A/N: This is in no way a finished draft. In fact, it is a first draft. Normally, I would not publish a first draft. However, I have been assigned to do so from the podcast Start With This by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. It is a great podcast about the process of creating, and at the end of each episode they give the listener two assignments: something to consume and something to create. I highly encourage any fellow creators out there to check it out! Anyways, at the end of Episode 1, the assignment was to spend one hour — no more, no less — on any idea that you’ve had. Then, when it was done, to share it on the internet, whether you thought it was good or not. So that’s what I’ve done. This is an incomplete first draft of a short story that I have been thinking about writing for a while, and even done a little planning for. I definitely plan on continuing and refining it into a finished piece. Please feel free to reach out with any feedback, good or bad, through my Contact Page or on Instagram or Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you and I hope you like the story!
My eyelids flutter again, weariness and gravity pulling them towards each other. I can’t let those other forces win, though. I have to keep my eyes focused on the road ahead of me.
This late into the night, there’s no other car out here. Not that there would be during the day anyway. This road’s so remote I’m not sure anyone’s actually driven on it in decades. Yet the pavement is well-kept, devoid of all but a few minor potholes. So perhaps it is not the road less traveled that I first thought it to be.
Regardless of its daily traffic, at night the road is baren. My headlights seem to be the only source of human-made light in sight. In fact, at some points they are the only source of light, what with the moon playing peek-a-boo the way it is.
I grip the steering wheel tighter, jerking myself back into reality as my eyes try to close again. Maybe I should just pull over, sleep in the car, I think. But no; even empty roads become pitfalls of danger when you aren’t alert.
The upwards sloping road is full of curves, making alertness even more vital. Yet it seems that the more I try to focus, the more tired I become.
A loud scraping noise, of metal against a rough and toughened subject, jolts me awake. My vision is blurry, at least it seems that way, or perhaps the world is just moving too fast for my eyes to keep up. I see a flash of brown, hints of green, and the glaring yellow of my headlights. There’s another scraping, this one louder and more pronounced then the first, and the car comes to a sudden halt. My head flies forward, and my blurry vision fades to black.
The first thing I smell is smoke. I yelp, fumbling at my seatbelt, failing to remove it. Finally, I hear a satisfactory click, and the belt slides back into its holder. Slamming the door open as far as it will go, I lurch out of the car. The glass in the window shatters as it comes in contact with a branch, a few pieces sticking into my arm.
Turning around, I assess the car. Shit, I think. The driver’s window is shattered. The front is busted, slammed straight into the bark of a giant tree, a light gray smoke leaking from under the hood. A spiderweb of cracks covers the windshield. The back tire on my side is blown, and those on the other side may be as well.
As my heart rate begins to slow, I register the damage done to my own body. Small pieces of glass pepper my right arm. My ribs ache. My head is pounding, and my nose is lightly trickling blood, but I feel no bleeding elsewhere. My arm stings like hell as I pull out the splinters of glass, but they’re superficial wounds. Very little blood. For the most part, I’m ok. But my car is totaled.
I take a few deep breaths, trying to calm myself down. What to do, what to do, I wonder, frantic, scared, and tired. I realise that I need to get help. Mostly confident that the car is not going to explode, I step back to the door I escaped from look inside.
I had placed my phone in the cupholder between the seats. Now, it lays in a multitude of small pieces across the floor of the car, along with some of the glass from the window. “Fuck,” I mutter. Then I turn around and, louder, I shout, “FUCK!”
Alone. No cell phone. No cars out on this road this late. Bears and possibly worse creatures in the woods around me. Only the light of the peek-a-boo moon to see by. I don’t know what to do. Obviously, I can’t stay here.
Looking around, I see no light, no other indication of life. I rub my eyes, chasing the exhaustion and fear into the back of my mind, and look again.
Up ahead, on the other side of the road, I see a small glimmer. It’s so far away, it could be nothing more than a star through the trees. But it’s all I’ve got.
I walk to the trunk of the car. As soon as I touch it, it pops open. I lift the lid fully and grab my backpack out of there, leaving the suitcase. I’ll be back for it soon. Hopefully.
Gathering my courage, I start walking towards the distant light, hoping that I really am heading towards safety and not more solitude or, worse, more danger.
I’ve been walking for at least half an hour, but the light has gotten much bigger, easier to see. It must be a house, or at least a service station of some kind. No matter what, it can provide shelter. Maybe even company.
