It was just after sunset and wispy, late-Fall mist was forming in the fields surrounding Devil’s Lake. But Nick Bain had neither the time nor opportunity to appreciate being surrounded by Mother Nature’s beauteous sights. His heart was thumping through his shirt, each beat pounding inside his chest like a hammer trying to break out of his body.
Locked in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse survival with a frightening opponent, Nick’s survival instincts were stretched to the absolute limit. He gave his rear-view mirror as much attention as he dared. Behind him, a battered old Mack dump truck was glued to his rear bumper. Its blazing headlights illuminated the Jeep Cherokee’s interior, the lights reflecting off the mirror, temporarily blinding Nick as he tried to escape the clutches of a madman in a 12-ton truck.
As Nick’s wife, Maddie, slept peacefully by his side, he needed to be ultra-alert if they were going to withstand an onslaught from a deadly adversary who outweighed and out-powered them. It struck him that nothing would stop the truck from forcing them off the road.
Was it a prophecy that the suitably named “Purgatory Road” would be the stage for this life-or-death battle? Who knows? But one lapse of concentration, one fatal error, and this could be Nick and Maddie Bain’s last sunset…
“Where the hell are we? We should be on the highway by now.”
Nick Bain was pissed. He was tired, frustrated and angry. His wife, Maddie, was asleep in the passenger seat next to him and was proving to be no use as a navigator. She was drunk.
As the miles drummed under the Jeep Cherokee’s wheels, his mind drifted to a conversation from a few weeks ago.
“No need to get a hotel, Nick. We’ll save the money,” Maddie had said. That was typical Maddie, always trying to save a dime. “We’ll take my Jeep, no need to take your gas-heavy Audi.
“You drive us from home to the wedding in the morning. We’ll enjoy the ceremony and reception and I’ll drive back. It’s not worth staying overnight, it’s not much more than a three-hour drive. This way we can sleep in our own bed at night and have a lazy Sunday to recuperate.”
It was a good plan, in theory, but that was before Maddie started to hit the free wine with her old school and college friends…
“Look at you,” he sneered. “You acted like an irresponsible child and now I’ve got to take care of your mess. I really wish I’d had a few beers, that way we’d have to have stayed.”
As the sun began to set behind the trees, he stopped at the side of the road and opened up the back of the Jeep so he could take a look at a map of the area.
“I wouldn’t be lost if we had the Audi’s GPS to guide us,” he cursed.
Using his cell phone as a torch, Nick tried to work out how he had missed the highway turn and where he was now. After a few minutes, he had his location pinpointed. A couple of miles up the road should be a turning for Route 33. Once he made the turn, it should be around 10 miles to a town called Misery Springs and the on ramp for the highway.
“Misery. That sounds about right,” he laughed as Maddie woke up and slurred her way through asking where they were and why they had stopped.
He explained they were lost and said he would drive back to Underwood Falls and find a room for the night if he had read the map wrong and there was no turning.
Before folding the map away, Nick fired up the Internet on his phone to see what accommodation there may be in the area. Google listed a “Pink Flamingo” motel on Route 33, but further checking showed the place had been closed for a number of years.
The motel became popular spot for paranormal investigators looking for the ghostly apparition of Scarlet, also known as “The Scarlet Lady.” She owned the motel and ran the place as a brothel and was viciously killed by a jealous lover. Scarlet’s restless spirit is reported to have been seen standing near the site of the Pink Flamingo, her scarlet cape draped around her shoulders.
Setting off into the growing darkness, Nick breathed a sigh of relief as the Jeep’s headlights reflected off a road sign indicating that Route 33 was a half mile away and the next right-hand turn. As he rounded the corner, he could see another – somewhat home-made – road sign that read Purgatory Road.
“Sounds like a fun place to travel. Just our luck.”
“What?” A sleepy Maddie asked.
“Never mind, go to sleep. You may as well. The highway’s just a few miles ahead now.”
