The wind through the trees made a spectral howl as the woman in white appeared by the side of the road. Her hair was wet and hung over her face in long, sticky strands. Her dress, once a resplendent white, was now stained and filthy. It hung from her gaunt frame in tatters, the shredded ends billowing about her like smoke.
Her head lolled in the direction of the headlights that appeared down the darkened lane. Her hand, pale and bloodless, stretched out over the asphalt, thumb extended. A low, wet giggle bubbled up from her throat and fouled the night air.
The station wagon skidded to a halt a few feet past her. Its back end was covered in bumper stickers (McGovern '72, Good Day Sunshine, Love Machine) and the hatch was kept closed with bungee cords. The woman in white drifted up along the side, her hand trailing along the cracked faux-wood-panel sticker that was glued to the doors, and leaned over to peer through the passenger side window.
The driver was a man. This made the woman's slack mouth turn up in a slight grin. Men were the preferred victim. This one was dressed in a clashing plaid polyester suit and a brilliantly white belt could be seen just below his protruding belly. As he leaned over the seats and rolled down the window, she could see that he sported a black, wiry mustache that did nothing to cover the nicotine stained teeth that crowded his mouth. Her little smile faltered. This one didn't seem right.
“Well hello there, darlin'” he said, a slight southern twang accenting his words. “What's a pretty little thing like you doing out here by yourself?”
On second thought, he was perfect. Smiling again, she opened the door and slid onto the seat. The man leaned back against his door, a gold medallion glinting in a thick mat of chest hair, and rolled a toothpick around in his mouth. The seat was like a long couch and only a battered shoe box of eight track tapes separated them. He stared at her for a moment, gave her a wink, and then put the car into drive.
“So where you headed, darlin'?”
“To see my fiancee,” she answered, her voice distant. She turned and looked out the window as the trees flew by, the cold wind making her hair whip around like a nest of snakes. “I've been looking for him for a long time, but something is keeping me away.”
“You don't say? Look, if you're cold or something I got a little whiskey here in the back. Warm you up quick.”
As he reached into the back seat, his eyes not on the road at all, she turned her gaze to the steering wheel. She could just reach over and grab it. The car would launch itself into the forest and smash itself into pieces. She'd done it before. And this car didn't look like some of the more modern ones that had started cropping up. No airbag in this rust heap to save the driver from her revenge.
But no, that always felt like cheating. And this guy looked like he needed the full treatment.
“There we are,” he said, finally fishing the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels out of the back. He set it on the seat next to her, knocking the shoebox of tapes to the floor. “Shitfire! Could you pick those up darlin'? I hate to get those stepped on, my radio don't work for shit.”
She bent over and began picking up the tapes, annoyed at the interruption. He looked at her neck as she leaned over. It was so thin. The skin so smooth. It certainly wouldn't take much to just reach over, grab it with both hands. The man reached over, picked up the whiskey bottle, and unscrewed the cap with one hand.
“Name's Stan, by the way,” he said. “What about you?”
“I've been looking for my fiance for a long time,” she repeated, trying to get back on track. “It was on a night like this that I first lost him. The car broke down. It was cold out, so he went to go get some help. I stayed in the car. It got so late. He didn't come back. So I tried to hitch a ride.”
“That's some shit luck, right there,” Stan said, pushing the bottle of whiskey at her. “Hitchhiking is dangerous business. You gotta be careful who you pick up, you know that? All kinds of crazies out there at night. Head's all full of crazy notions, no tellin' what they're gonna do.”
“I was picked up that night,” she continued, her face back at the window. “By a nice looking man. You remind me of him...”
“He was handsome then,” Stan chortled, giving her a wink.
She looked at him, her black gaze shutting off his laughter. Stan could see a faint black line snake its way across her throat, the skin peeling back as if it was being cut open by an invisible knife.
“He was a monster,” she stated flatly. “He tried to get me to drink too. Tried to flatter and compliment me. Then he did this!”
Her hand shot out. Stan saw the razor blade flash for the briefest of moments before it plunged into his jugular and tore across the lump of his Adams apple. His foot instinctively jammed on the brake and the station wagon swerved to a stop in the middle of the darkened road. The woman watched his head lurch forward, his hand reaching up to his throat. This was her favorite part. The part when he would look at her with a dumb, shocked look, unable to register what had been done to him. A look just like the one she had once had, long ago on that cold night.
