“Hey, Red. Bum a smoking? ”
She was standing by the vending machines, so still I nearly sauntered right past her without discovering. Accuse it on highway hypnosis; I’d been driving for hours with good-for-nothing to focus on except miles of cornfields and the pavement ahead of me. Flat farmland the whole way and not a single interesting fragment of roadside flair, unless you weighed that broken-down age-old van I overtook just before the rest stop with the words DEATH BEFORE DISCO decorated on the back.
“Oh, ” I said, turning back from the women’s bathroom where I’d been foreman. “Yeah, sure, Camel okay? ”
She smiled at me as I dug into my handbag for my cigarettes.
“Beggars can’t be choosers, man.”
She was like one of those girls going to see Coachella, all faux-7 0s fasten and periphery, a cheap Stevie Nicks knockoff. Don’t get me wrong, she wore it well- the only accessory missing was a flower treetop from American Eagle- but something about those festival chicks exactly get under my skin.
I sided her a cig and she fastened it in her mouth at once, motioning impatiently at me with her other hand.
A little bossy for someone who just said tramps can’t be choosers but whatever. I fished out my lighter and harboured it out to her but she exactly pursed her cheeks and leaned towards me, wanting me to light it for her like gentlemen do in old-time movies. The act impressed me as extremely Joan Crawford-esque- will need to be flirtatious but coming off as sort of spiteful instead.
I clicked the lighter to life and she breath, the cherry of her bummed cigarette glowing bright in the falling illuminate of dusk.
She nursed it in for a long moment like she hadn’t had a smoking in a while then expelled grandly.
“Ugh, thank you, ” she said, pushing a fasten of dark mane away from her face with her free hand. “I requirement that like you wouldn’t believe.”
“No problem.” She was looking at me kind of funny now, squinting a little like there was more to say, but in my opinion the cigarette was more than enough so I threw her a curve and went back to the bathroom to do what I’d attracted into the rest stop for in the first place.
When I came out again she was still there, bending against the vending machine, blowing out slow clouds of thick grey smoking into the evening air.
I felt spooky only dismissing her but I didn’t genuinely have era for laboured exchange with a stranger. I needed to get back on the road.
“Have a good one, ” I told her lamely as I headed for my car.
“Hey, Red, wait.” She took another long drag out her cigarette and ashed it onto the plaster. “I hate to ask but … I’m sorta stuck here. You think you might gimme a razz? ”
Okay, two things. One: I don’t give trips to hitchhikers. It’s a thing for me. As a young woman I simply don’t feel very safe with a stranger in my car , no matter how nice their hand-written cardboard signeds might be.
Two: I dislike being announced Red. I detest it. Yeah, ha-fucking-ha, my mane is red, you are absolutely the FIRST person who’s ever held me that particularly inventive moniker! The only thing worse than Red is Firecrotch and think you are, during high school I heard them both more than I care to recall.
So, these things taken into account, you’d recollect I would’ve done the smart thing and said no. Get back in my vehicle and foreman down the road, leaving who I was already thinking of as #coachellachick in my rearview reflect. But something strange happened, I opened my mouth to tell her I was sorry and instead I found myself saying, “How far do you need to go? ”
Her eyes ignited up.
“Not far, mortal , not far! ” She took another quick lag. “I mean, as far as are you gonna take me, but if I could just get to a gas station or somethin’ it’d facilitate me out a lot.”
Shit. Shit shit shit. Why had I like to remind you that? I had no intention of offering this daughter a ride but the words had come out of me without any alert, almost like something else had obliged me to say them.
I should’ve felt it then, the sick tug on my bowel of something being very wrong, but I didn’t and that’s why I’m telling you this story.
She must’ve ascertained the look upon my face because she fastened the cigarette between her cheeks, promoted her arms and did a little rotate for me. Her boho hem followed the arch of her legs, the periphery of her vest fanning out prettily.
“Don’t got any weapons. Determine? Nowhere to place’ em.” She was right; no pockets , no bag, and I doubted there was a bayonet stashed in the crop-top between her meager cleavage.
She turned back to me and grinned. “You can frolic me if you want.”
I blushed a little when I recognise she perhaps discovered me staring at her tits. Oops. Which was more tricky, being caught looking or trying to explain I actually was searching her for dangerous artilleries? I altered my pocketbook uncomfortably from shoulder to shoulder.
“Super fine, super penalty, ” she agreed, and I gesticulated to my gondola- needlessly, I might contribute. It was the only one in the lot.
