The rest stop was deserted. I sat in the car with my teenaged sister who
was thumbing through my CD collection. She spotted Blue Oyster Cult and plugged it into the stereo.
A light wind spiked rain on the windshield. I looked out the window. Dark
shadows of trees and shrubs swayed against the overbearing night. Kevin hadn't
made the run from the U-Haul to the restroom yet.
Foreboding guitar strings turned gothic with “Don't Fear the Reaper.”
Wendy cranked the music way up.
I reached down and turned the knob down low. Wendy rolled her eyes at me
and said, "I love this song. So sexy."
"Since when is death coming to get you sexy?" I asked.
"Like, since the beginning of time," replied Wendy.
I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. "It's creepy here, I hope he hurries."
Well, that was only a half-truth, what I'd really liked is to plunge the shifter into reverse and dash out of the dark parking
lot. I'd rather he did his business on the side of the highway.
I grabbed the walkie-talkie from the dash. "Kevin, are you going to go or
"Yeah, just wiping the dog slobber off my face. Ajax wants out."
I sighed. That would take that much longer. I felt down my seat and touched
the butt of the .22 pistol Kevin had given me for my birthday. He didn't know I had brought it along.
"This place is totally freakin' me out, so dark. The trees look scary," Wendy
The rain drizzled to a stop. A slow and steady drip tapped on the roof of
the car, reminding me of something I heard at a slumber party.
"Ajax, come here boy!" Kevin said. Looking through the rearview mirror, I
saw the Golden's fluffy coat bolting from one tree to the next and Kevin's lean, dark figure chasing after him.
"Are you sure you don't have to go?" I asked Wendy.
"Jo, are you kidding? I'm not going out there!"
"Yeah." I nodded.
"Can I have it?" Wendy nodded toward the walkie-talkie.
"Oh, sure." I handed it over.
"Kevin? Hey, Kevin! Speed it up, willya?"
Static answered back.
"He must have left it," I said.
"Cheer up, Jo, you look so worried." Wendy turned her back to me and blew
on the window. She moved her fingers along the fogged glass.
"Yeah, this place just gives me a bad feeling. And that tapping on the roof,
it reminds me of a story I heard when I was a kid."
"It's a scary story, right? I like, so
love scary stories. Tell me."
That was true, she had always begged me to tell chilling bedtime stories
when most little girls wanted “happy ending” fairytales. She had delighted—thrived off— suspense and
gore. I always obliged her, my darling baby sister, however strange the request. She had been obsessed with dead things, but
really, aren't most children at some point or another? I remembered the time she had brought me the bleeding kitten. . . .
"Just for you, Jo." Wendy leaned back, allowing me access to the window.
In the steam, she had drawn a face. It had pointed horns, slanted eyes, and a demon’s smile.
I shivered. "I don't remember much of the story," I said, still looking at
her picture. "It's about a guy and girl who are on their way home from prom night. They decide to take the longer route home
through the country."
I paused. Fire jumped into the demon's eyes. Its mouth glowed, lighting up
my forehead like the sight on a gun. I gasped.
"Jo, what's wrong?" She turned and looked at her drawing. An oncoming car
passed the rest area. The red light was gone.
"It’s a smiley face, see?" She traced her fingers along.
"Oh, yeah." I nodded and let out my breath. All at once, it did look like a simple smiley face, the kind she used to draw for me when she was five. The reflection of brake
lights mixed with rain had created the demonic image.
She turned her large brown eyes to me and grinned. She still looked liked
the innocent girl who would climb on my lap and hand me her latest smiley face handiwork.
"So, Jo, why did they take the
long way home from the prom?"
"Gee, Wendy, you're sixteen, perhaps you should explain it to me. I bet though,
what they were planning on doing at sixteen then, isn't quite as," I raised my
eyebrows, "risqué as your sixteen now."
"That’s for me to know and for you to . . .”
"Trust me, Wendy, I don't want to find out," I said.
Smiling, she blew me a kiss.
"OK, really, tell me more of the story. It doesn't sound very scary to me."
I sighed. Where was Kevin? I didn't see Ajax. "Well, they took the long way
home and ran out of gas on a country road."
Wendy blew her red bangs out of her face. "And let me guess, the road was
less traveled," she smiled sarcastically, "Robert Frost."
"Duh," I imitated her. "It was
a night like tonight. Windy, dark, and drizzly."
"So let me guess, they had to find something to do, while waiting for a grumpy
trucker to happen by."
I rolled my eyes at her. She raised her eyebrows.
I glanced past her head. The demon face was back. No glow this time, its
horns were more defined. They curved up, the points sharpened like the tip of a sacrificial knife. I bit my lip, transfixed
by the image. It's just a reflection and a merging of raindrops, I told myself.
"No,” I said. “Actually, he wanted to find a gas station. Jack
was sure they had passed one a half-mile back. Shirley, though, was scared to death."