Instead he started to laugh.
“Darlin',” he said, trying to catch his breath. “are you tryin' to murder me?”
She dropped the razor. It disappeared before it even hit the seat. She watched as the cut she had made in his throat closed up on its own. Not a speck of blood leaking from it. He kept laughing.
“You ain't real, are you?” he asked.
“I'm real,” she insisted, offended by the question. What the hell was going on? This had never happened before.“I'm absolutely real.”
“But you ain't alive, are you? You're dead.”
She could only stammer. Stan took his foot of the brake and, chuckling like a madman, continued down the road.
“Open up the glove compartment,” he said, pointing at it. She looked at him, at his unharmed throat, and didn't move. He sighed, reached over, and smacked the button. The door to the compartment fell open and its contents made the woman gasp.
Inside the compartment was a human heart. It was still beating.
“That's mine,” Stan said, opening his shirt and leaning back. The woman could see a gaping hole, just under the medallion, in his chest. A single black cavity framed by a shattered rib cage. “I picked up a hitchhiker back in '74. We drove a couple miles, shot the shit, and then he up and stabs me. While I'm still alive he hacks open my chest and pulls out my heart. I don't know what he did with my car or my body, so now I just drive around looking for it. And killing hitchhikers. Been doing it almost forty years now.”
“I was killed by the guy who picked me up,” the woman said. “I can't remember how long I've been dead. I forget sometimes. My name's Sandy, by the way.”
“Pleased to meet you Sandy,” Stan said, extending his hand. She shook it. “How come I never seen you before?”
“Normally I'm up on I-40,” Sandy said, putting her hair back in a ponytail and picking up the whiskey. She took a swig and grimaced. “Whoo. That's good stuff. I haven't had a drink in forever. Anyway, there's been all this construction up there. All day and night, bang bang bang, it started driving me nuts. Well, nuttier, I guess.”
“So you moved down here?”
“Yeah. I didn't know it was your route though. I can move back.”
“No worries,” Stan said, taking the whiskey bottle back and having a drink. “I don't mind sharing. Way I see it, we don't have much overlap. You can prey on the ones who do the pickin' and I can take on the one's who're doin' the hikin'.”
“You seem nice,” Sandy said, putting her feet up on the dash. “are you still mad at the one who killed you?”
“Actually, funny thing, the guy who got me got caught like four months after he killed me. Sent to prison, got executed, but he never owned up to killing me, I guess. I saw it in a paper one of my victims left.”
“So you just kill any hitchhiker you see?”
“On no,” Stan said. “I got a code. See, if I concentrate I can see inside a person. See if they're good or bad. If they're bad, I kill 'em. Good, I just give 'em a ride and then spook 'em with an ominous warning or make my face go all screamin' skull on 'em. It's a hoot. You?”
“Same thing, pretty much,” Sandy said, flipping through the eight-tracks. “If a woman picks me up I'll just ride along a ways, tell my story, and then disappear when they look away for a second. Sometimes that makes them crash though and I feel bad.”
“But if it's a man?”
“Oh, he's dead.”
The two rode on for a bit, drinking whiskey and chatting. Soon enough, the sun began to peek over the horizon making the cold air of the forest steam and smoke. Stan pulled the car over to the side of the road, the bald tires not making a sound on the gravel.
“You sure you want to get dropped off here?”
“It's no problem,” Sandy said, giving Stan a warm smile. “I can just woosh back to where I was and wait around for night time.”
“Well, it was nice talking to you,” Stan said. “If I see you around I'll stop, maybe we can do this again sometime.”
“I'd like that,” Sandy got out and shut the door, then leaned in through the window. She looked sad.
“What is it, darlin'?”
“Do you think this will end? Ever?”
“I don't know,” Stan sighed, frowning. “It'd be nice if it did. Maybe when no one's left? When the sun goes dark or something?”
“So we just keep doing this? And pray for the end of the world.”
“That really sucks.”
“Sure does. I'll be seeing you. Keep on truckin'.”
And with that, both the woman and the car faded out into nothingness.