Hitchhiker’s row is what they called it. It was the part of Old Cotters Road where on any given day or night you would see only one thing besides Mr. Murphy’s cows in the pasture. A row of hitchhikers would be standing in a line thumbs up looking for a ride out of town. That’s exactly what Justin Paris saw when he drove down that country road on a hot July’s day.
Justin was from Arrow Wood, a few towns away from Old Cotters Town and today he was on his way to Junction City. Junction City was the place where his new job was. He was going to join the ranks of the professional managers. He had his blue suit ironed and pressed from the local cleaners, his shoes were shinned and his hair was cut and his bags were packed. He was going to make his mark in the world. But, first he had to travel down Hitchhiker’s Row and who he saw stopped him dead in his tracks.
Julie was hitchhiking that day as she had done many times. She usually hitched with her best friend, Molly but Molly couldn’t go this time. Molly was in love with her new boyfriend, Billy and decided to stay in town. So, Julie was on her own. Julie just wanted to get out of town for a few days and visit her aunt in Arrow Wood. She didn’t have money for the bus so she packed her duffel bag and walked the two miles from her home to Hitchhikers row.
“Where to?” Justin said as he pulled his Mustang over in front of Julie.
“I’m going to Arrow Wood just North.” Julie responded.
“Well, hop in that’s where I am going too.” Justin unlocked the doors and Julie hopped in the car.
“ So, Miss, if you don't mind my asking, what's a pretty woman like you doing hitching?” Justin asked, being flirtatious.
“Well, see, I am going to visit my aunt and what better way to get there than to hitch. Everybody does it around here.” Julie rolled down the window just a bit more than enough for her long red ponytail to sway in the wind.
“I know that. Before I got my car I hitched a few times myself. Do you mind if I turn on the radio?”
“Not at all.” Julie answered.
For the next 30 minutes or so they sat in complete silence with the exception of the radio. Julie didn’t much care for country songs. She thought most of them were too sad but since it wasn’t her car and nobody asked her what she thought she didn’t say anything and drifted into the daydreaming.
There was something about Julie that Justin liked. He was instantly attracted to her. She was tall, legs for days and had freckles all over her face and neck. He hoped that she didn’t notice the way he was looking at her through the corner of his eye as he drove.
“Do you mind if I ask your name?” Justin asked.
“Julie.” She smiled as she said it.
“Nice to meet you Julie. I’m Justin.”
“So, do you pick up many people off of hitchhiker’s row?” She asked, biting her bottom lip. That was a habit she wished she didn’t have when she was nervous.
“No, not really. I am on my way to my new job. I just happened to go that way and happened to see you and well, here we are.” Justin said laughing.
Julie didn’t know what to make of Justin. She hoped he was some crazy killer. He didn’t look like one but then again they never do. It is always the person on the news that looks like the boy next door who is the one that nobody would think would hurt a fly. Julie tried to size up her rides before she got in the car and he looked clean cut and professional. She carried pepper spray in her bag and if she needed it she could easily grab it. She also had a pocket knife in her jean pocket. She came prepared. Her parents didn’t like her to hitch especially after Anna Mae was killed so she took precautions.
Anna Mae went to school with Julie. She was only a year older than her. They would pass each other in the hallway and nod hello but nothing more than that. Anna Mae was shy and somewhat of a nerd who loved math and science. Julie hated both subjects and wished she didn’t have to take either. But, Anna Mae was the complete opposite. She didn’t have a lot of friends but a few close ones who liked what she liked. Julie didn’t think that Anna Mae was much into boys but she was wrong. After Anna Mae was killed she found out she did have a boyfriend. Anna Mae was hitching to her boyfriend's house that night in August. It was right before school was supposed to start. Her boyfriend lived over in Meadow Creek, about ten miles south of where she lived.
Anna Mae was seen hitching on the row around 10am and she never made it to her boyfriend’s house. The town went crazy trying to find her. The cops talked to the boyfriend numerous times and the neighbors thought he had something to do with it. One even said she thought she saw Anna Mae at this house that evening. It turned out she was wrong. Anna Mae never made it to his house. Her bruised and bloody body was found a mile away from the row under some bushes and branches. It took the cops months to find her killer and in those months you didn’t see hardly saw anyone on the row hitching. People were scared. They just didn't know if they were living next door to a killer or not.
Six months passed and her cousin was arrested. Her cousin was angry with her as far as the police could tell. He only confessed to her murder after he was caught. He went to jail for 25 years and the town slowly got back to normal. People started hitching again and Anna Mae just became a memory to most people and a tale of caution parents told their children.
Janet was still thinking about Anna Mae when Justin asked her a question.
“So, are you from here?” Justin asked.
Janet turned her head in his direction and took a good long look at him before she answered
“Yeah, born and raised. What about you?”
“Same here.” Justin responded.
The car started making a loud clanking noise and it startled both Justin and Julie.
“What is that?” Julie asked.
“I think something is wrong with my car.” Justin said, pulling the car onto the side of the road.
