So far for October I’ve managed to keep somewhat in the spirit of the season. For the final Saturday, I’ll end with a bang by publishing a new spooky short story. Some readers (maybe 2 of you) will remember last Halloween when I posted “Dante’s Ascent” for your perusal. I’ve decided that every year around autumn time, I’ll try writing a scary short story of some sort. Whether it has a deeper meaning or is meant for humor, I’ll leave it up to whatever idea I act upon. This year I present to you “The Vampire Car”, an offering more on the spookier side though it has meaning embedded in it. So enjoy the ride…but don’t look back.
The Vampire Car
Story by J.R. Underdown
It finally happened, Denny Newbury thought in a panic, he snapped. His mind fell to pieces under all the stresses that came with being a new father—the necessity of having and holding a good job, the long nights with little rest, the strained dynamic with his wife—all of it compounded into this moment.
He checked his rearview mirror again. Nothing. He nervously glanced at each side mirror. Nothing. He waited for the country road to stretch straight for a few yards, then, hands gripping the wheel, glanced out the rear window. It was there!
He spotted the spectral car shortly after he left church at twilight. After a mile or two, a nagging feeling grew on him that he was being followed. He checked the mirrors to satisfy himself that he was the only car on his side of the road. The rolling countryside and growing darkness were all the mirrors revealed to him. He returned his attention to the road ahead and wondered how fussy their son was that night. But the haunting feeling persisted, so he finally yielded and looked with his own eyes out the rear window. What he saw terrified him.
A black sports car so dark it could have been lost among the cosmos trailed closely. In the fading light Denny noted it bore no side mirrors. The only noticeable indicators of its presence, aside from the dark hole it formed in the scenery, were the dim, red-tinted headlights and a dark red light glowing underneath, a demonic neon beneath a hellish carriage.
Denny spun around, checked his mirrors quickly, and looked again. The mysterious vehicle had gained slightly. Now Denny Newbury believed himself insane from all his stress.
The road curved up a hill shrouded in trees. Denny pressed down on the gas and shot up. The path was steep and windy, but familiarity with it allowed the panicked man to weave his way to the top. The road straightened again, Denny chanced a look and groaned aloud at the demon car still behind him. Denny’s beat-up sedan pushed itself to the brink as it zipped down the country roads, ran stop signs, and ignored the speed limit.
Denny knew he was close to leaving the country and sped for dear life to outrun the vehicle following. At last he came upon a main road. Blowing past a stop sign and cutting off two cars, he felt he was safe and slowed down. He came to a stop when red and blue lights flashed behind him.
He sat shaking in a cold sweat, hands refusing to leave the steering wheel. He became conscious of the looming form of the police officer beside his car and finally wrenched one hand from the wheel to roll down the window. The officer, an older man with a weathered face and some white in his hair, leaned over, tipped his hat back, and looked steadily at the driver.
“Son, you okay?” he started. “You almost died out there! You been drinking?”
Denny shook his head violently and pulled out his wallet. He gave the license to the officer who took it without relieving his stare. He glanced down at the card finally.
“Dennis Newbury. That you? I see. You want to explain to me, Mr. Newbury, why you came tearing off that side road like a banshee and ran a stop sign, nearly causing a wreck with two cars?”
Denny swallowed hard and wiped his forehead. He was safe now, had to be. Gaining some composure, he replied, “I’m sorry, officer. I was being chased.”
“Chased?” replied the cop incredulously. “Not followed? Who was chasing you?”
“You’ll think I’m drunk.”
“I already think you’re drunk.”
Denny snapped his head to look the man in the eyes. “Do you smell alcohol anywhere near this car or on my breath? I’m not drunk! I don’t have any drugs on me. But I swear to you some phantom car was chasing me through the countryside! It was a black sports car with red lights. It pursued me for several miles before I finally lost it when speeding onto this road.”
Though the officer’s face bore some amusement on it at first, he sobered a little at Denny’s description.
“Ah, the vampire car,” he concluded.
“You’re not the first, Mr. Newbury. I’ve encountered other drivers like you during my 30 years on the force. They call it the vampire car, chases young men around. Never had it behind me that I know of, but I’ve met a few men that have.”
“What am I supposed to do about it?”
The cop chuckled lightly. “I guess don’t look back.”
