Carina took the back roads to the book club meeting, as instructed by Faye. A piece of paper with the directions lay in the passenger seat.
“Faye, where are you taking me?” She bit her lip and shook her head.
The suburban roads were a winding forested labyrinth of century-old estates, humongous subdivisions, and farm fields. The landmarks Faye had given her emerged in the same order as in the directions. There was the old gas station, the honey stand, five bends in the road, and then the gated stucco Tudor chalet on the right. There was a stretch of road between. She parked her Subaru Legacy at an incline behind the other vehicles and climbed the large flagstone steps. Two oversized ornate ceramic planters framed the wooden double doors.
An elegant woman with pearls and jeans greeted her.
“You must be Carina! Welcome.”
“Am I late?”
The host waved an arm, signaling “no,” but the women had been waiting. They sat murmuring and eating cheese and crackers from the table. The interior was worthy of a modern living magazine spread.
“Did you come from work?” one woman asked. Carina wore a black tweed blazer with colored threads and ironed black slacks.
“No, I–” She stammered. She saw Faye with her frizzy auburn curls and turquoise nails, waving at her from the other side of the sectional sofa. She was like a welcome summer vacation. Carina joined her.
The group chatted, ate cheese, sampled the wine, and avoided the book. Carina’s nerves loosened. She laughed at several of the stories told and chimed in with her own.
When they began to go through the book’s suggested questions, the details of the story flew from her mind. Carina remained silent during the discussion. The novel was about a 1950s glamorous starlet and her adventures in Hollywood and love. When they finished, they went around the circle, each gave their own review. Carina reiterated her friend Faye’s review and further criticized the author. The conversation fizzled. She fingered a thin gold necklace.
Someone mentioned a personal connection to the main character attending a private school. It ignited within Carina a recollection of her own. There was plenty to say about that: humorless teachers, favoritism, boring lectures. She laughed in telling how she had collected detention slips.
“It was the only time I could concentrate on schoolwork.”
The others smiled. Someone cleared their throat. Carina stopped her story.
“Well,” she said.
One woman announced she had to leave, and everyone stood. The host ushered them into her dwelling’s grand entrance. A cool, moonless night greeted them. It was early autumn, harvest season, and the smell of dried decaying leaves was in the air.
“These are beautiful.” Carina gestured toward the ceramic planters.
“They’re from Italy,” the host told her. “A little souvenir from our anniversary trip.” She shrugged and giggled.
The book club members filed out the circular driveway to the main street. Carina, last, rolled her Legacy to Faye’s bumper. Faye stuck her manicured hand out the window and gave her a little wave when she departed.
At first, the group stayed together in procession from the house on the hill caravan style. Soon, they branched off in various dark directions. Faye too was swallowed up by the night. Carina continued on alone.
The windshield fogged within minutes. Carina fiddled with the temperature controls and worsened the visibility. She used her sleeve to wipe the glass and swerved. A light rain fell, and she tightened her grip on the steering wheel, neck constricted and locked in place.
The double yellow lines wound around corners and unrolled on a hilly path. The car’s headlamps flashed at gorgeous stone mansions with dim lamp posts. Many remained in darkness.
A steady glare of headlights came at her and blinded her. She used the white line of the pavement’s shoulder as a guide to continue. To Carina, they resembled provoked eyes attacking her from the front. From behind, they burned red with anger.
The night engulfed time as it propelled into sleeping hours. She kept going, slowing down at every street sign for the one she needed. In the rearview mirror, a white object followed at a distance. It bobbed up and down, disappeared then returned. Carina held her gaze and then jolted her attention to the road ahead. A blurred mass manifested in front, and she jerked the steering wheel. The car veered off the road into corn stalks banging at it until it came to a stop. Her ears rang, and her hands shook. She felt her face and sides. Gloomy stalks surrounded her.
“Not now.” Carina leaned her forehead to the steering wheel. She inhaled through her nose and exhaled through the mouth. After another deep breath, she dug through her leather bucket bag for her phone. The call dropped before it rang. “Mel, where are you?”
Carina opened the car door with her feet. It bent and broke the surrounding crop. The towering stalks pulled at her clothes and scratched her face as she fought her way to the edge of a row. Her kitten heels sank into the soft earth, and she craned her neck to observe her surroundings. In the distance, a shadowy figure stood in the doorway. A voice boomed, “Who’s there?”
Panic pelted her in a shower of pinpricks. She retraced her path to the headlamps. She whispered a quick prayer and the engine started. With the gas pedal to the floor mat, she thrust the car forward and backward until she could turn and exit the field. On the dirt path, the figure waved something bright and was coming at her fast. Carina sped onto the highway and let out the breath she had held.
