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An Incident on the Highway: Short Story Fiction
This is a work of fiction and none of the characters, living or dead, are real. I will note that I once had an experience that inspired this story. I was driving at night on the highway that cirles around Minneapolis and St. Paul when I was a young man. I saw something that looked like a young woman in a long white dress or gown run across the road. It was probably my light reflecting some light fog or something.
Life on the road
You probably don’t have to be an avid reader to be a book salesman, or Campus traveler as I am called. Different publishers have other titles. My name is Jerry Johnson and that is what I do for a living. I visit professors, bookstores, and teachers with the intent of getting them to use our textbooks rather than someone else’s. And, yes, I do like to read. On the road we spend a lot of time alone and we have to like our own company, and the company of a great book helps pass the time between appointments.
There can be quite a lot of that sort of thing. I don’t work for the best known or established of the publishers. The practical aspect of that is I have to travel farther, and stay longer on the road. That includes a lot of small college towns which are nice and even friendly but not a whole lot to do. This was my first time in a part of my territory that had just been added to my schedule. I didn’t know my way around yet and it was getting into evening with a few clouds moving in and the sun was starting to fade in the west. I could see that I was close to a lake with some low hills ahead. A roadside sign told me I was close to a state park.
It didn’t take long for dusk to settle over the landscape and as I let my Ford Taurus sort of coast down a gentle hill my lights picked up something moving quickly to the road. It looked like a young woman in a thin white dress. If she had been wearing darker clothes, I might not have seen her at all. I was still fairly far back from where she was, so I gently pressed the brake pedal and gradually slowed. She was gone nearly as fast as she appeared. I blinked my eyes, but she was gone, If she was really there. You know how you sometimes see something and then when it is gone you wonder if it was real. That was how I felt. Was there a woman or could it have been something else, or just my imagination? If not a woman, then what? A car behind me stopped and pulled off the road. The driver got out, looked around and then wandered over to my car.
Stopover at a resort
“Wasn’t that the something?’ he said.
“Sure was, Just to check my sanity,” I said. “What did you see?”
He smiled self-consciously and said, I could swear that a red headed woman dashed across the road. She was wearing what looked like a flimsy white dress or gown. Then you stopped and she sort of disappeared.
“That’s about what I saw. Can’t think of why anybody would be out here though on foot.
I took a flashlight from my car and set out on the path. A full moon was starting to show with the clouds drifting away and it was pleasantly warm, but not hot toward the end of the day. It turned out that the café was one of the old fashioned things made from and an old streetcar Most of the seats had been removed and stainless steel tables and a counter had replaced them. The booths were lined up on one side with windows facing the lake, but I sat at the counter because I wanted to talk to the waitress. I ordered a hamburger, with coffee and two individually wrapped small pies. The pies I’d take with me to eat later.
I told her about the incident on the highway and almost hitting a woman running out almost in front of me, unless it was an apparition.
“Can’t think of anybody around here that looks like that. Come to think on it though, other folks, from time to time, have told me a story like that. She is dressed in white, runs into the road and just sort of disappears, they say.”
“Does it happen at a particular time?”
“Now that I think on it, it seems like it might be on the day the accident happened.
“What accident is that?” I asked.
She put her tablet on the counter and came around to sit by me. She seemed lost in thought for a while. “It was guite some time ago. Maybe ten years ago. Could be even longer. A car went off the road, through a wood barrier and down the ravine.. They found the driver in the car which was totally wrecked. He was probably dead on impact..”
“Anyone you knew,” I was getting interested now.
“No, it was an out of state car.
“And you say this girl, woman might have shown up because it is the anniversary of the accident?”
“I can’t swear to it, but as best I can recall that seems to be the case.”
It seems she usually has on a kind of flimsy white gown. Maybe they were at a dance. Could even be a wedding gown. Nobody seems to have seen her closer than you did.”
Whatever just happened I decided to check into the next place I could find for lodgings. I asked the other driver: “I’ve been on the road all day and need some sleep. Do you know a decent motel nearby?”
“Hey”, he said. “No problem. There’s a fishing resort just down the road and they have a few cabins they will rent to travelers.”
The resort was one with separate cabins. I didn’t know any of these still existed. My tires made a crunching sound over the gravel driveway. The bad part is they didn’t have anything to eat as the store was closed for the day.
“There’s a café about a mile down the road,” the clerk told me. If you don’t want to drive, there’s a walking path through the woods that’s a lot shorter than the highway.
Driving Mary Home
By the time I walked back to the resort the clouds had given way to a full moon which made the shortcut a bit easier to negotiate. I passed a little picnic area about halfway back. There were a couple of benches and tables. I was just passing by when I saw a familiar figure in a white garment. It was almost transparent and her trim figure showed attractively. It was the woman from the highway. Seeing her closer I noted she had dark hair, a pretty, but worried face and I would guess her age to be around thirty. She was sitting on a tree stump with her legs curled under her. Then she got up and moved swiftly toward me.
I wanted to ask what the hell she had been doing out by the highway. Instead she came up to me and threw her arms around me and kissed me. It was an intense kiss and I responded in kind. Then she broke the embrace, put two fingers to my lips and said: “Not now darling, and ran away.
At first I just watched her but then I followed her to a park bench. She was crying.
I remembered that I had the pies that I bought and offered her something to eat, thinking that sharing food would help to sooth the awkwardness of the situation. She took the pie and nibbled on it but didn’t seem that hungry. I practically bolted mine down out of a need to cover an awkward situation.
We both got up as if on a signal and walked toward the resort. We went to my cabin and went in to sit by the little table that was there. It’s not often that I have an attractive woman in my dwelling but it did not seem like an occasion for a one night stand. I did want to know who she was and why she was there.
“I saw you up by the highway a while ago,” I told her. “Why were you running across the road?”
“The accident, you know. I thought you were dead.” She started to kiss me and suddenly got up.
“What do you mean? Why would you think me dead?”
“Remember we stopped at a road house and danced. Had a couple of beers. We agreed to find a motel and head home in the morning. Then you missed that turn and crashed through that flimsy barrier and we went into that ravine. I was scared but I managed to get out and tried to get you out. When the car caught fire I was scared to death. I just ran. I didn’t know to where, I just ran. I got out to the highway and was going to flag down someone to stop and help. I heard a horn and tires screeching.”
She ran out and I didn’t try to follow. I watched as she ran back to the place I met her. The next day I checked out of the resort and went into town. There was a newspaper office on Main Street. I stopped, went in, and asked for the city editor. The editor turned out to be the wife of the publisher and about fifty years old. She had been around long enough to remember the accident... She went to a cabinet and got out some papers from a decade earlier.
“We don’t have anything computerized that far back but I remember some details, as I was new here and was assigned to cover it,” she told me.
She let me thumb through the papers and told me that a burned out car was found at the bottom of the ravine at the edge of town. The driver was killed and died instantly on impact with a tree .His companion was apparently distraught. She went to the highway to get help and stepped out hoping to flag down a car for help. The driver of a truck tried to stop for her but the vehicle skidded and hit her. She died in the hospital a couple of hours later. I was waiting for you, or someone like you to come and ask about her, like they have every year at this time.
“I hope that girl finds some peace and rest,” I said.
“So do I, so do I.”