I never really put much stock in the paranormal or the supernatural. To me, all the weird, creepy, and otherworldly stuff people claim to experience are just poorly-understood natural phenomena, overactive imaginations, or mundane things misattributed to the whimsical world of fantasy just because they gave someone the willies. Even when I've been creeped out in the past, I've always gone to the rational explanation before all else and come out satisfied that nothing strange had truly happened to me. But nothing in my rational, analytical mind can come to terms with what I experienced about a month ago. No mundane explanation, regardless of how hard I try to jam it into my brain, is enough to convince me that it was anything but real.
Before I begin, some disclaimers are in order: I'm straight-edge. No pills, no booze, no hard drugs. I don't even smoke weed. It hadn't been a particularly long day at work, nor had I been sleep-deprived. The best explanation I can hope for is a momentary lapse into insanity; a random psychotic episode brought on by stress, or some other factors I didn't even realize would play such a role in my life.
Somehow I can't seem to convince myself of that, though. It was just too real. Too vividly real.
I was on my way home from the office, taking the same route I always did. My job wasn't particularly demanding or stressful. Just some light customer support for a company that made mobile apps. The pay was decent, and I didn't dread going in like I had with other jobs of its type. For all I'm consciously aware, I enjoy my work, and my home life is great. I live with my girlfriend Sierra, and we're quite in love. I have a good relationship with my parents, and have a few good friends whom I know I can rely on and trust. Try as I might, I can't believe that I'd simply lost my senses that night due to stress. That only happens to unhappy people... right?
The drive home was pleasant; not much traffic, and the weather was nice. It was an ideal end to the day. The sun had set, leaving my car's headlights to illuminate the road ahead of me. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary the whole way home, until I went to make the turn onto my block. I signaled right, turned the wheel, running almost entirely on muscle memory at this point. I'd made this trip so many times it just came naturally to me. Only when I'd gone half-way down the block did I realize something was amiss.
This wasn't my street. This was Alder Street, the block immediately after mine. I laughed and rolled my eyes, playfully scolding myself for letting my unconscious mind drive all the time. I was bound to mess up like this at some point or another. I reached the end of the block, turned right, and then right again...
But this wasn't my street either. I'd turned onto Tangerine Street. The other block flanking my own. Baffled by what I, at the time, imagined to be my own carelessness, I once again made my way to the end of the block, turned right... and stopped. My headlights illuminated the street signs; I was on Howard Drive, the road which intersected my block to the south. But before me lay the intersection of Howard and... Alder.
I began to feel frustrated. How had I missed my block three whole times? Sighing, I reversed my car to the next block and looked up to ensure I would take the correct street this time. I read the sign: Tangerine Street...
I didn't feel it at the time, but I think my unconscious mind realized something was wrong before I even consciously acknowledged the possibility. I turned back onto Howard, rolled forward at a snail's pace, eyes glued to the sidewalk to make absolutely sure I didn't pass my block. I once again stopped when the pavement gave way to an intersection and, surely enough, looked up to see the street sign for... Alder Street.
At this point I finally allowed myself to be afraid. Had I gone insane? Was this really where my street was supposed to be? I didn't believe it possible to just up and forget where I lived--not for a man in his mid-twenties at any rate! I sat there, pulled over on the side of the road, watching other vehicles casually pass me by. I must have been missing something. Maybe I really did just miss the street entirely, and I was just overly tired or something. That had to be it! I resolved to try again, turning my car around and driving so slowly that other motorists had to overtake me, honking their horns impatiently as they passed. Alder St. gave way to sidewalk, houses, and lawns. The walkway continued for a time, then opened up to another street. I hesitated, afraid to look up and read the street sign, afraid to confirm what I think I already knew.
It was goddamn Tangerine Street again. I drove back and forth three more times, only to reach the same results on each circuit; there was no street between Alder and Tangerine. Bell Street, the street where I lived, had vanished. Of course, I knew I had to be crazy, and I even contemplated driving to the hospital, but I couldn't face the idea that I'd suddenly lost my mind.
An idea suddenly occurred to me, and I retrieved my phone from my pocket. With shaking hands, I opened up Google Maps and zoomed in close. My mind spun at what I saw: Three streets. Alder, Tangerine... and sitting neatly between them, as it had for so many years, Bell Street. I wasn't crazy... but that only made the situation all the more terrifying. Where the hell was my street? My home?
I called my girlfriend. I didn't know what else to do, but she had always been my anchor, my pillar of strength when I'd been at the lowest of lows. In all honestly, I'm not sure what I expected her to do for me... assuming she still existed. The phone rang... and rang... and I struggled to keep back the thoughts of her having disappeared like the street had.
The sound of her voice was almost too much--I choked back tears and tried so hard to sound calm and collected. "Hey babe. You uh... you doing ok?"
