Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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Beware of Hitchhikers

by Jeremy Simons




"He doesn't live here anymore," the woman, seemingly out of place according to his prior knowledge, said. "I'm sorry."

"Are you sure?" David Forsch asked hesitantly. His voice cracked and popped with nervousness as it always does in the presence of a beautiful woman... only this had nothing to do with her beauty. Sure, she was younger; long dark hair, not quite black; her eyes an off shade of green; her body petit but yet voluptuous and eye-catching in all the right places; her voice sweet and angelic; she is everything he could have ever asked for in the opposite sex, but that wasn't it. He was nervous because he somehow knew the answer to his question already. He had only asked out of sheer reflex from a shock factor he couldn't comprehend. "I gave him a ride yesterday. He told me I could pick him up from here." His palms were beginning to sweat. He was not crazy, but this lady was definitely making him feel that way.

"That's impossible, sir." Her voice took on an odd tone. "Tommy's been dead for nearly ten years now."

David's stomach immediately knotted into a position that only a contortionist could fathom. It felt as it had on that first morning... the first time he had met Tommy Kline. His mouth dropped open as he thought of that first morning.

Two days ago, he had decided to take the back way to work for the first time ever. His work was in West Monroe, better than thirty minutes from his own home. The back way as the locals deemed it was shorter mileage-wise and quite possibly a quicker route, but it had numerous flaws as well. For starters, it was in the backwoods; few houses; seldom traveled; no cops. It was a recipe for disaster, which was precisely why he had never chosen to travel this way, fearing he may breakdown or have an accident--hit a deer, probably--and not be able to receive help promptly. He had a cell phone, but surprise, surprise, Highway 4--the back way--was a notorious dead zone for cellular reception.

Yet, despite all of this, and the fact that he had not a single spontaneous bone in his body, he had to try it.

"I'm headed in to West Monroe." That was the first thing Tommy Kline ever said to David Forsch. His voice had been strong and distinct, nearly inhuman. It most certainly hadn't fit with his childish face (or baby face as David's own father liked to describe men who didn't age correctly). It had sent a shiver creeping up David's spine, that combining with the nausea--nausea that had only occurred moments before he first saw Tommy Kline, nausea that David had passed off on a possibly undercooked sausage-and-biscuit or too much sugar in his coffee, nausea that he had never connected with Tommy's presence--was unsettling in its own right, but David had paid it no mind.

Instead, David had let the man into his truck. I let him into my goddamned truck. It wasn't one of those instances where you immediately get a bad feeling about someone and hope they will just turn their back on you and walk away but end up getting into the vehicle anyways either. No. David had actually instructed the stranger to get in--wanted him to.

David snubbed the stranger's handshake upon entering but obliged one of his own only after giving his own name; his own real name. He wished now he hadn't. Tommy's hand was cold to the touch, like grasping a block of ice. His fingers were brittle, like shaking hands with an elderly man laced with arthritis. But that didn't stop Tommy from squeezing, applying as much pressure as possible as any man does when meeting another for the first time. David tried to do the same but failed miserably; it was almost like a competition between men to see who was manlier. Tommy won this grudge match hands down. David grimaced in pain until Tommy eventually let go; his hand was red with little white indentations where Tommy's fingers had dug in; his own fingers momentarily hooked into claws, after effects of the pressure, like a sufferer of carpel tunnel.

David should have booted the stranger out right then and there but didn't. Worse, he pulled his black '79 Ford back out onto the highway towards West Monroe. Worse still, he made conversation with the stranger. Even worse still, he enjoyed it.

David found out exactly where Tommy was headed: a convenient store just inside West Monroe; he discovered why Tommy was hitchhiking. Apparently, Tommy had been laid off from a previous employer, struggled with finding new work for quite some time, lost his car to repossession, and a friend who was supposed to be picking him up this morning for his new job had gotten sick at the last minute. Tommy had had no other choice but to hitch.

The irony of it all was the fact that Tommy had said he was lucky not to have lost his house. Lucky. "It was paid for." The same house that David was now standing in front of, partaking in this odd conversation with this beautiful young woman. But who was she really? Wife? No. Tommy said he wasn't married. Daughter? No. He said he didn't have any children either. Relative? No. He said he lived alone.

Then who? David asked himself.

Maybe no one, a voice in the front of his mind answered. Maybe you have the wrong house. Yeah.

That's it. You came here by mistake.