Denny was surprised and relieved when he was only given a written warning. But the officer’s parting words put the fear back in him, “Listen to me, son. If you do look back and find the vampire car behind you, don’t bother confronting it. We’ve had plenty of unsolved deaths on those back roads of men who claimed to have seen that vehicle. Don’t become one of them.”
The frenzied driver pulled away from the red and blue lights and continued on his way home, fearful of even checking his rearview mirror and going out of his way to take better lit roads. His mind was so absorbed with this vampire car upon walking in the door that he was unaware of his son wailing bitterly while Mrs. Newbury rushed about between the living room and the kitchen.
“Did you stay late or stop somewhere?” she asked, finally plucking up the child, sticking a bottle in his mouth, and plopping down in an easy chair.
Denny awoke from his daze and stared about him doubtfully. “No…I…got pulled over.” He sat down on the edge of a seat near the door and removed his shoes with shaking hands.
Aurora Newbury, taxed to a tipping point by an evening alone with a newborn, quizzically surveyed her husband. “You’re a nervous wreck! Did the cop think you had drugs or something?”
Aurora raised her eyebrows. “Did you?”
“No. I was speeding, ran a stop sign, and almost crashed with two cars.”
Mrs. Newbury plucked the bottle from the baby’s mouth, which made him unhappy again. “What on earth were you doing? How much is that going to cost? Denny, that’s the last thing we need on top of hospital bills!”
“He gave me a warning,” Denny cut in, stopping short a potential torrent of guilt. He pulled the slip from his back pocket, handed it to his wife, and walked into the kitchen for sustenance.
Aurora scanned the document thoroughly and looked up as her husband re-entered with cheddar cheese potato chips and ginger beer. “So how did this happen?”
Denny collapsed on the couch and retold his skeptical wife the horrid drive home. Naturally, she laughed it off. When she perceived her husband was calm again, she passed the baby to him and retired for some time to recuperate. Denny let his son drain the bottle dry, burped him, moved to the recliner, and rocked the little boy to sleep. Normally he nodded off, too. But tonight, Denny couldn’t sleep if his house was filled with sleeping gas.
Assured that his son was thoroughly sleeping, Denny cautiously moved the child from his arms to the comfort of a baby swing. Without hesitation, he then snatched up the laptop and began his trek into an internet hole that swallowed him for the next three hours.
The vampire car. That’s what the policeman called it. Immediately his search yielded results. First was a list of best ghost legends in the area. It briefly told of a phantom sports car speeding after young men. Some said it was driven by an undead driver. Further research revealed that one of the first recorded sightings was back in the 1950s. A young man, newly married, claimed to have been chased by a black hot rod with red lights and driven by a dark hooded figure. On through the following decades it was the same, though the car changed form depending on the time. The consistent features were: red headlights, no side mirrors, invisible in any mirror, and always pursuing young men from fresh out of high school and college to newly married.
Denny also found reports corroborating the officer’s warning. Several men who had reported seeing the car were found mysteriously murdered in the countryside shortly thereafter. Some died in wrecks, others found in the middle of the road with bleeding or twisted necks. Though officially these were “unsolved”, family and friends grew to believe it the result of the vampire car.
Denny’s heart pounded and his skin paled at these stories. A slight hope was in other reports that claimed some men had eventually outrun the spectral speedster and were never bothered by it. The common denominator in their cases was they never stopped to confront their pursuant.
The digging for clues was interrupted by the squirming of Denny’s son, which precipitated crying of some sort. The forlorn father felt he had given himself enough nightmare fodder for the time being and shut down the laptop. After another hour of feeding and lulling the child back to sleep, Denny laid his son in the crib and then laid himself down to bed.
In his dreams he found himself in the middle of a country road at sunset. He was a kid again, his ten year old self. He wasn’t sure how he knew this, but his brain registered his age and appearance as such. Strewn around him were toys. As Denny handled these he recognized them as plastic miniature versions of things from his life. He rolled a smaller version of his gray sedan over the pavement and parked it in front of his toy house. He saw smaller forms of his work computer and tablet, his instruments of design at the marketing firm. There was an action figure of his wife, perfect in every detail. Beside her was their son. It seemed goofy for a ten year old Denny to see his future son in toy form. He picked up both wife and child and gazed at them.