As I break through the line of trees, I see that it is in fact a house. It’s fairly large, seemingly old yet maintained to look almost good as new. It sits in a clearing, alone, with no hint that there are any similar dwellings nearby. The light comes from a window to the right of the door.
Seeing that it is a house reinvigorates my fear. I’m just one woman, alone, hurt, on a nearly-empty mountain. All kinds of people could be in that house, and all kinds leaves room for the worst kinds of humanity. But I have no other choice than to stay in the woods, or on the side of the road, and it’s too cold to risk that. I certainly don’t know how to start a fire. So, wishing desperately that a woman lives in this house, I continue walking.
The steps are silent as I ascend them. It may be an old house, but it is kept in very good condition. Standing on the porch, I can see that the window leads into a kitchen. It seems to be empty, and I can’t see any other light in the house.
I hesitate, but it’s not only fear that stops me. The owner of this house is probably sleeping, and I don’t want to wake them, to disturb their peaceful night. Stop that, A, I think. I’m alone and hurt, on an unfamiliar mountain in the middle of the night. I think that qualifies as an emergency worthy of waking someone from sleep.
After the first knock, there is silence. I wait a few seconds then try again, slightly louder. “Hello?” I call, but still there is no noise. A third knock seems to do the trick, as a few seconds later a light comes on in the hallway beyond the kitchen.
I try to straighten my back, stand up taller, make myself look as big as I can. Whoever opens that door, I want them to know that I am not someone to mess with. You probably look pathetic, I think. Covered in dirt and blood. Even though my nose has stopped bleeding, I’m probably right. But I’m going to try anyway.
The door opens quickly. Behind it stands a man, his face soft, lit from above by an electric chandelier. He wears a baggy, wrinkled gray t-shirt and plaid pajama pants, his feet tucked into fuzzy black slippers. His eyes, though marked by weariness, carry a spark of curiosity.
“Hello?” he says, his voice as soft as his face.
“Hi,” I say. There is a few seconds of silence, and I realise that I should probably explain why I am on his porch in the middle of the night, painted with dirt and blood.
“I’m so sorry to wake you. My car crashed, and it’s late, and dark, and I saw your house, and I didn’t-”
“Hold on,” he says, and I realize I was rambling. You do that too much. I stop and take a breath.
“Slow down. You can explain everything, ok? I’ll help you out. Would you like to come inside?”
I remain motionless. He’s about the same height as me, and it doesn’t appear that he would have much of a physical advantage. And something about him, his softness, the gentle worry in his eyes, his invitation rather than suggestion, tells me that I can trust him. Still reserving a touch of caution, I step through the door, and he closes it behind me.
“Here, have a seat in the kitchen,” he says, guiding me to the right, into the room I had seen through the window. I pull out a chair at the small square table and lower myself into it. He sits down opposite me.
“Now,” he says, voice still incredibly gentle, “tell me what happened.”
“Well I was driving up the mountain, and it was so late, and I hadn’t gotten any sleep, and I guess I dozed off at the wheel. Next thing I remember my car was melded with a tree, my phone was shattered, and I looked like this,” I gesture to my dirty body and bloody arm. “I didn’t know what to do, but then I saw a light — your kitchen light. I came up here, hoping you could help me. I’m sorry to wake you.”
“No, no, it’s alright,” he replies. “I’m happy to help however I can.”
There is another moment of silence as him and I share a look. Perhaps sensing my nervousness, he says, “I know you’re probably scared. I promise, I don’t want to hurt you, only help. I’ll only do what you ask me to, ok?”
Hearing this, I relax, letting the tension out of my arms and legs. “Do you have a shower I can use?”
“Sure do.” He rises from the chair and heads down the hallway. Turning back, he sees me, still seated. “Well, c’mon, if you want.”
I follow him. He grabs me a towel from the closet and a pair of pajamas from his bedroom, then guides me into the bathroom. “I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re done, alright?”
I nod, and he walks away. Closing the bathroom door, I take a deep breath. The light is a bright white, and the bathroom is mostly clean, save for a binder and lone sock on the floor. It appears that safety has been reached.
He sits at the table sipping on a cup of coffee when I return. “Thank you,” I say to him, wishing that I was able to express my gratitude more thoroughly than with a simple phrase.
“You’re welcome,” he says, placing his coffee on the table. “Would you like a cup?”
I shake my head. “Actually, I’m very tired. Do you think I could rest for a bit, and figure out what to do in the morning? If not, I totally understand. I-”
He cuts me off again. “Of course. Why don’t you take my bed. I’ll stay on the couch out here.”
(To Be Continued)