The American highway system is the largest in the world with four million miles of road. Every year it claims the lives of roughly 40,000 people. For those who don’t make the trip home, there is sometimes another road they must travel, a dark and lonely road that traverses lands unseen and leads to destinations unknown.
Carlos writes to tell me the story of an event that he witnessed late one night in 1991. Carlos drives a big rig and spends a greater part of the year on the road. His job usually takes him from the west coast, where goods are unloaded at the Port of Oakland, California, to the distribution centers that dot the Midwest.
On that fateful night in 1991, Carlos was running a load east along Interstate 80. It was late and very dark as Carlos drove along the nearly deserted highway. “I was in Wyoming, heading toward Cheyenne,” Carlos tells me.
There are stretches of roadway in Wyoming that are downright beautiful, gorgeous examples of the planet’s natural wonders. There are times, however, when those same places can send a cold chill down a man’s spine.
“There’s a place, after Green River but before you get to Rawlins,” Carlos says, “that is a sight to see in the daytime. But at night, it always gave me the spooks.”
Carlos was driving this stretch of roadway one night when he found himself to be the only driver on the road. “It’s not like it doesn’t happen,” Carlos tells me, “but out there, you can see a long way up and down the road, and I didn’t see nothing.”
It was late and Carlos was trying to push through to Cheyenne, and the dread he felt out there alone were helping him stay awake. And then suddenly, he saw the headlights behind him.
“Maybe I dozed off, who knows,” Carlos recalls, “but all at once there was a car right behind me.” As headlights flooded the truck’s mirrors with light, Carlos slowed his rig. The lights grew brighter, brighter than any kind of car Carlos had seen before.
Suddenly, the lights dimmed and raced forward. “I thought it was a maniac trying to ram me,” Carlos remembers. “But then they came up alongside.”
Carlos could see a black sedan coming up beside his truck. It was an old fashioned model, a classic in good condition. Trying to keep an eye on both the car and the road, Carlos was distracted enough not to notice the speed that the car was traveling.
“This was like a Model T car or something,” Carlos tells me. “I look down and see that I’m going 80 and it’s passing me fast.” As the vintage roadster roared by, Carlos caught a glimpse of its passengers.
“There was a man and a woman inside,” Carlos tells me. “And the only reason I could see them was because there was this strange glow inside the car.” It seemed to Carlos that the passengers were lit from below with an unearthly green light, a pale fluorescence that cast deep shadows, making the car’s driver and his passenger appear gaunt and skeletal.
The old car charged past Carlos’s truck and then everything went dark. “It’s like they shut off their lights,” Carlos recalls, “but I knew that car was gone because it was a ghost car being driven by ghosts.”
Before Carlos could process the strange event, another set of headlights suddenly appeared in his rear view mirror. This time, Carlos could see right away that it was another rig coming up behind him.
“I was calling on the CB to see if this guy saw what I saw,” Carlos tells me, “but it was just dead air.” The rig started coming up fast, faster than any truck Carlos had ever seen before. Carlos started to worry.
The lights drew closer and Carlos could hear the sound of the oncoming truck’s engine groaning and screeching like a wounded demon. Carlos gave his rig a bit more gas, trying to put some distance between him and whatever was coming from behind.
It was no use; the truck changed lanes, moving to pass Carlos, so Carlos slowed down to oblige. In the brief moment that followed, Carlos wished he had raced on to Cheyenne or driven off the road or, at least, closed his eyes.
For, although the truck that passed by looked like any ordinary tractor trailer on the road today, the driver, lit from below by the same ghastly green light Carlos had already seen, was of another order of phantom than Carlos had previously encountered.
The truck’s driver was huge and pale, sitting high in his seat like a giant; his skin was like the surface of the moon, pitted and gleaming, reflecting the ghoulish light, and from the scars that covered his face, blood trickled and oozed. He turned briefly in Carlos’s direction and his eyes glimmered with a baleful red light as he smiled.
“I stayed on the road somehow,” Carlos tells me, “but I don’t know how.” Reeling in shock, Carlos had no time to react before he was hit with the image that still haunts his dreams and unsettles his waking hours.
As the cab of the truck passed him by, Carlos could see the dismal load its fiendish driver was hauling. “It wasn’t a regular trailer, it was a fenced-up one,” Carlos recalls, “like what they use for cattle.”
The great bulk of the truck slid by in the night, and, lit by the running lights of his own rig, Carlos could see the hands and fingers and faces – some rotted and bleeding, some stripped of all flesh, some just ghostly shades – through the small openings in the trailer’s enclosure.
“I try not to drive at night anymore,” Carlos tells me. “But I have trouble sleeping at night anyway.”
Although Carlos refuses to drive that particular stretch of road anymore, many millions do. How many of those drivers pay attention to the cars that pass in the night, the ones that seem to come from nowhere and quickly speed off to their fates? How many of the cars that pass by are weary travellers heading home and how many are travelling a different kind of road, a road that is crowded but lonely, a road that cuts straight through the night but never arrives at morning?