The Hitchhiker

About ten thirty a few nights ago, I found myself driving down our curvy country road. I’ve made the same drive, at the same time, for the same thing dozens of times. We just wanted a few scoops of ice cream. It was foggy. There’s a small valley with a bridge at the bottom. I came down onto the bridge into a thick fog bank. My headlights hit a girl on the other side.
She stared straight at me. Brown eyes, fair skinned, and a red flannel shirt. I wasn’t in any danger of hitting her, she was on the other side of the road, but it was still surprising. I vaguely worried that the car coming up behind her was not going to have my luck. She stayed in my mind while ordering ice cream.

I kept watch for her, or her remains on the way back home. I didn’t find a trace of her. I was happy with those results. I didn’t know if I would have offered a ride or kept driving. I got home, we enjoyed our ice cream and finished a movie. I’d joked about her with my girlfriend, then pretty much forgot about her.
I took my dogs out before bed. They both bolt for the driveway, so I go after them. They’re both trying to get under my car to something. I pulled them away and knelt down to look. The only thing under my car is a beat up red flannel shirt. I grabbed it, and go to drag the dogs back to the house. The front of my cars splattered with red.
I took the dogs in and asked my girlfriend, Jeri, about the shirt. It wasn’t hers. I made her come out and look at my car. Cleaner than I remember it ever being.
“Stop fucking with me.”
I didn’t believe it, either. We went back in and went to bed. I put the whole thing behind me. The next morning, everything was back to normal. The shirt had disappeared from the couch. I assumed she had thrown it away. I took my morning shower. I’ll admit that I was checking outside of the curtain more than would ever be normal. I turned the water off and felt cold drops hitting the top of my head.
I wasn’t under the shower head. I looked up to that girl from the side of the road, somehow clinging to the ceiling. Her chin pointed between her shoulder blades. She smiled like she hadn’t seen me in years. I scrambled out of the shower with my heart trying to get out before me. In the scramble I ripped down the shower curtain. There wasn’t a sign of her.

