I’m offering this early chance to get a sneak peak at my upcoming novel, “Pine Lakes.” I’m nearly finished with the first draft, and I’m hopeful for a release in April. Check it out and leave some feedback. I’m very pleased with how this turned out, and I hope you agree. This has not been edited, so please forgive me ahead of time for my spelling and grammar issues.
Ted and Susan Merchant were still twenty miles from the Pine Lakes Resort when it started raining.
Ted’s restored Barracuda tore up the winding road, surrounded by tall trees and thick brush on either side. A thin guardrail was all that separated the road from a forty foot drop to the forest floor below. Susan looked out the rain-spattered window into the darkness beyond as she reached into her purse for a cigarette. This stretch of road always made her nervous, now compounded by the setting sun and the rain that was slowly wetting the asphalt surface. She lit her cigarette and blew out a cloud of white smoke that quickly filled the interior of the car. She cracked the window and took another deep drag.
“Don’t worry, babe,” Ted said. “I know this road like the back of my hand.”
“I know, but it always makes me nervous up here,” Susan replied.
Ted put his hand on his wife’s thigh and patted soothingly. They’d been coming to the Pine Lakes Resort once a year since they met in 1998, when they were both seniors in high school. It had been Ted’s idea. His family was vacationing in Pine Lakes for as long as he could remember, and when it came time for him to start a family of his own, the tradition remained. Susan fell in love with the place immediately, but the ride up the mountain always made her nervous. Driving in general scared her to death. She hadn’t had a driver’s license in years, not since her second year in college, not since that night on Interstate 81 when everything changed.
“I would think you’d be used to this by now,” Ted said. “We’ve driven this road enough times to know it by heart.”
Susan shrugged. They had a similar conversation every year; it didn’t change a thing. She held the cigarette out to her husband and Ted took a quick drag, cracking his window as well. The Cuda was cherry now, he didn’t often let anyone smoke in her, but knowing how Susan got on these trips, he couldn’t tell her no.
“We have everything, right?” Susan asked, changing the subject. “Reservations? All our clothes? Money? Your shampoo?”
Ted laughed and nodded. “I don’t know about money or clothing, as long as I have my Breck.” It was just one of Ted’s many foibles. Special shampoo, special brand of socks, a certain kind of soft drink. His habits were hard to break, not like he tried. He was perfectly happy the way things were. To hell with change.
“My man is a strange one,” Susan joked.
“That’s why you love me!”
Susan leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Love wasn’t a strong enough word; she absolutely adored him with every ounce of her being. When their eyes met, she still felt that little tingle, that butterfly flitting around in her stomach like it was the first time they’d met. Twenty years and it felt the same as it had that first night, ditching their dates at the Senior Prom to walk hand in hand out at Tuscarora Lake. They just clicked. Moments like that were enough to carry anyone through the worst of life’s storms, and they had their fair share. She wouldn’t change it, not a thing.
“Cabin 105?” Susan asked.
“As always,” Ted said. Another of their traditions, same cabin every year, as if they’d claimed ownership. Every year since 1999, Ted would scratch a hash mark in the wood beneath the cabin’s bed, along with their initials and a crudely carved heart. So far, no one had noticed their eighteen scratches, soon to be nineteen. It was the first thing Ted did when they got to their cabin, always the very first thing.
“Are you going to try to write this year?” Susan asked.
“I don’t know,” Ted sighed. “No one wants to hear anything I have to say.”
“How will you know if you don’t try? You’re a good writer, I’m not just saying that.”
Ted laughed and patted her thigh again. “Maybe one day.”
Ted worked at the same distribution center for going on ten years. He didn’t love his job by any means, but it paid the bills. He’d flirted with the idea of writing a novel since high school, but he just never had the time or the ambition or the belief in himself that anyone would ever want to buy it. Several drafts of the nearly-completed manuscript sat on the closet shelf for the better part of a decade, collecting dust.
Rain lashed at the Cuda’s windshield and dripped in through Susan’s open window. She cranked the window closed and fidgeted with the cuff of her blouse. Damn, she hated this road. She’d tried to get over it for years, but as soon as she thought she had it under control, she looked into the forest buzzing by and instantly lost her resolve. The forest was creepy at night; she didn’t imagine anyone disagreeing with her. The Blair Witch Project really messed with her head. She knew it was just a movie, but having lived near the woods her entire life, she found herself peering into the shadowy trees for weeks after leaving the movie theater.