She drove away fast and was rewarded with The Sign. Tears trickled down her face when she saw traffic at the intersection ahead and the spread of strip malls. From there, the car drove itself on the familiar roads home. She rolled the Legacy into the entrance of her modest stone ranch, shut off the engine, and sobbed. The television flickered through the living room window.
When she entered, Mel made no indication that he had heard her come inside. The screen in front of him flashed images of documents with lines crossed out in thick black marker.
“I was in an accident.”
Mel turned to her. “Where’s the Legacy?”
“I’m fine, thank you. The car is too. Is that all you care about?”
“Of course not, but I can see you. I can’t see the vehicle. Tell me what happened.” He muted the television and patted the sofa seat next to him.
She recounted the events of the night but lost her train of thought in competition with the show. The screen jumped from eyewitness accounts to reenactments of mysterious events.
“It all went by so fast.” Carina continued until the moment she had arrived in the driveway. She ended her story bent over in a pile of sobs. Mel put a hand on her shoulder. Her body flinched then relaxed.
“Let’s get you to bed,” he said.
She looked at him surprised and nodded. He guided her to the master suite where she changed and flopped onto the mattress. In her dream state, she revisited the scene of the accident. When she awoke, Mel adjusted his tie and watched her through the mirror that hung on the bathroom door.
She sat up in bed. “I feel as if I’ve remembered more from what happened to me.”
“Oh?” Mel turned around.
“The things from last night might not have been what they first appeared.” She clutched the blanket. “I remember faces. They had elongated, bright pale faces, and they had arms that stretched and grabbed at me.”
Mel perched on the edge of the bed. “Go on.”
“There was a dark body at the end of this large area. He–it–was calling for me.”
“Is that it?”
“It’s what I remember,” She touched her gold necklace.
Mel glanced at the hallway. He ran two fingers across his mustache. “It sounds like you experienced something extraordinary.”
“Should I go to the police? Maybe there are dangerous people–or things–out there.”
Mel shook his head. “You could get hypnotized to get all the details?”
“I know what I saw,” she told him.
“Maybe the newspaper will listen.” Mel looked at his wristwatch and patted her leg. “The paycheck beckons.”
After he left, Carina called their adult children. When two voicemail recordings were answered, she left summarized accounts about the previous night. She paced her kitchen as if pondering what to dictate when Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 chimed. It was Faye.
“Where did you go, girlfriend? I thought you were right behind me, then poof! You disappeared from my rearview mirror.”
Carina winced, but her eyes widened at hearing Faye’s voice. “You will not believe….” she began. She recounted the spotlights, the tall beings, and the one that spoke to her from the outer limits of a vast expanse.
“Did you lose time?” Faye asked.
“It seemed endless. Then, I was driving trying to get the heck out of there. I got home well after ten.”
“How exciting!” Faye said.
Carina imagined her friend’s plum lips and chik-let smile on the other side of the line.
“It was terrifying. I don’t know how I made it.”
“But you did, and now you have this wondrous event to tell. You should write about your adventure, and maybe someday, we’ll discuss it at book club!” Faye laughed.
“Mel thinks I should go to the paper.”
“Do it, honey. You need to tell someone else about this.”
Carina’s lips stretched into a smile. Her stomach tightened as if she were at the highest point of a Ferris wheel at the county fair.
The breakfast dishes remained in the sink. The air rang in silence. Carina drummed a pencil on a yellow legal pad from Mel’s office. On it, she had written the local newspaper’s number. Beside the pad lay four sheets filled with what she had encountered. There were more remembered details, such as the beings’ expressionless faces.
Carina entered the numbers into her phone and pressed the green button but hung up. With elbows on the table, she held the device to her forehead as if willing a transfer of painful thoughts into it. She scrutinized the yard. The garden was barren, in need of weeding after summer. The trees were losing their colored leaves. She inhaled and tapped the button with the editorial desk’s number above it.
“I need to report an alien abduction.” She spoke in a low, articulate tone.
The voice on the other side of the line coughed.
Carina started reading the notes about her experience. The woman stopped her.
“I’ll pass the message to one of our reporters.”
“That’s it? You don’t want to hear the rest?”
“I take the initial message down. Someone else will decide if an article gets written.”
Carina slammed the phone down. Tears rolled down her cheeks and onto her graphite words, smearing them where they fell. She stood up and strode to Mel’s office where the thick laptop was and pressed the spacebar to wake it up. In the empty search bar, she typed the words the receptionist had laughed at. A slew of answers lined up before her. She would find someone who would listen.