A Trucker’s tale
I’m Gary, a long distance lorry driver, I drive those 18 wheelers that hurtle by you at speed on the freeway, sounding their horn, and telling you to get the hell out of my way.
That’s right, I’m not a nice guy, I’m a road hog, a bully, the trucker who won’t give way in the overtaking lane, and who holds up the flow of traffic causing a two mile tailback.
And you know what?
I couldn’t give a damn, if I hold you up on your way to visit a sick relative, or to pick your brat up from school, or even if you’re on your way to bury your mother.
In short, I don’t like people and I don’t care if people like me.
I have a job, that’s to deliver the contents of my truck on time, if I get there early so much the better; it means I get a bonus. I might even have time to grab a beer at a truck stop, or even spend some time with one of the ladies, you know, the ones that spend time looking to make a few bucks off an overweight, balding and mean old trucker like me.
Sometimes, just sometimes I get a load that I have to take out or pick up from the middle of nowhere. I don’t mind so much, the company is good; well it’s my own.
I found myself in New England all summer long, making a lot of runs for farmers, carrying cattle, dairy products and fruit. I had one last run left in the season before late fall, and I would have to take the long drive south down to the heart of Dixie, where the weather would be better and loads would still need to be hauled.
I spoke to Mike, a decent enough guy, sort of a booking agent and dispatcher, he would find drivers loads, and if they delivered on time, and didn’t help themselves to spare diesel or pilfer from their loads, he would make sure they got regular work at a decent rate of pay.
‘Hey Mike, what you got for me today? Can you make it a good one; I want to head off down to Virginia or North Carolina before the weather changes.’
‘OK Gary, I think I’ve got the perfect load for a guy who likes his own company and who doesn’t take any crap.’ He handed a sheet of paper over to me with the destination and load printed out, McGruder’s Farm, Yeovil, New Hampshire.
‘Couldn’t you find something a little closer? Yeovil’s in the middle of nowhere; and farm runs don’t pay that much pal!?’ I was a little bit annoyed, I always thought that Mike and I got on, but here he was trying to give me a lousy last load.
Mike laughed at the scowl on my face, ‘No, you got me wrong you idiot, this is the run of the season, the McGruder’s have a prize herd of rare cattle. It’s worth a good four thousand dollars for you, they want a fast and reliable driver; I thought of you’.
Being a naturally suspicious guy, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Why where the McGruder’s paying so much? And why was Gary offering me the load first?
Mike read my mind. He spread his hands wide and looked me in the eye. ‘OK, OK, look I’ll level with you, the local drivers won’t touch it, and most of the guys have already left this season, apart from the usual greenhorns and the two guys from New Jersey with light fingers. You are the only decent driver I have left.’
‘OK, that explains why you have chosen me, but why are the McGruder’s paying so much, and why are the local’s saying no? Come on Mike, you may as well tell me it all, or me and my truck are heading south early!’
‘Ah crap. Alright, the locals won’t take the load because they say the road is haunted, and that once a man sees the ghost, than within a week he drops down dead. It’s a load of hogwash Gary, but that’s why the McGruder’s are paying so much, their desperate for a driver. Now will you take the load or not?’
Now don’t get me wrong, when you drive as much as I do, you get to see a lot of sights on the road. Things that are dumb, things that are crazy, things that are scary and stuff that just plain leaves you laughing like a crazy old fool….but I have never ever seen a ghost.
‘That’s what their all scared of, some figment of a drunk’s imagination. What is it, a headless horseman, a jilted bride, a car full of youngsters on their way to a prom or a murder victim?’ To my mind people are just plain stupid sometimes, letting something like this scare them out of making thousands of dollars, this trip was worth four times as much as a good run.
Mike smiled at me, his thinking the same as my own, after all if I was getting four thousand dollars, what was he getting as the booking agent? ‘I know, I can’t believe that people are turning down the opportunity to make this much money, its crazy. What’s even crazier is the ghost, it’s a swimmer!’
I blinked and did a double take, a swimmer! ‘Mike, there’s no river up near Yeovil, there’s a big old dam up there, with a great lake off it, but that’s miles from the road to Yeovil.’
