There’s A Stretch Of I-90 In Minnesota Where You Should Never Drive, And I Almost Didn’t Survive To Tell You Why

I was sitting at a speedtrap on I-90, looking ahead at a stretch of endless road with no motorists in sight. It was a slow day, no speeders, no calls, nothing. It was one of those days that it’s good to be a state trooper, albeit a little bit boring. Sure, sometimes it drives me crazy to sit in my squad for ten hours with nothing to do. But it beats the hell out of dangerous arrests, chases, fatalities. Beats the hell out of scraping dead kids off the road, and I’ve had more than enough of those in my career.

Anyway, like I said. Nice, easy day that I’d mostly spent fiddling with the radio… until I received a call from dispatch.

“We’ve got a 10-80 crossing state lines, heading east on I-90. Coming your way, SP-248.”

A 10-80 refers to a high-speed chase. If the perp in question was coming down I-90, then they must have crossed over from South Dakota. I wondered how long the chase had been going on. It was going to be a bitch coordinating between both state departments, but that wasn’t my problem. No, I had a much more real, concrete problem, and it was barreling its way down the interstate even as these thoughts flashed through my mind.

“10-4. Stop strips?”

I had the advantage of being ahead of the car. I could easily put out my stop strips and deflate their tires, stop the chase right in its tracks.

“Negative. Possible child in the car. We don’t want to use force unless absolutely necessary.”

Shit. This day was going from okay to shit pretty rapidly. I kept my eyes trained on my rearview mirror and listened to the various updates coming from the radio. I was hoping to get a good look in the car as it went by, determine if there was, in fact, a passenger.

I didn’t have to wait long. It was a 2014 red Mazda 6 and it was pushing 100 mph. I waited for it to pass me in a blur of color, hoping that the department had the foresight to station someone ahead of us in case stop strips ended up being necessary after all.

As the car raced past me, I realized there did, in fact, seem to be a passenger. A little shock of blonde sat in the front seat, short enough to be a child. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I was surprised to see that there weren’t any squads immediately behind the car. I pulled out and gave chase as the radio buzzed to life and I was advised that an inexperienced trooper had spun out and took another squad with him during the chase. Great, now it was up to me, at least until I could get backup.

I ran the lights and sirens, peering into the car as best I could through the rear window. Based on the hair alone, I guessed that it was a female driver. I could have tried running the plates to get a possible identity on the perp, but I needed both hands on the wheel. We were pushing dangerous speeds and I could only hope that the department had succeeded in blocking off the interstate.

As I followed the car down the road, updating dispatch every few minutes on our position and speed, I began to notice that the car wasn’t driving quite straight. It was weaving a little in its lane, not enough for me to suspect a drunk driver, but a little more than I would associate with the reckless driving often exhibited in chases like this one. My concern ramped up as I considered the possibility that something might be wrong with the driver… with a child in the front seat, that was a recipe for disaster and death.

I only had a moment to consider that when something else took shape in my mind, something that had been lurking in my subconscious and only just burst into awareness.

It was something about the road.

There’s something you have to understand about driving through southwestern Minnesota before I can adequately explain… this. See, driving through this part of Minnesota is kind of like driving through Iowa. It is ridiculously boring. The roads are flanked by fields, usually either corn or beans, but this time of year everything was barren. As far as I could see stretched crusty dirt, with nothing to break the monotony but the occasional tree that had somehow managed to take root in impossible conditions. Once in a while, a small town would pop up at an exit – usually no more than a few thousand people – but even these seemed desolate, abandoned.

Normally, I didn’t really mind. Like I said, it’s nice working in a relatively quiet area, especially when compared to the awful noisy, boisterous areas I worked early in my career. But that day… there was something different about that road. It’s hard to explain exactly what it was. It felt as though the road wasn’t even a road at all. See, the point of roads is to connect civilizations – from town to town, from city to city, hell, even farmhouse to farmhouse.

It was desolate and dead in that there was no feeling of humanity whatsoever… but that didn’t mean it was empty. Or that the red Mazda and I were alone. I was almost certain we weren’t, all of a sudden, even though dispatch had confirmed that the interstate was blocked off and our passage was clear. It felt like the road had left the realm of humanity and entered the realm of something dark and hideous and looming. Yes… yes, that’s what that feeling was. Looming. Something was looming over us.

The car’s driving became more erratic.

