We were driving. Where to, I had no idea. But I knew what we were running from.
FOLIE À DEUX
Mom and dad had first seen it two weeks ago. I’d first seen it two days ago, staring in through my bedroom window. I don’t think Jack and Amy have seen it yet.
In a way, I’m the reason we’re driving. If I hadn’t told mom and dad I’d seen it, we mightn’t have left. But I did. I ran to their room the moment I saw it through the dark window.
I’ve never seen my parents so scared. They packed us all into the car the moment the sun was up in the morning, only letting us grab a few essentials.
Jack, Amy, and me thought we were just going into town. We live out on a farm in the country, far away from any neighbours. I think the three of us were just expecting our parents to take us to our aunt’s place or the closest police station. But we drove right through town and on to the next one, and, after that, yet another.
We spent the night in a motel, all in the same room. Mom and dad slept in shifts, the one who was awake sat up beside the only window, its curtains closed, with the shotgun.
And, the next morning, we were on the road again. Starting out the moment the sun was high enough in the sky. For lunch, dad just handed back snacks. We didn’t stop.
‘You didn’t even give me a chance to charge my phone!’ Jack complained, stuffing his dead phone into the seat-back pocket behind dad. ‘I’d like to be able to at least check on what’s going on outside this damn car!’
Jack was the oldest, getting ready for college. He was the only one who’d try dad right now. As the youngest, I sat on the far back row of the minivan, my two siblings on the seats in front of me. I watched as dad spun around in his seat, grabbed the phone out of the pocket, rolled down his window, and pitched the phone out of it.
‘Hey!’ Jack shouted. ‘What the hell, dad?’
Dad rolled his window back up. He didn’t answer. His face was set hard and worried. Jack yelled to let us know he was furious, then sat back in a sulk.
I turned around in my seat when we stopped at the next red light, looking out the back window. It was daytime, and it wasn’t there. I don’t think it could be seen during the day. Mom and dad had been making sure to pack us into motel rooms and pull the curtains closed every day before it got dark.
It was another hour before anyone spoke. It was Amy, this time, who tried.
‘Where are we going?’ she asked quietly. She’d stuck her phone in her pocket. So it couldn’t be chucked out the window, I thought. I’d done the same, and my phone still had some battery power.
‘To the backend of fucking nowhere,’ Jack muttered.
Neither of our parents called him up on the swearing. Mom flicked her eyes to the rear view mirror. Not to see me. She looked past my head at the road behind. It was heading towards mid-afternoon. I watched mom return her eyes hastily to the road in front of her.
‘Anywhere – until we’re safe,’ she answered.
Jack rolled his eyes. Amy sat silently.
It was another few hours, the sun starting to set, before we piled into the next motel room. Amy and I took one bed. Jack took the other, while mom lay down on the couch and dad pulled a chair beside the window, the shotgun barrel balanced against his knee.
I woke, later that night, to Amy and Jack having a whispered conversation between their beds. I looked over. Dad had taken the couch and was snoring away. Exhausted, mom had nodded off in her chair.
‘Do you think it has anything to do with… you know… her?’ Amy whispered. ‘Do you think it’s…’
‘Driven them ‘round the twist?’ Jack finished for her. ‘Yeah, I do.’
I’d agree with that. “It”, “her”, whatever you wanted to call the thing, it was the problem.
‘I think we need to get away,’ Jack went on. ‘Run off.’
‘And just leave them?’ Amy whispered back. ‘They’re nuts, Jack.’
‘We can call someone for them,’ Jack suggested.
Amy just hummed noncommittally. Mom jolted awake then and the two of them shut up, pretending to be asleep.
I rolled over and shut my eyes again. When I drifted off to sleep it was to awful dreams of screams and darkness, dirt and roaring tractors.
We sat silently in the back of the car the next morning, watching the scenery rush by outside. I think we all knew not to question our parents any more. Amy pulled out her phone and went to turn it on. Mom eyed her.
‘You’re not letting anyone know where we are?’ she said, her voice low and warning.
‘I promise, mom,’ said Amy. ‘I’m just checking if anyone’s messaged me.’
Amy was quick, just scrolling through. Then she switched off her phone and stuffed it back in her pocket. I was sure to only switch on my phone again when we stopped to use the toilet. I did it inside a stall and quickly messaged my best friend Georgie, just letting her know I wouldn’t be in classes for a while. I saw her start to respond, then I shut my phone off, not wanting to waste battery power.
It was at the next rest stop that Jack disappeared. We spent ages calling for him, but where he’d slipped off to, we couldn’t tell. The sun was getting low in the sky, so, panicked, my dad made the decision to drive on to the nearest motel. Mom argued with him the whole way, and I could tell dad felt awful about it. I saw him crying in the chair by the motel window that night. Then he pulled the curtain back a bit, looked out, shuddered, and dropped the curtain to cover the window again, gripping the shotgun tighter.
Amy was the next to go. It was while we’d stopped for a pee on the side of the road. She just took off, and though, again, we searched, we didn’t find her.
It was just me and my parents then, driving on and on and on in silence. Another motel, and another.
And then we were caught. Five police cars and two ambulances, surrounding us one afternoon, pulling us over. Mom and dad were taken away to a hospital for a psychiatric assessment. I found myself at my aunt’s house, back not far from where we’d begun driving.
Amy and Jack were there. They were fine, though worried about mom and dad. They weren’t worried about it.
I heard the specialist talking to my aunt. I was right there, quiet in the corner, that night. The specialist called it “folie à deux”: a madness shared by two, she explained. My parents had somehow convinced themselves they were being followed by something. A figment of their imagination, the specialist suggested.
It sounded like adult mumbo-jumbo to me. Because I could see it. In the dark window across from me, I could see it staring in at us.
It looked just like me: a twelve year old girl with mousy hair. Only, unlike me, one eye was missing, that side of its face crushed. And its lips were nearly white, its face pale, and its head sitting at a funny angle.
I looked away, creeped out tingles running down my spine, and turned on my phone. Georgie’s response to my message was there. My heart fell as I read it. Georgie and I had been best friends since we were little. It hurt to see her turn her back on me:
Stop messaging me! Please! My parents say you’re a creep to use this number! LEAVE ME ALONE!