Friday, September 23, 2011

Cumberland Road Ghost

I ran out into the rain not caring that I was soaked to the bone in a matter of minutes. I was hurt that he had said such a thing to me. And angry with myself that it wasn't the first time, but determined that it would be the last.

The rain pounded on the roof of my old Ford as the windshield wipers, that I had been meaning to replace, smeared the rain around rather than clean it off. I swiped at my face hoping to clear my vision enough to see the road that wound its way out in front of me like a glistening snake.

Cumberland River Road had seen many incarnations. Each followed along the Indian trail that first breached the dense forest of Pulaski County, Kentucky. And just like the leaves on those trees ghost stories abounded. Propagated by a population that loved that sort of thing. Their whispers keeping the old stories going. The names of the people and places changed, but the stories never died. This road was no exception. I told myself I didn't believe that sort of thing. I had told myself that a lot over the years. I expected any day now I would believe it.

As the road began its descent I could see the old Cumberland highway veer off to my left. The river claimed it now, giving it back on its western shore. Why that road wasn't blocked off I would never know. But then no one came this way unless they knew where they were going. And if they happened to be lost on this road. Well, prayer was about your only option.

A chill ran up my spine as the story my mother told me decided to rear its ugly head. The year was 1940. Dan and Eloise Tate were headed out of town on their honeymoon. Just like this night the rain was pouring down. No one really knows what happened, aside from the Tate’s. And they ain't saying. Their old Ford took the river road. The original one. The one that ran along the bottom of the Cumberland river.

His body was never found. They fished her body out of that river still wearing her wedding gown. The story goes that she looks for him still and on nights, just like this, she will ask for a ride. She sits in the backseat until you crest the hill or arrive at the bottom. Then she will get out, disappear into the woods, looking for Mr. Tate.

It was just a story I told myself. So, why were the hairs on my arms standing up like that? I laughed nervously, pulling my eyes away from the black waters of the river that churned below. A flash of white caught my attention. Out of instinct I hit the brakes with both feet, not even bothering to downshift. My old truck slid, coming to a stop sideways across the road. My headlights shone out across the water, my left tire spinning in space, the road no longer lay beneath it.

The drumming of rain on sheet-metal and rubber swiping at glass in an uneven tattoo was the only sound to be heard as I slowly looked in my rear-view. I swallowed, it was as loud as buckshot in the quiet.

There she sat, in her wedding dress, pristine as the day she bought it looking at me with eyes that seemed to hold the sorrows of the world. I stared at her, terrified to look behind me. I saw her in the mirror, did I really need to confirm it by turning around? But just like all those silly girls in the horror movies, I guess I did. I looked.

She was beautiful. Pale blond hair that would have shown like spun gold in the sun was pined up under her veil. Green eyes that questioned me without words regarded me as I regarded her.

I looked away, and that was when I noticed that I stood outside my old Ford. The front end that had stretched out into space, now embraced a live Oak like an old lover. And there, laying over the steering wheel, was a women that looked a lot like me.

A scream bubbled in my throat. I turned back to the woman, but she was gone. A pale dot disappearing into the woods. I looked down as my hand brushed the beading of my dress. Not my dress, her dress.

I knew then that those old stories were true, not because they happened but because people believed them. There never was a Mrs. Tate. Just some girl who had met the same fate I had along Cumberland River Road. And just like her, I would ask for a ride until the last one came for the next girl that drove this road, on a night just like this.

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