Monstrous Femme

Loneliest Highway

Elroy eased the semi off to the side of the road, swearing under his breath as he felt it dip and jitter its way into a shallow ditch. It wasn't like he would find a better place to pull off. Not here. Not now.
He'd seen the severe weather warning at his last stop. He'd looked at the red exclamation point on the cracked screen of his phone and had puffed a disappointed breath through his nose. Of course he'd be driving head-on into a blizzard on the loneliest highway in America. That was just how his luck was.

The snow had started to fall less than an hour after he had pulled away from the gas station. It only got heavier and heavier, turning the sky gray and then black as night settled in. He’d made the decision to pull over when staring at the snow catching the light from his headlights had started to numb him and play tricks on his eyes. Snow in the dark wasn’t the only thing that could prove to be hypnotic on the road, but it was one of the worst. He rubbed his knuckles into his eyes in an effort to push away the afterimage of all those pinpoints of white against an inky black background.

The snow was behaving itself when he opened his eyes again. It had already covered the hood of the semi-truck and was working its way into little piles against his windshield. It drifted aimlessly along the road and the ground, still caught in the bright headlights. Elroy turned off the headlights, and the snow continued to shine in the dark, illuminated by a moon he could not see through his rapidly fogging windows.

With the lights off, he spotted the distant burning red of tail lights. So he wasn’t alone on the loneliest highway, after all. Some other poor bastard had gotten themselves stuck out here. From how low the tail lights were in comparison to his own rig, he guessed that it was likely a smaller car. He hoped that the driver had been prepared for the possibility of a storm like this when they’d made the decision to cross the basin. Elroy, at least, had his sleeper cab. He had a bed that he could bundle himself up in with the assurance that he’d stay warm all night. Hell, he even had some movies downloaded that he could watch.

The altruistic part of him considered getting out of the rig and tramping his way through the snow to check on the car. Not that he had any idea what he’d do after he checked. It wasn’t like he could bring them back to the rig and shelter them there if they didn’t have anything to keep themselves warm. He didn’t have an emergency blanket, and the blankets he did have hadn’t seen a washing machine in a long time—long enough that he was embarrassed by the notion of surrendering them to a stranger. No, he’d stay put. It wasn’t his business, anyways.

The tail lights went out. Elroy turned off his own lights and rubbed his knuckles into his eyes again. They were all on their own, then, separated by the snow and the hesitations that came with not knowing what the right thing to do really was. You could scare a person, walking up on them in the dark.

He unbuckled himself and squirmed into his heavy coat and hat. He’d check the trailer, make sure it was still locked up and secure, and then he’d get in the sleeper cab. He’d watch a movie and forget about the tail lights entirely.

Elroy’s feet crunched in the snow, and the truck’s door closed with a muffled thump instead of the usual sharp slam. Snow was good at that, muffling sounds and magnifying them at the same time. He crunched his way around the trailer and made sure that it was just as locked as it had been the last time he’d stopped. He even gave brief consideration to putting out cones in case someone drove up on him in the middle of the night, but he was quick to abandon that. They’d get swallowed by the snow and then he’d have to buy more. Best to just hope anyone else getting themselves stranded on the highway wasn’t also trying to get themselves killed by going faster than they had a right to.

He walked around the other side of the trailer, his gloved hand running over the cold metal . . . and paused. The silence of the snow made it seem like his ears were full of an uneasy static, but he could swear he had heard something. He stayed still and waited, his hand still on the truck as if maintaining the exact pose he’d been in when he’d heard the sound would somehow allow him to hear it again.

The cold was starting to bite at his nose by the time he made the decision to move again. He walked slowly, listening to his feet crunching in the snow. He was, he thought, playing tricks on himself. It was natural to be wary of vast expanses of open, uninhabited land in the middle of the night. It was just as natural to imagine what could be hidden away in the dark and the snow. Elroy had dreamed up at least six different possibilities by the time that he’d reached the

passenger side door of his rig. They ranged from angry spirits of the land to strange undiscovered beasts that crawled up out of caves in the night. All of these thoughts vanished with the warmth of the inside of the truck.

