John Dowd was relieved to be back near his new hometown before the heavy rains that had been threatening started to fall. The railroad crossing he could see 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. He had accepted a position as an administrator at a small community college there about a month ago. The college served several towns in about 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, where he had lived with his wife, was an industrial town of close to 100,000. The town after her death looked tired and worn out, and John needed a fresh start. Ridgeview, located in the northern part of the state, was approximately 180 miles of farmland from Clarkston Lake.
The rain started to fall in earnest, and visibility instantly dropped to just a few feet. The car’s headlights trying to penetrate the streaming rain reflected into his eyes like driving into a mirror. It was nearly 6:30 PM, and the little amount of daylight remaining was being snuffed out by the black clouds. John slowed to a crawl, staring through the sheets of water for any sign of the railroad crossing signals. Finally, seeing one materialize on his right, he came to a stop, not entirely trusting the signals; he listened for any sign of a train. The incessant pounding 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 flash of metal to 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, and he thought she must be completely soaked. John crossing the tracks pulled even with the girl and opened the passenger window. “Would you like a ride?” he yelled over the din of the rain. The girl looking through the opening answered, “if it is not too much trouble.” “No trouble at all,” John said and reached across the seat to open the door. The girl wheeled her bike to the pole, holding the crossing lights, leaning it there, returning, and getting into the car. John pressed the passenger side window control and closed the window.
John noticed her clothes were different than what young women in the town normally wore, and the heavy-looking material looked to be soaked through and through.
“ I am ever so grateful you happened along; the rain came up suddenly and caught me quite off guard.”
“I almost didn’t see you were standing there; the reflection from your bike 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 how she talked; it certainly was not the way most young people today talked.
“Her 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 up on the way.”
John carefully turning the car around, crossed 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 a boarding house near the lake; the town had done a lot of development in adding green space, walking trails, and biking trails. He was under the impression the area 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 the wooden bridge.”
John did not remember crossing a wooden bridge, but he did remember seeing one of those signs about “Bridge freezes 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 from the downpour. They rounded a bend after a short distance, and a small farmhouse appeared on the left side of the road. The home had a white picket fence, and several lights on inside gave the home a cozy feel on a rainy night.
Dorthy turning toward him smiled brightly and said, “I will not forget the kindness and generosity you have shown to me.” Getting out of the car, she opened the gate, crossed the yard, and went inside the house. John, turning the car around, felt tired and was looking forward to getting 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, yes, I am looking forward to not having to make the trip back up north 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 railroad crossing, and a girl was standing in the rain next to her bicycle on the other side of the tracks.”
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 killed while riding her bicycle at that very crossing in 1910. Since that time, people have reported seeing her standing next to 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, I drove to her Aunts house, I watched her go inside.”
“Did her Aunt live on Narrow Creek Drive?”
“Yes, how the hell did you know that.”
“Grab your keys; I need to show you something.”
Fifteen minutes later, John standing outside of his car, was shaking 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 home he had seen but knew in his gut, the pile of boards, caved-in roof, and underbrush in front of him is 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. He wasn’t starving tonight, but the pints of Guinness tasted extra smooth, and before long, he had finished off four of them. Sitting at the bar, John stared at all of the fancy bottles with their magical potions lit up from beneath. Spotting his go-to Bourbon, Makers Mark, he had the bartender pour him a shot and bring him another Guinness as a chaser.
A short time later, noticeably impaired, he believed he was ok to drive the mile and a half 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 all of the windows to try and let the cool night air keep him awake. He could not remember a time 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 richness of the earth beneath him. Standing up, he found himself in woods with fog clinging about knee-high to the ground. The fog was so dense the trees look like they had been stuck into it. He could hear water running in the distance, and walking in that direction; he found a creek bed. He could not see the water because the fog was even denser in the low-lying areas. Walking along the embankment, he found what he was looking for—a small farmhouse with a white picket fence and warm, welcoming lights inviting him in.