I tell you what, when life decides it’s gonna fuck you up for the rest of your days, it does its job pretty well.
The name’s Devon. My whole life I’ve lived in the suburbs of Nebraska, raised by your everyday conservative, Christian parents. The odd part about these suburbs is the geography surrounding them. My town, for example, lies just in front of a long, straight road that goes on for miles. Both sides are lined with a huge wall of trees, behind which lie the swamps. Because of the road’s layout, the locals call it “The Green Hallway”. Just to the north of these trees lies a small mountain range, ideal for long hikes and mountaineering. Why God decided to put swamps and mountains together, I’ll never know. That is, if he even exists. But I’m not here to contemplate God’s existence. I’m here to tell you how life fucked me over.
It started on a quiet summer evening. I lived only a few miles away from my parents, on the opposite side of the Green Hallway from them. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, so they decided to drop me a line and invite me over for dinner. Having nothing better to do that night, and unwilling to pass up a home-cooked meal, I accepted.
Now, because the Green Hallway is mostly barren, and because I love the “great outdoors”, I preferred to bike to my parents’ house whenever I visited. Instead of buying a bike, I found it easier to simply rent one from the local bike shop. So I headed over to get one for the long ride to my folks’ place.
The owner was a guy named Mike. Nice guy, always happy to have someone’s patronage. I’d rented bikes from him plenty of times, so he didn’t even need to ask what I needed. While I waited for him to retrieve the bike, I listened to the radio he always had playing. Instead of music, however, I heard a woman making a public service announcement:
“Police have begun searching for Sharon Kim, a young woman who was recently reported missing. She is described as pale, with brown eyes and long black hair. If you have any information pertaining to this woman’s whereabouts-“
“Scary stuff, huh?” interrupted Mike as he rolled the bike to me.
“Sure is.” I said, “Especially in a small town like ours.”
“Amen, brother,” laughed Mike, “Amen.”
And so, putting aside thoughts of this missing girl, I set out on a bike trip I had taken many times before, down the Green Hallway. I always loved biking down that road. The feel of the wind on my face as I whizzed by the trees was exhilarating. It felt like I was soaring through the wind as the world to my left and right melted into a green blur. It was liberating, a sensational journey that made you forget all your troubles… until life decides that the ride’s over. In other words, I was so absorbed in my ride that I failed to notice a bump in the road. Startled, I accidentally swerved sharply to the right, causing me and the bike to fall off the road and slam into a tree trunk. Luckily I was wearing a helmet so I was fine other than a few scratches on my arms, a minor inconvenience. Then I saw the bike and swore loudly. The front wheel had been bent inward from the impact, rendering it useless.
God dammit, I thought, Mike’s gonna have my head on a pike!
Thoroughly pissed off, I picked up the bike and began walking it down the Green Hallway, continuing to my parents’ place, figuring that I’d already gone far enough to be close. As it turns out, I wasn’t, and after about 10 minutes of walking I realized that I still had plenty of road in front of me, stretching as far as the eye could see as an endless, asphalt strip. I pulled out my cell phone and tried to call my parents for help, but, of course, there was no reception. At this point the sun was beginning to set, and I was sure I was late.
Just as I was about to resume my long trek, a faint rumbling pierced the silence. I felt my eyes widen with hope and excitement as I saw the source: A gigantic RV! I dropped the bike and stuck my thumb out with my right arm while waving with my left and calling out for the driver to stop. The RV came to a screeching halt right next to me, its imposing size making me feel like an ant. The door opened and out walked the driver.
He was a large man, standing about six feet with muscly arms. He seemed to be in pretty decent shape, for a redneck. He wore the typical plaid shirt-blue jeans mix, with a black trucker’s hat on his head and combat boots on his feet. He had a scraggly beard and smelled faintly of flower-scented Febreze.
“Howdy,” he said with a smile, “you needin’ a lift?”
I smiled back, relieved that he had stopped, “You know it!”
“Well then, you just hand me yer bike and I’ll pop ‘er in the trunk. I need to refill the tank anyways.”
I handed him the bent up bike and walked inside the RV. It had a narrow hallway going straight to the back, where the bedroom was. There were several wooden drawers lining the left, with a marble counter on top, and a wooden cabinet hanging above the counter. Next to the counter was a door, probably a closet or bathroom. To my right was a booth with a wide window behind it, curtains drawn. The cushions looked like new and the table was spotless. I was impressed by how clean the place looked.
