HoggsTown, Georgia. Population 2,507, give or take. A small southern town full of friendly folks. If you have never experienced the South, one day there and you will understand that Southern Hospitality really exists. HoggsTown was full of it. A small town where everybody knows everybody, by first name even. Strangers, passing through, did not remain strangers for long. One stop at the filling station, to get some gas, snacks or lottery tickets, and you would meet and speak to several people. ‘Speaking’ was par for the course. These would be people that you would, in most cases, never see again. Unless, of course, you stayed around for a day or two. It was nearly impossible not to get hooked on Southern Fried Foods, either. If you did stay for a while, you were sure to gain weight. Even if you tried not too. Stay late and gain weight. This was the running joke of the townsfolk.
HoggsTown, GA was, also, the hometown of Bettie Burns. She was born and raised here in HoggsTown, at the one and only hospital in town. Actually, it was the only hospital within a 200 mile radius. But that was ok since it employed most of the people in the area. It was a huge hospital. Over 4,500 beds. Being the only hospital in the area meant that it was always busy. Bettie thought that she would probably get a job there for a long time, growing up. But she set her sights on a different career path somewhere around the 7th grade. Now at 17, she lived at home with her parents and was very close to her Mom.
Her Dad on the other hand; well, they were cool, but their relationship was a bit strained. Bettie always believed that her Dad, the all-time winning Coach, would rather her Mom had birthed a Bradford instead of a Bettie. He never said it outright, but his behavior, throughout Bettie’s childhood, spoke volumes. Bettie, who could care less about anything sportsy, sometimes felt that she was a disappointment to her Dad. Because of this, even attending HoggsTown High, where her Dad was the head football coach, was a bit of a challenge. Her Dad, however, was very proud of his ‘baby-girl.’ How could he not be? She maintained her 4.0 average in all of her advanced classes, while at HoggsTown High. Upon graduating, she had scholarships from all of the major colleges and universities within a 1,000 mile radius. But to the surprise of everyone who knew her, and even those who did not, she chose to attend a small culinary school in North Florida. Florida Culinary Arts School (“FCAS”), had no idea who Beatrice Allison Burns was when she showed up on their doorstep a few weeks after she graduated.
Upon her graduation from HoggsTown High, Bettie’s Dad had purchased her the cutest lil’ Vee Dubbya your eye’s ever did see. Or at least that is how most of the town’s folk described it. Bettie thought so, too. Her Dad found the 2001 VW Beetle a couple of towns over while out on one his football scouting excursions. He spotted it in the yard of an elderly couple and was surprised that the ‘For Sale’ sign, which simply stated ‘Inquire Within,’ was on such a beautiful car. So of course, her Dad couldn’t resist but stop by to find out what they were asking for it. After some time with the couple, he shook hands and left. He returned the next day with cash and a tow truck. She was actually blown away by the fact that her Dad got her such a cool car, one that was the talk of the town.
Ever since she was in the 8th Grade, he had been talking about fixing up his old Taurus and giving it to her as graduation gift; however, she was sure her Mom shut down that line of thinking. She would have been happy with it, even though it didn’t have AC. Maybe he was not such a bad guy after all.
She had a nickname for it as soon as she sat in it, Baylee Bug. It worked for more than just a great way to get around it also was a great ice breaker between her and her Dad. Her Mom loved Baylee Bug, too, and felt that her daughter truly deserved it. The VW was definitely a one of a kind buy. It had a custom paint job, gloss white with two stripes that were painted a with a color that was a little deeper than hot pink. The stripes extended from the hood, across the top, down to the back trunk. Heck, it even had a sunroof. Imagine that! It was the perfect going away to college car, even though Bettie had decided to make the daily commute back and forth to FCAS. It was a conversation piece everywhere she went. She’d get at least one note a day, usually left on her driver’s door, telling her how cute her lil’ bug was. Southerner’s. . . always so friendly!
So here she was. Having completed her first semester of FCAS, Bettie was ready for a much needed and well deserved break. She was Top Chef among her peers and was well on her way to having a fine career in the Food Industry. Who knew? Thursday was going to be the last day before her week long break and she could not wait to get the party started. She and her Mom had planned a much needed Girls Day Out. Her Mom, a retired Teacher, still substituted at HoggsTown Elementary from time to time, which helped to keep her going. She did it for the love of the kiddos, not the money.
