's 2018 Horror Write-off:

Exit 18

Submitted by Scott

Another stupid traffic jam. Where was I this time? Not even Cleveland? I was waiting for my exit and naturally there had to be yet more slow stretches of highway in between me and my home. Going less than 5 miles per hour, I passed a slow blinking yellow sign that spelled out TRAFFIC SLOW ROAD WORK AHEAD and fought the urge to say to myself “I sure hope it does.” The end of the summer usually yields this plethora of highway construction, but there were no traffic cones in sight, no other new signs, other than that usual yellow diamond that red “SOFT BERM.” What is a berm anyway? Why are they soft? I considered looking it up using my phone, which was sitting upside down in the cup holder, charging quietly while waiting to point me in the next direction to my destination. I decided against it. Better safe than sorry.

I’d only made this trip a few times before, while scouting out a place to live in Ohio. My partner and I made the decision to come out this far from home so she could attend school at the little college in the little college town surrounded by little farms. Calling it quaint would be lying to ourselves, but the place we got, a studio on the second floor, was good enough for me. We didn’t have a lot of stuff between ourselves, so we stuffed everything in our two separate cars instead of renting a mover. Of course there were things we wound up forgetting, though. A hairbrush left at my parents’ house, or a set of pans left at hers. Nothing big enough to justify travelling the five plus hours back until we found out about the books we had been planning to bring. An entire box left in a basement. She needed them for a class, she told me. Something she could share with her fellow students. She asked if I would make the drive, and having done it by my lonesome already I obliged. So here I was, on my way back.

The red brake lights of the truck in front of me jolted me back to reality and I pushed my own brakes in response, hoping the cars at my rear would do the same. We had only been going 10 or so, I must have zoned out. I noticed the long bending line of cars in front of me had gotten a lot shorter, but that was more illusory than literal. A thick fog had rolled in from beyond my notice and had thoroughly surrounded us. I knew I was still nowhere near my exit, as my phone hadn’t interrupted my partner’s pop music from our shared playlist that I had forgotten to skip while spacing out. Still, I felt a vague unease, that kind of feeling you get when you know you are where you’re supposed to be but maybe should be one lane over, just to be safe. My car rolled to a stop about a yard away from the 18-wheeler’s bumper. There were no other traffic warnings or other road signs. Why would we have stopped?

I felt my unease getting a hold of me again. What if there had been an accident? How long would I be stuck in this line? I turned the music up as the traffic began to move slowly again, but something about the teenage idol’s irreverent crooning made me switch to the radio instead. I played with the dial until a more classically-oriented station came in clearly. There we go, I thought, just like my dad used to listen to. But that didn’t last long. Within ten minutes I was back to fiddling with the dial, trying to find something more on mood. What was I even in the mood for? It took me a moment but I realized as I scanned through the stations that none were sounding as clearly as the first. Not thinking anything of it, I switched back to the classical station, only for it to erupt into static within a minute or two. Did I go out of range? So be it, I’ll listen to silence. My mind went back to that feeling of unease and what may have caused it. I looked out the window to my left, seeing nothing but the highway tree-line. Same went for the other side. The fog swirled in between the trees, and a light rain teased at my windshield wipers, not enough to justify their use just yet. I checked the dashboard clock, 7:10. I remembered the estimated time of arrival from when I input the directions into my phone. I still had at least an hour of travel, but that was on a clear road. Who knew how long it would take to be unstuck.

As I went to gazing out the driver-side window, my mind returned to trying to uncover the traffic jam’s origin. Maybe it had to do with this stupid fog, I fathomed, someone must have been driving too quickly and crashed into something they couldn’t see in the fog. I tried to imagine the thing the driver hit in my mind’s eye, but it changed too erratically; first a deer, then a moose, then something entirely different. Not quite as furry and herbivorous, and definitely not anything found in the woods and plains of Ohio. I dove deeper into the fantasy as we slowed to a stop yet again. Maybe there was a secret government lab nearby and a monstrous experiment had escaped. Or maybe letting it loose on the innocent common-folk of the highway was all part of their grand design. I pictured it shrugging off the car that smashed into it, lifting it with one big gorilla arm while its crocodile head bit down into another car, right through the driver’s torso. I imagined it crashing through the cars until it reached the truck in front of me, leaping too nimbly to the passenger side and ripping the door off its hinges before making off with the innocent trucker. I felt a strange chill go up my back as I jerked out of the fantasy again. The truck in front of me was still perfectly intact. Everyone in the cars around me sat calmly, undisturbed and waiting to move forward once more. Surely my imagination was wrong.

No, this traffic stop wasn’t the fault of some experiment gone wrong or horribly right. It had to have been due to the fog in a different way. There had been countless examples of extra-dimensional travel in recent media that occurred as a result of going through a low-lying cloud. Maybe we had traveled to a perpetually misty landscape, filled with creatures more human than animal, but horrific and off-putting. As I pictured what they could look like, they began to surround my car; featureless, slimy humanoids pressed their faceless brows against my windows, moaning from somewhere deep in their chests. Nearly useless hands rose and fell, desperately trying to find purchase on my door handles.

I jerked away from my window, hitting the right dial of the radio. The volume cranked up and the static burst back into classical music. Trumpets blared as I gazed out of my sunroof and into the sky, seeing for the first time the huge, fleshy, amorphous shape, miles long and swiftly descending to meet the ground. “OH MY GOD,” I shrieked, “ITS SOFT BERM!”


I instinctively recoiled as the car behind me blared its horn. The truck in front of me was now thirty feet off and gaining distance. I hurriedly pushed the gas, chasing ghosts and mutants from my mind. The fog was beginning to clear, and the vestiges of the sun’s rays came out once more. I was listening to pop music, my partner’s. I don’t mind most of it, really. I hummed along to Fergie and drove the rest of the way home.