One Headlight

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I often travel between cities in Southern California. My best friend lives 70 miles away from my hometown, but thanks to freeways, it’s usually only an hour drive. Since traffic is insane in the LA area, I fell into the habit of only making the commute in the middle of the night. At 3am, the only people on the road are usually truckers, and a sparse few cars. I don’t have to concentrate too hard, and I can catch up on podcasts. My parents were always uncomfortable with me driving such a distance alone in the wee hours of the morning, but I always shrugged it off as the usual parental paranoia, until one night.

I had told my parents I was going to be home by midnight that night. I had work in the morning, so I my fun-filled weekend with my best friend had to come to an end. But, I pushed it. 11, 12, 1 in the morning all passed me by as we shoveled chips into our faces and watched funny youtube videos together. When it was about 2:15 am, I finally decided it was time to head out. My parents were probably asleep anyways and didn’t even know I was coming home so late. My friend was getting really tired, and instead of walking me out to my car like she usually did, she decided to go to sleep. We said our goodbyes and I stepped out of the door onto the porch.

My friend lives in a nice and relatively safe suburb, and I had walked around it at this hour of the night plenty of times, so I wasn’t the least bit frightened. I threw my bag into the back of my little sedan parked on the street and climbed into the drivers seat. After buckling up, turning on the engine, and picking a fitting podcast for my journey home, I looked up from my phone to find I was suddenly blocked in.

Next to my car, a truck had pulled in close, trapping me in my parking spot. It was a white pickup with racks over the bed like a work truck of some kind. It wasn’t beat up per se, but it showed its age, looking to be from the late 90’s. The thing that caught my eye about the vehicle was the fact that its right headlight was burned out.

Before I could take in more of the car, the passenger window rolled down and I could see the driver lean out from the darkness in the cab, into the orange streetlight. He looked to be in his 40’s, short, fat, and very greasy. He was balding, but what was left on his head was messy locks of oily black hair. He gave me a yellowed smile and motioned for me to roll my window down. Like an idiot, I did.

“Do you know how to get to Victory Blvd from here?” he asked in a voice accented with phlegm. I thought it was kind of a silly question, since Victory is one of the easiest streets to find in the area, but I was nice and pointed the way down the street.

“Yeah, it’s just about 3 blocks down the road, you can’t miss it,” I replied. He seemed satisfied, but before rolling his window up and driving off, he said something that unsettled me.

“Stay safe, it’s dangerous late at night for pretty girls.”

With that, he drove off, and I figured he was gone for good. I took that moment to lock my doors and text my friend about the weird guy before leaving. I finally got on the road, but before it was even out of the neighborhood, I looked into my rear view mirror to see that a car was following me out. My blood went icy. It was a white work truck, with one headlight.

I took a deep breath and tried to calm my mind. Maybe he didn’t follow my directions, got turned around, and was just following me out of the neighborhood in the hope that I would lead him to the street he was looking for. I glanced in the mirror again. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I knew they were on me.

Luckily, I had to pass over Victory to get to the freeway home. with a little bit of luck, I would get him to the street he needed, then he would turn off into the night. Tensely, I pulled up to Victory Blvd. Even in at 2:30 in the morning, it was a red light. The truck was still behind me. When I got the green light, I laid on the gas and continued down the road, past the intersection. To my horror, there was that one headlight, right at my bumper, leaving the road he had supposedly been looking for behind him.

My stomach was down by my feet at this point, but my only option now was to get on the freeway and try to lose him in the next 70 miles. I pulled up the on ramp, and he was still right behind me. I floored it once I hit the freeway proper, hoping there would be enough traffic for me to shake him off. Unfortunately, it was my ideal conditions on the road. There were only a couple big mac trucks making late night long hauls and less than a handful of other private vehicles. There was no where to hide.

I spent the next 30 minutes weaving in and out of what little traffic there was, but it was no use. every time I looked back, there was that one headlight, staring right back at me. On a sign for upcoming off ramps, I saw a name I recognized. It was the same off ramp that another friend of mine’s ex boyfriend had lived off of. I had taken her back and fourth a bunch of times, so I knew one thing that was there; lots of twisty and confusing suburban streets. I started to form a plan.

At the last minute possible, I veered off the freeway and onto the off ramp. The truck screeched after me. I ran a traffic light and that gave me enough time to quickly turn a corner and into a neighborhood. I spent 5 minutes whipping around the sleepy house-lined streets and getting myself as lost as possible. I parked on the side of the road and caught my breath for a moment. Minutes passed, and there was no sign of him. The feeling of relief was like no other. I started the car again and pulled out of the neighborhood, back toward the freeway to finish my journey home.

I was sitting at a light, waiting to turn onto the on ramp, when I looked across the road. My whole body froze. On the other side of the intersection was a white truck, with one headlight. How did he know I was trying to trick him? Then I remembered the license plate frame on the back of my car, with the name of my hometown in huge white letters. He knew exactly where I was going. The light changed and I pulled back onto the freeway, one headlight shining in my rear view mirror.

I had to formulate a new plan if I was going to get away from him. I figured I would take my usual exit to get home, but instead drive to the local police station. No one in their right mind would try anything in a police station parking lot. If he was still following me, I could tell the cops no problem.

I gripped the steering wheel, resolved in my plan and drove. The traffic had grown a little thicker than before, so I continued my weaving in and out of lanes, which I’m sure all the other drivers hated. I glanced back in my mirror and noticed the truck was a distance back now, behind some other cars. As minutes went on, he was further and further back, until I couldn’t see him at all.

By the time I got to my home exit, he was no where in sight. I pulled down a side street after getting off the freeway and parked just to see. Nothing. My only guess was that his old truck didn’t have the gas to make it the full way. Whatever happened, I’m relieved it did. Anyone determined enough to stalk a girl for almost 70 miles is not someone I want to encounter without a car around me.

I drove home, and the first thing I did was fling myself into my mother’s arms. She had been awake and worried sick. She was going to give me an earful for being so late, but when she saw I was crying, she just hugged me and let me tell her what happened. After hearing my story, she figured the terror I experienced was enough punishment.

Be wary of the night. I still make my 3am drives, but now there’s an edge of caution in my stomach. Sometimes I swear, in the middle of the night on the freeway, just a few cars behind me, I see that one headlight.

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