Then the sun went down behind the hills. All was dark, for no moon or stars shone in this vision. Denny’s mind made the logical next step to clean up the toys. After all, it was bedtime. Besides, it was not safe to play in the road for any reason. But he couldn’t force himself to get up. Struggle all he might, his legs were rooted to the pavement. He glanced down at the future in his hands. Suddenly a red light blazed before him. Denny looked up in alarm. It was a car speeding toward him! He froze in his struggles as he recognized it as the vampire car just before it plowed into him and ran over his playthings.
Adult Denny awoke startled with a heart beating like a piston. In the crib at the end of the bed, his son cried for food. Aurora was already rolling out of bed. Denny lay motionless and tried to resume slumber.
For the next two weeks, Denny avoided the country roads where he first saw the vampire car. When he went to church on Sunday and Wednesday nights, he left before it was too dark and took a longer, circuitous route. He rarely went out after dark in general, which worked perfectly for his wife who preferred him to stay home and help with their son. But after that two week period, she was ready to venture back into society and chose Sunday evening church as her starting point.
This was well enough for Denny, he was glad to see her and baby make a foray out into the world beyond grocery and convenience store runs. But his wife was late in finishing conversations and the sun had long crossed to the other side of the world when the Newbury family packed up for home. Denny gave his wife a proper warning that their journey would be longer than usual with the intention that it was not up for discussion. Aurora did not take this news gently.
“Denny, it’s late,” she argued. “He’s getting fussy. Let’s take the scenic route some other time.”
Her husband stared uneasily in the direction she wanted to go.
“What’s your problem?” she probed. When he didn’t immediately answer, an old thought jumped to her mind. “Is it that vampire car?”
“Shh!” Denny snapped suddenly. “Don’t risk jinxing us!”
Aurora laughed. “Come on, Denny. There’s no such thing as ghost vehicles. Let’s go. If you think you see something, I’m here to explain away whatever it is.”
“What if you can’t explain it?” her husband asked in a low voice that chilled her somewhat.
Nevertheless, he turned out of the parking lot in the fateful direction. At this point, he rashly hoped they would see something if only to prove her wrong. As they wound their way deeper into the countryside, however, Denny wished he had kept his pride in check.
For the first few miles, it seemed like a normal night, partially cloudy overhead with a nearly full moon low on the horizon. Aurora tried to keep her husband preoccupied with small talk; he was clearly nervous. Denny tried clearing his mind, focusing on the road ahead. He reasoned that the vampire car wouldn’t chase him while his family rode along. There were no reports of entire families seeing the infamous car! Denny was slowly sinking into ease and beginning to enjoy conversation with his wife. In the back, their son slept peacefully. The night was beautiful.
But then came that gnawing feeling of something watching, something following. Denny stopped talking abruptly mid-thought. Aurora sensed his unease and worriedly looked at him. His hands tensed around the steering wheel, sweat broke out on his forehead. He checked the side mirrors. Nothing. He slowly raised his eyes to the rearview mirror. Nothing. They came upon a stretch of road, the same spot where he previously made his discovery. He turned around in his seat.
It was there!
He let out a muffled sob, spun around, and pressed down on the gas. Aurora gazed at him alarmed.
“What? What is it?” she asked.
“Check the mirrors first!” Denny snapped. “Do you see anything?”
It took his wife some effort to get into a position where she could properly see in the mirrors.
“I don’t see anything.”
“Now look behind us…”
Again, that low voice speaking of a threat. She shivered compulsively as she turned in her seat. Just then the moon was rising to a proper height for spotlighting the landscape. Its pale light gleamed off a coal black sports car with dim red headlights and a dark red glow emanating from the undercarriage.
Aurora twisted back around. “Is that your vampire car?”
Denny nodded grimly.
Aurora shivered again. Then she thought of an alternative. Maybe it’s a trick that only affects car mirrors! Unlikely, maybe, but there had to be a reasonable explanation why an object clearly seen with the naked eye is invisible in reflection. She took a small mirror from her purse and held it up to get a view of the road behind them. Denny watched her with his peripheral and deduced from her shudder that this was indeed not just his imagination.
