Part One, by Shannon Gooding
Sully could not remember the last time that she had slept or had anything to eat. She just kept driving. The interstate is the loneliest of places when you are scared and a dangerous place when you and your car are running on empty. The light had just come on and Sully knew she had to find a service station within the next 20 miles or she really was in trouble. She was stricken with panic. Was it following her? She needed to find a station fast and fill up.
Desperately trying to shake the whispered breaths that were chilling the back of her neck she reached for her trusty thermos. Why had she been tempted to open the box? If she had only left it alone, but of course her curiosity had gotten the best of her. Now she just prayed she could drive far enough away that it could not find her. Her intuition told her she had a long road ahead.
The neon sign glowing ahead was the best sign she had seen in a long time. Finally…a gas station. She quietly said a prayer of thanks and started reaching for her wallet. She screeched into the gas station preparing for the worst. As she frantically tried to swipe her credit card she felt the now familiar tingling on the back of her neck getting stronger. Fear seemed to overwhelm her now. She had filled the car almost completely, but her intuition told her she needed to get out of there. Sully replaced the hose and struggled to get the gas tank lid back on. She knew it was lurking nearby. Could she get away?
Sully slammed her foot down on the pedal and peeled out of the gas station. Her body and mind were so stricken with panic that she could not think. She knew that it was close by. The tingling all over her body resonated this. What could she do to escape it? Her first thought was to flee. Her second thought was to pray. As a Christian she knew that there were things in this world that were not of this world but she had no clue how to fight them. What had she freed into the world? She was anguished by the fear of what could happen next. The more she thought about it, the more she knew that she would have to prepare to fight. She was not going to be able to outrun this. Whether it was the fear or the lack of sleep she did not know. All she knew was she was going to need help and fast.
Part two by Michael Carnell
The sound of the engine and the feel of the car moving again brought a bit of comfort, but not enough to allow Sully to relax. She wanted to go faster, to get away from whatever it was behind her, but she didn’t know what she would do if she saw a blue light. Would she stop? She didn’t think the highway patrol could be of any help to her, but wouldn’t she have to stop anyway? And if she did stop, what would she say? How could she explain what she was running from?
And with that the doubt started to creep in. What exactly was it that she was running from? And where was she running to? Sully felt the need to get help, but whom was she seeking out? When she had jumped in her Jaguar and sped away from the hotel she was frantic. She had to get away from that box. But now, although she wasn’t any where near calming down, she wasn’t so sure of what she was doing either. As her headlights pushed on down the road she thought about that box.
She had found the old wooden box in a junk store that was trying to be an antique shop. Noah’s Ark they called themselves. One of those little places you come across in the mountains that is aiming for cute and quaint but in reality is a bit shabby and tacky. Made of some faintly red wood, the lid of the box had been closed tight so she couldn’t look inside before she bought it. But, she had liked the vines and leaves and garden motif decorating the outside so had paid for it and its mystery. That mystery. She should have known then not to take in something without knowing its story.
A dear ran across the highway, and she saw it just in time to brake and swerve. Her front tire caught the edge of the pavement yanking the steering wheel in her hands and she over-corrected before she could think, spinning the car around at least 180 degrees. At least. She sighed – and took the car out of gear. Which way was she pointing? The night offered no help. She couldn’t be sure if the Jag was aimed back the way she came now, or was she back on her path away? The deer, no a buck, stood off by the side of the road and stared at her. It was a large buck with an impressive rack. Sully shook her head with doubt about her direction and resisted the urge to cry. The buck looked back at her and tilted his head to one side.
Suddenly it came to her. Sully remembered which direction the creature had been running to cross the road. That was all she needed. She put the car back into gear and took off.
But on the back of her neck the doubt was still there. Sully knew the direction she was running from but she didn’t know the destination she was running towards. She had left the box, that box, back on the bed in the hotel room. All she really understood was that she had to get away from it and get help. Get help to correct whatever she had done by opening the box. By breaking the seal.
She looked in the rearview mirror but saw nothing. With a shock she realized that she really saw nothing – not the stars, not the night sky, not any reflections or hints of light. She checked both side mirrors and a chill went down her spine. They too were completely black. Her headlights were clear on the road ahead, but behind her there seem to be nothing at all. Or maybe worse that nothing, there was a lack of everything.
It was then that she felt the first wave of nausea sweep over her.
