I’m a salesman—spend half my life driving from one pitch to the next. It gives me time to think. That night I was driving through the redwoods, well past midnight.
When I was a kid, I read a spooky tale about a girl named Lavender who haunted a back road. They said she was dressed up for a party. It was a good story and I probably read it a few times, as I did when I was a kid and had all the time in the world, but I’d forgotten about it until I saw her. Not Lavender, the girl walking barefoot along the narrow road lined with giant trees, wearing what I took to be a prom dress, a flimsy bit of pink gauzy stuff and lace.
I was well past the last tourist trap when I saw her.
She wasn’t carrying shoes, as you might expect with the fragile, uncomfortable sort of thing girls wear to a prom. She was walking along the road at midnight with feet accustomed to the gravel of the shoulder, not picking her way like someone with tender soles. There had to be a destination in her mind, so sure was her stride. While she reminded me of Lavender, I didn’t doubt that this girl was of solid flesh.
She turned and waved her arms. My headlights flashed briefly on her terrified face, then it was gone in the night. I didn’t stop.
Offering a young girl a ride on a dark stretch of road in the middle of the night could have had disastrous results, were she of a mind and talent to claim misuse convincingly. I drove past the girl and on a good mile before my conscience got the better of me. There were so many ways she could come to no good end, walking alone that way along the road in the dark under the giant trees. And she had looked frightened.
She was probably a nice girl, a good girl who would not make up lies. I should help her. So I watched for a wide spot in the road and turned around. By then several minutes had passed. There was a good chance she’d have arrived at her destination and I’d find no one walking along the road.
It wouldn’t mean she’d been a figment of my imagination.
There was no sign of her. I went back well past the spot I’d seen her, to the little store with the carved bear, and I turned around once again and drove slowly, to make sure I didn’t miss her. By then I was worried. She had looked terrified. I admitted this to myself as I searched in vain. There were no houses on that stretch of road, no driveway to a home where a young girl in a prom dress would have gone, no side roads, nothing until the spot where I’d turned around the first time.
Well, I suppose you’re thinking she was a ghost, like Lavender, and I was thinking maybe I’d imagined her, too. But she was real. A man riding his bicycle along that bit of road the very next day spotted a splash of pink in a hollow beside the road. They say it was her head hitting a rock that did her in, but the force of impact indicates a speeding car clipped her, throwing her from the road.
Of course I know better. Mine was the only car on the road that night.
Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. As Halloween approaches, I’m including a few less admirable characters. If you’d like reading more about this villain or his victim, leave a comment.