She was lost in the dark—until a mysterious cabin appeared.
Posted in , Jul 25, 2022
The sun was just beginning to set as I drove along the highway. I had only about 50 miles left to go before I arrived at my friend Eleanor’s beach house in Panama City, Florida.
This was my first vacation since my divorce. It was exactly what I needed. The problem was that I lived over 800 miles away in Texas. Money was tight, and driving was cheaper than a plane ticket, so I chose to drive myself there. I’d never taken that long of a road trip alone before, and I’d been somewhat anxious about the 12-hour drive. But things had gone smoothly so far, with long stretches of highway that I’d stay on for hours before merging. It was pretty straight-forward, up until the last leg of the trip, and I’d memorized the exits.
I spotted the sign for Panama City and exited the highway. Eleanor had told me that once I got off the main highway, I could choose to drive on the main drag, or take a more rural route. The main route was lined with shops and restaurants and packed with tourists. The other road was less direct, but there would be less traffic. One look at the stop-and-go cars turning onto the main street made it apparent that the rural option was best.
Just a few minutes into the drive, the city lights faded away. The sun had set by then, and I was in complete darkness, save for my headlights. There were no streetlights, and no other cars. I felt a flicker of regret, a feeling that I shouldn’t be there. I drove for what felt like forever. I kept my eyes peeled, but I couldn’t see any road signs.
Is this even the right road? I thought. What if I break down? Run out of gas? What if I just keep going and drive into the ocean by mistake? The fear might have been irrational, but on that lonely road, it felt so real. I needed to calm down. “Please, God, protect me,” I prayed. “Show me the way.”
A few minutes later, I spotted a glow in the distance. A small cabin materialized right off the side of the highway. The gleam was emanating from a naked bulb, flickering on the porch. A sign out front read “KOA.” It was a Kampgrounds of America office. Even though it was late, there was a car in the parking lot. I turned in to stop and ask for directions.
Inside, a woman was sitting behind the front desk. “How can I help you?” she asked.
“I think I’m lost,” I said.
Once I explained where I was headed, she gave me a reassuring smile. “You’re really close!” She told me that if I kept going, I’d come across a turn that would take me directly to Panama City, though it was easy to miss in the dark. She took out a piece of scrap paper and drew me a map. I thanked her profusely.
Armed with her instructions, I was soon confidently back on the road and before I knew it, I arrived at Eleanor’s beach house.
Over breakfast the next morning, I shared my harrowing experience and told Eleanor about the kind woman at the KOA office who’d helped me. But Eleanor looked puzzled. “There’s not a KOA office there,” she said. “We’ve owned this house for more than 10 years. I know every store, shop, and business in and around this area. There’s nothing along that strip of road, I can promise you that.”
“But I stopped there last night!”
“I don’t know, I’d have to see it to believe it,” Eleanor said.
We were so stuck on it that after we finished eating, we decided to hop in the car and retrace my route from the night before. The road was not so menacing in the daytime, but there were no signs of life, same as before. When we came up on the spot where the KOA office had been, there was nothing, just like Eleanor had said. It was just an empty lot. Later, still in disbelief, I thoroughly searched for the paper with the directions on it to prove my point. But it was gone. Only there when I needed it, as much an answered prayer as the ephemeral Kampground office itself.
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