The Hitchhiker

Tears coursed down Edward's rough cheeks as he tugged at the steering wheel, sending the car swerving round the corner violently. The dark trees whizzed by dangerously, the rain splattering across the windscreen somewhat obscuring the moonlit road ahead of him.

It wasn't as if it hadn't occurred to Edward that this was a bad idea, it had just been pushed to the back of his mind to make way for the rage and wretched misery to rise up in him. He allowed himself a quick glance at the back seat, as if to check the gun was still there, partly concealed by his jacket. The sight gave him a sudden burst of resolve. He would show that bitch. Did she seriously think he would never find out? That the locals in this damn redneck town wouldn't gossip about her and what she was doing with Kelvin the barman? Well there was no going back now. Kelvin had already been dealt with, now it was time for his wife to face what she had done.

Perhaps it was Edward's conscience that made him stop to pick up the hitchhiker. After all, a girl so young wandering along the road so late at night would make any reasonable man hesitate. Though, as Edward had already proved he was no reasonable man, it was far more likely down to the large amount of beer he had drunk that night. Whatever the case, when Edward saw the little figure in her red coat waiting patiently for a car, he slammed on the brakes and skidded to a halt in front of her.

Edward threw open the door irritably, and internally cursed as flecks of rain sprayed onto his dry seats and the freezing wind blew in.

'Well, get in then,' he said gruffly when the girl did not move. After another moment of hesitation, the hitchhiker slid into the passenger seat and shut the door. Edward immediately put his foot down and sped away, without waiting for the girl to buckle up.

They sat in silence for a while. With a sudden feeling of panic, Edward glanced to the back seat. With his heart thumping he saw that the shape of the gun was clearly recognisable, even under the jacket. He would just have to pray the girl didn't look behind her. It would be a shame for her to die because of his wife's betrayal as well.

Edward jumped at the sudden movement. The girl raised her hands and lowered her hood, giving Edward the first real look at her face. He continued to stare at her as she carefully took her soaked coat off, only occasionally glancing back at the road he was roaring down. The girl was dressed in the oddest clothes; the local kids would never be seen in such an outfit. Edward supposed it was some stupid new fashion from the cities, these things changed so quickly nowadays that it was hard to keep up. Her hair, damp despite the hood, straggled past her shoulders. But it was her face that was most startling. She was extremely pale, with a solemn face and large, deep brown eyes. Edward felt quite disconcerted and half wished he had left her by the roadside.

'So,' he said eventually, trying to break the god-awful silence. 'Where are you trying to get to?' The girl looked up at him with wide eyes.

'Silverton,' she said softly, almost whispering. 'It's about a mile away from here, I think.'

'I know where it is,' Edward cut her off. He looked at her in surprise. 'I live there. I've always lived there. Are you visiting family?'

She shook her head. 'No sir. I moved to Silverton ten years ago.' Inexplicably, Edward felt cold and a shiver ran up his spine. He didn't recognise her at all, and for such a small town that was impossible. He could name every single person and family in Silverton, and he was certain that this strange girl did not live there. For some reason, this was all very unnerving, as if there was something very disturbing going on indeed. The wheels continued to skid on the wet road as the trees began to thin out.

'What's your name?' Edward demanded after a while, his voice becoming unnecessarily sharp. The girl flinched somewhat and did not speak for a while.

Finally she answered. 'Victoria,' she said carefully. 'Victoria Greenstone.' Edward relaxed. That settled it. There were definitely no Greenstones in Silverton. She was probably sneaking over from a nearby town to see a boyfriend or something. Yes, that would be it. Stupid to get so worked up about it. Probably all that booze, making you feel all lightheaded, he told himself.

'It's just I don't recognise you Victoria,' Edward said slyly, allowing himself a small smile. The girl shifted in her seat somewhat.

'I don't recognise you either,' Victoria said quietly. Despite his reassurances to himself, Edward felt an old fear creep back. To distract himself, he threw a look over his shoulder. Yes, the gun was still there, where it had always been. As soon as he got shot of this kid, he would get back to business. He pressed his foot down and urged the car to go faster, lurching around the bends.

Without warning, the girl began to raise her voice. 'Sir…sir? Here would be fine, just let me off here!'

'I don't know,' Edward muttered, concentrating on the racing road ahead. 'I sure wouldn't want to see a young girl get hurt out here, just cos I didn't drop you all the way home.' The car passed perilously close to one of the trees.

