In which there's another NaNoWriMo chapter: a good ghost story

October 12, 2010
Marilou Kent
Gainesville, Florida



Editors, the Skookum Tribune
Attention: Annabeth Spencer
20000 Salmon Avenue
Skookum, WA 98000


Dear Ms Spencer,

I am writing to say how much I’ve enjoyed your recent articles about the people and events in my hometown of Skookum. I live in Chicago now, and rarely make it back to Pilchuck County, but I subscribe to the Skookum Tribune online, and I spend a happy hour each week reading all the news from home.

I am also writing in response to your request (October 7, 2010) for readers to submit ghost stories about Skookum’s Riverview Cemetery. I hope that you enjoy the story I am sending, because it is true, and it happened right in Skookum, too. My friend David’s older brother Sam told me this story when I was a freshman at Skookum High, just before Sam moved away to go to college.

To understand this story, you must first understand that there are some longstanding traditions in Skookum regarding the senior prom. One of the things that everyone understands about prom is that it always rains on prom night. It doesn’t matter what time of year the prom is held, fall, winter, spring, or even early summer: it always rains on prom night. And not just a gentle sprinkling rain, either; rather, the prom night rain is always a heavy, wet, frog-strangling rain. This is so well-known that, when girls buy a pretty dress at The Formal Shoppe in Skookum, or even at one of the malls in a nearby city, the prom dress always comes with a little fold-up clear-plastic poncho. When guys rent a tux, it’s the same thing: a little fold-up clear-plastic poncho comes with the tux (usually it’s tucked into one of the shoes). This has been documented for nearly a hundred years, and nobody has an explanation for it, but we all know it’s true: it always rains on prom night.

The other thing that always happens on prom night is that some long-standing romance breaks up at the prom. Nobody can predict which couple it will be, but everybody knows it will happen that some couple that has been dating for a long time, sometimes since freshman year, will get into a gigantic fight and break up on prom night. Sometimes they fight about…well, it doesn’t really matter, I guess.

The important thing is: everybody knows what will happen on prom night.

So one year some friends of my friend Dave’s older brother Sam decided to take advantage of prom night. These guys were seniors when Sam was a freshman, so he didn’t really know them very well, except of course that Skookum isn’t a very big place so everybody at least recognizes each other. But these guys didn’t hang out together or anything. Anyhow, neither of these senior guys had a date for the prom. And the thing about Skookum is that the really high-status thing to do is to date somebody from another town. It doesn’t matter which other town. Pilchuck, maybe. The thing is that since Skookum is so small, it’s considered cool to date somebody that wasn’t in Mrs Baumgartner’s kindergarten class with you. Especially for prom night, bringing somebody from another town was the thing to do if you could manage it.

But, like I said, neither of these guys had a date for the prom, not even a date with a local girl. So they decided to see if they could get a date by trying to pick up a girl who had just broken up with her boyfriend at the prom. Because, remember, there’s always at least one big break-up. And maybe the girl who had broken up with her boyfriend might go to the prom with one of these other guys, right?

They started the evening at the river park, because college kids were having a keg party down there. They weren’t old enough to go to a kegger, but it was dark and raining, and it’s not like the college kids were checking for ID or anything. So these guys got a little liquid courage into each other before they started their plan. And this was the plan: they’d take the car, and drive slowly around the block of the high school gym, watching. And if they saw a girl out in the rain and crying, they’d do rock/paper/scissors to decide which of them was going to try to pick her up.

It wasn’t a great plan, obviously. I guess senior boys who’ve been drinking down at the river aren’t always the brightest.

Well, the night got darker and wetter and colder, and the guys just kept driving around the block, looking in the parking lot, watching for girls, when finally they saw one: a pretty girl, in a pretty pink party dress—one of those retro vintage dresses, with all the foofy stuff in the skirt, and shoes dyed to match. And there she was: standing in the rain in that pretty dress, crying as if her heart was breaking.

The guy in the passenger seat won the rock/paper/scissors, so he jumped out of the car when they got near the girl. “Hey, honey,” he said in his kindest voice, “What’s wrong?”

“I just broke up with my b – b- b- boyfriend!” wailed the girl, “and everything is horrible now!”

“Well, hey, that’s just a terrible thing,” said the boy. “I can’t imagine anybody breaking up with a pretty girl like you. Hey, I don’t have a tux or anything, but I’ve got my suit jacket in the car. Do you want me to take you back into the dance?”

But the girl didn’t want to go back into the dance. She was crying too hard to make much sense, and her makeup was a mess, but finally the guy got her to allow him to give her a ride home. He wrapped his suit coat around her shoulders and helped her into the back seat. Then he got into the front passenger seat—he didn’t want to rush her, you know?—and away they drove.

The girl was crying and crying, but she was able to give the guy who was driving some directions to her house. She lived way outside of town, out in the farming lands. So they drove for a while, and the guy in the passenger seat, the guy who had won the rock/paper/scissor, he talked to her, real gentle, trying to get her to stop crying. He kept saying things like, “that one couldn’t have been much of a boyfriend, to be so mean to you on prom night,” and “if you were my girlfriend, we’d be back there at the gym having a really nice time together.” After a while she stopped crying, and she even talked back with the guy, maybe even flirting a little as the other guy was driving way way out on one of those old country roads.

The house was set far back from the road, a long, winding gravel drive with big trees on both sides of it. The rain was pounding down on the windshield, and the trees were whipping back and forth in the wind—it was a terrible rainstorm that night.