I decided to use the bathroom while I waited for the redneck to finish refueling the RV. I opened the door next to the counter, only to find a supply closet full of water and emergency supplies. Not finding any other doors, I made my way into the bedroom, figuring that what the guy wouldn’t mind if I was just doing my business. There were two doors, one to my left and one to my right. I figured one of them was the bathroom, but I didn’t want to continue snooping around the RV like no one’s business, so I quickly popped my head out of the RV and asked,
“Hey, uh... sir? Mind if I use the bathroom?” I asked, realizing that I didn’t know his name
“Franklin. M’ name’s Franklin” said the redneck, “Sure, that ain’t no problem. Jus’ head down to the back, and the bedroom is in the door right in front of you. The bathroom is in there so go in and then it’s the door to the left.”
I nodded, and headed back inside. I went back into the bedroom, and as I entered, I noticed the strong smell of Febreze… but there was also something unusual underneath it. Something almost… sinister. I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I decided to just do what I had gone in there to do. While I was in the tiny bathroom of the RV, the smell continued to waft through the air. It began to smell sickening, like something rotting. It became more and more pungent the longer I stayed in there. I became increasingly nervous.
What the hell is that stench mixed with the Febreze? It smells like a decaying animal.
It finally hit me that what I was smelling was in fact rotting flesh, and my heart sank. The more I thought about it, the more scared I became. I tried to pass it off as my imagination running wild or my senses playing tricks on me but… it was all too real. I imagined a corpse being hidden somewhere in the room. The door on the right of the bedroom’s entrance immediately came to mind.
When I finished, I walked out and continued to smell the odor. At this point, the overtones of rot mixed with the strong smell of flowers was unbearable. As I got to the entrance to the bedroom, it seemed to get stronger. I couldn’t take it anymore and had to know where the smell was from. I leaned towards the door on the right, and noticed how the smells became even more intense the closer I got to the door. I allowed my piqued curiosity to get the better of me. I opened the door… and jumped back, horrified.
Inside was nothing other than a small, bloodstained cardboard box full of bones and innards and flesh. I leaned against the wall and tried to catch my breath as I stared at the discarded remains, mesmerized by the sheer shock. My stomach felt like it had been tied in a double-knot, and it took all my willpower to not throw up. I was sincerely praying to God that those remains were not a person’s. Then I saw something round, like a misshapen sphere. I concentrated on it, trying to make out what it was. As I focused more and more I began to make out pale skin with bloodstains on it. And strands of long, black hair.
I felt the blood drain from my face and my knees grow weak as I remembered the radio report:
“…She is described as pale, with brown eyes and long black hair…”
Pale skin and long black hair.
Long. Black. Hair.
I had stumbled across Sharon Kim’s rotting remains in a cardboard box.
Unable to keep it down any longer, I leaned over and vomited into the box without even thinking. Terrified, I began to run towards the RV’s door when I suddenly stopped myself. If the redneck saw me running, he’d know I’d found the girl’s remains and he’d probably try to kill me! I plopped down on the booth, panting and trying to regain what composure I possibly could. After a few seconds I decided to go and get some air, hoping that the redneck wouldn’t catch on. When I stepped outside he was still pouring gas into the tank, his sleeves rolled up.
“You almost done there… Franklin?” I asked him, giving 110% into keeping my voice as calm as possible.
“Yeah,” said the redneck, “I’m just ‘bout done, so don’t you worry”.
“Alright, cool.” I said.
I leaned against the RV, still reeling from what I’d seen, and my eyes fell upon a scar running down the length of Franklin’s right forearm, ending at his wrist. Franklin’s eyes flickered to mine, and then at his wrist. Although I looked away, he still caught me. Then he laughed.
“Ah, haha. You’re probably wonderin’ where this beaut came from, right?” he asked
“Yeah,” I said, feeling the shakiness in my voice.
Get a grip, Devon, you’re going to give yourself away
“Well then, I’ll tell you. See, I used to be a hikin’ enthusiast. I loved scalin’ mountains. I remember when I was about yer age I’d frequently climb the mountains right over there.” He said, pointing to the mountain range west of the trees, “I had a friend who’d climb the mountains with me. I’d known ‘im all m’ life; heck we were like brothers.” He added, cheerily.
“We were always tryin’ to challenge ourselves in our hikes. We would always be lookin’ for a mountain that was taller than the one we had just scaled. We did this for years, and we became a pretty good team, even earnin’ a bit o’ recognition among our community. Then one day we decided to do somethin’ beyond either o’ our limits: Try to scale Mt. Navarro.”