‘I know, but it’s an interesting tale so I’ll let you hear it. Everybody knows about the Hoover Dam right, but they built one here about the same time. Anyway, the river that they wanted to damn, followed the course of the road, everybody who lived near the flooding areas had been moved, before the final explosions were due to take place. All apart from a young engineer who had been working on the project, the rumour has it that he was sleeping off a hangover when the alarm went for the explosives to go off; anyway he jumped out of bed, not a stitch of clothing on and dived into the river to get away. The poor guy drowned in the floodwaters, but nobody ever found his body. After the water had been damned and the river bed was dry, the road was build upon it. A few years later and there was the first sighting of the guy swimming in the road, just a fleeting glimpse, but the guy who saw him dropped dead, everyone thought of a heart attack, but when they carried out an autopsy he had drowned – though the guy hadn’t been anywhere near water when he died, he was sitting at a diner, eating a burger! It’s happened since, the locals claims that people have died who have seen him, though other people claim to have seen him and lived, so I wouldn’t worry too much buddy.’
I gotta say that when Mike told me the story, I did feel a little nervous, I mean a guy drowning after eating a burger! You know how much a trucker loves a diner right!
Anyhow I had taken the load on, and now I found myself driving in the late fall in New Hampshire, a broad smile on my face as the evening sun warmed the cab of the truck and I found an open road with no annoying car drivers upon it.
I saw the sign for Yeovil, thirty miles to go.
According to some of the local guys that I had spoken to after taking the job from Mike, this was the prime area for spotting the phantom swimmer, the local guys even told me that people would drive miles out of their way to avoid using this stretch of road, no wonder it was so quiet here.
Still, it would mean that I would be early. Great, I could pick up the cattle and be on my way.
Just then, with the light fading as the sun began to deepen into the tree line ahead, I could see a vague shape in the road ahead of me, in the left lane, but the shape was moving away from me, not towards me, I felt my stomach tighten.
It was a swimmer.
A young man was swimming away from me; I slowed the truck and gradually drew level with him, the truck whining as it crawled along next to the phantom.
He was swimming in the road, water splashed around him and off his arms, he had a look of sheer terror on his face, the strokes being powered by fear driven adrenaline.
But the road was solid under my truck, I could feel the bite of the tarmac under my wheels, yet next to me the swimmer struck on.
I looked down once more, and his head turned to face me, he pleaded the words ‘help me’ framed on his lips, his eyes rolling up to the back of his head, until all I could see was the whites of his eyes, I have never been so scared I can tell you.
His arms flung up, as if a wall of water had hit him and his head went under the surface of the road, his arms waving in desperation above the surface of the tarmac, I stopped my truck and jumped out.
What could I do? Remember I’m a guy that doesn’t help, that doesn’t care, right?
I stood, looking at the spot, until gulping down my fear I reached out to grab his right arm, and…….it held! Surely I should have gone straight through it!
I snapped out of the shock that I felt and grabbed his other arm, I pulled, as I lifted him, his head broke out of the surface that was part river and part road, I landed on my backside as I pulled, with my right foot finding solid ground and my left feeling nothing but the cold, wet sensation of water, I had a foot in a long dead river!
But still I pulled, I pulled him clear and he landed next to me, and the shimmering surface of the long dead river disappeared from the road, and I rolled over and patted it, seeking reassurance that it was real and I breathed a sigh of relief as I could only feel the hard reassuring feel of rock solid tarmac.
I sat up and fearfully looked over my shoulder to were the swimmer now lay, and as I turned he turned also, his eyes now no longer white, but the eyes of a normal man and he mouthed the words, ’thank you, thank you for stopping.’
He smiled and as he smiled a blinding light came down and torched the road, and I shut my eyes to hide them from its brilliance.
And when I opened them he had gone, the road was untouched and nobody was in sight. My left foot still wet were it entered the river, I hadn’t dreamed it.
I saw that young man ten years ago, I’m not dead, I have not drowned, and I made the farm run and got my four thousand dollars.
And you know what I did with it? When I got to North Carolina that fall, I gave it to a soup kitchen. I had found out that I did care.