Kay D. Ziegler
Tom Wooden drove down the road with the truck window's down and music blaring. "Make your own kind of music," he yowled along with radio.
Autumn air surrounded him. Dried leaves, wood smoke, musty foliage were the fragrances of the day. There was something quaint and old fashioned about the smells. It contrasted sharply with the day glow purple, green, or orange and black blow up spiders that had popped up all this week. A modern invention that should never have been created, Tom thought. We sure as hell didn't have those things growing up and we did just fine. What's wrote with plain ole' jack-o-lanterns?
The ex-hippie, with his graying ponytail, flannel shirt, and paint-splattered jeans hit the break peddle when he saw something in the middle of the road. "What the..." Tom muttered as he turned the truck off and pocketed the keys.
Sliding from the rat-trap truck, Tom lumbered around the vehichle with the grace of a seasoned cowboy. He came to an abrupt halt when he saw what was in the middle of the road.
"Hey, kiddo, whatcha doing," he asked as he crouched in front of the child.
She was no more that five-years-old with strawberry blonde hair and big, round eyes. Her freckled face was scrunched up in a giggle and her knees were drawn up,u dee her floral nightgown.
"Now, Percy, you know mummy and daddy wouldn't let me try that," she said after the giggles had subsided.
"Hey, kiddo, who you talking to," Tom asked.
This seemed to get her attention. She looked right at the concerned man instead of through him (as she had been doing previously). "Percy," the girl replied.
"What does this, uh, Percy, want you to do," asked Tom.
"To climb up that tree and jump," she said, pointing to the dead oak tree in the cemetery.
Ton shivered - jumping from that tree could kill her. "You're right, you're mom and dad wouldn't want you to try that," he said.
"Percy said he'd protect me."
"Uh-huh...so kiddo, what's your name and where do you live?"
"Ruthie Jamison. I live in the red house."
"OK, Ruthie, let's get you home. It's kinda cold and I bet your parents are worried sick," Tom said, offering the girl his hand.
When she took it, he led her to the red house. Looking down at her, he noticed that she was covered in scratches and bruises. One spelled liveD.
"Hey, where did you get those?" he asked, pointing to her hand and neck.
When asked, Ruthie shrugged. "Don't know. They just showed up," she replied, climbing the steps with Tom.
Tom knocked on the door and a minute a later a bleach-blonde woman wearing jeans two sizes to small and a midriff revealing shirt. "Yeah? What do you want?" she snapped, her eyes rimmed red.
"Are you Ruthie's mother? I, uh, found her in the street?" Tom asked, feeling awkward and apprehensive. He wasn't so sure about this woman.
"God, no! Do I look like her mother?" she said. "What do you mean found her in the street? You're an insensitive jerk."
"What did I do?" he asked. Tom honestly didn't know what he did wrong. He was just trying to bring a little girl home, for crying out loud!
"Like, you didn't know. My sister jumps from a tree, breaking her neck, and you come here saying you found her in the street?" she exclaimed.
"No, she's fine and dandy! What do you think? Get off my property before I call the police," she shouted, closing the door in his face.
What had just happened? He found himself feeling a little baffled and unnerved. As he we back to his truck, Tom tried to figure out why he had hallucinated a dead girl? "Sleep deprivation," he concluded due to the fact he only slept a couple hours a night and worked two jobs.
A week passed, and as Tom Wooden lived his life, he forgot all about Ruthie. But, as he jogged through the same area of town where he found the girl, the ex-hippie got a sense of deja vu as he saw a boy, around twelve, standing by a pond in front of a house.
"I can't swim, Randall!" shouted the brunette-haired boy. His dark brows were furrowed over his chocolate eyes as h crossed his arms over his sweat shirt.
"My friend. He wants me to learn to swim."
"Why don't you tell Randall you'll learn later? Maybe when it's warmer?" Tom suggested, deliberately ignoring the fact there was no one there but this brown-haired boy, who had been yelling at air. "It's kinda cold. I wouldn't want you to get sick."
"Okay, mister!" said the boy as Tom jogged the rest of the way home.
When he got there, the man picked up the paper from the stoop. His eyes widen when he sees the headline. "BOY DROWNS IN POND" Tom reads.
Opening it up, he saw the photo of the same kid he'd just been talking to moments earlier. Apparently, the boy (Zach Wilson) had been playing outside when he slipped and fell in. At least, that's what the paper said.
Tom looked at his golden retriever as he came to greet him. "Eddie, I sure as hell don't know what's going on," he said, rubbing the golden between the ears before fixing them both some food - for Eddie a bowl of kibble and for Tom a chicken burrito from the blind date dinner the night before.
The next morning, Tom dressed, ate a breakfast toast, coffee, and turkey bacon (his doc told him his cholesterol was high), and hopped into his truck. While he noticed it sputtering, Tom didn't pay any attention to it because he spied a young woman on the side of the road.
Slowing to a stop, Tom rolled his window down. "Hey," he said to the woman in combo boots, jeans, and a sweater. "I'm Tom."
"Hey yourself, the names Annie. Mind giving me a lift? I was supposed to take the bus, but I overslept. I thought another might come by, but it's been an hour..." she said, flipped her ponytail over her shoulder.
"Sure, hop in. Where you going?"
"Fifth and Jefferson. I Need to pick up my cat," Annie said, getting in.
"I see," he replied as he started the truck. "Is it OK?"
"He's fine. He got fixed," she explained. Annie slid closer to the driver while talking to him. "So, you have any pets?"
"Yeah, a golden named Eddie."
"Oh, how sweet!" she cooed, getting even closer. "Got a wife? A partner?"
"No, it's just me. Been on a few blind dates recently. I end up with food, but that's it."
"Sounds horrible," Annie said, grabbing the wheel and jerking it. "At least you won't have to deal with those anymore. Bye-bye, Tom."
Laughing, she morphed into a blue, translucent mist in a humanoid shape. Annie hovered over the truck as it veered off the road and wrapped itself around a phone poll. When the police and ambulance arrived a minute later, she floated off until she saw another child, a girl swinging. She has pigtails and a denim jumper. Landing, the spirit changed into a curly-haired and overall-wearing girl.
"Hi, I'm Margaret...Maggie. What do you want to do? I can teach you anything," she said, going over to the swinging girl and offering her her hand, which she took. As the skipped around the back of the house, the spirit smiled.