Urban Legends: Exposed by Kathleen Palm
Welcome to Urban Legends: Author & Artist #SpookyShowcase. This autumn 2019, the strange and unusual is unleashed! Featuring the best authors and artists in the horror landscape, come back each day the month of October for a scare. You can find the master posting schedule here,
Expect dark stories, myths, legends, and creepy creations that will make your spine tingle. Remember, urban legends aren’t true…are they?
by Kathleen Palm
Inspired by the urban legend of the lights of Bruick Road
Mom’s late. She’s never late. She knows not to be.
My shoes scuff on the sidewalk as I turn at every voice, every footstep, every skittering leaf. I tug at the black ends of my hair, pulling it over my face like a shield.
The high school parking lot sits mostly empty, the parade of honking cars gone. Under the cloudy sky, fields of brown corn remain like unending nightmares, rows of stalks fluttering in the wind. A trail of smoke rises from behind trees draped in red and gold, the smell of burning, not a happy campfire, but the bitter scent of the end.
With a shiver, I stare at the unanswered text and pace, imagining my steps cracking the world beneath me, broken into a million shards of memory, broken so no one can fix it. The scritch-scratch sounds in my mind, like there’s something clawing itself free.
It’s just the move. A new town. New people. New everything.
I slam my silent phone against my thigh. Leaves skip past my feet, pushed by a breeze that holds the promise of the chill of winter and the memory of summer heat. October. A weird in-between month, still gripped by life, but on the verge of being claimed by death.
A dull ache pulses through my head. I rub my temple, then let my fingers travel to the scar on my forehead.
Determined footsteps thud behind me. Unease divebombs into my stomach, and I shove my hands in my pockets and act as if I’m fine. I’m supposed to be here. Staring at an empty lot.
I spin, trying to smile at the tall girl with dark hair and shining green eyes.
“Hey…Hailey.” Head shaved all the way around, enough hair left to twist into a knot, and a brash laugh, she’s in a few of my classes. There’s something about her. Something familiar, but I can’t figure out what.
“So starting at a new school your senior year must suck.”
Hailey crushes a leaf under her foot. “So…running from something?”
I try and fail to swallow.
“Kidding! Don’t look so scared. I mean, if you are running, you don’t have to tell me.” She shifts her weight, her head cocked at an inquisitive angle. “But I did learn something about you today, while I worked in the office.”
Does she know? I push my hands deeper into my pockets and glance at the empty lot, at the few cars on the road beyond. “Really?”
“You live on Bruick Road! The haunted road!”
Relief loosens the muscles in my shoulders. “Haunted?
“You don’t know about the lights of Bruick Road?”
“Lights?” The gleam in her eyes is warm and a little scary, but exciting. And just like…Sadie. That’s it. Hailey reminds me of Sadie. My best…no, former best friend. She never came to see me, not in the hospital, not after I went home, and not on the day Mom and I packed our stuff and left.
“Well…” Hailey glances over her shoulder as if readying to divulge some grand secret. Her voice becomes a whisper. “If you park your car on the bridge around midnight, you’ll see lights in the distance. At first, you think it’s a car, until the lights change color, then go up into the air.”
I push my hair out of my face. “Then what is it?”
“No one knows, but if you try to get closer, they back away and suddenly vanish.”
The scritch-scratch buzzes in my head. Something about lights, flashing over beams then unending darkness. Ever since moving to Bruick road, these odd images hover in my head like the shattered remains of life…my life? “Have you seen these lights?”
“Well, no,” Hailey says with a look of disappointment. “There was a kid at school who did. I’m surprised you never heard the story. Everyone talks about it.”
The terrible scraping hum persists, insists that I hear it, and brings strange thoughts of people talking, always talking. They talk and talk and don’t understand. The darkness in my brain hisses and spits. I rub the scar on my forehead. Even Sadie talked. Even Sadie didn’t understand.
“Cool scar.” Hailey stares at my head, her stare holding an accusation, her lips pressed together with unsaid words.
Or maybe it’s my imagination, maybe I’m used to people looking at me like I did something wrong.
