Science Fiction

As she barreled down the harrowing slope hitched weightlessly to the back of her latest target—a virile young skier with a great ass--Jane realized how exhilarating it was to be dead.

This was what was called a “temp hitch”; one where the Hitcher made only a very temporary connection with a target. Unlike a “full hitch”, the Hitcher attached to the target just enough to experience the world through the target’s eyes and body, but not enough to influence the target’s behavior or feel their emotions. Temp hitches were the way Hitchers blew off steam and had fun in between their missions.

Of course, this was all still new to Jane--after all, she had only been dead a few months. She was just beginning to appreciate what it meant to be a Hitcher and what role Hitchers played in human existence. Indeed, she still sometimes had to remind herself that this wasn’t some sort of dream. But it couldn’t be a dream because she was dead. Of that she was sure—she was definitely “dead as a doornail”, as they say.

The circumstances of her death were still burned clearly into her memory. Her father, Richard showed up just as it was all over.  After the blood rushed out of her and pooled on the kitchen floor. After the person who had once been her strongest advocate and protector had fled the scene. In fact, she wasn’t sure exactly how long she had laid there after gasping in her last breath—at that point, time had ceased to be a relevant part of her existence. She did remember the murder itself—the all-consuming pain she felt as he thrust the knife repeatedly into her chest. She remembered screaming, “NO!” and hearing the baby’s cries from the other room. And her last thought as a live human being was about that baby. “Oh God”, she had screamed silently, “please help my baby!”

The next thing she was aware of was a sense of floating—up, over her body towards the ceiling. “How cliché”, she would think later as she recalled it. But that’s how it happened. What she did not see next was the oft cited white light. Instead, there was her father—her dead father--floating above her, looking into her face and extending his hand. “Janey,” he said excitedly, “it’s Dad!”

“Dad?!” she yelled this, and it came out much louder than she had intended. “Yes, it’s me, baby,” he said with a huge smile. “Come on—we need to go.” He grasped her hand tightly and almost jerked her up. Then there was a sensation of—flying, no gliding--up and a second later, they were in a void. Just the two of them at first. Then out of the corner of her eye, she spotted an older woman and a second later, a young man. As she glanced around slowly, she realized they were actually floating among many people—but were they people? Not exactly. “What’s going on?”, she thought, her anxiety rising. “Dad, what’s going on here?”

“You’re a Hitcher sweetheart.”

“What the hell is a Hitcher?”

“We help humans live better lives.” That sounded like an ad for some sort of new age bullshit. 

“What? Are we ghosts?” 

“Kind of—more like guardian angels I would say.” 

“You mean we watch over people?” 

“Not exactly. More like we join with them and fortify them.” He saw the look of confusion on her face. “Look honey, you just need to relax. It’ll make sense with tim…”

Then it hit her all at once. “The baby—where’s my baby!?” she screamed.

“Let’s go see,” he said. She stared at him in disbelief. “I can see him? Yes! I want to see him!” 

He took her hand (this time she noticed how cold his was). They floated for a while and then without warning, she was in a room. It was not the baby’s room, but it was familiar. It took a second to recognize her sister’s guest room. And there, in a crib, her beautiful boy. 

She started weeping and lunged instinctively for the baby. “No!” Richard yelled. “You can’t touch him!” Then he was between her and the baby. Her instinct was to fight him—to push him away so that she could hold her baby. But he put his hands on her shoulders. “You must be careful, honey. Kids—especially babies are very vulnerable, and hitching can hurt them—badly.” She cried some more. “You can’t hold him. The most you can do is stroke him—lightly,” he emphasized. “Besides, he’s family.”

She would learn later that Hitchers were also prohibited from hitching to their family members. Too much emotion and intimacy, she had been told, that could lead to unintended and sometimes uncontrollable consequences. 

But she ignored this comment because, at the moment, her attention was riveted on her precious baby. “OK, I will be gentle.” Her father—realizing how difficult this would be—guided his daughter’s hand to the sleeping child’s head and ever so gently stroked the child’s fine golden hair. She pushed her hand closer and grazed his head, which caused a decided shiver in the child. “No honey, come on, you have to follow the rules.” “OK,” she wept as her father hugged her tightly to his chest as he did when she was little. 

They were both startled by voices from the other room. “Come. Let’s go see your sister.” They glided into kitchen—there was Jodi, her beloved older sister. She was at the table, her eyes red from crying. Across from her was her husband, Zach and on either side of him, their 10-year-old twin girls. “I still can’t believe we have a brother,” Sami, one of the twins, was saying. “He’s not our brother," Sara, her sister retorted. “Well, he kind of is, isn’t he Mom?” “Yes, darling, he is.” “See,” Sami taunted her sister. Zach turned to Sara. “He doesn’t have anyone else, Sar—we need to take care of him—all of us.” “We’ll love him like our own son,” Jodi added, a tear streaming down her cheek. “We owe that much to Janey.”