Unfortunately, during the week leading up to their “shopping spree or bust day“, her Mom caught a nasty cold. Bettie blamed it on the kids at HoggsTown Elementary, which didn’t make her Mom feel any better. Friday morning came and Bettie, who had pushed her snooze button a few times too many, finally hopped up. She was used to getting up really early to give herself time to make the hour and fifteen minute commute to FCAS. Today, she stayed in bed until 10 a.m. in order to give her Mom more time to hopefully start feeling better. Thursday night, Mom went to bed around 6 p.m. with a stuffy nose and headache. Bettie sat with her, for an hour or so, listening to music, laughing and talking.
The next morning, Bettie rolled out of bed, rubbed her cat, Val, on the head and checked her iPhone for the forecast. Val purred with approval as she pulled up the report. “Nice” she thought, it would be a high of 85 degrees with a low of 78 degrees. Perfect shopping and hanging out weather. She headed for her parents room with her fingers crossed. She knocked and her Mom’s weak voice invited her to come in. Dad was already up and gone with spring training for his team. Bettie, looking down at her weak and feeble Mom, now gently rubbed her on the head. Her Mom said something inaudible and fell back asleep.
Bettie left the room and decided to whip up some homemade chicken noodle soup. Since starting at FCAS, she’d learned all kinds of tricks to help her dishes taste T.V. show worthy. She enjoyed all of the cooking shows and watched them faithfully. After 30 minutes or so, she returned to her Mom’s side and sat the bowl of soup on her nightstand. Just before doing so, she notice an envelope that said ‘To: Bettie and Baylee Bug.’ Within the envelope, Bettie found 250 bucks and a note that said, ‘Have fun, take pictures and send ‘em to me for posting!’ When her Mom wasn’t subbing at the school or under the weather, she was either taking pictures or posting them.
She was an avid Social Media user and reconnected with most of her old friends and family using some form of it. To Bettie’s knowledge, Mom had posted at least a dozen pics of her and Baylee Bug to her page. And would check daily for comments on the various Social Media sites. Funny, she remembered a time, not so long ago, that Mom was still sporting a flip-phone and barely knew what Social Media was. Bettie teared up as she read the note, kissed her resting Mom on the forehead and headed back to her room. If not for the note, she would have surely cancelled the trip. She really wasn’t feeling going by herself, but she couldn’t imagine sitting around the house all day staring at Val either. Especially, on the 1st day of Spring Break. After a shower and a banana, Bettie threw on some “Girl, let’s go have some fun” clothes and headed out the door.
It was now nearing 11 a.m., and Bettie and her bug zipped to the outskirts of HoggsTown. She still had about an hour before she’d arrive at her Floridian Destination, so even though she thought about pulling over to grab some gas, she didn’t. She was making great time and she didn’t want to interrupt the flow of her traveling by stopping at some random gas station.
Around noon, Bettie was just a few miles outside of her destination when her stomach began to growl. The banana was long gone and now she was ready for some lunch. Before seeing the sign, telling her it was within 3 miles, Bettie had already decided that she would be stopping by BillyBob’s Burger Joint, to grab one of their burgers, fries and shake combo meals. She was going to throw in one of those fried cheesecake pies, too. BillyBob’s Burger Joint had the best hamburgers in the state and the line was always ridiculously long. It didn’t help that the burger joint didn’t have a drive-thru window. If there were any complaints about the place, that would be the only one. Standing in the forever line…waiting. Although a few of the patrons complained about standing in the forever long line, especially in the Summer, it really didn’t affect business. The food was just that darned good.
Around 12:30 p.m., Bettie pulled into the parking lot of the burger joint. The patron line looked liked something you’d see at one of the world famous Theme Parks. Cars were zipping by everywhere desperately driving around and around looking for a vacant parking space. Bettie drove for 20 minutes before spotting a car backing out of a parking space. As she waited, she thought, “ok, maybe there were two complaints against the joint, parking being the second.” Happy to find the space, Bettie was in the middle of whipping Baylee Bug into it when she noticed something very disturbing about the vehicle that would be parked to the left of her driver’s door. She finished pulling into the space slowly, eyeballing the vehicle as she did so.