“No. It’s not cool.” I cover the mark with my fingers, wishing for Mom’s stupid mini-van to appear, to save me.
Hailey’s expression falters, the fun smile disappearing behind an angry frown. “Like from hitting your head on the dash of a car…or the windshield, right? From a car accident?”
“No.” My lip quivers as the memories strike. “I was attacked. These people…had knives and guns and…” The fear gathers in my belly, then spreads in a wave. “I was in the hospital for months.” And after, everyone looked at me like I had caused the end of the world.
Hailey rubs her hand along the side of her head as she stares at me, as if she doesn’t believe me. “I suppose if you had been in a car accident, you would remember.”
“I knew someone who died in a crash. So many car accidents, so many people left with scars.” She reaches out, as if to touch my head.
I step away, nearly falling over the curb.
Her shoulders shake, as if to rid herself of whatever emotions creep through her mind, and her smile returns. “So, do you need a ride? I’ll take you!” She’s excited. Too excited.
The muscles of my face twitch, into a grimace or a grin, one or the other. “I…”
Mom’s dented silver mini-van rounds the corner and circles the drive to where we stand.
“I guess not.” I rush to the door. “Thanks anyway.”
“Where do you live? I’ll come get you to see the lights! It’ll be fun, an adventure.”
I pause at the door. An adventure. Such a Sadie phrase. I miss Sadie. “Just find the ugly brown house.”
Hailey gives me a wink. “See you later!”
My knee aches as I climb into the van and shut the door.
I settle in my seat, rubbing my knee and trying to wipe away the odd encounter. Hailey and her tale of the lights of Bruick Road. I suppose a haunted street would explain the voice…the strange feelings.
“Who’s that?” Mom puts the car in gear, her spicy perfume invading my senses.
Mom. My fear explodes. My fingers dig into my leg. “You left me here. You know you can’t—”
“Lorraine! I’m not doing this. You’re fine.” She puts the car in drive and heads for the exit.
“I might not have been! Where were you?”
Her knuckles turn white as she strangles the steering wheel. “I got here as soon as I could.”
I glance at her phone trembling in the cup holder, not lost, not destroyed. “And you couldn’t text, let me know you were running late?”
Massaging the back of her neck, Mom sighs, a quivering breath of defeat. “The past caught up with me today.”
The past? I don’t want to think about it. The terrible scratching intensifies as terror knots in my belly. “Yeah, well…you weren’t left standing out in the open.”
No apology, no explanation, no anything, Mom drives home in silence wrapped up in her own thoughts. How can she not be thinking of me, of what could have happened to me? I rub my knee harder, trying to make the hurt go away, make the memory go away.
Mom’s phone lights up.
I glance at the text. “Don Anders?” The bitter taste of rejection burns in my mouth. I pick up her phone and wave it around. “You’re texting Sadie’s dad? My best…former best friend’s dad? Why?”
Mom grabs her phone and shoves it in her lap. “Today, Lor, he texted me today, because it’s the anniversary…and he wanted to know…I guess he doesn’t want me…no…he doesn’t want you to forget. He can’t let it go. Not that I blame him.”
“Let what go? What doesn’t he want me to forget? That his daughter treated me like crap?”
Mom shakes her head as she comes to a stop at an intersection. “Eventually the past steps into the light. It doesn’t matter how far you run.” With a heavy sigh, she looks up at the crooked green sign announcing Bruick Road. She turns left onto the supposedly haunted road. Fields wait to be harvested. Fences hold horses captive. Weeds sprout from cracks in the pavement. She taps her fingers on the steering wheel, a nervous rhythm as if to unsaid thoughts.
The scritch-scratching intensifies as the car bumps over potholes. What could she mean? But I don’t ask.
Instead I stare at the road, the gray line cutting through the farms. Just a road. Except the constant anxiety, the droning hum, the bubbling darkness under the surface of my thoughts. It all began when we moved here.
Mom pulls into the driveway.
I unbuckle my seat belt, but Mom doesn’t move, doesn’t take her hands from the wheel.