There was a marker for Foundry Lane, a short way along Purgatory Road. Now he could see he was on the right road as it had been marked on the map. There was an abandoned foundry at the bottom of the lane according to the Internet. Satisfied he was going the right direction, he opened his window to let in some refreshing cool air to help him stay alert on the unknown road before reaching the monotony of the highway.
A thick layer of mist enveloped the fields up ahead. “That must be the area around Devil’s Lake,” he said to himself. There was no point trying to make conversation with Maddie. She was fast asleep and snoring.
Through the open window he could hear the roar of a diesel engine closing in behind him.
“Where did that come from?” he said to himself. “It looks like a big-ass truck. Whatever it is, it came from out of nowhere and it’s hauling ass.”
Twin beams of bright light pierced the thickening mist and grew larger in the Jeep’s rear-view mirror. The headlights drew closer and closer, seemingly inches away from Nick’s tailgate.
The truck closed the gap between the vehicles even more. Its twin smokestacks belching diesel fumes into the air. Whoever was behind the wheel began driving erratically, moving sharply from left to right, and then back on the rear bumper of the Jeep and showed no signs of slowing down.
“Maddie, wake up. Maddie! There’s some idiot trying to hit us.”
Maddie stirred dreamily in her seat, opening her eyes slowly to see the interior of the Jeep full of light from the truck.
“What the fuck! Nick, what’s happening?”
“No idea,” Nick gasped as his eyes darted between the road ahead and his rear-view mirror. “The truck came through the mist, from out of nowhere and then it was on top of me. Hang on.”
Any traces of being drunk quickly disappeared from Maddie’s body as her veins overflowed with adrenalin.
“Come on babe, gun it. Get us the hell out of here. Please!”
“Here it comes again.” Maddie could barely hear Nick over the deafening roar of the diesel engine behind them. It sounded like it was part of their car. They had to get away from the maniac who wanted to hurt them, or worse…
Nick pressed the gas pedal as much as he dared, the Jeep reached 70mph as a tight corner approached. Hitting the bend, the Jeep’s front wheels scrabbled for grip on the damp, mist-covered road. He could feel the car wanting to push forward, the front tires not wanting to turn. As it pushed further across the road, the tires found some adhesion and somehow got them through the corner with two wheels on the road and two in the grass verge.
Nick’s hands shook at the wheel, his face white with fear. He checked his mirror and the lights had disappeared.
“Shit, that was too close,” he said, breathing a small sigh of relief.
“It’s gone, Nick. But where did it go? A truck can’t just vanish like that. I’m so sorry. If I hadn’t gotten drunk, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Maddie, let’s just get away from here and talk about it after.”
Nick’s pulse rate was slowly settling back to normal when the lights appeared again.
“It’s back,” he exhaled.
Nick tensed in his seat immediately as the truck closed the gap between them almost instantly. It sat on the Jeep’s tail separated by fractions of an inch, blasting its air horn long and loud. They could feel the terror rising as the cacophonous roar of the engine shook through their bodies. Blood pumping wildly through his veins, Nick tried to ignore the truck as he stared at the unknown road ahead.
Maddie became traumatized by the ordeal, reduced to uncontrollable hysterical, screaming. “Make it stop, Nick. It’s trying to drive straight through us. It wants to make us crash. It wants to kill us!”
Nick drove as fast as he dared on the damp roads. Eking every bit of horsepower out of the Jeep’s four-cylinder engine – and still regretting not making the trip in his better handling and more powerful Audi instead of Maddie’s soccer-mom special – he hit the gas as a straight section of asphalt unfolded in front of him. The roadside trees fused into blurs as he flashed by them.
“Maybe I can outrun him and put some distance between us.”
Tears streaming down her face, Maddie swiveled around in her seat. “He’s still there, Nick. It’s no good. I don’t want to die.”
The truck was still sitting on their tail.
“Come on, faster, faster you bastard!” Nick pressed the gas pedal so hard he believed his foot would punch through the firewall.