Janey watched the scene unfold silently. Then the tears started again—this time in a torrent. “He’s going to be okay, isn’t he Dad?” “Yes, doll,” he said, “Jodi will make sure of it.” She drew in a long breath and felt better. “What happened to”—she couldn’t even say his name, but Richard knew. “It doesn’t matter honey. You know the baby will be fine. Now it’s time to move away from your past life. You have a mission now”. In a flash he pulled her up and they were back, floating among the Hitchers. 

“But I need to be sure he’ll be all right,” she protested. 

“It doesn’t work that way sweetheart." 

“Well how does it fucking work then?” 

Richard sighed. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but you just need to be patient…”

“Patient!? Am I dead?!” She was yelling now. 

“Yes,” his tone was calm. 

“But not a ghost?” Still yelling. 

“Not exactly,” he answered. 

“Not exactly,” she repeated back, shaking her head, “not exactly a ghost. So, what exactly, then, Dad?”

“We are fortifiers.” another voice said coming from behind Richard. Then a person—well whatever they call themselves—appeared. 

“Who the hell are you?” she asked roughly. 

“Janey!” her father said, “there’s no need to be rude.” 

”Please, lower your voice, Jane. There’s no need to use that tone of voice with me or your father.” Jane winced. The admonishment made her feel like a spoiled toddler.

“Fine. I apologize for my tone of voice, but, I mean, didn’t you have a million questions when you first died, Dad?” The truth was—and she knew this—he didn’t. That wasn’t his style—he took life (and death apparently) as it came and made the best of it. In this respect, he was the opposite of Jane’s mother, which is where Jane got her control-freak-OCD-Type A-pick-your-pop-psychology-label personality. 

“Leave us please, Richard,” the woman said, “Jane and I need to talk,”

“Are you in charge around here?” Jane asked.

“More like I’ve been around a long time and take care of on-boarding the newly dead. My name is Lana by the way.”

“Nice to meet you—sorry for being rude—I’m just…confused.” Jane sighed.

“Not to worry--I know this is a lot to take in, but the truth is you are one of the chosen few who have a chance to pay it forward.” 

“Meaning what, exactly?” Jane asked. 

“Meaning that you get to use what you learned in life to help others.”

She explained that Hitchers enter the bodies of selected “targets”—that’s what the humans were called—and experience the world through that target’s body and senses.

“Do they know we’re in there--them?” Jane interrupted.

“No, the target has no idea,” Lana replied. “The idea is to influence the target but not control them. We fortify them—that really is the best word for it--by helping them to make good decisions and choices, boosting their confidence, giving them strength…many great people in the past were targets. Abraham Lincoln, for example. His convictions were strong no doubt, but it was his Hitcher that fortified him with the courage to prevail.  In fact, lots of people famous for standing up in the face of tyranny, displaying inhuman strength or acting altruistically were actually targets being fortified by Hitchers. 

It took a moment for all this to sink in. “Let me get this straight. We enter the bodies of humans.”

“Targets,” Lana corrected.  

“OK targets, we enter their bodies and guide them.”

Fortify is a better word.”

“OK fortify them so that they have better lives?”


“And they don’t know we’re in there.” 


Jane shook her head. “This has to be a fucking dream.” 

“It’s not.”

“So why is Dad here?” 

“Well, we are never exactly sure why Hitchers are chosen. But in your father’s case, it’s most likely because he was thwarted in life. Not by one big traumatic event, but by a set of circumstances that only allowed him to realize a fraction of his potential.” 

“Potential”, she thought, “Dad?” 

“Your father should have been a great artist.” 

That made some sense to Jane. He was a WWII vet who started working at 14 and didn’t stop for almost 60 years. Pursuing artistic endeavors was out of the question. So, he hadn’t started painting until he was in his 70s, but he was good—really good. He could look at any picture and render it accurately, and with no formal training was able to produce beautiful paintings. She delighted in hearing her high-brow lawyer friends and clients compliment her on the artwork in her office—“an obscure Manhattan artist” she’d say--knowing they’d never believe it was a little Italian guy painting at his kitchen table with cheap canvases from Walmart and brushes he got at yard sales.

His “mission”, Lana continued, was to help people realize who they were and fortify them with the courage to realize their dreams. He was very successful at it, so successful in fact, that he earned lots of “time off”. 

“What, like vacation?"

“More like unencumbered hitching—just hitching for the pure enjoyment of it.” 

“Your father loves to have sex.”

“Oh my god, I can’t unhear that one,” she thought with a grimace. ”So when he’s not helping someone realize their full potential, he’s getting his rocks off. Lovely,” she thought.

