“Guys that was the bomb diggity!” Shawn said as he walked around the perimeter of the fire. “Next up we have one final story. You know her. You love her. Nurse Anne heals the sick and makes us wash our hands…but I bet you didn’t know that she has a few stories up her sleeve.”
As the kids cheered and applauded I felt a lurch as my heart rate soared. The palms of my hands were sweaty. I was so nervous! I gently picked my son out of my lap and placed his bottom on the sand. Daughter two wrapped her arm around his waist and pulled him in beside her. They both smiled at each other and then at me.
“Good luck Mum,” my daughter whispered to me. I winked at her and then wiped my sweaty palms on my pants.
I maneuvered over and around the campers as I made my way toward the fire. I stepped over the last one and into the glow of the fire light. I took a slow deep breath, sat down on the tree stump and then I began the story.
You don’t see them much anymore, but there was a time, waaaaaay back in the 1970’s when travelling salesmen still walked the towns and cities. They would go door to door selling their wares. Gary was one of these guys. He sold a type of vacuum cleaner that was so powerful it could suck up a bowling ball. Business was pretty good in River City that Friday in the spring of 1972 so Gary had decided to stay in a small motel over night and try to land a few more deals over the weekend. It was late and rainy when Gary was driving back to the motel after having just dined out at the local Ponderosa Steak house. He had his windshield wipers going and the radio on softly playing music. He took one of the little back roads so that is why he was surprised when his headlights illuminated a lone young woman in a ankle length evening gown, walking along the side of the road. Gary was compelled to slow down. He was worried with the darkness of the night and the winding wet roads that she might be hit by another car.
Gary pulled over and slowed to a stop beside the young woman. He turned off the radio so the only sound was that of the windshield wipers. He leaned over and rolled down the passenger side window. The figure stopped and gazed at Gary with a pathetic expression. She looked like a high school student! Her dress was a beautiful gown, but now it was soaked and clinging to her. She had goose bumps from the cold. Her hair, pinned up in what was probably a very lovely arrangement, was now droopy and wet. Her makeup was dribbling down her angelic face. Gary felt a surge of pity for this young girl!
“Young lady!? Do you need a ride somewhere?” I made my voice sound like that of a man’s.
“To 616 Riverbed Lane please.” I said softly as I pointed with a trembling finger attempting to mimic the voice and demeanor of the girl in the story. I figured if I was gonna tell this story…I was gonna tell this story complete with the voices and gestures!
“Certainly. Hop in the back there.” Gary said. “Now there is a jacket back there. You can put that on and warm up if you like,” he offered kindly.
The young woman gently slid into the back seat and pulled the jacket over her shoulders. Gary turned up the heat before he pulled back out onto the deserted back road.
“My name is Gary,” he said as he made his way along the winding roads looking for the address. She didn’t respond or offer her name.
“Are you on your way home from the prom tonight?” Gary asked as he watched her in the rear view mirror. She didn’t speak but he thought that maybe he saw her nod as she gazed out the side window.
Gary decided to stop asking her questions. She obviously had had a rough evening. He wondered if her prom date had dumped her and she was forced to walk home alone. As he was thinking about this he spotted the mailbox with “616 Riverbed Lane” inscribed on the side of it.
“Here we are!” He said as he slowed and started to pull onto the long narrow pebbled lane. He looked again in the rear view mirror and noticed her straining to see out the front window. She had a look of anticipation on her sweet face. He could see that the lane ended in front of a large mansion. He made his way down the lane slowly, bumping along the now muddy path. He finally pulled up in front of the house and put the car in park. He draped his arm across the passenger side as he turned to look at the young woman but she was gone!
Gary’s smile drained from his face. He was confused now. Where was she? He had not heard the car door open or close. He looked towards the house and back again to the back seat. She was nowhere! Gary stumbled out of the car and ran to the back door and yanked it open. He felt the seat. It was still wet from her soaking gown so she HAD been there. He had NOT imagined her. And his jacket was missing too. He didn’t know what else to do. He was standing there, in the darkness, in the pouring rain, staring with complete confusion at the backseat when the porch lights came on. Gary looked up startled. The front door opened and a frail elderly woman motioned for him to come in. Gary closed the car door and ran to the front door.
“M’am! I am so sorry to bother you at this late hour!” Gary apologized.
Using my very best ‘old lady’ voice I continued.
“No worries young man. I suspect you picked up a hitchhiker of sorts this evening?” she said as she closed the door behind Gary and then adjusted her house coat.
“I did. How did you know?”
“That was my daughter Nancy.” she gently waved her hand towards a gold framed painted portrait on the foyer wall.
Gary looked at it in shock. It was the young woman he had given a ride to!
“But…but…” Gary said. The elderly lady gently took his hand and patted it.
“She was on her way home from the spring prom on this very night over fifty years ago. She and her beau, Daniel, skidded off the road and into the river. They both died that night. Ever since then, on the night of the anniversary of her death, she tries again to make it safely home to me. Many times some kind unsuspecting person, like yourself, tries to help her but as you just witnessed….it never happens. Now I suspect that you are missing something young man.”
Gary looked at her quizzically and then he remembered his jacket.
“Yes. She borrowed a jacket for warmth.”
“You will find it here,” she said as she scribbled an address down on a piece of paper and gave it to Gary.
Gary nodded and took the piece of paper. He was completely blown away by this whole experience. He was trying to wrap his head around this. Was he crazy? Was this lady crazy? Or…had he really given a ride to a ghost?
The elderly lady, sensed his confusion and gently patted him on the back as she opened the front door again. Gary, slowly shaking his head, stepped back outside and into the dark and dreary night. He needed to get back to the hotel…but first he was definitely taking a small detour. He got back into the car and turned it around and started back down the lane. He saw the elderly woman gave him a small wave before she closed the front door and turned off the porch light.
It didn’t take Gary very long to arrive at the address that the woman have given him. Huge black iron gates slowly opened for him as he pulled his car up to them. He drove slowly along the pathway and immediately he saw his jacket.
I paused for dramatic effect….
It was draped over Nancy’s gravestone!
I had a chill seep up my back. I shivered involuntarily. I stopped and looked around me at the campers. Their faces all aglow from the campfire light. Mouths open, eyes wide.
“Ooooooo. Super CREEPY!” I heard someone whisper loudly.
Hey. It’s a skill.