You know better than to pick up a hitchhiker. How many stories had you read where the innocent girl picks up a stranger on the side of the road and they turn out to be a murderer, kidnapper, escaped psychiatric patient etc., You get the picture. But this time was different.
You worked late tonight, your shift should have ended two hours ago but you stayed late for a co-worker so she could leave early to tend to her sick child. You work every Monday, Wednesday and Friday as a waitress and you go to nursing school during the day. You knew you wanted to be a nurse ever since you were a little girl, nursing your teddy bears and dolls back to health, applying bandages to their paws and listening to their little stuffed hearts. One more week and you graduate, you smile. You can’t believe you’re almost done. Especially since you’ve been through so much this year, mainly with Professor Ross. Ugh.
You thought it was just some harmless flirting, until he cornered you in his office that day. You heard he had a bad reputation. You probably should have reported it to the Dean but you only threatened to report it and then you switched classes. It was final semester, you didn’t need any more drama. Switching out of his class seemed like the best idea. Now next week is graduation and then you are out of there and you don’t have to see any of them again.
Almost home, you sigh, it’s nearly 10 p.m. and you have class tomorrow. The rain beats furiously against the windshield making it nearly impossible for you to see, so much for zero chance of rain, you think shaking your head. It must be nice to be a meteorologist, to be wrong so often with no repercussions. If a nurse is wrong, people die.
As you’re sitting at a red light you see something in the distance coming closer. It looks like people coming down the sidewalk. Two people. As they get closer you can see its one adult and one child. They are running now, are they waving at you? Now you can see it’s a mother and child. They look like they’re in trouble. Neither are wearing raincoats or have an umbrella, they probably watched the same newscast as you. The mother is holding her daughter’s hand trying to shield the poor thing from the rain. They’re getting closer now. You hope they don’t need a ride. You know better than to pick up a hitchhiker. Now you can see them more clearly. The little girl is holding a doll under her arm. Aww she’s trying to shield the doll the way her mother is shielding her. What are they doing out at this time? It’s late and its pouring rain. Maybe their car broke down. The poor things, they are soaked. They don’t look dangerous. Most killers don’t, though. It’s a mother and a child for heaven’s sake. She’s attractive and well dressed. But you know better than to pick up a hitchhiker. They’re some bad areas around here, though. What if they run into trouble? What if they are trouble? They can’t be, look at them, the poor things. The child looks no more than eight years old. You unroll your window. She bends down to speak to you.
“Excuse us, we’re so sorry to bother you,” the woman says. “Our car got a flat tire,” the woman says pointing down the road. “You’re the first person we’ve seen go by so we thought we might ask you for a ride. We live just down the road, any chance you could give us a lift? If you were a man we probably wouldn’t ask, I’m sure you can understand that. It can be so dangerous out here for women. And in the chaos of it all we locked the keys and my cell phone in the car,” the woman said shaking her head, her daughter looking up at you, raindrops or maybe tears, streaming down her cheeks. You think for a moment, look them up and down, and you unlock the doors.
“Okay. Sure c’mon in,” you say. The mother opens the door and the little girl slides in first and then her mother slides in behind her.
“Thank you, thank you so much. We live at 150 Briarcliff Drive, so go left at the next light and then a right and then we’ll be there. It’s only about five minutes from here. We really appreciate what you’re doing for us. Thank you so much,” the mother said, trying to dry her daughter’s face with her shirt sleeve.
Five minutes later you are still driving. “Just a little bit further now. Thanks again for doing this,” the mother says pointing down the road.
You look in the rearview mirror at the little girl holding her doll tight against her chest, her mother’s arm wrapped around her shoulder.
“Here we go… now it’s this white house up here on the left,” the mother says. You had seen this house many times before. It was in a nice area actually, across the street from a small lake with running trails that you run on every Saturday morning. You feel relieved. It is the only house on this side of the lake. You pull into the driveway.
“There you go,” you say, putting the car in park and looking into the back seat.
“Would you mind just waiting here for a quick second? I need to make sure the spare key is under the mat before you leave and we get stuck outside again,“ she explained.
“Ok,” you say, that makes sense. You look at the little girl and she smiles at you as her mother gets out.
The woman runs to the door and checks under the mat and gives you a thumb’s up. As she goes to unlock the door a man opens it as he’s putting on his raincoat. They talk for a moment and she points to you. He looks familiar but it’s hard to tell because it’s raining so hard. Maybe you’ve seen him on the running path. They both hurry towards your car. The little girl has gotten out to join her mother now. You unroll the window as he bends down. You know that cologne, cedar mixed with fresh soap and spice.
“I just wanted to thank you for helping my family get home safe. That was a real nice thing for you to do,” the man says as he leans down into the window. Then he hesitates.
“Sarah?” the man asks. It’s Professor Ross.
“Oh, uh...hi...Professor Ross. What a coincidence. Ha. It was no problem. I got to get going now, though, so you all take care,” you say nervously and begin to roll your window up. Your doors are already locked, thankfully.
“Yes, of course. Good luck with finals,” he says as he reaches out his hand to shake yours. You glance and see the mother and daughter in front of your car, they’re waving goodbye. So you reach your hand out to shake his hand when suddenly his other hand comes out of his pocket. He smothers a rag over your nose and mouth. You flail. Reaching out, trying to move his hands or push the horn. Now you can’t see. You can’t breath. You start to see spots and then everything is black.
He unlocks your door and drags you into the house. The mother gets behind the wheel of your car and drives it into the pond across the street. It sinks silently into the murky darkness. She goes into the house and shuts the door behind her. You knew better than to pick up a hitchhiker.