“It always feels so great coming up here,” Ted said, flicking the cigarette out the window. “A week away from work, away from the neighbors…”
“Don’t even get me started,” Susan laughed. “Crazy Anne was on her front porch having a conversation with a stuffed parrot yesterday.”
Ted laughed loudly and nodded. “I heard her the other day too, except it was her garbage can she was yelling at.”
“I’m not shitting. She dragged it up her driveway and cursed at it for smelling so foul, said if it wasn’t willing to take a bath she was going to leave it on the curb.”
They both laughed; Susan’s nerves quieted. Ted always made her laugh, even when she didn’t want to. He had a knack for bringing her back from the edge of her own thoughts. Without him, she’d likely end up in padded cell.
They chatted back and forth as the sky grew darker and rain threatened to wash out parts of the road. Susan snapped on the radio and bobbed her head along to the newest Imagine Dragons track as Ted poked fun at her for her taste in music. Ted was Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Opeth all the way. New music hurt his ears; auto-tune made him cringe, and the sound of sampled drum tracks was enough to make him go on tirades.
“Lars Ulrich,” Ted yelled, “now he was a drummer. I don’t know what this other shit is all about.”
“Lars looks my Uncle Barry and plays drums about as well, which is to say he doesn’t.”
“The old stuff, the old stuff,” Ted said.
“You’re only as good as your last drum fill, dear.”
Ted laughed and agreed. “Times change.”
“You’re not kidding,” she said. “I found lines around my eyes the other day. We need to change that bathroom mirror before I break it.”
“Your lines are beautiful,” Ted chuckled, “all of them.” He slid his hand over and squeezed her inner thigh playfully. She swatted his hand and giggled.
“Eyes on the road, Romeo.”
Ted stared ahead dramatically, watching as the rain passed through the twin sets of lights ahead. “Just imagine what we’ll look like in twenty years,” he said. “I’ll be pushing sixty, likely bald, with a big beer belly hanging over my belt.”
“And I’ll be three-hundred pounds with a big old ass to match.”
“You’ll still be beautiful,” he said. “More to love.”
She slapped his arm and snorted laughter. Her face wrinkled as the radio switched to an old Lynyrd Skynyrd song. She reached out to switch the station as Ted grabbed her hand and pulled it away.
“No you don’t,” he said. “You never change Skynyrd.”
“I’ve heard this song a million times,” she said.
“And one million and one will be just as good.” Ted turned the knob slightly and sang along to “Simple Man” discordantly. Susan laughed and covered her ears.
“Keep your day job, this one isn’t working out.”
The Cuda turned a sharp corner, the rear tires hydroplaning in a deep puddle. Susan grabbed the door handle and pressed her feet tightly to the floor as Ted let off the accelerator. The skid stopped; Ted continued on at a slightly slower pace.
“It’s getting bad out here,” he said.
“Bad? Are you trying to kill us?”
“No worries, I know how to drive.”
“Slow down, you know I hate this road.”
“Already done Suzie dear. Relax. We’ll be at the lodge in fifteen minutes and you can drown your sorrows in a bottle of wine.”
“We can share a bottle,” she said, “or two.”
“Whatever you like. We have a week without worry or responsibility.”
The Cuda hit another deep puddle and slid across the road. This time, Ted over-corrected and swung the car into the opposite lane. Susan moaned, reaching out for the dashboard, as the vehicle swung around, tires squealing on the wet road. The Cuda punched through the guardrail at forty-five miles an hour; the front of the car crumpled as the hood swung up, smashing into the windshield and cracking it in a series of thick lines. Susan felt herself lift from her seat as the car soared into open space. Branches scraped the undercarriage and thumped loudly against the doors. She watched as a large branch reached out and removed the mirror from the outside of her door. The engine raced.
She heard Ted shouting next to her, turned and watched as he gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles. Everything ran in slow motion as the car bounced through the trees in a cacophony of screaming metal and breaking glass. The weight of the engine pulled the front of the car down, turning it into a speeding missile, the G-force pushing Susan back into her seat. She lost consciousness even before the Cuda slammed into the forest floor with a final, loud crump.