“Maybe it’s better if you know. I can’t…” Her voice shakes, the words waver as if drowning in unshed tears. “I thought I could protect you, but maybe I shouldn’t.”
I freeze, the clawing in my head demands attention. “Nothing can protect me from what happened that night.”
“Not that night, Lor. Another night, one you forgot. The night of the accident.” Mom slaps the wheel. “You were so angry. I thought if you forgot, that the boiling emotions inside you would disappear, but you’re still angry.”
I throw open the car door. “I’m not angry! I’m scared.” I wince at the pain in my knee as I step to the ground and slam the door, then limp to the front steps. The scritch-scratching rips through my thoughts.
Mom follows, shutting her door with a loud boom. “It started as fear, Lor. But after months of being home, it turned to anger.”
I pause at the door, staring in shock at Mom, who climbs the steps. “Months? I wasn’t home for months. It was days…days of being treated like a criminal before we moved.”
She digs her keys out of her bag and opens the front door. “I’m so tired…of knowing.”
“You? What about me?”
The old house creaks when I push my way past Mom and her words. The scents of disorder and unpacked boxes drift like ghosts through the dim rooms. I press my hands to my head at memories of being threatened, of pain, of quivering on the ground. Scared. So scared all the time.
Hands shaking and tears threatening, I throw my backpack on the stained tan couch and stare at it.
Mom stops behind me, the floor groaning under her feet. “You need to remember what you did.”
“You make it sound like I did something wrong!” I stand in front of the big window overlooking Bruick Road, unwilling to look at her. “I’m the victim!”
A frustrated sigh, then the sound of Mom footsteps.
The colors of nightmares spread over the sky, over the house, over the street as the sun sets, falling into the jagged fingers of corn.
Is the street haunted? Are there really lights?
An image of a face flickers in my mind. A face with no eyes. And a voice…
Shaking my head, I back away from the glass.
“You were a victim of a terrible crime. That’s true. It will always be true.” Mom’s voice comes from the kitchen. The clanging of pots and pans fills the house with the sounds of an argument that will never be resolved. “Those months after, you should have moved on. But you didn’t and your fear transformed, then you and Sadie—”
“Don’t talk about Sadie!” The scraping in my head becomes a screech like crunching metal. I run for the stairs, devastated at how Mom brushes away the fact that I’m vulnerable. Fear crawls over my skin. At the memories of the gun, of the knife, of the way the blood tasted, of the way they laughed. And after. The stares. The whispers. The way Sadie abandoned me.
The stairs whimper as I race for my room and grab the animal crackers sitting on my desk. The last rays of the sun creep into my room, across the worn carpet, but stop at my feet, as if scared. The bag crinkles in my grasp. Loud. Angry. How can Mom say those things?
I shove crackers in my mouth, violently chewing, and sit on my bed, staring out the window as the night descends.
Hours later Mom comes upstairs. “Lor?” The door can’t keep her voice out. “The past won’t stay forgotten forever.”
I crumple the bag, squeezing it with all my strength.
“You’ll remember someday. I just want you to be prepared.” Silence, then soft footsteps shuffle away. A door closes.
Mom doesn’t understand. No one ever understood what it was like to be afraid, really afraid. Someday, she’ll pay for not understanding, just like…
The scritch-scratching resumes, pulling at the edges of my mind, at something hidden in the shadows. A darkness. A harsh whisper. A face.
A face with no eyes.
I run my fingers over the scar on my head, forcing the images away, only leftover bits of nightmares.
There’s nothing to remember. Only things to forget.
But I’ll never forget.
A car horn honks. I peer out the window as Hailey climbs out of a tiny red vehicle, looks up, and waves. Just like Sadie used to do. The voice in my head yells at me to stay home, she’s not Sadie and it’s not safe in the dark, but I don’t want to be here. I want what I lost. I wave back and creep into the hall, checking that no light shines from under Mom’s door. One step at a time, I sneak downstairs, hoping Mom won’t hear, won’t catch me. Though I don’t care.
I grab my jacket and head out the front door, clicking it softly into place behind me.