"So they like, have names? Jack
and Shirley? That sounds so old," said Wendy.
I ignored her. The rain started up again. I forced my gaze away from the
demon and watched the bubbly drops plop on the windshield.
"Shirley hated the wind; it always seemed to be keeping hollow secrets in
its scream. It had always scared her, and the sound of the pounding rain on the windshield like a hammer on a mirror made
her panic. She begged Jack not to leave her. She told him about the horrible secrets the wind kept but Jack laughed at her.
“ ‘What an imagination!’ he said as he popped the trunk
and jumped out of the car. Shirley slid over to the driver's side as he walked around the car. She rolled down the window.
Jack set down the gas can and was ruffling up his collar—”
"Wait, she rolled down the window?
This is so old-fashioned," Wendy said.
"Wen, do you want me to tell the story or not?" I glanced at her. Her eyes
were filled with curiosity, her slim frame leaned toward me; she was all ears.
Her right arm dipped down below the passenger seat.
This distracted me. "What'cha hiding there?" I nodded at her arm.
She hesitated, broke eye contact.
Lightning flashed behind the hills, lighting up the demon image. Its flesh
stung a pale yellow.
"Jo!" Banging against my window. Wendy bolted up and pointed. I jumped in
my seat and twisted around.
It was Kevin. Sighing, I pushed the down button on my window.
"Kevin! What are you . . ."
"I can't find him!" He was yelling. The wind had picked up and was zipping
his hair around.
"Ajax, he ran off towards the highway and I haven't seen him,” Kevin
said. “I gotta go lookin’. Be back soon!" He turned and was gone before I could answer.
I closed the window and turned to Wendy. "We should go help."
"Oh, no, Jo, we should stay here." She put her left hand on my arm. I glanced
at her right hand. She followed my glance. "It's just my cell phone, see?" She brought it up and showed me.
The wind scowled against the car, and I thought about Shirley and the secrets
she swore it hid.
"He'll find Ajax and then come back here to tell us,” Wendy said. “But
if we’re not here, then he'll have to wait or go looking for us. And we'll all be stuck here that much longer."
She hit the repeat button on the CD. “Don't Fear the Reaper”
started up again.
" OK,” I said. “You're right. I just don't want Ajax to get hit
by a car."
"He'll be fine, Jo." She squeezed my arm, then started texting a friend.
"Something just doesn't feel right to me," I told her. "I don't know if it’s
this place or what."
The wind screamed at the car. "It's that prom story you're telling me, and
that stupid wind." She clapped her cell closed and tucked it down her shirt, into her bra. "So come on . . . ol' Jack was
gonna find a gas station. What happens next? The boogeyman gets her?"
"Not exactly." Lightning flashed from beyond the rest area striking the road.
"Can't you hear the wind, Jack? It's holding
something back, something terrible. If you leave, I'll be alone with it. Please . . . please don't leave me! Let me come with
Jack ran his hand over his stiff
black hair and leaned into the car. "I can move faster without you, doll,” he said. “Now there's nothing to be
afraid of. This wind will pass, and you'll be just fine. I'm gonna jog down this
road here, beg some gas from the station owner, and I'll be back here, one hour tops." He reached in and touched her tear-
Sniffing, Shirley brought her
hands to the wheel. "I'm never going out with you again."
Jack withdrew his hand and picked
up the red gas can. "Be back soon."
She wouldn't look at him as
he turned and left. She rolled up the window and slammed the door lock down. She laid her forehead on the steering wheel.
"Sh . . . ir . . . ley," the
wind hissed her name.
She glanced up and looked around
They had parked off the road
in some grass. A lonely maple brooded well above the car, its outstretched arms running away from the wind.
She grasped the steering wheel,
tightly. A brush of raindrops splattered the windshield and made her jump.
"Stop it! Stop it!" she screamed. But who, she wondered,
was she screaming at?
"Sh . . . ir . . . ley!" The
She screamed at the wind, of
course. It knew a secret and wanted to let her in on it.
Then it was quiet. She breathed and sat back.
It’s going to be okay, she told herself. Soon, Jack would be back and he would take her home.
A gust blew the car forward.
Tree branches scraped the windshield, slicing and dicing like a cook preparing a gourmet meal.
She sat up straight in the seat
like a jack- in-the-box. The wind whispered to her and she knew about Jack, she knew he was . . .
"What a minute . . . Oh my gosh, I know
this story!" said Wendy.
"You’re interrupting again."
I turned to my sister. "If you already knew the story, why didn't you tell me before I got going?"
"I didn't recognize all that wind crap you put in there. The guy never comes
back. The girl, your Shirley, hears a tap, tap, tap, on her windshield. Dude, it
turns out, that someone chopped off his head and strung him up over the car. The
tapping was Jack's blood on the windshield." Wendy's eyes sparkled and she looked almost giddy from . . . from what?