The truck’s horn blasted loudly behind them again, startling Maddie. Her body shook with fear as she prayed for their lives to be spared.
“I love you, Nick,” she whispered as the speedometer hit 90mph.
“I love you, Maddie, but tell me and show me when we’ve shook this fucking moron off our ass and we’re on the safety of the highway.”
His eyes darted from the rear-view to the door mirrors and straight ahead as sweat ran down his face, darkening the blue of his dress shirt collar.
No more sounds escaped Nick’s mouth as the back end of the Jeep slewed to the left, snapped to the right and then to the left and back like a 4,000-pound pendulum. He fought the car’s vicious fishtailing, working the wheel right and left against the slide, his feet dancing on the gas pedal like a ballerina, easing the power on and off to try and settle the car back into a straight line.
“He hit us, Nick. He fucking hit us!” Maddie screamed, rewriting the definition of fear and hysteria.
The tension in Nick’s body eased microscopically as he successfully fought the lumbering Jeep straight. He stared through the mist enveloping them, hoping for a glimpse of the abandoned motel, wondering if he could dive into the parking lot – if there was one left – do an about turn and then get the hell off Route 33 before the truck could do a 180 and follow them.
It appeared to be the only plan that might work right up to the moment the truck hit them again, this time with real force. The truck had tired of playing and had moved in for the kill. Nick had no answer this time as the Jeep lurched violently across the road.
It teetered on the edge of grip, swerving wildly before the two left side wheels dug into the tarmac, flipping the Jeep sideways into a series of horrifying rolls. Nick and Maddie’s world instantly became a savage rollercoaster ride from hell – wet tarmac, dark sky, wet tarmac, dark sky…
The sound of the Jeep’s roof battering the ground was a concerto of grinding metallic terror – a symphony of pain and destruction – echoing through the interior, deafening Maddie’s screams.
“Hold on,” Nick urged.
His torso and head smashed against the driver’s door, his arms flailing, searching for something to brace himself against the impact. The noise around them changed to a softer-sounding thud. The Jeep had rolled across the blacktop onto the soft grass at the side of the road and the tattered remains of the Jeep’s roof cut into the dampening soil.
“Shit, please God, don’t let us roll into the lake,” Nick prayed as the barrage continued around them, shattering the windshield into a crazed pattern of mayhem. The encounter left him feeling like his body had been beaten with a large hammer. The seatbelt scraped across his chest, adding smears of warm red blood to the darkening pools of sweat on his shirt.
Maddie barely had time to react before the airbags pushed her backward and sideways. The Jeep continued tumbling over and over before its kinetic energy dissipated and came to a stop on its roof, leaving them hanging upside down, held in place by their seatbelts.
The silence was an eerie contrast to the pandemonium they had just been through. The only sounds were the whirring of the still-spinning wheels above them, gasoline dripping and the radio playing “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed. The violence of the crash must have somehow turned the radio on.
“Nick, are you okay? It’s over. The truck’s gone.” Maddie could feel the coppery punch of blood pooling in her mouth as she spoke. She could feel it sticking to her teeth and coating her tongue.
“When we get home we’re going to play this song every day,” Nick moaned, fighting pain in every sinew of his body. His lungs felt like they were caving in as he spoke.
“We’ve got to get out of here and try and get help, Maddie. Can you move?”
“I think so. I hurt so much,” she winced in pain as she spoke.
“I’m going to try and come around to help you out.”
Nick hit the release on his belt and dropped down onto his neck and shoulder with a painful thud, crawling unsteadily out of the broken window. His body was broken, his head was swimming, his eyesight was blurred and his ears were full of hissing sounds.
He could just make out a thin line of flames on the road where gas had ignited as they crashed. The smell of gasoline surrounded him. Knowing the Jeep could go up in flames at any moment, he turned back to face it. It didn’t even look like a Jeep any more. It was a metal skeleton – no glass, panels missing and Maddie hanging upside down.
