This was just a simple idea based upon a dream I had the other night ... I had no idea how hard this would be to actually write!
"Would you die for me?" The shadowy female hitch-hiker asked me not fifteen seconds after she got into my car.
I don't normally pick up hitch-hikers, even rather lovely young and attractive appearing female ones, but when I saw her walking along the side of the lonely county road, miles from anywhere, hunched over in the cold late autumn rainy drizzle, something other than my head told me to hit the brakes and stop for her. Now, just a few moments later, I was wondering if I had suddenly picked up some sort of deranged serial killer who cruised remote rural roads near midnight on certain dark and moonless Friday nights.
"Ummm ... probably not." I admitted to her. In the murky rainy gloom, without a streetlight for miles, I really couldn't get a very good look at her, but she didn't seem to have a knife or any other sort of weapon in hand that was itching to bisect my throat.
"Well, that's not a 'no', so I guess we can still become friends. I'm just ... visiting here, really not much more than a passing stranger. A death in the family ... murder, actually." Her voice was low and sort of wispy, but I could clearly understand her every word.
"I'm fairly new here myself. Just passing through, really. I'm doing some grunt day labor over at the big grain silo in Bonner's Grove. Not many jobs hereabout, but I needed to make a little more money before going back out on the road. Seeing America, finding myself, getting my shit together ... you know."
"I do actually. I'm still trying to get my shit together also, but it has been a pretty rough year for me. Slow down a bit, my stop is just up around the next curve in the road."
I took that curve but didn't see anything other than fog, mist and drizzling rain. If there was a farmhouse anywhere nearby, I didn't see any lights. Still I pulled my old beat-up truck over to the side so that she could get out.
"Here! I said, suddenly in an unexplained moment of chivalry. "It is nasty wet and cold out there and you must still have a bit of walk to get home. Take my coat; it's warm and it will keep you a bit dry. You can return it to me on Monday at the silo."
"Thanks! I'm not sure I can make it there, but I'll make sure you get it back."
She took the coat and put it on, and as she opened the passenger door to leave me, she bent over and gave me a slight peck on the cheek. Her lips were cold, nearly freezing cold. As cold as a grave doesn't even begin to cover it. I was now glad I had given her the coat!
With that she walked off a bit down the road, just a shadowy figure that was nearly at once out of sight.
"Lady! You never told me your name?" I shouted off to her just as she disappeared out of sight on the other side of an iron fence. Instead of a reply I only heard some faint laughter that was soon lost in the cold wind and rain.
I would have forgotten about this incident all-together, except for a couple of little disturbing facts. First, that the passenger seat and backrest of my truck were bone dry where she had sat. She had been walking in the rain and must have been soaked to the bone ... but there wasn't a single damp spot on the seat or the floorboard that I could find. Not one drop.
The other thing that bothered me was the way I did recover my coat. After waiting nearly a full week for her to show up at my work to return it, I decided the next Thursday evening after work that I would try to find the house where she was staying. It was a little tricky finding the spot where I had dropped her off, and at first I was certain that I'd gone to the wrong place. Gilbreath County Cemetery isn't the usual place to deposit lovely young ladies in the middle of the night. I checked with the farms on all sides of the graveyard, but none of them had a young lady as a guest, or recognized the extremely vague and quite inadequate description I could give of her. I didn't even know her hair color. Discouraged and walking back to my truck, I took a short-cut through the graveyard and soon found my coat. It was carefully hung up over a gravestone where I could easily see it.
The gravestone said simply "Vanessa Lea Miller", along with her birth and death dates. The dates revealed that Vanessa was a young woman barely twenty-three years old. It was a fresh grave too, scarcely four months old. There were no flowers, not even plastic ones. Nothing was left here, except for my coat, to show that anyone had cared for or missed the late Miss Miller.
