The Last Exit
by Mel Waldman
Driving up the Maine country road after midnight, I see the sign: The Last Exit — 10 miles. I left Ogunquit just a few hours ago although it seems much longer, passed Wells and missed the exit, headed north toward Kennebunkport, and figured I’d find another exit there. But I got lost again and missed the exit and Kennebunkport too. Now, I’m on this dark, bleak country road and approaching The Last Exit.
As I drive through the thick darkness, my mind drifts off. I return to Ogunquit, the beautiful place by the sea. From Perkins Cove, I stroll along the Marginal Way on the cliffs overlooking the turquoise ocean. I saunter off on the one-mile path heading toward the beach on the other side of town.
But suddenly, my dreamscape is shattered when someone leaps across the old road, jumping in front of my old car. My foot crushes the brake pedal and the car stops abruptly. I open my window a few inches and shout: “Are you crazy, kid? Wanna get yourself killed on a dark country road?”
With my floodlights on, I clearly see the young man. He looks clean-cut, thin, muscular, about 20 or 21, and over six feet tall. He’s wearing white shorts, white tennis sneakers, and a white T-shirt. He might be the all-American boy. But in a fleeting moment, his dark bulging eyes reveal his terror.
Then unexpectedly, he runs to the driver’s side of the car and bangs on the window. “Let me in!” he cries out. “The monsters are in the forest. But they’re coming for me. Let me in!”
Mindlessly, like a robot programmed to obey, I let him in.
“Hurry!” he yells. “They’ll be here any minute.”
I put my foot on the gas pedal and drive off. After driving about five minutes in silence, I speak. “What’s your name, son?”
“Got a last name?”
“Folks just call me Joe.”
“Well, Joe, what were you doing in the forest at this ungodly hour?”
“Earlier in the day, my wife and son wanted to go into the forest and sit by a creek about two hundred yards from the road at the other entrance to the forest. It’s about a mile from here. Didn’t want to go there. But they insisted. So we entered the forest. It was real peaceful by the creek. My wife and son were happy.
“Then I had to pee. Went behind a large tree. Only gone about a minute or two. When I returned, they were gone. Cried out to them. Told them to stop playing with me. Warned them they’d better stop hiding and come out from where they were. But they didn’t. And I panicked.
“Then I heard the monsters. Heard their frightening shrieks from every direction except one. Surrounded by the invisible monsters, I ran deeper into the forest.”
“What the hell do you mean, monsters?”
“I know it sounds crazy, but I heard them and felt their presence.”
“Why didn’t you run to the road?”
“They were there too.”
“But you didn’t see them?”
“No. Not yet. I ran deeper into the forest and after a few minutes, I turned my head and saw them.”
“Well, tell me about the monsters.”
“They’re in the forest.”
“What do they look like?”
“Grotesque creatures... maybe aliens... looked like the Tasmanian Devil or maybe the extinct Tasmanian Wolf.”
“Never heard of those creatures.”
“The Tasmanian Devil is the Devil Himself! The Tasmanian Wolf was another ferocious creature in which the Devil lived. Like I said before, it sounds crazy. I didn’t believe it myself. But it’s true.”
“But what do they look like?”
“The Tasmanian Devil is no bigger than a small dog. But it’s got a large head. On its face, you’ll see long whiskers. They’re the Devil’s whiskers. And if you hear this monster screech, you’ll crap in your pants.”
“You making this up?”
“No, the Devil evokes pure terror. When it attacks you, you’ll see the gaping jaws of Hell! Beware! It will eat you whole. Rip you apart!”
“And it’s right here in the Maine forest?”
“Maybe. Don’t know for sure. Ain’t supposed to be here. But who knows?”
“Well, if it’s the Tasmanian Devil, I don’t want to come face to face with it.”
“No, you don’t.”
“In fact, whatever’s out there, I don’t want to see.”
“You never want to see the creatures I saw.”
A long threatening silence interrupts the dark conversation. I can’t believe there are monsters out there. Yet the young man believes he saw creatures that look like the Tasmanian Devil or the extinct Tasmanian Wolf.
“Joe, you never told me what the Tasmanian Wolf looked like.”
“Well, it resembled an ugly...”
“Was it as frightening as the Tasmanian Devil?”
“Yeah. The wolf-like creature, as big as a large dog, also had the wide-gaping jaws of Hell. When it yawned, it could scare Satan himself.”
“So the monsters of the forest look like these creatures from Hell?”
“And they were stalking you?”
“Yeah. And I don’t know if I escaped. The monsters may be near.”
“Still, you were lucky I was driving by.”
“Yeah. Don’t know what woulda happened. But what about my wife and son?”
I looked at this fellow and my eyes twitched. What kind of a guy would leave his family in the dangerous woods?
“Do you have a cell phone?”
“Neither do I. Guess we’ll have to wait until we get to the next town. Then we’ll contact the police. But tell me, how do we get off this old country road?”
“There’s an exit a few miles up.”
“The Last Exit?”
“Why do they call it ‘The Last Exit’?”
Joe shrugged. “It’s just what we’ve always called it.”
