Down a Country Lane
The car meandered down the country lane. Soft music sounded from the stereo. Heidi threw a quick glance at Claudia in the passenger seat. Her friend’s eyes were open, but she stared into space. Their chatter had ebbed minutes before as the length of the drive, the late hour, and the exciting evening took its toll on the two middle-aged ladies.
They had driven two hours to the city to attend a ballet performance of Giselle. Heidi figured the ballerinas in billowing tutus still danced before Claudia’s eyes. Heidi yawned and rubbed her eyelid.
“Do you want me to drive?” Claudia asked.
“No, I’m fine, maybe a little tired,” Heidi answered.
Claudia nodded and turned up the volume. The turbulent opening notes of Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain blared from the speakers.
Now and again, a half-moon peeked between the boughs overhanging the lane. The narrow road wound through the forest; the October wind blew dead leaves across the crooked and snaky asphalt. Heidi shuddered. The long scraggly branches shone with spectral whiteness in the car’s high beams. The haunting Giselle still danced in her mind as A Night on Bald Mountain’s powerful and frenzied tune filled the car.
Then the car stalled. Its lights flashed and blinked as the engine sputtered. Heaving a desolate sigh, it coasted to a stop. Heidi flicked the ignition, but the engine was dead. Even the stereo was silent.
“What’s going on?” Claudia’s voice oscillated between confusion and apprehension.
“I don’t know, the car stopped, just like that.”
“Now what?” Claudia asked; her voice rising an octave, and her eyes brimming with alarm.
“Call AAA?” Heidi shrugged, refusing to show her growing anxiety.
Heidi reached into the backseat for her purse, and was fumbling in it for her cell phone when Claudia spoke.
“What an eerie night! It’s so still and silent… Have you ever known the forest to be this silent?”
Heidi paused with her hand still in her purse.
“No,” she conceded and glanced at her watch, “it’s not even midnight; the world quiets down around 3 AM.”
“I know, but listen, nothing is moving.”
“Sure there is.”
Heidi opened the door, thinking how, if they had been in her old car, she could have rolled down the window. Her son had bought her this new car and had touted the electric windows as the eighth wonder of the world.
Icy air cooled her arm, but did not blow through the car, as if it did not want to enter. Heidi listened. Claudia was right. No owl hooted, no cricket chirped, and no breeze blew, despite the swaying branches of moments ago.
Heidi shivered. She closed the door and rubbed her goosebumps.
“Gosh it’s cold out! The forecast claimed it would only be in the low 60s tonight. I’d say it’s more like the low 30s!”
Heidi tried the ignition again, to no avail. Claudia, meanwhile, had fumbled in her own purse and had taken out her cell phone. She put the phone to her ear.
Frowning, Claudia said, “No signal, try yours?”
Heidi pulled out her phone.
“Nada, zilch, we’re on our own.”
The two friends stared at one another at a loss for what next, when the sound of giggling laughter seeped into the car. It was faint, yet crescendoing as female voices approached.
Heidi and Claudia sighed with relief.
The trees beside the lane rustled, and the women discerned soft firelights floating between the wraithlike trunks. The lights bobbed and wove, fluttering between the branches. For a moment, Heidi thought it was Giselle and her spooky friends.
The sparkling lights burst through the trees and dozens of women carrying lanterns danced onto the lane.
“They’re stark naked!” Claudia exclaimed.
Not all were flitting about in their birthday suits in the nippy cold air; a few wore long, flowing nightgowns. Heidi tried to say so, but the words stuck in her throat.
Bug-eyed, they watched the twirling women.
The car shook when the uncanny dancers surrounded it, and a biting cold chilled the friends to the bone. The frolicking sprites crossed the lane and vanished into the woods.
“They… They…” Claudia stammered.
“They passed right through us; through the car, through the seats, and right through you and me!” Heidi wheezed.
“My God!” Claudia shrieked.
Just then, A Night on Bald Mountain resumed, and the car gasped to life.