“Are those… headlights?” he exclaimed high pitched, turning towards his companion in a flash with wide eyes.
Kevin Richardson squinted too, slowly distinguishing two separate beams of light far off in the distance.
Howie saw him return the same expression he himself was carrying. “Holy fuck,” the oldest Backstreet Boy breathed slowly.
Normally, Howie would be surprised at the blatant foul word that escaped Kevin’s mouth. The singer didn’t normally curse at all, let alone this pronounced. But Howie figured these were special circumstances.
Circumstances in which you could say whatever the hell you pleased.
Without really noticing, he fastened his pace to the point where he was almost running. Kevin hobbled along beside him, just as eager to get forward. Could it be, that after almost seven hours, they would finally find their rescue? He almost couldn’t believe it. One moment ago, he’d wondered if the two of them were the only existing life-forms left on the planet, and now, an unfading set of headlights beamed their way, almost welcomingly.
In the back of his head, a voice said to be careful, there could be anyone behind the wheel, especially at this hour, but the rest of his mind didn’t pay that thought any attention. His side had been hurting for long enough. He’d gone without a shower long enough.
He’d been starving long enough.
As they got closer, they noticed the car wasn’t actually moving, and for a moment, Howie’s heart sank in his chest. What if the car was abandoned? What if they got excited, once again, for entirely nothing?
Just as he began to wonder what the lights were still doing on then, he could make out the dark figure slumped across the steering wheel of the vehicle. Howie halted abruptly, pointing to the car again. “You see that?”
Kevin stopped too, panting from the mad run and leaning his hands on his knees as he glanced up in the direction Howie was pointing. “See what?”
Howie didn’t answer, instead he slow and cautiously got closer, studying the car intently. The driver seemed lifeless, creepily enough. They didn’t move as Howie’s feet scraped across the asphalt and he swallowed uncertainly as he made it a little closer to the hood of the car.
“Hello?” He called out to the hooded driver, his voice wavering with unease. This was exactly the prologue of any horror movie in existence. But just as characters in those movies never gave the idea of making a run for it any thought, so didn’t he. He slowly moved around the car, sensing Kevin lagging further and further behind as Howie tried to open the door.
And the person behind the wheel gasped and shot upright.
The driver stared at Howie, and Howie stared back, instantly recognizing him. He heard his ears rushing and his head felt lighter than it should. He noticed his vision darkening as he took in the driver’s appearance. Then his knees buckled.
This was definitely a horror movie.
Nick Carter yelped as he saw Howie’s posture collapse before his eyes. Before he knew what he was doing, he reached out and grabbed the older man by his arm, almost falling out of his seat. He didn’t have time to contemplate why Howie and Kevin, who he could distinguish now too, had suddenly appeared right before his rental.
This day continued to get weirder and weirder as it got older.
Howie’s head shot back up, his eyes just as round as a second before. He seemed to willing to say something, but all he seemed able to do was gasp for air in Nick’s grasp and Nick quickly let go of him, causing the shorter singer to stumble back.
“You!” Howie pointed, his face a mask of utter and pure confusion, “You’re dead!”
Nick’s eyebrows shot up as fast as they could at that statement. What on earth had happened to make Howie think he was dead? Only then Nick got a closer look at the two who had appeared in front of the car all of a sudden. They seemed worn and filthy, as if they’d been rolling over the ground most of the night. Their faces were smeared with dirt and black smudges he couldn’t identify. Kevin stood nailed to the ground, his tense face covered in scratches and cuts and bruises. Howie didn’t look much better either. “What the fuck happened to you?” Nick exclaimed, ignoring the dull pulsing pain in his leg once more.
“W-What happened to us?” Howie frowned in confusion, “What happened to you?!”
“I asked you first!”
“Are you gonna let us in or not?” Kevin asked gruffly, having snapped out of his initial shock. Nick nodded slowly. Sure, he’d hoped to find out where his friends had been the entire night, but actually bumping into them had been beyond his expectations. When the two had entered the car, almost identical, dazed smiles spread across their faces.
“What?” Nick asked uncertainly.
“The heat,” whispered Howie, who had taken the passenger seat next to him, “It’s amazing.”