There was nothing out there but the dark, the snow, and the occupant of that car.

Elroy locked the cab behind himself and shed his boots and coat. He was already in his sweatpants before it occurred to him to pull the beanie from his head, leaving his graying hair sticking up at awkward angles. He made a half-assed effort to smooth it back down and got in bed.

He woke up some time later, feeling the wind biting at the trailer hard enough to shake it. There was something else needling at his mind. He sat up in bed, nose wrinkled at the darkness around him and the little slips of light that made it through the thick curtain that separated the sleeper cab from the seats. That . . . wasn’t right. He reached a hand out to the curtain and pulled it aside, squinting his eyes against the sharp light that flooded the cab. Headlights. It was someone’s goddamn headlights, shining right through his windshield.

The car’s horn blared three times in quick succession, then carried on in one continuous, ear-splitting note.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Elroy muttered and climbed forward into his driver’s seat. The car was facing him with its brights on, set at an odd angle as if it had skidded to a stop rather than parking. The lights were made all the harsher and brighter by the snow that was still falling and that had already gathered in a dense mass on the ground. He couldn’t be sure, but he had a feeling in his gut that this car was the same one that he’d seen earlier, tail lights burning briefly in the dark.

The horn was still blaring. There was a rhythm to it, but between the overwhelming light and sound, Elroy didn’t catch it. Two more long blasts, followed by three shorter ones, cut into the soundless night.

It was impossible to see anything but that overpowering light. The car must have had those ridiculous, blinding, LED lights installed. He could’ve sworn something made them flicker. The sound of the horn grated on him. Three short blasts, three long . . .

Elroy flicked his own headlights on out of some malicious little streak inside of him that wanted to give whoever this asshole was a taste of their own medicine.

The first thing he registered was movement. Inky, slick-black movement, like the darkness itself had to pull back a tendril of night to make room for the light shining between the two vehicles. The LED headlights were still too bright to really look at the car across from him in much detail, but he could see that it was a red Subaru or something similar. The front bumper was smashed and hanging loose beneath the bright lights. The person inside was frantically waving their arms, though it was impossible to discern any details beyond that movement. Focusing on those things made it easier to set aside the spike of cold dread and concern he’d felt at seeing the flicker of motion just outside the range of the lights. That could be a trick of the light itself. Or the snow. Or, hell, even the fact that he’d so recently been asleep.

Elroy put his hand up like a man looking into the sun and tried to get a better idea of what the person across from him was doing. They’d stopped waving their arms, but there was still a dark flurry of motion behind the light. That motion resolved itself into a silhouette, running between the vehicles and making its way towards his door. Whatever was wrong with this person, Elroy didn’t want to deal with it. He checked to make sure the door was locked, and assured that it was, peered out into the dark in anticipation.

A woman appeared around the front of his truck and looked up into his window. She had a plain face, unremarkable save for the thin bloody line of a cut across her forehead. Her dark hair was barely held into a messy bun, and she was wearing a sheepskin coat that looked like it was at least one size too large on her.

She was carrying a shotgun in her cold, reddened hands. “Hey! Open up!”

Like hell was Elroy going to open his door for her. He got up out of his seat and stepped back into the space of the sleeper cab, trying to stay out of her line of sight. The steel frame of the truck should help shield him from a shotgun blast, but she’d still be able to take out the window. “Please. Please, you need to open up!” the woman’s voice took on a desperate edge. “Shit . . . I think it hears me . . . shit, shit . . . let me in!”

She hit the butt of the gun against the door, with a low and hollow thud. None of that was persuasive. Elroy peered around the curtain, and caught his breath as he made eye contact with

her. She must have climbed up on the steps after smacking the door with the gun. The eye contact only lasted a moment. She broke it, looking over her shoulder.

