Phantom hitchhikers, or vanishing hitchhikers are most popular as an urban legend, or ghost story within the continental United States–typically a young woman stranded on the side of the road who desperately needs to get home. This original story based on the phantom hitchhiker legend is a typical account of what is to be expected if you were to pick her up on the side of the road.
Upon a Lonely Road…
Lightning cracked, the electricity streaked across the sky in brilliant resonance, lighting up the dismal drowning mountainous landscape. The rain was suffocating his windshield, even with his wipers at their highest speed, he could barely see the road ahead of him. The man’s hands tightened around the steering wheel and his knuckles blanched as the road began to twist angrily down the lonely mountain road—walking in on his wife in the throws of passion with another man was just the start of his bad luck it seemed, now he felt as if he were going to careen off an icy road into a dark deep ditch. He sighed, his heart ached deeply and the song on the radio mirrored the depth of his pain. He truly didn’t know where he was going tonight, but it was better than where he had come from.
The patter of rain against his windshield was deafening as he rounded another treacherous turn and he flicked on his high beams—it was at that moment he caught sight of a woman walking down the side of the road. His brow furrowed, she was dressed too poorly for the weather and there weren’t any homes that he knew of in the area, he couldn’t imagine the type of luck she had that would land her in the situation that she was clearly in. He slowed his truck to a stop just as he had passed her by, his blinker clicked steadily, matching the beat of the music that droned on in the background. He reached over and opened his door for the woman as she approached the cab, then shivered as the cold air pulled him into its tight embrace. His breath blurred his view of the woman as she stopped in front of him, “are you going towards town?”
“Yeah, I’m in no rush though, where are you headed?” The bedraggled woman slid into his truck and closed the door, her white dress had her soaked to the bone—he turned up the heater for her, then pulled off his own jacket, offering it up to her.
“I live downtown, if you don’t mind, I can give you directions?” The man nodded and she accepted his coat graciously and pushed her wet hair out of her face. He didn’t know if he ought to ask her what had led her to be on the side of the road at this hour, in such awful weather, but he figured that it really wasn’t any of his business, so decided against it. He pulled back onto the road and felt the awkward air that had taken over the entire truck. Her hands twisted uncomfortably in her lap, his coat hung limply over her pathetic and grief-stricken figure. There were no words that could be spoken now, anything he thought of uttering left his mind just as soon as his lips moved to speak the words. The road continued to be treacherous, but she seemed unbothered by anything, his eyes drifted to her face briefly, her lips formed an unconscious pout that drew him in.
He hadn’t noticed when she had gotten in that she possessed such beauty, but he didn’t linger on it long, the road finally evened out as they reached the bottom of the mountain and his mind wandered to other things. The woman maintained her painfully silent demeanor, her exhaustion was apparent and it was clear she wasn’t much of a conversationalist.
They made it downtown without incident, she only spoke briefly to tell him where to turn and finally they made it to their destination—he brought his truck to a stop in front of the house she had indicated and turned it off. He turned to wish her luck, but his eyes landed on an empty, drenched seat. He blinked, dumbfounded, she couldn’t have possibly have left without his notice—but in her place there was a small, damp leather-bound book. He picked up the book, then thumbed through it realizing it was her journal and somehow felt dirty, as if he had stolen her secrets.
The confusion that he felt in that moment would never match his need of an answer for what had happened—how she had suddenly vanished from his company, there had to be a reasonable explanation of what he had experienced. He stepped out of his truck and approached the house, uncertainty was the only thing he knew anymore, but perhaps she had just slipped away without his notice. He found his finger on the door bell and briefly entertained the idea of running from what he might find out here, but before he could follow through, a woman answered the door.
“Hello, can I help you?” The woman looked drained, as if the night had been a long and deeply harrowing experience for her as well.
“I… I just gave a young woman a ride here, she left her journal in my truck?” He handed her the book and saw a change in her expression.
“This must be a mistake… This can’t be,” her voice caught in her throat as she opened the journal’s cover, “perhaps you should come inside, I’ll get my husband.” The man stepped inside the home cautiously, he felt like an imposter, but he needed to know what was going on. The woman led him to their sitting room, where the walls were covered in pictures of what looked like family and friends. Just as he took his seat, his eyes caught a picture of the woman who had answered the door hugging the young woman who he had picked up on the side of the road.
“What’s going on?” He almost knew the answer, but he didn’t dare speak his own truth, “where is she?”
The woman whimpered under her breath and once her husband came into the room, she handed him the journal. “This man brought us Heather’s journal,” was all she could get out before she became noticeably upset and walked quickly out of the room.
The man began talking, trying to detail everything that had brought him to their house tonight—he didn’t care how wildly untrue it sounded, or if his crazy story made him seem like he was completely out of his mind. The husband listened intently, his face remained calm and there was an eerie ease that settled the man as he finished his story. “I’m sorry, I know how all of this sounds, I’m just a stranger—I—I can let myself out.”
The husband raised his hand to stop him, “no, please. I know what it sounds like, I know you probably feel like you’re going insane, but… you’re not the first person to try to bring her home.”
The man’s breath caught in his throat, “I—what?”
“Heather has been trying to come home on the anniversary of her murder for the last six years, but we’ve never gotten anything like this before,” the husband’s hands clutched the journal gratefully. “They never found her killer, but… this may give us some closure. I know my wife wasn’t able to say it, but we appreciate your time.”
The man’s heart was beating much too violently in his chest and he couldn’t stand it, he had to get out of here, he had to put some distance between himself and what had happened tonight. There were so many questions that he had, but he knew he could never ask them. The man got the name of the young woman from her mother and father, then made his goodbyes—he knew his next stop would be at the closest dive bar he could find. It would be too much to ask for this to all be a weird dream, but seeking numbness on his own from the bottom of a liquor bottle might make him forget about what he had experienced.
The next morning greeted him with a headache that mimicked the after effects of a concussion—he sat up from his uncomfortable position in his truck and rubbed his eyes to find that he had driven himself to a cemetery after he had left the bar the night before. He was grateful he wasn’t waking up to a tree through his windshield and was about to start his truck up and drive away before something strange caught his eye. His eyes narrowed and he stepped out of his truck, the gloomy, overcast day gave him something to be grateful for, no sun to shine in his eyes between the thumps of his throbbing head. He approached the tombstone that had captured his attention, and realized that what had drawn him there was the fact that his coat was draped so gently over this particular stone. It all came back to him at that moment, the hitchhiker, her parents—the lack of explanation of what had really happened—he picked up his coat and saw her name chiseled into the stone.