Susan sank down…
Deeper, deeper, deeper into darkness.
Susan opened her eyes and looked at the shattered interior of the car. It wasn’t her husband’s Barracuda, it was her roommate Barron’s Toyota Tercel. It wasn’t 2017, but 1999.
The steaming Toyota sat crookedly, down the embankment along the passing lane of Interstate 81 South. Susan and Barron were on their way to a Spin Doctors concert in Wilkes-Barre when they were pushed off the road by a swerving eighteen-wheeler, forcing them down the grassy stretch between the oncoming lanes. The Toyota slammed into a tree, popping the airbags, causing Susan to black-out at the moment of impact.
They’d been planning the trip for months, Barron having purchased tickets the day they went on sale. The band’s popularity had waned since the early nineties, but Barron remained one of their most faithful fans, seeing them several times a year on each of their tours. Susan remembered “Two Princes” from the radio, but was ignorant of most of the band’s recorded output, she’d only gone because Barron wouldn’t let her hear the end of it.
“You’re going to love it,” Barron had said. “Their singer’s last name is my first name,” she’d squeal, “and he’s so sexy.”
“It’s the band with the bee girl in their video, right?” Susan asked.
“No, no, no! Bleck! That was Blind Melon! They’re garbage!”
Barron took her music seriously.
The band’s latest album was on the car’s CD player when it careened off the side of the highway; Barron had been singing along loudly when the trailer merged into their lane, pushing them onto the rocky shoulder. It all literally went downhill from there.
When Susan came to, she pushed the deflated airbag out of the way and looked down, taking stock, rubbing her hands over her legs, her arms, her ribs, making sure she was still in one piece. She was going to be sore for a while, and likely have a hell of a headache, but otherwise she seemed fine.
“Where’d you learn how to drive?” Susan croaked, looking over at Barron.
Barron didn’t respond, didn’t move. Her eyes were wide open and the side of her head bulged freakishly. A thin trickle of blood ran from her nostrils; her mouth was open in a final, silent shout.
“Oh, Barron, no,” Susan said shakily. “No, no, you can’t.”
Susan reached out a trembling hand and touched Barron’s arm. She hissed and pulled away, tucking her arm close to her chest. Barron’s skin had an unfamiliar texture, if felt wrong. Cool. Lifeless.
“Oh, no. No, no, I don’t fucking accept this,” Susan screamed. “Wake up, damn you. Wake up, please,” she cried, “we’re going to be late for the concert. The singer is so damn cute.”
Barron’s eyes stared as blood dried on her chin. She wasn’t waking up ever again.
Susan hugged herself and wailed piercingly. She hadn’t even known Barron before college, but in the short time they shared a room, they’d gotten close. Almost like sisters. This was unacceptable.
“Move goddamn you,” Susan shouted. “You’re not dead! Stop playing around. You can’t be dead.”
Barron didn’t move. Barron was dead. No amount of cajoling would change that.
Susan grabbed Barron’s shoulder and shook her; Barron’s head tilted and thumped against the broken driver’s side window, resting in the crater her skull had formed during the collision. Susan screamed again and looked away from her friend’s misshapen skull. She had a sudden urge to vomit.
“Ma’am,” a voice shouted. “Ma’am, can you hear me?”
Susan turned her head slowly and peered at the man through her window. An EMT gazed at her through the glass as pulsing red and blue lights bombarded her blurred vision, making everything look like it was viewed through a kaleidoscope.
Her trip to the hospital was lost in a daze, the treatment of cuts and abrasions forgotten, the concerned faces of her family watching over her felt like a dream.
Only when Ted arrived did she feel again. She held him tightly, cried on his shoulder, asked him question he could never answer. She needed him, needed to feel his warmth, his comforting hands on her fevered skin. She’d never needed anything so much in her entire life.
Ted didn’t leave her side.
Susan struggled with classes the following semester, never quite able to clear her mind of the accident and of Barron’s eyes staring lifelessly into the world beyond. It haunted her nights and caused her days to run together into an endless swamp of exhaustion. She couldn’t step foot into a vehicle for three months after the accident without trembling uncontrollably and hiding her eyes in the crook of her arm.