Elroy could see more blood on her now, coating her neck and some of the sheepskin coat in a sticky red. She turned her gaze back to him and slammed her hand up against the window, leaving behind a smear of blood. It wasn’t just the cold that had made her fingers look so red in the snow and the lights.

“Let me in!”

The same altruism that had made him consider checking on the car in the first place bloomed beneath her bloodied gaze and he reasoned that he should let her in. She clearly needed help. She was afraid of “it” hearing her, whatever “it” was. But another part of his mind considered that it was entirely possible she was the reason the other car had been honking and waving at him, and that she was the “it” to be afraid of.

The woman had a gun. She was covered in blood. The only wound he could see was the thin cut across her brow.

He stepped forward and reached across the seat to unlock and open the door. She spilled in with a burst of cold and the smell of rotten iron, half collapsing on the seat and pulling the door closed behind herself.

“How does it lock?”

“Button there.”

The lock whispered back into place and they sat in an uneasy silence. She was breathing hard, alternating between staring out the windshield and the side windows.

Elroy eased himself down into the passenger seat, feeling oddly exposed in his gray sweatpants, old knit sweater, and socks. Now that the stranger was in his cab, he could take better stock of her. She couldn’t have been any older than twenty-five. She was wearing a buttoned up red flannel beneath the sheepskin coat, a faded pair of jeans, and heavy boots. There was a wedding band on her finger.

Her breathing slowed and she looked over at Elroy, brow furrowing. “Why’d you wait so long? I could have died.”

“Ma’am . . .” Elroy held up his hands as he answered and glanced her over. She looked down, following his gaze, and seemed to take herself in for the first time. Covered in blood. Clutching a gun.

“Yeah, all right,” she breathed out and lowered the gun to her lap. “It isn’t what it looks like.”

“Want to try explaining it to me, then?”

“I should have turned the headlights off.” She didn’t answer his question, instead squinting through the windshield. “I can’t see a damn thing.”

“Can you tell me what’s going on?” Elroy tried again, wishing that he had it in him to reach out and take the gun from her.

She didn’t look at him when she spoke. “I don’t know that I can. My partner and I broke down . . . what, the day before yesterday? We tried to call for help, but neither of us had any reception. Then we thought maybe we’d just . . . wait for a bit. See if we got a signal or someone came along. No one did. So, we decided to sleep in the car. She woke me up and said that there was some kind of animal crying outside, that it sounded like it was hurt. I didn’t hear anything.”

She rubbed a shaking hand over her face, smearing blood on her skin. “She got out of the car and it was so . . . so goddamn dark out. I watched her walk off, carrying a flashlight. I watched the flashlight beam and I could tell when she found something because it went really still. Then it just . . . went out.”

Elroy frowned and looked out the passenger side window uneasily.

“I waited for her to come back,” the woman continued. “I sat and waited and waited, but . . . she didn’t. I know I’m a bad person. I know I should have gotten out and looked for her. I couldn’t, though. I was so scared. I was so scared.”

“Listen, ma’am, we can go and look—”

“I’m not finished. Let me finish. I went looking for her, when the sun came up. I only found the flashlight. The lens was broken out of it. I yelled and screamed for her for hours, and then I went back up to the road to try and get help. There were several cars that passed me. They didn’t even slow down. I had to get back in my car when the snow started to fall. I saw you pull up behind me and I thought, Oh good. Someone’s going to help me. But then you just . . . you just turned off your lights and—”


“I told you not to interrupt me! Please. Please. Just let me finish. I didn’t try to get your attention after that, and that’s on me. I just thought maybe I’d sit through the night in the car, then I could try and get help in the morning. I put Gabi’s coat on, and I piled everything we had on top of me to get warm and I tried my hardest to go to sleep. I woke up because I thought I heard her calling me, but when I looked out the window it . . . it wasn’t Gabi.”

