The Ghost Girl Chronicles

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Urban Legends Along the Highway

Mariah had all but vanished from Michael’s life. When he first hurt his head, he had dreamed of her frequently. In his dreams, she had seemed a real presence but she would vanish immediately upon his waking. As his concussion healed, the dreams had started to occur less and less frequently, as if she had she was imposing a punishment upon him.

Disappearing also was the telepathy he had so suddenly developed. As his brain healed, his ability to hear the thoughts of others had slowly disappeared. And good riddance to it, he had thought, the noisy cacophony had been unwelcome intruder that was now thankfully gone.

It had been a cruel blow when Mariah had appeared to Dewey. Now he despaired of ever seeing her again. He had taken to going to the old house and hoping that she would show herself, but the only thing he ever saw was the old garage where inside he knew was a maroon van with mud covering its fenders.

At last the day they all looked forward to arriving: school was out. Fidgety students, dreaming of summer vacation plans, watched as the hands of the clock slowly ticked their way to twelve, then rushed out to the waiting buses in a hoard. Farewells until September were made, then they poured into the waiting buses, dreaming of sleeping late, watching television, and playing video games. Or, for the lucky, trips were waiting to exotic locales, or maybe just places like Disneyland or cross country. Either way, three months of freedom, never long enough, were a welcome break from the routine of school.

No such trips were in the offing for Michael’s family. Those days would have to serve as memories for now. Michael’s parents couldn’t afford driving lessons, but his father took him to get his learner’s permit and took him out whenever he had spare time to teach him to drive. Short Round and Dewey showed up every day and they would go to the skate park or play video games. Some days they would take illegal cruises in Dewey’s car around town, or road trips up into the mountains if they grew tired of the crowds at the skate park, or just wanted to get away.

The summer was warm and the days were long and golden. The maples trees on Mike’s street were lush with great green leaves, and flowers bloomed at houses where gardens were tended. The neglected yards were overgrown with weeds, but the foxglove, fireweed, daisies, and even thistles had their own kind of wild beauty growing among the overgrown grasses. Mike found neighbors who were happy to let him mow their lawns, and now had pocket money he didn’t have to guiltily request from his parents.

Long hours were spent at the skate park. Michael was still restricted to riding his BMX, but he took rebellious chances with his riding and started teaching himself new tricks that he’d seen on DVD’s he’d rented. If his friends noticed that he took more breaks and carried a bottle of Tylenol, they mentioned nothing but would take breaks and sit with him and comment on the other bike riders or skaters.

The better the weather grew, the more restless they became. The amount of illegal cruising increased until they decided they a camping trip was in order. Between the three of them they had sufficient camping equipment and enough money to buy food and gasoline. They racked their mountain bikes on top of Dewey’s car, putting Michael’s new Trek carefully in the middle. While they packed their equipment and food, one of Short Round’s older brothers surreptitiously slipped a case of beer beneath the sleeping bags and tent.

The next morning they headed out of town, for three, four or maybe more days-- they didn’t really know. All of them had their cell phones and promised to update their parents about their plans. Dewey drove carefully, keeping to the speed limit. They took the freeway out of town that led to the state highway that wound its way through the mountains, and soon they were far beyond the city limits, feeling a heady sense of freedom.

Dewey turned the radio on and they sang and rapped with their favorite songs as they drove past small towns and pastures of horses or cows. Houses and towns gradually gave way to forests of maple, then into the state forest filled with tall firs and hemlocks. Wildflowers grew in a riot along the roadside, whites, yellows, and purples mingling with the green of the trees. Creeks and rivers made their appearance and then would suddenly disappear.

“We remembered fishing tackle, right?” asked Short Round when he saw a creek flowing over large boulders. Of the three boys he was the best cook, and he was visualizing a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pan-fried trout.

They were getting close to what they called their secret campsite. It had once been a popular campground in the days before the highway was re-routed but now frequented only by those who knew about it. There was a creek, waterfall, and abandoned trails that made it an attractive place, but it was down an old, rutted Forest Service Road that discouraged all but a determined few. Those who knew about it kept it secret, but every so often a car would come down the old road forcing, them to share the campsite they would have preferred to keep to themselves.

They were two or three miles from their turnoff when they saw a girl walking down the highway. Her light brown hair swung to the rhythm of her walk, and her white shirt and brown shorts showed off nice arms and legs that were strangely un-tanned for the time of year. When she heard their car she turned around and stuck out her thumb.

“What the hell--what do you think? Give her a ride?” Dewey was already pulling over to the side of the road.

“I’m cool.” Mike was looking at her, thinking for just a moment that she looked vaguely familiar, as if he should know her.

“Let’s rescue the damsel in distress,” Short Round responded, and he was holding the passenger door on his side open before Dewey even pulled to a full stop.

Michael rolled down his window. “Where are you headed?” Not knowing why he found himself backing away from the window. He’d never seen a girl hitchhiking here, out in the middle of nowhere. They had passed the last small town miles back, it didn’t make sense to him that anyone should be looking for a ride here. A teenaged girl, no matter how pretty, seemed strangely out of place on the not-well-traveled road.

She seemed nothing but ordinary though, as she smiled and climbed into the car next to Short Round, who was grinning broadly. “I’m camped with my family just off that old Forest Service road. You know where the abandoned campground is?”

All three of their hearts sank at the thought of having to share their beloved campground. Dewey smiled gamely and said, “Sure”, then took off down the road. He kept a careful eye out for the turnoff, but she pointed out the exact place to turn when it was time for him to pull off the highway.

“You can let me off a couple of miles down the road,” she said, and the boys looked at each other. She was talking about the exact place where they had planned to camp. “I took a walk down the highway and I can walk the rest of the way to our camp.”

They drove in silence until they came to their campsite. All along the road remnants of old camping sites could be seen; but the concrete and iron fire grates, along with the picnic tables, water faucet, and outhouse were long gone. Still, it was full of tall firs, cedars, and hemlocks, along with vine maples. There was a profusion of wild blueberries and huckleberries, along with clumps of wildflowers. For water, there was a creek nearby that also held an abundance of trout for anyone successful enough to catch them.

The girl stood around and chatted with the boys while they unloaded the car. Then lifting her hand in farewell, she wandered down the road until she disappeared from sight. They started to set up their tent when Short Round suddenly announced, “Hey, I’m getting her number,” and took off. The other two shook their heads and went back to the task at hand.

Suddenly they heard him shouting, “Guys, guys, come here, quick!” Michael and Dewey took off at a run until they found Short Round kneeling next to some bushes. His tanned face had turned a sickly yellow and he was visibly shaking and crying, saying, “No, no, no, no.” Michael peered over his shoulder then ran across the road and threw up. Only Dewey remained, to his surprise, remained eerily calm.

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