Her license expired in 2002 and she never got another. Her days of driving were over. Call it fear, call it PTSD, call it superstitious nonsense; whatever it was, it was final.
And fuck the Spin Doctors for being the soundtrack to her nightmare. She never liked them anyway.
Thank God for Ted. His selflessness, his calming voice, his devotion to bringing her back from the precipice of her depression.
When Ted proposed to her in May of 2000, she shouted ‘yes’ before he could stand from bended knee. Yes she’d marry him, love him, cherish him, until death did them part.
In seventeen years, she’d never regretted her decision for a single second. Her love ran deep, like the pure, cold waters flowing through the aquifer.
It was indestructible.
Ted and Susan forever.
Ted lifted his head and groggily looked through the broken window. The Barracuda was little more than twisted scrap. One headlight stared drunkenly into the darkened forest, illuminating a small patch of wet brush. Beyond that, the forest was pitch black.
He jumped at the realization of what had happened and turned to Susan, his neck sending fingers of pain down his back. He fought back a cry and reached a bloody hand out to his wife, rubbing her cheek lightly with his fingertips.
“Susan? Susan are you okay?”
Her eyes fluttered open and her mouth turned down in a rictus of pain. She hissed through swollen lips and looked over at Ted, who was now grinning happily. It could have been worse.
“Are you hurt?” Ted asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said, “but I can’t move my legs. They’re trapped beneath the dash.” She tried to pull them from beneath the dashboard, but they were pinned between it and the crumpled firewall. Ted nodded. It was the same on his end. To add to his confinement, the steering wheel had been pushed back, leaving only inches between it and his chest. The radio was spitting nothing but static; the engine pinged and hissed as it cooled, giving off thick clouds of steam that hung in the air above the crash site. Fat raindrops pattered on the roof as they fell from the thick canopy above.
“Oh my God, I’m sorry Susan, I’m so sorry. I should have listened, I should have slowed down.”
“There’s no point being sorry now, what’s done is done. We need to figure out how the hell we’re getting out of here.”
Todd grunted and pulled on his legs, trying to free them. There was some give, but not nearly enough. He banged the steering wheel with his palms and cursed under his breath.
“Stay calm, dear. Panicking isn’t going to get us anywhere.”
“Says the woman who’s afraid to drive.”
Susan shrugged and offered a thin smile.
The lone remaining headlight flickered and went out with a pop.
Ted groaned and put his head in his hands. “Goddammit,” he uttered. “Goddammit to Hell.”
“You’ve always been a man of such profound thought,” Susan laughed.
“Are you seriously making jokes right now? You realize we’re trapped down here, right? That we’re probably forty feet below the road?”
“I know that,” she said, “but someone is going to see the broken guardrail and know that we’re down here.”
“Would you like me to scream and carry on?”
“Obviously not,” he said. “Save your breath. No one would hear you anyway.”
“My head is throbbing,” Susan moaned. She reached up and rubbed her forehead, her fingers came away covered in a thin coating of blood. “I think I might have hit the dash.”
“Oh, Suzie, I’m so sorry. It’s my fault we’re down here.”
“I’m not blaming you,” Susan said.
“Well I’m blaming myself. I should have slowed down or pulled over. I thought we could beat the rain and get to the lodge before dark, but I was wrong.”
They sat in silence and listened to the rain. It was soothing. Ted wanted to close his eyes and let the sound take him away, down into merciful sleep, but his common sense told him that closing his eyes was the wrong thing to do. If he had a concussion or some other head injury, closing his eyes could mean they’d never open again. He cleared his throat and opened his eyes wide to stave off his sudden exhaustion.
“The Cuda is totaled,” he sulked.
“I know baby, I’m sorry, but we can always get another car.”
“Not this one,” he said. “This one is special.”
Susan nodded. Ted worked on restoring the Barracuda for the better part of a decade, buying parts when he could afford them, spending most of his free time in the garage, working in there on his days off, covered in grease and sweat, knuckles bloody.
It had been a bone of contention between them for some time.
Ted had been looking for a classic car to restore ever since he was in high school. The problem was always money. Either he found well-kept or restored models whose owners had unrealistic ideas of worth, or they were in such terrible shape, they’d have to be rebuilt from the frame up. The Barracuda was somewhere in the middle.