I recognized the name as one of the tallest mountains in the area. It was named after the first man to have scaled it. Scaling Navarro was a formidable challenge. I’d even heard of a few instances where people had died, due to misjudging the height of the mountain (thus contributing to thinner air) and its weather conditions. There were no formal tours nor camps established for Navarro.
“We both felt up to the task, havin’ been to extreme heights before. But I didn’t know what the hell I was gettin’ m’self into.” The happiness in his tone vanished, and was replaced with a much darker tone, with a bit of an edge to it, “While we were hikin’, a storm hit. Our vision went to shit, and we soon got lost. We both thought we were gonna die. We were already at a high altitude and our food was dwindlin’ down to the last morsels...” He trailed off. His face hardened, and his eyes became vacant, as if he were daydreaming.
I gulped and asked, “What happened?”
He shifted his glare over to me and replied,
“He lost it. M’ friend lost it. The thinner air or the lack o’ food, or somethin’, got into ‘im, and he lost it. He tried to kill me, probably so he could eat me.” He raised his arm, putting the scar right in front of my face, “Clearly that didn’t happen but he did get me with his knife.”
At this point my mind was in a vicegrip. How I didn’t break down right then and there, I’ll never know. But the combination of seeing that girl’s remains and Franklin’s story was overwhelming. I could feel myself sweating, my heart racing, my limbs shaking, and it took every ounce of will I had to keep myself composed. I don’t know how I did it, but somehow, someway… I did.
I asked, “What happened to your friend?”
Franklin’s glare got harsher, and his voice got edgier,
“I did what I had to. I killed ‘im. When he cut me with the knife, I knew I had to fight ‘im. So I knocked the blade out o’ his hands and,” he made a fist and made an outwards stabbing motion, towards me, “I stabbed ‘im in his back.”
My heart plunged into my stomach as my mind screamed at me to get away from him. But I knew I couldn’t, that running would give myself away and that his sturdy, 6-foot frame would easily catch me. I knew I had to play it cool, or at least try to, if I was going to walk away in one piece.
“Oh…” I said, my voice trailing off. What was I supposed to say?
“Yep. Anyway, we’re all good to go now, so off we go!” He said, his voice smoothing out.
So we both stepped back into the RV, and Franklin began driving down the Green Hallway again. I sat down at the booth to try and calm my nerves, cautiously eying the bedroom at the far end of the hallway, where Sharon Kim’s remains were rotting away in a cardboard box, cloaked in a veil of flower-scented Febreze. I focused on controlling my breathing, making it steady and calm so as to not seem frantic.
Really, I didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to do at that point. I was in an RV with a murderous redneck, driving down a bare road at sundown. My parents were probably worrying about me at this point, and I didn’t even know if I would get to see them again. What if this guy decided to kill me, too, so I wouldn’t spill the story? What if I hadn’t done a well enough job to keep myself calm, and he knew I found the box? There were so many scenarios and thoughts swirling in my head. We drove for about 10 minutes, and I spent virtually the whole trip trying to sort them out. By the time I had gone through all of them, my brains were fried.
Oh shit, shit shit. I’m as good as dead! This guy is probably going to kill me so I don’t send the police after him, or maybe he’ll just kill me because he’s that deranged! Is that how Sharon died? She found him and then he killed her just ‘cause? Man, and to think this started as a trip to my parents’ house. How long has it been… 10 minutes?! Jesus, it feels like forever. It’s like this guy doesn’t know where he’s going-
I froze mid-thought. My heart seemed to stop, and it felt like the wires in my head had just connected as I realized what was wrong with the whole scene:
He never asked for directions…
“Hey, uh,” I said, with a visibly shaky voice, “I never told you where exactly I was headed, did I?”
“Don’t worry,” he said casually, “it’s pretty obvious where to go once we hit the end o’ the hallway, right?”
He was right. I had been to the town on the other end of the long street so many times that I knew it like the back of my hand. I was relieved that he hadn’t asked me about my shaky voice, or my silence.
“Yeah.” I said.
I looked out the windshield, towards the setting sun, and saw my parents’ town in the horizon.
C’mon, c’mon, just keep going straight into town
Franklin continued going straight for the town. I began to feel more and more relieved that I wasn’t going to end up like Sharon Kim. I was being spared. The town crept closer with every passing second.
Closer… closer… closer…
Then, without warning, the RV made a sharp turn to the left, down another road I had never seen before. This road was a narrow, winding path surrounded by trees, shorter than the ones lining the Green Hallway, and barer, too.
