In preparation for publishing this series, I am starting a blog in which I plan to publish various short stories that I have written and will be writing for competitions, publications and just for fun. I will be posting a new story or sample every week and would love to receive any feedback, suggestions, or constructive criticism that may be offered.
I look forward to getting to know everyone and learning from the advice and suggestions I receive.
In honor of Halloween, my first story will be a ghost story I wrote a few years ago. I hope everyone enjoys it!
by James Meadows
I pulled my car into the small rocky alcove in front of the old historical marker. Glancing behind for any approaching vehicles, I turned my car around and headed back the direction I came. The gravel parking area, often occupied by police seeking victims for speeding tickets, provided ample room for me to complete my u-turn.
I was glad no policemen were parked along the road tonight. If so, I would likely be pulled over for suspicious behavior. This was, after all, my twenty-third time to turn around at this particular stretch. But I could not help myself. I was a man on a mission.
Straightening my car, I began my twenty-fourth circuit down the lonely stretch of dense woods and rotting fence posts. The lack of any artificial lighting on the old country road and the poor visibility around the numerous bends always produced an eerie feel when driving the route at night. Though the full moon was glowing bright in the night sky, its feeble rays were insufficient to dispel the feeling that something strange or unexpected would leap out at any moment. Truth be told, that was exactly what I was waiting for.
With my high beams on, my eyes peered anxiously along the side of the road. My nerves were on edge and I slammed my brakes at even the slightest sign of movement. A sheet of paper drifting across the street, a deer darting into the trees, or even a bush blowing in the wind was sufficient to drive my agitated mind into a state of frenzied excitement. I often found myself yanking the car to the curb and leaping out, staring frantically in all directions before recognizing the false alarm created by my overactive imagination.
Some people might claim I was insane. Perhaps I was insane. After ten years, though, I had to know the truth. I had to see for myself. For almost a decade, I had resisted the temptation. Ten times I had endured the torment. Tonight, crazy or not, I would get my answer.
My eyes narrowed as I passed the site of the wreck. Everything was dark. The place was empty. Even the crosses had long since succumbed to the elements leaving only bare grass where my son had perished. I cursed angrily and drove onward. I would continue for another mile and then loop around again.
My son’s death was my fault. We got into a fight the previous night. Afterward I refused to take him to the high school football game. Intent on going anyway, he snuck out of his window, caught a ride with some friends, and ended up being stranded at the game by those same friends. When he called, asking me to pick him up, I was furious. I told him he got himself out there; he could find a way to could get himself back. In the end, he hitched a ride with some neighbor’s kids but never came home. A drunk driver made sure of that.
The idea of a child dying after a spat with their parent seemed cliché. I would have found the idea ridiculously over used and mundane if I were reading it in a story. But this was no story. This was my reality; a dark truth that haunted me every single night, especially tonight. If I had driven him home, I told myself, he would still be alive.
As if my torment were not enough, an even greater curse started the year after his death. On the anniversary of the accident, a man pulled into our driveway. He claimed he had met a boy, matching the description of my son, on the street asking for a ride home. The boy gave him our address but disappeared as soon as the man pulled into the driveway. I was not amused by the story.
As my wife wept, I chased the man off believing him to be some sort of prankster or charlatan. Yet the same thing happened the next year as a woman pulled into our driveway with the same story. The tale repeated itself the next year and then the next. Every year, our son appeared to someone. Every year, the horror of his death was born anew, aggravating the wound, never allowing us to fully heal.
Not tonight. My wife begged me not to go. She told me to just let things be. I could not. I had to come out tonight. I had to see the truth for myself. I had to find my son.
I pulled into the driveway of some distant farmhouse and put my car in reverse. Backing into the street, I prepared to continue my vigil. I was not sure what I hoped to achieve. Part of me wished my son would appear, asking for a ride. Truth be told, though, I was not sure what I would say or do if this occurred.
Another part of me hoped nothing would happen. Perhaps my presence would stop the apparition from appearing, thereby breaking the strange cycle. Ultimately, I suppose all I wanted was closure; some way to move on with my life, if such a thing was truly possible.
A car came around a bend behind me. I slowed down and pulled to the side of the road to let them pass. I wasn’t going particularly fast so I didn’t want them stuck behind me. I coasted along the meridian and waited for their vehicle to overtake my own.
They were almost passed me when a thought occurred to me. While I didn’t want this vehicle behind me, I really didn’t want them ahead of me either. This was not a heavily traveled road, especially at this hour. For my son’s apparition to appear before a motorist every year, it had to be opportunistic, manifesting to whatever vehicle was available at the right time. If it missed one vehicle, another might not appear. If I let this car get too far in front of me, they might pick my son up before I could get there.
Realizing the car could mean the failure of my entire plan, I increased my speed to keep a carefully measured distance in the rear. When the car came to a halt as a stop sign, however, I realized the occupants were unlikely to be picking up any hitch hikers.
