A Long Road Home

I saw the hitchhiker every day on the same stretch of road. Sometimes, when circumstances were just right, I’d see a car stop to pick her up. If they gave her a lift, she’d give them a story to tell about the ghost girl who can never make it to home but keeps thumbing a ride in hope or desperation.

I’d heard the stories. That she was a young woman on her way to a music festival. Some said it was Woodstock, but I doubted that. Woodstock had been a long way away, It was an assumption born of her tie-dyed T-jeans and Jimi Hendrix T-shirt.

I doubted she was a ghost from the ‘60s at all. She had the look, but her sunglasses seemed very ‘90s to me. Not that I was an expert. My real problem with the story was that it was too on the nose. Very obvious. A ghost in bell bottoms could’ve just as well been a hipster as a hippie. Hell, maybe it was laundry day the day she died.

They said the stories of the hitchhiker dated to the ‘60s, but there were stories before that. Every long and dark and lonely road had a history of ghostly hitchhikers and phantom carriages. This was that kind of road: not so far away from civilization that it was forgotten, but a road people traveled on their way to other places.

I’d traveled it plenty. Always around dusk. Dusk was a great time for ghosts. I saw her all the time, and I never stopped. Had places to be, and I didn’t need a story to tell. After a while, she stopped waving her thumb when I passed her by. I’d silently apologize, but I couldn’t afford a detour for a passenger who would only disappear a few miles down the road.

One day, she lowered her sunglasses. She stared at me with her dark, sunken eyes from the side of the road. No judgment in them. Just an acknowledgment that she knew I was there, passing her by again.

Another time, she flipped me off with a playful smile on her lips.

I almost stopped then, but who had the time?

This final time, she held up a cardboard sign. Woodstock or Bust!, it read. She stuck out her tongue at me.

I grumbled as I pulled over. She took her sweet time walking over to the passenger’s side. She leaned over, and I expected her to poke her immaterial head through the glass. But she knocked on it.

I leaned over and rolled down the window. “Woodstock, huh?”

“No, but that’s what people like to say, right?” She tossed away the cardboard and ran her fingers through her long, dirty blonde hair. “So are you giving me a lift or what?”

The sun had just set and the stars were coming out in the blue-black sky. I guess I had time.

“Get in,” I said.

“Thanks, man.” She opened the door and threw her pack in the backseat. She flopped in the passenger seat. “I was wondering if you’d ever give me a ride.”

“Got places to be,” I said.

“Don’t we all?”

She smiled, that mischievous grin, equal parts trickster and siren. But sirens were kind of tricksters already, so maybe that was a bad metaphor.

I drove onto the empty road as she pulled a joint from her pocket.

“Mind?” she asked.

I shrugged. “I’m not a G-man.”

She lit it and took a drag. “Beautiful night tonight. I love this time of year. When it rains or snows I have a better chance of getting a ride, but I prefer it like this.”

“Where were you going?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” she replied, offering me a hit.

I waved it off. “I’m driving.”

“You’re a very responsible cat. I can dig it.”

We drove a while. The stories about her varied. Sometimes, she’d disappear after a mile or two. Sometimes, she’d be silent as the grave. That was the way they always put it, like she was a character out of a gothic novel. But seeing her up close now, she wasn’t a spectral lost soul. She was just a young woman looking for a ride.

“Where are you headed?” she asked.


“Cool.” She leaned back and put her feet on the dashboard. That was dangerous, but she was already dead, so I didn’t say anything. “I’ve never really had a home.”

“Where’d you grow up?”


She stared at the long road.

“Ever wonder why people think ghosts are dead people? It’s a very human-centric way of looking at the world, isn’t it? Like they love asking big questions, but they can never look beyond themselves for the answers.”

“Never thought about it like that.”

“Few do. But, take it from me, people don’t become ghosts. Ghosts become ghosts. Or, to get technical about it, things like me become ghosts when the environment is right.”

“A thing like you? What were you before?”

“Don’t know. All I know is that I was something. I was something before the road came along. I’ll be something after it’s gone. In the meantime, I’m a ghost.” She shrugged. “It’s not so bad.

Several miles passed, and still she remained in my car.

“So what’s your bag, man?” she asked.

“My bag?”

“Your whole deal.”

“I don’t really have a deal.”

She laughed. “Everybody has a deal. They just don’t know it.”

“Not me.”

Shadows fell across her face. At that moment, she was not the ghost she was, but the something she was underneath. It was ancient, unknowable, a god without a name.

“Everybody has a deal,” she said. “Respect yourself enough to have a fucking deal. You deserve it. Everyone does.”

The shadows melted away, and she was the hitchhiking ghost again. “So what’s your fucking deal?”

“Just a guy whose had a long day,” I replied. “Looking forward to eating dinner and going to bed.”

“Kind of a boring deal to have,” she said.

“Beats being stuck hitchhiking forever,” I said.

“Does it?”

A playful, knowing tone danced between her words. She knew secrets, and maybe if had been more brave, I would’ve asked for some of them.

There was an old bent tree up ahead that everyone said marked the end of the haunted road. It loomed on the horizon.

“Do I need to let you out?” I asked.

“No, it’s fine. Nice to finally talk to you.” She closed her eyes and took in a deep cleansing breath. “If you want to pick me up again, you know where to find me.”

We passed the tree, and she was gone. The smell of pot lingered in the car, but even that faded with time.

I drove down the old dark road.

Home was waiting. My dinner and my bed and a good night’s rest.

Just a few miles more.

6 Replies to “A Long Road Home”

  1. I’ve owned this book for years: the 1984 “The Evidence for Phantom Hitch-Hikers” by Michael Goss. Musically speaking, besides Dickey Lee’s 1965 #14 hit “Laurie (Strange Things Happen),” Badfinger (as the Iveys) in 1967 recorded “She Came Out of the Cold,” and Rick Springfield did a version in 1973 called “Misty Water Woman.” Of course, urban-legend researcher Jan Harold Brunvand’s 1981 book “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” covers lots of variations, too. Next time you come to SoonerCon, Lee, I can give you the three songs on CD if you like! Welcome to the disquieting tradition!

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