It was more than thirty miles from where Carol lived to the city; forty by the mountain highway. Carol worked in an office in the city, and commuted the distance willingly every day. It would have made more sense for her to live in the city, or at least in a suburb closer to work, but she liked the neighborhood she lived in, and the commute didn’t bother her. In fact, if she traveled on the mountain highway it was almost enjoyable. Often while commuting, the rolling sweep of the road through the hills had a calming effect on Carol, helping her to relax after a long day, hypnotizing her to the point where she didn’t even mind the time she spent on the road. With the exception of the occasional deer which wandered out onto the road, there were few other disturbances on the long trip from the city to home, even during rush hour.
On this night Carol had stayed in the city long past rush hour. She had a date tonight, dinner at a little restaurant and coffee at a cafe next door. The gentleman she had been with worked in the office next to her; they had seen each other almost daily in the elevator and exchanged jokes and polite comments for months before she got up the bravado to ask him out. She had been more than impressed with him tonight as he revealed himself to be literate and outspoken, easy to talk to and quick with a joke. She had had a wonderful time, and had he offered to let her stay at his place, she would have gone. But it wasn’t altogether disappointing that he hadn’t; there would be future dates, and future chances.
It was almost midnight when she started home, and on a midweek night there was almost no one else traveling on Carol’s route. It had been a wonderful evening, and she felt relaxed and happy. It was dark on the freeway, foggy and cold, and she drove with the window open, the wind blowing in her hair, a tape on the radio blasting into the night. She sang along, off key, missing some of the lyrics and volunteering both lead and backup vocals. She drove fast and messily, with one hand, staying only marginally within the lane, and watching the fog roll over the freeway as if someone was standing by the edge of the road and blowing it out into her path. If she unfocussed her eyes she could almost see ghosts dancing in the fog before her, illuminated in the brights, running to hide as her car tore through them.
Suddenly, a dark shape appeared before her on the road, and Carol’s eyes snapped back into focus. She couldn’t tell what had wandered out into the freeway, she came upon it so quickly, but it was big, and black, and made no attempt to get out of her way.
She was going much too fast to be able to avoid it, but she wrenched the steering wheel to the side to try, slamming her weight down on the brakes at the same time. Agonizingly, she heard a thud, her car rocking on its tires in rebound, and she let out a short scream as her car came to a sudden halt.
Her car had stopped in the middle of the freeway some distance beyond where she had hit the creature. Carol’s heart was beating in her ears, drowning out the sound of the music still blaring. She reached over angrily and snapped it off. Breathing hard, she gripped the steering wheel in both hands, took several deep breaths to calm herself and looked behind her in the rear view mirror. There was only darkness behind her, dimly lit by the red glow of her brake lights. She could not see far enough behind her to see what she had hit.
Carol pulled over to the side of the road, and got slowly out of the car. Her knees were weak under her and she supported herself with her hands on the side of the car as she crossed around the front to the corner where she had hit the creature. The fender was dented, but it was a strange, even dent. She had hit a dog several years ago, and the dent on her car then had been smeared with blood and bits of fur. This dent was clean, as if she had hit a wall or another car, rather than a creature with flesh and bones.
Carol looked back along the road, into the darkness. Leaving the keys in the ignition, she got a flashlight out of the glove compartment, and began walking along the shoulder of the freeway back towards where she had hit the creature. She had to see what she had hit, to see if it was still alive, to see what she could do.
It was quiet and cold as she walked, slightly foggy, with no wind. She noted a call box along the side of the road; if she had killed whatever she had hit she could call for help. Twenty-five yards, forty she walked, flashing the beam of the light all along the shoulder and into the first lane of the freeway to try and see what was there. If when she had hit it the creature had been thrown out into the other lanes of the freeway, she would not have been able to see it.
Finally, far ahead, a dark shape lay huddled on the shoulder, and Carol squinted, focussing her flashlight on it as she walked closer. She drew up next to the creature and stood looking at it. It was black, whatever it was, big, and covered with long matted fur. It wasn’t a deer, and it didn’t look like a dog. Carol stepped still closer and played the beam of the flashlight over it. It was lying on its side, its hindquarters pulled up into its chest. It looked slightly ape-like. It was unlike any creature Carol had ever seen or read about. Puzzled, she nudged it with the toe of her boot. It did not move.
Holding her breath, she reached with her foot and turned it over onto its back. Its arms, long, hairy, with thin spindly fingers, fell to either side of its body. Carol stood back up again, her heart beginning to beat heavily again as she looked over the creature.
It was short, and stout, with long arms and legs. Its head appeared to be joined directly to its body without needing a neck. The head was the only part of its body not covered with hair; the skin on the scalp was scaly and pink. The eyes, which were closed, were huge. Its jaw, slightly agape, was full of sharp teeth. What was this creature? Where did it come from? What had she found?
Bending even further forward over the body, Carol realized that the body was unhurt, that there were no signs that it had ever been hit. There was no blood, nothing broken, nothing out of the ordinary, at least for a creature that was as odd looking as this one was.
Maybe its playing dead, she thought to herself, and as the thought crossed her mind, the creature opened its eyes and looked up at her, the beam of the flashlight reflected on its black eyes. Carol drew a breath to shriek but the creature reached up faster than she could pull back, took the front of her clothes in one hand and then ripped the scream and her throat out with the other.
The flashlight fell to the ground, shattered and went out as Carol fell heavily to her knees. On her knees she was about the same height as the creature, who now climbed up on its hind legs, her clothes still clutched in its hand. Carol’s vision faded in and out as the creature looked at her; surprisingly the pain was not as bad as she would have expected. The creature frowned, or at least, it made a face. Carol could not fathom the thought or intention behind the expression. Loosening its grip, it pushed Carol sideways, letting her fall to the pavement, her legs too weak to support her body. She landed on her jaw, and it splintered, and then she felt the pain, but she could not open her mouth wide enough to scream, so the sound she made was more of a pitiful moan. She had fallen on her side, and she could feel the warmth of her blood as it ran down the incline of the pavement past her cheek. She tried to gasp, but she could not draw air into her lungs. She looked up at the creature who was still looking at her with the big eyes, eyes with no irises, just endless fluid black. The creature looked at her impartially, and then turned away from her, walking with a low shamble back along the shoulder the way she had come, back towards her own car.
Carol’s vision darkened, and the pain overcame her. Tears formed and blurred in her eyes as she blinked to try and see what was going on She tried to push herself up onto her hands, but her muscles were frozen. As she died, she heard the engine start in her car, and watched as the lights in her car came on and it pulled off of the shoulder and vanished down the freeway road into the fog.