I convinced myself that I must not have slept well the night before. I ran down stairs and had a cup of coffee to wake myself up. I returned the bathroom and started shaving. When I looked down from shaving under my chin, there she was again, waving shyly behind me. I jerked around, cutting my cheek. She was gone, again.
I got dressed and went for a drive. The fresh air helped calm me down. I rode the curve into the bridge. There she was, leaning against the guardrail with that smile. I screeched my car to a stop. Gone. Gone before I could even get my door open.
I ended up at the supermarket. I figured there were enough people around that could confirm or deny my stalker if she showed up. I picked up some fruit and a few things we’d need for dinner. On my way to the car, my bags felt heavier. I checked each bag in the back hatch of my SUV. The bag with the cantaloupe felt glued shut.
“Shit. I broke it open.” I thought.
It felt… squishier than usual as I ripped the bag opened. I screamed. I cussed. The paramedics said it was just a panic attack. I know what I saw. I know it was her head in the bag. Smiling and winking at me. I ended up at the hospital for an evaluation.
They had a police officer guarding my door. I kicked back in my bed and waited. Everything was normal. I couldn’t help but constantly check around the room. I was constantly expecting that girl to be standing there, smiling at me. I almost hit the ceiling when the doc opened the door. Her evaluation chalked it up to stress. I was released.
The ride home was quiet. I kept checking the side of the road, the sidewalks, the back seat, even if she’d somehow taken the place of Jeri. We were almost home, almost to the bridge. I could see the bridge. I saw a guardrail smeared with blood and a red flannel shirt hung on it, flapping in the wind. Jeri wouldn’t stop.
“There’s nothing there!”
“I saw the blood. Don’t tell me what I saw!”
I wasn’t completely sure of what I had seen. The rest of the drive was silent.
I saw her in our bedroom window before we pulled in the driveway. She looked excited. She gave a flirty wave before disappearing in a swirl of curtains. I was extra cautious. I checked every nook and cranny as I approached them. Jeri walked through the house recklessly. The bedroom door was cracked open. We always close the doors in our house.
I slowly pushed the door open. I checked as much of the room as I could from the hall. Nothing. I pushed the door all the way to the wall. No one behind it. I peeked next to the bed. My bat was gone. The closet. It wasn’t cracked, but it wasn’t closed either. I jerked it opened. All of my shirts were replaced with bloody flannel. I slammed the door. I yelled. Then I heard the giggling.
It was child-like, but something about it was very alien. I froze. My stomach turned. It was coming from Jeri’s wardrobe. I opened the doors. Just her clothes. I fought the knots in my stomach and grabbed the handle on the big drawer. It shook, or maybe I was shaking, I’m not sure.
I slid it open. The smell hit me first. It almost knocked me over. I kept pulling anyway. There she was, she mouthed something to me, then winked. I went to grab her, so everyone would know that I’m not crazy. Coats. Two handfuls of Jeri’s coats. She wasn’t there, just our winter clothes. I decided to try to ignore her from that point on.
I found Jeri in the kitchen. I gave her a hug, I apologized for the bad day. She was still irritated, but she said it was alright. I went to grab something out of the living room.
“Hey, Kevin,” Jeri said, “where’s the crushed pineapple?”
I turned around in the doorway to grab it. I felt the color drain out of my face. That girl was squatting on the counter behind Jeri. She was holding up a knife and jestering to me, mouthing what I deciphered as “This one?” Ignore her. Ignore her. She’s not real. She didn’t like it when I nonchalantly went and got the can of crushed pineapple. Jeri was looking at me suspiciously.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I, uh, just don’t feel well all of a sudden. Maybe I’ve had too much excitement lately.”
She scowled at me. Her eyes screamed, “Really?!” at me. I kept ignoring her. I went to the living room to grab the paper. I went back to the kitchen and Jeri was standing on a chair in a cabinet. She peeked around the cabinet door. The next thing I know, I’m on the ground.
“Kevin! Kevin! Wake up! What the hell happened?!”
“I… uh… I don’t know. I just know my tailbone hurts now.”
I couldn’t tell her that I saw the brown haired girl in her place. I was shaky, but I got up and drug myself to my chair in the living room. I flopped down. Jeri went to get me a drink. I was at wits end. I realized I was the mouse to her cat. I started having tremors as the hopelessness weighed in on me.
“Done so soon?” a shaky voice whispered from across the room.
My heart and breathing stopped when I looked around the room. I started to yell for Jeri. Maybe she’d have a solution if she saw I wasn’t crazy. I was silenced. I felt the coldest hand I’ve ever felt over my mouth, and what should have been an invisible elephant made of ice on my lap. I struggled, I tried to cry out for help. All that came was a giggle and a condescending tsk.
“No, no, no, no, no.”
Jeri was standing in the kitchen door with a glass of water. I struggled, she ran to me in a panic. She tried to pull me out of the chair. Nothing. The weight on me seemed to get heavier. I gasped for air. Jeri tried harder to get me up. I’ve never seen her cry like that. I’d never cried like that. Jeri flew into her grandmother’s china cabinet.
The weight lifted. I fell to the floor. I looked to check on Jeri.  She was shaking her head, mumbling to herself in disbelief. She saw her too. That girl, she looked right into my eyes, just like the night I first caught her in my head lights. Everything left me that afternoon. I don’t think I’ll ever forget watching Jeri walk out of the front door. It was like watching the worst puppeteer in the world try to maneuver a marionette. Jeri was hysterical. There aren’t words for the emotions I saw come out of her. I could see out of the living room window that she was still waddling to the street. I could just see the top of her head.
I tried to get up. Every single time I was knocked on my ass. Every time I tried to fight back, I’d just hit thin air. I heard Jeri’s screams. I heard the car horns, then the brakes.  Then came the words that I can’t bare to repeat.
“All I wanted was a ride home.”
I finally managed to get up. I stumbled out onto the lawn. Then into the street. Jeri was mangled. She had bled all over the road. All she could muster to say to me was, “Why me?”


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