In the days before cellphones, GPS and Mapquest, I driving from Atlanta to Columbia, South Carolina. As I approached this small town outside Columbia, I stopped by an old, rusty gas station to ask for directions off the side of the orad. I had planned to be in town before 10 pm. Now, it was after midnight. I had to stop in Augusta to eat dinner, and the 300 mile trip was not as fast as I had expected.
There I was at the outskirts of the town, and my map did not provide any more details. The fall night air was chilly, but I buttoned up and got out to get some better directions. There was the cashier and the sheriff, and they sounded like they knew each other. The sheriff offered to help me into town. He said it might be unsafe for me to get lost in the woods, and hard to describe how to get into town. Not knowing the area and not wanting to disrespect the sheriff, I accepted.
We started along a well-paved stretch, and then he took me through a winding woods. Initially, I can see why it was hard to describe, and thankful that the sheriff offered. In this part of the woods, it was very dark and there are no other cars. In fact, except for our headlights the woods were pitched black. I looked up and I could not even see the moon. It must have been hidden by the leaves. I grew uncomfortable and rolled down the windows, all that was there was the chilly night air, which made it worse.
As I was following the sheriff car through the woods, I became gradually more uncomfortable. Five minutes had passed, then ten, and we have not seen another car yet. As I followed him deeper and deeper into the woods, I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. Was it a good idea to keep following him? It kept occurring to me that maybe this was not a good idea. What did the sheriff mean by “unsafe?”
Eventually, I had to roll up the window. I could not take chilly the night air any more, and the leaves and branches seem that it could reach out to me. It was chilling me to the bone, and making me more rather than less comfortable. I look for roads to get lost to no avail. Either there were no roads, or we were going too fast for me to spot it in time to turn. Even if I could get “lost,” how fast could I go, and where would I go? The only thing keeping me comfortable in the car was the heat that I turned on. Initially, I played a CD, but eventually had to turn it off to pay full attention to the road.
I grew more and more uncomfortable as I followed him deeper into the woods. Yet, I could not really turn back. I did not even know how to turn back. Should I continue to follow him deeper into the woods? What can I do, and who would know? After all, only the cashier and the sheriff knew that I passed through this small town.
I made up my mind to “get lost” at the next intersection. As I veered off the main road, I had to slow from about 40 miles per hour to less than 25 miles per hour in the dark. Being unfamiliar with the road, a couple of times I drove into a ditch. After driving for a couple of minutes, a pair of headlights showed up in my rear view mirror. I could not tell if it was the sheriff because the highlights were too bright.
I slowed down to 15 miles per hour for him to take me over, but he would not. This was getting creepy. Should I come to a full stop in the woods? It was the last thing to try. As I came slowed down to a stop, the car speed up and passed me by, but it was empty. The car was driving itself. Should I continue or go back?