Born and raised in Romania, Johanna Carter is a passionate author and screenwriter, currently earning her BFA in Creative Writing, in a lovely place called Denmark.

Since she can remember, Johanna has always worked on developing new skills and widening her scope: graduated top-of-the-class in a Computer Science and Mathematics profiled high-school, learned to paint and draw, read hieroglyphs (because why not?), video and photo edit, and is now trying to learn a new language while also managing to play the piano after only three days. The only skill that came in a little later was riding a bike, unlocked last year when she turned 20. Today, she is eagerly working on a YA paranormal series with angels and a feature-length screenplay.

by Johanna Carter

The bike path my GPS decided to take me on is deserted for the most part. Looking at my phone, nestled on my windbreaker in the front metal basket, there are still five more kilometers before I reach my destination. Make that four.

As I kept pedaling, following the blue digital trail, people, men and women jogging near their houses, taking their dogs out, fellow bike riders, they all morphed into tall trees and bushes and clusters of greenery. The only constant was the bike path, that smooth pavement in between off-road clearances that never seemed to end. But I really can’t remember the last time I saw someone; was it twenty minutes ago? An hour?


That dreadful sound coming from my phone halts my advance. “You gotta be kidding me! I have to get there in time.” But no matter my lamentations, the screen still blinks ‘Recalculating’ at me.

On my phone, Amanda—my only companion on the ride—chimes in robotically, “In 100 meters, take a left and go through the bike tunnel.”

Taking a deep breath and wiping my sweaty forehead, I do as instructed and take a left at the next intersection. Back to no man’s land.

My playlist blasts cheerful tunes in my headphones, keeping me in the groove for pedaling, the rhythm propelling me forward, even though my novice bike legs feel like they have been severed at the knee a while ago. And the sweat—my shirt is already black instead of navy, glued to my back, my bra, my underarms. A great first impression for any possible employer.

“And go through the bike tunnel,” Amanda continues, stopping my music for a couple of seconds.

“I got that, thanks.” I reply, although I’m pretty sure she won't answer back and neither will the distant cars swooshing by somewhere past the dense trees. My breath picks up, jolts of electric pain sizzling my thighs, and the bike rolls slower and slower as the level ground turns into a hill. Some concrete walls rise above the hill, only the top of the upcoming tunnel visible. “No, no, I can’t… Agh. I have to stop for a sec.” My brakes screech the silence away.

I get off my bike, my legs uncooked spaghetti. Spaghetti…meatballs…food…I skipped breakfast. Never again will I pull an all-nighter and then sleep through my alarms.

My music stops again and right when I am prepared to let Amanda in on a few nasty comments, I hear the familiar ringtone. I answer the call without a second to spare: “Mom, why are you calling so early? It’s a work day.”

“Yes, I know, but I wanted to see how you’re feeling today. It’s your first interview, ever, and I…you know me, I couldn’t go to work without sending you all the good luck from home.”

“I know, I know. I appreciate the thought, really, I do.”

“How’s the weather there? Is it still chilly?”

“Actually,” I begin, one sun ray blinding me in the eye, “it’s unusually sunny for fall in Denmark. Global warming will do that, I guess.” In other circumstances, like going on a jog Sunday morning, it would’ve been the perfect weather, but not when I’m struggling to ride my bike up hills and with a time limit. Tick, tock

My mom claps her hands enthusiastically. “That’s great, honey. It’s a good sign, I’m telling you. Okay, I’m leaving you because you have to be there at 10, right? You still have fifteen minutes, but just… be safe and don’t rush. I had a terrible nightmare last night, and you just having learned how to bike—”

“I’m paying attention to my surroundings, I swear. No accidents today. And about last night—”

“You don’t worry about that,” she cuts me off. “Taxes are my worry. You have school filling that slot. Last night I was overwhelmed, yes, but that’s all… I’ll figure something out.” She tried to be reassuring, but I knew my mom, and I knew that this wasn’t the first time she had gotten ‘overwhelmed’.

“You always do.” I say instead. “Talk to you after it’s over.”

“Remember, good sign. It’s a good sign.”

I end the call, my playlist coming back to life in full beast mode. With the sun behind me, my legs a little numb but functional again, and with my will resurrected, I straddle my bike ready to speed like crazy through the last kilometers. I am going to get that job and help with the taxes too. This is my day.

A shadow running past me scares the living hell out of me. I didn’t know I was capable of making that sound. Ok, awkward. But the black, hooded figure—man—doesn’t even turn his head to look back at me as he continues his way up the hill, unfazed and undisturbed, until he’s only a head and then a figment of the past and my embarrassment.

