The face looking back at Norma Jean DeSalvo appeared foreign to her. The rear view mirror was slightly tilted, causing an unnerving feeling deep within her. Decrepit crow’s feet clawed their way out from the sides of her eyes, red veins streaked across the whites of her eyeballs, and a pair of bags weighed down the surrounding skin. An alarming revelation was made clear to her.
Those are my mother’s eyes, Norma thought.
She stretched back the skin, in hopes of smoothing out the wrinkles, but upon release, the aged looked flooded her face like a nightmare. A thickening sadness settled in the bowels of her stomach. It was in this moment she accepted her twenties were long gone and fifty was fast approaching.
Where has my life gone? She wondered.
Norma leaned forward and glanced up at the sky through the front windshield of her blue 1957 Bel-air. The orange haze of the sun was completing its descent, trailed by a fiery sky, and perpetual darkness. Norma flicked the silver headlight switch, illuminating the concrete wall of the parking garage. As she reversed, the row of cars behind her crept eerily closer.
Norma slammed on the brakes. Lowering her head and closing her eyes, she drew in a deep breath to settle herself. Her hand automatically traced her neckline until she found the small silver crucifix hanging from a thin silver chain. The Lord’s Prayer flowed from her lips without any conscious help from Norma.
“Our father, who art in Heaven…”
Stop this Norma. Doctor Loomis wouldn’t like you doing this to yourself. The cars were not approaching you. You were reversing towards them.
Norma pried open her eyes and looked around for the British voice interrupting her prayer. She exhaled, fighting back the urge to shake all over. Her eyes locked on the eyes in the rear view mirror and she spoke clear and firm.
“Norma, the voices do not control the situation. If you want to pray to help you, go ahead. The voices are not real.” She spoke the words but they were not hers. Norma simply repeated what Doctor Loomis had told her several times during their sessions. Keeping her attention on the cars behind her, Norma spun the wheel and finished backing out.
Despite the fact the top floor was full of cars, a strange and uneasy feeling of abandonment and loneliness overwhelmed her. Dark shadows stretched along the hot pavement, racing towards the classic Chevy that once belonged to Norma’s father.
Thoughts of her father came flooding in. Norma, you don’t know how hot Texas can get until you go without air-conditioning in your car, he would say. The memory of his voice was steady and comforting, bringing a smile to her face. She switched the air-conditioning to high. It took a moment but eventually freezing air flowed from two small vents below the radio, sending a cold yet pleasant chill down her back. Shifting into drive, the massive metal car eased forward.
An object, green and rusty, moved into her path. Norma slammed on the brakes, bringing the enormous car to a sudden halt. The weight of the Bel Air gave Norma the sense the car wanted to flip over. The restraints clutched at Norma’s body and then she slammed back against the seat. The rusty green car backed out as if Norma had not been moving at all.
How can you not see me coming your way? Norma thought. The car was old and beaten up. Norma couldn’t look away from the sharp tail fins sticking out the back like fangs from a vampire’s mouth. Norma knew the car without having to search her brain for it – 1959 El Camino. It was an ugly car and came to a stop, creating an awkward situation of who should go and who should stay.
Irritation scratched at her flesh. She needed to get out of the parking garage before her anxiety went into overdrive. The sunlight beaming off the chrome bumper of the El Camino blinded Norma, causing her to roll her eyes, and she sped off around the atrocity of a vehicle. A large green sign pointed the way to the exit. She came to the end of the row, gently applied her brakes…
The El Camino appeared in her rearview mirror, approaching fast. Why are they following me? Norma wondered.
Don’t be so daft, Norma. He is probably leaving the doctor’s office too. This is the way to the exit.
Norma took a breath. The voice was right. There was nothing to be paranoid about. Norma turned and drove past another row of cars. She then preceded to the first of the three toll booths. Norma paid the lady at the booth without looking at her. The fear of human interaction nipped at Norma and she figured if she didn’t look, her mind would seize up with terror.
The gate arm rose, allowing Norma to pull out onto the street.
The green El Camino pulled up to the third of the three booths. Norma tried to see who was sitting behind the wheel of the ugly car, but the toll booth blocked her vision. Norma shrugged, shaking the eerie feeling from her spine, and drove.
The road wound to the left before straightening back out. After a quarter of a mile, Norma came to a stop sign. She checked both directions ensuring they were clear from oncoming traffic. The El Camino took shape from around the curve and its headlights stared at Norma like the eyes of a large serpent.
Norma spun the wheel to the right and applied too much pressure to the gas pedal, causing the tires to skid across the pavement. Dad would be upset, she told herself.