Elroy was quiet, waiting to see if she was going to go on. He didn’t want her to get even more worked up than she already was. She covered her face with her hands and slumped back into the seat, breathing heavily again like she was barely holding back a sob caught in her throat. “What do you mean, it wasn’t her?” Elroy asked, tentatively reaching a hand out toward her shoulder before dropping it. He didn’t think that touching her was the right thing to do. She shook her head, the sob breaking free of her throat with a low and wretched whimper.

They both jumped when the car horn started to blare. The woman tightened her grip on the shotgun, staring out the windshield with wide eyes. Elroy’s hand gripped her shoulder. He could see movement, beyond the bright glare of her headlights. Someone in the car, waving their hand and pressing down on the horn. It gave him a sick sense of déjà vu. If he looked out the driver’s side window, would he see the blood-covered woman walking up to the truck again? Would she look in at the both of them and wonder why she was already there?

“It isn’t her,” the woman breathed out, her voice still strained with tears. “It isn’t her, it isn’t her!” It was possible that there had been someone else in the car all along and that the woman sitting beside him had been lying. But there was something so genuine about the way that her mouth twisted up and her eyes went wide that he found it hard to believe that she was faking her fear.

The car horn continued to blare. Three short blasts. Three long. Three short . . . he felt like there was something important there, something that he should have recognized. It made him think of being a boy again, with his belly against wood warmed up by summer sun, reading through a book full of codes that he’d eventually forget. Three short . . . three long . . .

“SOS?” he asked aloud and the woman in his driver’s seat looked over and nodded.

“Yeah, that’s what I was trying to do. I don’t know why I thought you’d know what it was. It doesn’t make sense, does it? You’re a trucker, not . . . I don’t even know who uses Morse code anymore.”

He shook his head. “I have a CB radio. There’s no one in range. Not out here.” The car across from them went quiet and the headlights cut out.

The truck’s lights illuminated the interior of the Subaru. Elroy could see the spatters of blood on the windshield. The driver’s side door was hanging open, glass shattered out of the frame. The front bumper was smashed, as if it had collided with something. There was another woman in the car, hunched and holding on to the steering wheel. She had her face turned away so that Elroy couldn’t see it clearly. Her short blond hair was streaked with blood.

“It isn’t her . . . it isn’t her . . .” the woman beside him started to whisper again and again, hugging the shotgun up to her chest. Elroy looked from her back out the windshield.

The blond was now out of the car. He hadn’t seen any kind of movement from of the corner of his eye, but she was somehow outside the car and standing in his headlights. Her hand was clasped to her stomach, fingers knit in the bloody ruins of her shirt. There were other holes in her clothes, lacerations along her bare arm. She took a shaking step forward, a bloody hand held up in the light ahead of her.

She shouldn’t have been on her feet with a wound like that, looking like she was barely keeping the soft pink curls of her intestines inside of herself. She shouldn’t have been walking toward them. He noticed blood dripping on the snow in little drops and dots as she moved.

“If it isn’t her, then what is it?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper. The woman beside him didn’t answer. She drew in a sharp breath and reached for the keys in the ignition.

“Hey—wait!” Elroy reached forward to stop her, then realized that she had the shotgun on her lap, the blank stare of the muzzle pointed at him. He dropped his hand and watched her turn the keys. The trucked grumbled its way to life, and she grabbed the wheel.

She practically had to stand up from the seat to press her foot down hard on the accelerator, making the massive truck lurch forward through the snow. The shotgun clattered to the floor and Elroy grabbed hold of the dash as if that had any hope of saving him from the truck’s forward momentum.

He saw every single detail of the woman standing in front of them in an instant. Every hair follicle and pore. Every spot of blood. The glossy flesh that squeezed out from between her fingers, clasped at her abdomen in an attempt to keep herself together. He noticed her shoes were on the wrong feet, and that her skin seemed like it didn’t fit quite right. It was too loose around the eyes and too tight around the mouth, pulling her lips back from her teeth in a grimace.

