A Truck Driver is saved by a ghost.
While On The Way Home
There was nothing Albert Collins hated more than hauling coal on a road that he had never driven before. In that opinion he was not alone. Pulling an eighty ton, shifting load of black gold in a bucket of steel balanced atop twenty-two rubber tires was dangerous enough, but throw in blind curves, hill after hill, and reckless drivers that wanted to play chicken and it was enough to make an undertaker sweat.
“Jesus Christ!” Albert shouted as a small, dusty blue Fiesta jumped a stop sign about twenty yards ahead from the right side of the road. He hit the hydraulics, grabbed the jake brake and the cab filled with the acrid smell of burning brakes. He felt the familiar thump of his load trailer slamming into the hitch. It was like wrestling a bear with one hand while another was trying to climb over your back. It had been this way all day long.
“This is the last damn time!” He shouted then groaned while cupping the right side of his face. He fought to keep his eyes open while waiting for the pain to stop slicing through his head. Abscessed teeth and hauling coal were never going to be loving companions.
Forty minutes later, Al still had at least two hours before he could get to the mouth of the hollow and back onto state route twenty-three. Thinking six hours back when he first started up this way, the unpleasant memory and thought came that he still had to go back over the longest mountain on the route. The sign on the other side had read "Welcome, Sizemore Mountain", but he had yet to see any hospitality.
In the meantime, fog was rising around the lower creek levels and was slowing him down. Clear visibility was down to about 30 yards. Merle Haggard was singing “Silver Wings” on WMMT radio and Al was growling a duet right along with him, “..roaring engines headed somewhere in flight..” when he saw a woman standing in the middle of the road and, again, hit his brakes. Luckily, she stepped to the side of the road at the last minute avoiding a fatal collision. The truck came to a grinding, stuttering stop, angled to the middle of the road, about twenty feet from where he first saw her. His heart racing and his body covered with sweat, Al felt like he had just ran a mile. He jumped out of the cab and stalked to the back of the truck in a blind rage intending to cuss this woman til a fly wouldn’t light on her. The fog was so thick now he couldn’t see more than fifteen feet in any direction; what’s more he couldn’t see the woman. Suddenly, he heard the passengers door to his truck open and click closed - he froze. Something wasn’t right.
Albert's imagination began unfolding like a large black umbrella on a moonless night. Childhood ghost stories of lonely roads and walking dead people spewed up from subterranean places in his mind. He reminded himself again that he wished he had never taken this damned haul. Walking back to the front of the truck, nearly tiptoing, he gladly noticed he left his door open. He stepped cautiously around to the door and peered into the cab and there she sat. Pretty as a picture and very much alive, or so she looked, with a smile to die for. "My god,” he thought, “This is the prettiest woman I have ever seen in my life.” She looked to be in her late thirties. Her hair was long and sandy blonde, almost golden. She wore a plain, cream-colored, low-cut dress with long sleeves and lace around the collar that perfectly framed the finest cleavage Al had seen in a long time. A single strand of multi-colored beads was her only adornment.
“I’m so glad you stopped,” she said wistfully, “I've been walking for the last hour and I am flat worn out.”
Al exploded, “Lady, what the hell are you doing out here at night like this!? I aint seen a house in the last ten miles and then you just walk out of no where in front of my truck. You near killed both of us!”
“I know and I am very sorry," she pouted. "But I was tired and thought you might be my last chance tonight to get a ride.” The genuine regret and sadness in her voice melted Al’s heart. He never said another word. He climbed up to his seat and kicked the truck in gear and pulled away. His big heart had been slain. Still, he couldn't shake the lingering fear that this woman was not as corporeal and earthly as she appeared. With one last hidden glance he noticed she was not wearing any shoes.
After ten minutes of no one speaking the tension was as crisp as a January icicle. Porter Waggoner was singing "The Carroll County Accident", when, without looking at her, Albert half-whispered, "You aint a ghost are you?"
"And if I were would you stop and make me get out?" she asked without a strain of emotion in her voice.
"Oh, god," Al said as he rubbed his hand across his aching, abcessed jaw. "I knew it. I'm not going to make it home am I?" His voice a trembling whisper.
