It's the Fall of 1994 in the small milltown of Belford, New York. The leaves are turning, the kids are going back to school, and the heat of Summer is giving way to a cool, misty season. It happens every Fall.
Only this Fall, people are disappearing into that mist. Some people are found torn apart, some people are found dead for no reason, and some people aren't found at all. Other people see strange things in the mist: ghosts and campfire stories.
There's something out there in that mist. Something old. Something that has slept for a long time, but has now woken up hungry. Maybe the people of Belford could resist it, but as the terrible Fall wears on, more and more of them start...changing. Acting bizarre and violent. In the end, only a small group of teenage defenders are left to make their stand.
It was late when Vicki finally left, and it was pretty dark. Clouds had covered the moon and stars, and it was foggy again.
Hm. Two nights in a row. Must be because it's getting so cold at night...but then, why is it doing that, either?
Valerie lived in a trailer a little ways out in the woods from Belford. Vicki lived right on the edge of town. It was roughly a fifteen-minute drive between their houses, on a narrow, winding, ill-maintained back road through the woods. Usually, that didn't bother Vicki a bit. Usually, she traveled that back road at approximately seventy miles per hour. Not tonight, though. Tonight, it was foggy enough to make the road a blank white wall no more than ten yards or so in front of her headlights. Trees were looming, massive shapes, turning the road into a dark corridor. Vicki drove well under the speed limit tonight.
Shit, I don't like this. Can't see signs and turns until you're almost to 'em...if I didn't know this road, I'd be having real trouble. She nervously checked her fuel gauge. Three-quarters full. Hate to break down tonight. That would really suck. Damn. What a night to be telling ghost stories.
That had been the last thing that she and Val had done before she had left: watch the flickering shadows that the fire pit cast into the woods and try to scare each other. It had started when Vicki had mentioned the story of “the Reaper,” and things had just gone from there. Two stories stuck with Vicki now. One she had told herself: the story of Old Man Harfield.
Supposedly, Luther Harfield had been a Baptist minister some time just before the turn of the century. One night, for no reason that anyone could discover, he had killed his entire family – his wife and four children – with an axe. He had been found the next day, sitting in a circle he had made with their bodies, just staring straight ahead. Horrified, the people of Belford – including much of his own congregation – had hauled him into the woods and lynched him.
Not long after, several campers were found hacked to bits with an axe. The murders continued for years, unsolved. There was no real pattern, but the killings happened more often around the time of year, and near the place, that Luther Harfield had been hanged. Finally, in the 1930's, a hobo who had been camping in the woods stumbled into town, a babbling wreck. Three of his friends had been killed by a man with an axe. He described the man, and the description fit Harfield exactly. The killings slowed down after that, but campers still disappeared occasionally, and every so often, someone would spot a man wandering the woods, carrying an axe.
Vicki had scared Val good with that one. She knew that Val would make sure all the doors on the trailer were locked after that one. Probably lock her window, too, the heat be damned. Might not go into the woods for days, even in the daytime. Vicki snickered a little at that.
But then she thought of the story that Val had told. Ordinarily, it wouldn't bother her at all, but after what had happened to Lila and Jeremy – shit, those stories were real! Besides, it was just the kind of night that made the imagination run wild. The fact that the story of the Roadster took place on the very road she was traveling made the whole matter that much worse.
It happened sometime in the Fifties, Val had said. The town thug at the time was a guy named Curtis Knowles. He'd fit the stereotype of the Greaser perfectly: greasy black hair, black leather jacket, customized car, switchblade, and all. One night, as he was driving home from a party in a clearing back in the woods that no longer existed, he had gone over the "Cop Drop" and died. The "Cop Drop" was a deceptively sharp turn in the road with a bank on one side that dropped twenty feet into a grove of trees. It had gotten its name because a police officer had, indeed, gone over that bank. He had survived. Curtis had not. The official line on his death had been that he was drunk and speeding, which he may have been, but it was whispered around Belford high school that one of the many people he had terrorized had been at the party and had cut his brake lines.
Soon after Curtis's death, the number of accidents at the Cop Drop, always high, increased dramatically. A few survivors reported that they had been driven off the road by Curtis's car – a huge black Fifties Ford with flames painted on its hood and sides. But there were very few survivors. Many were found in their cars at the bottom of the drop, their throats cut with a switchblade. Some people – even to this day – disappeared completely. They started off down the road, and somehow they just never made it to Belford. Others had been chased by Knowles's roadster from the Cop Drop to within sight of Belford – at which point it just vanished.