My heart is still throbbing in my throat when I, too, proceed uphill, giving it my all. “C’mon, Carina—” I can see the top of the hill, inching closer and closer, “—just a little more and then… yes!” I go past the top, the bike rolling downhill effortlessly. Overjoyed, I let my legs relax on the pedals as the bike tunnel, fully erect, comes nearer and nearer, the darkness inside beckoning me to enter.

It’s probably the longest bike tunnel I’ve seen, the end of it but a faint circular dot.
As I relax my grip on the bike, my playlist gurgles in my ears, the music stopping abruptly. I check my phone, making sure not to move too much, and the message ‘Recalculating’ glitches, changing its font—from small to big—until it occupies my entire screen…and then the thing turns off completely.

Amanda chimes in from my headphones, “Bluetooth disconnected.”

Annoyed, I take my headphones off, letting them cradle my neck. Another problem I have to deal with. “It’s fine, after this it was all a straight line anyway. I got this.” The looming tunnel is but a few more rolls in front of me, and at its very end I can see the hooded jogger. That was fast, I wonder. Well, I can be fast too.

This time, I pedal like a maniac, my hair catching the wind, floating behind me like a ghostly apparition. In my rush, I pass a rusty, pink bike, nestled in the nearby bushes. Weird, but not uncommon. Maybe if it was bigger I could’ve taken it and saved some money, but what can you do?

The graffitied tunnel opens its mouth before me, my bike easily rolling over its shadowy threshold, darkness swallowing me whole. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” I mumble, the echo of my words traveling with me, the sun rays disappearing behind. The cool air within hits me like a brick, small bumps raising on my hot arms and legs.

Muffled sounds from outside the tunnel bounce off the walls and around me, my rattling chain the loudest of them all. Alone, following the straight gray line on the ground, I no longer feel any anxiety, but that same calm I get when meditating. I close my eyes, embracing the peaceful sensations. It feels like I’m in a movie. And is that caramel I smell?

When I open my eyes, although only a few seconds have passed, I’m already at the end of the tunnel, the jogger just slightly ahead of me. I look behind, pride swelling in my chest—I guess I was a faster biker than I thought because that looked like a long tunnel but… What is this? The tunnel… it’s gone! I hopelessly look over my shoulder, my bike swerving from side to side and just barely standing upright, but trees and bushes and grass are the only things I can see. How is it possible?

The bike keeps rolling forward, but my legs have turned to ice, frozen on the pedals. I shake my head and yet nothing changes in the landscape behind. Maybe I biked too fast and now the tunnel is hidden behind those trees. That’s it! That’s what happened, of course.

Calming my breath—in, 1 2 3; out, 1 2 3—I focus on the path ahead and another hill is coming up, but this time I’m more than prepared to face it and, in no time, I roll downhill… toward a tunnel. No, it has to be another one. Even though Amanda never mentioned another one nearby, this isn’t the same—the kid bike; the pink bike I saw in the bushes close to the first tunnel. There it is. That same rusty bike, in the same position and place!

“This can’t be happening.” My breath quickens, a lump clogging my throat. Gray stains my surroundings as thick clouds eat the sun. But I keep pedaling, the momentum propelling me forward and into the bowels of the chilling tunnel. The chain echoes in my ears, thumping and scratching at my brain. Spots—blue, green, and red—distort my vision and, at the end of the tunnel, the jogger pushes forward undisturbed, his long, slender legs crushing the gravel underneath.

“Hey!” I scream at him without even thinking. I bike toward him— he jogs away from the tunnel. “Hey, I don’t speak Danish, but can you help me? Hello!” My screams do nothing as I, too, leave the abyss behind, my focus solely on the man, seemingly, running away from me. “Please, can you answer me at least?”

Another hill appears and this time, I have a harder time going over it. Not the same can be said of the jogger, who effortlessly runs up the hill and disappears, leaving me all alone, surrounded by more trees blowing their leaves and bugs in my face.

Panic surges my veins as I dare to look behind me and… nothing! A cry escapes me, the high pitched sound mixing with the woosh of the picking wind. I try to listen to anything else but my heart and labored breath, and nothing— no cars in the distance, no human speech, nothing else but the wind and my gurgled noises. “A-any—” gulp, “—body? Please?” I look in vain at my black screen, reflecting the clouded sky. My bike slowly mounts the hill, my calves a sorry mass of cramped muscles, and then it picks up speed once over it. I turn my head, not wanting to acknowledge the small, abandoned bike next to me, and I pedal back into the darkness of the tunnel, inside the concrete coffin.

