crushing and grinding the bones in her wrist.
“A little help in here!” Bernadette yelled.
It took two more nurses and a security guard to get Bernadette free. Her wrist was swollen and bruised and still throbbed where the woman had dug her fingers into her flesh. She should be home resting and icing it, but no. Here she was. Broken down in the middle of nowhere. In the dark.
Gravel crunched under her feet as she began walking along the road. Her breath puffed out in weak misty clouds. As she crested a small hill, she could see the lights of a lone house in the distance. Relief flooded her; she’d ask to use their phone and be saved. She picked up her pace.
Headlights approached her. Her first thought was salvation, but then dark thoughts of who might be driving on a backwoods road slithered into her brain. Panic threatened to rise in her throat. Unsure of what to do, she stepped to the side of the road trying to give the car as wide a birth as possible. The car stopped a few yards ahead of her, and moonlight glinted off the point of the car’s V-shaped grill. An elderly woman stepped out of the big car; all Bernadette could see was the top of her head from her nose up over the door.
“Are you all right, Dear?” the woman asked.
“My car broke down. I was going to head to that house and ask to use the phone,” Bernadette said, pointing to the pinprick of light.
“Oh, no, Dear. You don’t want to use that phone. Get in, and I’ll drive you to a phone,” the lady said.
Bernadette considered her for a second. The moonlight lit up her silver hair like a halo, and her stylish clothing hung loosely on her tiny frame. Bernadette got in the car.
The big car glided over the rough road as if it were floating. Hot air billowed out of the vent and Bernadette realized how cold she was. The white interior of the car appeared to be in the same condition it must have been when it rolled off the assembly line.
“Great car,” Bernadette said.
“My William bought it brand new in 1969,” the woman’s voice trailed off.
“You just don’t see them like this anymore. My dad was big Caddie buff,” Bernadette said.
The woman did not respond.
“Do you live nearby?” Bernadette tried again.
When the woman did not respond or look her way. Bernadette decided that maybe she was hard of hearing. It was probably best to speak when spoken to.
They left the dirt road and turned onto a two-lane asphalt road. The big motor growled up a small hill and then like magic, a brightly lit 24-hour roadside cafe appeared. Two police cruisers with lights and sirens passed them going the way they had come.
“Must be an accident or something,” Bernadette said.
The woman remained silent and guided the car into the parking lot of the diner. She braked and stared straight ahead, still not speaking.
“Ok then. Thank you, ma’am,” Bernadette said as she heaved her door open and got out of the car.
The door closed with a clank and the woman drove off. Bernadette watched the tail lights disappear over the next little hill. She wondered if she should tell somebody, maybe the old gal was senile. Who would she tell? Bernadette shrugged and went into the diner.
“Can I help you?” an attractive girl with dark hair and a white half apron around her slim hips asked.
“I hope so. My car broke down some ways down the road. I need a tow,” Bernadette said.
The girl smiled. “My Jim, he drives the tow. I’ll call him for you.”
Bernadette breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, so much.”
“Can I get you some coffee or something while you wait?”
“That’d be great.”
“Looks like you may have missed turkey dinner. I can fire up the grill if you want,” the girl said.
An ambulance sped past the window.
“Looks like that tow may be a little long,” the girl said.
Maybe it was the relief she felt at finding the diner, but it was the best grilled cheese sandwich Bernadette had ever had. She was finishing her second cup of coffee when a police cruiser pulled into the parking lot.
“Hey, Mark. Is Jimmy gonna be much longer?” the girl asked the police officer when he came inside.
“How would I know?” he said.
“We saw the ambulance and stuff, isn’t there a wreck?” she said.
Mark shook his head and removed his hat. He held in front of him as if he was going to ask the girl to forgive him for something.
“No, honey, no wreck.”
Two state trooper cars sped by with lights and sirens.
“What’s going on?” the girl asked, panic edging her voice.
“Mrs. Henderson is dead,” Mark said.
“What?” the girl half whispered.
“We got a 911 call from the Henderson place, a hangup. When they got there, they found her stabbed to death,” Mark said.
The girl sucked in a harsh breath and fingered the small cross around her neck. “Did you find who did it?”
“That’s the strange part. We found an empty car not far from the house, but the guy was still in the house. Just sitting there. Said he was waiting for someone,” Mark said.
“I was out that way tonight. My car broke down, and I was walking to a farmhouse to use the phone, but an elderly lady picked me up,” Bernadette said.
“You drive a dark Ford Focus?” Mark asked her.
“Yes,” Bernadette said.
“That must be your car. Good thing you didn’t make it the house; the killer was still there.” He pulled a pad of paper from his pocket and licked the tip of his pen. “What’s the name of the lady that gave you ride?”
“I don’t know. She never said. She was very small and drove a big ’69 Caddie that she said her husband, I think his name was William, bought,” Bernadette said.
The waitress dropped the coffee cup she had in her hand.
“A big Caddie with a white interior?” Mark asked, his eyebrows lifted so high they disappeared into his hairline.
Bernadette nodded and she absently rubbed her sore wrist.
“Well, I don’t know who gave you a ride, Miss. But you just described Mrs. Henderson to a T,” Mark said.
All righty then! Be careful driving over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house or where ever you might be spending the holiday. Eat well and often. Until next time, Never Turn off the Lights!