While we’d been talking the sunlight had specified and the overhead sunlights came on, rendering the mostly-abandoned rest stop a creepy sort of feeling. All shadows and differ , no phone but the occasional vehicle zooming by on the roadway. Suddenly I was ready to hit the road again, get far from being this home. How long had the hitchhiker been stuck here? I didn’t envy her.
“Let’s go.” I declined behind the pedal of my compact little Malibu and put the key in the kindling. My brand-new fare caused the roof a joyous slap with the palm of her handwriting as she hopped in.
“Bitchin’, humankind, thank you so much better! ”
“You bet.” I changed into paraphernalium and merged back onto the superhighway, feeling better as the rest stop changed smaller and smaller in the distance until it was gone altogether.
The hitchhiker leaned back in her tush and placed her hoofs up on the dashboard. I noticed for the first time she wasn’t attire shoes; her soles were pitch-black and filthy.
“Hey, ” I started, and as I glanced over at her I realise a few more things: she wasn’t buckled up and she was still inhaling on her cigarette. Great, like the situation wasn’t awkward enough. “You mind getting rid of that? I don’t … don’t really inhaled in my car.”
She gave me a gaze, a pitch-dark sidelong examine I actually didn’t like. Then she smiled.
“Yeah , no sweat.” She took one more deep lag and began fumbling around the door for the window holds. I reeled it down for her from my line-up and watched, filled, as she flicked it out into the night.
“Thanks, I appreciate it, ” I said, even though she had accidentally exhaled that last draw kind of in my face. “You should fasten up, too.”
“Jeez, Red, you got a lotta rules, ” she tittered, but there was strain in her voice now, something I hadn’t discovered back at the rest stop. She didn’t reach for the seatbelt and jiggled her soiled toes on my dashboard.
I looked at the mile marker. Simply eight more miles until the gas station depart. I could make it until then.
A few long instants of silence legislated between us before the hitchhiker said abruptly, “Where you headed, Red? ”
I fucking hate being announced Red.
“Oh, only dwelling, ” I said , not wanting to give her more information than I had to. “Visited a friend out of town so, you know, simply … pate home.”
“Oh, ” she said thoughtfully. She altered in her posterior, threw her feet back on the floor. “That’s cool, soldier, that’s cool.” She delayed. Turned around briefly to glance out the back space. Then said, “’Cept you ain’t never gonna make it.”
Before I could even handle this, something threw into my bumper from behind. My gondola careened forwards and I discovered an engine being gunned, loudly.
“The fucking -?! ” I gripped the rotation tight, struggling to stay on the road. My eyes flicked to the rearview mirror.
Behind me, right on my ass, was a bright red-faced van. One of the ones that don’t have windows on the sides, kind of like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo. I merely had a split second to register what was painted on the hood- a caricature demon with his middle digit in the air, parted fanny looping through the words DEATH BEFORE DISCO- before the van descended back, revved its locomotive, and rammed into us again.
The hitchhiker was giggling, a funny high-pitched screamy kind of laugh.
“You fucked up, Red, “youve been” fucked up! ” she crowed, pounding her fists on the dashboard.
I remembered the van from the two sides of the road, it had the same thing decorated on the back without the little caricature demon but it had been old-time, rusted, red-faced paint faded to a salmon pink. All the tires were flat, it was a piece of junk- I had briefly wondered if it was even legal to leave something that dilapidated on a highway- yet this van was as new as if it had rolled right off the mint. Shiny as a candy apple and in perfect determine, in accordance with the boom of its engine in my ears.
I swerved into the left corridor and it followed seamlessly, descent back exclusively to advance on me again. My paw pressed the gas pedal towards the flooring and we surged forward but the van wasn’t far behind.
“What the fuck is this? ” I hollered, willing my shitty little auto to go faster. The speedometer’s needle was at 90 and wavering.
“They’re gonna mess you up, human, ” the hitchhiker cried triumphantly. She was alternating between ricochetting in her posterior and twisting to be addressed the van as it get closer. “They’re gonna fuck you up, Red, just you wait, my boys are gonna GET you and when they do they’re gonna do things to you, crazy things…”
“They’re gonna kill us! ” I tried veering right this time, close to the guardrail but the van followed suit. It was like it wasn’t even trying , not all that hard, a cat playing lazily with a paralyzed mouse.