Blood was dripping down from her mouth onto her dress and running down the remaining white bodywork. “She was so beautiful at the wedding,” he cried, holding back the tears as he urged his legs to fight the pain surging through them. Her eyes were closed, and her flowing dark hair was matted with rusty-red blood.
He tried to stand but his left leg was broken below the knee. Through his ripped pants he could see the skin torn open and white bone protruding through the laceration. Cold and trembling, he screamed into the mist shrouding the trees around them.
“C’mon Maddie, wake up. We’ve got to move.”
Nick crawled to the Jeep, using it to drag himself to his feet as best he could, red-hot pain searing through his body. He reached in to release his semi-conscious wife from her seatbelt, shielding her as best as he could from further pain as gravity took over. He held Maddie under her arms and gently pulling her away from the Jeep before falling down in a painful heap.
Crawling, Nick dragged Maddie to the side of the road where they both lay on their backs. The shattered remains of the Jeep exploded into a flaming inferno as the leaking gas tank ignited on the hot exhaust pipes.
“Another minute and we would’ve been in there. Let’s hope someone comes along and sees us,” Nick mumbled as he glanced down at his blood-soaked wife who was slowly regaining consciousness.
The darkness and thick evening mist shrouded them like a cold, wet blanket as they lay at the roadside trying to make sense of their predicament. Nick, now sitting upright, tried to keep Maddie warm as best he could by holding her close to his pain-racked body.
“What the hell just happened?” Maddie slurred, blood seeping from her lips.
“Don’t speak, babe. Save your strength.
“What the fuck?”
Ahead of them Nick could make out a shadowy figure moving, almost gliding, toward them from the other side of the road through the mist.
“Someone’s coming, Maddie. We’re going to be okay.”
There was a woman standing in front of them. She was wearing a red cape. Through Nick’s eyes she appeared almost transparent.
“Let me help you.” Her voice barely more than a whisper. “My name is Scarlet.”
Nick stared intently at the figure standing over him, thinking her glassy appearance was due to his eyesight. She almost merged with the mist as she spoke.
“Oh God. I know who you are.
“You’re the Scarlet Lady. You, you’re a ghost. You’re dead.”
“Yes I am. I’m here to help you. I’m your best hope of getting away before Bart comes back.”
“Who the fuck is Bart?” Maddie sputtered, spitting blood onto Scarlet’s cape.
“He’s the guy that just forced you off the road. He used to drive that truck making deliveries for the old foundry. One day he hit a patch of ice and skidded through the barrier into Devil’s Lake. The truck and his cadaver were never found.”
“Are you telling me we were just chased off the road by a ghost driving a phantom truck?” Nick struggled to his feet and fell back onto the ground.
“Yes, you were. You’re not the first to suffer at his hands.
“A few days before he died, Bart killed me. That was when I owned the Pink Flamingo. He used to come every Friday and spend his wages buying my services and drinking my whisky. He never used any of the other girls, just me. He believed I was his exclusive property.
“One Friday, in a fit of rage, he killed me because I made him wait while I was in one of the other rooms with another man. Now he haunts Route 33 chasing traffic. He’s an evil, disturbed spirit with a twisted mind that thinks people are coming to buy my body.
“Now, my friends, I have to move you somewhere safe so you can rest. I know just the place.”
Maddie helped Nick to his feet and they slowly shuffled across the road following Scarlet.
“Don’t look back for any reason. It’s for the best,” Scarlet instructed.
They limped across the road and as they reached the far side, despite Scarlet’s warning, Maddie could not help herself and turned to steal a glance back at the scene of destruction.
The blood pool in Maddie’s mouth formed bubbles on her lips as she spoke, “Nick, look.”
Nick turned to see the battered smoking remnants of the once-pristine vehicle surrounded by medical staff placing Maddie’s corpse into a body bag and laying it on the floor next to his lifeless, battered body…
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