Jerry was driving home about ten o’clock Friday night when he spotted a young woman walking on the gravel next to the highway. Her thumb was pointed in the classic hitchhiker position as she walked. Jerry was not in the habit of stopping for hitchhikers, but this young woman seemed harmless. It was late at night on a cool evening, too late and too cold for her to be walking alone, Jerry thought. He slowed to a stop next to her, and she opened the car door and hopped in.
“Thanks,” she said to him. “My name’s Clairisse. I live at 304 Pine Street. Hey, I appreciate the ride.”
“No problem,” Jerry said as he accelerated onto the highway. He knew the neighborhood; Pine Street was in the older part of town, about two miles away. He had no reservation about taking her there.
Jerry glanced at her while he drove. She had long straight blonde hair, parted at the center of her head. A flower-patterned headband encircled her head. She had sky-blue eyes; and when she smiled, she showed straight even teeth. A brightly-colored shirt, blue jeans that flared below the knees, and sandals completed her outfit. Jerry reflected that Halloween had just passed; she might easily be dressed as a hippy for a costume party.
She gazed out the window, drumming her fingers on the handrest of the car door. Jerry struggled to think of something to say to her, but nothing came to mind. All too soon, he was turning onto Pine Street. He stopped in front of #304, a two-story house that looked as though it had seen better days, although it was hard to be sure in the dark. “Thanks again,” Clairisse chirped at him, and in a trice she was out of the car and headed toward the house. Being a gentleman, Jerry waited until he had seen her open the door and enter the house safely. Then he sighed, shrugged his shoulders once, and drove home.
Saturday morning as he got into his car, he noticed something white between the passenger seat and the car door. Pulling it out, he saw that it was a knitted sweater, the kind that buttons up the front. He had not noticed the sweater Friday night, but Clairisse could have been holding it when she got into the car; she could have dropped it when she left the car. Remembering her address, he decided to return the sweater on his way to work that noon.
Jerry stopped his car on the street in front of 304 Pine Street. He carried the sweater to the door and rang the doorbell. He waited for a few seconds, breathlessly picturing the lovely Clairisse. He rang the bell again. Finally, a tall elderly gentleman opened the door. “Can I help you?” he asked Jerry.
Jerry held up the sweater. “Could you give this to Clairrisse?” he asked. Thinking that the man might be her grandfather, he added, “I gave her a ride home last night, and she left it in my car.”
Slowly, the gentleman took the sweater. “Yes, this belonged to Clairisse,” he affirmed. “You’re not the first young man who brought it back. I suppose you should know, though, that my daughter Clairisse died fifty years ago this weekend.” He didn’t say any more. He just stood there in the doorway, holding the sweater.
“Oh,” said Jerry. “I see.” He could think of nothing more to say. “I’d better be going,” he added, and he turned and walked back to his car.
The old man closed the door. Slowly he ascended the staircase to the second floor. Stopping, he knocked on a bedroom door. The door flew open. Clairisse was standing there.
He handed her the sweater. “It’s back again,” he told her.
“Did you get much of a reaction when you told him I was dead?’ she asked, taking the sweater.
“Not much,” he replied. Shaking his head, he commented, “I don’t see why you keep doing this.”
“It’s fun!” she exclaimed. She gave the gentleman a smile and closed the bedroom door.
- This short story is based on a common urban legend called the Vanishing Hitchhiker. What details does the author add to the story?
- How would you react if someone told you that a passenger who rode in your car last night had been dead for fifty years?
- In the song, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” why does the captain want Dinah to blow her horn. Being that she’s in the kitchen, do you think the horn signals mealtime? Or what?
- Did you notice that the surprise ending to the story does not clarify whether Clairisse is a playful girl or is actually a ghost after all? Explain.