Being stuck in traffic can be hell. Backed up for miles both ways, no end in sight; you start to wonder if you’ll ever see pavement moving underneath you again.
People just can’t fucking drive anywhere. Everyone likes to say “oh people are terrible drivers in X”, but the hard truth is that I’ve been to a whole lot of places, and it’s a worldwide epidemic.
I used to love driving; my friends and I would go on trips up and down the coast all of the time. That drastically changed one night. I miss it sometimes, but you can never really scrape the image of dozens of people dying in front of your eyes out of your head.
It was February of 1998. I’d just come back from visiting my girl in the city and I was headed back to my place in northern Jersey. It was a cold, rainy night; we should’ve had snow, but it wasn’t cold enough. Kinda ridiculous to say “not cold enough” in January, but I think you get my drift.
The drive should’ve only taken about an hour or so depending on traffic, but things were particularly clogged that night. Trying to find out if there was an accident, I started flipping through stations, looking for a report but came up with air.
As soon as I hit George Washington, I knew something was wrong.
Things had been slowing steadily up to the bridge, but the second I got past the mouth, there was a huge jam. The rain that’d been threatening us for the last hour or so started coming down in sheets, as if some great beast in the sky was shaking off its coat, and I hit the wipers. Between their swipes, I could see tons of cars ahead of me and to the right and left, stretching across the entire length of the bridge; the rearview showed the same.
Great, I thought. Not gonna be home for at least another 3 hours with this shit.
I shot a glance out the passenger window; I could just barely see Ross Dock in the distance, the lights of the main picnic area slowly being sucked into the encroaching darkness. A feeling of uneasiness started to creep up my spine. I ignored it.
Leaning back in the seat, I hummed along to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping”. I hated the song, but it was popular and you couldn’t go more than a half hour without hearing it.
Just as the first “danny boy” hit, I heard something else; past the radio, past the obnoxious snarl of Dunstan Bruce’s lazy voice, past the windows of my car which were beginning to softly rattle, I heard a shrill noise that sounded like a siren. I jumped, torn from the queer catatonia that traffic brings, suddenly aware of my surroundings; it was raining much harder, sounding like hail on the roof of my shitty old Toyota, and I could barely see anything under the dull yellow light of the bridge’s post lights.
Peering into the yawning darkness ahead of me, it was clear none of the cars had moved at all. As far as I could tell, there was no commotion, no trouble; so where the hell had the sound come from? Was I imagining it?
The cars on the other side of the median were also stock-still. No traffic was moving either way. Rain filtered through the bright beams cast by headlights; I could see the faces of drivers, craning their necks all around, looking for something, a source. They’d heard it too.
My windows began vibrating harder, more noticeably, starting to actually rattle against the door. I touched mine, feeling a deep hum inside of the glass. I reached to turn the radio off, but the second my hand touched the dial, the volume flared up like I’d cranked it in the wrong direction. Desperately, I tried to turn it off, but it just seemed to get louder. Even with my hands clasped over my ears, I could still hear it bleeding through;
–drinks a Lager drink, he drinks a Cider–
Another siren, tearing through the radio waves, another wave of flexing glass.
–songs that remind him of the best times–
Squinting into the dark, I could see the other drivers all frantically moving within their cars, pounding at the dashboard with fists or trying to get out of their cars, yanking on door handles.
I grabbed at mine, unlocking it, and tried to open it. It was stuck.
–never gonna keep me down–
Just as I thought my head was going to explode from the sound of my own heart pounding in my ears, the music cut off, leaving the air heavy, pregnant. Then, louder than anything else, louder than a jet engine taking off, louder than what I imagined the world’s end to sound like, the siren rang out for the third time. Where the first two times had been high and shrill, this one was carried by a deep, throaty bellow. It came from everywhere; inside the car, from the radio, the air surrounding the bridge, directly in front of me and behind me. It assaulted my ears like the wasted orgasm of something from the Mariana Trench, and then, the first explosion happened.
People were screaming. The sound was faint against the yell of the siren, but I could hear it, and I could see them – men, women, and children in the surrounding cars – all panicking. The bridge rocked; I could feel it sway just the slightest, groaning over the roar of the wind still whipping the rain into a frenzy. My mind jumped to terrorist attack; just last year, we’d had the Empire State Building shootings, and everyone was still on edge.