The old school Hearse seemed to be out of place. It was black, not shiny or glossy and the windows were so dark, the tint looked like black reflective mirrors, to dark to be legal. The front of the body, the hood and the side panels above the front wheels, gave the appearance of being engulfed in flames. Not your traditional orange, yellow and red flames. The flames were glossy black and they seemed to move and writhe from the front of the car towards the back cab. Speaking of the cab, she was sure that there was a coffin back there.
The windows were blocked with tint and what appeared to be black curtains. She could not see for sure, but felt like it was carrying a coffin. The more Bettie stared, the more she was convinced those flames were moving! How crazy was that! Of course she was imagining the moving flames, but she still wasn’t completely convinced that it was just her imagination. The Hearse also had very large wheels, that were also glossy black. The wheels made the Hearse sit very high. Higher than any Hearse she’d ever seen. She figured it must be a Show Car of some sort. Part of some novelty company or something like that. But she could see no markings indicating so. She imagined driving it around during Halloween, playing ‘Thriller’ as it cruised through various neighborhoods as part of their Trunk or Treat festivities. She chuckled nervously about that thought as she cautiously stepped out of her car.
Stepping back into reality, she could only imagine something from the Hearse opening one of the door’s and grabbing her. Pulling her into that thing of a car before any of the patrons noticed and then speeding off. With all of their minds on their stomachs, no one would notice her fighting for her life. She chuckled again, slightly, and thought, ‘Note to self: Self, it’s time to cut back on the scary movies.’ Bettie, now out of her car and moving towards the front of the Hearse, she was almost hit by a car speeding by to grab a vacant space that just opened up. Ok, complaint #3, Speeding through the parking lot, and the list was growing. How ironic though, almost being killed right in front of a Hearse. How many times had that happened? Bettie smiled and wondered.
The food here was excellent, as apparent by the long line and packed parking lot. Shaken up by the site of the Hearse, the speeding car, and the fact that now her stomach was completely empty. Bettie made it to the back of the line, which wasn’t far from where the Hideous Hearse was parked. Who in the world was driving that thing? The more Bettie stared at it, the more it creeped her out. To help put her mind at ease, Bettie tuned into the conversation that was going on between a middle-aged couple in front of her. “I’m tellin’ ya Sweetie, when I kick the bucket, I wanna go out in style like that” as he pointed at the Hearst. “Yes, ma’am! That can be my last ride outta here! I’m good with that!’ With that he let out a hearty laugh. His wife, seemingly use to her Husband’s antics, just looked, grimaced and responded, “Well, I don’t wanna be nowhere’s near that thing, dead or alive!” Bettie only hoped her face didn’t show her feelings about their awkwardly loud exchange. She politely slipped in her earbuds and tuned into one of her favorite Pandora stations. Ironically, Deadmau5 began playing.
After what seemed like forever, no wonder they called it “Forever Line”, Bettie finally arrived to the front of the line. The cool thing about this burger joint was that they only served burgers, fries, sodas and shakes. Nothing extra other than the occasional sweet treats that would pop up on the standard menu. For the longest time though, they’d kept the fried cheesecake pies the only sweet item on the menu.
Bettie ordered her favorite combo, added one the pies and 10 minutes later she was headed back to her car. She was hoping the Hearse was gone; unfortunately, it wasn’t. She made a large arch to not walk too close to the strange vehicle. As she moved pass it to get to her car, she noticed, for the first time a large orange and white ‘FOR SALE’ sign. Was that there before? She was sure it wasn’t because she would have seen it. Or would she have? Bettie, now a little more freaked out than before, quickly unlocked her car, slid in, slammed her door shut and locked it. She wondered now, what was the asking price for such a hideous vehicle. Moving to fast to read the sign, she had no idea, but was not curious enough to get out of her car to see. She would have stayed there in the parking lot to eat her combo, but decided that she had seen enough of this beast of a vehicle. She left the parking lot, much to the approval of a patron who had driven around for over 30 minutes. BillyBob’s Burger Joint was definitely getting busier by the minute.