But when the car pulled up to the house, the boys were surprised to see that the porch light was turned off. You know, you send your girl off to the prom, you leave the porch light on until she comes home, right? So those boys turned around to look at her and ask, maybe they’d come down the wrong driveway? And…

…she was gone.

Had she gotten out? Did the dome light in the car come on if you opened the back door? Neither boy could remember. They got out of the car, and looked around, looked up at that dark house. They opened the back doors of the car, and the dome light came on…but the girl wasn’t in there. Had she crawled into the trunk for a joke? But she wasn’t in there, either.

Finally, the boys ran up to the house and pounded on the door.

It took a few minutes for somebody to answer, but at last the porch light came on, and a tired older man opened the door. He looked at those two boys, who immediately started talking, “Did that girl come in here? We gave her a ride home but when we got here she wasn’t in the back seat? Did she come in already? We wanted to say goodbye but she wasn’t in the car…!”

That man, he looked at those boys. Then he looked up at the sky, and the rain falling. And then he shook his head and said quietly, “It’s prom night again, isn’t it?”

“Sir,” said the boys again. “Your daughter, we gave her a ride home, did she come inside the house already? She needed a ride, she broke up with her boyfriend at the dance and she asked us to give her a ride home. Is she inside?”

And that man, he shook his head. “No,” he told those boys. “No, my daughter isn’t here.

"My daughter…she died. Twenty years ago, she died. On prom night, it was. She had a fight with her boyfriend, she started to walk home by herself in the rain. She was hit by a car that night. My daughter never came home.”

“But, sir!” insisted the boys. “She was in the car! We talked to her! She was wearing my suit jacket!”

And that man, he shook his head again. “No,” he said again. “She never came home. But every year or so, somebody comes to my door, telling me that she tried to get a ride. All these years, and my daughter is still trying to come home.”

The boys didn’t really believe the man, but he told them that they could go look for themselves. She was buried right in Riverview Cemetery, just outside of town.

Well, they weren’t crazy enough to go out to the cemetery in the middle of the dark in the pouring rain, not after what they’d just been through.

But the next morning, the rain had stopped. The sun had come out, warm and golden and glorious. It’s usually a glorious, sunny day on the day after prom night, you know?

So those boys, they went to the cemetery, and they found the stone. There was her name. Her birth date, and her death date. Twenty years prior.

And over the gravestone was the young man’s suit jacket, folded neatly, still wet from the rain.

That’s a true story, told to me by my friend David’s older brother Sam. I didn’t believe him at first, until he took me by the hand, and led me through the cemetery, and showed me the gravestone. I have touched the stone. The story is true.

Very sincerely yours,

Marilou Kent,
class of 1976, Skookum High School


Editor’s note: This story, which folklorists refer to as “The Vanishing Hitchhiker”, is found in many cultures around the world. In Chicago, the girl is known as “Resurrection Mary.” In New Zealand, a young man thumbs his way around the North Island, preaching the gospel to folks who pick him up and then disappearing before they can reach their destination. In Great Britain, the disappearing person shows up at the door of a doctor, pleading for medical assistance for a family member and then vanishing when the sick person is seen. In the Stith-Thompson story motif index, the vanishing hitchhiker is classified as story motif E332.3.3.1. Subcategories include:
E332.3.3.1(a) for vanishing hitchhikers who reappear on anniversaries;
E332.3.3.1(b) for vanishing hitchhikers who leave items in vehicles, unless the item is a pool of water in which case it is E332.3.3.1(c);
E332.3.3.1(d) is for accounts of sinister old ladies who prophesy disasters;
E332.3.3.1(e) contains accounts of phantoms who are sufficiently solid to engage in activities such as eating or drinking during their journey;
E332.3.3.1(f) is for phantom parents who want to be taken to the sickbed of their dying son;
E332.3.3.1(g) is for hitchhikers simply requesting a lift home;
E332.3.3.1(h-j) are a category reserved exclusively for vanishing nuns (a surprisingly common variant), some of whom foretell the future.

We are pleased to know that Skookum is part of the worldwide vanishing hitchhiker community.

Editor’s note, part two: It does, historically, always rain on prom night in the town of Skookum. The exceptions were in 1941, when the scheduled winter prom was cancelled because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and in early 2006, when the entire senior class voted to send money that would have been spent on their prom to the New Orleans survivors of Hurricane Katrina, to help provide food, medical care, and housing for those left homeless by the environmental catastrophe. The 2005-2006 Skookum High School Parent-Teacher-Association raised money to provide an afternoon picnic for the senior class in the spring of that year, to reward them for their kindness to strangers in need.

Records provided by the newspaper archive and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that the weather on the day of the picnic was sunny and warm.

Comments

  1. I love hearing you tell this story. Reading it was almost as much fun. Especially love the Editor's notes. Good on the word count, too!! And many thanks for sharing your nanowrimo exploits (you Marvel, you).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oooh, that is an excellent hitchhiker's story!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Okay, NOW I understand the NaNoWriMo thing, and what you are doing with it... Great story--fun to read!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

To err is human. To be anonymous is not.

Popular posts from this blog

In which Fiddle is Zoomy McZoombutt...but just for a little while

In which we get on with getting ready for winter in the Swampland

In which we ride out with a bunch of Fish and Fiddle leads the Parade!