An urban legend retelling inspired by “Killer in the Backseat.”
The bell above the door rang out and Lana rolled her eyes. It was five minutes until closing. Forcing a smile, she met the man at the hostess podium and greeted him unenthusiastically. She offered silent thanks when he said he was there for a carry-out order. She walked him out, his dinner in hand, and locked the door. Ronnie’s Pizza & Pasta was officially closed for the evening. Lana passed through the kitchen, where the rest of the staff was finishing up for the night, and paused by the lockers to collect her bag. A small mirror within showed her round face and flushed cheeks, framed by a fluff of bobbed brown waves. She gave herself a cheesy grin and shut the door. With pepper spray in one hand and car keys in the other, she shouted goodnight to the kitchen crew and stepped into the cool autumn night.
The night’s chill instantly passed through her thin cardigan over sheer black tights and she shivered. The back lot of Ronnie’s was generally nonthreatening except for the poorly lit staggered cars of the staff, looming dumpsters cascaded in shadow, and thick tree line of the surrounding forest. Gripping her keys, she marched toward her small blue hand-me-down car in the middle of the lot. Lana hated the closing shift, but as a second year university student paying her own way, she would never turn it down. She methodically tapped the unlock button on the keys and quickened her pace to as she neared the door.
Diving in, she quickly locked the doors and started the engine. Her head snapped over her shoulder and glanced at the familiarly cluttered backseat. “So paranoid,” she muttered to herself as she set her phone in the dash mount. “FaceTime Isla,” she stated as she put the car in drive and rolled through the lot. Two brief rings sang into the quiet space before she was greeted by her roommate’s sleepy but friendly face.
“On the way?” Isla yawned, the light of the TV casting her in blue and orange hues.
“Yep, stay on with me while I drive?” she asked. Her roommate nodded sleepily. It was nearly midnight.
Lana flipped on the turn signal as she arrived at the stop sign separating the restaurant from the empty two-lane highway. It was a straight 20 mile drive to the neighboring town and her apartment. Thoughts buzzed in her mind as she drove. Her eyes were constantly scanning across the road and ditch, looking for nocturnal animals that might dart into the car’s path. On the phone’s screen, Isla was partially dozing while watching a crime documentary with the volume up loud enough for her to listen. She was thankful for her roommate’s company on these nightly commutes and made a mental note to buy her a coffee in the morning.
“Hey.” Isla’s voice cut through her thoughts. The sounds of the crime documentary diminished in the background of the video call. She glanced at the phone. Isla had sat up a bit straighter and was peering back at her.
“What’s up?” she asked, fixing her eyes back on the road.
“Nothing, I thought I saw something in the back window, but I was half asleep.” She rubbed her eyes. “Sorry I’ll wake up now.” The sound of the TV resumed and Lana focused on the barely audible documentary as she drove.
The shout caused her to jerk the wheel. The car bounced on the rumble strip. The sound startling them both before Lana eased back onto the road.
“Isla what the hell?” her voice was shaking and chest heaving as she tried to quell her mounting panic.
“I’m sorry but I swear I saw something! I can’t tell if it was just passing the back window or what, but there was definitely something.” Isla’s olive skin and green eyes were magnified on the screen as she tried to peer through the tiny frame into the car. She looked in the rear view mirror, but saw nothing but black night and empty highway.
“You’re really freaking me out. I’m halfway home, just put on something other than crime shows maybe?”
Isla leaned back and lifted the remote. Her face flashed from hue to hue as she scrolled through the show options. Lana forced a calming breath and though she was aware of her friend’s image in the corner of her eyes, tried to focus on the road. There was no light aside from the harsh glare of her high beams on the cracked blacktop. Even the moon was hidden behind the tall trees lining either side of the road. She let the tension in her shoulders ease as the familiar sounds of a popular baking show floated through the phone.
Isla screamed. Lana spared a glance over her shoulder just as a dark, hooded figure lunged between the front seats. Isla watched helplessly as the phone was knocked from the dash and filled with distorted images as it fell. Her friend’s muffled screams were cut short by the sound of screeching tires and the unmistakable crunch of metal colliding with the trees. Then the call ended.
She called Lana’s phone again and again. But the only face she was her own in the video preview, the panic in her expression growing with each unanswered call.
Isla peered tentatively through the windshield of the sheriff’s cruiser at the road ahead. The sky was colored with the pinks and oranges of dawn as wisps of last night’s cloud cover dissipated in the growing light. The cold morning breeze stung her skin as it crept through the sheriff’s open window. Her stomach was in knots as she tightly gripped her phone, the screen’s display glowed with rows of dozens of outgoing calls. Blackened tire marks veered just off the road where the sheriff was kneeling, examining something near the ditch. She held her breath as he stood and walked toward the cruiser.
“Well, someone definitely went off road here.” His voice was smooth, giving nothing away as he leaned through the window. “And I can spot where a car hit the tree line, even some debris, but that’s about it.” she stared. He watched carefully for a moment, having heard her story already, then continued. “I’ll get the lab tech down here and we’ll go over it thoroughly, but until then there’s no way to know if this was her – or where she went.” Isla’s eyes welled and her vision blurred with tears. “Found this though,” the Sheriff held out his hand and she rubbed a sleeve across her eyes so she could see. In his hand was a pink phone with a dead, cracked screen.
“That’s Lana’s.” she whispered.