I’d always hated cleaning up other people’s fuck-ups. It had been a long day and I was ready to get home. I felt a lingering anxiousness but told myself it was just stress from my hellish day at work. Someone else had made an error on a spreadsheet and it had been thrust upon me to fix it; it was well beyond sunset when I finally finished, sending the spreadsheet off and finally shutting my computer down.
I took a moment to clear my head before I started my car. I inhaled, so ready for bed, but trying to energize myself for my thirty-minute drive home. I stifled another yawn, turned my radio on, a little too loud, and shifted into reverse.
I looked toward the center panel, where my back up cam should have been showing me the road behind me. Instead, there was nothing but a black screen. I groaned in frustration. Leave it for a day like this for everything to go wrong. “Guess I have to do this the old-fashioned way.” I threw my right arm behind the passenger seat and craned my body around to see behind me. I could see the light that came on with the camera. Maybe the thing wasn’t dead after all; hopefully, a leaf or some other debris had just blocked it.
As I turned back around to put my car in ‘drive,’ I noticed I could see part of the road behind me. I opened my mouth, a sarcastic comment ready to go. Any snark I had left my mind when I saw the dark half of my camera shift, moving up just a bit, then back down. “What the fuck?” I shouted, my body flooding with adrenaline. I put the car into gear and started out of the parking lot.
Well, at least I was awake for my ride home. My heart thundered in my ears and I felt the adrenaline running through my body. I took deep breaths, trying to stop the shaking. Just a bug. Just a bug. Some big, annoying moth or something, I told myself. I got on the highway, finally starting to calm down, and I slumped in my seat, ready for my night to finally be over.
Taptaptap. I strained my ears, trying to identify the sound without turning down the radio. I’d just gotten this car a couple years ago, how could it be falling apart already? I heard it again, but it didn’t seem to be coming from the engine, or from underneath. I reached for the volume knob and turned it down. The tapping was moving, like something was pacing back and forth across my trunk. I focused harder on the sound, giving it all my attention. Had something managed to get into my car? Was I in danger? Should I be calling the police?
The tapping seemed to move from the trunk to the driver’s side. I tried to look back, wanting to know just what could have been holding on, but I didn’t see anything through the darkness. Images of being mugged, of being car-jacked from the inside, of being raped and murdered, flashed through my mind. Realizing that I was working myself up to a panic attack, I cycled through my phone’s contacts and found my boyfriend. “Hey babe. They finally let you out of the dungeon?” He chuckled finding something humorous that I couldn’t grasp.
I took a deep breath, his nonchalance adding to my panic as the sound seemed to get closer to my door. “DavidIthinkthere’ssomethingonmycar,” I said quickly, the whole sentence coming out as one jumbled word. I’d meant to stay calm, but once I’d heard his voice, all my panic came out in a rush.
His response was immediate, confused but also growing in concern as his mind pieced together my words. “What? Mindy, slow down.”
I repeated myself, making sure to separate the words this time. My voice cracked with panic, and my breathing was coming more frantically now, like there wasn’t enough oxygen in the car. “Okay, baby, calm down. Take a few deep breaths. You said there was something on your car? Like…a bug?” He wasn’t being intentionally condescending, but he struggled to understand what I was so terrified of. He wasn’t hearing what I was hearing, the tip-tap of something getting closer.
“No, David, not like a bug.” I did my best to explain what I’d seen – or hadn’t seen – in my back up camera when I’d left work. I was still too freaked out to pull over and see if it was all in my head, despite his suggestion to do so. He managed to calm me down, promising to meet me outside when I pulled into the driveway. When we hung up a few minutes later, I realized the sound had stopped. Maybe it had been all in my head, some auditory hallucination brought on by the stress of my day.
Five minutes after getting off the phone with David, I pulled into the driveway. As promised, he was waiting by the door of our small rented house, wearing a T-shirt and stained blue hospital scrubs. He inspected the car closely, and I watched from the rearview mirror as he inspected the area surrounding my back up camera, then move on to the passenger side. He tapped on the window, and I finally turned the car off and opened the door.
“There’s nothing on the car, babe, I don’t know what to tell you. It looks like you might have scraped against something, though, check it out.” He pulled his cell phone out and used the flashlight to show me what he’d found. On my driver’s side rear door were scratches. None of them were more than a centimeter in length. I ran my fingers across them, suppressing a shudder. I knew I hadn’t hit anything. I knew they had to have been from whatever had been creeping along my car.