Bettie ended up in the Cedar Pines Shopping Center parking lot. This center was huge! It held nearly 200 discount stores and she was planning to stop through most, if not all, of them. As she finished her delicious lunch, Bettie sat in her car for a moment listening to music and relaxing. She was thankful that she had made it away from the burger joint, alive. There were a lot of strange and exotic cars here in the area, but that one took the cake. Climbing out of her car, she grabbed her purse and headed for a few hours of shopping.
She returned later with both arms loaded with shopping evidence that she had, indeed, stopped to quite a few of the shopping center’s stores. Several bags contained clothing, shoes, a couple of purses she couldn’t resist and a new pair of Wireless Beats headphones that she had been eyeing since their release last Christmas. Normally, she would not have spent so much on a set of headphones, but she found them marked down $100 bucks. She had been gone for a few hours and figured she should probably text her Mom to let her know that all was well. She would also use this opportunity to make sure she was ok. Bettie sent the text and decided she needed to get moving before nightfall. It would be here before you knew it. Dusk was setting in quickly and she had planned to make it back before it got too late. She would also need to stop, get gas for Baylee Bug and grab a large coffee from the Coffee Shack on the way home.
A few blocks from Cedar Pines, Bettie stopped to the top off Baylee Bug’s tank. While filling up, she checked to see if her Mom had responded. Mom had, thanking her for the wonderful chicken noodle soup. She also said that she was feeling much better which made Bettie happy. She thought that she should snap and send her a couple of pics of Baylee Bug, so she did. Just as she was forwarding the pics to her Mom, Bettie heard a loud truck approaching the gas tanks behind her. It squealed to a stop and Bettie slowly turned around expecting to see some high-rise behemoth of a truck, half covered with mud and country music blaring from the inside.
Yet, what she actually saw sent a chill up her spine. It was the Hideous Hearse and it was one gas lane across from her! ‘K-CHUNK!’ The gas nozzle, resetting itself, made Bettie jump. She quickly slipped it out of the tank and back into place. As best she could, Bettie watched the Hearse from her peripheral as she tightened her VW’s gas cap, closed the flap and jumped inside. Terrified, she waited for 30 minutes to see if someone or something would climb out of that weird looking car. Nothing or no one did. After another 15 minutes, she figured the operator must have slipped inside while she was putting away the gas nozzle and securing her tank. That must’ve been it. Or the person was sitting, one gas lane over, staring back at her through those dark tinted windows. She really couldn’t tell and now that it was dark, she realized she had one more stop, to grab coffee, before hitting the long road back home.
She started her car and slowly drove around to the backside of the building. Totally stalling in order to catch a glimpse of the driver. Why was she so curious? She had no idea, but for some reason she felt like the Hearse may have been following her. That’s a crazy thought, she must be tired. As she drove back around, from behind the station, she realized that the Hearse was gone. It was like it vanished into thin air. She hadn’t stalled around the other side of the gas station that long, had she? As all kinds of thoughts raced through her mind, she’s began to question what was real and what wasn’t.
As she sat there on the side of the gas station, trying to make sense of it all, she took a look at her watch. It read 7:37 P.M. and it was getting late. She really didn’t have time to play detective concerning the identity of who or what was operating some old jazzed up Hearse. Bettie decided it was time to get moving if she wanted to make it back home tonight. She did have a random thought though: “How coincidental was it to have seen that car clear on the other side of town and then to have seen it here, just now?” Bettie didn’t believe in coincidences. But, she wouldn’t allow herself to get to worked up about it. She still had a very long drive ahead of her, so she needed to remain in a good headspace. Because she was starting to feel a little strange, she had to fight back the urge to call her Mom, or Dad, for that matter. Bettie pulled out of the Stop-N-Grab parking lot and headed for the Coffee Shack. She was already excited about grabbing her large, iced, caramel coffee with 3 shots of espresso. It was getting late and she was on edge.