The red, painted line on each side of the walls slithers alongside me, never ending, until it does and I’m out of the hole, breathing in the cold air. My ragged breaths leave marks in the air as the temperature drops further, my skin vaguely remembering the warmth of the sun. I stop outside the tunnel, the jogger disappearing away from my sight, his footsteps getting lighter and lighter as he trails away.

The tunnel is still behind me this time, all looming darkness, all menacing silence. “Screw this,” I say as I turn my bike around and go back in, my tired legs straining to obey my desperate commands. All of a sudden, another sound echoes through the tunnel— rapid footsteps. I look behind and I see the jogger, this time, running after me. “Hey!” I scream at him, pushing the words past my sore throat. The brakes screech worse inside the tunnel. Still, the jogger, with his face a mask of shadows, doesn’t falter and doesn’t stop. “Go away!” But he keeps running, speed increasing.     

I start to pedal as fast as I can. Crazy, chaotic, but further away from this weird man. I pedal toward the end of the tunnel, my only escape. The chain of my bike fights for supremacy against the sound of running shoes pushing tiny rocks out of the way. And coming closer… and closer… I’m almost at the end too… I look back. For some reason, I look back and the man is gone! I’m the only living thing inside the tunnel.

I puff out a laugh, my bike rolling away and into the light. Looking ahead, I see the same green, deserted landscape as before, but there’s something else too. This time, in the distance, above the line of trees, there’s a road. And there are cars on the road! I can’t help it and I laugh again. I let out all the strained laughs in the world, tears trailing gently past my cheeks. “What— haha—happened? Ha ha—thank God it’s over!” Just to make sure I’m still out of danger, I glance behind and—oh, yes!—the tunnel is getting smaller and smaller, its gaping mouth closing away.

I got out. I don't know how, but I did.

Amanda’s neutral voice comes out of the headphones, loud and clear: “Bluetooth connec—”
“I’ve never been happier to hear you,” I sigh, closing my eyes.

“—disconnected,” she gurgles as I open them and the tunnel’s walls choke me again, the jogger striding toward me, blocking the exit with his huge frame. I turn the handles of my bike so fast that there is no way to avoid the fall. My body flies off the seat, the moving object smashing into the wall nearby and falling—like me—helplessly on the rough ground.

Tiny rocks stab my exposed palms and cheeks, getting inside my mouth, hitting my teeth. I smell rotten eggs as my face kisses the icy ground and those long, naked legs advance… and stop in front of me. The man has his back straight and I try to look for his eyes, but can’t find any inside the hood—just a pitless obsidian instead of a face.

“What do you want from me?” I cry, unable to look away from the darkness of his hood. “I just want to go home.”

A low gurgle reverberates through the tunnel, pulsating in my chest, my eyes. I see a change in the man—a smile, formed of long, sharp teeth… No, it’s writhing maggots that— smack smack— fall next to my face! “Carina, you are home.” The smile says in my mom’s distorted voice.

I scream my throat raw as the smile enlarges and the man bends over me.


“Now look at this beautiful weather—no clouds, no wind, and sun. Just amazing.”

I bathe in the unexpected sun rays that kiss my face and dry my raincoat. The warm caresses make me think of this morning, when Noah kissed those same exact spots. Oh, that’s a nice picture! Better hurry to reenact it.

I guess it’s a good thing to go on a different path sometimes, to change the routine. I was getting kind of bored with that same, familiar bike path, from home to the office and back. But this bike path is completely new to me, and it surely doesn’t hurt when it’s all filled with trees, greenery, and no cars. I hate cars. I got hit by a car this one time—

I almost bump into a jogger as I look around me at the serene landscape. “Watch where you’re going, asshole!” I scream at him, knowing full well that he saw me but didn’t bother to change lanes. The man—wearing a black hoodie even in this beautiful weather—doesn’t even glance back to acknowledge me. He just runs ahead and over the upcoming hill. “Unbelievable.”

I pedal harder to get over the hill too and then it’s a smooth ride toward the nearing tunnel. As I follow the trail ahead, I pass a small, pink bike caught in the bushes and then another one, red with white swirls, close to the tunnel’s entrance. Huh, weird thing to leave behind; the last one seems functional.

“People really are strange sometimes.”

I let the image of those bikes disappear as I continue on my way, enjoying the cool air provided by the tunnel. Better not to dwell on insignificant things. I have kids to feed at home and a husband to get back to.