That was all well and good, but David knew it was bull. He had personally double-checked the address more than once while pulling up the driveway because frankly, this house seemed a little too nice for someone with no vehicle. Besides, the woman had said "anymore"--"he doesn't live here anymore"--implying that he once had.

So, who is she?

Never mind her, the same voice that had spoken up before answered him now. There is something else you must do before you worry with her background.

This was true.

David pulled out of the driveway, his mind racing over a million different thoughts, mostly about the two previous mornings. Before he had left the house, he had gotten directions to graveyard that housed Tommy's gravesite. He had to check it out for himself. From his own point of view, he had no choice but to do so.

David called his boss (baffled by the fact that he even had service out here) and told him he had a stomach bug and would not be able to make it in today. His boss claimed he understood and expressed vocally that he hoped David got to feeling better.

With this accomplished, David exited the confines of the truck.


* * *

David's mind wandered back to that first morning as he drifted listlessly through passing grave markers to each side. The nausea had disappeared the second he pulled back onto Highway 4 with Tommy at his side, and he had not thought of it anymore. He had dropped Tommy off at the convenient store as requested and after numerous attempts of staying with Tommy until his boss arrived, David finally had taken the hint and left as well... leaving Tommy alone.

The next morning, David had taken the back way again. He had taken a liking to Tommy. Tommy was honest, nice, and real; he was straightforward and didn't beat around the bush. He was every way that David liked to carry himself.

David continued passing up graves. THOMAS. TAYLOR. WILKINS. He saw each name clearly although his mind was not totally here.

He had hoped that Tommy would be on the road again on that second morning... yesterday. He wasn't disappointed either. David discovered Tommy once more and from what he could remember, Tommy was in the exact spot as the day before. Sometimes coincidences were just too random to be taken seriously.

David picked him once more. The two men talked the entire way into West Monroe once again. He dropped Tommy off at the store again and then proceeded to work himself.

BAILEY. HARRIS. SMITH. He had not seen the first one marked KLINE... Tommy or otherwise.

David came the back way once more on this morning. He had aspirations of picking up Tommy once more and not just hoping this time. The two of them had discussed it the day before. David had offered to pick Tommy up every morning from now on until he could get back on his feet. Tommy had agreed with a noteworthy and sinister smile, but there had been one stipulation. The stipulation was simple and not a problem: David would pick Tommy up from his house from now on.

KING. MCKIETHEN. DUPLISSEY.

David had followed Tommy's directions anally. He had pulled into the driveway leading to the big, beautiful two-story home he was having a hard time believing belonged to one Tommy Kline. He had checked the address etched on the 9-1-1 sign planted in the ditch at the foot of the driveway to the address that Tommy had given him, the address he had scrawled across the back of a business card. It was one in the same.

David had knocked once, softly. When no answer had came, he had thought about leaving right then and there. Again, this was something he wishes he would have simply just done instead of procrastinating over it and eventually deciding against it. Instead, his curiosity had gotten the best of him and forced him to knock a second time, considerably louder than the first. That was when the beautiful young woman had called out from inside the house.

CARR. LEE. David was on the verge of giving up this wild goose chase when finally he discovered what he had came to see, what he had hoped he wouldn't see. In the back most corner of the cemetery, he saw a single gravestone marked KLINE. The stone itself was considerably smaller than most others here. The location abysmal, off by itself with no others surrounding it. But that didn't stop him from walking over.

David gazed upon the gravestone. Beneath KLINE printed in neat, symmetrical letters were two simple words: Tommy Kline. There was no birth date or death date. There was no witty little saying or anecdote that would forever be associated with Tommy Kline (as if a single line could even begin to sum up one's entire life). Beneath the name, there was only a single photograph. It was definitely the same Tommy that he had picked up not once but twice.

David fell to his knees. He was in disbelief. He had never been much for ghosts or spirits, but he knew there had to be a reason for all of this. The only logical conclusion that he could come up with was that Tommy's spirit must have wanted something from him, maybe for David to know what had really happened to him.

David went back to the house where he had spoken with the woman. The girl turned out to be Tommy's daughter. She told David her father had been killed on this road. She told him that Tommy had lost his job and car just like David already knew. He was out hitchhiking and got ran over. He died instantly. She went on to say that Tommy was struck by a black truck; a Ford; an older model; '77 or '78 model is what the cops had told her; maybe a '79. Her description described David's own truck to a tee. It didn't explain much, but he did not like the idea that his truck was identical to the one that had killed Tommy. David left the house and traveled back the same way he had come. He creeps through the area where he had picked up Tommy and shockingly saw something that he had not seen before. He knows exactly what it was before he even got close enough to see it entirely. It was a marker. People put them in spots where loved ones had died. He did not have to check it out to know whose name was going to be on it, but he did so anyways. Sure enough, TOMMY KLINE was written across it in faded black letters. He could not help but to wonder why he had not seen it before.