The black interior was untouched, and apart from torn rear seats and a busted speedometer, wouldn’t require a lot of labor. For a vehicle that had rolled off the assembly line in 1970, Ted thought this was a great selling point. The exterior was another matter. Rust on top of rust, missing taillights, dual exhaust that looked like it had been run over by a tank. The front bumper and grill were missing entirely; the rear window had a nest of spider-webbed cracks; dents and dings and gouges peppered every inch of the body. The hefty 383, with four-barrel carb under the hood, hadn’t turned over in a decade.
“Tell me you didn’t pay a lot for this heap!” Susan moaned as she entered the garage.
“What do you consider a lot?” Ted asked, grinning.
“I’m thinking a pack of cigarettes and a case of Miller should have covered it.” She kicked the flat rear tire and a shower of rust rained down from the wheel well and onto the concrete floor. “My Lord,” she sighed. “The first strong breeze and this thing is going to blow away in the wind.”
“Not at all,” Ted exclaimed. “This is fine, Detroit rolling steel.”
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be rolling anywhere,” Susan said, “unless it’s on the back of a flatbed.”
Ted waved her off and circled the car, a gleam in his eye. He ran his hands over the faded and pitted paint, once called Jamaican Blue Metallic.
“No one likes a smart ass, Suzie.”
“No one likes an impulse buyer, either,” she retorted, “except maybe the guy who took your money and laughed all the way to the bank.”
“What do you know about cars anyway? You won’t even get your license.”
“That’s not fair,” she muttered.
She was right, it wasn’t fair. After what happened to her, Ted was surprised she’d even step foot in a car again. He walked around the Plymouth’s hood and hugged her tightly, rubbing her back.
“I’m sorry, you’re right, that wasn’t fair. I’m just so excited,” he said. “I’ve wanted a classic for as long as I can remember.”
“I know, I’m sorry too.”
“My father used to have an Impala, an old one, a ‘64 I think. Cherry red, white interior. I loved that car when I was kid and always assumed one day it would be mine. I came home from school one day and it was gone, and in its place was a brand new Buick Skyhawk. A fucking Skyhawk! Who does that? From that moment on, I knew I wanted some old muscle, not some four-cylinder box.”
“Does it make you happy?” Susan asked. She pushed him away at arm’s length and looked him in the eyes.
“Well, yeah,” Ted said. “It’ll make me happier when it’s finished.”
“This isn’t going to be another of your projects that sits and collects dust, is it? Like the shelves you’ve been meaning to hang in the back bedroom for two years.”
“No, no, this is different. This will be something we’ll be proud of. We can take it up to Pine Lakes every year, show it off to the old couples.”
Susan laughed and looked at the car again. There were some pretty lines buried beneath all that rust and dented metal. “By the time you finish it, we’ll be the old couple.”
“That’s okay isn’t it? At least we can grow old gracefully, and we’ll have a sick ride.” Ted leaned in and kissed Susan on the lips, lingering only briefly before going back to poke and prod at his purchase.
Ted didn’t finish the restoration until ten years later, almost to the day. The Barracuda could have been a show car. The original blue paint had been matched as closely as possible; the chrome gleamed; the 383 growled like an angry lion. Ted drove them around town, windows down, smiling as people watched them pass, waving, gawking at the beauty he’d resurrected from the grave.
Ted had gotten the sick ride he always wanted.
“You never told me how much you paid for this thing,” Susan said.
“What? Does it matter now? It’s a total write-off,” Ted replied. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, pulling at his legs again, hoping he could free up enough wiggle room to get out of the crumpled vehicle. He felt his left foot move a little before giving up his struggles. He needed to keep up his energy if they were going to get through this.
“Are you okay?” Susan asked.
“Yeah, I think so, I’m just trying to free my legs. Can’t you?”
Susan tried again to no avail. She was trapped.
“It’s getting cold,” she said, shivering.
“Lucky it’s not December, or they’d find two icicles down here.” Ted turned as much as he could and looked into the back seat. A black travel bag had slid onto the floor behind Susan’s seat. Stretching, he grabbed the handle with his fingers and pulled it closer, unzipping the bag and pulling out Susan’s hooded sweatshirt. He unfolded it and tucked it around her upper body. She smiled appreciatively.