Onward the two cars raced through the night with the moon and stars as their only witnesses. Denny soon abandoned any pretense of sane driving to try and shake his follower. Aurora acted as his spotter, keeping a level head for the most part though clearly scared. At one point it seemed they lost the phantom vehicle so they hurried in the direction of civilization. But as they closed in on the needed turn, both parents let out a cry of surprise at the vampire car blocking their way. Denny whipped their car around, potentially smacking a mailbox, and skidded away the direction they came. Apparently tonight was one of destiny.
It was a desperate chase over many roads. The Newbury’s found themselves on streets they never knew existed. Sometimes the vampire car trailed behind them, running up on their bumper. Sometimes it vanished and reappeared blocking off a potential exit from the countryside. They were running for an hour and their tank was getting low.
Finally, on a gravel road it happened. They came to a dead end. A gate barred their way from entering some cow pasture. Behind them sat the vampire car.
“What happens next?” Aurora asked in a low, shaky voice.
Denny didn’t have the heart to tell her. Instead, they both looked back at the black vehicle. The driver side door opened and a dark, hooded figure stepped out, waiting.
“I have to confront him,” Denny said. “I may…not come back.”
“I love you, Aurora…”
They shared a parting kiss and Denny exited the car.
The night air was chilly though no wind blew. Clouds covered the moon and all creation felt muffled. Denny walked slowly, weighed down by fear. Yet a certain curiosity took hold of him and gave him courage to make each step. The hooded figure waited. Only the running of the Newbury’s car and the crunch of the gravel broke the sacred silence of that country night. The vampire car was either shut off or made no sound as it ran.
At last. Denny stood before the hooded driver of the phantom vehicle and waited. A red light shone from the interior of the cab. The figure raised its arms and threw back the hood. Denny hissed and stepped backward. There before him was his younger self, perhaps college age or thereabouts. The difference, though, was the pale whiteness of this mirror image. The moon could never have made Denny look so pale and dead. The driver had Denny’s hazel eyes, though decidedly darker and redder. Its black hair was shaggy, like Denny wore it in college. Though it wore a baggy, flowing robe, Denny could tell this was a leaner version of himself. He glanced down at his own body, a little fatter with the beginnings of a potbelly. He looked back up and it (Denny could think of no other classification for the driver) smiled at him with blood red lips and white, pointed teeth.
“What are you?” Denny mustered.
The vampire driver continued to smile.
“Why are you chasing me?” Denny pressed.
“I have followed you before,” it answered in a raspy, hissing voice. “But you never looked back. Once you look back I will pursue you until death.”
“But why follow me at all?” Denny asked desperately.
Its smile broadened. “Your life is over, Denny.”
“But I’m happy with my life; I don’t want to die!”
It cocked its head. “Is that true?”
Denny hesitated. He looked at his younger self and remembered the friends, the memories, the events. He remembered first meeting Aurora and how happy he was. Did that feeling remain? His brain recalled all of their times together. But slowly, slowly, creeping across these thoughts was the shadow of death. The past no longer remained. Only an unsteady present full of stress and doubts clung to him now. Tears surfaced on his eyes, he stepped back. The driver stepped forward.
“Die tonight and be young forever!” it hissed. “You have already looked back and seen.”
The dark, muffled night seemed to crash in around Denny. His head swirled and he could only see this phantom bearing his façade. Oh, could it be true? Could he die now and live forever with the strength, vigor, and time of his youth? It was raising its cold, white hands, aiming for Denny’s neck.
The moon peaked out from behind the clouds. Some stars crowded in to see as well. The darkness lifted somewhat and Denny looked up. He could be young again, yet he already died. His son was waiting in the car for his father to return. His son needed him. The glories of the past were beyond mortal reach. But the future opened.
Denny retreated a few steps from the driver, who hissed and flew forward. Denny sidestepped its lunge.
“Tell me,” he began, “What happens when you look back?”
The phantom paused and glanced behind in confusion. When it resumed its gaze on Denny, it shrieked in horror for the man held his wife’s mirror up to its face. It shrank back and slunk away to the vampire car. The door closed and the ghostly vehicle backed away into the darkness and was swallowed by night.
Denny stood shaking in the road, relief beyond comprehension dawning on him. Suddenly, he felt Aurora’s hand in his and embraced her with a sob.
*All rights reserved. 2017.