"But the wind, Wendy. It was trying
to tell her . . ."
A gust of air like a giant’s breath blew against the car, rolling it
"Jo, get over the wind, already. It's not part of the story."
Wendy reached down beside the seat. The demon blazed in the window as the
giant's breath swept the car backwards again. I hit the brakes and looked in the rear view mirror for Kevin.
"You know, Jo . . . If I were a serial killer, I would kill that way." Wendy spoke quietly,
seriously. "I mean, why not get creative? Find some lone travelers on an ugly night . . ."
My heart pounded in full chorus with the wind's screaming fit. Lightning
snapped and spat at the ground. I caught a glint of silver from the corner of my eye.
"Secrets, I don't want to know any secrets . . ." I reached my left hand
down along the side of the driver's seat and felt for my pistol.
"I mean, everyone, animals and all, we all die anyway . . . and it's always
so boring. Who really wants to die in their sleep when you can be hanging upside
down, guts hanging out, scaring the hell out of your girlfriend? You'd be remembered forever, just like Jack and Shirley."
We sat silently. The Blue Oyster Cult sang. The chorus lyrics froze in my
mind. I saw Wendy reach beneath the seat and withdraw something sharp and silver.
I hid my eyes behind my fist. I didn't want to look and see what my baby sister held. I didn't want to know what she was
thinking of doing. I wouldn't look.
The wind whispered a scream and I knew (hadn't I always known?). The bleeding
kitten Wendy had brought to me when she was ten—stabbed three times.
I reached for my gun as I saw a silver sharp edge jab at my breast. I clenched
the pistol, raised it, and pointed at my sister.
A pounding on the driver's door. "Girls! Hey, girls! I found him!" I jumped and squeezed the trigger.
Lightning struck. A clap of thunder shook the car.
Wendy screamed. "Oh my . . ."
I dropped the gun and covered my eyes. The wind told me, it had told me about
Wendy! And it never lies. Never. I
rocked back and forth. My own high pitch wail matched Wendy's.
Kevin flung open the car door and I fell into his arms. "Jo! Jo! What the
hell's wrong with you girls?" He clutched me tightly to his chest.
Trembling against him, I shook my head. "Wendy . . . I thought . . . the
wind told me . . . the secrets . . . Kevin."
"Quiet now. The wind is gone now . . . see?" He spoke quietly in my ear.
I opened my eyes. Wendy sat directly in front of me, silent. There was no
knife, no weapon. Only my pale, frightened sister, wiping her eyes and sniffling.
I sat, shocked that my sister was whole and alive. The safety must have been
on the gun, thank God.
"Damn that lightning was close. No wonder you girls are so spooked," he said.
I breathed deep with relief. He
hadn't seen the gun between my thighs, I shifted to conceal it.
I glanced back at Wendy. She was avoiding me and babying her napkin-wrapped
right hand. Something dark was seeping through. I couldn't stop staring. My heart twisted. I heard the wind begin to sigh.
Why was her hand bleeding?
I gave an obligatory, "I'm so sorry." It felt fake. "Your hand, it's bleeding?"
She had cut herself, how? The knife . . .
I looked down by her feet. Nothing. I never actually saw the knife, or did
I? Was I crazy? I was the one who’d just pointed a gun and squeezed the
Wendy frowned at me. "I'm riding with Kevin." She jumped out of the car and
disappeared into the dark parking lot.
Kevin watched Wendy scram. "Listen, honey,” he told me. “We have
about a hundred miles left. Can you make it? Can you make it that far? The wind has already blown itself out." I nodded, not
so sure at all.
A sopping Ajax jumped between us, and licked my face and whined. "He wants
to ride with you. Is that okay?" Kevin asked.
I nodded again. Ajax would be good company.
Kevin gave me one last squeeze. "Take as much time as you need. Flash your
lights when you're ready." He shut the door and, like Wendy, the darkness swallowed him whole.
The streetlamp flickered on as I wiped the tears from my eyes, and caught
my reflection in the passenger window. The demon face was gone. Was it possible that the demon had been my own reflection
in the window? My eyes followed the door down to the crevice that lay between
the seat and door. There was a silvery sheen reflecting from beneath the seat, flashing rainbows on the ceiling of the car.
The wind was only a whisper now. Look,
it begged, look beneath the seat.
But I wouldn't look. I wouldn't.
I flashed my lights at Kevin. As I pulled ahead of them, I caught Wendy's
eye in the passenger seat. She blew on the window, fogging it up, and drew a
smiley face with her finger.
The smiley face smirked at me in the dim light, and I wondered. The morbid
song was still repeating itself ," . . . Don't fear the reaper."
Look, demanded the wind.
I turned the song off.
The truth lies buried deep in hollow secrets. Some graves are better left
I wouldn't look.