“Thank you, babe,” she said.
Ted grunted. He was irritated. Not at Susan, not at the cold, at the entire miserable situation. He’d been driving since he was sixteen; he should have never lost control of the Cuda, it was an amateur mistake, he was above that.
“I guess we really do have to figure out how we’re getting out of here,” Ted said. “Our injuries don’t seem life threatening, but people have died like this before. Do you remember? A few years back? They found that car off the road in the Poconos?”
“Do you really think this is the best conversation to be having right now?” Susan asked.
“Yes, I do. We have to know what we’re up against here.”
“We’re trapped in a fucking car in a rainstorm,” she said angrily. “That’s what we’re up against.”
“We don’t have food or water,” Ted said sternly. “Do you want to die of thirst forty feet from the road?”
Susan grumbled and turned away. There was nothing to see outside. The forest was pitch black. “I’ll listen to suggestions,” she said.
“At least one of us has to get out,” he said. “Go for help.”
“Brilliant!” Susan shouted. “Did you think of that one off the top of your head? It just came to you?”
“You know what, Sue? You don’t have to be a jerk about it.”
Ted called her Susan most of the time, and Suzie when he was feeling playful or excited. Calling her Sue meant he was pissed off. He had other words he used when he was really pissed off.
Ted shifted in his seat and dug a hand into his pocket, feeling for his cell phone. It hadn’t even crossed his mind. Ted wasn’t what one would call a ‘tech head.’ He didn’t have a cell phone of any kind until he was nearly thirty years old, and only because Susan had bought him one and made him carry it. He didn’t like being connected to everything all at once. His father had been the same way when Ted was growing up. They didn’t have a microwave until the mid-nineties; the same applied to their telephone, which still had a dial ten years earlier. His father thought answering machines were the most ridiculous invention ever. ‘If people have something important to say,’ he’d grumble, ‘they can just call back.’
Although agreeing with his father on technology, he was suddenly thrilled that Susan had made him carry the cell phone. It was likely the only thing that would get them out of there.
“Son of a bitch,” Ted spat. The screen on his Samsung was shattered; the phone wouldn’t even turn on. “A lot of good a cell phone does when it breaks so damn easily.”
“We were in a car accident.” Susan spoke slowly, as if to a child. “I told you a dozen times not to keep your phone in your front pocket. I’m surprised it wasn’t broken before now.”
“Fine, you were right. Okay? Can we please stop picking at each other and figure this out?” Susan nodded. Ted was right. Arguing over petty bullshit wasn’t going to accomplish anything. She reached out and put her hand on Ted’s arm. He was trembling. He patted her hand, apologized, and kissed her on the cheek
“Can you reach into my bag again?” she asked. “My phone is in there, it might had survived the crash.”
Ted quickly turned and rifled through the travel bag, pulling out a few bags of unsalted peanuts and a digital camera, before resting his hand on the cool plastic of her cell phone.
He gave it a cursory glance to make sure it was undamaged and handed it to her. She turned the phone on and waited. It chimed musically as the screen came to life. The phone didn’t have great service, but more than enough to connect a call.
“I’ll call Beth,” she said. Beth was one of her best friends, and likely the closest to the accident scene. She pressed the ‘call’ button and listened as someone picked up on the other end almost immediately.
“Beth,” Susan shouted. “Oh, I’m so glad to hear your voice. Ted and I were in a car accident. I need you to call the police.”
“Hello?” Beth repeated. “Is anyone there?”
“Beth? Yes I’m here! Did you hear me? Call the police. Tell them we’re in the woods off the Old Branson Road, about fifteen miles south of the Pine Lakes Resort. Did you get that? Pine Lakes.”
“Joe? If this is you screwing around, so help me God.”
Joe was Beth’s most recent ex-boyfriend, one very fond of kinky sex and using his hands to make a point. He’d been calling her dozens of times a day for the last two weeks, sometimes pleading, sometimes screaming and threatening. Beth was just about ready to change her number.
“It’s Susan, not Joe,” she shouted. “Aren’t you hearing what I’m saying?”
