I think of space when I think of that day. Kind of odd I guess. But space as an element, a thing you can almost reach out and touch, something that you could hear if you listen during a quiet time.
An empty space is mysterious and unknown. That’s likely why we fear it. Around the corner, at the other side of a dark room, the backseat of the car when you know no one is sitting there. Our hitchhiker was like that. Something in the space that you could almost feel but not actually see, smell or touch. Just something sensed enough to give a creepy feeling and start us looking into dark corners expecting to see her there.
Her, was the girl who died, of course. Alone, in the rainstorm, under a bridge, she drowned in her over turned car. I thought it was a sad way to die. Hoping to be found and yet time passing with no help. Could she see the clock on her dashboard, watch the seconds and minutes pass as she died. The water rising but not filling the car quite enough to ease the pressure so she could force open a door and escape. Or was she already gone when she hit the water? Did she never even know she was dying until she was dead?
Did she now wait on the bridge, looking at the world of the living and want to come back, to join us again or just finally get home.
My husband parked the car there, at her bridge. He’d noticed the floral offerings at the side of the road and wanted to take a look. We often made road trips to cemeteries, abandoned farms and houses. He liked to put them in a more gruesome and haunted light. He’s into horror. I’m not a horror fan, not someone who’d stay up after midnight to watch movies about murderers, violence and gore.
He remembered hearing about the accident and her death on the news. We talked about it. I was sad for her. There was nothing left of the car of course, it had all been towed away, put away and dealt with. He wanted to take a better look, maybe find some car part left over or something of hers which had been overlooked. So he picked his way down the weeds and stepped around the muddy shore searching for a souvenir.
I took some photos of her flowers. They were looking pretty weathered and shabby but I was glad her family and friends had given her a memorial, a tribute. Then we got back in the car, thinking of how welcome a hot chocolate would be. The girl was in my mind, as any tragic figure lingers awhile before becoming just a memory and passing thought.
Did he look over his shoulder first or did I? I’m not sure. More likely my husband did, he was driving and had a reason to check the rear view mirror now and then. He didn’t say anything. Just drove on down those wet dirt country roads, splashing through puddles but not laughing about the spray of water as he usually would have. I decided he was feeling a bit somber, as I was myself. When I noticed he was a bit jumpy I laughed and asked if we were being followed, maybe he wanted to play at being secret agents and spies as he sometimes liked to do on drives along quiet roads.
He didn’t answer right away. Then he asked if I could see, or did I feel, anyone in the car, in the backseat. I gave a quick look, humouring him. I was all set to say “Of course not”, but I did catch something out of the corner of my eye. Just something in that space. I turned around in my seat, pushing the seat belt off my neck, for a better look. Nothing. Of course nothing. We hadn’t brought anyone else along, not a dog, not so much as a goldfish.
“No”, I said. I didn’t laugh or make a joke about it though.
We drove farther, closer to the road into town. Each of us would sneak backward looks. I could see him look in the rear view mirror several times on a road where we were the only traffic.
He pulled the mirror down to focus on the back seat. I scrunched down to watch the back from the passenger side mirror. It began to feel really creepy in that car. Something was in that space of nothingness, something we couldn’t see.
Just behind my head I could feel eyes, keeping silent, soundless as the dead, ironically. We hardly dared to breathe ourselves. I wished my husband could find the bravery I lacked and flip on the radio. Surely something as normal and ordinary as the radio could chase away the skin crawling creepiness of whatever lurked in the backseat.
She must have been so cold, dying in that deeply chilled water. How desperate she must be now to find some warmth, something human, to not be alone and quite so dead. If you believe in ghosts surely you could see how she might want to sit in our warm backseat with the heater making the car so toasty warm. Only now I was getting chilled just thinking about heat sucking ghosts sitting just out of sight, right behind me.
Another quick flick of my eyes to the backseat. My imagination pictured her sitting there. Her eyes dark and haunted, bruised looking. Her body so cold, right through, unable to feel warmth. Dripping water. I imagined hearing the little plop, plop, plop of water as it dripped from her cold, dead self. Maybe she would shiver, not knowing that a ghost isn’t alive and wouldn’t need to shiver.
It was a long trip back to town, we didn’t speak again. How can you speak about what isn’t there.
At the coffee shop, back in the living world where the spaces are all filled with artificial light, noise from the living and the smell of bacon and eggs, it was very easy to shake off the creepy feeling and put it down to just imagination. But, the feeling came with us when we got back in the car. I feel it still.
It’s been days since we took that road trip. I’m often alone in our apartment after my husband takes the car to work. Those spaces of time which I used to do laundry, make dinner, wash dishes and vacuum are no longer just the passing of time. My space is captured by something I only feel, see out of the corner of my eye. It’s her I’m sure. I think she is sad, missing the people she knew and the things she liked to do.
Since that day at the bridge I’ve stopped looking in the backseat when I’m in the car. I avoid mirrors especially, they give me a very creepy feeling. When I brush my teeth each morning I look down, avoiding my own eyes and anything that might be in that space behind me. I never take that space for granted any more.
You see, she isn’t the only one there now. I think they followed her to our home. Someday they’ll fill all that space. Taking it all. I hardly dare to take a real breath any more. I never look into corners and I always have the lights on. Someday they will suck out all the space around me. I don’t know what will happen then, when the dead fill the space of the living. My husband thinks I’m crazy so I just don’t talk to him about it any more. But I can see he gets nervous too, sometimes after dark when the apartment is quiet and he gets that creepy sense of something else, something that hitchhiked back into the living world with us and won’t now let us go.
My Halloween story. By me.
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