OCTOBER 5TH, 8 : 41 AM
If only she wouldn't keep reappearing, Lord, if only. Then things could be so much easier.
Lang paused his silent prayer and concentrated more on the road up ahead.
He sped up their Suburban until entering the median turn lane. He brought the vehicle to a quiet, subdued halt and looked to his right. Evan, yet rambling on about the Channel 3 News van, leaned back into his seat, allowing Lang a better view. Lang's weary eyes strained to focus. Of course. Typical morning westward-bound rush of traffic. Heavy. Loud. Many distant dots starting at the top of the hill soon became huge behemoths, rumbling, swooshing by.
He heard Evan continuing to speak but he didn't pay close attention. And he didn't look in Evan's eyes.
Evan would be better off without him. The boy needed a real father now, not someone stuck in delusions and sorrow.
A break in the traffic finally arrived, giving Lang a few extra seconds. He couldn't fight it anymore. Within that dark cloud in his mind, he continued his prayer: Lord. Please. Take me. Soon. I don’t belong here anymore.
There, he thought. Did it.
Yet that horrible, dark feeling remained.
He sighed quietly and pressed his foot upon the accelerator, beginning the Suburban’s short trek across the highway to get on Main.
Blurred, crooked vision and spinning dizziness suddenly overtook him. A hard thud rattled his body’s center. An earthquake? Local explosion at a building site?
“Dad! Go faster! They’ll hit us!”
Alerted, Lang looked right, both the disrupting vision problem and dizziness now gone. Vehicles he hadn’t seen coming down the hill earlier headed directly for them. A maroon pickup truck, its horn blasting Lang’s eardrums, was getting dangerously close to Evan’s door.
Lang slammed down on the accelerator, spinning the tires loose, and zoomed the Suburban across the highway just in time.
Tire screeches cut through the air.
Darn! Some of those other vehicles must have collided with each other!
His heart pounded and his breathing came rapid. He needed to stop. He steered the Suburban to the right side of Main, driving it to the area with the wide shoulder and slight decline, near the rock sculpture sign for Park River. He braked it there.
“What the heck just happened?” Evan asked. “Are you all right?”
“I think so. Just…just breathing kind of hard.” Pain emanated from his hands. “Darn. Got my hands gripping too much.” He gradually wiggled his fingers free from the steering wheel. He looked at Evan. Lord, no. Evan’s eyes were nearly tear-filled, and blood-shot. “Did you feel that back there?”
“Yes. I felt something, like a deep explosion, only inside of me. What was that?”
“I don’t know. But I couldn’t see right, and felt dizzy.”
“You almost came to a complete stop. You think your heart’s okay?”
“Why did I hear tires screeching? I got out of the way quickly, didn’t I?”
“No one hit us. I think you did.” Evan turned around toward the Suburban’s back window. “No way!” He pointed in that direction. “Look on Highway 10!”
Ignoring the rear view mirror, to get a real view, Lang turned back. At the same spot on the highway they had just experienced this whole strange episode, a white Suburban, exactly like theirs, was parked, not moving a bit. Huh? He blinked several times, adjusting his eyes’ focus. But it was still there. And that maroon pickup, a Chevy pickup, had obviously made the screeching noise; it had nearly T-boned this other Suburban, stopping only several feet from the Suburban’s passenger side doors. “What the…why didn’t I see this other Suburban before, in my mirrors?”
“I don’t know, Dad.”
“I want to check this out,” Lang said, clicking off seat belt. He slowly inched his door open, conscientious of the traffic flowing by on Main. “And yes, my heart feels fine. Just beating fast from adrenaline. Not sure why I felt dizzy.” Vehicles on Main were moving by slower than usual - drivers were gawking at the nearby close-hit.
“Glad your heart’s okay. Can I come too?”
“Okay, but stay near the curb. Got it?”
“Yeah. I will.”
Lang walked down to their Suburban’s tail end, meeting up with Evan. He nudged Evan closer to the curb, making certain he was far enough away from traffic, and then stood near him.
“I definitely didn’t see a Suburban like ours following us,” Evan said. “You sure you didn’t?”
“No. I certainly did not.”
Lang stared at the scene. From his view, he couldn’t see the highway’s hill anymore, since the pine trees and Bob’s Auto Service blocked his view. But he could see westward-bound vehicles slowing down and snaking around the Chevy pickup and other white Suburban. The vehicles’ paths edged into the highway’s right lane shoulder since the Chevy pickup and other Suburban now blocked the left lane.
Arriving suddenly from the west, a police car, lights flashing, drove down the left turn lane and then, when no traffic blocked its path, drove in front of the other Suburban. The police car drove around the maroon Chevy pickup, its path heading against traffic, and eventually parked on the highway’s south side shoulder, out of traffic’s way.
The police car’s door opened. Ron Erickson stepped out.
“Hey, it’s Ron, the police chief,” Evan said.
“I know. We just talked to him yesterday, remember?”
“Yeah, I know, in church. Dad, did you want to take a photo or video of this?”
“Umm…” Lang reached into his pants pocket and brought out his phone. He held it up and made sure to snap a photo of the entire scene. “Just a quick pic. I want to watch this with my eyes, especially since Ron’s here now. He may not appreciate it.” He kept the phone in his hand, though.
