2nd Place: "Hitchhiking is Stupid" by Maisie S.




When you arrived at the movie theater, you hadn’t thought about how late it would be when the movie ended. You hadn’t thought about the possibility of the friend who drove you here falling asleep before the movie ended and you had time to call her. She’s a deep sleeper; fire alarms wouldn’t open her eyes, much less a likely silenced phone. You stand in the rain outside of the entrance with no ride, not even the hope of one. The only thing shielding you from the rain is a flickering streetlight, and you can’t see anything far away. You hear nothing but the rain and the soft buzz of the light, whose hope of staying bright gets dimmer and dimmer with each passing minute.

Standing there for about an hour or so, you try to think of a plan to get home. There’s no bus at this time of night, and no one you know will be up. The town you’re in is small, which means that you can’t walk to the subway or call a taxi. It seems that the only choice is to walk. Your foot splashes into the river of water running down the street, and the droplets barely have time to land before a car pulls to a stop in front of you. The passenger-side window lowers.

“What are you doing out so late? Do you need a ride anywhere?”

A man in a gray turtleneck sits in the driver's seat. He leans toward you to see through the window, and you catch him looking you up and down. His short-ish brown hair flies about his head, and his rectangular glasses are smudged and scratched at the edges. His car is the only one you can see in the darkness, and you’d rather not walk home in the rain. The car door opens, albeit with quite a bit of effort, and you step in.

“Do you know where 749 Earl Drive is? I can give you directions.” You start to pull out your phone, ready to open your GPS to find the fastest possible route.

“Oh no, that’s alright. I know this place fairly well. You can put the phone away.”

“Okay, well I’m just going to text my-”

“You don’t need to, I’ll get you home.”

“But I’m just going to-”

Put the phone away.

There is a moment of silence. You put the phone away.

“Come on,” he pats your armrest. “Tell me about yourself; let’s have some conversation instead.”

The car silently rolls out onto the street. The man hasn’t said anything for at least a few minutes, so you have a look around the inside of the car. It’s surprisingly clean for a car whose owner is the creepiest person you’ve met in a long time; everything has a cover on it. There is a mat on the floor in front of you, which seems like it would come off easily, and the seat cover you’re sitting on shifts each time you move. The driver’s side, however, doesn’t have any covers. The seat is clean and the floor is still spotless, though. You don’t see any sort of wrappers or trash anywhere, and there’s only one dark red spot on the side of the seat. You stare at it for a while, wondering if the stranger knows it's there.

“So how come you’re out so late? You don’t have a curfew?”

“No, I have one,” you say, “but I snuck out to see a movie.”

“So your parents don’t know you’re out here?”

“No. My friend took me, but she fell asleep before I could call her to take me back home. She’s a really heavy sleeper, and my family’s the same. I could probably make an entire meal right outside their rooms and they wouldn’t even notice.”

“Ah,” the man laughs, “it’s a blessing and a curse.”

“Yeah, they sleep late, too. I have to ask my friends for a ride to school every day.”

“So you don’t even see them until school is over?”

“I get home late, too. Maybe around eight o’clock.”

“Wow, so how often do you see your family?”

“Not often,” you say, “once or twice in the evening. We usually get together to watch TV before I go to bed unless I go to a friend’s house.”

“Huh.”

For some reason, the man seems satisfied with this answer. For some reason, you’re happy with yourself for having satisfied him. For some reason, he misses your turn, even though he told you he knows this town like the back of his hand. The streetlights get farther apart, and it becomes harder to see the man’s face.

“My turn was back there,” you say. “I know a good spot to turn around.”

“No need,” he says while still driving away from your house. The shadows on the trees get longer and darker, and the car jerks violently as it turns down a rocky path you’ve never seen before. You pull out your phone, trying to find your location on the GPS, but before you can put in the passcode, it flies out of your hands and through the window. The man is quicker and stronger than you thought.

“I told you to put the phone away.” His voice is angrily calm, just loud enough for you to hear. He reaches for the glove compartment, and you realize what the red stain on his seat is. The passenger door won’t open.

“Let me out,” you plead, frantically pulling on the door handle. It remains stubborn, keeping you in the car. The glove compartment opens, and a small knife glints in the darkness. It’s all you can see as it inches closer and closer to your neck.

“Wait here.”

You nod, and the man gets out of the car. You don’t know what to do. Your door won’t open and you’ll be caught if you try to climb out of the driver’s side. You’re trapped.

The passenger door opens from the outside.

“Get out.” You get out of the car. He pulls you through the trees, keeping a tight grip on your arm. You reach a clearing in the trees and are thrown to the ground. The man walks to the center of the clearing, knife still in hand. He crouches down and pulls out several large parts of what appears to be some sort of machine, putting them together. Now might be your chance to escape.

The man is only a few yards away from you, facing the other way. If you get up quietly and run fast enough, you might be able to get out of the forest. There’s no time to search for your phone, so you’ll have to take his car and drive away as soon as possible. You brace your muscles, trying to remember the route back to the car. You move to your feet as slowly as possible.

You hear a sharp rustle as a part falls to the round, and you take your chance. The leaves around you crinkle and crack as you fly through them, running faster than ever before. You pass a sign not far off from the clearing before you hear a shout and another pair of feet racing after you. You pass another sign and the feet begin to get closer. Another sign and the feet get closer still. Halfway to the car, you stumble, tripping over a root that’s invisible in the darkness. The feet seem to pick up speed as you lose yours, and your hope of getting to the car is lost. The rustling grows closer.

Gathering all your strength, you push yourself up. Your feet move before your body can right itself, but you’re running again before the man is able to catch you. The car is in sight now.

You pass the last sign, exiting the forest. The toes of the man’s shoes scrape against your heels as you throw open the car door and jump inside. The door slams shut just in time.

There’s no time for a sigh of relief; the man’s hand has just grabbed the door handle. You race to lock it before he starts pulling and reach for the key to start the car. Your hand grabs nothing. You fling open the glove compartment, but it's empty. You scan the floor, the cupholders, everything around you, but there’s no key anywhere. It's not in the car.

Your heart breaks in desperate fear as the man unlocks the car and grabs you by the arm. He wrenches you out of the car and pulls you up as you fall. You make the long trek back to the clearing, where the machine waits. He doesn’t let you go this time to turn it on, and a low grinding sound scares the birds in the trees nearby. They flutter away, and the forest around you is now truly empty.

You’re still alive as half your body grinds to nothingness.