Five hours alone in the car. It sounded like a new form of torture to Liz. What in the world had she been thinking when she agreed to this trip? She knew exactly what she had been thinking. She had been thinking about saving money. Of all the stupid times to be frugal! She should have skipped her new Coach bag instead. But no, that just wasn’t her style. At the time, driving to Lincoln hadn’t seemed like a big deal. I’ll get some books on tape and the time will fly by, she had told herself. Right. She had put off finding books until the day of the trip and by then, the library was out of everything except Real Estate books and books filled with war and carnage. No thank you! She decided to take her chances with the radio. She was a big girl, she had been driving for over a decade how. Surely she could pull off a little long distance trip without any problems. She was overreacting again. She took a deep breath and pulled her mind back to the task at hand. She watched the numbers fly by as the gas filled her tank. She did a mental checklist of everything she had brought. Map, waterbottles, snacks, cell phone and charger, and directions to the hotel. Her suitcase was filled with the necessary overnight gear and her current book of choice. Check, check and check. She was ready to go. Well, as ready and she would ever be. She grabbed her receipt for the gas, gave it a withering look and tossed it into the trash. She really didn’t want to remember how much she spent on gas. It was too depressing.
As she pulled out onto the freeway she looked at the clock. Right on time. That was a first for her. Her sisters would die of shock if she arrived anything less than half an hour late. It wasn’t that she tried to be late, something always seemed to come up and cause a delay. This time would be different. She had it all planned out. She had even planned a stop and potty break. She tried to think of the trip in little pieces instead of a whole pie to keep herself from panicking. The first leg of the trip was only a couple of hours. After two hours she should be a Dusky and would be stopping at Cracker Barrel to stretch her legs and get a bite to eat. She loved those little shops with their eclectic items. She was looking forward to her allotted fifteen minutes of browsing.
She flipped on the radio and hummed along as the flat Nebraska landscape flew by. So far so go. There was an 80’s music marathon on her favorite channel. It seemed the stars were aligning just for her!
She reached her stop without incident. In fact, it seemed like the hours had just flown by! She was surprised and frankly, pleased with herself for making it this far. She was tempted not to stop, but decided it would be best to stick to her plans. She parked the car in front of the inviting wooden rocking chairs out front and wandered into the shop. The dinner crowd was thinning out and the shop only had a few customers milling about. She did her fifteen minutes of browsing and headed back to the car.
The light was starting to fade when she turned back on to the freeway so she flipped on her headlights and put her sunglasses away. This trip wasn’t turning out to be so difficult after all, she mused. She turned up the radio and sang along.
After a few miles she looked at her directions. She knew there was a turn coming up and she wanted to make sure she didn’t miss it. Cutter road, exit 52. She watched the signs and saw that her exit was in two miles. She got over to the right so she would be ready. When Cutter appeared, she exited to the right and headed off to the east. This road wasn’t as brightly lit as the main freeway had been and there weren’t nearly as many cars. In fact, there weren’t any cars as far as Liz could see. This bothered her a little. The open, flat road in Nebraska isn’t the most exciting road in the world. Flat scenery and no cars would make it hard to not lapse into a doze. Falling asleep at the wheel was a fear of hers. Once, when she was a teenager, she had taken the family suburban out early in the morning to do a paper-route with her brother. She had been out late the night before and had only had a couple hours of sleep. The route was hard enough without being sleep deprived. As she was driving home, she had suddenly been shaken awake by her brother as she nearly ran into a tree in someone’s front yard. It had scared the daylights out of her then and had made her afraid of falling asleep at the wheel ever since.
She sighed and turned the radio up a few notches. Grateful for the familiar tunes and lyrics she could sing along too.
She found her mind wandering to family trips when she was young. The family had regularly traveled at night so the children could sleep. She remembered the gentle hum of the engine and the comforting murmur of her parents in the front seat talking. She and her sisters would snuggle up on their piles of pillows and blankets and doze, never worrying about their driver getting tired. Dad could drive for days. He was like a machine. Ah, those were the days.
She flicked her eyes to her rear view mirror and was surprised, and admittedly, relieved when she saw distant headlights behind her. Something to break up the monotony. She felt herself relax and wonder what other poor soul would be out on this forsaken stretch of road at this time of night. She would never know at this rate. They were miles behind her.
The night was fully on by now. The road was lit only by the headlights from her car and the winking reflectors down the center of the road. She flipped on her high beams and was glad there was no fog tonight.
At a small rise in the road, she noticed the distant headlights blink out and she went down the other side. There were no real hills here, only swells and valleys. Her boy friend had joked that there was only one tree in Nebraska, and you could see it for twenty miles. She kept checking her mirror waiting for the headlights behind her to reappear. When they finally did, they seemed much closer. Must be some speed racer in a big hurry, she thought to herself. She wasn’t a strict speed limit abider, but she had her limits. No more than five miles over the posted speed, was her motto. She had never had a speeding ticket and wanted to keep it that way. Besides, she wasn’t the daredevil type. She figured the people that put those speed limits in place knew what they were doing. It was safer to play by the rules.