Ron walked over to the maroon Chevy pickup and a man hopped out. While speaking with the man, Ron periodically glanced at Lang and Evan, or at the other white Suburban, until he finished speaking. The man climbed back into his Chevy truck. Once getting a clear path in traffic, the man drove his truck across the highway and parked it near Bob’s.
But Ron seemed far more interested in that other Suburban. He stared at it a moment. He walked over to it, his motion direct, stern. He chose to navigate around this other Suburban’s rear bumper, most likely to avoid the right lane traffic that passed by the Suburban’s nose. He cautiously walked up to the driver’s side window and looked in. He jerked back, startled.
“What the…” Lang said, his heart revving up again.
“Why did Ron do that?” Evan asked.
Slowly Ron looked in Lang’s direction.
“I don’t know.” Lang thrust his free hand up and waved at Ron.
Ron waved back, though he did so half-heartedly. He then slowly leaned closer to the driver’s side window. He began talking loudly to the occupants inside. Lang couldn’t hear everything he was saying, but did hear the words ‘sir’ and ‘open your window’. Ron did this for a while but then stopped. He grabbed the driver’s door handle, pressing the knob, pulling the handle, struggling to open the door. But he was unsuccessful. He finally became oddly still and only stared into the window.
“So the guy won’t come out, and he’s keeping his door locked?” Evan asked.
Ron looked at Lang and Evan again.
“I…I don’t know, Evan. But something’s wrong.”
A man on a determined mission, Ron then rushed back to his police car, red and blue lights flashing brilliantly, hurting Lang’s eyes. Ron opened the police car’s trunk. After gathering up a bunch of flares, he quickly set up a diagonal line from the Suburban’s nose to the south shoulder of the highway, ending just near his police car’s rear bumper.
“Okay. This is getting really weird,” Evan said. “Ron is just letting that driver stay in there, not moving his Suburban and setting up flares around him? You think the driver’s paralyzed or something?”
Uncomfortable goose bumps were speckling along Lang’s arms and legs under his clothing. “Maybe. Smart reasoning, though, Evan. But let’s just wait and see.”
Again Ron walked back to the other Suburban, this time approaching the passenger’s side window. He peered inside. He backed away, fear accentuating his motion. He lifted his radio transceiver and talked into it a moment.
Lang swallowed. “Yeah. Something is definitely really wrong here.”
“I know, I…I sense s-something too.” Evan’s words came shaky.
Lang noticed he was trembling a bit. “You feel all right?”
“Yeah. Just…just freaking out.”
Lang patted Evan’s shoulder a moment. “It’ll be all right. Just try to stay calm.”
Before Lang could register anything more hitting his mind, a momentary break in traffic occurred and Ron darted across the highway. He walked straight toward Lang. His motion was serious, though he appeared outwardly friendly.
All right. What IS in that Suburban? With Ron getting closer, Lang stared inside at the other Suburban’s front seat. Though the morning sun was a bit higher in the sky, sunlight yet highlighted objects and figures sufficiently. Two people sat in the front seat. And they were dead still.
A chill rose along Lang’s back, making him cold. He grabbed his right shoulder and rubbed it up and down a few times, though producing little warmth.
Evan pointed near the front of the blue storage building, across the highway from Cenex. “It’s those news people. What’s their deal? It’s just a minor accident.”
About 250 feet away from Lang’s position, a man was attempting to rest a large news camera on his shoulder. He had it pointed directly at that other Suburban. Nearby the man several other people handled and opened large cases. Lang looked across the highway to the Cenex parking lot. The Channel 3 News van was still there. It had to be them. “You’re right. They actually crossed the highway on foot, to see a minor accident? I thought they were here about the school referendum.”
“I told you that, Dad.”
“Right. I know. Or maybe they felt that explosion too. Something obviously happened to get their attention.”
“And I see other people crossing over from Cenex or parking their cars and getting out to look.”
“Yeah.” Lang could see he was correct. “This is really getting weird.”
Ron was about fifteen feet away now.
“Lang. Good morning.” Ron’s weather-worn face had an expression Lang had never seen before - distrust mixed with confusion. “Say…you know…what’s happening here?” Ron’s chest heaved up and down, breaths struggling in and out. And it didn’t seem to be just from Ron running across the highway and making his way up Main’s slight incline to get here.
“Well, I was driving across Highway 10 there.” Lang pointed to the position of the other Suburban. “I felt rather dizzy, and then I felt an explosion, or vibration take place. Did you feel it too?”
Ron stood right before them now, yet huffing away. He furrowed his brows. “No…what explosion?”
Lang felt another chill slither along his back. “You didn’t feel any explosion?”
“No. Tell me…what happened…next.”
“I slowed down, I guess, from what Evan said, though I don’t recall slowing down. And then Evan yelled at me to go faster, and so I did, rushing our Suburban across 10. And then I parked here. After we heard that close-call accident, with the maroon pickup, we got out to look. And then we saw you arrive.”
Ron’s breathing began subsiding. With his free hand he took hold of his wrist right above his other hand holding the radio transceiver. He inhaled deeply, maybe trying to relax more. He stared at Evan, and then at Lang. He blinked a few times, as though not believing his eyes. He smiled but then turned cold. “I thought I was seeing things for a moment there. But, apparently not.” He pointed toward Highway 10’s eastbound lane. “Was driving down, past Cenex, when I saw another Suburban, split away…from your Suburban.”
His words made absolutely no sense. “What? I mean, can you explain that again?”
Ron stared directly into Lang’s eyes. “Your one Suburban…became two.”