#AC2B - Three Minutes and Counting [excerpt]
Updated: Oct 6
Let's take a trip deep into Southern Maryland. To a part of the state where if you blink too long, you would think you were transported to the old Confederate South. Here is a sample from my upcoming Halloween novelette, A Cross to Bare.
“Roni! I just stopped by your place and didn’t see Morticia in her parking space. I can't believe you really decided to take that trip to the middle of nowhere."
Tuh! The fuck I didn’t.
“Shandra, I have been prepping for this trip all year. I can't believe your ass didn't believe me. You saw my response to your cousin’s little text about this year’s costume. You really thought I was joking?”
"Honestly, yeah, I did," she laughed. “The way your ass is about Halloween?”
"Shandra, girl! My reply text two months ago was literally, 'Y'ALL have fun because I'm out.' How in the hell did you misinterpret that?"
Stealing a second glimpse at the display on my dash I just shook my head.
I had been driving for over an hour, with the Boomerang soundtrack on shuffle and repeat. Then here comes this rude ass, interrupting the good brother Johnny Gill telling his woman he would do anything and everything for her. Why does “There You Go” go as hard as it does?
"I mean, yeah, you’re right, but still…wait, are you mad?" Shandra asked in a tone that sounded like she had an epiphany.
Just as I was about to answer, my GPS told me to take a left off the main road that I almost missed. The turn was a ridiculously sharp one-hundred-twenty-degree turn-off with a ditch where the shoulder should be. Who designed this shit?
I broke hard and took the turn at a snail's pace.
"Nope, not mad at all. Now, if you asked me that question last November, maybe."
"I guess,” she replied skeptically. “Well, your Black ass driving to the middle of nowheres-ville, Maryland, is a wild ass way to make a point. Dressing up and being cute for Halloween is one thing. That scary shit, no ma'am, that is all you. Hard pass! Be safe, please."
"Love you, Shandra."
With the sun providing a companion, my trip had been peaceful. Leaves of varying hues ushered me further away from the beltway and deeper into southern Maryland. A part of the state where if you blinked too long, you would think you were transported to the old Confederate South.
My girl Shandra, whom I had known since the fifth grade, was right about one thing, I did not play about Halloween. Never had to be honest. And that’s why this year I decided to do something different.
Our Halloween festivities were set in stone for the past ten years. Shandra, her cousin Brianna, her roommate from undergrad, Rayne, and I always celebrated together. We either got dressed and headed to D.C. to go to a club, landed at someone's party, or chilled at one of our apartments.
The constant, though, was that there were always themed group costumes. From the Sex & the City cast to the original Destiny's Child to the Craft, you were going to see our squad. And the odds were great that we would be memorable as hell when you saw us.
The last two years, however, were complete disasters. People flaking on registering ahead of time for an invite-only masquerade ball. Then last year was the double Blanche Devereaux fiasco, which did it for me. There are four Golden Girls. There are four of us. Assignments were in the group chat and these bitches…
According to my GPS, I was less than three minutes from my destination the Glosbe Grove Inn. The thought of what awaited had me brimming with excitement, mainly because the allure of the unknown was so strong.
As a kid, visiting haunted houses was mandatory. The same went for haunted hayrides at amusement parks and farms. Those were quick-fix adrenaline rushes. You get in, scream, and get out. The idea of a haunted inn, though, was different. Now we’re talking about a renovated 19th-century property surrounded by absolutely nothing. And I had a two-night stay booked there–a place recently rated as the scariest destination in the state.
I could not wait.
As I continued driving, curiosity morphed into legitimate concern. Did I miss a turn? There was no break in the tree line, no long wooden fence bordering the property I saw on the website, nothing.
This would not have been a problem if my estimated arrival time had not shown me to be three minutes away…over ten minutes ago. Am I tripping?
I remembered the inn had a mailing address and a separate one for driving apps. But hell, even if the address was old or I input the wrong one, I should see something by now. The view outside of the car was, your ass has gone the wrong way, unchanging. There was a dense line of trees to my left, a flat, straight road in front of me, and tall brown grass to my right.
The sun had migrated lower and was peeking through the tops of the trees now, but everything else was the same.
The time on my phone matched the clock on my dash, 4:46 p.m.
The estimated time of arrival still said three minutes away. But how?
With nary another car on the road, I picked up my phone. The map showed me driving in the middle of a deep bend in the road. What the hell, I thought. Because my hand was holding the steering wheel steady, and all I saw in front of me was a straightaway and the horizon.
Of all the times for technology to go to shit.
I tried to call the inn, but it wouldn’t connect. I tried twice more for good measure and got the same result, nothing.
Okay, okay, don't panic, Roni.
With a full tank and a decent amount of natural light remaining, I pondered my options. I could stay on this road to see if my fortune changed or bust a U-turn and floor it back home. I desperately wanted this trip after back-to-back Halloween duds, so I opted to push on. At least a little bit longer.
The setting sun created a calming, ethereal, amber-hued luminescence. As it sank even further behind the trees, the scene looked like a desktop wallpaper. Something about this new visual drew my attention toward the tall grass on my right. It looked more gold now than the dry off-season brown and appeared to go on in perpetuity. It was...so beautiful and...so...still.
The weather was unseasonably warm for this time of year, but the breeze had been steady since I left the house.
So why can I see each blade of grass so clearly?
Staring unflinchingly out of the passenger side window, it looked like someone had pressed pause on reality. The entire moment was so surreal, so enchanting, I felt my focus slipping. I was drifting into a dream-like state in real-time.
My eyes were still open, unblinking.
The golden blades of grass remained unmoving.
And no matter how hard I tried, my ass could not look away.
A sickening tightness in my chest tag teamed with a rapid increase of saliva in the back of my throat. There was a tingle in my hands that I refused to acknowledge as a tremor because then I would have to admit what I was feeling. Being able to see but not turn away or even stop looking was plunging me headfirst into a panic attack.
This must be a bad dream. None of this made sense.
And why the fuck can't I turn my head?
A cold sweat dotted the surface of my forehead, palms, and underarms. My breathing quickened, teetering on the edge of being out of control, but my chest mirrored the grass outside. It was perfectly still.
When my eyes blinked rapidly, I thought I was finally snapping out of whatever this was. Then, a violent gust of wind blew through my closed window and plunged me into total darkness, somewhere supposedly close to my final destination.