The highlight of my day is often the drive home from work. I live alone, and my job at the factory requires me to work graveyard shifts. Although I hate working nights, I find driving at night comforting. I take all back roads home. The high-beams of my mid-sized SUV break through the stillness—my tires grind worn gravel. I blare heavy rock music through my open windows.

I get into a trance. During these waking dreams, I feel like I’m traveling through time, the stars marking distances and eras passed. I imagine myself a silk trader in the Far East, a rogue pirate sailing the Seven Seas, a pioneer forging a path through the Great Plains. I lose myself in these thoughts, at times forgetting what it is I’m doing or where I’m going. My reverie only fades when the occasional driver approaches in the distance. Out of courtesy, I switch off my high-beams until he or she passes. Alone again, I fantasize.

The battered pickup behind me isn’t showing courtesy. The truck’s high-beams produce a blinding glare in my side and rear-view mirrors. I’ve been tailgated by Mr. Pickup for the past five miles. Cigarette smoke billows out of his windows in labored exhalations. The inside of the cab is nothing but shadow. Fearing an urban legend, I turn my head towards the backseat, making sure that a maniacal killer is not about to go for my throat. I’m alone in my vehicle. It appears that my tailgater isn’t issuing a warning.

Tailgaters make me nervous, especially at night. There’s no telling what is beyond that next stretch of road. If I crash, we’re both dead, or at least crippled. I imagine myself wheelchair-bound for the rest of my life—or living breath-to-breath in an iron lung. Instead of daydreaming now, I turn off my FM radio. Thankfully, the night is clear—heavy rain and fog would have only added to my irritation.

After ten minutes, my tailgater turns at a small intersection I pass without seeing. I watch the red-orange glow of his taillights as the light dissolves into darkness and trees. As I round a curve, I look ahead. In an instant, something big rushes in front of me. I hit it full force, unable to break. The airbag deploys and my face smashes into it. I hear the body outside smack my fender and windshield. It rolls over my hood and collapses onto the road.

I grind to a halt about fifty feet from where the body lay behind me. “Fuck!”

I reach for my nose, which is bent to the side. Blood rushes down over my lips. I grab fast-food napkins from my glove compartment, pressing them to my face. I sit still, trying to collect my thoughts. With my free hand, I probe the rest of my body. Everything feels fine except for my neck, which is stiff and throbbing from the whiplash.

My nose begins to clot. I roll the remaining napkins I have and shove them up both nostrils. Bloody snot collects but doesn’t drip. I look at my rear-view mirror. I see the hulking mass on the ground. Taking a tentative breath through my mouth, I open the driver-side door.

Using the flashlight I keep in my console, I shine light on the damage. The SUV is totaled. Blood, viscera, and hair cling to my grill and smear the ebony paint. I lean closer to grasp a clump of hair. It is long and blonde, the strands thin and smooth. “Shit! That wasn’t a deer.”

I start to panic. My head swims with the fear that I killed someone. Who would be out here walking in the middle of the night? I reach for my cell phone to call 9-1-1, but hesitate. I hear a primal scream behind my car. I turn my light towards the sound. I see movement. I’m slightly relieved when I notice that what I hit heaves itself up onto four legs. The light exposes shining nocturnal eyes. Stopping briefly to look at me, it disappears with a crash into the thicket.

The quiet of the evening returns. I stand in the middle of the road, beyond belief. Apparently, I didn’t hurt it as much as I’d thought. I look up at the stars, trying to ease the pain emanating from my neck. I pull the napkins out of my nose, tossing them without a second thought. I turn back towards my SUV. As I do, I see nothing but a pickup’s headlights barreling towards me.