Gas Money

Assignment: Urban legend

They read you fairy tales when you’re a kid, but urban legends are the ones you tell yourself to freak out your friends. One of my favourites was always the Disappearing Hitchhiker; the tale of a pick-up off of a deserted highway, and a ghostly vanishing act. So, this is my re-telling of that story, with an updated ending.

***

Autostoppeuse fantôme

I never pick up hitchhikers. But, this guy looked pathetic.

I was on my way back from visiting my friends at a campsite just north of here in the big woods. I’m a city boy, so I don’t do camping, generally. I went up there for the day, and was heading back to the land of warm beds, Netflix, and wifi. I’m not afraid to admit it; I like my creature comforts. I’d leave my friends to the mosquitos and methane-filled tents, thanks.

And then, on the shoulder of the road, there he stood. He was a young guy who looked like he’d just run away from home, or something. He was wearing a non-desrcript set of clothes, other than the fact that they were dirty. He had a sort of haunted air about him. I suppose I should have driven right past him. But, we were in the middle of nowhere, and there weren’t any cars on that road but me. I’m not even sure how the guy got there.

So, I pulled up on the shoulder, hearing the gravel rattling against my wheelwells.  I reached over and rolled down the passenger-side window and he leaned his pale face into the car.

“Thanks! You’re a lifesaver!” he said in a dryed out voice.

“Sure thing. Is everything OK? Are you lost or something?”

He climbed into the car.

“No. Well, I don’t think so. I can’t actually remember how I got out here. Could you drive me into the next town? I’ll pay for your gas.”

“Sure thing. But, maybe you should find, y’know, a doctor or something man. If you don’t mind my saying so, you look like death.”

“No, I don’t mind you saying so.” That was all he said.

“I’ll take you up on the gas money thing too, man. What’s your name?”

“It’s Bryant Taylor.”

“Hey, Bryant.  Joe Felden. You say you can’t remember how you got out here? That must’ve been some party!”

He looked at me gravely and didn’t say anything. There was an awkward silence.

“So, what do you do, Bryant?”

“I can’t remember that either. It’s like my whole life is far away or something, or that it belongs to someone else or something. Look, I really appreciate the ride and everything. But, I’m kind of confused and upset right now. I don’t really feel like talking, OK, Joe?”

I paused. “Yeah, OK. No problem.”

We drove for another half hour until we pulled into a town. It’s one of those places with a few streets, a single traffic light, and some shabby stores on either side of the highway. There was a gas station, and I pulled in.

I turned to Bryant who stared fixedly ahead.  “OK, Bryant. Now’s the time. I’m a little short on gas money, and you said you’d chip in for the lift.”

He continued to stare forward.

“Bryant? Man, are you OK?”

Nothing; he just sat there staring out of the windshield and straight ahead. “OK. I’m going to go and get a drink or something before I fill up. You want anything?”

Still nothing.

“Fine. I’ll be right back.”

I got out of the car and headed into the gas station to get an iced tea in a can. I was pissed; the guy was totally blanking me.

I grabbed the ice-cold can and took it to the guy at the counter. The guy was in his fifties or sixties, and for whatever reason instead of just buying the iced tea, I found myself unloading on the guy.

“You ever heard of a guy around here called Bryant Taylor? I picked this guy up on the highway just out of town who says that’s his  name He looks like something the cat barfed up; no bag, no idea how he got out there, no idea about anything. I’ve got him in my car right now, and the guy won’t talk to me. He told me he’d help to pay for gas money, and I think he might try and stiff me. Do you have any idea who this guy is and where he lives?”

The gas station owner just looked at me blankly: “Bryant Taylor?”

“Yeah, that’s what he said his name was.”

“That guy is a ghost.”

“A what?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“He’s a ghost. He’s dead around here!”

I rushed out to the car. It was like a primal thing, like some story you’d heard all your life, that sort of sounds familiar and that might even be true. But, when you stop long enough to think about it, it actually makes no sense. But, I was caught up in the moment.

When I got there, he was gone. It was as if he’d never been there.

I turned around, and went back inside. The gas station owner was there with his arms crossed as if he expected me to come back.

“What the hell? He’s gone!”

“Sure he’s gone. He’s a ghost around here for a reason.” said the man.

“What are you talking about?”

” Just that; he’s gone – as usual. And I bet your car radio, all of your CDs, and all your loose change is gone too. That kid is a thief. He used to be a good kid. But, he took to petty pilfering. The whole town is wary of him. Like I said …”

“He’s a ghost around here.” I finished.

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