A chill ran down my back as I picked up my jacket and put it back on. The outside layer was very rain resistant and its inner layers were still quite dry. Still I felt quite cold all of the way back to my small rooming house. I naturally assumed that I had met Vanessa's sister that last Friday night, but something kept bothering me for the rest of that night and the next day, Friday at work.
At work I asked everyone I knew about the 'murder' of Vanessa Miller. Most of the guys had no idea whom or what I was talking about. Others changed the subject on me hard, and moved away from me if I pursued the subject. Around lunchtime, the silo foreman took me aside to find out why I was asking about such an unpleasant (and politically incorrect) matter and urged me, for the sake of my future employment ... and my health, to drop the matter. Completely.
I didn't disagree. I kept my trap shut the remainder of the workday, collected my paycheck, cashed it, got showered and changed for a little night on the town, and ended up as usual at Frankie's Ice House. I like Frankie's. The place is an unapologetic dive that serves one purpose only, to provide the local guys with a quiet place to drink — cheaply. You can get pretty much hammered at Frankie's for about twenty dollars or less, but I was after the complete treatment tonight and stayed until at least one o'clock in the morning, when my table had too many empty beer bottles on it to fit any more fresh ones.
The subject of Vanessa, and her apparent mysterious relative, was not discussed once all evening. Frankie's patrons don't hold much to making casual, let alone controversial conversation. Much for the same reason that the jukebox in the corner isn't even plugged in. Silence is the tonic that makes the drink flow smoothest at Frankie's.
I really shouldn't have driven home, but the late night wet and cold sobered me up fast. I kept telling myself it would be safe to drive home ... that I wouldn't see her ever again.
No one was more surprised than me to see my shadowy and mysterious lady once again walking that same stretch of lonely road in the early hours of the morning, but now she stopped and apparently was waiting for me.
I knew when I was screwed, so once again I pulled over for her.
"Would you die for me?" The pale but pretty hitch-hiker asked me once again just moments after she got into my car. She ought to have been soaked to her skin from the cold rain, but I grasped her hand and like the rest of her it was bone dry.
"Darling, I would sustain any matter of bodily harm defending your virtue and protecting your honor, but I'm not quite ready for the grave just yet."
"Fair enough," she replied with something of a twinkle in her dark eyes as she leaned over to peck me on the cheek again. Her touch was once again bitterly cold, and her lips nearly sucked all of the warmth from my body. Despite my teeth now chattering and with my blood running in near frozen channels through my body, I was now dead sober and I looked upon her with a combination of fear and unabashed curiosity. I could almost see her eyes, still in shadows. Were they grey or a lovely pale blue that was lost under the cover of her wet bedraggled hair that would undoubtedly feel all too dry to my touch?
I had so many questions for her, but I feared the answers even more. The memory of old Cub Scout campfire ghost stories of the perils of phantom hitchhikers was once again fixed in my mind. I wanted to hold her and kiss her but I was terrified at the thought of what would happen even more.
"Drop you off at the same place?"
"If you please."
We drove in silence for over five minutes until I could see her corner coming up in the distance.
"I tried to find out a bit about you ... your sister at my work, but no one will listen to me. Some of the men were just plain scared of making any trouble; others were frightened at what would happen if some important people in the town and at the county seat found out that some questions were being asked. No one would help me or lift a finger to get involved ... and now I'm scared and frightened too."
"You should be," she said with a slight smile as I stopped in front of the graveyard for her late night visitation.
"What can I do?" I earnestly begged her. The dread on my face was obvious and plain to see.
"Be a dear and loan me your coat again for the night. You just won't believe how cold I've been lately. You'll know where you can find it again when you need it.
I gave her my jacket once again and before she got out of the car she gave me a little kiss on my lips. It burned and froze me both at once. It was exquisite and yet it was soul crushing. I think it was supposed to make me feel brave ... and it sort of did. I could feel her touch lingering on me, like a tiny anchor now roped onto my soul to protect it, hopefully, under the rough and dangerous seas that I was sure were now coming.
.... There is more of this story ...