John Dowd was relieved to be back near his new hometown before the threatening skies opened up with what promised to be a heavy downpour. The railroad crossing in the distance was only a mile from the edge of Clarkston Lake, a town with a population of a little less than 5000 souls. About a month ago, he accepted a position as an administrator at a small community college. The college served several towns in approximately a 30-mile radius, and he had made the difficult decision to move after his wife lost her battle with cancer earlier in the year. Ridgeview, located in the northern part of the state, was approximately 180 miles of farmland from Clarkston Lake. Ridgeview, where he had lived with his wife, was an industrial town of nearly 100,000. The city after her death looked tired and worn out, and John felt the need for a fresh start where he could escape the desperation of his loneliness.
It was nearly 6:30 PM, and the black clouds and drenching rain snuffed out the little daylight remaining. The rain started falling in earnest, and visibility dropped dramatically to less than 20 feet. The car’s headlights were trying to penetrate the streaming rain and reflected the light into his eyes like driving into a mirror. John slowed to a crawl, staring ahead for any sign of the railroad crossing signals. Finally, seeing one materialize on his right, he stopped before the tracks, not entirely trusting the signals; he listened for any sign of a train. The incessant pounding of the rain on the car’s metal roof drowned out all other sounds.
Just as he was about to let off on the brake and cross the tracks, a reflection of something metal on his right caught his attention. Looking closer, he saw a young woman standing next to a bicycle. The girl was facing him from the other side of the tracks. John crossed the tracks and, pulling his car even with the girl, opened the passenger window and asked, “Would you like a ride?” shouting the words over the din of the rain. The girl peering through the opening said, “if it is not too much trouble.”
“No trouble at all,” John said and reached across the seat to open the door. John pressed the passenger-side window control to close the window. The girl wheeled her bike to the pole that supported the crossing lights, leaning it there, returned, and got into the car.
John noticed her clothes were different from what young women in the town typically wore, and the heavy-looking material looked soaked through and through.
“I am ever so grateful you happened along; the rain caught me quite off guard.”
“I almost didn’t see you standing there; the reflection from your handlebars caught my attention. Is there somewhere I can take you?”
“I was on my way to visit my Aunt, and if you were so kind as to take me, I would be forever thankful.”
John thought it strange the formal way she talked; it certainly was not how most young people spoke today.
“My Aunts home is on Narrow Creek Road; it is a small farmstead about a mile back in the direction in which you came.”
“What about your bicycle?”
“My Aunt can take the carriage in the morning into town, and I will pick it up on the way.”
Carriage? John wondered; he had heard some people who shunned modern conveniences and lived spartan existences but had never seen any horse-drawn carriages since moving to Clarkston Lake.
John carefully turned the car around, crossed back over the tracks, and headed away from town in the driving rain.
“What’s your name?”
“Dorthy Roth, I live in the large boarding house near the Lake.”
John was surprised to hear about a boarding house near the lake; the town had done a lot of development by adding green space, walking trails, and biking trails. He was under the impression that anywhere near the water was a high-rent district.
Seeing some farmhouse lights on the right, Dorthy said, “It is not much further; Narrow Creek Road is just on the other side of that wooden bridge.”
John did not remember crossing a wooden bridge, but he did remember seeing one of those signs about “Bridge surfaces freezing before the road.” Dorthy, sitting up, said, “it is the next road to the right.”
John had not noticed the dirt road before but could see now it traveled alongside the small creek flowing fast and near the top of its banks from the downpour. After a short distance, they rounded a bend, and a small farmhouse appeared on the left side of the road. The home had a white picket fence and several lights inside, giving it a cozy look on a stormy night.
Dorthy turning toward him smiled brightly and said, “I won’t soon forget your kindness and generosity.” Getting out of the car, she opened the fence gate and, crossing the yard, went inside the house. Turning the car around, John felt tired and was looking forward to returning to his small rental home.
The next day in his office, his assistant Betty came in with a steaming cup of coffee and set it on his desk.
“You look tired.”
“Thank you; I look forward to not having to make the trip to Ridgeville so often.”
“How was it.”
“I am feeling less and less like Ridgeview is my home and look forward to coming back here.”
“Good, I think that is progress.”
“Hmm,” John said with a contemplative expression.
Betty turning, was about to leave when John remembered the girl.
“There was one thing weird about the trip back.”
“Last night, just as I was coming into town, the clouds opened up, and I could barely see the road. I stopped at the crossing and saw her standing next to her bicycle in the rain.”
Betty, 57 years old, had lived her whole life in Clarkston Lake and knew a lot about the history of the place. Looking at John, she had a strange expression on her face.
“Was the bike red?”
“It could have been red; I am not sure; it was dark; why do you ask?”
“She is not real,” Betty said with a seriousness that sent a chill through John.
“What do you mean not real?”
“There was a young woman who rode a red bicycle killed at that crossing in 1910. Since then, people have reported seeing her standing beside her bike near the tracks, usually when it’s raining. It was raining the night she was hit by the train.”
“Wait a minute; I don’t think you understand; I gave her a ride in my car, drove to her aunt’s house, and watched her go inside.”
“Did her Aunt live on Narrow Creek Drive?”
“How the hell did you know that.”
“Grab your keys; I need to show you something.”
Fifteen minutes later, John, standing outside his car, visibly trembled as he looked at the complete wreck of a home in front of him. He had driven up and down the road trying to find the well-kept, inviting home he had seen last night, but he knew in his gut that the pile of boards, caved-in roof, and underbrush in front of him was where he had dropped the girl off.
“He was mostly silent on the way back to the office, trying to wrap his mind around what he had experienced. Replaying the scene, he had to admit there was a strangeness about the young woman.
Betty checked in on him a couple more times during the day, and when it was time to leave, she asked if he would be alright?
“Yes, I will be fine. I am just still shocked at how real everything was.” He was thinking about his wife and how he wished he could see her again.”
“Alright, I am leaving; I think you should go home too, try to get some rest.”
“Ok, mother,” John said in a good nature jest.
Betty smiling, left the office.
John had not quite figured out a routine for buying and preparing meals at his home, so he usually ended up at his favorite pub downtown that had a view of the lake. Sitting at the bar, all the fancy bottles with their magical potions lit from below reflected softly in a mirror, giving them an almost irresistible charm. Spotting his go-to Bourbon, Makers Mark, he had the bartender pour him a shot and bring him another Guinness as a chaser. He wasn’t hungry tonight, but the pints of Guinness tasted extra smooth, and before long, he had finished off four of them.
A short time later, noticeably impaired, he believed he was ok to drive the mile and half of the mostly residential streets to his home. Pulling out of the parking lot, he changed his mind and headed for the highway that would take him north out of town. Making it to the railroad crossing, he stopped at the tracks and opened the windows, hoping the cool air would keep him awake. He could not remember when he had been this tired, and his eyelids kept shutting no matter what he did.
The last thing he remembered was a blinding light coming at him at such a rate of speed that he felt like it was going to swallow him whole. When he woke up, he was face down in the leaves and could smell the rich, dampness of the earth beneath him. Standing up, he found himself in the woods with a dense knee-high fog clinging to the ground. The fog was so thick it made the trees look like they were stuck into it like birthday candles on a cake. He could hear water running in the distance, and walking in the direction of the sound, he found a creek bed. He couldn’t see the water because the fog was denser in the creek’s shallow valley. Walking along the embankment, he found the small farmhouse he was looking for—a tidy home with a white picket fence and warm, welcoming lights that invited him in.