The car was a very old model Dodge Charger. Through the large back window, my headlights illuminated the heads of five passengers already crammed inside. They couldn’t fit another person in that car if they wanted. The vehicle’s occupants seemed fairly preoccupied. As we sat at the stop sign, I could hear them shouting songs in tune with the radio blaring through their open windows and see them adlibbing dramatically on the long notes.
When the drive resumed, I allowed my car to drift back a ways. Despite my dark mood, I found myself smiling at their antics. They were just a group of teenagers having some harmless fun.
No longer worried about them, I turned my attention back to scanning the sides of the road. I remembered what my son was like at that age. He was a good kid, just enjoying his youth. Maybe he did not always bring home the best grades, such as the “D” in chemistry which led to our fateful argument. But, he was never a trouble-maker.
A lump built in my throat as I thought about him. We were always close. I was his coach when he played sports. I was his shoulder when he needed to cry. I was his confidant when he wanted to share some secret crush or plan some secret surprise. Perhaps that was why I felt such a sense of betrayal when he snuck out of the house. I was wrong. I should have gone to pick him up. He was my son, after all. He was my best friend, my little man, my pride and joy. He was…gone.
Loud screeching tires and the blast of a horn pulled my attention back to the present. I looked ahead in time to see a large truck whip around a distant corner and smash full speed into the small car. Horror gripped my chest as an explosion rent the night air asunder. Shrieks filled the sky as the car spun wildly into the ditch colliding with a nearby tree. Then the shouts fell silent.
I slammed on my brakes, screeching to a halt a short distance away. Snatching my cell phone, I leapt from my car dialing 9-1-1 as I ran toward the collision. Unfortunately, reception was not good in the area. Instead of the friendly voice offering assistance or the loud buzz of the phone ringing, I heard only silence as the phone tried unsuccessfully to dial the number.
Movement inside the nearby truck told me its driver was safe. Yet, my heart was with the teenagers in car. As I raced to their rescue, I vaguely noticed a strange and sudden stillness. No bugs chirped in the air and no owls hooted in the trees. Yet I had no time to ponder or dwell upon the shift in my surroundings. My only thought was to somehow help the children.
Instinct told me I was too late but I raced ahead anyway. As long as even the slightest hope for rescue existed, I would do everything possible to prevent some other parent’s fate from being the same as my own.
Their vehicle was devastated. The entire front of the car was smashed in and the windows were shattered. No movement could be seen. One didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to guess why.
I reached the vehicle and tested the handle on the driver’s side door. It was unlocked. With some effort, I managed to wrench open the twisted metal remnants, put my head inside and survey the scene.
A moment later, the stillness of the night was broken by a loud crashing sound as my phone slipped from my hand, landing on the hard pavement beneath me. There was no car. There was no truck. There was no accident. I stood alone on an empty highway, my vehicle sitting opened, abandoned behind me.
My heart pounded in my chest, the beats growing more painful with each passing moment. I stared around desperately for the wreckage, for the teenagers, or for something to tell me what had just happened. There was nothing there. I was by myself, with only silence and darkness to keep me company.
My hand trembled as I attempted to pick up my phone, which readily slipped again from my unsteady grasp. Retrieving the device, I walked back down the road, climbed into my car and buried my head in my hands. Sitting alone in my vehicle, I took several deep breathes, trying to pull myself together and decide what to do next. Despite the goose bumps forming on my arms and the hairs standing on my neck, I managed to steady myself enough to think clearly. I realized that I should at least get my car out of the street.
Tapping into some reserve of inner strength, I rallied every ounce of will power and lowered my hands. I steadied myself and reached for my keys, which still hung idly in the ignition. With a twist of my hand, I prepared to start the car. It was then I realized, my car was not empty.
My breath caught as I gazed at the apparition sitting in the passenger’s seat beside me. Gaunt and white, dressed in the same shirt and pants I remembered him wearing on that fateful night, my son stared at me with hollow eyes.
He was not transparent. He was not broken or bloody. He was exactly as I remembered him, although his face was paler than the whitest light of the moonlit sky and his strange bulbous eyes seemingly devoid of pupils. I gaped at him in stunned silence and fear, a hundred emotions surging through me, leaving me helpless and paralyzed.
He sat perfectly still. His face bore no expression. He just stared at me for what seemed like one long infinite moment. Then his lips moved and a voice I knew only too well spoke in a tone of relief and love.
“Thank you, Dad,” he said, a small smile crossing his lips. “I knew if I waited, you would come to take me home.”
He was gone. The car was empty. Outside the vehicle, I heard the sounds return to the world. Inside the vehicle, I just buried my head and cried.
No cars stopped at our house the next year or the next. He was gone. And somehow, some of my pain went with him.