I mentioned it to dispatch, and got an answer that made my day impossibly worse. “There’s roadwork up ahead. You need to stop them. Pull a PIT.”

Fuck. We’d driven a lot farther than it had seemed. I hadn’t expected us to reach the road construction before the Mazda gave up the chase.

PIT is an acronym, standing for “precision immobilization technique,” although some of us also call it “police intervention technique.” Essentially, the idea is to get the perp to spin out. It’s risky, but ultimately it was safer than letting the car drive into road construction.

I ramped up to about 120 mph, pulling up alongside the back right-hand side of the car. As soon as my position was stable, I yanked the wheel to the left, the front left of my car shoving against the back right of the perp’s car. It yielded the desired result, and the perp spun out as I backed off.

I watched the car spinning out of control, hurtling towards the ditch. Miraculously, it didn’t roll – I’d been holding my breath, waiting for that telltale twist of metal and gore. Instead, it careened into the ditch and came to a stop, its engine smoking and its frame bent into strange shapes.

Dispatch told me they were on their way, sending backup. ETA five minutes.

It’s a five minutes I’ll never forget.

I stepped out of my squad with my gun drawn, ready to perform a felony stop. I approached the driver’s side door, bearing in mind that this was a possible hostage situation. My ultimate goal was to arrest the perp, but my primary goal was to secure the hostage.

Four minutes. I stopped, keeping my gun trained at her chest as I observed her stance, the way everything about her trembled… everything but the gun. She was a practiced marksman. Beyond that, she was determined to use it that day.

The strangest thing of all was that it wasn’t aimed at me. She didn’t even seem to notice that I was there – instead, she stared above me, aiming the pistol at the sky.

“Ma’am, I need you to put your gun down,” I ordered, trying to ignore that looming feeling. It had begun to intensify ever since I’d pulled the PIT. I felt a strange urge to look behind me, as though I might see something approaching me. I reminded myself, rather sternly, that the danger was in front of me.

But she didn’t look dangerous. She looked terrified. My gaze moved past her to her daughter, who was sitting stock still in the front seat. She, too, was afraid, and her eyes were trained on the sky, the same as her mother.

Three minutes.

I started to order her again, but she interrupted me.

“GO AWAY!” she screamed at the sky, waving her gun back and forth, brandishing it. My hand tightened on my own weapon. I didn’t want to hurt this woman, I realized. Well, I’ve never really wanted to hurt anyone, but I suddenly felt that she wasn’t just a regular criminal. Something was deeply, terribly wrong with her – but what?

“GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME AND MY CHILD!” Tears were coursing down her cheeks now, and I had to wonder if perhaps she was on drugs. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d chased down a methhead, rambling about leprechauns and dick spiders.

And then, all of a sudden, she noticed me. See, usually people are pretty quick to see a cop, and they’re very compliant when they realize a gun is trained on them. She was different. She didn’t care that I could shoot her, and probably would if she didn’t put down her gun. She turned her eyes to me, fixing me with an anguished glare as she screamed, “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO SOMETHING!”

That was it, what convinced me to turn around. What convinced me to look behind me, in spite of all my years of training, all my instincts.

I turned.

I looked.

And I saw… nothing. Just a vast, endless blue sky and a crust of dirt underneath.

She shot. Once, twice, three times… God, I thought I was dead. I really thought that she’d killed me.

Except it wasn’t me she was shooting at.

I heard a strange roar, the kind of thing you’d hear in those Jurassic Park movies. It was inhuman, full of a rage that I’ve never encountered before and don’t expect to encounter after. A gust of wind rushed by me, nearly knocking me off my feet, and I turned around, my gun lifted on instinct, just in time to see it.

The woman, who had been just a moment ago standing in front of me, screaming at invisible dangers, was suddenly a woman in six pieces. Her legs, arms, and head had been neatly sliced apart. For a moment, she still stood there, the cuts beginning to bleed red. Then her body fell apart, a strange wheezing scream trying to force itself out of the bloody trunk of her neck. She fell to the ground, soaking it in thick blood even as her daughter screamed.

Two minutes.

I was frozen in place for only a moment before my instincts kicked in. I ran towards the car where the little girl was still shrieking, sobbing in the front seat, unable to tear her eyes from her mother. I yanked her out by her arm, crushing her to my chest – she was almost as small as my youngest – and ran for the squad. She kicked against my chest, reaching for the bloody parts of her mother’s body, but I paid her no heed. I locked us in the squad car, holding her in my lap and keeping her gaze fixed to the opposite side of the road, so she couldn’t see the gore. Not any more than she had to.