With her Nuclear Rush Coffee in hand, Bettie started the long journey home. En route, she couldn’t help but think about how much fun she’d had during the day. She found a lot of great sales and she even grabbed a couple of things for her Mom. Her Dad was too hard to shop for. Her thoughts eventually drifted back to her experiences with the Hearse. She realized she had been terrified of those vehicles since she was little. She remembered finding out as a little girl, what they were and why they were needed. She had attended several funerals, but could never get over the sight of the Hearses that were used.
The Head Hearse, the one that carried the body of the deceased, freaked her out the most. She would always have dreams about being trapped inside a coffin that was locked inside a Hearse. Just being left there for days, kicking and screaming in hopes that someone would hear her. Rescue her. In her dreams, no one ever came. She would wake up sweating and hoping she had not disturbed her parents. Seeing a real life Hearse brought on anxieties that deeply disturbed her. She couldn’t take her mind off of seeing the strange vehicle and how it made her feel. She wondered if she’d be able to describe it to her Mom tomorrow. Heck! She should’ve snapped a pic or two for her Mom. Mom would’ve gotten a kick out of that and posted it immediately. It would have generated as much hoopla as any of her Baylee Bug pics, maybe more.
While traveling back towards HoggsTown, Bettie ported her phone to her car’s stereo and pulled up Pandora. She chose a different station this time because she wanted to chill and drive. The instrumental version of Light by ODESZA began playing as Bettie turned another sharp curve. The Chill Out Station was the absolute best for late night driving as long as you weren’t drowsy. Having half finished her Nuke, she was feeling wiry and wide awake.
The drive was full of beautiful scenery during the daylight hours. At night, the drive was another story. Specifically, nights when there was a full moon, like tonight. Most of the trip, you would have to drive with your high beams glaring just to see down the road a few feet. There were seldom road markers on these old back roads so you really had to pay attention and drive cautiously. Most of the time, you were the only car for 20 or 30 miles. Bettie really didn’t like late night driving on this particular back road. There were crucifixes every few miles, sometimes 3 or 4 on the really steep and sharp curves. Marking where people had lost family members and loved ones to fatal car accidents. And a lot of them were lone accidents where those left behind figured sleep must have gotten the best of their loved ones; unfortunately, while operating a vehicle. Seldom a positive ending to those tales.
Even though the Nuke was doing it’s job, the crucifixes help to remind Bettie to stay alert, or one might be put out in her honor. The road, I-125 North, was the typical Southern Backroad. There were plenty of people who traveled it enough at night to know every drop and curve that came their way. Bettie, not the best driver at night on the straightest of roads, could barely go faster than 55mph at night, that slowed her up drastically. She was doing the best she could when she noticed something flashing about a mile down the road in front of her.
She had not seen a car for the past hour so to see something flashing up ahead put her on edge. Instinctively, slowing down as she got closer to the flashing light, Bettie came to a complete stop once she pulled up to the blockade. The road, completely blocked, had a detour sign that advised all traveling I-125 North to take the left. The dark dirt road, to the left, concerned Bettie for several reasons. For one, she traveled I-125 a lot, but she had never seen this side road. Ever. Another concern, was that she really didn’t like driving on dirt roads. Dirt roads, under moonlit nights, were definitely a no-go in Bettie’s opinion.
If she were closer to her Florida Rendezvous Shopping Spot she would have turned around and phoned a friend. Crashing at a friend’s in Florida didn’t seem like such a bad idea at the moment. Not at all. She sat there long enough to convince herself to keep on pushing forward. No turning back now. So she drove Baylee Bug on to the dirt road hoping that it would only be short trip before another detour sign pointed her back to pavement.
Just as she got going she noticed that her iPhone battery life had just dropped to 5%. This was all bad. She fished around her glove compartment for her charging cable, but it was not there. Checking her armrest next, she realized she must have stuffed it in her purse before she left home. Forgetting to plug it in, once she began her journey, was proving to be a huge oversight. Now, knowing that her purse was too far to reach without stopping, Bettie only hoped that she would be able to make it to the paved road, find a good spot to pull over and find her purse.
There was NO WAY she was gonna get out here in the pitch black darkness. She could barely stand riding through it in her locked car. So opening the door and getting out? No way. Her iPhone was now showing 3% and Bettie could only see a few feet ahead. The wind was beginning to pick up and it looked as though the tall pines were waving at her and Baylee Bug as she drove by them. She was just about to check the time when ‘BWAP!’ Something large and heavy fell onto her roof.
