Anna Dressed in Blood / Page 2

Page 2



He’s perfectly pleasant. A nice guy to ride with. But when we get to that bridge, he’ll be as angry and ugly as anyone you’ve ever seen. It’s reported that his ghost, dubbed unoriginally as the County 12 Hiker, has killed at least a dozen people and injured another eight. But I can’t really blame him. He never made it home to see his girl, and now he doesn’t want anyone else to get home either.

We pass mile marker twenty-three—the bridge is less than two minutes away. I’ve driven this road almost every night since we moved here in the hopes that I would catch his thumb in my headlights, but I had no luck. Not until I got behind the wheel of this Rally Sport. Before this it was just half a summer of the same damn road, the same damn blade tucked under my leg. I hate it when it’s like that, like some kind of horribly extended fishing trip. But I don’t give up on them. They always come around in the end.

I let my foot ease up on the gas.

“Something wrong, friend?” he asks me.

I shake my head. “Only that this isn’t my car, and I don’t have the cash to fix it if you decide to try to take me off the bridge.”

The hitchhiker laughs, just a little too loudly to be normal. “I think you’ve been drinking or something tonight, pal. Maybe you ought to just let me off here.”

I realize too late that I shouldn’t have said that. I can’t let him out. It’d be my luck that he’d step out and disappear. I’m going to have to kill him while the car is moving or I’ll have to do this all over again, and I doubt that Mr. Dean is willing to let the car go for too many more nights. Besides, I’m moving to Thunder Bay in three days.

There’s also the thought that I’m doing this to this poor bastard all over again. But that thought is fleeting. He’s already dead.

I try to keep the speedometer over fifty—too fast for him to really consider jumping out, but with ghosts you can never be sure. I’ll have to work fast.

It’s when I reach down to take my blade out from under the leg of my jeans that I see the silhouette of the bridge in the moonlight. Right on cue, the hitchhiker grabs the wheel and yanks it to the left. I try to jerk it back right and slam my foot on the brake. I hear the sound of angry rubber on asphalt and out of the corner of my eye I can see that the hitchhiker’s face is gone. No more easy Joe, no slicked hair and eager smile. He’s just a mask of rotten skin and bare, black holes, with teeth like dull stones. It looks like he’s grinning, but it might just be the effect of his lips peeling off.

Even as the car is fishtailing and trying to stop, I don’t have any flashes of my life before my eyes. What would that even be like? A highlight reel of murdered ghosts. Instead I see a series of quick, ordered images of my dead body: one with the steering wheel through my chest, another with my head gone as the rest of me hangs out the missing window.

A tree comes up out of nowhere, aimed right for my driver’s side door. I don’t have time to swear, just to jerk the wheel and hit the gas, and the tree is behind me. What I don’t want to do is make it to the bridge. The car is all over the shoulder and the bridge doesn’t have one. It’s narrow, and wooden, and outdated.

“It’s not so bad, being dead,” the hitchhiker says to me, clawing at my arm, trying to get me off the wheel.

“What about the smell?” I hiss. Through all of this I haven’t lost my grip on my knife handle. Don’t ask me how; my wrist feels like the bones are going to separate in about ten seconds, and I’ve been pulled off my seat so that I’m hovering over the stick shift. I throw the car into neutral with my hip (should have done that earlier) and pull my blade out fast.

What happens next is kind of a surprise: the skin comes back onto the hitchhiker’s face, and the green comes back into his eyes. He’s just a kid, staring at my knife. I get the car back under control and hit the brakes.

The jolt from the stop makes him blink. He looks at me.

“I worked all summer for this money,” he says softly. “My girl will kill me if I lose it.”

My heart is pounding from the effort of controlling the lurching car. I don’t want to say anything. I just want to get it over with. But instead I hear my voice.

“Your girl will forgive you. I promise.” The knife, my father’s athame, is light in my hand.

“I don’t want to do this again,” the hitchhiker whispers.

“This is the last time,” I say, and then I strike, drawing the blade across his throat, opening a yawning black line. The hitchhiker’s fingers come up to his neck. They try to press the skin back together, but something as dark and thick as oil floods out of the wound and covers him, bleeding not only down over his vintage-era jacket but also up over his face and eyes, into his hair. The hitchhiker doesn’t scream as he shrivels, but maybe he can’t: his throat was cut and the black fluid has worked its way into his mouth. In less than a minute he’s gone, leaving not a trace behind.


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