One minute.

I radioed in to dispatch. I was shaking, I remember, and an iron smell filled the car. I realized I must have stepped in the woman’s blood. Oh God. Dispatch answered and my voice came through, hollow in the car, as I said,

“There’s something out here.”

They asked me what it was, but I couldn’t answer. I just shook my head and kept repeating, “There’s something out here, there’s something out here…”

I heard a siren over my own and realized that backup had arrived. The other officers were shouting, undoubtedly horrified by their discovery.

Me? I just sat there in the front seat, comforting the sobbing child who had just lost her mother in the worst possible way.


There were no charges brought against me.

It was patently obvious that I hadn’t done anything to the woman. It had only taken five minutes from my PIT maneuver for backup to arrive. There was no way that I could have achieved that amount of gore and savagery in such a short amount of time.

Then again, what could? That was the resounding question.

The sergeant questioned the little girl as soon as the hospital deemed it safe. She had been inconsolable, understandably. I’d been helpless to stop her torment. Usually I’m good with kids, having a few of my own, but… well, what can you say to someone who’s just seen something like that? At a loss for words, I’d gotten the blue teddy bear I kept in the back of my squad – we keep them for frightened kids, to comfort them as best we can – and shoved it clumsily into her hands. It didn’t help much at the time, but she’d refused to give it up afterwards. As the sergeant asked his questions, she held it in a death grip, or so he told me.

After he finished questioning her, it was my turn. Again. I’d been questioned so many times I was beginning to think that I’d never be done with that horrible day, that horrible death.

He asked me, once again, if I’d seen anything. No, I hadn’t. I’d heard something, but all I could see was… the aftermath carved into the woman’s body.

He sat down next to me with a sigh and said, “I’m going to level with you, Thomas. That little girl… she thinks she saw something. And it might just be her PTSD talking – sometimes our minds have to make up a fantasy when reality is too hard to bear – but… there’s something about what she said.”

“What did she say?” I almost didn’t want to know, and yet I had to.

His mouth hung open for a long, indecisive moment before continuing. “She said it was… well. She said it was a monster. She said it was huge, as big as a house, with fingers so thin and sharp they could be knives. She said it had gray skin stretched tight over its face, that it had dripping fangs and deep red eyes. She said that’s what her mother had been running from.” He gave me a sharp look before asking one last time, “You’re… you’re sure you didn’t see anything?”

“No,” I answered, wanting to ask the sergeant if he really believed that she could have seen something like that. But I didn’t, because I could see in his eyes that he believed it. And I’m sure he saw the same thing reflected in mine.

He nodded. “Must be the PTSD,” he muttered, stretching his legs a little and shifting to his feet.

I’d like to tell you that that little girl – Emma is her name – recovered and went on to live a relatively happy life. That we’d found her a good home once we realized she had no father, no relatives to speak of. That she was happy and healthy.

Instead, I’ll tell you that she’s in a permanent institution. She never stops muttering about the thing, drawing it, dreaming of it. She still clutches that teddy bear – it’s almost in rags now.

My wife knows, but my children don’t, why I’m away from home at least once a month. I still visit Emma, even these six years later, to see how she’s doing. She’s grown to expect me. I think she looks forward to our visits. She won’t talk about anything but the monster with the nurses, but she’ll talk about other things with me. Her favorite colors, her favorite flowers, her favorite part of the day – it’s arts and crafts, usually. I bring her teddy bears, sometimes, and she keeps them all in her room, taking pristine care of them. She only carries around that blue one, though.

For a long time, I wanted to believe that she hadn’t seen anything, that her mind merely supplied an image that could protect her from something far, far worse. Over time, I have changed my opinion. I have come to believe that she and her mother, for whatever reason, could see that dark, looming presence that I couldn’t… and I failed to protect them from it.

There is one constant in all of this.

I no longer work that stretch of road, won’t drive on it even if my life depends on it. I live in mortal terror of the day that I feel that looming, evil presence once again, only this time, when I turn around…

Something will be there. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Rona Vaselaar is a graduate from the University of Notre Dame and currently attending Johns Hopkins as a graduate student.

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