“So, why am I here?” she asked. “Oh I think you know why. And in any case, I can’t tell you--that’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself.” Of course, Janey knew. A brilliant, beautiful, successful attorney taking regular beatings from a drunken loser. Yeah, that seemed like it. “So I’m supposed to help women get out of abusive relationships?”

“You need to sort that out,” was all she would say. “But you have time. For now, there are a few rules. First and foremost, you are not supposed to control the target. That would violate free will. Your role is to fortify, not control. Second, if your target dies while you are hitched, your existence as a Hitcher will also cease. So, if you suspect that your target is about to die, you must unhitch, unless your goal is to cease to exist of course.” Jane found out later that the idea of unhitching just before a target dies apparently leads to lots of exciting games of “chicken” among seasoned Hitchers.  

“The next is to avoid young children and babies—they need to develop on their own.” 

“Yes, Dad told me about that one.”

“And you must stay away from family members and loved ones. It’s just too easy to lose control when hitched to them and there can be some regrettable consequences.”

“I heard that one too…but I’m not sure I understand…”

“Let’s just say it gets complicated. For example, Hitchers have uncovered lots of secrets by hitching to their live spouses and most of the time, the outcome hasn’t been good. I mean, imagine having access to all of the memories of a loved one—memories you were part of…you could end up discovering a lot of things that happened in the past that serve no purpose to you or the target now.”

“But maybe those would be good things,” Jane said.

“Possibly yes. But your mission is to improve the lives of your target, not relive your past. Besides, it went bad way more often than good, so over time, we have created the rule.”

Jane realized that there wasn’t any point in arguing further, so she stayed quiet.

“The final and perhaps most important rule is what I just said--that Hitchers improve the lives of targets. They never intentionally bring harm to the target and are careful to avoid harming those around them.”  

“So I can’t go back and slice up that mother fucking husband of mine, huh?” 

“No. But you could have helped yourself defend against him.”

“I could have helped myself defend against him? Sorry I’m lost.”

“What I mean is that if you are hitched to a target who is being physically attacked, you can help them defend themselves against the attacker.”

“Even if the attacker is harmed?” 

“Yes, in that case it’s self-defense.”

“So if he does it again I could…”

Lana cut her off. “Yes, technically, you could. But that’s not what this is about—getting revenge for your own personal past wrongs I mean. It’s about using what you learned in life to fortify others.” 

“So how do I find people who need help?” 

“We’ll do that for you in the beginning. After a while—if you’re good at it—you will begin choosing your own targets. But don’t worry about that now--this will all become clear with time as memories of your corporeal existence begin to fade.”

“Corporeal existence,” Jane thought with a chuckle, “sounds like a sci-fi movie.”

“In the meantime.” the woman continued, “enjoy yourself for a while and we’ll meet again when you are ready to begin your mission. We’ll talk soon. For now, have some fun.”

“Have fun?” Jane thought, she wasn’t sure how to have fun. But that became apparent pretty fast. Temporary hitches—she quickly learned--were a freakin’ blast. It was like living vicariously through whomever she chose, and Jane was experiencing life in ways she never dreamed of when she was alive. The skier with the nice ass was one example—she’d never dare ski such a massive slope in her corporeal life but hitched to this guy, it was crazy fun. She loved the feeling of flying, the cold wind in her (his) face, the feelings of anticipation, exhilaration and terror all mixed into one. 

She sampled many aspects of life in the early days—encouraged by her dad and the other seasoned Hitchers. She often chose male targets—the sensation of having a penis was very…interesting, especially when said penis was getting a workout. Apparently, her dad wasn’t the only Hitcher who enjoyed a sexual encounter or two. But honestly, there were so many ways to have fun—"so many targets and so little time," she thought. This was too good to be true.

But the non-stop, thrill-seeking temp hitching didn’t last long. And when she began preparing for her mission, she understood that all the fun Hitchers had in their “off” time was a well-earned respite from the suffering they endured while on missions.

Jane’s first full hitch was with a girl of around 11. “I thought no kids,” she had asked, but apparently it was only small children who were off limits. And this particular 11-year-old was mature well beyond her years. She was being sexually abused by her uncle and had been for over 6 years. She was close to being able to stand up to him but hadn’t quite found the courage. And that’s what Jane was there to do—fortify her with the courage to tell her mother about the abuse.

When it was time, Jane discovered that a full hitch was much more difficult than the temp hitches she had been used to.  She wasn’t only seeing and experiencing the physical world through the target’s eyes, she was also experiencing their emotions. Jane was not prepared for this and when she settled into this young girl, her first instinct was to get out. The rage, confusion, fear, and hopelessness this little girl was experiencing nearly overwhelmed Jane. They had warned her that this could happen—after all, there was no buffer between the target’s and Hitcher’s emotions. Despite the warnings, the intensity of what she felt from this target’s perspective was almost unbearable.

Jane knew she had to do something for this girl (and for herself). And so her work began.

July 26, 2023 01:32

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