“Well, I guess we’ll find out real soon.”
We’re approaching The Last Exit. The young man has calmed down. From time to time, I glance at him. Each time, he wears this crooked smile and I wonder why he is grinning at me that way? Now, he’s laughing to himself. Should have thought twice before letting him into the car. He could really hurt me if he chose to. He has big, square hands that are calloused and hard. And his shoulder keeps brushing my shoulder. So why did I let him into my car. Why?
I glance at the fellow and I notice something I hadn’t seen before. He’s got blood on his large rough hands. What really happened back in the woods?
The guy’s real quiet. Wonder why he hasn’t made his move. I mutter something to the young man. He doesn’t respond. So I look at him and you won’t believe this. The fellow’s gone. Vanished!
I hear and feel the pounding of blood in my head. My ears ring and my head explodes. My foot crushes the brake pedal again and the car stops abruptly. Perhaps the monsters took the young man away earlier. They’re out there and soon they will come for me too.
An invisible dark force is choking me. Can’t breathe! I open the front window and my mouth is wide as I inhale the chilling, horrible emptiness. I feel my heart speed up and my limbs begin to shake. I want to breathe and can’t. I want to run and I can’t.
Mysteriously, the inexorable palpitations cease and I breathe slowly again, inhaling and exhaling soft, gentle breaths of life. Then suddenly, the air smells like vomit. I shut the window and blast the air conditioning even though it’s a cold September night. But still the foul odor permeates my fragile being. And I start to choke again, gasping for clean air.
I look down at my hands. There’s something about the light from my dashboard that’s making them seem strange, dark, as if they were blood-covered. Hands that have torn through flesh and bone. Suddenly my hands are hands that have wrought death. Apocalyptic hands. The sight of them twists my guts. I swallow hard but taste vomit anyway. These are not my hands.
Abruptly, I turn and look in the back. But my eyes cannot penetrate the pitch-black darkness. I turn on the overhead light and I gaze at the two back seats. Neither the living nor the dead occupy those seats. Yet blood is spattered on the seats and floor and everywhere else. My eyes drift further back. Perhaps, I should open the trunk.
Suddenly, I turn and face the road ahead. In the distance, I hear the howling of the dark creatures of the forest. Their shrill sounds penetrate my bones, like a knife stabbing me, and I feel unbearable pain. I am helpless and alone on this endless road.
Soon, the monsters will come for me. Even now, I feel their predatory eyes on me, watching and waiting for the killing moment. Only then will they devour and eat me alive. Yet The Last Exit is about a hundred yards up the road. If I drive away now, I may escape, leaving the hungry creatures behind. But I can’t wait much longer. The scent of death fills the car and invades my flesh.
It’s time, I believe. The monsters are close, very close. Yes, I feel their presence. And the stench of death is stronger, more potent with the passage of time.
What shall I do? Frozen in fear, I listen to the vast silence that covers me, the invisible shroud of a ghost. Yes, I listen carefully and once again, I hear the howling of the dark creatures of the forest. Is it too late? Are they surrounding the car?
I look north, in front of me, and the flood lights reveal only a lonely, abandoned road. But the animals are coming close. I can hear them. Don’t know if I can get away. Don’t know if I deserve to. But I must. The road is empty and endless and shrouded in fog. But I must get away.
If I do nothing, I am doomed. Inaction will seal my fate in this eerie car, an ersatz sarcophagus. I must start the car, drive up the road and turn off on The Last Exit. But first, I must know. My eyes dart east and west but discover only the pitch-black darkness.
Now, I must look into the rearview mirror before driving off. I must know. I listen to the pounding of my heart and with a leap of faith, my frenzied eyes search the mirror. I see Joe, wearing a crooked smile.
Who am I? What has happened? I look away from the mirror, start the car, and drive off toward The Last Exit. When I reach this turning point, I leave the old country road and begin a dark new journey.
I left the old country road only a few hours ago, but it seems I’ve been driving forever. The Last Exit led me into an eerie labyrinth from which I can’t escape. And I am surrounded by a raw, foul pitch-black darkness, illuminated only by my floodlights.
Once more, I listen to an elongated silence that encircles and chokes me, like the Hangman’s noose. Yet suddenly, this ominous Nothingness is interrupted and assaulted by the shrieking and howling of the monsters. Have they followed me into this surreal maze in which I am trapped? Where are the predatory beasts? Are they leaping through the vast forests or are they surreptitiously moving closer to me?
Driving across this phantasmagoric landscape, I am bombarded by a multitude of dreamlike images. What is real? What is unreal? My severed soul is ripping and my body seems to be shattered into a thousand pieces.
I am a fragmentary man now, being and becoming something new and unknown. I can’t stop this inevitable process of change. A distant voice tells me not to resist. Well, what choice do I have? The monsters are coming close. I can hear them. Don’t know if I can get away. But I must. The road is empty and endless and shrouded. But I must get away. So I keep driving and flowing into the tempestuous ocean of destiny, my brain waves overflowing with crazy thoughts and visions. The only exit is death, you see. It’s The Last Exit.
Copyright © 2009 by Mel Waldman