“Oh no! When was the last time you got it serviced?” Julie asked worriedly. “You know that Cooter Brown is the best mechanic in the town. Did you take it to him before you left to check it out?” Julie continued.
“I did. I don’t know what is wrong with it.” Justin raised up the hood but it was useless for him to look. He didn’t know a thing about cars except to put gas in and check the oil and water.
“Julie, we are going to have to get a tow truck. I don’t think I can drive it any further.” He told her pulling out his cell phone from his jeans pocket.
“Fine, okay. Well, we are out in the middle of almost nowhere. I hope that truck can come soon.”
Julie grabbed her bag from the car and propped herself on top of it on the ground as she waited for Justin to get off of the phone.
“Bad news. The truck can’t come until tomorrow morning.” Justin told her.
“What are we going to do until then?” Julie picked up her bag and put the straps through her arm.
“I think that there is a hotel or bed and breakfast not far from here. We can go there if you don’t mind. But, I will understand if you would rather not. After all, you don’t know me from a can of paint.” Justin put his phone back in his pocket and waited for an answer.
“Justin what choice do I have? We are too far from town to walk back and so let’s do this.”
They walked each carrying their own bags until they saw a sigh. “Wendy’s Bed and Breakfast” blinking in red letters a few feet in front of them. It didn’t look like much of anything. There were velvet purple curtains in the window and a pussywillow plant on one side of the curtain. The windows looked like they had just been cleaned and there was a small dog standing on the other side of the glass jumping up and down. Justin and Julie walked up the two steps. They were just about to open the door when an older woman appeared out of nowhere. They both gasped and took a small step back.
“Come in. Come in. I’ve been waiting for you.” The woman said.
“Our car broke down and we need a place to stay for the night.” Justin said ignoring her comment about waiting for them.
“Oh that’s fine, just fine. Is this your lovely girlfriend?” She asked, looking at Julie.
“No she is just a friend” Justin responded.
“I have two rooms waiting for you. Follow me.” The old woman gestured for them to follow her up the stairs.
“This floor is mine.” The old woman said stopping on the landing to the first floor. “The upper floor is where the guests stay.” She continued.
Julie and Justin followed her up another flight of steps and she pushed open a door on the top of the steps. It said Room 5. The old woman pointed and told them that is where Justin would stay and the room next door, Room 7 is Julie’s room.
“I hope that you will be satisfied with the rooms.” She said,
“How much are the rooms?” Justin asked.
“Well, it’s $25 for the night each. If you want breakfast in the morning it’s $10 more. “ She responded.
“We won’t be staying for breakfast. Do you take credit cards?” Justin asked, reaching in his wallet.
“Cash only. And you can come downstairs after you get settled in to sign the book and pay. Those are the rules. You must sign the book.” She said as she walked past them and down the stairs.
“Something about her is creepy.” Julie whispered to Justin as she opened her room door.
“I know. But we will be out first thing in the morning.” Justin said.
Justin and Julie walked down to sign the book and pay a few minutes later. There was a fire going in the fireplace. Justin walked over to the desk and handed her the cash. She disappeared into a back room and Justin proceeded to sign her book. He glanced at the names before him and read them. There were only two names and they had visited years apart. Julie looked over his shoulder and read the names too. One name stood out to her. Gideon Glass. Gideon Glass had stayed there about 5 years ago and he lived in Glen Close the same town her grandmother was from.
The woman reappeared from the back room and smiled at both of them. She offered them some tea which they declined politely.
“I see you had someone stay here called Gideon Glass.” Julie asked.
Julie wondered if her grandmother knew him or his family.
“Why yes. He was a good looking young man. He was very nice and well dressed too. I think he was on his way to start a new job. He only stayed overnight. His car broke down too.” The old woman said.
Julie got a knot in her stomach and a lump in her throat.
The rooms were quite cold, to be the middle of July and the two of them had to put on extra clothing to sleep. Julie mentioned it to Justin who agreed and agreed to get up as early as they could and get out of there. The lights went out at ten on the dot and the darkness was maddening. You could not see your finger in front of your face if you tried. Julie opted to sleep in her sleeping bag. The bed was just too soft for her. She had just drifted off to sleep when she felt herself being dragged across the floor. She tried to scream but couldn’t make a sound. She looked up trying to see who it was but the darkness of the room was too deep and she couldn’t see anything. She felt herself being dragged to the stairs. She tried to kick her way out of the bag but it didn’t work. She braced herself. She thought she would be thrown down the stairs. She tried to curl up as much as she could in a ball and covered her head with her hands.
She heard a voice and the dragging stopped. Everything stopped. She thought that time stopped for a brief minute. The lights came on and the innkeeper was on the ground beside her knocked out cold. Standing over her was Justin. He yelled one word.
Justin helped her out of the sleeping bag and they ran down the stairs into the street outside. Once outside they flagged down the sheriff.
Two years later Justin and Julie were married. The wedding toast given by Justin was epic.
“Who would have guessed that picking up a hitchhiker would turn into an almost deadly adventure and true love. Cheers to love and more peaceful adventures.”