She floored the gas pedal and nearly ran into an embankment a few yards in front of her. Bettie assumed it was just a limb falling from one of the overhanging pines. At least that’s what she rationalized it to be, but she was taking no chances out here at this hour. No way to really tell without stopping, putting the car in park and getting out to inspect. No way. As long as Baylee Bug was running there was no need to get out. Except if her phone died and something happened. Bettie was feeling the pressure of being between a rock and a hard place. Darned if she did, and darned if she didn’t.
The dirt road was very bumpy and narrow. Bettie could only drive about 25mph as she slowly traveled this road to nowhere. She would never get back home at this rate. She wondered how another car, traveling South, would pass her. She would have to pull over close to the brush in order to let them pass, or vice-versa. After sometime, her iPhone faded to black, and Bettie began to feel a bit stranded even though she was steadily moving North.
In an attempt to break the deafening silence, she pushed FM on her radio and began to turn the dial for a radio station; any radio station. She appreciated all types of music but she wasn’t particular about Country Music. She found most of it rather depressing. She did like that one lady though. What was her name? Martina something. Oh yeah, Martina McBride. What a voice! She couldn’t think of any of Martina’s songs, but she like them all. Random thoughts, like these, continued to flood Bettie’s mind. Surely, it was because of her nerves. She was becoming a nervous wreck out here in the middle of God-knows-where. And as she began to frantically go from station to station…all she could find was static. Even though the AC was blowing, Bettie began to sweat a little. There wasn’t a single station playing a single song. This was crazy. She was never an avid radio listener, Pandora took care of that. And she never thought to add any of the satellite radio stations to her car stereo. Any of those stations would have given her a strong, steady signal, no matter where she was. As far as random thoughts goes, this was her hindsight moment.
Continuing down the dark dirt road, Bettie finally gave up on the FM stations and switched over to AM. Who still tunes in to AM stations? Bettie had never, but she was beyond desperate to find something to help her overcome her anxiety. She turned the dial slowly and found something. It was one of those Oldie but Goodie Station’s that her Mom loved. The DJ was saying something about rising, shining and getting up out of the bed. He then referred to it being 9:50 A.M. and Bettie knew that it was a recording. Looking at her watch, it was just after midnight.
Great, she thought, as the song began to play, ‘Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone…. It’s not warm when she’s away… Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone… She’s always gone too long…. Anytime she goes away…’ As the song played Bettie began to feel a little creeped out. She turned the dial and tried to find another station. Anything else. Nothing but more static, so she turned down the volume and drove in the bumpy silence.
After a few minutes, more than 30, she slowly turned the volume up thinking that another oldie but goodie would be playing by now…. ‘I think I should leave the young thing alone… Cause ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone… Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone… Only darkness everyday…. Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone… This house just ain’t no home… Anytime she goes away… Anytime she goes away… Anytime she goes away… Anytime she goes away…’ Bettie didn’t know wether to laugh or cry. She knew that the DJ was pre-recorded, but she figured his playlist included more than one song. Am I seriously gonna have to listen to this song over and over until I get home?! This is absolutely ridiculous! As Bettie realized it was either that song or silence she began to turn the volume down slightly, when she notice a couple of red lights down the road in front of her. YES! Finally she was getting to end of this dreaded road and would be back on pavement soon! She had never been so excited to be finally reaching pavement. She had totally took driving on it for granted before this journey.
As Bettie closed in on the red lights, she realized that they belonged to something that ….was… moving? Whatever it was, she began to realize that it was moving…. just a little slower than she was. This is how she was able to drive up on it and rather quickly. It was also kicking up the proverbial dust clouds as it traveled. Bettie was sure that her car was doing the same thing, it was just too dark to see anything behind her.
As she slowed down, so as to not be too close to the other traveler, she realized that it was indeed another vehicle. The all black license plate had white letters that she could now read. CHARI8. Odd. She didn’t recognize the plate as being from Georgia or Florida. Strange. Under normal circumstances, Bettie would time herself to see how fast she could figure out various plates she’d see on cars as she traveled. It was fun to figure out other people’s view on how a word could be coded. She was a master de-coder but this one stumped her. Maybe she was just tired from her short turned extended trip.
