So we sat there for a while in the heavy mist, there at the corner of Hemlock, Hemlock and Hardy, a streetcorner with a legal firm for its ID. We sat and waited in silence for about ten minutes and nothing unusual, or ordinary for that matter, happened. That’s when I remember the map.
"I can find us," I said softly to Jelly. "We got that old map of yours in the glove compartment." I reached to open it, but Jelly reached over and grabbed my hand and stopped me.
"I don’t think we should open anything, man," he said. "You don’t know what’s in there."
Well, I did, I thought. The map, his registration for the car and the book about its parts that no one ever reads, a few loose joints, a flashlight and a separate keyring with his house keys on it, in case he loses the ones he carries in his pocket. That’s what I thought. What I knew.
"I know what’s there," I said to him. "I’m no coward." I reached for it again, but he grabbed my wrist and jerked my hand away.
"Don’t!" he said sharply. I pulled free of him and reached for the pushbutton release with my other hand at the same time. The door flopped down, just like it always did, making a click and then a clack as it did so. It hit my knee and made me flinch and that reaction communicated right away to the already hyper-nervous Jelly.
"Shit, man, I told you not to!" he shouted, reaching past me to shut the thing. I was quicker though, and grabbed the map out just as he slammed it shut on me. "What if...?"
"What if what? I interrupted him, anger and disgust in my voice.
"What if something jumped out of there and got us? That’s what."
"It could have. You know it could have."
"You’re just plain chicken-shit, Jelly. You’re an old-fashioned aspic, that’s what you are."
"Don’t you be giving me this crap," he snorted. "You just as scared as me."
"The Hell (big H) I am!"
Jelly tried to grab the map out of my hand, but I was quicker. I tossed it into the tiny back seat before he could get a hand on it. I tried to move over a bit, turn around and grab it back, but it had hit the seatback, bounced and ended up on the floor. I squeezed myself up onto the back of my seat and reached, but it was just too far down. I moved up a bit further.
"What you think you doing?" Jelly hissed at me.
"I’m going over, Jelly. I’m putting myself in the back with the map and that’s where I’m staying, too. I don’t need this shit from you, Man. I got research to do."
"You ain’t going nowhere. Sit back down."
"Crap!" I sneered at him. "I’m going over!"
Without another word I shoved myself over the seat, taking a pretty neat somersault action into the back seat. My feet hit the ceiling and then the slanted rear window. I almost thought I was going to be stuck in that position, but my head slipped slowly off the seat and into the tight space between the seat cushion and the back of the front seats and that released by feet and, with some effort, I was able to right myself and slip on the rear seat of the VW bug. I grabbed up the map and started to search the listings for Hemlock Drive. It didn’t take me long to find it. And that was the problem. It wasn’t hard to spot and it wasn’t where I knew we had to be.
Tracing a straight line, or as straight a line as I could with a shaky finger, it seemed we had drifted about twelve miles off course, not an easy thing to do in a car with steering wheel, even at night. Instead of going to the North we had moved northwest into territory I didn’t know at all well. The corner of Hemlock Drive and Hardy Drive was marked on the map and, to my surprise, there was an x on the map right there at that intersection.
"What’s this x on the map, Jelly?" I asked him from the relative insecurity of that back seat.
"Never put no x on any map, Steve," he said.
"Well there’s one right here on Hardy and Hemlock." I shoved the open, but scrunched, paper toward him, pointing at the inked in mark.
"Never did that," he said.
"Well, someone did. This your map?
"Yeah, I guess."
"And you didn’t make the mark?"
"Nope, never did."
"Well, this x marks the spot we’re at right now, except there’s a signpost missing and no second Hemlock street..."
"Drive!" he corrected me.
"Yeah, right, Hemlock Drive. Escuse me."
I was thinking about a drink just then, something long and cool and refreshing, something that could clear my head and end the confusion. We were somewhere remote from where we set out to be, but it was a place marked on a map we had. We had hit something; there had been those long, lovely legs on the front of the car; we were fogged in; we were off course; we were late; there were weird noises in the night. I braced myself and summed it all up for Jelly, just like I did right now.
"And..?" was all he said when I finished.
"And we got to get out of here, now, Man!"
"How?" he asked me.
"Turn this bug around and let’s just go back the way we came." It sounded right and easy to me.
"Can’t," he said. "We hit something."
"Oh, yeah, right, I forgot." I had forgotten this point. "So, what do we do?"
"Got to find out what we hit and if there’s damage."
"Okay. How do we do that?"
"One of us got to get out and look."
"Okay." I paused. "Who’s gonna do it?" I knew Jelly was calmer now than he’d been the last time this came up. I hoped he’d volunteer, but in my heart I knew better. My instincts were right on the money.
"You the passenger, Steve. This is my bug. You get out and take a peek."
"But you’re the owner, Jelly, so you should probably assess the damage."
"You tell me what you see, Steve, and I’ll assess from right here."
I was prepared to argue this point all night if I had to, but I knew that in the end he’d win and I’d get out and look around, so I just grunted and said I’d do it. Getting out of the back seat of the old bug isn’t as easy as getting in, even head over heels atop the front seat. Jelly reached over and gently disengaged the lock and through the handle forward, opening the passenger side door. I slowly, reluctantly pushed up the seat back and gently...very gently...put my right foot out through the opening and reached for the ground.
And that was that. Something I couldn’t yet see had me by the ankle, tugged at my leg, pulled me forward, sideways into the thickening white mist. I think I shouted, but I don’t remember a sound. I only recall Jelly’s eyes widening farther than I’d ever seen eyes go before as he receded from me, him still in the driver’s seat and me in the world of Hemlock, Hemlock and Hardy.
It was the slam of the VW bug’s passenger door that did it, finally. I was no longer what I’d been up to that moment and fear, senseless, baseless fear, was suddenly real, horrid, and blinding.