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Bill looked out of the driver's side window and did a double-take. Standing at the edge of the road was what appeared to be a young girl. She had long blonde hair, was wearing a white dress, long. Kind of old-fashioned.
"What in the world is she doing way out here, this late at night?" he asked himself. The girl seemed really and truly lost. Bill slowly brought the car to a halt on the shoulder of the road.
Whoever she was , she had no business being out here in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. Lucky I came along, thought Bill. Otherwise, she might have run smack dab into some maniac, tried to pick her up.
"Hey, hey miss...can I help you? I mean, did your car break down or something? Need a ride?"
The lonely figure started suddenly, looking around as if confused. Bill realized she was probably scared out of her mind.
And no wonder, he said to himself. Why, right down the road is that creepy old cemetery. She's lost out here, at night, and wandering right past the graveyard!
The girl approached the car, looking like a frightening white phantom in the glare of the headlights. Bill thought she would speak to him through the passenger side window before getting in, but she simply grasped the door handle and slid in casually, barely looking at him. She stared ahead, seemingly lost in the darkness of the long, deserted road.
"I...I need to get home. I'm late as it is. Mother will be so worried. She'll be up waiting for me."
Bill took the car out of neutral, drove back out onto the road, and felt, all of a sudden, a weird, icy feeling, like frosty prickles, grip his skin. He tried to make small talk but all she would repeat were the vague directions to her house. Bill, nonetheless, could understand them well enough.
"So...what sees you out here tonight? Did your car break down or something?"
"I'm Bill, by the way," he said, putting out his hand for her to shake. She ignored the gesture. He pushed ahead, asking her, "And your name is?"
"Oh, well. Nice to meet you, Mary. Say, you sure are lucky I came along when I did. It's dangerous for a young woman like you to be stranded out here in the middle of the night. I mean, you don't know what type of pervert or lunatic could have come along and tried to abduct you."
Bill felt his voice quiver a little as he said this. If this young woman was used to taking such risks, he feared she wouldn't make it to a ripe old age. Her response, though, was much the same as it had been before: silence.
She barely took her eyes off the blackness of the road before them.
Finally, as they came up over a hill, below, nestled behind a weed-choked, run-to-riot yard, Bill saw a sagging, weatherbeaten old farmhouse. It gleamed evily in the moonlight, and its windows were black, fathomless eyes staring out from some pitiless void. He felt a lump in his throat.
This girl seemed, he thought for a moment, to carry freezing cold with her like some kind of invisible force. Also, it was just then he noticed, crazily for the first time, that her dress was soaking wet. The thought at first struck him as ludicrous; then, it began to really disturb him.
"Here!" she exclaimed, pointing her finger and patting the window with her palm excitedly. "This is it! This is my home. Oh, mother will be so glad I've finally made it home!"
What a strange way to put it, thought Bill. Has Mother been waiting for her long?
He pulled into the gravel driveway, feeling the car bounce and lurch down the rutted, uneven road. The girl beside him was silent, staring at the grim, imposing facade of the crumbling farmhouse with rapt attention. Was this place deserted? Bill wondered. No. There was a light behind the living room curtain.
He brought the car to a crunching halt when, alerted as if by a thunderbolt, Mary threw open the passenger side door and bounded out. Bill, somewhat surprised, got out more slowly, calling "Mary? Is this really the place?"
He looked around in astonishment. Mary had disappeaed.
Seemingly, she was gone into thin air.
Bill slammed the card door shut, now feeling the first real tendrils of fear grip his spine, like icy cobwebs trying to mummy-wrap his soul. There was a weird, thin mist that had just oozed up, that seemed to be clinging to the ground.
Where had Mary gone? he wondered, at a complete loss now as to the strange turn of events this weird, unsettling night had taken. His heart beating a little harder in his chest, he crunched across the weed-choked gravel to the sagging front porch, making his way up the steps uneasily, not liking the creaking squeal of the boards beneath his feet.
He knocked on the door. It was a little pit-pat. He could see a shadow rocking back and forth behind the filmy sash of the curtain. After knocking again, the dark silhouette was seemingly roused. He could hear a heavy tread on the floor boards, and the door slowly creaked open, revealing a seamed, aged, careworn face.
It was a lonely-looking, older woman. She did not, for seemingly living in such a secluded locale, seem to think it odd that a strange man had come visiting so late.
"May I help you?" she croaked.
Bill swallowed, unsure of how to proceed. Finally he said, "Yes. I picked your daughter up...wandering around near the old cemetary. She seemed somewhat disoriented or something. Anyway, she told me she lived here. Now, it seems she has somehow run away, or disappeared." He looked around as if perplexed. He genuinely was. Where could she have gotten to without him seeing it? Was she hiding back behind the house, in the bushes?
The old woman smiled knowingly, and looked at the man with her strange, grey gaze.
"I was afraid this would happen tonight. It always does...on this night. You're not the first."
Bill looked at her quizzically, said, "I-I'm afraid I don't understand."
The old woman laughed a little, almost bitterly, before continuing.
"She tried to come home. She always does. Hitches a ride with a stranger, and then he or she drives all the way out here. And then she just...disappears. Tonight is the anniversary. I waited up for a visitor. I always do."
Bill was silent a moment. Then:
"Anniversary? Of what?"
"OF HER DEATH," the old woman said without a pause. "Sir, my daughter was killed in an auto accident, coming home from her school dance, twenty-five years ago tonight. In all that time, many have been lead out here, thinking they are just giving a lift home to a strange, lost girl. She always vanishes, and they alway come knocking. I have to explain to them she is no longer with us. Except, of course, in spirit. Now, if you'll excuse me, it's very late, and I'm very tired."
And with that, she shut the door against the night.