“No , not right away, ” she said, a sick sort of delight in her spokesperson. “I mean you’ll wish they did, my boys got all kinds of stomaches and they’re fuckin’ sure gonna play with you, Red, they’re gonna have a good time with you- good thing you picked me up back there, I was fastened at that shithole rest stop but now we’re gonna have such a good time…”
I blew past the departure for the gas station, going too fast to take it and not entirely sure what I would do if I did. The van fell back a little bit; my nerve was hammering in my chest, I wasn’t sure if I could oblige her out the passenger slope but I knew had to keep driving, if I stopped…
I couldn’t stop, this is something that was certain.
I stomped on the gas, putting pedal-to-the-metal for the first time in “peoples lives”. My car’s locomotive whined in complain but I threw some interval between us, the speedometer heaving towards 100, 110.
She was chuckling now, stomping her filthy bare feet like a kid at the circus.
I glanced at her, prepared to tell her to shut the fuck up, when I construed that unexpectedly she didn’t looks just like a privileged rich daughter heading to Coachella , not one fleck. Her clothes were as soiled as her hoofs, her whisker clumped in black twisted mattings. There was something on her face –
I was thrown forward as the van disintegrated into my bumper again. Knuckles lily-white, I turned the rotation back towards the white-hot wires, trying to stay on the road.
“Whassa matter, Red? ” she muttered, pussyfooting towards me, her lips right next to my ear. “Look like you construed a ghost.”
A stench bathed over me, soaked garbage and disintegrating flesh, a centuries-old-grave freshly levered open. I gagged but there was no time to be sick, I had to drive, I couldn’t stop- I didn’t want to meet her boys. I veered left, rubbing the side of my automobile against the concrete wall that divided the freeway, the Malibu shuddering violently as we sped on.
The hitchhiker began cackling again and I chanced one more look at her face.
Most of her left cheek had been blown away, exposing the teeth and bone in their gleaming white glory. Blood oozed from the meander and pitter-patter down in dense blood-red sags across her cultivate top, her fringed vest, her boho skirt. Above the scant cleavage I’d checked out such a short time ago, her chest was peppered with what believe that this is bullet holes.
My mouth opened but no reverberate “re coming out”. I searched frantically from the horrific character in my passenger seat to the van in my rearview mirror- which is currently gazed more like the wreck I’d discovered on the side of the road. Rust spread across the metal like an exotic mold; the cartoon devil and DEATH BEFORE DISCO were interpreted almost unreadable by a spray of bullet punctures, much like the ones on the hitchhiker’s chest.
I couldn’t see who was behind the rotate of the van- the window was pitch-black, glistening, a dark reflect indicating back the ass end of my battered automobile- but I was suddenly, wildly sure that “the boys” seemed a lot like my passenger, ended with mortal harms and sigh that smelled like utter reeking death.
“We’re gonna have fun with you, human, ” she said in a low-toned, gurgling spokesperson, playing nonchalantly with a strand of my whisker as I drove for my life. “We’re fuckin’ sure gonna have fun playing with you- tell me, does the carpet pair the draperies, Red? ”
To my left, the concrete divider of the route fell away. The hitchhiker was reclining closer to me, pressing her rotting form against excavation, halfway across the center console. And then I remembered.
I turned towards her, action myself to be addressed her destroyed, dripping face.
“I fucking abhor being called Red, ” I hissed, and wrenched the pedal to the left, transporting us moving into a gully separating the highways.
My poor age-old Malibu rebounded and weakened as we pealed towards my target: a small knot of trees. I didn’t have time to see if the van had followed me but I did watch the showing on the hitchhiker’s devastated face- stunned, furious, and a bit intimidated- just before she went operating through the windshield.
I was all right for the most part. Physically speaking, regardless. Bruises, slashes, typical auto crash injuries. The plaza where my seatbelt fastened pained like a bitch for a few weeks but hey, my seatbelt is why I survived.
The guy who called the ambulance said he saw the disintegrate. He’d pulled over to change a flat and I disappeared rushing past him like a at-bat out of hell, right into the trench. He didn’t mention a cherry-red van, new or otherwise, because he didn’t read one.
I don’t know for sure what happened that night. I don’t know how( or when) that hitchhiker and her boys died but I know they did and I know they didn’t used to go quietly. I’m sure I could do research and maybe come up with some answers but I don’t because a part of me doesn’t want to know.
Here’s what I do know: I’ll never stop at that rest stop again. I’ll never pick up another hitchhiker.
And I’ll never tell the police , no matter how many times they ask me, where the candy-apple-red colour chippings on my bumper come back here.