He would be more worried about you going crazy just from leaving a parking garage. Stop it, Norma.
The small side road came to a T-intersection connecting to the southbound service road of highway 22. Norma pulled onto the service road, crossing all four lanes without looking to see if they were clear. She settled into the far left lane, intending to make the U-turn under the highway. The El Camino rolled up to the T-intersection and lurched out onto the service road.
A lot of people head this way, Norma. It’s nothing to be crazed over. Besides, it’s a service road to the main highway.
Norma turned sharply under the bridge; the car slid under its own weight around the curve. The sunlight blinked off her car as if a light switch had been turned off, casting the Bel Air into the shade of the overpass. She hooked onto the northbound service road and pressed firmly on the accelerator. The Bel Air gained speed. Signs blurred as she zoomed past.
I’m sure the El Camino will go south anyways. I highly doubt it will come north.
Go south, go south! Go away; go away, Oh God, please. Norma pleaded with whatever God was listening. An upside down red triangle appeared on the left side of the road, warning her to yield to the ramp. The El Camino flew around the corner from under the overpass and darted in her direction.
Why so fast, why so fast? Why are you coming after me?
Norma, stop it! They are just heading north. No one is following you.
Norma flipped her left indicator on. She kept her eyes on the headlights of the El Camino as she swerved over to the on-ramp. Norma ignored the horn blast coming from the car she had cut off. The on-ramp ascended and then descended abruptly, dropping Norma off onto the fast moving highway.
The lane to her immediate left was clear and she eased over into it, trying to calm down. A Black SUV to her front pulled away allowing her to speed and keep pace with the flow of traffic. No green El Camino came over the on-ramp.
“I will just get lost in the sea of traffic. If he is following me, he won’t find me in the dark, among all these cars.” Norma said.
Sighing heavily, Norma ran her hand through her blonde hair and dragged it down her face as if wiping away the anxiety and fear. She pulled a cigarette and a lighter out of her purse. The smoke filled her lungs. For a moment, all her worries were far behind. The El Camino came off the ramp and merged into traffic with ease. Norma’s heart sank in her chest and she nearly choked on the smoke.
She cranked the window handle, lowering the glass only a crack. The smoke funneled through the opening. A seventy miles-an-hour sign hurtled by without her noticing. Norma flicked her ashes out the window. She pressed down on her left indicator and cut over into the next lane. She couldn’t stop with one lane but continued until she was all the way over. Several horns honked at her but Norma paid them no attention.
Of the four lanes on the highway, the El Camino stayed in the second right lane for a mile. Norma’s grip tightened on the steering wheel as the lights from the El Camino drifted over into the next left lane.
No, stay away from me. Norma shouted but only in her head.
Norma, get a grip or they are going to lock you back up. What would daddy say?
Shut up, they are following me and daddy is dead.
A red minivan moved too slowly in front of her. She bounced over into the next right lane, sped up, and then cut back over in front of the red minivan. The El Camino darted around one car after the other, moving closer and closer to Norma. A large green sign approached overhead – George Washington Presidential Turnpike 1 ¾ mile.
Norma tossed the burning cigarette out the opening in the window. The cherry exploded as it hit the pavement, breaking apart like a hundred small fairies dancing about the night. She sat up straight behind the steering wheel. The El Camino moved back and forth, left and right, to the point Norma was unsure if the driver was continuing to follow her.
George Washington Presidential Turnpike – West and East – Next Exit.
Norma toggled her indicator up; unaware it was in the down position the entire time, agitating drivers behind her. She needed to go east; east was home.
No way is he going east. There is just no way he is going east. If you go east, then you are surely following me.
The El Camino bounced across two lanes of traffic and fell in line to go east. The ugly car was separated from her by two vehicles. The bridge for the turnpike elevated into a hard ninety-degree turn heading east. Norma read the green sign above her. Two arrows pointed in opposite directions: Turnpike tollway stay to the left, last free exit for Mars stay to the right.
Norma typically took the turnpike home. It was faster but this time, Norma stayed to the right. Like a bullet, she shot down the off-ramp and onto the service road. A little red sports car behind her kept to the left but the yellow Prius followed her down the ramp.
Stay to the left, stay on the highway. Norma pleaded to non-existent ears.
The ugly green El Camino followed the Prius down the ramp. Norma’s breathing shortened. She jerked the wheel over to the far right lane. A honk came from the darkness. A black Ford ranger skidded across the pavement, tires locked up, trying to avoid slamming into the Bel Air. Norma’s eyes never wavered from the El Camino.
