Welcome to Rhapsody, Nebraska.
I’d never heard of it, but I was hardly an expert on Nebraska. It’s a drive-through state, and that’s all I intended to do. Quickly, as well.
My rear-view mirror didn’t reveal anything but highway and darkness. I’d been driving for 16 hours straight for the fifth day in a row. It was nearly midnight, and if I were smart, I would have stopped for the night. I couldn’t see any sign of my pursuer, but then I never could. I had to keep moving.
Driving into Rhapsody, I found what appeared to be a quiet Midwestern town. The buildings were old. Only the occasional flat-screen TV in a shop window or passerby on an iPhone marked the town as existing in the 21st century. Only a few buildings in sight rose above two stories.
The random people I saw didn’t strike me as your typical Midwest denizens. There were more tattoos and vape pens than overalls and chewing tobacco. But perhaps my idea of what a Nebraskan was supposed to be was a condescending caricature.
The number of Priuses I saw, a few adorned with bumper stickers supporting President Obama or Hillary Clinton lead me to assume Rhapsody was one of those liberal enclaves. A blue spot on a red state. Provided Nebraska was even a red state. I honestly didn’t know, and still don’t. I can’t say I think about Nebraska too often.
I hurried through the streets, but the local speed limit was frustratingly low. In fairness, I don’t recall the limit, but 50 would have been too slow for me.
I was pushing a red light when my rear window suddenly shattered. Startled, I temporarily lost control of the car. My tires squealed as I swerved through the narrow street. Once I regained control, I looked to the back of the car. There was nothing to see but the street behind me.
Then, the upholstery on my backseat began to split in tightly bunched lines, as if claws were digging into the leather. A familiar sound emanated from seemingly nowhere.
It’s hard to describe, but it sounded like someone drumming on an empty plastic tub with a whisk. It was the breathing of that thing, I theorized. Correctly, as it turned out. The invisible clawing at the backseat grew quicker, seemingly more desperate to get at me.
I might have screamed. I can’t say for sure. What I can say, is that I didn’t see the telephone pole coming. There was a loud crunch, a sudden lurch, and then, the next thing I knew, a siren.