I spent the rest of the week terrified of going to work. In the morning, I was able to walk around my car and see that there was nothing to worry about. When I got out though, in the fading light, I wasn’t able to determine that nothing was there. My back up camera was still having some issues, though. Every time I had to put my car into reverse, it seemed that a different part of it was covered up, like something was inside the space it occupied, unable to get comfortable.
I made coffee on Saturday morning and poured two mugs, leaving one for David on the table. The smell always got him up, and I’d learned in our two years living together that he was a bear before he had his coffee. We sat, sipping in silence, him staring angrily into his cup, me checking social media like I did every morning. After our cups were empty and I’d run out of apps to check, we finally spoke to each other. “Morning,” he grumbled at me.
“Good morning,” I said back with a small smile.
“What do you say we get out of here for the weekend? Go camping or something? Mike’s got a hunting cabin out of the way a few miles, we could go, relax, get some…alone time,” he waggled his eyebrows at me, a playful smile forming on his lips.
As much as I didn’t love the idea of camping, I did agree that I could use a weekend getaway. “Sure, David. Unless…there’s not like, antlers or taxidermy all over this cabin, is there?”
We shared a laugh, and he assured me there would be electricity, indoor plumbing, and no taxidermized animals, I threw some clothes into a bag and hauled myself into a quick shower.
David got into the driver’s seat and I got comfortable as a passenger. “Babe, what’s up with your camera?” I looked down in time to see the blackness shift. It was broad daylight, and there was nothing in front of the camera.
“That’s what I’ve been telling you has been happening and you told me not to worry about it!” I said, gesturing at the black spot that appeared to be moving.
He didn’t answer me, just backed out of the driveway and started our trip. He’d said the cabin was a few hours outside the city, so I anticipated we’d be in the car most of the day. I controlled the radio, and it wasn’t long before we’d forgotten about the malfunctioning camera entirely. A few catnaps in the sun, an extended stop for lunch, and before I knew it, the sun was setting as we were driving past the city limits. “It’s so pretty out here,” I said, looking at the trees that had replaced the vacant lots and large buildings.
It was in the dead air between songs that I heard the taptaptap again. This time, David heard it, too. “What the shit?” he said, looking around, trying to identify a mechanical problem.
“That’s the sound, David,” I said in a hushed whisper. “The one I told you about, the one I’ve been hearing all week. David, tell me that doesn’t sound like something walking along my car?”
He rolled his eyes, still convinced I had somehow made the whole thing up. “Maybe the strap of one of our bags got caught outside. I’ll pull over and take a look,” he said.” I knew it couldn’t have been something so simple. I had double checked the bags when we’d stopped for lunch.
“No, David. Please, please don’t get out of the car. We’re miles away from civilization, and I don’t even know if we have cell reception out here. Please, let’s just get to the cabin.” My voice was still low, as though whatever was on the other side of the layers of metal and plastic could hear me.
He ignored my plea and pulled over into the dirt shoulder. The light was fading quickly, and there were hardly any other cars on the road this far out of the city. He put the car in park, my camera flashing on and off as he passed by ‘reverse.’ “Wait! Put it back in reverse…I think…I think I saw something.”
He looked at me, an argument in his eyes, but the fear in mine silenced him, and he did as I asked. For the second time that week, I hated being right. I’d been hoping I’d seen a squirrel, a chipmunk, or some other small animal darting out to cross the street behind my car.
Instead, what was illuminated in my car’s camera was something that would haunt me the rest of my life. It was hard to make out at first as it jumped to the ground, getting out of the light. Its eyes reflected the light, further hiding its other features. It was the approximate size of a large gecko, and similarly shaped. There was an extra set of legs, though, giving it six shadowed limbs in total. Seven, I supposed, if you counted the tail I could see fading into the inky night behind it. I couldn’t make out colors or identifying marks in the darkness outside of the light from my camera. Even a mystery creature like that, it was only a few inches big…it couldn’t be that harmful to us, could it? “What the hell is that thing?” David muttered, leaning closer to the screen as though it would help him answer the question. “I’m going to see what it is. Maybe we hit something, or it was caught under the car. It’s not moving, Mindy; I think it’s dead.”
