The clock reads 3:01 AM. The streetlights bathed the car in fleeting light, flashing along the highway at intervals that are perhaps too far apart to be comfortable, but light the way well enough. The car is quiet, not even the radio is on. Sometimes it helps drown out the monotony of driving, but not tonight. Tonight, the moon is nowhere to be seen and the cool air from the open window is all you need.
It’s somewhere between streetlights that you glance in the rearview mirror. There hasn’t been another car behind you for kilometres, but it’s habit as you change lanes. Your eye catches something out of the ordinary in that cursory glance, and for a moment you feel white-hot fear in your viens.
There is a man in the seat directly behind you.
You swerve back into your lane when the rumble strips on the side of the road do their job and startle you back into focusing. Briefly, you wonder if running your car off the road would be the smarter option – what if this man has a gun or a knife? – but you decide against it. When you check the mirror, the man is still there, unfazed and staring directly ahead. Staring at you.
You clear your throat, suddenly dry, but the man makes no indication that he heard you. When you say, “Hello,” the man doesn’t even blink.
Eyes back on the road, you remind yourself. The lines zip past you on either side.
“Who are you?”
“What are you doing in my car?”
“How did you get in?” Your voice is becoming shrill.
Finally, there is a reply. The man turns his head to stare out the window, slowly. His eyes are devoid of light. “I’m headed to Las Vegas,” says the man.
“Okay,” you say, trying to keep calm. “Las Vegas isn’t anywhere near here. We’re in Canada, sir.” Your voice is trembling as you speak, like the fingers gripping your steering wheel. Something about the way he speaks is eerie.
“I was hitchhiking,” says the man after a short pause. “I was trying to get to Las Vegas.”
“Was?” You ask, catching the past tense. “Does that mean you’re not headed there any more?” You laugh nervously, trying to make small talk while you try to find a place on the highway to pull off. There isn’t any room on the shoulders here, and there’s signs warning not to stop on the road.
“Yes,” says the man. He doesn’t elaborate.
“Well, where are you headed now?”
The man’s lips part in a smile, reflected twice back at you from the rearview mirror and the window as you pass another streetlight. Before your eyes, as the light passes right overhead, he vanishes. You stare until the rumbling of your car jolts you back to reality. You glance in the mirror. Nothing. You swallow thickly, shaking and tense.
He’s right beside you now.
The realization almost has you wrenching the wheel away, but you stop yourself in the middle of a swerve. You briefly wonder what the other drivers must think of you – but then you remember you’re all alone on the highway at this time of night. There isn’t even other houses on this stretch of highway, just open fields.
“My name was Charles,” says the man. He isn’t smiling any more, and he’s staring at the road. Lines continue to zip past, but they aren’t reflected in his dead, hollow eyes. “Charles Lacroix,” he continues when you don’t say anything more.
Finally, you begin to offer your name, “Well, Charles, my name is–“
You slam on your brakes. Charles is no longer in the car. He stands in the middle of the highway and you’re going too fast!
Your car passes through him. You shudder at the sudden cold in the car. As tense as a cable about to snap, you sit in your car, shaking, once it’s screeched to a halt. Checking the mirror, Charles is nowhere to be found. You check the back seat. He isn’t there either.
When you turn around, he’s standing in front of the hood of your car. There’s something in his hand, and it glints in the highway light.
You don’t stick around to find out what it is.
Foot slammed on the gas, you get out of there. There is nothing in this world that would make you stay.
Looking back in the mirror, you watch him as he leaves. He stands there, looking over his shoulder at you until you turn the next corner. Trembling like a leaf, you spend the whole ride home a mess of nerves. There is a heart-stopping moment when you think he’s back in the car with you, but it’s just a shadow as you pull off your exit. You floor it all the way home and spend a few moments outside to just breathe.
Once inside, you look up Charles Lacriox. You find out that he was indeed a hitchhiker near Las Vegas. Of course, it was also public record that Charles had murdered several folks as a hitchhiker and that he had died in prison just the year before. The hair raises on your arms as you shut your laptop, a question on your mind.
How did he get to Canada?