His car veered to the right, frantically overtaking the other vehicles, his tires gripping at the slick surface of the road.
He was late for a date. Not just any date. This was the date. The date where he was to be introduced to his girlfriends parents for the first time. His palms had been sweating all day. Meeting the parents for the first time was always nerve racking but when he learned that his girlfriend's father was in the Marines, this sent Nelson into a spin.
He blasted his horn. “Come on, come on!” he shouted at the car in front of him. “Move it! Some of us have places to be that are more important than a freeway.”
Changing gears, Nelson speed up, zipping around the car and flipping his middle finger up at the driver. The other driver shouted a few explicit words back as Nelson pulled in front of him.
His turn off was coming up. He glanced quickly at his watch. He was teetering on an hour. His girlfriend was going to kill him, resurrect him and kill him again. If it hadn't been for that last phone call, Nelson would have been out the door on time and wouldn't be breaking the land speed record in order to arrive on time. Or just arrive in general.
He floored it, weaving through the traffic like a NASCAR driver. He knew that due to the rain that they had he should be more careful, but tardiness was not acceptable. Rounding the car up on two wheels, Nelson made the turn off and slammed on the breaks. Sitting near the off ramp, hidden by shrubs was the cops. The moment he saw them, Nelson knew it was too late. He was doing well over 80 when he came flying around that corner.
Their sirens sounded, lights flashing, as they pulled him over. The officer sauntered up to the window, rapping on it with his knuckles. Nelson wound down the window, his Hollywood smile beaming brightly. “Is something wrong, officer?” he asked, innocently.
The policeman frown at him and began writing the ticket. He handed it over to Nelson before departing back to his vehicle.
Staring at the ticket in his hand, Nelson frowned. Late by an hour and a $500 fine for speeding. He crumpled the ticket. Could this night get any worse?
He started his car and pulled out into traffic. He glanced up into his rear view mirror. The cop car was right behind him. “Fuck,” he muttered.
The traffic was moving at a snails pace and Nelson was beginning to feel more and more like Janet Leigh in Psycho. His eyes kept drifting back to the mirror and sure enough, the cop car was right behind him. He could almost feel the police officers eyes boring holes into him.
He turned into Cherry Street. He had to drive over the Cherry Street Bridge, make a left on Revello Drive then right onto Sunset Lane and he was there. Nelson's eyes travelled back to the mirror. The cop had gone straight on.
Nelson breathed a sigh of relief and wiggled about in his seat, attempting to find his phone in the pocket of his black pants.
He took his eyes off the road for second as he felt his phone dislodge from his pocket. When he looked back up, he let out a startled cry.
A woman stood before him, centre of the road.
Nelson slammed on the breaks for the second time that night. He turned the steering wheel hard, hoping against all hope that he hadn't hit her.
The car came to a stop on the bridge, taking up both lanes.
Nelson was shaking as he opened the car door. He glanced up at the road, rubbing his neck. The woman was gone. Nelson frantically searched for her. There was no body.
“Maybe she got a fright,” he said aloud. “Maybe she's perfectly safe.”
He scanned the road one last time before turning back to his car.
Nelson let out a scream. Certainly not one of his more manly moments.
The woman stood next to his drivers side door. She was pale, drenched from head to toe, her blush pink gown clinging to her body, her dark hair hanging down around her face. Her dress had some mud stains on it, bits of reeds attached, clinging to the fabric.
“Help me,” she coughed, water dripping from her mouth.
Nelson stared at her, his eyes widening. Her cheeks were caked in mud. The smell took his breath away.
Shaking his head, Nelson leapt into action. He removed his dinner jacket, draping it over the young woman. She shivered at his touch. “I have to get you to a hospital,” he told her, holding open the passenger side door for her. She shook her head. “But, but, you're injured,” he stammered. Again, she shook her head. Nelson got down on his hunches and took her hand. “Where can I take you?” he asked, mentally kicking himself for making it sound more suggestive than it actually was.
“Home,” she said weakly. “I want to go home. Please, take me home.”
“And where is home?” he asked, gently moving a strand of her hair from in front of her face. His finger lightly brushed against her chapped lips.
“Hill Road,” came her response.
