It was a dark and stormy night. (Ok, it was really more misty than stormy. I'm trying to set a mood here. It's called poetic license. Roll with it.) I was driving alone through the mountains of West Virginia en route from my home in Central Ohio to my Home in Western Pennsylvania. How did I come to be on this dark and stormy road alone in the middle of the night, you ask? (It was more like the beginning of the evening. But with the late time change this year, it felt quite a lot like the middle of the night. Would you be as intrigued if I'd said, 'just after rush hour? I thought not.)
It was simple, really. The kids had a four day weekend, and I had a hankering to go Home and visit with my family and a few friends. We'd leave Wednesday night and come home Saturday. That way Tom would get a little alone time after work for a couple days, which can be very relaxing, but wouldn't have the full weekend alone which can get awful lonesome. It was win win. Except I forgot we had an appointment Wednesday night. (An appointment with a bottle of wine and some fine tapas. Wednesday night was out anniversary, remember). So, ok, no problem, we'd leave Thursday morning. Except the reason the girls had Thursday off was that it was parent teacher conference day and I had an afternoon conference scheduled. Ok, we'd leave right after the conference. That would work. Except I forgot that Liv has drum lessons Thursday night. And she didn't want to miss her lesson. "Why do we have to go to Memaw and Pepaw's anyway?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. No zombies." I don't know why I said that. (Probably a reference to 'Zombieland'. The characters didn't refer to each other by name, just by cities. The main character went by 'Columbus Ohio' which is home. So we sort of dug that. Even though it was destroyed. I don't think that requires a spoiler alert. It IS a movie about a zombie apocalypse. When 'apocalypse' is part of the explanation, you sort of expect a little destruction. It's always neat when home gets a mention. Springsteen mentioned Home in 'The River'. It wasn't a flattering reference, but I held it near my heart anyway. It's like these famous important people know a little piece of you when they mention places and things you hold dear. I just read 'A Walk in the Woods' and every time Bill Bryson mentioned a State or National Park I'd been too, I felt like we were sharing the adventure. Which we totally weren't. Ohmigod - how am I ever gonna get you back to my story?)
"No zombies!" Tom exclaimed. "You practically drive right through Monroeville between here and there! You go through zombie mecca, zombie homeland, zombie ground zero." (I don't really drive through Monroeville. I do pass an exit for Pittsburgh, though. Oh, and for anyone not with me at this point, Monroeville, a suburb of Pittsburgh, is the setting for 'Dawn of the Dead', the seminal and arguably definitive zombie movie.)
"I don't want to go." replied one or both of the kids. This decision may or may not have had to do with zombies.
"They can stay with me." Tom threw out casually.
"Kthnkxbye!" I said, running up the stairs to pack before he had a chance to change his mind. Two nights and one full day to live in my parents house and play with my friends without worrying about stopping arguments or anything else involved in the care and keeping of a teen and a tween? Yes, please.
So I was set to leave Thursday afternoon. Mom calls Thursday morning and says, "We're really looking forward to seeing you, but I wanted you to know that they're calling for snow." Snow? Really? It's the middle of October! I'm not ready for snow - I am not ready to entertain even the possibility of snow. Nope. Lalala, I can't hear you, no snow. But she'd planted a wee tiny seed of worry.
Thursday afternoon, Tom and I attended the parent teacher conference. When we came out, my car gave us a little trouble about starting. Tom says to me (he says), "Your battery is shot".
"Does that mean I can't go?" (that seed of worry was sprouting fast)
"That means you need a new battery and you're lucky we figured it out now instead of halfway through your trip."
"Ok." But I didn't feel particularly lucky, because I was now off schedule by about an hour and a half which was supposed to be the amount of time I would be able to bargain shop on the way Home. I love bargain shopping. Bargain shopping sans kids? Well, at the risk of repeating myself: yes, please. So that was denied. Bummer. But I was on my way. Well, sort of. When the battery was replaced, my stereo went offline. To get it back involved finding a code and, oh, for Pete's sake, if I wasted any more time I was gonna have to give up dinner as well as shopping. "I'll be fine without a stereo - I need to go."
"You'll go nuts alone in the car with no stereo for almost 5 hours."
"No I won't. The voices keep me company."
So off I set, almost two hours later than planned, with nothing but the sounds of the road (and, of course, the aforementioned voices) to keep me company.
The first leg of the trip was gorgeous. Not a lot rivals the beauty of driving through the mountains during peak foliage season. I felt sort of - blessed. Like this amazing display was just for me. Don't burst my bubble on that one, it wouldn't be nice. As the sun began to set in the rear view mirror, though, things took a turn for the spooky. It's no accident that Halloween is celebrated in Autumn. Autumn days are beautiful. Autumn nights are eerie.
So I'm singing to myself - trying to keep my thoughts occupied by things other than the general gloominess of the night - when I smell cigarette smoke. I don't smoke. Tom doesn't smoke. No-one has ever smoked in my car. (Well, that may or may not be true. I'm not the original owner. But I've had it a couple years. You'd think any residual odors in the upholstery or carpeting would've manifested before now.) My senses are now on red alert. And I smell a fart. Now I'm alone in the car. And I haven't farted. I'd tell you if I had. I'm not shy. It's a very natural thing. Everyone farts. Except I hadn't. And I was the only one in the car.
I'm deep in the mountains now, it's dark, it's rainy, it's spooky. There isn't any snow, but the 'Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface' signs are being taken seriously because I'd encountered a little slush. The wind is blowing and the fog is creeping in more quickly than slowly, almost instantly obscuring my vision. Leaves are blowing in the wind and being illuminated by my headlights like unpredictable little specters. And there's an apparition smoking and farting in my back seat. I DO believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do, I DO believe in spooks...
Two small lights on the road ahead. Not headlights. Eyes. Then, before I had time to process this latest development, an eighteen wheeler, coming out of nowhere - coming out of a side street I didn't even know was there. So this is how it ends. All this spooky, eerie stuff going on, and I'm gonna be taken out 'Maximum Impact' style. And without the cool AC/DC soundtrack.
The truck went on it's way. The deer in the road was avoided. The fog dissipated as my altitude decreased. The odors cleared. Home was in sight. That's where I went to High School. That's the church where Daddy and I got married. That's where I went to kindergarten. It's an office building, now. All those landmarks I point out to my family every time we make this trip. Except this time I'm alone, so there's no one to say, "I know, Mom, gawd, you tell us every time!"
I remarked on all of the landmarks out loud, anyway. It was good to be Home.