As quickly as she came into focus, she was gone, just another jarring bump in the road as the woman behind the semi’s wheel drove onward. Elroy could hear himself screaming at her, something that wouldn’t make any damn sense if he ever remembered it. He felt his truck hit the red car through his hand on the dash, jarring up his elbow and into his shoulder. The horn was blaring again, distorted and barely distinguishable over the screech of tearing metal.

The woman kept her foot down on the accelerator, forcing the semi to slog forward with the car twisted up against it like a rabbit clenched tight in the teeth of an overeager house cat. There was no way that Gabi, or not-Gabi, or whatever was out there in the snow had survived being run down like that. Just as there was no way that anything or anyone in the car would have survived the impact and subsequent drag.

Elroy saw the gun on the floor and pulled it over to himself with his heel, banking on the woman being distracted by her need to keep going forward. He stooped and got his hands on it, pulling it up into his lap. He felt safer having the gun in his hands. He pressed the action release to check if there were any shells in the barrels and frowned. The shotgun hadn’t been loaded the entire time. So much for the security of a weapon.

He set it back down in the empty space between them and reached out to grab the wheel. The worst that she could do was keep her foot on the accelerator. If she turned and tried to fight him physically, well . . . he was bigger than her. And it would make her take her foot off the pedal.

She turned her head to look at him with wide, unseeing eyes, stammering out, “I . . . I did it . . . I did it. I didn’t want to . . .”

“Put the brakes on.”

She listened to him and put the air brakes on. They hissed and jittered, bringing the truck to a stop. Whether or not they were actually on the road was anyone’s guess.

“I hit her before, with my car,” the woman continued to speak, staring straight ahead at the falling snow. “When she came back wrong.”

Elroy pursed his lips and cleared his throat, “There’re no bullets in that gun.”

She nodded her head, still staring forward, “I don’t know how to load it. It was Gabi’s. We had it in the back.”

“You bring the slugs with you?”

“No. I couldn’t find them.” She finally looked over at him. “I wasn’t thinking. I just needed help.”

Elroy checked the side mirror, half expecting to see the blond woman lurching through the snow in their direction—or something worse. Inky black shadows that peeled away from the light.

“What’s your name, ma’am?”


“Nice to meet you. I’m Elroy. Why don’t you let go of the wheel? You can step in the back, clean yourself up a little. I don’t have much in the way of toiletries, but . . . you should at least be able to wash your hands.”

Sarah nodded and got out of the driver’s seat slowly. Elroy watched her stumble back into the sleeper cab. The bathroom could barely be called that, but it worked in a pinch. He waited until she’d closed the door behind herself to shift over into the driver’s seat. He wanted to get out and check over the inevitable damage to the truck, but that seemed like just another stupid and desperate grasp for normalcy, like introducing himself to her in the midst of everything.

He grabbed a wet wipe from his console and wiped the blood off the steering wheel, all the while wondering just how bad Sarah was actually hurt that she was leaving smears and drips of blood wherever she went. He’d only seen the cut on her forehead and what might have been a cut on her neck.

Cleaning up was another attempt at normalcy, as if wiping up the blood could make everything go back to how it was. He’d rather be sleeping through the blizzard, alone on a lonely road than going through whatever he’d now found himself going through.

The bathroom door creaked open behind him.

A few miles down the road, another driver was scanning through channels on his radio. Things had been dead for hours. That was to be expected. He was on the loneliest highway in America, in the middle of a blizzard. In the midst of all the dead air and static, he caught a live channel. He half raised his mic to his mouth and stopped. It wasn’t a human voice coming through the radio. It was a sound that slithered through the dark, deep corners of his mind and dragged him backwards to a time when men huddled around the fire in fear of hungry mouths waiting in the dark.

He turned the radio off and decided that he could press on through the snow, just a few more miles. Just a few more miles, and he’d be out of range of whatever it was that was broadcasting that noise. He’d be safe, he thought. He’d be safe and alone on a lonely road.