Toward the end of our college years, Shleisel and I embarked on a mutual path of self destruction. At one point though, Shleisel managed to find herself in a somewhat serious relationship with a guy named Matt. After several months together, and a brief rocky patch, they decided to reignite the flames of love by spending a weekend in a cabin a few hours outside the city. Shleisel failed to realize that this is how horror films begin.
They’d been gone for one blissful night when I receive this text:
“Matt just abandoned me in the woods.”
Apparently they’d been out hiking and had just reached a summit when he received a mystery text. He read it, glared at Shleisel then took off running down the trail. By the time Shleisel found her way back to the cabin, Matt was loading his car, yelling nonsensically and banging things around. She texts me from the bathroom.
“I’ve never seen him this angry, it’s freaking me out.”
Naturally, I worry that he will murder her and ask whether there are any weapons lying about.
“There’s an axe outside…”
I’m about to call him (because Shleisel’s boyfriends are notoriously afraid of me) but I get another text:
“He just left me here. He slammed the door and peeled out and now I’m all alone in the woods.”
I grab my keys and tell her I’m on my way.
I’m vaguely aware of the direction in I need to drive and acutely aware that I am headed for redneck country. Always one to take precautions, I bring my Rhodesian Ridgeback and the 12-gauge shotgun I keep beside my bed. Because you just never know.
On the way out of town I stop for some road trip rations and my precious land rover lets out a horrifying SCREECH then refuses to move. (I’m no car mechanic but I’m pretty sure SCREECH is the sound of money being drained from my bank account.)
I call my oldest brother and explain to him that Shleisel is about to be devoured by hill people. He lends me his truck on the condition that I abandon my dog at home. I do this and then hit the road for what is supposed to be a 3 hour drive.
Because I’m not exactly savvy with directions I take screenshots of Google Maps in case I lose service. Then I pat myself on the back for being such a freaking genius.
I obey the GPS when it tells me to leave the turnpike for a smaller highway that weaves it’s way through tiny little towns.
I see a sign for a gas station and decide it’s a good idea to fill up before dark. No sooner have I left the highway than I see red and blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror. This is extra bad news because my drivers license had just been suspended– apparently telling an officer that you fell out of a convertible and got amnesia and forgot to renew your insurance is not a legitimate justification for letting it lapse by three days.
I send Shleisel a text:
This is our secret code for “I am about to be arrested.”
The trooper walks up to my window with a wad of tobacco in his lip.
“License and insurance registration, Ma’am.”
I search through the glovebox and find a Crocodile Dundee knife and a tin of Altoids but no insurance card. I grasp my invalid drivers license in my palm, not ready to hand it over.
“Sorry, it’s my brother’s car…” I smile innocently and try not to look like a character from Gone in 60 Seconds.
He asks for my license again. I don’t want to let it go.
“First,” I say, “Let me tell you a story…”
I do my best to detail Shleisel’s impending death-via-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre and add in that I have a brain injury and was in Eastern Europe when my insurance expired. He just stares at me.
“So you’re telling me your brother supposedly lent you this car– even though you don’t have a drivers license– but you can’t actually prove you didn’t steal it?”
“Yeah… I’d say that about covers it.”
Other than the shotgun laying in clear view in the backseat, of course.
“I still need your drivers license.”
Defeated, I hand it over. Then I text my brother that his car is about to be impounded. He’s livid.
“Where are you?!?!”
“I really wish I knew the answer to that question…”
The trooper returns with his hand at his hip, then hesitates.
“Who’s the Army Ranger?”
I’m lost for a minute, then realize he’s referring to a bumper sticker on the back window. This is my chance.
“It’s my older brother, he’s in Afghanistan, FIGHTING FOR OUR FREEDOM. My other brother, who owns this car, he’s a veteran too. A TRUE PATRIOT. And then I have another brother who is a police officer.”
I almost add “GOD BLESS AMERICA” but figure that might be going a bit overboard.
He stares at me for a minute, his eyes narrow and grim.
“I honestly don’t even know where to begin,” he finally says, holding my license up, “But I will be keeping this.”
He writes me a ticket for driving without a license– I’m so elated that I’m not going to jail. Adrenaline courses through my veins and I let out a triumphant HUZZAH! as I zoom back to the highway.
I realize I never got gas. “No worries,” I tell myself, “I’ll stop at the next town.”
But there is no next town.
There is also no cell signal.
I come upon a crossroads with 3 different highways to choose from. I still don’t have a cell or GPS signal and none of these highways are listed on my map screenshots. I do what I do best and make the uninformed decision to turn left.
I finally make it to a tiny town with a weird name. I’m saved! The truck tells me I only have another 80 miles before I run out of gas. Luckily this town has three gas stations. Not so luckily, they are all closed and the streets are deserted. There are no hotels but there is a cell phone signal.
I text Shleisel the name of the town.
“Oh my God, you’ve gone 90 miles in the wrong direction!”
She gives me strict step-by-step directions on how to right my course– but I have a decision to make. I can sleep in my car and get gas in the morning or I can hope for another town with another gas station. I text my friend David who is from this part of the world and he cautions me on sleeping in my car, lest I become the plot of a B-level horror film.