“You guys are starting to freak me out.”
“That feeling is mutual,” Kevin grumbled from the backseat.
“Where are AJ and Brian?” Nick questioned, for the first time wondering why only Howie and Kevin had shown up in the middle of the road.
But Kevin ignored his question altogether, instead leaning forward as he grumbled, “Where’d you get this car?”
Nick frowned, a spark of his previous resentment with the others returning, “I was required to get a rental after you guys left me at the gas-station. Remember that stunt?”
He saw a million and one emotions flashing across Howie’s face, before the older singer swiftly turned his head towards the windshields, mouth open. After a few seconds, Kevin’s roaring, and slightly unsettling laugh filled the car and Nick had a hard time deciding whether he should look at Kevin or Howie.
“I don’t see what’s funny!” Nick exclaimed, temporarily forgetting he’d just picked up two of his bandmates, who looked like they had just barely won a fight with a grizzly.
The whole thing was too surreal to be true.
“This!” Kevin roared, “This is priceless!”
And just when Nick started to believe that maybe, after all, this was nothing more than a very elaborate prank, Howie’s face turned dead serious. “We thought you were dead. We thought you were on the bus with us!”
The feeling of unease in his stomach intensified at Howie’s words. The two of them hadn’t really seemed willing to explain their haphazard looks, or their sudden appearance in front of his car on an abandoned country-road. “Where are the other ones?” Nick asked again, a little sterner this time.
“There still in the field, we split up,” Howie mumbled, “Do you have phone? 911 might be a could start.”
“What the hell happened to you guys?” Nick demanded, frustration taking up most parts of his voice. He winced at the sharp stab of agony in his right thigh.
“You okay?” Kevin asked although it sounded rather distracted and impatient.
“I’m fine!” Nick barked, “What’s going on? Why is this day so freaking weird?”
“Look, we’ll explain everything, but first we need to call for help. Brian and AJ are still out there, they need all the help they can get, so give me your phone,” Howie stated, his voice stern and even, like it always was when he tried to give Nick a direct order.
Staring at the various scrapes and smears of dirt on Howie’s face, Nick’s resistance quickly crumbled at the urgent tone in his friend’s voice. Reaching inside his pocket, he retrieved his phone, wordlessly handing it over to Howie. The feeling that something truly terrifying had happened to his four bandmates was crushing his mind as he absently massaged his leg. The fact that they hadn’t asked about the way he’d been slumped over the wheel before they had arrived attested to that feeling. The blackouts had finally ceased and Nick figured that it had something to do with having his attention fully focused on the other two.
He was glad for that, as terrified as he’d been of the feelings the blackout had left him with. It was both terrifying and oddly amazing. He remembered the smell of gasoline as if the car he sat in was actually leaking and when he closed his eyes, he could see the dancing flames that threatened to envelop him in their scorching embrace. He only barely noticed Howie’s surprised remark on having reception out here. The older man quickly dialed the alarm number and Nick saw an entire burden visibly being lifted from Howie’s shoulders as he chattered the details of the night’s events into the phone.
Nick listened to the urgent tone in Howie’s voice, feeling himself getting paler by every word the older singer spoke. Something about a collision, explosions, entrapment and hypothermia. It was almost dizzying.
“W-where?” Howie stammered suddenly and looked at Nick with wide eyes, “Where are we?” he whispered, covering the phone with his hand.
Nick blinked, looking from Howie to Kevin and back, then pointed at the GPS in front of the dashboard, “About twenty miles north of Orlando,” he uttered with a frown. The fact that both Howie and Kevin had no idea where they were was alarming. Howie nodded and repeated it into the phone, before snapping it closed.
“They’re probably gonna send a helicopter,” he sighed and Nick could almost see the relief radiating off of him. “We should get going.”
“W-where?” Nick muttered in confusion.
“Back,” Kevin nodded, looking at Howie for confirmation. The shorter singer nodded too, “We weren’t planning on just leaving them out there to freeze, we promised we’d go back once we found help.”
“You call finding me, help?” Nick asked incredulously.
Howie smirked, “We had a chance to call 911. As for you… you’ll have to do.“