highway had never felt so lonely or long.
It had been a long night for Shelly Matthews. She worked a late shift at a local 24-hour truck stop diner in Spring Grove, Illinois so she was used to the long, nighttime drives. Most of the time the drive was something she appreciated because it helped her come down from the long nights at work. It was a time for her to relax, decompress, enjoy some music and get into a good head space on her own.
With an influx of customers right around the time she was supposed to clock out to leave, her shift ended an hour and a half longer than the already long nine hour days. Shelly was exhausted and mentally spent by the time she got to her 2001 blue Ford Focus that was parked in the lot in front of the diner. After a few moments of serenity to herself to be off her feet, Shelly relinquished to the unusual irritation that she had to drive a half an hour home. With a meeting dauntingly looming over her head for the next morning, it seemed that much more tedious. She was more than a little obsessed with the sleep she was not getting that night and it jaded her serenity.
With the night air blowing in her face to keep her awake, she had the local rock radio station turned up loud. The amount of sheer body fatigue she felt was enough to make her need that extra boost of stimulation to stay awake. She liked her music a little louder anyway so that wasn't harming her in any way. She found herself becoming a bit more coherent from the guitar riffs and drums along with lyrics of the songs she recognized. She couldn't say she listened to the radio all that often but in a rush during the mid-afternoon preparation of her shift, she forgot her iPod on her kitchen counter. That was a silly mistake that haunted her all day at the diner and continued to haunt her in the car ride home. It was partially why she went with a rock station instead of a pop or country station. It tended to repeat less and she preferred rock music to the other, more generic options. She didn't want to hear the same song three times on the relatively short drive home.
By the time Shelly got onto the highway, she watched the clock strike 1 A.M. She was only half paying attention to the song that was on the radio, due to the familiarity. She turned up the music a bit more since she felt herself getting a bit sleepy behind the wheel and that was a risk she didn't want to take. She didn't want to pull off the road at a rest stop since it was already much later than she expected to be out that night. She wouldn't properly rest anyway, so all that would mean for her was taking her that much longer to finally get home and sleep. She didn't have time for that. She could tell that she was exponentially more frustrated than usual so she was trying to talk herself out of that mentality before she got home. She'd never sleep if she was irritated.
She was four exits away from her home exit when she saw something out of the corner of her eye in the rear view mirror. It looked like someone was tailgating her but she thought that it was impossible considering she was going seventy miles per hour on the empty road. She turned her head and sure enough, there was a newer model white Honda Civic inches from her bumper with the lights off. Two exits back, Shelly saw someone on the opposite side of the highway with their lights off and she flashed her high beams to warn them of the mishap. She only noticed the car because their parking lights were on but their headlights weren't. She thought it was a kind gesture but now that same car was riding her bumper. How was that possible? Was she really so overtired she was seeing things? It wasn't until she felt a bump at her back bumper that she realized maybe she wasn't seeing things or imagining things.
Terror swept through Shelly as she began trying to think of how to get off of the highway safely. If this person was going to tailgate her for flagging them down with her headlights, she was going to turn off at the safest exit closer to her. She could have gunned it and sped toward her exit but she wasn't entirely sure that was the right idea. She had heard stories of not flashing lights at a driver because of gang initiations but that was an urban legend. There was no way that it was actually happening to her! On that night of all nights, she couldn't have had that bad of luck to come across some idiot trying to do that kind of thing. She decided to say to hell with it and gunned it. Her foot pressed down on the gas pedal and she saw the speedometer shoot up to eighty-five, eighty-six, eighty-eight, ninety miles per hour.
The wind was blowing through the open window, causing Shelly's hair to fly out of her face. Her music was still blaring as she drove. The car was a few car lengths behind her by then and she felt a breath of relief enter her lungs. She couldn't wrap her head around the fact that someone would be so reckless and idiotic at that time of night as to do that to another driver. Was it so funny to screw with a complete stranger like that? Perhaps she was a bit too crotchety to find that sort of thing amusing. Shelly actually felt her blood heat up and fury from that as she began to slow down to a normal speed again. The car faded from her rear view mirror not long after. She was unsure if they turned off a previous exit or what but she wasn't asking questions. She didn't want to see that car again if she could help it. It got her blood pumping and certainly woke her up but in turn, it also pissed her off. What a blatant act of ignorance on that driver's part, she thought venomously.