As she tried to guess it, she couldn’t quite get it, at first. Was it someone’s name? Chari 8? Char 18? Hmmm… No, some thing maybe? Char – I – 8….? And then she got it, Chariot! Clever… but, still odd. As ‘Sunshine’ continued to play in the background, Bettie made a bone-chilling discovery. One that literally made her shiver and feel nauseous in the pit of her stomach. The plate was attached to the Hearse she had seen earlier in the day! She slammed on the brakes so hard that Baylee Bug slid a few feet before coming to a complete stop. As Bettie sat there, completely horrified, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Even though she had never seen the Hearse from behind, she knew that it was the same vehicle. She didn’t have to see the side or the front. She really didn’t want to see that thing again, ever. In an effort to become incognito in all of the surrounding darkness, Bettie turned off her car and her headlights. She left the key in the ignition in case she had to make a dash to drive around the side of the Hearse. The radio continued to play ‘Sunshine’ now for the 5th time… non-stop. Knowing that there were only inches on either side of the Hearse, at this point, she figured she’d go for it and have Baylee Bug repaired later. The thought of purposely damaging Baylee Bug, the one true gift her Dad had ever given her, made tears flow freely down her face.
The Hearse traveled for a few more feet and then the 2 red lights began to glow brightly. A signal to anyone behind it that it was stopping. Bettie began to whimper and grabbed up her dead phone. It was dead now over an hour and Bettie unclipped her seatbelt as she pressed buttons frantically hoping for a miracle. She could now reach further back into the back seat to look for her purse and find her charging cable. Never taking her eyes off the Hearse, she dug frantically through all of her shopping bags, throwing stuff in the front seat, on the floor, anywhere she could. Even if she found the charging cord, what good would it do? It would take the phone a few minutes to charge up wouldn’t it?! Since she had never let her phone die, she had no idea.
Suddenly, after sitting on the dark, narrow dirt road for several minutes, the red lights turned white and the Hearse began to slowly back up. NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! Bettie screamed as she started her car. The Hearse backed up a few feet and began to angle itself now blocking any chance of her passing on either side. Bettie could now clearly see the Hearse from an almost full side view. She also noticed the ‘For Sale’ sign in the back window. What was that written on it…? The words, ‘Inquire Within,’ were in large bold and black letters. She gripped the steering wheel, with both hands, so tightly they became numb. Her heartbeat thumped over her entire body.
The flames were now moving around like snakes and appeared to be sliding off the car onto the ground. Screaming, Bettie had never felt more trapped, helpless or alone. Completely frozen in fear, Bettie watched as the “flames” began to slither off of the Hearse, onto the dirt road and move towards her car. The VW began to move and shake as she felt them grab Baylee Bugs tires. She slammed the car into reverse and jammed the gas pedal to the floor. The engine screamed, but the car did not move. It was being held, firmly. And now the driver’s door on the Hearse began to slowly open…About that time, something slid up Bettie’s neck. It felt cold, rough, wet and caused Bettie to scream so loud that she gagged. The last thing she remembered….. was a very bright light….that began to shine…. across….. her face……… and that song that would not stop playing….. Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone… Only darkness everyday…. Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone… This house just ain’t no home… Anytime she goes away… Anytime she goes away… Anytime she goes away… Anytime she goes away…’
She heard Val give a low rumbling purr as he licked the side of her face. It’s as if Val sensed that she was dreaming. She gasped, opened her eyes and quickly covered them with her hand. The sun, peeking through her window, was shining brightly across her face. Her iPhone was sitting next to her bed, on her nightstand, playing ‘Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone…’ She sat it there and programmed it to wake her up at 9:50 A.M. to start her day. In her Mom’s room, before going to bed the night before, Bettie found an Oldies but Goodies Pandora Station to play for her Mom. Her Mom thoroughly enjoyed it and Bettie forgot to change it back to one of her own stations before heading back to her room where she had fallen asleep. Rubbing Val across his head, Bettie laughed until she cried. Tears of joy.