So I hit the road once again, quickly losing my cell phone signal and all hope of survival. According to Shleisel’s directions, I am supposed to hit another crossroads within about 20 minutes. This doesn’t happen.
All that exists in this world is a two lane highway with tall trees on either side. I haven’t seen another car or a road sign in hours.
I pass a crooked pole with a faded sign swinging haphazardly from rusty chains. It reads “Octavia Road.”
The truck tells me I have 25 miles until I run out of gas.
Every few miles I see an opening in the trees where a long gravel driveway disappears. I didn’t yet work at a psych ward so I didn’t realize that these gravel roads would only lead to meth labs and banjo-strumming sex offenders.
Attempt #1: A wooden house stands in a small clearing, it’s yard littered with appliances and haphazardly parked trucks. A jerry-rigged lamppost flickers ominously over it all as I walk to the door. There are lights on in the house but no one comes to the door.
House #2: At least six trucks are parked outside a trailer home where I can hear a TV blaring. I knock on the door and the sound turns off. I feel that I am being watched but there is no response.
House #3: I’m so nearly out of gas that I leave my car at the road and walk down the gravel drive. It is pitch dark and I can barely see the outline of a house against the trees. A dog begins ferociously barking and growling from the darkness. I run back to the truck and coast away down the street.
….10 miles to empty.
………..5 miles to empty.
MY PHONE PICKS UP A CELL PHONE SIGNAL, HUZZAH!
Delayed text messages begin to pour in. My brother tells me he’s going to kill me if anything is stolen from his truck, Shleisel tells me she thinks there are hillbillies outside her window, and David says he is on his way to try and find me.
I stop where I am so that I don’t lose the signal. Shleisel can’t find an “Octavia Road” on any map or directory and repeatedly asks for any other landmarks. “Trees,” I tell her, “and fog. And a distinct foreboding of violent death.”
I can’t decide whether I should take off walking. I imagine myself walking down the road and just… vanishing. I turn off the headlights and cling to the Crocodile Dundee Knife, realizing that I have left all the shotgun ammo in my broken land rover.
I wish that state trooper had arrested me and taken me to a safe and cozy jail cell.
I get a text from Shleisel– she has just remembered a guy she met at summer camp when she was 14. She’s pretty sure he was from this part of the state and that they’re friends on Facebook. She sends him a Facebook message– apparently he’s now a pilot and living in Australia, so he’s awake.
A pair of headlights shine beyond a distant hill.
“This is it,” I tell myself, “you are about to be eaten by hillbillies and all your brother’s tools will be stolen.”
The car parks behind me and a man gets out. I grip the Dundee knife and try to look fierce.
It’s a sheriff.
“Are you Aussie?”
Apparently the father of Shleisel’s friend was the Sheriff of a nearby town and had called the Sheriff’s of all the other towns to form a search and rescue party. They knew all too well what happens to a 23 year old female lost in these woods.
He wants me to go with him to wake up the owner of a gas station, but I’m too afraid to leave the truck to any meth head opportunists. He leaves with a promise to be back as soon as possible. I text David to go rescue Shleisel because there’s no way he’s ever going to find me.
The sheriff returns with a grumpy looking man and a 5 gallon gas can– “This was the biggest we could find.”
This will get me about 80 miles– but I am almost 300 miles away from home and the only 24-hour gas station in this part of the world is 40 miles in the wrong direction. They give me specific step-by-step directions and a warning that there won’t be a cell signal.
12 hours after leaving my house, I miraculously come upon the 24-hour gas station. When I pull in beneath it’s neon lights I experience a feeling of relief bordering on hysteria. There’s no pay-at-the-pump so I go inside and the attendant looks equally thrilled to see me but delivers another piece of bad news.
“We’re cash only ’round here.”
I’m about to melt into a puddle of defeat when he tells me there’s a “cash machine” at a bank about 6 miles down the road. I get back in the car, speed to the bank, and insert my card into the ATM. The screen flashes.
The machine makes a grinding noise as the card is destroyed; and with it my hope.
I text my brother that I have managed to fight off the locals and protect his truck but that he needs to let me know if he has cash stashed anywhere– Amazingly, he did. Just enough to buy the gas that would take me home. I had wandered so far off course that I’d nearly crossed into another state, but was now close to a major interstate that was blanketed with cell phone towers and civilization.
The sun is rising as I pull into my driveway– 15 hours later and without having managed to complete my mission of rescuing Shleisel. For about ten seconds I assume my bad luck is over. Then I realize that I have left my house key in the broken down land rover on the other side of town. Banking on my pattern of negligence, I climb the fence to my backyard and realize with jubilation that I had failed to lock my back door. I was finally home.
People who are qualified to give TED Talks will tell you that life is all about the perspective from which you view it– to some, I probably look like I have the worst luck: My car broke down, I got a $400 citation, I ran out of gas, I was almost disappeared by hillbillies, I had my debit card destroyed, locked myself out, and lost a night of sleep.
But maybe I’m actually the luckiest person on the face of the planet: I managed to avoid jail time, find a cell signal, get rescued by a band of sheriffs, was given free gas, found a stash of money, and snuck in through an unlocked door.
Have you had a Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre sort of experience? Have you ever run out of gas in a particularly terrifying location? Do you think of yourself as having GOOD luck or BAD luck?
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