“I can hear you breathing you sick bastard,” Beth cried. “Don’t call me again, I mean it!”
The line went dead.
“Beth? Beth? Goddammit!”
“What’s wrong?” Ted asked.
“She couldn’t hear me. She hung up.”
Susan re-dialed the number and listened to it ring. And ring. And ring. Eventually it went to a computerized message letting Susan know that Beth’s inbox was full. “Shit!”
“Call someone else,” Ted said. “Call your parents, call my parents, call Wal-Mart, just get us the hell out of here. Better yet, call 911.”
“My God, I didn’t even think of that,” she laughed nervously. She dialed the emergency number and waited for the operator to pick up. It rang three times, four times, five, and no one answered. “What the hell is wrong with this thing?” she shouted.
“What’s happening?” Ted asked.
“It’s not connecting. It rings but no one answers.”
“Give it to me,” Ted said, reaching toward her. Susan put the phone in his hand and sighed loudly.
“Do you think I don’t know how to use a phone?”
“I didn’t say that,” he replied. “Maybe it’s muted or something.” Ted pressed a few buttons, checked the phone’s settings, looked at the signal strength, and dialed his parents’ number.
He listened to it ring. No one picked up and there was no machine to leave a message.
He cursed under his breath and called his friend Harold. Harold was always home. He was forty years old, a life-long pothead, and a die-hard video-gamer. He only left his couch to get beer or answer the door for the pizza delivery man. He hadn’t worked in a decade, ever since he tore his shoulder to hell in a job-related injury. Harold wasn’t faking, his shoulder was still a mess, which gave him an excuse whenever anyone asked him about his affection for sticky bud.
Harold’s voicemail picked up after three rings.
“Harry it’s Ted, listen carefully. We wrecked the Cuda on Old Branson Road on the way to Pine Lakes. We’re about fifteen, twenty minutes south of the resort. We’re off the road and we’re trapped in the car. For some reason, Suzie’s phone isn’t connecting with 911, so we need you to let someone know we’re here. We’re not hurt bad, but we can’t get out. Call me the second you get this. Better yet, call 911 first, then call me back.”
Ted disconnected the call and looked at the screen. The signal was still good and the battery was almost fully charged. He was confident it wouldn’t take long to hear from Harold. If he and Susan could get the hell out of the woods before morning, they could put this entire unfortunate affair behind them. The sooner the better.
“Harry will come through,” Ted said. “He’s probably just taking a shit or something.”
“Lovely,” Susan said, grimacing.
The phone chirped in Ted’s hand, signaling that a voicemail had been left.
“Why didn’t it ring?” Ted asked.
“I don’t know, it’s never done that before. Maybe it was damaged in the crash.”
Ted put the phone on ‘speaker’ and tapped the button to check the voicemail. A few seconds later, Harold’s friendly, but completely stoned drawl filled the car.
“Hey man,” Harold’s voice spoke, “I don’t know if something’s wrong with your phone, bro, but I think I just got some weird message from your old lady.” Harold’s voice went silent, almost like he was waiting for a response before realizing he was talking to an answering machine. “Like, I think it was her number, man, but the message was all messed up. Like static. It sounded like there was a voice in there, but it was super far away.” Another pause. “Anyway, call me back when you get this. I’ll be playing the new ‘Resident Evil’ game. Dude! Sick!” Harold laughed and the message ended abruptly.
Susan shook her head and rolled her eyes. She wasn’t one of Harold’s biggest fans. She always thought he was a little on the odd side. A nice enough guy, but he still acted like a teenager.
Ted mumbled something nasty under his breath and dialed Harold’s number again. On the second ring, Harold answered.
“Dude? Is that you? What’s up with the…”
The line went dead.
Ted pulled the phone away from his face and looked at it with a frown; the screen had gone dark.
“What the fuck?” he shouted. “Piece of crap!”
“Calm down,” Susan said. “Give it to me.” Ted handed it over and crossed his arms, agitated and acting like a petulant child. Susan nearly laughed, but figured if she did it would only upset him more. She touched the phone’s screen, pressed the button to turn the phone on or off, even removed the battery and tried to restart the device. Nothing. It was completely dead.
“That’s just great,” Ted said. “Now what are we going to do?”
That’s when they saw the lights in the forest.
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