The car behind her was getting closer. She wondered if it would be one of those speedy little red jobs with the darkened windows. She never understood how people could see out when she couldn’t see in. It must be one of those high tech things. It made her uncomfortable when she couldn’t see into a car. Kind of like looking at someone wearing sunglasses that were mirrored so she couldn’t see their eyes. It made her wonder if they were looking back at her. If they were even listening to her talk or if they had something to hide.
The car was really barreling down the road. It was only about a half a mile behind her now and coming up close. She kept an eye on the mirror waiting for it to dash into the other lane and blow past her, but it didn’t. She wondered if she should move into the other lane so it could pass her on the right, but dimissed that idea almost immediately. If her boyfriend knew she had thought that she would hear a lecture for sure. No, she would stay where she was. The other car would either slow down or pass her. To her surprise, the car came right up behind her and flashed it’s lights. What in the world? She flipped her left blinker on in what she thought was the universal sign for ‘go around me.’ The car stayed behind her and kept flashing. Maybe the driver of the other car had an aversion to driving on the left hand side of the street. She decided she just wouldn’t tell Hank about this. She slid the car over to the left lane and winced as she imagined Hank’s disapproving look. She expected the other car to breeze past, but instead, it got right behind her in the left lane and kept on flashing it’s lights.
Okay, this was some kind of prank. She was not in the mood for this. It was late, it was dark, it was the middle of nowhere, this was not a good time. She got back into the right hand lane and slowed down to force the other car to pass her. But before she could slow down enough, the car was again behind her flashing it’s lights.
Wasn’t this some kind of harassment? She decided to call 911 and at least report wreckless driving. The guy was riding her bumper! She dug through her purse with her right hand til she found her cell phone. She punched in 911 and send and waited. Nothing. She looked down at the phone and noticed that there was not a single bar. She was out of range for a signal. Great! Well, hopefully this yahoo would tire of his little game soon and get on with his trip. She decided to just ignore the other car and carry on with her one man 80’s concert. After a few miles of belting out Pat Benatar, she was scared out of her seat by a loud honking behind her. The dang car had started to honk and flash at her. As she looked back at it she was shocked to see a hand sticking out of the drivers window and waving at her. It seemed like the driver was trying to tell her to pull over. Riiiight. She had read all those emails her mom had sent her about people getting hijacked in their own cars. There was no way on this earth she was pulling over! She wasn’t stupid! She pushed the gas down and watched her speedometer climb to 80. She was getting sick of this.
The car behind her kept right on her tail. She was beginning to get a bit nervous. She still had about 45 minute till she would be in the outer city limits of Lincoln. She pushed the car up to 85 miles an hour and prayed she would get pulled over by a cop. At least she would have a good guy there! She felt the ragged edges of panic start to tickle her mind. This is crazy, she thought. Who does this? But, she didn’t really want to answer that question because all she could think about were the crazy people in all those movies she couldn’t stand to watch even the previews for. She didn’t like scarey stuff. She liked comedies and love stories with happy endings. She steered clear of things that went bump in the night. Heck, she still slept with her security blanket from when she was a kid if you must know. In fact, where was that packed. Pull yourself together, she snapped to her self! You are almost there. It is probably just some bored driver using me as a way to keep himself awake at the wheel. He probably means no harm and will keep on going long after I exit the freeway.
She started watching the mile markers with a fevered urgency. Counting the seconds between each one in a desperate voice. Five miles to go. Now three. Her hands were sweating on the steering wheel and her knuckles were white. The other car stayed with her, never wavering.
An eternity later, she was at her exit. She screamed the car off to the right and slammed on the breaks as she came to the red light. She started to take a deep breath as she slowed down. She closed her eyes and put her shaking fingers to her temples.
The knock on her window almost made her heart stop. She jumped so high in her seat her head hit the ceiling of the car. She starred in horror at the man standing next to her car and then started to scream. A high pitched, wailing, caught animal scream that seemed to her to fill the entire landscape. The man knocked again and this time held up something to the window. It was a gun! No, what is that? What the, ah heck. It was her wallet. She stopped screaming and looked again. Yes, it was her wallet. The one Hank had given her last Easter. What was this man doing with it? She cracked her window barely an inch. The man outside was talking. He was telling her how she had left the wallet at the shop and how he had jumped in his car and tried to catch her before she got too far. He kept asking her why she didn’t pull over when he flashed and honked at her? He tried to slip the wallet into the car through the tiny opening til she let the window down a bit more. The wallet fell onto her lap. She peeked through it quickly and noticed that everything was still there.
The man started walking back to his car. Liz called out to him to wait. He turned and she stuck a twenty dollar bill out the window. He smiled, turned back towards his car, climbed in and took off. She was left sitting at a green light shaking with relief.
Well, it wasn’t exactly the trip she had in mind when she set out, but she hadn’t fallen asleep at the wheel and she wasn’t late! Boy would she have a story to tell her sisters.