I have taken certain liberties with the geography of Washington State. There are several towns on the way from Spokane to Seattle, for instance. But for purposes of this story, the highway over the mountains is deserted. Also, so far as I know, cell phones work perfectly well up there.
R. W. H.
"God damn son of a bitch!" Jake foster muttered. He slammed his fist on the steering wheel, causing the horn to beep. This made him even angrier.
Of all the times to die, his car had picked tonight. Jesus Christ.
Foster sat back in his seat and stared gloomily at his watch. It was quarter to eight in the evening. He had to be across the pass and into Seattle by eleven. Jessica was expecting him.
He cursed again, and fished his cell phone out of his pocket. "Fuckin hell!" he said, and slammed the steering wheel again. No signal. Three hundred dollars for an Iphone and it didn't work. Which meant he was stranded up here, with no way to call AAA, or anyone else, for that matter.
Foster sighed bitterly and stared out the windshield. It looked like he was in for a walk. In the teeth of November high in the Cascade Mountains, even. What a god damn fix I'm in now, he thought.
The night was perfectly clear, with not much of a wind, and as a result the temperature had dropped from the mid sixties in Spokane all the way down to the upper thirties in the mountains. Snow capped peaks loomed in the distance, and alpine forests thrust their denuded branches into the sky nearby. It was beautiful scenery, but Foster would have much preferred to be enjoying it from behind the windows of his car, with his jazz CD's playing on the stereo and a warm heater blowing air gently around his legs.
He wasn't even dressed for the weather. He was wearing a t-shirt that said I gave up sex and drinking and it was the hardest 20 minutes of my life, and jeans. No jacket. He wasn't expecting to have to walk, for chrissake.
"Well, if I'm gonna, I better get," he said to himself, and got out of the car. Instantly the wind bit at his face. It felt like the temp had dropped even further since he'd heard it mentioned on the radio.
He went around to the back and fished out his road flares, setting them on the road. Not that it was very likely anybody would come; this road was sparsely traveled this late at night. He hadn't seen a car for the past hour.
Having set up the flares, he started walking. His car receded into the distance, surrounded by its corona of lights. The wind blew, rattling the branches of the trees and biting through his thin t-shirt mercilessly. The nearest town was ten miles away, which would take him almost two and a half hours to walk. What a god damn night.
Foster had set out on this journey for one simple reason, a girl. He was an accountant at a chain of local grocery stores. He was a stereotypical accountant too-short, rather skinny and plain looking, with thick horn-rimmed glasses that gave him an owlish appearance. As a result finding female company that wasn't bought and paid for was nearly impossible for him. He was bright, personable, apt at his job. But his damn face got in the way of all his romantic aspirations. The girls would take one look at him and then look away.
So, it was off to the world wide web. There, you could be anybody you wanted to be. You could get to know somebody without a bunch of preconceptions getting in the way. He'd started with the big personals sites-Eharmony, match.com, dating.com-but no luck. People saw accountant in the occupational field and moved on. Just like real life, in other words.
So he'd moved on to smaller message boards and forums and didn't tell anyone what he did for a living. And whadaya know, he started getting messages. It was a watershed moment for Foster. How could he have lived so long without exploring the reaches of the internet? He started to get to know people, and nobody cared what he did or didn't do for a living, they just knew that old Foster311 was a blast to chat with, that he was fun and witty, that he always had a good piece of advice or a kind word if you needed it.
It was on one of these message boards that he met Jessica French. They started chatting privately six months ago, talking of life and dreams and hopes. He told her what he did for a living, even sent her a photo, and she wasn't put off in the slightest.
Finally, last week, they'd set up a meet. Foster would drive to Seattle, they would go out to dinner, and (Foster hoped) maybe get a motel room somewhere to further explore their compatibility. She had sent him a photo a couple of weeks ago, and Foster had spent many happy nights thinking of her. She was a tall girl with beautiful long blond hair, big liquid blue eyes and full red lips. In the photo, she was wearing a long silk chemise that floated around what looked to be a very curvaceous body indeed and Foster couldn't wait to see if the shape it revealed held true to form.
He had set out this evening, thoughts of Jessica dancing in his head. They were going to have dinner at the Space Needle restaurant, and hopefully things would progress from there.
But his damn car had to go and die on him a quarter of the way there.
Foster sighed and kept walking. The wind had died, but now the air hung, still and colder by the minute. A full moon shone down, dappling the surface of the highway with silver shadows. And from behind him came the sound of footsteps.
Clip clop. Clip clop. Clip clop.
The night was otherwise silent.
Foster stopped and listened, holding his breath. The footsteps stopped too. There wasn't a sound to be heard.
"Who's there?" he called.
No answer. Just more silence.
Foster had images of some hulking mountain throwback hiding behind him, watching, ready to pounce. Among his other interests was a devotion to hammer films. In his mind's eye, he saw a filthy psychotic killer with a hook for a right hand, a chain saw in his other, and a maniacal grin on his face, hiding behind a tree.
"Who's there? I warn you, I'm armed!"
No answer. The silenced pressed in on him. The moon had sailed behind a cloud, and the night was pitch black.
Foster started walking again, faster. The footsteps matched him stride for stride, not hurrying, not falling back. Keeping pace about fifty yards back, just out of sight.
He was getting seriously scared now. The sound of footsteps wasn't at all alarming; how many times had he heard them-women in high heels clopping down a hall; men in dress shoes and cowboy boots clunking down the sidewalk-but out here, in this vast wilderness, they took on a whole new dimension of sensation. The only sound out here were the two sets of footsteps.
Suddenly something came crashing out of the woods, crunching branches and twigs. Foster screamed like a girl and started running. The footsteps ran too. He was flying in a headlong panic, darting glances over his shoulder, before he realized it was only a deer. It came charging out of the woods and bolted across the road behind him, its hooves striking up sparks on the pavement, and disappeared into the trees on the other side of the road.
Foster stopped and caught his breath. He noted that the footsteps behind him had stopped too. God, he was falling to pieces out here. Getting all freaked out over a damn deer. He considered going back to his car, but that would mean passing the owner of those footsteps, something he didn't want to do, not way out here in the middle of nowhere.
He reached into his pocket and brought out his phone. Still no signal, and even better, low battery. Great, just great.
He glanced around for the person following him and continued to see a whole lot of nothing. "Who the fuck are you!" he hollered. No answer but the echoes of his own voice, which freaked him out even more. He broke out into a cold sweat and kept walking. And listened to the footsteps, still fifty yards back.
Clip Clop. Clip Clop. Clip clop.
He'd already come what he figured to be about a mile and a half, still a long way to go. And if he had to listen to those footsteps all the way, he would go insane.
Foster walked along, almost jogging. Were the footsteps getting closer? He could've sworn they were, but who could tell?