Ever start dating someone where everything is going a little too well, so you start worrying for no reason what-so-ever? No-one could be that perfect, and even if they were, then there’s no way they would look twice at you. The only logical explanation is that they aren’t as perfect as they pretend to be, which leaves you playing detective trying to figure out the catch.
Maybe all those little quirks that you find adorable now are going to drive you crazy in a few months. Maybe she even has a dark secret: hard drugs, or hating dogs, or that one time she killed a man with a stiletto heel in a fit of passionate rage.
There’s an easy solution if you want to find out who someone really is. Take a long-ass road trip with them. If you’re still together by the end, then it was meant to be. My girlfriend (I’ll call her Emily, not her real name) somehow thought it was a good idea to drive 1,000 miles together across the country after we’ve only been dating for two months. We’re both pretty busy with work and don’t get to spend much time together, so naturally being locked up in a prison cell on wheels for two days was going to be an improvement.
First 100 miles? So far so good. Holding hands, singing to the radio together, uncontrollable laughter when she found out I knew all the words to “Sk8ter Boi” (sue me, it’s a catchy song). And if the road ended there and we turned around, we might have lived a long and happy life together. It was when we passed the hitchhiker that everything began to fall apart.
“Let’s give him a ride,” Emily said, squeezing my hand. “We’ll be on this road forever anyway.”
“We don’t even know where he’s going,” I told her. “He’s probably just going to rob us and steal our car.”
Which is true of everyone you don’t know (and most of them you do), as far as I’m concerned. His clean-pressed suit didn’t reassure me either. That just meant he’d successfully robbed someone before me, which actually made him even more dangerous. The guy didn’t even have a sign or anything. He was just sitting by the freeway ramp, spastically waving his thumb like he was guiding an airplane to land.
It was my turn to drive, and I just sailed right past. Emily and I started bickering after that. She thought I wasn’t compassionate, and I thought she was reckless. It took about ten minutes before she finally dropped it, although it wasn’t because she’d conceded.
“Hey look, there’s another one!”
Sitting by the side of the road, waving his thumb like it was the end of the world. It wasn’t another one though. It was the same guy, I’m sure of it. Only this time he looked like he’d been out here for a few days. His suit was streaked with dirt and his hair was greasy. There was a desperate strain in his face, like a proud man trying to conceal his embarrassment. It wasn’t just my imagination either – Emily recognized him too.
“How do you think he got here so fast?” she wondered.
“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” I said. “This trip is supposed to be about us, so let’s not get distracted.”
My car blew past him and I stayed the course. We started arguing again, and even when we agreed to drop it the argument just slithered into new topics. She hated my music, I hated how judgmental she was. I was controlling, she was picking fights over nothing. It kept getting worse until we saw something that shut both of us up real fast.
The hitchhiker again. Another 20 miles down the road from where we’d seen him last. The bottom part of his shirt and jacket were ripped to shreds, and blood was soaking through a concealed stomach wound. He was stumbling along the side of the road, weaving erratically, wandering straight onto the highway at times before pitching off to the side.
Emily could not believe that I didn’t stop. I couldn’t believe she still wanted me to. I was starting to feel really uneasy by this point, and the stress of our arguing was only making it worse. She kept yelling about he was hurt and needed help. She refused to even acknowledge how weird it was that he kept getting ahead of us. She almost caused an accident by grabbing my wheel when I refused to turn around.
We drove for the next 50 miles in silence. I turned the radio back on, but she snapped it back off immediately. It wasn’t until I pulled off for gas when we saw him again.
Face down on the side of the road. Shirt and jacket gone. Long, even, bloody gashes from his shoulders to his ass, almost like bear claws or something. I stopped the car and parked behind him. Emily jumped out and knelt beside the body. She looked up at me with uncomprehending rage burning behind her eyes, like this was my fault somehow.
“He’s dead,” she said, standing up. “Can I call this in to the police, or is that too much of an inconvenience for you too?”
I nodded, absolutely numb. I filled up on gas while she waited with the body until the police arrived. They asked us a few questions, but neither Emily nor I felt comfortable explaining that this wasn’t the first time we’d seen him. They took our information and let us get back on the road after about fifteen minutes.
The car was silent for a long time after that. It was starting to get dark and I kept suggesting places to spend the night, but Emily just shrugged and stared out the window. At the rate we were going, we’d be breaking up by the end of the trip and I wanted it to be over as soon as possible. I just kept driving, long after the sun went down.
Emily fell asleep around midnight, but I kept going. She was so beautiful like that, and everything was going so well before this. It was just so frustrating that such a random event that neither of us could predict would destroy us like this. By around 2 AM I was getting real tired, but I decided not to give up. Maybe if she woke up and we were already there then she’d see how hard I worked for her. Maybe then we’d still have a chance to patch things up.
I caressed her hand, and she returned the pressure. I flirted with the thought that everything was going to be okay, at least until she woke up and started screaming. There wasn’t any safe shoulder to get off the highway, so I had no choice but to keep going. She shut up quick enough, but it was still about ten seconds of hysterical breathing before she could explain what was going on.
“Behind you. In the backseat.”
I glanced back. Then back at the road. Then back again. The hitchhiker was in the backseat. Naked, filthy, covered with black blood and old wounds. His elbows rested on his knees as he leaned toward us, evidently still alive as he cocked his head to regard me curiously.
“Get off the road!” Emily started screaming again.
“I can’t! Get him out!”
“Did you go back? What’s he doing here?”
“I don’t know! Open the door or something!”
I slowed down gradually and put my flashers on to warn the car behind me. The hitchhiker reached around behind Emily and grabbed her by the throat. I slammed my fist into his arm and felt something give way under the soft, rotting skin. When I lifted my hand I could see a black bone from his forearm protruding straight through the skin. He didn’t seem bothered in the least.
She was crying as the dirty fingers dug into her throat, pushing through the skin like it was made out of dough. She was thrashing so hard that one of her flailing fists smashed straight through the window. I managed to safely stop the car, but there was nothing I could do to break the indomitable grip around her neck.
I jumped out of the car and ran around to the backseat with the hitchhiker. Maybe if I had a clearer shot at him I could drag him out. I flung open the door and lunged inside, falling face first into an empty seat. I thought he’d already escaped somehow and ripped open the passenger side door. Emily was gone too. If it wasn’t for the blood and the broken window, I would have thought I’d gone completely insane.
I spent the next hour searching the surrounding area with my flashlight. They were both gone without a trace. I considered calling the police, but I realized that if I wasn’t already a suspect after the first body was found, then I’d definitely be one now that I was soaked in blood and my girlfriend was the one to disappear.
All I could do was get back on the road. Drive home and never tell another soul what happened, that was my plan. It wasn’t good, but it’s all I had. And I would have done it too, if I hadn’t just passed Emily standing by the side of the road. Clean, healthy, waving her thumb enthusiastically in the air. That was a few miles back, but I stopped to write this because I don’t know what to do from here.
If I see her again, do I pick her up? Or just keep driving and hope for the best?