Part three, by Amanda Holling
Sully clutched the steering wheel hard in both hands and swallowed down the sharp taste of bile at the back of her throat. She knew that couldn’t stop to be sick. If she slowed down long enough to open her car door and vomit onto the pavement, the terrifying blankness might catch up with her. She didn’t want to think about what that might mean. A tingling chill curled around her neck once more, clinging to her skin like a slender hand with too-long fingers. Her stomach lurched as the road in front of her seemed to slide upwards and to the right. She struggled to see clearly enough to keep the car on the road. Her foot involuntarily pressed the brake, but the dizziness began to fade almost as soon as it started and she was able to speed up again.
She topped a rise and saw something coming into view on the side of the road. It was one of those blue signs that always promised food, gas, or lodging, or so she thought at first. The reflective lettering glowed in the headlights and ordered the passerby to “Turn Here For Help.” Sully blinked once in confusion and squinted at the sign. As she drew level to it, she realized that it actually read “Tourist Information 740 AM.” She decided that it must be the lack of sleep finally beginning to show itself.
A moment later, another blue sign appeared in her headlights. This time it seemed to read “Have a Box Problem? Take This Exit For Help.” Her gaze lingered on the sign as it flashed by. She couldn’t be sure, but the letters seemed to swirl and re-form as she passed it.
Looking ahead again, she saw a third blue sign appear. This time the silvery letters read “Turn Here, Sully. I mean it!” She slammed on the brake and stared at the sign. The letters didn’t move. Sully considered her options. Behind her was utter blankness, a nothingness so complete that it terrified her. Ahead of her the desolate highway stretched away into the night. Just beyond the sign, though, she could see an exit ramp leading off into the stand of tall pine trees on the side of the highway. There was a faint glow filtering through the trees at the other end of the ramp.
The vertigo struck her again without any warning. Sully gasped as the nausea slammed into her at full force. She pressed her head back into the headrest and squeezed her eyes shut, willing the falling sensation to stop. When it finally began to fade, she sat up straight in her seat.
She knew she was running out of time. The nausea and vertigo were getting worse with each wave. The cold chill was spreading from her neck down into her chest and back. She needed help dealing with whatever she had released from that box. When she left the hotel in a blind panic, she had no idea where to turn. Maybe, just maybe, help was already here, and it was trying to find her. She nodded once, then gunned the car up the exit ramp and turned toward the soft white light she could see off to the right.
Part four, by Cameron D. Garriepy
The Jaguar wasn’t built for the road it met at the end of the ramp. Sully bumped along a half mile of broken asphalt and mud road through deep evergreen forest. She kept her eyes ahead. Behind lay madness, that much was clear.
Ahead, through a mist which lay, thick and creeping, along the forest floor, the soft pale light beckoned.
Sully felt silence pressing against the outside of the car. This silence had weight. She imagined it with hands to press against the glass and steel, but the vision brought on another bout of nausea. She swiped her clammy hands on her jeans and steered the car around the worst of the potholes.
She’d awoken drenched in sweat and tears in the hotel bed, two time zones from home, from an endless dream-loop of pursuit — prey to an unseen, all-seeing predator. Like a night-blind animal, she’d obeyed a primal instinct to flee the evil that was the box without stopping to consider that the box had chosen her.
That whatever the box contained had called to her from its table in the little shop.
She’d abandoned her laptop, the case of books from her publisher, her itinerary. Her purse.
Now, with the blackness and the vertigo threatening to send her off the dirt track and the soft white glow filling the space around her, Sully slowed the car. As the engine settled into an idling purr, she did consider: she’d removed the box from Noah’s Ark, kept it close, and allowed it to chase her far from anything resembling safety.
She blinked as her editor approached her from out of the mist.
She got out of the car without thinking. The silence was absolute save for her voice. “Karen?”
“You found me.” Karen smiled gently. “I didn’t know if you’d be able to see the signs. I didn’t know if you’d trust them.”
A nervous giggle bubbled up Sully’s throat. “I almost didn’t. I feel like I’m going crazy, Kay.”
“You were only supposed to be on a short signing tour.” Karen shook her head like a disappointed teacher.
The cold crept up her back at Karen’s words. Sully’s rational mind screamed against the unbearable lack of forest sounds, night sounds, any evidence of reality. Her muscles turned to water as Karen’s face began to fall away from her form. What emerged wasn’t so much a monster as an absence of humanity.
“I’m afraid it’s going to be so much longer.”
Sully crumpled, whimpering when her editor’s voice hissed from the lipless void.
“I needed a storyteller, someone with the imagination to bring me to life, to bring the things I desire to pass. Someone just like you, Yvonne Sullivan.”
The presence filled the light around her, and when it spoke again, it was with her own voice, echoing in her mind as the light faded and the blackness enveloped her.
“What darkness we shall write together, Sully.”