Oh God Please…
Sure, he’ll help you. Norma, you only call out to him when you are in trouble. Just like calling for daddy.
Oh please, shut up.
Her eyes narrowed into a squint. Norma fought through the glittering sunlight and tried to get a better look at who was driving the ugly car. The sun was gone and the blinding lights of the other vehicles played tricks on her eyes. For a moment, she saw two people in the car, the next she saw only one.
Our precious Norma, you really are going crazy again.
“I swear if you don’t shut up, I’m going to tell Doctor Loomis about you again and he’ll increase my pills to shut you out.” Norma said.
Why Norma, I’m your only friend. Besides, I’m the sane one here. You are as crazy as a loon; as mad as a hatter.
The light turned red at Mars street. Norma came to a stop. She was at the head of the lane. No cars waited in front of her. She knew when the light changed she could finally get some distance from her pursuer. The black Ford and yellow Prius occupied the road between her and the green El Camino.
The moon relieved the sun and hung full in front of her. The light turned green. Norma didn’t bother to check for crossing traffic. She shot out into the intersection and sped down the service road.
The black Ford ranger turned off at Mars street but the Prius and the El Camino followed her. The light at Basilone turned green. Norma continued through it, passing two more cars as she resumed battling her suspicions. The El Camino moved around the yellow Prius.
Norma jerked the wheel and sped over into the turn only lane for Chesty Drive. Red Light. She locked up the brakes and came to a squealing stop. Norma didn’t bother seeing if the El Camino had pulled up behind her. The headlights in her rearview mirror blinded her. She knew they belonged to the ugly green car.
Okay, now I’m starting to worry. Maybe this guy is following you.
Who is driving that car? Norma asked herself. She tried her hardest to see through the El Camino’s windshield but her eyes persisted with their tricks. With the dim glow of the street lights, Norma caught only the silhouette of the driver, at times making out rather confusing facial features. One moment, she thought she saw an old man; skin sagging from his face, lips stretched back in permanent horror. Another time she thought it was a young man, dressed in a suit, with a thin goatee emulating the devil from old black and white movies.
Was there a woman driving? This is truly odd, Norma.
Yes, Norma thought, she had seen a woman at one point driving the El Camino. Then her fear heightened at the sight of her own father, long since dead, sitting behind the wheel of the El Camino. Tears rushed to her eyes. Whatever face manifested, they all appeared sinister and always with an evil grin, mocking and terrifying her. Norma rhythmically tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, anxiously waiting for the light to change. The shadow of the driver steadily mocked the tapping of his hand in time with hers.
“Is he doing that to be funny?” Norma asked. The blurry driver appeared young with a ball cap on backward and what could only be a leather jacket.
Norma, there’s more crazy about you than I even knew.
The veins in her neck pulsated causing a pounding in her ears. Now the driver looked to be a man with a wolf’s head. The El Camino inched closer to her bumper. Get off of me, what do you want from me? Norma wanted to scream but her lips never parted.
Green light. Norma rocketed into the turn. The Chevy wanted to tip but Norma kept it under control. Coming straight, Norma slammed on the gas. The El Camino mimicked her movements then flashed his headlights at her.
Sure, want me to stop. No way. Who’s the loony now? Norma thought.
Stop talking to yourself and drive. This might be one of those gang member things. This car should be able to outrun that old crappy El Camino.
A speed limit sign with a big four and zero painted in black did nothing to slow her increasing speed. She was easily doing fifty as she passed it. The last street light on Chesty Drive faded away. She turned on her high beams to see the road better. Two pairs of headlights followed behind but she knew the one closing in on her was the El Camino.
How can you go that fast? It must have a souped-up engine.
Stop crying and drive.
The road curved to the left, came back to the right, and then headed straight. Houses, which anchored both sides of the road, resided in seclusion except for a few lone porch lights. The Bel Air took the curves hard and fast. The weight shifted back and forth, rocking Norma in her seat.
The El Camino raced behind her, pulsing its lights, and honking its horn. Go away, go away, GO AWAY.
Yes, go away. Please go away and leave her alone.
The road bent hard to the right, then opened up to a round-about. Norma didn’t see any headlights but was unsure if she would have stopped if she did. Norma trailed along, gaining speed as she followed each curve in the road. Chesty Drive veered to the left, intersecting with a dirt road named King Street. Norma turned right, failing to yield at the stop sign.
The El Camino slowed, now stalking Norma; lights flashed, time quicken, a horn blared. Dirt kicked up behind the Bel Air and for a moment, Norma could only see headlights penetrating the brown fog. The El Camino burst through the dirty mist, dust swirled around the car, and the lights behind the El Camino cast it into obscurity, barreling down on Norma.
