There’s a stretch of Route 33 that goes over Shenandoah Mountain. It’s one of the most beautiful roads in the country—some parts cling to the side of the mountain, with gorgeous view of the valley below. Others snake through deep, lush forest, scattered with deer and all kinds of wildlife.
But, if you ever see a car broken down on the side of it—
Don’t you dare stop.
Connor and I first saw it on the way to his parents’ house one evening. A silver Accord, parked askew in the grass. The flashers were on, blinking in the blue dusk. And stuck in the back window was a piece of paper, scrawled with the words HELP! BROKE DOWN.
But Connor didn’t slow down.
“Police patrol the area all the time,” he said, swerving around it. “They’ll be just fine.”
I scoffed. “Oh, no, I know what this is about.” I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at him. “Getting to your parents on time is more important than helping out someone who’s stranded on the side of the road. That’s it, isn’t it?!”
“No. As I just said, Vee—if they actually need help, they’ll flag down an officer.”
“Why are you being so terrible?! They broke down! They need our help!”
“If they really broke down, Vee,” he said, yanking the steering wheel, “why did they just pull out behind us?”
I turned to the mirror.
No—Two white lights, swinging onto the road.
I was thrown back in my seat, as Connor put the pedal to the floor. We flew through the darkness; branches scraped at the car, and the wind howled.
“I knew we should’ve waited ‘til morning,” he muttered under his breath.
“Bad people hang ‘round here at night.” His voice was barely audible over the roar of the car. “Dad’s always talking about ‘em, but I never believed him. Thought they were tall tales, you know, to scare me into not taking this road. It’s a dangerous road, with the curves and all.”
“Bad people? What do you mean?” The headlights disappeared behind a bend. “Like cults? Or serial killers? Or—”
“Maybe both,” he said. “Just know all the victims are found the same way: in the middle of the woods, completely naked, with slashes across their throats.”
I shuddered, and my mind began to race. What if they catch up with us? What if they get us? What if—
But then I saw it.
A narrow road, splitting off from the right side of the highway, climbing up into the forest.
I glanced in the mirror. The headlights hadn’t reappeared yet.
“Turn, there!” I said. “And then cut the lights. They’ll pass us right up.”
Connor hesitated. “I don’t even know where that goes,” he said. “Didn’t even think there was an exit for another twenty miles, at least.”
He jerked the steering wheel. The seatbelt cut into my chest, as we veered off, braked to a stop.
And then waited for the Accord to pass. Two, five, then ten minutes.
But they never came.
“Did we lose them?”
“Must have,” he said. “Let’s go.” The car rumbled to life. He turned sharply towards the trees, then backed up—
A shadow caught in the headlights.
Silver metal and glass.
Lights off, still and silent, parked right behind us.
I screamed. Connor cursed under his breath. We swerved back onto the road, heading deeper into the forest. “If this is a dead end, then—”
We went flying. Dirt and trees and sky all whirled together. I shut my eyes, screaming, clinging to the door.
We hit the tree with a loud crunch.
“I’m fine,” I groaned. “Just hit my head, but—”
I whipped around.
The Accord was ramming into us, over and over.
“Get out!” Connor yelled.
I swung the door open, and tumbled out of the car. We stumbled through the forest, back in the direction of 33. Branches clawed at my arms; rocks bit into my feet. Tears were running down my face, and it took everything in me to silence my sobs. “I can’t do this,” I heaved. “I can’t—”
I whipped around. Someone was stepping out of the Accord—a tall, pale figure with wild hair, illuminated in the flickering light of our dying headlights.
“Where is it?!” Connor huffed. “Where’s 33?! We didn’t drive that far away. Where the hell is it?!”
But he was right.
There were only branches, dirt, darkness.
Route 33 was gone.
It was as if the forest had swallowed us up, and severed us completely from the outside world. Behind us, the figure advanced, the sharp crunch of footsteps echoing off the trees.
“I’m so sorry,” Connor said, his voice faltering.
But then I saw it. A light—smeared and blurry through my tears, shining through the trees like a beacon of hope.
We stumbled towards it. The trees got sparser; the underbrush grew thicker. Patches of blue sky peeked through the branches.
“Oh, thank God!” I gasped.
It was a flashlight.
And beyond it—
The uniform of a police officer.
Unfortunately, by the time we led the officer back to our car, the silver Accord was gone.
But, fortunately, Route 33 didn’t actually disappear. We must’ve just gotten disoriented in the darkness. She told us it’s very common for people to get lost in these woods, even during the daytime.
After filing various paperwork, she safely drove us to my in-laws’ house. The four of us had a great dinner, too much dessert, and lots of laughs. “Want to take a walk?” I asked Connor, after things had settled down. “I think I need to walk off all that ice cream.”
“Sure,” he said, taking my hand.
We took a short walk around the block. It was fully dark, now, and the stars twinkled high above. A cool breeze came in from the west, fluttering through my hair.
And in the moonlight, something glinted across the street.
“Connor! Look!” I grabbed his arm.
Parked on the street was a dented, silver Accord.