'I'll be fine, just let me out!' the girl began to yell. 'Stop, you're going too fast, just let me out!' When he looked at Victoria's face he almost screamed with her. She had turned white as a sheet as she hung onto the door handle her eyes wider and wilder than he had seen them. For a dreadful moment, he saw her as a shrieking witch, no, a demon who was trapped in this car with him. Maybe it was the beer, but for that moment he genuinely feared for his life. He smashed on the brakes and the car jerked to a halt. He gasped for air as he watched her almost bust the car door off its hinges in her haste to get out. The girl slammed the door behind her, rocking the entire car with the force, and then ran, disappearing into the gloom of the woods. Edward felt a need to get somewhere else, anywhere else, as long as it was away from the hitchhiker.

The car squealed and rocketed forwards, veering on the road. Edward was gripping the wheel so hard his knuckles had turned white. Out of the corner, he saw the girl had left her coat behind, but refused to look at it in case it brought him out in another panic. Instead he looked for the last time that night at the back seat, at the gun. It was only the sudden bumpiness of the road that told him there was something wrong, and that was only a split second before the tree hit the front of his car. Edward felt himself flying and then he was down again, thrown against the car door and then the roof. The last thing Edward felt that night was the metal ramming itself into his brain and then all was still.

()

Victoria almost tripped over the roots of the trees as she ran, almost sobbing with fear. Her mother was going to kill her. What was she thinking, getting into a car with a stranger, especially one who was drunk and quite possibly a psychopath? Victoria stopped, allowing herself to catch her breath, and then started crying again. She had never felt so scared in her life, she could have been killed. She took a few more deep breaths to calm herself. She just wouldn't tell anyone, that's all. And it was very unlikely she would ever see that man again. After all, the driver couldn't have been from Silverton, she would have recognised him. No, there was definitely no man living in Silverton who went around in those 1970s clothes he had been wearing. She was safe now.

She ventured carefully to the road to try and see how far away she was from home. Maybe she could walk the rest of the way. She became dimly aware that she was shivering. Of course, she had left her coat in the car. How was she going to explain that to her mother?

A cacophony of screeching and loud explosions suddenly filled the air. The woods were for a second lit up by the fire, allowing Victoria to clearly see the retro car flip and fold itself around a tree further down the road. She couldn't help it, she shrieked as she saw the car she had just been in engulfed in flames. For a mad second, she thought the driver was going to rise up from the fire a corpse, and come after her. Her heart was trying to beat its way out of her chest and she struggled to breathe. She turned away from the carnage and stumbled back into the woods. She prayed that the driver was dead, that he wasn't following her, his skin melting off his face, his arms outstretched to take her.

She almost fell into a hollow under a tree and lay there for a minute, curled up into a ball. She couldn't hear anything now, everything was still. Only one thought kept running through her petrified mind, to call 911. After a while, she found the courage to move and dug her hand in her pocket for her cell phone.

It took the cops half an hour to find Victoria, a shaking, terrified wreck sitting at the bottom of a tree. They spoke soothingly to her, promised to take her home and wrapped her in a blanket before putting her in the back of the police car.

'Is…is he dead?' Victoria managed to ask meekly as the police car pulled away. The female cop at the front sighed.

'Darling, we didn't find no car crash. I think your imagination got the better of you there.' She said reassuringly, with a touch of contempt.

'But…but I saw it,' Victoria whispered in disbelief. 'I…I was almost in it.' My God, if she hadn't gotten out of that car in time…

The cops ignored her. 'Nah, we haven't had a car crash along this stretch of road since, when was old Edward Hall, Matt?' the woman asked the older man next to her.

'Let me see, Edward Hall…' Matt considered. 'I'm pretty sure that was in '76. Terrible business.' He suddenly brightened up. 'Vicky, you been talking to Billy Peters? You mustn't listen to what he says; he's just a stupid boy. I should know, gets in trouble every other week.'

Victoria shook her head numbly, but neither of the cops noticed. 'What's this about Billy Peters, Matt?' the woman asked in interest.

'Oh, just a story I caught him telling the local girls. Apparently, after Edward crashed trying to get to his cheating wife to shoot her, he didn't, you know, move on.' The woman snorted, but Victoria felt herself start to shiver again. 'He says that his spirit still drives up and down this road at night, forever trying to get home to his wife, and killing any who get in his way. Seems to me Vicky heard this story and got a bit hysterical.'

The woman laughed again. 'Is that all? Aw, Vicky, Well, it's all over now.'

But when Vicky was helped out of the police car in front of her house, she had only taken one step up her drive before her eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed into a dead faint. For wasn't that her red coat hanging up on the front door, untouched by any flames and exactly as she had left it on the seat of Edward Hall's car?