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Beyond the Western
The Ghostly Hitchhiker
Tom Sheehan

Beyond the Western

Jed Bauxer was getting concerned, anxious, about a number of things: his hairline, his voice change, the deep baritone coming towards an alto of sorts, his good pal, Hurry Dixon, another long-haul rig driver, seeming to lose a bit of memory between long runs, like not stopping at their regular diners on extended routes across the country. They were worth a small curse now and then, a sudden idea of deviltry, small diversions on the road.

In small pieces, all this bothered him, began to weigh a little heavier on each trip, though his rig-driving appeared not to suffer the slightest. All the cabs in all the rigs had room enough for a night’s sleep in a roadside parking area near or at diners he and Hurry were familiar with, had been to many times. Such space comfort was provided in each cab, in good order, the way a pay raise was handled: “Should have been there earlier, long ago, earned by multitudinous mileage.” Bitching is usually a part of the job, comes with it, like extra pay.

All these bothersome entries came not in one of the big rigs, but in his car, a five-year old sedan, and often enough to shake him up each time he drove to see any of his spread-out family; now located in Maryland, Ohio, and New York. And never knowing when a change would come to any of them, a new job that determined a new route, a domicile to check with his appreciative eye for good construction, an okay from the Old Man.

He told none of them about the mystery, and he paid special attention not to mention it to Hurry Dixon, enough on his mind every time out of the big yard, the rigs parked like missiles in rows upon rows, as though ready for firing, each one cleaned and preened after a long trip, made new, it seemed. On for the long haul, on for the road wars, the little battles, the major tie-ups, the sites of ruins from instant impacts, the wondering about survivors, the walk-aways, those unknown drivers deserving medals.

The most recent hair-raising incident, its shock still hanging around in his car like a scent of sorts, was his suddenly noticing a stranger, gray and dusty-looking, sitting directly behind him in the car, in the same manner his father used to sit being toted here and there on their personal errands, his father also gray and dusty-looking, and magisterial to boot.

He almost spun off the road. It was there in the back seat, then it was gone. It came back two more times in that ride, each incident disturbing him totally; so much so, that he worried about his hands on the steering wheel, his foot on the gas pedal or the brake pedal, how much room he allowed for other traffic. And did other drivers see the rider in the back seat? He could not determine that either; everything seeming to shift so readily, disappear, re-appear. Neither rear door of the car ever opened or closed in a physical move; entry and exit was non-physical and, as he finally admitted, ghostly, a spirit of something ungodly, a bit more than a shadow in recline, at war with the world about him.

A few times, he pulled off the road, shut off the engine, opened both back doors, to find nothing. His mind, he assumed, was playing tricks on him, and he wondered if a message was being sent to him, a notice of a coming accident, an atrocity on the road.

Hurry Dixon had to be advised of the situation; perhaps he was part of it, was to be in it, his rig toppling over the roadside, or smashing into another rig coming at high speed from the opposite direction: a warning from some Lord of Rigs, some Lord of the Road, whatever name or title it might earn or be cited.

If his own time was being marked, he’d want to see his family again, each in turn; so he lit out for new visits; apparently, in many turns or straightaways, the ghost, the spirit, the shadow of a thing, came aboard in its sudden much-less-than-physical entry; no swish or swoop of air as when a window or door is opened; nothing so natural. And then nothing more as the shadow departed, went free, went elsewhere, with never a sound, with never a spoken word, a mere shadow dispersed.

Once, in Ohio, when he almost ran into another small car ahead of him, the ghostly passenger departed quicker than his brake foot moved, jamming down on the pad, tires screeching their resistance to suddenness, alarm. He never heard “Boo!, Gotcha!, Beat that!” or a similar salutation; just the silence. And it made his skin crawl, with an itch, a fast shrinkage in his body, made a lump pass through him on its way down his long frame, to pass off at his toes, to leave him shaking again, each time, every time, yet promising to be on for the long haul. Once, such a relationship, such a connection, made him laugh, humor in a rare alignment.

But that one time only.

At one rest stop, he began to play around with the rear-view mirror, quickly deciding he needed a second one, sort of hidden but not, able to see the back seat from a second view. It took some special rigging to make it work as he worked around in the driver’s seat.

He wondered if he was going a bit too far, if he was going to see what he would not ever want to look at. His anxiety, of course, began to rise again, as he thought about sights he’d never want to see: Hurry’s fatal accident, his own accident, or accidents to any of his children, slight or serious.

The installation took hours, those hours filled with the possibilities, the horrors sitting out there on a simple straightaway.

He hit the road at the wheel of his car. Only a few miles down the road, the ghost-rider was there, right behind him, in the back seat, but a change was upon that spirit, suddenly screaming to get out of the car, grabbing for door handles, jumping around in the seat, the screams getting louder and louder, kicks coming at the back of Jed Bauxer’s seat hard as punches, a wild will cut loose to threaten him, every view loaded with a dark terror of weird complexities, as though loosed from the Devil himself.

Ideas pummeled him, wild thoughts, crucial decisions made in error or risen from anger. He was beset.

It was a Sunday, early morning, and he drove into a junk yard for cars and trucks of all kinds, many gone to rust already, not one vehicle in the whole yard appearing to be salvable. Selecting a tight space near the rear, he parked his car, made sure the doors and windows were slammed tight, flattened the tires, lifted the hood and thoroughly smashed parts of the engine with a tire iron to utter smithereens.

He walked off into the morning sun, hit the road again, his thumb out for a lift.

He counted on it.


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