“Uh, Franklin,” I said, my voice visibly shaking, “What are you doing?”
Franklin didn’t say anything. But it didn’t matter. I knew I was as good as dead, right then and there. My heart began beating faster than a hummingbird flapped its wings as my legs turned to jelly and beads of sweat began to form on my forehead. We just continued deeper down the path, for what seemed like an eternity, until the trees grew sparser and the asphalt road turned into a dirt one. Soon we were driving up a hiking trail on one of the mountains. It was extremely bumpy, with rocks and even a few thick tree roots covering the ground. And the whole time, my whole body was locked up in fear’s chains.
Then Franklin spoke, his voice flat,
“Y’know, you really ought to learn to stay out o’other’s people’s business. I dunno what the hell you were doin’ snoopin’ around m’ bedroom, but either way, I know you found that girl. I could see your face was white as a fuckin’ sheet when you stepped out o’ the RV. But at the same time, I gotta hand it to you for tryin’ to keep your cool. When I told that girl – What was her name again, Shannon? – the story behind m’ scar, she couldn’t help but try to run off. Sadly for her, she wasn’t fast enough. Not like that mattered in the end.”
Hearing that last sentence added confusion to the swirling mass of fear in my head.
It didn’t matter in the end… What?
Then the RV came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the dirt hiking trail. He turned and faced me, looking me dead in the eye. His eyes had a sedated, vacant look like before; the look of a madman.
“See, I wasn’t entirely honest in m’ story. While I did kill m’friend on that hike up Mt. Navarro, it wasn’t ‘cause he had lost it. It was ‘cause I had lost it. When we were up there, our food supply was indeed gettin’ low. We were already so high up that mountain, and the thinnin’ air was starting to mess with m’ head. I started to get desperate; paranoid; afraid that I’d never get off that god-forsaken mountain. Around that time, m’ friend started to look pretty good… if you know where I’m gettin’ at.”
My eyes widened, and my mouth hung open as I listened intently to Franklin’s story – his real story. “So I did it: I killed ‘im. He put up quite a good fight, to give credit where it’s due. He tried to slash at m’ neck but I blocked m’self with m’ arm,” He held up his scarred forearm briefly before resuming, “In the end it was for nothin’. I gained the upper hand and soon I had more food. He, and the rations I still had, were enough to get me back down the mountain.”
“On m’ way down, I knew I had to lie to avoid goin’ to jail. I wouldn’t have lasted there. And I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy eatin’ m’ best friend. But I acquired a taste for human meat, soon enough…” He stood up, and walked over to the drawer farthest from where I was sitting, and pulled out a meat cleaver, freshly polished and sharpened as if it were never used. And yet, I knew it had been.
“…And not long after doin’ so, I decided that I had to have more.”
Hearing those words did it for me. Before I knew it I had sprung out of my seat and burst out the RV door, and began sprinting down the path. I was running so hard I felt like I was an Olympic runner, racing for the gold medal in the 100-yard sprint. The scenery around me melted into a dark blur as I zoomed past it all, with the only sounds I heard being my breathing, and Franklin catching up to me, his tall, heavy frame gaining on me with every passing second. I could barely process anything as I ran for my life.
Then, behind me, I heard a faint thud, and a loud cry ring out through the darkening sky. But I didn’t stop. I didn’t look back. I didn’t pay it any heed other than hearing it. I just ran and ran and ran. I ran past the entrance to the trail. I ran down the road towards the town. I ran to my parent’s house and didn’t slow down at all. When I got there, I collapsed onto the floor, panting heavily and crying as my parents tried to calm me best I could, as if I were a five-year old who had just had a nightmare.
Minutes later, the police were in the house with me, questioning me. I tried to answer them as best I could, still shaking and worn out from what had unfolded. I told them everything that had transpired, from the moment I first saw the RV. When they went to the hiking trail where we had stopped, they told me that Franklin was dead. He had tripped on a tree root and had fallen on his cleaver (the blade sliced his heart). Hearing this did little to comfort me, though. The look in Franklin’s eyes, that deranged, empty look in that man’s eyes as he stared into my soul and told me his story, sticks with me even today.
I’ve been in counseling for months, trying to cope with this ordeal. I’ll admit, I’m doing much better than I was months ago, but I’m still reeling. Sometimes I have nightmares of being chased, presumably by Franklin. I get anxious whenever I see an RV drive by my house. I never hitchhiked again.
But most notably of all, I never entered the Green Hallway again.