Even though David was horrified, he couldn't help but to take the back way for the fourth morning in a row. Once more, he came across Tommy Kline, or his ghost or spirit or whatever it was. Tommy was in the same spot as he had been during the first two mornings. David had no clue as to whether or not Tommy's spirit knew that he had found out about the accident. He can only assume that Tommy did know.

For some ungodly reason, David pulled over to pick him up. It was extremely foggy on this particular morning. So David wisely turned his flashers on as he shifted the truck into Park. Tommy appeared next to the passenger's side door moments later. This time things were different.

Something was not right, and David knew it. Tommy seemed angry, malevolent. David began immediately gasping for air. He couldn't catch his breath for anything. He couldn't move. Blood began oozing from every visible orifice on his body as his eyes moved towards the rearview mirror. He watched in horror as his irises turned black just before his body started to convulse. More blood spilled out until there was nothing left to spill.

Tommy only watched.

An oncoming vehicle noticed David's pick-up parked on the side of the road with the flashers still on a few hours later. The passerby found David's lifeless corpse still sitting erect in the driver's seat. Rigor mortis had already set in. The cause of death was never confirmed even after the autopsy. The blood was inexplicable.

Having no wife and no family who cared enough to take part in David's funeral, the city of Hebron appointed him a burial plot. Ironically, the burial plot selected was right next to Tommy Kline's. There was no funeral home procession or no church procession. The cheapest coffin available was provided by the city. A preacher saying a prayer at the graveside was as close to a funeral as David Forsch ever received.

There were only two people present: the preacher himself and the backhoe operator that was going to fill the grave. The preacher noticed two figures attending the funeral from a distance. It was Tommy Kline and David Forsch… although no one would ever know exactly who they were.


* * *

"You know something, David?" Tommy says. His tone is almost conversational. "I really did like you. I think we could have been good friends--you know, minus the whole take your life thing? I just wanted you to know that I'm sorry. I wish there could have been another way."

"What in the hell are you talking about?" David asks. Rage courses through him now; rage and confusion.

"That truck of yours--it sure is nice. What is it? '78? '77?"

"79."

"That was my next guess. It really has everything to with that…with your truck. Do you know the guy you bought it from?"

"Some guy," David says earnestly. "I don't recall his name. What does it matter?"

"That truck of yours killed me."

"How could you possibly know that?"

"Intuition, I guess," Tommy says. "I just somehow knew. Just like I somehow knew I couldn't leave you alive if I wanted all of this to be over with."

"All of what?"

"Afterlife," Tommy says. "When people die, some go to Heaven, some to Hell, some remain here. I can tell by the look on your face you don't believe me. I don't blame you. I thought it was bull, too... at first. Since our little meetings, I've never felt so alive. The explanation of everything that has happened since my death just kind of hit me on that final morning we met. I knew what I had to do. I knew that I had to... kill you. I'm sorry, man, but it was the only way. It righted the wrongdoing that was thrust upon me. It avenged my death. I know it wasn't fair to you, but people who die a wrongful death tend to remain on Earth until their story is told or their death avenged. I really hate it had to come to this."

"So why are you still here?" David asks, not sure if he believes all of this or not.

"To lend a helping hand," Tommy answers. "No one was waiting for me on the other side... to hold my hand and walk through it. I'm doing you a favor, man. Embrace it. Whether you believe it or not, I am. It took me ten years to figure out what I had to do, and if it weren't for you driving by that first morning, I still wouldn't know.

"If you don't want to be stuck here for ten years, David--and trust me, you don't--find the man you bought that truck from. Find him, kill him, and pray it is the man who killed me. Pray that it will end all of this. If not, find the guy who that guy bought it from; sooner or later, you are bound to find the man that killed me."

"So what--"

But Tommy Kline disappears from the graveyard leaving David Forsch behind and alone.


THE END


2014 Jeremy Simons

Bio: Mr. Simons previously had one story, "A Dead Man Tells No Tales," published on carnageconservatory.wordpress.com in October, 2013.

E-mail: Jeremy Simons

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