Vicki thought about that and shivered. Wish I could go faster without killing myself. I wanna get home.
Vicki was nearing the Cop Drop when she looked into her rearview mirror and nearly jumped out of her skin. Then she settled back down, trying to bring her breathing back to normal, and trying to make her heart stop pounding. It's just someone's headlights! She scolded herself. That's good news, you idiot! It means you're not alone on this stupid road. You're letting these stories get to you too much.
Then she looked at her rearview mirror, and she noticed two things that started her heart pounding again. The first was that the headlights were the wrong color. Rather than the usual bright, blinding yellow-white, they were a dead, blank gray.
The second was that they were much closer and approaching fast.
The headlights disappeared below the rearview mirror's field of vision, and a solid thump rattled Vicki's car as the newcomer rammed her.
Vicki knew that, legally, she should not leave the scene of an accident. Common sense told her to stop and examine the damage. Common sense told her that what she thought was happening could not be. Something deeper than common sense told her to speed up.
Her foot began to press the pedal to the floor. The hum of her engine began to increase in pitch and volume. She dared a look in her mirror, and she felt an instant of relief as she saw the two gray circles fall a little bit back. Then the other car's engine roared, sending it lurching forward to slam into Vicki again. The jolt was harder this time, and Vicki was flung hard into her seatbelt, which slapped her right back into the cushions.
Hot fear rushed through Vicki's body, flushing her face. Her mouth, dry from her gasping breath, filled with the sour taste of fear. Her pulse pounded at her temples and throbbed in her ears, half-drowning the screaming engines. Her foot pressed harder, and the sound of her engine grew to a roar. The needle of her speedometer pressed toward seventy.
A yellow blur flashed past her on the right. She hadn't had time to read it, but she knew what it said. It was a sign that recommended a speed of 30 mph for the approaching turn.
Oh, shit. Oh, fuck. The Cop Drop. Oh, please, God.
She started to let up on the gas, hoping to actually try what they'd told her to do in Driver's Ed when she was entering a turn too fast: let up on the gas going into the turn, then use it again on the way through, hoping that it'll pull you through.
As she started to slow, her pursuer rammed her in the back again. Vicki's body whipcracked. She wasn't going to be allowed to do that.
Desperate, Vicki tried to get into the other lane, so she could take the turn on the inside, away from the Cop Drop itself.
Her pursuer wasn't going to allow that, either. Vicki saw a dark shape coming up on her left, cutting her off. The shape was black and shiny and massive compared to her 1984 Ford Taurus. It was also an old shape. Then she saw a streak of red starting just after those wrong-colored headlights.
The Roadster. This can't be happening.
The Roadster began to press toward her. Its front end bumped her rear.
I'm gonna die. Oh Jesus God I'm gonna die.
Suddenly, yellow-white light blazed in front of her. For the briefest of instants, Vicki thought that that light meant she was dead. Then she realized what it – they – were.
Coming the other way.
Vicki screamed. The newcomer was going to crash into the Roadster, the whole mass would crash into her...
The lights passed her by.
The lane beside her was empty.
Vicki took advantage of that, pulling into it, using her Driver's Ed technique as well as she could. She strained with all of her strength, trying to physically force her car onto a safe path.
Vicki flew around the corner and started to skid. The rear end of her car started to swing back out toward the Cop Drop.
Another of Vicki's Driver's Ed lessons came back to her: Turn into the skid.
She straightened her car and she didn't even pause before she took off down the road as fast as she dared, which was much faster than it had been before.
Only after she had righted her car did Vicki realize: They didn't crash. He wasn't in that lane.
She looked in her rearview mirror, expecting to see those gray headlights closing on her once more, but there was nothing. Just the darkness and the mist.
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Matthew Keville wrote his first short stories in first grade, when the books on the shelves didn't have the stories he wanted. The stories have been his constant friends since then, and they've carried him through some hard times. He grew up in a small town where you either leave at eighteen or live there forever. He elected to leave at eighteen. Now he lives in New York City where everyone is only working as a waiter or bus driver or stockbroker until they make it on Broadway. This makes him different and special, because he’s only working as a paralegal until he makes it as a writer.