The road rose and fell every few feet. Dips in the pavement caused Norma to boomerang from one side of the street to the other. Rocks cracked under her tires, bouncing up, and raking against the undercarriage of her car.
The El Camino wasn’t letting up. Houses faded from her view. Trees loomed like towering soldiers on one side of the road. To the other side of Norma was a vast sea of twilight, hiding several acres of wheat field. Another intersection. She rotated around the corner, launching onto a hard-top road.
Her hands fumbled over the steering wheel, spinning it one way and then back the other to straighten out the car. The front driver side tire blew. Norma over-corrected the turn, lost control and catapulted off the hard-top road. The Matheson Drive street sign shimmered in the red stream of her tail lights as a car approached the intersection.
The shoulder of the road disappeared into an eight-foot embankment before joining the tall wheat grass of the field. The force of the impact blew the back and passenger windows out. Norma jolted around inside the car, striking her forehead on the steering wheel. Her head shot backward and lodged between the frame post and the headrest. She couldn’t move it. Her eyes spun and she felt the world fading to black.
Don’t fall asleep. Don’t go out or you’re dead.
Norma heeded the warning. She fought to keep herself awake as the Bel Air came to a rest among the wheat. A pair of headlights idled on the road above as another pair kept driving forward.
Why don’t you follow me off the road, chicken?
Norma wanted to laugh but couldn’t find the strength. The slamming of a car door exacerbated her hyperventilation. Feet slid across dirt and gravel. Her heart pounded at an alarming rate, giving Norma worries of a stroke or heart attack. The devil was finally approaching her and she was as dead as could be.
Get to your phone. Call the police.
Through the rear view, she could see her purse resting in the back seat. She tried to move again but couldn’t. The purse was out of her reach. A face appeared in the rear view, terrifying Norma. It was the devil, it was the evil man, it was her father, and it was the old haggard man. She tried to shake her head to clear her vision but it would not move.
“Are you alright?” A pleasant voice both startled and calmed her. It sounded as if it was coming from a pubescent boy, changing with growth from high to deep. In the rearview mirror, she could make out the silhouette of a person but no actual features. The person looked back up to the road and then back into the car. “Do you have a phone?”
Norma tried to shake the grogginess from her head which was still restrained. The attempt at moving brought pain to her temples resulting in a pounding headache. Norma’s foot rested on the brake and when she pressed on it, the area to the rear of her vehicle was washed in red. The figures facial features were above the range of the red light but a feeling of relief settled upon her shoulders. She didn’t know what kind of car was on the road but one thing she did know, it wasn’t the El Camino.
“I don’t know where it went and I can’t move. Please help.”
“It’s okay. I’m here.” The figure in the dark said, climbing onto the back of the car. The car rocked under the person’s weight. Norma hissed at the pain. “I’m sorry.”
See Norma, not everyone is out to get you. Some are actually good people who want to help others in need.
The pain went away quickly and Norma sighed. For the first time since leaving the parking garage of the hospital, Norma felt safe. The world eased off her shoulders.
“You were driving kind of crazy back there. I saw you on the highway. Are you okay?”
“I was being followed. I was in fear for my life. Can you…” Her chest hurt and the words struggled to exit Norma’s mouth. “…call for help?”
“I don’t have a phone but let me find yours.” The person said climbing through the broken back window. Norma tried to look down at her body but she couldn’t. It hurt, hurt bad, but she didn’t know if she was bleeding or if anything was broken. The terror inside her raced up to the surface.
What if I am hurt more badly than I feel? Norma questioned herself.
“You know you were driving terribly back there, cutting in and out of traffic. There were a couple of times you nearly caused a wreck on the road.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I was just scared.”
“I can’t believe someone would drive like that.” The person said, rooting around the back of her car for her cell phone. Norma thought she heard a small laugh, a chuckle escape the figure in the back seat. She grew impatient, wishing the person would pull her out of the car already. “In this massive car, you know you would have seriously hurt someone if you got into a wreck and I doubt you would have even felt it.”
Geez, this guy is rude.
“I mean, you could have killed someone.” The person said. “But you are okay, right?”
“Yes, and I’m sorry. I was just…”
“I know, scared.” Through the rearview, she saw a glint of light reflecting off something. Norma smiled, realizing the person had found the cell phone and was going to call for help. “Not as scared as you are going to be. I hate reckless drivers.”
The glint was not from a cell phone but the jagged shard of glass that only a moment later was thrust into her jugular, ending her fears forever.