The lady laughed, and in Al's stressed mind her laugh echoed, further convincing him he was indeed in the presence of a ghost. She shook her head and laughed again, "No Sir, I'm not going to kill you, but you could let me off just down the way a bit. There it is. See the green sign that says 'Welcome, Sizemore Mountain'. My cousin lies waiting for me just up the hollow to the right."
Al stopped the truck, pulled the brake and said, "I'll come around and help you down," as he crawled out of the cab. He walked around the front of the truck. The headlights momentarily blinding him. He reached up to open the door and found it already opened. The woman was gone. Suddenly, he felt that someone was standing behind him. He jumped around with his heart in his neck thumping and pounding so hard. For a moment he thought it was going to tear out of his throat.
"Oh, Jesus!" was all he could mutter. He slammed the passenger door, and ran around the truck and got in. He locked both doors and took off swearing promises to himself and cussing every breath. And he hadn’t even asked for her name.
It took him about an hour to get over Sizemore Mountain when he was coming in and that was without any fog. It would take twice that amount of time getting back. If he was lucky. The fog was now in the higher elevations and getting worse the farther up he went. He was barely creeping along. Red Foley singing "I'll Fly Away" wasn't helping matters. The cab of the truck was warm and he was getting sleepy. Seriously sleepy.
Twenty minutes later, just when he thought he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer, he saw blue and yellow neon lights glowing through the fog over on the right side of the road. There it was: "Bob's Burgers and Dance" shining big as you please. Al could already smell the coffee. He pulled off the road onto a wide spot the other side of the restaurant, put on his flashers, and walked back in the fog. Fifteen minutes of coffee, some conversation with real people, and he would get on over the mountain. It was five after ten and by his guessing he should be able to make it home by one o'clock in the morning.
Al was surprised to find the restaurant was a bit crowded, and oh my, but it smelled wonderful. There was coffee and soup and something else he couldn’t quite recall, but the odor was intoxicating. There were couples dancing over to the left and back in a well-lit corner to an old Bob Wills tune. As a matter of fact the whole place was lit up brighter than his brother's chicken house at five o'clock in the morning. Almost all of the booths were taken so he headed for a counter stool. A silver haired, middle-aged gentleman behind the counter came over carrying a pot of coffee and wearing a smile that filled up the room. He introduced himself as Bob, the proprietor, and Al told him his name.
"Well Albert it’s good to meet you and I’m really glad you stopped in. It’s kind of late to be hauling coal on Sizemore Mountain aint it?" He poured Al a steaming cup full of black coffee.
"Buddy, you got that right, and thanks for the coffee.” Al started, “This has been the worst day of my life. I came over here to get a load of coal and I have almost had at least five wrecks and less than an hour ago", his voice rising, "I gave a damn ghost a ride to the bottom of the mountain." The waiter didn't act surprised, but sat down on a stool to listen. A good-looking strawberry redhead in her forties, who had been listening, came over and sat down next to Al.
"Aw, c'mon", she said, "how did you know she was a ghost? Did you ask what her name was?"
"Sally," Bob said slowly, "let the man tell his story." Several others began gathering around.
Al related the details without any embellishment, while taking hearty sips of his coffee. He started from the moment he first saw the woman standing sideways in the middle of the road until she disappeared from his truck without him hearing a thing. Not a soul so much as whispered a word during the telling. The dancers stopped dancing and the jukebox went silent. Finishing off his coffee he pushed it toward Bob for a refill. After pouring his cup full again, Bob looked at Sally and slowly scanned the others standing around. He cleared his throat and told Al this wasn't the first time they had heard this story. Seeing that Al was stressed and tired, he reassured him that nothing bad had ever been reported happening with these ghost sightings, and then he invited him to stay the rest of the night with them at the restaurant.
“Al this is Saturday night. Folks like to come out and dance and we keep the place open all night for them, and besides that fog is just going to get worse. I would be really worried if you try to drive that truck off this mountain in that kind of fog. Why son, there are places where there aint even any guard-rails down the way you gotta go. Besides, in the morning when the sun comes up, well let me just say that's when we were really have some good times around here.”
A sympathetic chorus of “Stay with us Al”, “Come dance with us”, “Have some more coffee Al”, went up around him, and all he could think of was how tired he was, and of the beautiful ghost he had met. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell his family about this one. “My god but she was pretty,” he thought to himself.
“Hey, you all are probably right, and I really do thank all of you, but I’m just going to try to wake up with some more of your coffee and get on out of here.”