She felt like she had been driving for hours when she realized that she was still not at her exit. She actually couldn't remember the last exit ramp she had come across, thinking about it. She didn't stop driving but she actually was confused as to whether she missed her exit in the drama with the Honda Civic or what. The highway was dark outside of one or two cars in passing on the other side of the highway but she didn't see any signs. Then her worst fear consumed her: was she dreaming? Had she fallen asleep at the wheel and that was why these things were happening? Did it really count if she knew she was sleeping and dreaming? Perhaps she was over-analyzing things. Shelly had a history of letting her anxiety get to her but she didn't think that was the case.
Shelly found herself experiencing palpitations at the thought. She stopped the car briefly on the side of the road and put her four-ways on, trying to collect herself from the madness she had induced on herself. She wiped her hands over her face, rubbing away the sleepy feeling and even went as far as giving herself a couple of pinches and light slaps to the sides of her face with her hands. She knew physical pain wasn't felt in dreams, or at least she didn't think so, and she certainly felt both the pinches and the firm taps to her cheeks with her palms.
“Get your shit together, Shell.”
Verbally scolding herself, Shelly switched her turned signal on to reemerge onto the highway. The turn signal was habit; she didn't really need it with the lack of traffic but it was muscle memory. She felt a little better now that she knew she was wide awake and she continued her drive. Glancing at the clock on her dashboard, she saw the clock read 1:11 A.M and became confused. It felt like she had been driving for an hour and yet, it was only eleven minutes passed when she had looked at it the last time. How was that? She must have just been far more sleepy than she lead herself to believe. Time was dragging. It also felt like she had been listening to the same song for the past half an hour as well. She needed to get herself situated, get home, and get to bed before anything bad happened.
The confusion would soon come to an end as she came to the exit she had been waiting for on I-39. Exhaling a sigh of relief, she began the short drive on the off-ramp. Unfortunately for Shelly, there was a blockage on the off-ramp, which caused her to curse to herself. There were a few flashing lights and it looked like a car accident up ahead. She bit her lip, feeling a sense of uneasiness come over her. She always felt awful and even a little awkward when she came across a car accident on the road like that because she knew there was the possibility that someone was injured, or worse, inside of the wreckage. Knowing someone could have lost a family member or a close friend in those sort of situations always felt like a punch in the stomach for her.
Shelly eventually had to stop since there was no way around the car accident. It looked like a two car accident and neither car was in all that well of shape. One of the vehicles in question was a white Honda Civic and the other, a blue Ford Focus. That was gut-wrenching and eerie. She was parked on the off-ramp, feeling a bit nauseated as she watched the emergency personnel doing their best. Nobody even noticed that she was parked on the off-ramp with her lights on. Not a single person looked up from the wreckage. Shelly could feel herself becoming more and more antsy as time went on but the scene in front of her would have brought her to her knees had she been standing.
A young woman was pulled from the wreckage; her blonde hair was soaked through in crimson and it looked like her head had gone through the windshield of her car upon impact with the white Honda Civic. There was nobody in the Honda Civic but there was a stretcher with a white sheet covering what looked like a body on the side of the road. It was being brought to one of the ambulances on the scene in case anyone would drive up. The woman in question looked like she had died on impact but she was barely recognizable as far as features were concerned. Her diner waitress uniform was covered in blood as well and it was then that Shelly pieced two and two together.
The woman in the car accident was her.
Once that realization happened, Shelly's sick feeling disappeared. She was no longer even alive. Shelly Matthews was dead in a two car accident on the off-ramp a mere two miles from her home. Witnessing her dead, maimed body being pulled from the vehicle was a sobering experience for her. As soon as it all registered and connected, Shelly was back at the diner she had originally left from.
The highway had never felt so lonely or long.
Unfortunately for Shelly Matthews, that highway would never end.