When his gas light came on with a ding and small flare of orange light, Lane Malcolm’s anxiety skyrocketed. Having your ex-girlfriend text you in the middle of the night that she was broken down and desperately needed your help was one thing; getting turned around on dark, empty backroads while your cell frantically searched for a signal was another. Now Lane risked running out of gas with only a faint impression of a service station flitting through his mind like the memory of a recent dream quickly evaporating. All the ingredients were mixing into the smooth batter of disaster.
Lane checked his phone. Still no service, no roaming. He was certain he should have reached Camilla’s location an hour ago, but he was flying blind without GPS. Where the fuck was he? Where was she? No other cars, no houses, no buildings… Pulling to the roadside, Lane shut off his engine and began yelling in frustration, slamming his palms into the steering wheel. He did a double-take at his car’s clock display, checked his watch, his phone; all read 2:56 am. That didn’t seem right. Lane elbowed open the door and climbed onto the roof of his Kia Sorento, the metal sagging under his weight. He held his cell to the sky and began spinning along with the little digital wheel searching for service––nothing.
When had Lane last heard from Camilla? It had to have been at least six months, right? Long enough where Lane couldn’t recall the last time he’d stalked her social media pages… Lane opened his texts, looked for the thread with Camilla. He’d been at the tail end of a six-hour Netflix binge when she’d texted, coming down the homestretch of Dark season three. Lane leaped back down to the pavement underneath a cloudy, starless sky. Unable to locate the thread, an ominous feeling swept over Lane as wind riffled his coat, whipped the leaves up and down the tree-lined stretch of empty, dark asphalt. Lane began to wonder if he was losing it; if perhaps he’d fallen asleep on the couch and was having a bad dream. Hadn’t he thought that Camilla had closely resembled Martha from the show?
In a last-ditch effort, Lane reset his phone as he clambered back into his car. He slammed the door into his elbow, a jolt of pain evoking a cry that ended his dream theory. Ready to leave Camilla on her own and rush back to town so he wouldn’t be stranded, too, Lane released his throbbing elbow, depressed the brake, and rotated the key in his ignition. The car wouldn’t start. He tried again. Again. Again. The starter strained: click-click-click-click-click. All of the dash lights began strobing like Christmas lights on the fritz, then Lane was left in utter darkness.
“Goddammit! Goddammit! Fuck-Fuck-Fuck!” Lane screamed, tried to rip off the steering wheel with brute strength, slammed his clenched fist down, again and again, causing short blasts of the tinny horn. He flopped back in his chair, staring heavenward toward a God he most certainly had lost faith in. His hands came to his face, and Lane rubbed his eyes, releasing an animalistic groan of intense anguish. When he opened his eyes, the car’s ceiling was awash in blue light. His hand seized the phone as it came back to life.
It was still 2:56 am, yet Lane Malcolm managed to overlook this as a series of push notifications rapidly populated his screen with a succession of PINGS! All were texts from Camilla.
ARE YOU CLOSE?
HOW MUCH LONGER?
WHY AREN’T YOU ANSWERING ME?
I’M FREEZING OUT HERE!
MY PHONE IS DYING!
LANE? ARE YOU STILL COMING?
WHY IS YOUR PHONE OFF?
I’M CALLING. PLEASE ANSWER.
WHY DID I TRUST YOU?
IS THIS YOUR IDEA OF PAYBACK?
WHAT THE FUCK?
FUCK YOU. I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU.
Finding his phone suddenly alive with service helped quell the anger Lane felt about the past events and Camilla’s bitchy, unappreciative texts. Quickly, he pulled back up the GPS, shocked to discover Camilla’s pin-drop location appeared less than a mile up the road. As the ear-splitting ring filled his car’s interior, Lane jumped and his cell flew, bouncing off the dash and to the passenger-side floor. He lunged to answer.
“I’m close, Camilla! My phone lost service. I’m right down the street, but…”
“Aaaaaaannnnnnnneeeeeeeeeeeee…” The interrupting noise was like a tree limb rubbing on glass, nails screeching down a chalkboard.
“Camilla? Hello? Camilla?” Lane was suddenly bursting with terror; his body, mind, and soul run through with a massive spear of ice. The line went dead.
Lane panicked. His phone had lost signal again. Now his battery was flashing red. The last thing he noticed before the phone screen went black was the time: 2:56 am. The detail was overlooked by his panicked mind.
Lane tried the car, once, twice, three times. No dash lights, no sound. Then suddenly, the dark street was flooded with light as a streetlamp only fifty yards up the roadside flickered to life, then another and another, the once indiscernible path now illuminated before him. Lane’s mind was mush, his heart thundering, his limbs aching with panic, burning with fear from the startling turn of events. Still, Lane recalled Camilla’s proximity on GPS before the phone died, quickly exited the car once more, and headed up the empty road.
The streetlamps’ hum and buzz seemed to electrify the night air, Lane’s skin tingling as his pace quickened. Beyond the reach of the lamps laid an impenetrable blackness that seemed to inch forward in Lane’s periphery, closing in, squeezing tight, threatening to plunge him back into an endless dark void. Lane began to jog, then run.
Soon, Lane perceived an emptiness at the end of the illuminated road; the streetlamps were coming to an end, and Lane didn’t have a flashlight. The wind returned, colder, leaves rushing across the pavement, Lane deaf beyond the rushing blood in his ears. And then, faintly, just beyond the reach of the last street light, Lane saw it, a faint reflection of red scattered upon the dark road. Yes! Lane thought. I found her!
Sprinting now, the pavement fled under Lane’s sneakered feet, the car slowly taking shape, growing. New smells: Smoke. Burned rubber. Gasoline. The speed of Lane’s growing apprehension went supersonic, the foreboding a disruptive boom threatening to pull Lane further apart.
It was Camilla’s car alright, and she’d clearly been in a wreck. He saw the ratty Coexist bumper sticker upon the maroon Dodge’s chipped rear, the vehicle slanted off the right side of the road.
“Camilla! Camilla!” Where was she? She’d just called; she couldn’t be far.
Sneakers crunched over shattered glass, over shards of headlights. Lane rounded the car, gasping as he saw the passenger door open, one protruding leg lined with runnels of blood. “Camilla! Oh, God! Camilla!“
Lane flung the door all the way open, leaping back as the dome light stuttered to life. Camilla’s body laid at an angle, her upper body flopped over the center console, her bloodied face frozen upward toward the flickering light. Her jaw hung from one side, a nightmare rictus exposing a lolling tongue, throat open and oozing crimson. She couldn’t be alive, but the calls, the texts? She would’ve called an ambulance, not Lane; it made no sense. Still, Lane needed to check for a pulse, see if he could find her phone, call for help.
A haunting sound came forth with a fresh gust of icy wind––it sounded directly behind Lane: “Aaaaaaannnnnnnneeeeeeeeeeeee…”
Lane spun, coming face to face with a spectral image of Camilla’s mangled face, the mandible dangling to one side, the tongue and throat flitting with fresh sounds: “Aaaaaaannnnnnnneeeeeeeeeeeee…”
Then, all the street lamps blinked away at once, and Lane was left face to face with the horrifying image of his ex-girlfriend only faintly illuminated by the blue glow of a cell phone clasped in her hand. One thing was visible on the screen in her diaphanous grasp––the clock read 2:56 am.