Twisting the dial, Andy Parker scanned the airwaves for something to match his mood. He grinned as rock suddenly spilled from the speakers, its driving beat creeping into his soul.
“I’m done for the summer!” he shouted to the night as his car raced down the highway. He was a free man until college resumed in the fall. He was going to enjoy every second of his well-deserved vacation.
Glancing at the passenger’s seat, he spied the letter he’d received that morning. He still felt disbelief after all these years together. He was lucky to have her in his life.
“Katie,” he spoke the name in awe. She was waiting for him. This would be their summer.
Patting his jacket pocket, he checked for the millionth time that the ring box was still there. It was time to ask her to be his wife. He couldn’t wait another day to start their life together; let alone another year until graduation.
He pulled his mind away from his raven-haired beauty and focused back on the road.
Standing in the middle of the road was a figure, its long jacket fluttering in the breeze behind it.
Andy slammed on the brakes, but it was too late to stop. He struck the figure, sending it flying over the hood. It bounced to a stop behind the car.
The car swerved hard, spinning to a stop. The headlights illuminated the lifeless form in the darkness. It lay there, nothing more than a dark mass.
Andy turned down the radio as he leaned back in his seat, fighting the panic rising in his chest as he stared at the thing.
He’d hit someone.
“I’m coming,” he muttered, pushing against the door. It opened easily and he tumbled onto the pavement, his legs weak from the shock coursing through his body. He moaned in frustration as the world swam before his eyes.
Slowly, he made his way to the lifeless form in the road. It wasn’t moving. He needed to help. He hadn’t spent this long in medical school to panic now.
He leaned down, taking in the situation. A long jacket was draped perfectly over the length of the body. He blinked; trying to work through the confusion. How did it cover itself?
He grasped the dark material in his hand and pulled back, drawing from his medical training as he steeled himself for the injuries.
“What the hell?” he spoke in shock.
Large button eyes stared up at him causing him to flinch back. It was nothing more than a large Raggedy Ann doll, but it struck terror in his heart just the same.
He stood up, nudging it timidly with his foot. It stayed still, smiling up at him in its lifeless merriment.
Andy hated the Raggedy dolls with a passion. His parents had done him no favors by naming him after her male counterpart. They’d decorated his room in the dolls’ horrid motif and their ghastly images still haunted his nightmares.
Where others saw laughter and happiness in their faces, he only saw pure malice. He knew the twinkle in their eye was hunger. They’d love nothing more than to feast upon the bones of every child they’d ever entertained.
Staring down at the doll, he felt the terror rise once again. It was as if a dark cloud was forming around him, ready to ensnare him in pure and total darkness. He shivered as a breeze pushed against him.
He started back to the car, his eyes nervously sweeping the sides of the road. Nothing moved in the shadows around him. He stopped, feeling like the biggest idiot in the world. It was only a doll. He couldn’t spend his whole life clinging to his childhood fears.
Sighing, he walked back to the doll and stared down at it. “I never liked you,” he whispered and gave a kick, sending the doll flying into the weeds on the side of the road.
He returned to the car quickly, sliding in behind the wheel. He sat there a moment, eyes glazed, taking deep breaths. “What the hell just happened?” he whispered, leaning back into the seat.
His heart raced as the shock flowed through his veins. “Get a grip, Parker,” he muttered, trying to regain his composure. He closed his eyes, breathing in and out slowly.
His attempt at tranquility shattered as a horn’s angry blast snapped his head up. He found himself staring into the headlights of an oncoming car. Frantically, he reached for the keys, hoping to spring the car to life before he tasted the angry metal of the charging beast. As he turned the key, the other car swerved into the next lane, sparing him from a nasty fate.
“Learn how to drive, asshole,” a man yelled from the car as it veered back into its lane.
“Damn it,” Andy swore, pounding the dashboard with his fist. He turned the car around, pointing it back towards sanity and the way home.
He slowly eased back into driving, his mind going a mile a minute as he poured over what had happened. He’d hit someone.
He turned up the radio as he tried to relax, but the image loomed in his mind. It was like a continuous loop from a nightmare. Someone had been standing in the middle of the road. He’d hit something solid.
He shook his head, trying to put it behind him. Dwelling on it wasn’t going to do anyone any good. It was done and he had his whole life waiting for him.
He desperately needed to silence the dark thoughts fluttering in his head, yet, they stuck to his mind like old cobwebs.