Bob filled his cup again, and again, and again. Three cups and 20 minutes later there was still no improvement. His toothache was coming back again, and he was sleepy as ever. Grimacing with the pain, and holding his jaw, he slowly stood bracing himself with the other hand on the counter. Bob came over and asked him to think again about staying. Seeing his discomfort, Sally stepped up and kissed his cheek. It felt like a light, cooling puff of air. Al looked at her. She grinned slyly and said, "I just kissed that old toothache away honey. You'll be alright now." Bob, Sally and several others walked outside and accompanied him to the truck, a walk that seemed a lot farther than before. They begged him to come again and to stay longer. He thanked them for their concern and promised he would stop in the next time over their way. Bob gave him a large cup of coffee for the road, for what good it was doing, and patted him on the shoulder.
After they turned to go back to the restaurant Al crawled up into the cab, placed the cup of coffee in the cup holder and promptly fell asleep. He had left the radio on and Johnny Cash was singing “The Long Black Veil” as he began to snore.
It was 8:35 in the morning when Albert woke up. The radio jockey had his morning voice on and the sun was starting to burn off the fog. Rolling the window down he poured the cold coffee out on to the ground. For a moment he thought about going back to the restaurant for some breakfast, but quickly dismissed the idea. He wanted to go home and get off this crazy hollow, although, grudgingly he admitted, Bob and the folks at the restaurant were really fine people regardless of what else had happened. Checking his mirrors he couldn’t see the restaurant as he pulled out on the road. It was lost in what fog still remained. His fingers reflexively pressed his jaw-line and found no pain. He blushed remembering Sally smooching his cheek and saying she had fixed his toothache. Albert drove the ridgeline for about five minutes before the road started going down. He slowed to twenty-five miles per hour when he saw three flares laying across the road twenty yards from the first steep right hand turn. The flares were half burned down and he noticed several others had burned out behind those.
Al secured his truck and walked past the flares and on around the curve. There he found most of the road was gone. At least the length of his truck and three quarters of the way across had simply fallen off the side of the hill. Small and large rocks were still slipping free and bouncing off the torn mountain to clatter down through the huge hole in the road.
“Lord have mercy!” he said aloud.
“You got that right.” a Deputy Sheriff said walking toward him, "Howdy, I'm Deputy Phillip Turner, who are you?
“Albert Collins from over in Johnson County. When did this happen?”
“We got the call around ten o'clock last night. Someone had tried to come over the mountain and said the hill just disappeared in front of them. They backed all the way off the hill and used the phone at Sammy's Gulf Station at the mouth of the hollow and called it in. We’re really lucky no one tried to come over the mountain from your direction before we got out here and put out the flares.”
Al was shaking his head, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe this.” he said, “After yesterday I thought my luck had run out and now this. Maybe that ghost was my good luck coming back. She held me up just long enough to keep me from killing myself. I'd a been deader'n a door-nail if I'd tried to come down this mountain last night.”
Deputy Turner looked up sharply and laughed, ”Man, you didn’t run into Mary did you?”
“I didn’t ask what her name was, but Bob said this wasn’t the first time she had been seen.”
“Buddy, Mary aint no ghost, but she is one fine looking crazy woman!” the deputy hooted. “Hey, wait just a minute Billy has got to hear this one.” the deputy turned and motioned for his co-hort on the other side of the hole in the road to come over.
For the next five minutes the two deputies told Al all about “hippie” Mary Johnson and of how she got her jollies by walking the road at night and fooling people into believing she was a ghost.
“Well, hell,” Al sighed, “I don’t know what to think. Bob and the others up at the restaurant believed it. There was a bunch of folks in there dancing last night and all of'em said they had heard of a ghost on this creek.”
“You mentioned him a minute ago," the Deputy interjected.
Al forked his thumb over his shoulder, ”Bob’s Burgers and Dance” up at the top of the hill. Good people, but their coffee aint worth a dime. I must have drank a gallon of it last night and still fell asleep.” He said matter of factly while rubbing his jaw and finding no pain.
“Mr. Collins," Deputy Turner spoke slowly as he scratched his chin, "Far as I know, there aint no restaurants on this creek. Never has been. Well, I'll take that back. Daddy said there was one back in '48 that burnt down with a bunch of people inside. But no restaurants up here since.