Another explosion, more rocking, more screaming. I tried the handle again; I don’t know what I was thinking, trying to get out of the car with a possible bombing happening, but the brain sometimes doesn’t function all that well in moments of panic.
I looked over at the car next to me, to my left. A man was driving, a woman sitting in the passenger seat, and I could see a young boy sleeping in the back, probably no more than 8 or 9. The car started rocking like the people inside were getting frisky, but there was definitely nothing X-rated going on; just panic and fear.
The man, who had been pounding on the door and shouting just a moment before, suddenly stopped. Folding his hands in front of him on his lap, he leaned his head back into the headrest. A small smile rolled across his lips. The woman turned to him; she was saying something, her lips moving. She started shaking him when he didn’t respond. From somewhere off behind me, a trio of explosions rang out like gunfire.
Fascinated, glued to my seat in this unwanted hell, I watched as the woman shook the man harder and harder, but he remained silent, unmoving, apparently extremely content in the moment.
Something moved in his face, something bigger than a smile.
I pressed my face into the rain-covered window in an attempt to get a better look; I realized that his skin had shifted, as though a giant wart had suddenly popped up on his cheek. Then, one appeared on his forehead. Another two on his neck. The woman jumped back, and I could finally hear her, screaming his name: John.
John’s skin continued to jump, producing the quickest case of overblown cystic nightmare acne I’d ever seen. It took over his entire face, perverting the skin into a soft, bubbling pillow, and he finally burst. The contents of his body covered the woman in a steaming layer of carnage and she vomited on herself, turning the inside of the car into a verifiable human rainbow. Shrieking like a full-on alleycat fight, she slammed her fist into the window over and over, and I saw the first boil pop up on her skin, just under the left eye.
She reached up to it, hand shaking, the skin of her fingers beginning to raise in inch-long puffs, and tried to push it down. The skin caught on her nail, and popped like a ripe cherry tomato, spraying the window in vertical arc. Another two lumps jumped in to replace their fallen brethren, and she began throwing herself into the window, flailing with everything she had. Hands beaten raw, she managed to shatter the glass just as it overtook her; the skin and muscle leapt into the rain like it’d been electrocuted off of her, some of it kissing my own car, and her head lolled out of the broken window. The kid in the backseat never woke up.
All around me, a litany of wet, meaty pops rang like a bodily tattoo across the bridge. I could see similar acts of expulsion scattered throughout the cars as far as I could see the people inside; there didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to the pattern.
The skin of my neck twitched, jumping back and forth like there was a bug skittering underneath. I slapped at it instinctively, and felt something burning hot and pulsing just under the surface. It was like touching a fleshy tube full of burning gel.
Raising shaking hands in front of my face, I saw the skin of my fingers beginning to inflate like a balloon. Slowly and methodically, it raised off of puckered, convulsing muscles. Twin bubbles formed on my right thigh, and I jerked my leg. I felt them strain and burst wetly against the rough fabric of my jeans.
As the skin of my hands reached their capacity and finally sent a wave of blood and pus across the steering wheel and my lap, conjuring a torrent of vomit from my shaking body, I succumbed to the pain and blissfully blacked out.
I don’t know how long I was out for. I don’t really know much of what happened that day. I know what the police said, what the CDC said. They declared it to not be a bioterrorist attack, that there were no signs of disease or radiation or any other crap that would explain anything that happened. They tallied a total of 82 deaths and 24 injuries across the bridge, which only took an impressive 72 hours to completely clear. The one thing they didn’t mention in any of the reports (though I know the other survivors all shared the same story), was the sound of the siren. The police had no record of it whatsoever. For some reason, I didn’t mention it either. Whenever I tried to during my subsequent interview, I felt my mind go blank, dark, like someone had dropped a curtain over the memory.
I was out of the hospital in a month. Massive blood loss, missing skin all over my arms, neck, and chest. Had to have a bunch of grafts taken from my ass and legs (farthest thing from fun I could actively describe). I’ve never gotten behind the wheel of a car again; cabs and trains and busses for me. It’s inconvenient, but it’s definitely gotten easier over the years. I tried to drive a few times, but as soon as I saw the scars on the back of my hands gripping the wheel, my mind flashes back to the bridge and I can hear the sound of the siren, clear as day.