It's happening again. There's a missing memory. This time, Gloria realizes with frightening certainty, it's a serious lapse. She has suddenly found herself behind the wheel of a car, speeding down a dark highway. She must remember what happened to bring her here. Something about the road seems familiar, but there is only a vague recognition. She has no idea where she is driving from—or for that matter, driving to.
There are few passing cars to light up the night. The blackness seems to swallow her whole, sending her careening into the dark and utterly blind as to what lies ahead. Only able to see where her headlights direct, she has no idea of her destination.
Finally, she spots a road sign. As it quickly comes into focus, she can see she is heading down Highway 58. And then another sign, indicating she is 21 miles from Bakersfield. It makes sense that she would be driving to Bakersfield—after all, she lives there. But Highway 58? This means she has driven through the Tehachapi Mountains. She has absolutely no memory of it.
A car begins to pass as she looks slightly downward. The quick flash of lights reveals what looks like a massive amount of blood on her hands, which are currently perched at ten and two on the steering wheel. Her eyes widen as she flinches, suddenly jerking the wheel.
She almost sideswipes the rear of the passing car. Her car crosses farther into the left lane and then farther, almost hitting the concrete barrier as she tries frantically to correct. Fighting for control, she is finally going in a straight line once more. The red taillights of the car that has just passed are nearly out of sight, and the leaden darkness envelops her once more.
There is a trembling that seems to originate in the pit of her stomach and emanates out through her hands. A nagging voice from deep inside pushes her forward, but, try as she might, she can’t remember a thing up until a few minutes ago.
She glances at the speedometer and realizes she is slowing. Somehow she musters the courage to bring her full attention to the task at hand. Her hands still shaking violently, she fights to keep control as she continues to slow. Pulling onto the shoulder, she pushes the shift lever to park.
With her head now on the steering wheel between her hands and her breathing coming in long hard gasps, she waits a moment to try the impossible: Compose herself. There’s a simple explanation for all of this, she thinks. At least, she is trying to think. She is mostly reacting at this point. With her hands trembling on either side of her aching head and her chest heaving, she attempts to bring her breath under control.
For a moment, she focuses on her aching head. It's beginning to feel like a bass drum resounding in rhythmic beats off every inch of her skull. She doesn't know how long she will be able to keep on like this, but something urges her forward.
Remembering her hands, she is unable to comprehend the blood she has just seen. She can’t understand, with all that blood, why she hasn’t passed out by now. Another car is coming up behind her, and she lifts her head, praying what she saw was just an illusion, a trick of the lights, or her out-of-control imagination. Her eyes widen in shock as the car passes, and she realizes what she has seen is real.
She fumbles around the dashboard, frantically turning every switch and knob until she finds the interior lights. She winces and closes her eyes tightly once she has switched them on. Slowly opening her eyes, she begins to inspect her hands. They are still shaking. There is a lot of blood, so much blood, but she can see no cuts of any significance. Still, she turns her hands over and over again.
Pull yourself together, she demands of her muddled brain. She’s running on adrenaline now. Slow down and think, Gloria, she chides herself, as she looks out into the utter blackness beyond her headlights. It’s no use. Her mind is spinning in a hundred different directions.
She turns her head slightly to look down at her right arm. What she sees makes her stomach churn. She thinks, for one terrible moment, she might throw up. Her entire sleeve is covered in blood, drenched in it. Looking further, she sees her white shirt is now almost completely stained red. Her mouth gapes in horror as her brain attempts to take it in. She can’t comprehend this as reality.
Her mind finally takes in the gruesome fact—what used to be a white, long-sleeved shirt is now mostly red with blood, only a few white patches remaining. She attempts to calm her wildly beating heart. After a moment, she begins to unbutton her sleeve, gently pulling it up as high as it will go. Try as she might, she can find no cuts deep enough to cause such heavy bleeding. All the while, she is thinking she might pass out from her ever-growing headache.
As she reaches to pull down the visor and look into the mirror, she thinks the blood might be coming from her head. She gasps at her reflection. Blood smeared on her face and in her hair. Makeup smeared all over her face. She looks like a clown from a horror movie, dark tear stains of mascara running down to her chin. Her red lipstick, intermingled with blood, is gobbed in streaks around her mouth.
As she scrutinizes her own reflection, she finds a knot about the size of a golf ball forming on the left side of her scalp. It went nearly unnoticed under her matted hair. Pulling her long blond hair aside to examine further, the lump is blue and ugly, but there’s no blood to speak of.
She decides to examine the rest of her body. Every movement is painful. It’s not only her head that aches; her entire body seems to be aching. Gently pulling up the sleeve of her left arm, she finds no cuts. Next, she unbuttons her shirt to inspect her stomach and chest. It’s hard to tell with so much blood covering her, but the bleeding, wherever it’s coming from, seems to have stopped.
Think! What happened tonight?
It’s no use. She lowers her head to the steering wheel again, hoping to find some clarity. She feels she could sleep, but she knows, with a head injury, sleeping could be dangerous.
Snapping out of her mind and back into her gruesome reality, she raises her head to inspect the interior of the car. There are streaks of blood on the steering wheel, the shift lever, the dash, and the seat around her, but nowhere else that she can see. The interior is light gray. This reignites the confusion. She has never owned a car with a gray interior.
Suddenly a sickening dread comes over her. The feeling of someone watching. It’s overpowering. Is there someone in the car? She can’t bring herself to turn and look into the back seat. Then she feels it. She’s had this feeling before . . . the feeling . . . of nothingness.