"Nothing, no reason!" I blurted out. So much for trying to be calm. "Listen, I'm... having a bit of a brain fart here. What's that street next to ours again?"
"Alder?" she sounded confused. Honestly, how could I have sounded to her, asking such questions while failing to stifle my panic? "And Tangerine?"
"Yeah, that's right." I remember being quiet for a long time after that, just dumbstruck and completely lost for words.
"Honey, are you ok? You don't sound good."
"Yeah, I'm fine. Listen, there's some traffic so I'm gonna be a bit late. I'll be home soon, though, ok?"
"Ok..." she didn't sound convinced. "Are you sure nothing's wrong?"
I sat there, frozen in fear. Fear of what was happening. Fear of how she'd react if I told her, of how crazy I'd look. Fear of never seeing her again. "No." I admitted, straining the words out through the lump in my throat. "But I promise I'll be home soon."
"Is it work? Did something happen?"
"I have to go."
I hung up. I couldn't bear it anymore; not with the terrible truth lingering at the tip of my tongue like it was. I had to figure this out.
I circled the block again and again, looping between the two streets. I don't know how long I did this; an hour, maybe, but time got... weird for me. Maybe it was simply due to the immense panic that had now seized control of my senses, but it began to feel as if hours had dragged by, the streets stretching on for miles before I finally reached a turn. I began to feel tired, fatigued from straining my eyes to see the road in my headlights, which almost seemed to grow dimmer the longer I was on the road.
I'm not sure when it happened, but I suddenly realized that the roads had changed again. Howard Drive, which had always stretched from east to west for miles, now suddenly ended at Alder Street. I checked and, sure enough, the same was true for the road at the other end--Rosewood Road. My head ached; my brain felt as if it was boiling. Our feeble human minds weren't meant to process things like this. We're so used to our mundane reality, so grounded in simplicity that, when things like this happen, we break down. But I couldn't break down. Sierra was waiting for me back home. I had a life to go back to. I could only hope and pray that the end to this bizarre nightmare was just around the next corner, and so I pressed on.
As I continued to loop between the streets, ever vigilant in my search for Bell Street, I noticed I hadn't seen another car in what felt like hours. I usually got home at around eight in the evening, and there were always cars on the main roads well after ten at night. My car's clock told me it was only eight thirty, but I honestly wasn't sure if I could trust it at this point. I'd been driving for so long...
My panic had dulled down to an all-encompassing dread for a while, but returned and doubled when I reached Howard Drive again, and saw that it no longer ran any farther east or west than Alder or Tangerine. A seemingly eternal drive up Alder Street confirmed what I'd already figured: Rosewood had changed as well. I was driving on a closed loop of two main roads and two side streets. An endless circuit framed by houses, lawns, and trees.
I didn't know what else to do but drive; I was on autopilot at this point, afraid of what might happen if I stopped. I turned on the radio but got only static, and when I finally resolved to dial 911 my phone refused to function. It wouldn't even turn on. I drove and I drove, figuring I'd eventually run out of gas and... then what? Walk? I almost entertained the idea of getting out of the car and walking through the back yards of the houses that now stood where the main drag of Rosewood was. To see if anything lay beyond. But my paralyzing fear kept me rooted to my car's seat, my hands glued to the steering wheel. I wasn't in our world anymore. Whatever existed beyond what I could see was anyone's guess, but I was so scared of just walking off the edge of existence that I simply couldn't even think of trying it.
Another hour passed in my perspective, though my car's clock hadn't changed. My eyes hurt. My head was killing me. My hands were sore from gripping the wheel so tightly. I had to stop and rest. I pulled over on Howard, shut off the engine, and rested my head on the steering wheel. Without the drive to distract me from it, the weight of what I'd stumbled into came down on me hard, and I lost it. I screamed and I cried, banged my head on the wheel, honking the horn each time. One final thought occurred to me in the midst of my breakdown: to go to one of these houses and beg for help. I wasn't even sure if they had people in them--no other cars existed on this road, and I hadn't seen any pedestrians.
I resolved to try... but when I looked out the window, only darkness greeted me. I squinted to see the houses on the side of the road, but found nothing. The streetlights, once brightly-lit, seemed to have disappeared entirely. Fear surged within me once more as I turned on the car and spun the wheel hard to the left. I turned into the other side of the road to angle my headlights at the houses.
Only there weren't any houses. Not a single goddamn one. My headlights shone off into infinite darkness, and I felt that if I rolled forward any farther I'd fall into this endless pit of black. I stared, unblinking, into the void, petrified by the realization that had struck me: The houses had gone where the streets had. Vanished into the void that was slowly consuming the world around me. Finally, with no other option, I carefully brought my car back onto the road... and I drove. The road no longer curved. It just went on, seemingly forever. Another hour passed... and another... and another. The clock remained the same, but I knew I had to have spent half a day in this nightmare, at the very least. The road was my only company now; even the stars and the moon had disappeared. Even with how much time had passed, no sunrise greeted me over the empty horizon. My headlights grew dimmer and dimmer as I drove on, until they no longer touched the road.