Nelson stood up and closed the door. Hill Road was the next street over from his girlfriend's place. It was doable.
He ran around the car and climbed into the drivers seat. He thought about peeling out of there, but one look at his passenger made him think twice. She looked like she already had been through enough. Clearly she didn't need him acting like a hoon.
He started the car and drive through the silent streets. He now and then, he stole a glance at the young woman. Her eyes had closed as she huddled in the seat, her body shaking from the cold. Nelson turned on his car's heater in hopes it would warm her.
He turned into Hill Road. “Which house?” he asked, sweat dripping from his brow.
Her eyes opened as she weakly gestured with her right hand. “The last house on the left,” she said, before closing her eyes again.
Nelson speed up a little, worried about the state of the young woman. He knew he should have taken her to see a doctor. Instead, Nelson found himself pulling up in her driveway.
Nelson climbed out of the car, and opened the passenger side door. “You wait here, and I'll ring the doorbell,” he said. The woman nodded and watched with sunken eyes as Nelson ran up the front steps. The front porch was lit by a single lantern hanging near the front door, illuminating a plaque. The Crawford Residence. Nelson wiped his hands on his pants before ringing the bell.
He rocked back and forth on his heels until an elderly woman opened the door. Nelson looked down at her, and smiled. “Excuse me, ma'am,” he greeted. “I found a young woman-” The elderly woman held up her hand to silence him.
“You found Annie,” she said, knowingly. “Yes, every year on this day she tries to make her way home.” The woman held open the door, ushering him inside. Nelson turned, pointing to the car.
The young woman was gone.
Inside the elderly woman's home was quaint and cosy. Nelson sat down on the floral couch, stretching his legs out, unsure of what to make of all of this.
The woman sat down beside him, a photo in hand. “Annie was my daughter,” she said softly.
“Was?” Nelson shook his head. “She was sitting in my car. I touched her. I held her hand.”
The woman nodded, her eyes filled with sympathy. “I know,” she said, reaching out to touch his hand. She handed him the photo. “Annie and her boyfriend were driving back from the prom fifty-six years ago when her boyfriend lost control of the car on Cherry Street Bridge. Their car spun out, crashing through the guard rails and plummeting into the icy waters below. The coroner said that Annie died instantly, but no one was really sure of how Kevin lost control of the car.”
Nelson looked down at the photo in his hand. Smiling back at him, in a pale pink prom dress, was Annie Crawford. Her dark hair was pulled into a neat ponytail, her eyes full of warmth and her smile was big and bright.
Nelson shook his head. “I don't understand,” he told the elderly woman. “Your daughter's dead. How did I see her? How did I touch her?”
Mrs. Crawford smiled and patted Nelson's knee. “This night, every year, Annie finds a nice young man who resembles Kevin to bring her home. She never does make it.” Mrs. Crawford handed him another picture. This one was of Annie with a handsome young man, not much younger than Nelson.
Nelson felt faint as he handed back the photos. The elderly woman patted his knee. “That's why I leave the light on near the front door,” she explained. “In hopes that one day Annie will return home.”
“But why me?” Nelson wasn't too sure he fully understood what had happened.
Mrs. Crawford just smiled lovingly. “It was your year,” she said simply.
* * * * *
Nelson sat in his car. He had arrived at his girlfriend's place and was sitting in the driveway trying to make sense of everything that had happened.
He looked over at the passenger seat. A damp spot stared back at him. Nelson reached over, running his hand across the seat, feeling the moisture left behind.
He started the car again, peeling out of the driveway and tearing down the street. He didn't really have a plan, but he had to know if that woman was telling him the truth.
The car pulled up outside the cemetery. Nelson got out and walked through the hefty iron gates. As he walked through rows and rows of tombs, Nelson kept his eyes open for anything with the surname 'Crawford.'
Tucked away in the far corner was a grave, neatly kept, fresh flowers resting against the tombstone. Nelson stopped cold. Even from a distance he knew whose grave it was. It wasn't that he could read the inscription of Anne Louise Crawford. Nor could he read her birth date, date of death or 'May Be Gone, But Not Forgotten.'
Nelson's blood ran cold.
Resting on the top of the tombstone, still damp from the icy water from under Cherry Street Bridge, was his jacket.