Hailey grins, gripping her keys. “Come on, Lor. Time for an adventure.”
Just like Sadie. Why did she leave me? A cool breeze caresses my cheek with a hint of danger, of death, and the scent of damp, cold earth. The corn stalks rustle as if laughing. I fight the urge to go back inside. Maybe Mom will know what it’s like to be afraid if she finds me gone.
I jump. “What?”
Only the voice wasn’t Hailey, probably just the wind. “Are we really going to see these lights?”
“Maybe we’ll see them. Maybe we’ll just have fun hanging out.” She stares at me, then skips down the sidewalk and runs to the driver’s door, looking back as if making sure I’m coming. The crazed excitement mixed with the thunk of a car door makes the shadow inside me squirm, its claws sliding along the inside of my head.
The passenger door opens and Hailey pats the seat. “Come on!”
With uncertain steps, I walk to the car. The scritch-scratch fills my head with a fear. A car. A friend. An adventure. Just like the night with Sadie. I clench my fists. Wait…what night?
I slide into the seat.
Hailey hoots as she takes off down the road, her hands slide back and forth over the wheel and her knee bounces.
My head aches, my thoughts go fuzzy with disjointed images. Memories? Of me reaching for a steering wheel. Of lights flashing over iron beams. Of a scream. The scritch-scratching becomes an intense growl. She didn’t understand. She needed to understand.
Minutes later Hailey slows, stops, and points out the windshield. “The bridge.”
The darker gray of trees spreads under the sky where the moon struggles to push the clouds away. Light falls over the sprawling fields and shatters onto leaves and abandoned tractors. “So tell me about yourself. You going to college next fall? I’m getting out of this tiny town. I’m ready to go places, you know? Everyone should get that chance, though not everyone does.”
Just like Sadie. Laughing and talking about college, about being ready to move on with life, about how maybe I could too. Her hands on the wheel. Me in the passenger seat.
I saw Sadie after the attack. The knowledge is sudden and overwhelming. I woke up in the hospital and no one came to see me. Only I did see her. We talked about how afraid I was all the time. I went back to school, where my friends and teachers acted as if everything was fine, as if I could just forget about the attack and be normal. But I couldn’t. I can’t. The scratching in my skull scrapes as if carving lines into bone.
I fumble for the door handle, needing to get out. The door locks with a cold click.
“You don’t want to go out there,” Hailey says, her face covered in shadows and secrets. “What if the lights show up and we have to go after them!”
I roll down the window, my fear on high alert. Hailey isn’t Sadie, she isn’t my friend. Where is Sadie? Why did we move? Why does everything happen to me? I take a deep breath of cold air, inhaling the scent of far away fires and decaying leaves. The water exists as a quiet song. The leaves rustle as they cling to life.
The dark presses in from everywhere, shadows reaching and threatening.
The voice. The screech of tires follows, devouring the night. And a bridge, but not this one. One with tall beams and criss-crossing rusty iron supports.
My name. Sharp. Cold. As if spoken by a long dead tongue.
The roar of an engine.
“Oh. My. God.” Hailey’s eyes are wide as she stares out the window.
Headlights shine up the road. A car. Just a car. I press my fingers to my scar as the thing claws at my mind. Scritch-scratch.
I close my eyes as the shapeless dark in my head shifts, struggles. And stretches.
She needed to understand. She needed to be afraid.
A real voice. I open my eyes. The two lights linger ahead, then float up, shifting from white to blue to green.
“That’s not a…” Only I heard a car. The black in my head curls around my thoughts, crushing them.
Hands on the wheel, Hailey speeds forward. “Hang on.”
The hum of the engine digs into my brain as if searching out the source of the scritch-scratching, as if wanting to set it free.
The lights linger ahead. What had Mom said? Eventually, the past steps into the light. I grip the seat, fingernails digging into the fabric. “Stop. Please.”
“But you like driving crazy and having adventures! She told me.” Hailey hoots and cackles, then speeds up. “Uncle Don calls me all the time. He wants to know if you remember.”
