Thankfully there was an exit near with a visible gas station, so I limped the car into their parking lot, examined the shocking damage, and began to text people. “Can you send me the address of a tire shop?” It wasn’t repairable. A significant chunk of the tire had come off like something huge and vicious had taken a bite out of the black rubber. There were practically teeth marks. It smoked.
A truck pulled into the gas station while I was pulling the spare out of the trunk, the sort of pick-up that farm types drive, all roll bars and massive, with a big front winch. Two large men got out who matched the truck. “Ah! People with real tools,” I thought. I was right. I asked if they had anything that could help and they offered me pneumatic tools to remove the bolts, then helped yank the broken wheel off and put the spare on. I hugged one of them in awkward thank you, then asked where I should go next to get a real tire.
Both the people I texted came through with an address for a tire shop and the direction the good old boys pointed me in seemed to match the direction I was meant to go, so I set off into the wet, soggy landscape, following the GPS as it mysteriously led me west.
This was a mistake. I should have immediately turned around and tried again. The buildings dropped away, leaving me driving through progressively emptier territory. I didn’t worry, I was sure the GPS would tell me to turn left soon. I had been making good time, traffic had been light, and good people and adventures were waiting for me in Seattle.
Then I realized that I hadn’t seen any sign of civilization since the fruit-stand I passed ten minutes ago. Where did the other cars go? Why hasn’t the GPS told me to turn? The satellites should know better than I do, but stories of people who turned down train tracks following their GPS directions started coming to mind. I double and triple checked the address and input it again. I started texting people, casting for assurance and telling them where I was.
“That’s not right,” came the replies, “You’re going entirely the wrong way.” Well damn. But precisely as those messages came in, the GPS instructed me to turn. Relief! But right? Not left? Well fine, North. Not the way I wanted to be going, but at least it was a better direction. Perhaps this would turn out to be the only back-road that traveled alongside the I5 for as far as I needed to go. (Perhaps, given enough time, I could construct any number of reasons why I should trust the on-board computer, yet still be wrong.)
My friends tried to shepherd me, but it was too late – I had already entered the Twilight Zone. The GPS instructions led to me a copse of trees the size of a city block and took me in a circle around it. I was about to ditch when I noticed a small track leading into the trees. Barely a road, but it seemed that was the turn I had missed that the computer was taking me around for. On the off chance that there was an unlikely old tire shop in the middle of the woods, I turned down the track. I might as well! I had already come this far. Why take off before getting to the bottom of the mystery?
I decided this was ill-advised as soon as the car was enclosed by the trees. There was no way to turn around, branches were gently brushing both sides of the car, and if it wasn’t someone’s driveway that I was now stupidly creeping up, I would have to suck it up and back out. I would probably, mercy forbid, even have to endure the awkward experience of accepting directions through text message. A couple of minutes later, though, and the trees opened up into a clearing with a building in the middle.
When I say it was a building, really what I should say is that in the middle of the clearing was a massive clapboard barn with white flaking paint that had been converted into a church topped with a sharp metal cross. I stopped the car dead as soon as I saw it. Then the GPS intoned YOU HAVE NOW REACHED YOUR DESTINATION. I blinked. How.. ominous. What the hell, GPS? You trying to get me killed? That church felt like the creepiest possible thing I could have found. Or so I thought until a hawk suddenly ducked out of the sky and scooped a rabbit out of the grass in front of me in a spray of blood!
For the record, I am not a superstitious person in absolutely any way. But I am a writer. I know my tropes. As far as I was concerned, that hawk was the last straw. I’ve seen that movie and I know how it ends. It does not go well, especially for girls, and especially, especially not for city girls with ridiculous hair.
So no, I did not go up to the church and ask for directions and risk being kidnapped into an 80’s horror novel. The entire world was telling me to fuck that noise, so that’s precisely what I did. I noped right out of there, went to the fruit-stand and had them write me new directions down on a tourist map of the area like a reasonable person. I followed that, got to the tire place, had the tire replaced, turned my music up loud, then drove straight to Ballard, two hours late yet weirdly relieved.