“David no!” I started, but it was too late. He’d already opened his door. Not knowing what else to do, I unbuckled my seat belt and got out, hurrying around the front of the car to join him as he crept closer toward the…thing.
He turned on the flashlight app on his cell phone, shining it down to look at the lizard-insectoid creature. It was a deep muddy red, with black patches. I didn’t want to think that it was the color of dried blood. Its head turned toward us, and as its eyes came under the light, I saw it…blink? At least, there was a layer of mucous or flesh that came from the sides of its eyes, like the protective layer of a frog’s eyes when they’re underwater. “David, let’s just go,” I said. The thing hadn’t done anything at all since we started looking at it, but if this was the thing that had been tormenting me with my own car, I wanted to get away from it.
I forgot how to breathe when I heard a faint growling coming from the thing’s throat. Its mouth opened, showing a layer of needle-sharp teeth. I had flashbacks to Jurassic Park, the scene where that one dinosaur spits acid in the fat security guard’s face. “David, let’s get back in the car and drive away,” I said, more forcefully this time.
“Just a second, Mindy. I want to get a closer look.”
David leaned down a little closer it. It growled, but remained otherwise perfectly still. I started to think maybe I was overreacting, that it wasn’t the thing I’d seen in every time I put my car in ‘reverse.’ It wasn’t the thing I heard tapping across my car while I was driving home. I might have been able to keep that delusion, too, if I hadn’t spotted the claws on its six little lizard feet. Long, sharp pins that matched the scratches that were now all over the trunk and driver’s side of my car. I took in a breath to try and appeal to David again, to get him away from that thing.
And I screamed instead.
The lizard creature pounced, seeming to jump two feet in the air with no warning or explanation as to what propelled it. Blood sprayed and oozed, staining David’s shirt a sticky red. Its teeth tore a chunk from his throat, swallowing the flesh without chewing, barely taking a moment before going back to his throat for another bite. In that moment, fight and flight were competing for control, leaving my body stuck in the middle, still as a statue.
Because of my body’s inability to either save David, or get away, I was forced to watch as the creature, no bigger than a kitten, ate my boyfriend. I could hear the wet crunch as its teeth found and bit through bone, and I watched as a spreading pool of deep red spread around his now prone body. It wasn’t until I heard the growl again that my body realized what it wanted to do. I blinked, adrenaline finally flooding my body as I stared down at the creature. I don’t know how much of David the creature had eaten, but I wasn’t about to focus on him and find out.
I backed away, remembering something I’d read about how you should never run away from a predator as it triggers a predatory instinct. I turned to open the car door, and in those moments, no more than five seconds, my calf exploded in pain as its teeth found and tore off a chunk of muscle. The adrenaline worked before my body knew what it was doing. I screamed in pain and desperation, my leg flying forward, then back into the metal of the car. The creature made a strangled hiss, and I felt its weight drop from my body. I jumped into the driver’s seat, slamming the door shut and engaging the locks as I did so.
I didn’t think twice as I slammed the gear shift into drive and gunned the engine. My leg was shaking with the effort of holding down the gas pedal. I was dizzy from the pain, and I wasn’t sure how far away I could get before the blood loss started to really take hold.
I didn’t know what I was going to tell the police. I couldn’t tell them that a tiny mutant lizard had eaten David. Hopefully I’d struck the thing hard enough that I’d killed the wretched little creature. At least then there might be some evidence if I decided to tell the truth.
I called the police on my way to the nearest ER, asking that they meet me there, that I had to report a murder. I told them exactly where they would find David, made up a story about a robbery gone wrong when we’d pulled over for a pee-break on our way to a friend’s campsite. I was so hysterical, I don’t think they asked me nearly as many questions as they should have. They showed up a few days later for a more formal statement, and I kept my story the same, only adding details as necessary.
I took a few days off of work because of my leg, and put an ad on Craigslist to sell my car as soon as possible. I didn’t want it anywhere near me. There was enough public transportation that I could still get to work, and I had friends who would bring me to the store, or lend me their car when I needed to go shopping.
It was a few weeks later, while I was on the bus, that I got a text message from the new owner of the car. ‘Hey, you didn’t say that there was anything wrong with the back up camera. Thx for nothing, bitch.’
The back up camera when he had come to test-drive the car had been working perfectly. I felt a cold chill run down my spine. I knew that the creature that somehow lived underneath my old car, and that it must have been hungry again.