The scratching is so loud, filling my head with…
“Sadie always talked about you.” Hailey squeezes her fingers around the wheel, her smile gone. “Lor. Her best friend. I can’t believe what you did to her!”
“What I did?” But in scattered images, I remember. Sadie driving. Being in the passenger seat. I remember leaning over…
Screeching tires. Screaming.
I made her understand.
The lights rise and change colors, hovering in the sky, and the faster we go forward, the faster they go back. The car roars and Hailey sniffs. “You thought you could move away and forget? How could you not know that this little town is where Sadie’s family lives.”
The single syllable booms in my mind. I stare at the floating lights. “Family?”
Do you remember, Lor?
A revving engine. Laughter turned to cries of fear.
I made her understand.
My head aches, and I massage my temple, then touch the long red mark left by the…
Mom said accident, one I forgot.
“I didn’t think we’d really see the lights.” Hailey slaps the steering wheel, her eyes locked on the road. “But it’s fitting, don’t you think? They’ve come to expose you. Can’t hide from what you did.”
My whole body shakes as I gaze up. The lights fly at us, at me.
I stare at the attacking orbs made of light and somehow of darkness.
Do you remember?
I shake my head, the tiniest movement, because I don’t want to. “Why are you doing this to me?”
Hailey presses on the gas. “Because you need to suffer like she did. You don’t get to forget.”
The lights descend, devouring me. Time stops. Silence engulfs the world. Hailey sits completely still as light crawls along her skin and creeps into her ears…into her eyes…up her nose. She turns to me, her face distorted as if someone else’s features have been placed over hers.
“Sadie?” Her name catches in my throat, stopped by tears, hot drops of rage and guilt.
Eyes, dead and white, stare.
I can’t take my eyes off my friend. A vision of my hand reaching for the wheel, of forcing it to turn. Of a bridge. Of me, shaking. I was afraid. I was…
I came to find you. It hasn’t forgotten you.
“Why can’t everyone leave me alone?” I rock in the seat, terror rushing through my veins.
Do you remember?
Leaning over, I close my fingers over a ghostly steering wheel. Ire rampages through my mind as I pull the wheel to one side. Tires wail. The headlights flash over a steel beam. “No. I didn’t do anything wrong. You needed to understand!”
You killed me, Lor.
“I didn’t kill anyone!” My voice quivers with tears. “I was almost killed! And you didn’t care. No one came to see me.” Only that’s wrong. I went home after the attack. I went back to school. And I was afraid.
Do you remember?
Being home for months after the attack. Being scared to go anywhere alone. Sadie dragging me out for an adventure. My trembling hands on the wheel as I used every ounce of my strength to force it out of her grip.
“You didn’t understand! I had to show you…”
A crash. And pain. And then…darkness. And something was there. A voice.
Show me what?
“What it was like to be afraid!” To show her because I was…angry. I am angry.
But you died too, Lor.
I drop my gaze to my hands, my fingers tied in knots.
Do you remember what you saw in death? Do you remember what you felt before the doctors pulled you back to life?
A current of black writhes underneath the light. The car is gone. Hailey with it. Sadie’s presence hovers over me.
I do remember. The cold. The anger. The void.
The voice. And the face without eyes.
It wants you back. It wants to feed on your anger.
The black finds me, crawling up my feet and legs and wrapping around my body.
I try to shake it off. “I am a victim!”
The light fades, the face of my friend vanishes. The void overtakes me, eating away at my body, my mind, my soul. Mom was right. The past doesn’t stay forgotten. The lights of Bruick Road have exposed it. And I’m not prepared.
The deep voice of what waits for me in the nothing chuckles.
“Maybe once you were a victim, Lor.” Sadie’s voice fades, becoming an echo. “But you became a monster.”
About the Author
Kathleen Palm loves the weird, the scary, and the fantastical, for magic makes the world a fabulously strange place. Her kids, husband, cats, and dog add laughter and general chaos to her life, which includes writing, reading, and watching creepy television shows and movies, mainly featuring demons or time travel.
Blog: Finding Faeries
Photo cred: Gail Werner
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SO AMAZING! I love this so much, Kathy!