A young woman who was leaving on a long road trip was planning to drive through the night to a city several hundred miles away. She was travelling alone, which made her mother very nervous.
"Be careful," her mother cautioned. "Don't trust strangers. There's a maniac on the loose, you know, and he preys on single, young women just like you."
The woman was quick to dismiss her mother's fears. It was true that a man had escaped from prison, and it was true that he abducted two young women and brutally murdered them with a large butcher knife, but what of it? The woman felt there was nothing to fear, as long as a person was street-smart and kept her wits about her.
"Don't worry about me," she told her mother. "I'll be fine. I know how to take care of myself."
She had meant what she said, but her mother's warning lingered in the back of her mind.
The sun had already set when the woman stopped at a lonely service station by the side of the highway. Heavy clouds obscured the moon and the stars, and the sky threatened a thunderstorm.
Hurriedly, she filled the gas tank and made use of the restroom. When she approached the counter to pay her bill, the attendant smiled in a friendly fashion.
"Dirty night," he said as he used a grimy finger to point out the dusty, dirty window. His outdoor signs whipped around in the wind.
The young woman nodded, a faint smile crossing her face, but said nothing. In the gloom of the night, away from the comforting lights of town, she didn't feel as courageous. The service station attendant might have been a perfectly fine and harmless person, but she had no way of knowing that for certain. He was a stranger to her, and she had been warned to not talk to strangers. As she thought of this, she took her change from the man and hurried our the door, toward the safety of her car.
She was almost there when she heard the bell on the door jangle behind her.
"Wait a minute!" the attendant called.
The woman didn't turn around. Instead, she quickened her pace.
"I'm in a hurry!" she lied as she ran around the front of the car and yanked open the driver's side door. She slid in behind the wheel, closed the door and locked it. When she looked up, she saw the attendant standing inches away.
Inside the well-lit station, he had appeared to be only a little grubby and disheveled. But outside, under the arc of the unnatural fluorescent light, the attendant had taken on a decidedly unsettling countenance.
"I made a mistake," he said to the woman. "Gave you the wrong change. Just come back inside for a minute and we'll sort it out."
A dense, cold knot formed in her stomach.
"I have to go! I don't care about my change!" she yelled through the closed window. She turned the ignition key and breathed a silent prayer of thanks when her occasionally unreliable car roared to life.
But the attendant was insistent.
"No, it's you who owes me money," he said. "It'll just take a minute. Then you can be on your way!"
He stepped in front of the woman's car then, blocking her way. More than his nervous gaze or his obvious lie, this frightened the woman. She fumbled in her purse for a handful of coins, and opened her window just wide enough to throw the money out.
"Here!" she cried. "That's more then what you gave me! Now let me go!"
The attendant leaned forward. He placed his hands on the hood of the car and looked directly into her eyes. Slowly, he shook his head. Silently, he mouthed the word "no."
It was so threatening, so loathsome, the woman was jolted into action. She put the car in gear and stepped on the gas pedal. The attendant jumped out of the way, barely in time. The front fender of the car still managed to brush his thigh with enough force that he was knocked down and sent rolling across the pavement.
As her car swerved wildly onto the highway, the woman risked one backward glance. To her horror, she saw the attendant making a limping run for his pickup truck that sat parked near the restrooms.
She pressed her foot into the gas pedal, pushing the car to its limit. But the car's limit was less then enough, and soon there were headlights looming behind her. In the darkness, the woman couldn't see that it was the attendant's truck following her, but she knew. The driver repeatedly flashed his headlights on high beam and blasted his horn insistently.
'Oh my God!' the woman thought. 'He's trying to run me off the road! It's just like that urban legend!'
The truck advanced until it was inches away from the car's bumper, and its horn blared out with deafening persistence. When the driver backed off slightly, it was only so that he could blind the woman with a staccato flashing of lights. Between this terrifying interference and her own state of panic, the woman feared that it wouldn't be long before she misjudged one of the twists and turns of the dark highway.
As she was thinking that, she sped past a familiar sign. "Ingrid's B & B, ½ Mile," it read, and the woman remembered the small farm where she had once stayed with her ex partner. She knew that the drive was coming up on her right; it was a sharp turn that drivers were apt to miss, unless they were prepared . . .
The woman saw the gravel lane and cranked hard on the steering wheel. She felt the car go up on two wheels, where it wobbled briefly before coming down with a spine-compressing thud.
There was a noise, a violent noise that began with a squealing of rubber on pavement, as the pickup truck tried too late to follow her car. The noise was followed by the brittle snapping of tree trunks and the scream of twisting metal. Finally, there was a soft whoosh of flames. The truck had left the road and torn a destructive path down the shallow gully that divided the highway and the B & B drive.
The woman felt overwhelming relief wash over her. She slowed the car, turned it around, and with a trembling hand shifted it into park. For a moment, she watched the flaming wreckage that imprisoned the maniacal service station attendant.
She closed her eyes, leaned forward until her forehead was touching the steering wheel, and waited for the tears to come.
But they didn't. In their place, there was a strange sensation of triumph.
'I was right,' the woman thought. 'I know perfectly well how to take care of myself! There's never a reason to be afraid, as long as I keep my wits about me!'
When she finished congratulating herself, the woman sat up once more and opened her eyes. Some small movement in the rear view mirror captured her attention, and she glanced up to see what it might be.
It only took a split second for her to realize that she had been wrong. Wrong about her cocky beliefs and wrong about the poor, dead service station attendant. He hadn't been trying to kill her; it was suddenly clear that he'd been trying to warn her.
For there, in the deep shadows of the back seat, sat a large man with a leering eye and evil smile. When he noticed the woman looking at him, he smiled more broadly and held something up.
The flickering orange flames of the burning wreckage reflected so beautifully in the polished razor-sharp blade of his very large butcher knife.