I stopped at that point, too scared, too defeated to go on. I curled up in my seat and tried my phone again. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work. I screamed and screamed into the darkness, slamming my hands on the wheel and rocking in my seat. So alone... So alone...
I don't know when I fell asleep, but I awoke to a blinding light. Not in front of me, but in my rear-view mirror. It was so bright it hurt, and it took me a moment to realize it wasn't alone. There were two other lights with it: one red and one blue. Blinking red and blue lights...
The knock at my window caused me to scream in terror, and the imposing figure of a police officer at my window simultaneously mortified and elated me. I rolled down the window in disbelief and, when the tall man said nothing, I cautiously asked him, "Yes officer?"
What else could I have said? I wasn't even sure what was real anymore, but on the off chance that this was real, I sure didn't want to come off as crazy to a cop. He pursed his lips and seemed to take his time deciding what words to use. Finally, he answered my question with one of his own. "You ok, son?"
God, what could I even say to that? After what I'd been through, no, no I was not ok! Not even remotely! It wasn't hard for him to pick up on that, and he relaxed his posture a little. "Anything to drink tonight?"
"No. No sir."
"Well I'm not gonna lie; you look like hell. No drugs, no nothing?"
"No." I answered quickly and raised my hands defensively. "I'll take any kind of test you want. Just... I'm just trying to get home, and--and--"
There wasn't any chance in hell I was explaining this in any sane manner, so I just let myself trail off. The officer sighed, and he went through the usual affair of collecting my info--license, registration, proof of insurance. He told me to sit tight and went back to his patrol car. Looking ahead, I could see in the distance that Howard Street kept on going. The houses and street lights had reappeared, and my headlights were as bright as they'd always been. I wasn't sure if this was a good sign, but having company--even company that thought I was on something--helped calm my nerves. I checked my phone and just about jumped out of my skin.
Some missed text messages from Sierra, asking if I was ok. I quickly answered her and affirmed that I was fine, that I'd be home soon. She started to bombard me with questions, but I had no time to answer. The cop reappeared at my window, handed me my documentation, and shrugged at me.
"You're only a block from home, man." he said, bewildered. "You couldn't wait that long to take a nap?"
I stared at him for a long moment. Irrational anger bubbled up within me. If this guy only knew the nightmare I'd just endured... That I could very well still be enduring! But right now he was my only solid proof that hope still existed, and there was no way he could understand. I sheepishly asked him if he'd follow me home, in case I nodded off again. He was clearly suspicious, but promised to do so.
Within thirty seconds, the next intersection came up, and I nervously glanced up at the street sign. Tears flooded my eyes, and I almost broke down again when I saw that I'd finally reached Bell Street. I signaled, turned, and tried so hard not to race home. I pulled into my driveway, waved a little too enthusiastically at the officer as he departed, so glad that he'd been satisfied with not smelling booze on my breath. Sierra met me at the door, and I practically tackled her in an embrace. The warmth of her body against mine, her gentle hands against my back... things I thought I'd never feel again. She asked the obvious question: "What the hell happened?"
And... I told her. I felt so stupid, so immeasurably idiotic as I spelled out exactly what happened. I was sure I'd lost her right at the beginning, but god bless this woman, she... well, I can't exactly say she believed it happened, but she believed that I believed it. She didn't pass it off as me sneaking around on her, or getting drunk with the guys after work. All the insane things I babbled out through bawling tears, she took at face value, regardless of how impossible they sounded. God, I love this woman.
It's been a month since that day, and not a single thing has happened out of the ordinary. No disappearing streets, no glitches in the Matrix or whatever the hell had happened to me. I just can't explain it. I went to a shrink, and I'm not schizophrenic. The only explanation they can offer is that it was a really vivid dream, and that I had just pulled over and passed out from exhaustion. I don't buy it. That isn't... me. I don't do things like that. Whatever happened to me was as real as what you're seeing in front of you right now as you read this.
I'm terrified of driving now. It's sad, because I used to love it. The open road used to comfort me, give me a sense of freedom and control. Now long stretches of road fill me with dread, and I doubt I'll ever look at driving the same way again. The thing that tears me up the most about all this is that I'll never really have answers. No explanation as to how or why this happened. But if that's the price I have to pay for never experiencing it again, I'll gladly pay it. No amount of closure is worth being trapped wherever the hell that dark, lonely place was again.
I'm taking some time off work... and I think I'll make my vacation a staycation this time around. Never know if my street will just up and walk away on me.
Written by Spookfox