Ever find yourself in a situation where your instincts just scream at you from out of nowhere? Most of us have.
Your pulse quickens and you can feel your heartbeat faster as your body pumps adrenalin into your blood stream. Time seems to slow to a standstill, crawling past while your brain still, somehow, manages to stay crystal clear.
A few years ago, it happened to me.
It was a dark night, but that wasn’t unusual.
I let myself relax a little bit and settled in for a long drive. I was about an hour from where I needed to be, but I wasn’t concerned. I’d made the overnight trip down Highway 84 in Illinois more times than I could count. The car almost seemed to drive itself as I made my way from Albany to Fulton.
I turned up the radio and rolled down the window just enough to let the cool air wake me up a little. As I, did, my thoughts started to wander to important things, like what kind of toupee would make me look good if I lost all my hair.
The road stretched out in front of me like a gray ribbon, winding through trees and past houses as I slowly made my way north along the Mississippi River. I just had to hit the four-way stop outside of Fulton, Illinois, turn left, then drive over the bridge and into Iowa to reach my halfway point.
As I came within a few miles of Fulton, I began to pay a little more attention. There was a train crossing right before, and more often than not I had to stop to wait for a train to meander its way through to its destination.
I could see from a good half mile away that there wasn’t a train that morning, but I still kept my eyes out for the red lights of the crossing arms to start flashing. I breathed a sigh of relief as I made it across the train tracks without having to stop. I’ve spent half my life waiting for trains it seems, and I was always a little happier when I didn’t have to wait down there.
It was just past the tracks that I saw the truck.
It was a panel truck of some kind, like what delivery companies use. It was sitting at the stop sign nearest me, right where I had to go; right where I had to turn. It was completely dark – no road flares, no flashing lights, nothing to indicate that the driver had car trouble and wanted to let other people know they were there.
I’ve seen plenty of vehicles pulled off on the side of the road before or stranded in the middle of it. Hell, I’ve been that vehicle a few times! But there was something about this that sent warning bells off in my head. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong about this whole situation.
I slowed my car way down, almost idling while still keeping a healthy distance away from the truck. I kept searching for some sign of life around it – a driver with the hood up, working on a battery, or maybe by the side talking on their cell phone calling for a tow truck.
But there was nothing. The surrounding road was as empty and dead as that truck was.
It bothered the hell out of me that I couldn’t see the driver. My instincts were screaming at me to run, to get out of there as fast as I could. My lizard brain and I are fast friends, so I decided to heed the warning.
The only problem was that I had no choice but to go past that truck. But there was absolutely no way that I was going to stop. I kept having images of someone hiding just off the road rushing the car. I pressed down on the accelerator, gaining speed toward the four-way.
As I passed the cab of the truck though, I risked a glance inside. I was hoping that I would see a light on or see someone inside on a cell phone or something. But I didn’t. That cab was completely dark.
I turned my eyes back to the road. There wasn’t a car in sight, so I decided to not take any chances. Hitting the accelerator, I roared through and kept going straight until I was damn sure that nothing was going to be able to catch up.
The next morning, I still thought it was weird, but I also thought that maybe I overreacted. I honestly didn’t feel that I had, but if I could think of some other reason that the truck had been there, then it would take away from the weirdness of the previous night’s situation.
Later that day, I talked to a friend of mine that had been going down the same road that night. He’d only been ten or fifteen minutes behind me. I asked him if he had seen it. He looked kind of puzzled and said that he hadn’t. When he’d passed through there, the road was empty.
Chills shot down my spine. All of the creepy, uncomfortable feelings I’d had the night before came back to me, just as strong as ever.
When my friend asked me about the truck, I told him about what had happened. He thought it sounded awfully strange, too. Something didn’t seem right to him, either.
Now, a few years later, it still bothers me. Maybe there was a completely rational explanation for it. In truth, there probably was. But after writing about so many people finding themselves in bad situations like that, I can’t help but think the worst.
And that’s how life goes, doesn’t it? Everything is completely normal until someone yanks the rug out from underneath you. Maybe it’s an unexplained noise upstairs when there’s no one home, or maybe it’s a strange person who’s giving you just a little too much attention as you’re going through the grocery store.
Whatever it is, it’s easy for us to dismiss our actions as silly or irrational the next day from the comfort and safety of our living rooms. But when you’re there, in the moment, you’re not thinking of that.
When that happens, you can either choose to listen to your instincts or ignore them. My completely unsolicited advice? Heed your instincts. It’s always better to laugh at yourself later in safety than to have something bad happen to you.
So next time you’re getting a bad feeling from the guy who seems to be following you around the grocery store, or you feel that you need to get out of a place right away, do it. Because there are bad things in the world that are looking to do us harm, and you never know when you’re about to find one of them.