Someone had been standing on that road.
After a few minutes, a familiar sign glistened in his high beams. NIGHT OAK, OHIO-5 MILES.
“Home,” he whispered. It wouldn’t be much longer until he was at his mother’s table eating her home cooking. And even better, soon he’d have Katie in his arms.
He patted his jacket pocket, feeling again for the ring box and the future he was carrying. It was still there. Everything was going to be okay.
Darkness suddenly slammed across the front of the car. Andy’s attention snapped back to the road. The windshield had been blacked out. He couldn’t see where he was going.
Cussing, he slammed on his brakes. The car fishtailed violently, flipping into a roll.
Andy blinked as she slowly came to his senses. He turned his head, realizing he was upside down. He hung in his seatbelt, blood dripping up his face, into his eyes.
“Damn it” he yelled, struggling with the seat belt. The buckle popped open, sending him tumbling onto the ceiling. Tears welled in his eyes as pain shot through his body. He didn’t know how badly he was hurt, but he had to get out of the car.
Slowly, he reached for the door. It groaned under his weight, but it didn’t open. He shoved at it several more times, but it still didn’t budge.
“This can’t be happening,” he whispered, tears sliding down his cheeks.
His fingers groped for the window handle, hoping to free himself any way he could. He found it after a few seconds and tried to grab on, but his fingers were too slick from blood and sweat and he couldn’t get a firm enough purchase on it.
“Open, damn it,” he whispered as he slid his jacket sleeves over his hands. He made another frantic attempt and slowly the window crept down enough for him to crawl through.
He was almost out of the car when something came down around him, turning his world dark. He scrambled forward, clawing frantically at what held him. It didn’t take long to realize it was only material.
He yanked it off and stared down in disbelief. He was holding the doll’s jacket in his hands. Somehow it had followed him.
“What the hell is going on?” he shouted, anger dripping from his voice as he tossed the jacket aside. He stood up slowly as the world swayed before him. Darkness crept into the edge of his vision, and for a brief moment, he thought he might pass out. He closed his eyes, fighting the urge to vomit.
He took a couple of deep breaths and opened his eyes, feeling better. The world might still be fuzzy but at least it was no longer swimming.
He glanced over at his car and groaned. His brand new car was lying in a ditch along the side of the road.
“No,” he whispered, hating his luck.
The car was totaled.
He patted his pockets and grunted in disgust. His cell phone was gone as well. He didn’t have many options left. The town wasn’t far. Someone would drive by in a few minutes. He’d just wait.
A bird called into the night, causing him to jump. He scanned the thick dark woods behind him, an involuntary shiver running down his spine. He felt eyes on him, watching his every move.
A warm breeze drifted through the night, but inside, Andy’s bones were like ice. He peered at the highway through the haze in his head. There should’ve been at least a half-dozen cars gone by, yet, he hadn’t seen a one.
Something wasn’t right.
He needed to leave.
He turned, giving his car one last pitiful look, and headed towards town.
“Hey, where are you going?” a voice called from behind him.
Andy spun around. There, leaning against a tree, batting its eyelashes, stood the Raggedy Ann doll.
“No freaking way,” he whispered under his breath, taking a few steps back.
“Oh, Andy, please don’t leave,” the doll cooed. “I want to play.”
“No,” he whispered. “You’re not real.”
“Andy, Andy. Please get up. It’s time to brush your teeth,” it called in a singsong voice.
He thought back to that kid’s room, and to the awful alarm clock which haunted those mornings. It said the same thing.
Without realizing it, he started whispering Raggedy Andy’s response. “Okay, Ann. I’m awake. It’s time to start the day.”
The doll giggled, clapping its hands. “Very good!”
The sound broke the spell. “No!” he screamed. He turned to run, but a dark figure blocked his way.
“You’re not going anywhere,” the figure spoke as a powerful force lifted Andy, tossing him hard into a tree.
He slid down it in a daze. His head throbbed as a terrible force tried to free itself from within. Blinking, he cleared his eyesight and suddenly wished he hadn’t.
The dark figure stood over him. Ann stood behind, that hungry look in her eyes as she grinned down with a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. She licked her lips obscenely.
“Who are you?” Andy squeaked out.
“That is not important,” the figure’s voice boomed.
“Why me?” Andy begged.
The figure chuckled. “You are special. You are to be the first.”
With that, Andy’s world went dark.