The Hitchhiker

A Massachusetts Ghost Story

 

Our friends Josh and Sandy were firm believers in ghosts and claimed to have seen the mysterious red-haired phantom that haunted Route 44. My wife and I were sitting with them at dinner one night, and we started kidding them about it.
      “Funny how we’ve never seen him, and we drive that stretch of road all the time,” my wife Jill drawled.
      “You skeptic,” Sandy said, emphasizing the word as if it were a curse.  “One of these days, you’re gonna find out I’m right. And you’ll owe me a pizza.”
       “If I ever see the ghostly hitchhiker, I’ll buy you a large pizza every day for a year,” I promised. 
       The evening ended pleasantly, and it wasn’t long before Jill and I were driving home through the crisp fall air.
     “Let’s take Route 44,” Jill said suddenly, flashing me a sideways look.
     “Hoping to see a ghost?” I chuckled, taking the turn as she directed.
      “Ha!” Jill snorted derisively. She yawned and turned her head to face the passenger window. Suddenly, she let out a shriek of sheer terror. I jumped and glanced sideways, my hands shaking on the steering wheel. A red-haired man with a bushy beard wearing a plaid shirt and blue jeans was running right next to the passenger side of the car. He kept glancing in the window and leering at Jill.
      Heart pounding in terror, I hit the gas. A moment later, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the red-haired man was sitting in the back seat of our car. Jill shrieked again and began pummeling the phantom with her purse.
      I kept looking back and forth between my wife, the phantom, and the road ahead, determined that I was not going to let the red-haired ghost force us into a fatal accident.
I glanced toward the back seat for a moment, and the ghost laughed, a laugh that made my teeth tingle and the hairs on my neck stand up.
      “Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Jill gabbled the words of the rosary. Glancing in the mirror, I saw the phantom grimace as she recited the holy words. Then he vanished without a trace.
      I got us out of there much faster than the speed limit allowed. I was shaking from head to toe, and Jill was sobbing hysterically. As soon as I pulled into the driveway and turned off the car, I swept my wife into my arms and held her as tightly as I could. We clung together for a long time, until both of us had stopped shaking and Jill’s sobs had abated.
      “I want to go inside,” Jill whispered against my neck, and I nodded, not trusting my voice.
      That night we discussed the incident, but oddly enough, neither of us had nightmares. When we woke in the morning, I felt much better about the whole thing, until I remembered my promise to Sandy the night before. I groaned aloud and then clapped a hand over my mouth lest the sound wake my wife. Too late. She opened her green eyes and gave me a sleepy smile.
       “You owe Sandy a year’s worth of pizza,” Jill said.
      “I most certainly do,” I replied, rubbing the back of her neck gently. “I most certainly do!”