The man looked familiar, and immediately I felt my pulse quicken. He wore oil-stained jeans and a torn leather vest, but no shirt. Straight black hair hung nearly to his waist. A snake tattoo circled his forearm. Mid-thirties, I guessed.
I didn't realize I was staring so hard until he scowled and muttered, "Do I know you, bud?" I quickly averted my eyes, not wishing for an exchange of words and maybe more. The man picked up the newspaper and the pack of cigarettes he'd purchased, and walked toward the doors. I stepped to the counter to pay for my gasoline.
I dismissed the incident from my mind and began thinking of how great it would be to get home. Only fifty more miles to Cedar Pointe, my hometown. I'd been away to college for an eternity, it seemed. With summer vacation here, I was anticipating seeing my girlfriend and family again.
Exiting the glass doors, I stepped out into the thickening dusk, and was halted by a gruff voice.
Turning, I spotted the longhaired guy again.
"What is it?" I hoped this didn't mean trouble.
"Hey, man," he said again, uncertainly, "which way you headed?"
"To Cedar Pointe. Why?" I started to walk to my car. The guy followed, to my annoyance.
"Cool, that's where I live. Can you give me a ride, man?" His voice was eager, pleading.
"Well . . ." I hesitated. He drew closer. I detected the odors of dried sweat and stale tobacco smoke radiating from his body.
"I'm in a hurry," I mumbled and slid into the driver's seat of my Dodge Intrepid. I attempted to close the door, but the guy grabbed the handle, and with surprising strength, prevented me. He began to speak hurriedly.
"Have a heart, man. I've been stranded here for six fucking hours, and nobody'll give me a ride. I hitchhiked with a trucker from Merrill to here, but can't get anybody else to take me. I just need to get to Cedar Pointe, man."
As these words gushed from his mouth, I again was struck by the uncanny sense that I knew him.
"Do I know you? I'm from Cedar Pointe, myself," I ventured.
"I don't know. I don't recognize you." My question seemed to irritate him.
"Get in," I gave in reluctantly, leaning over and unlocking the passenger door. This is a huge mistake, I thought.
As we pulled onto the highway, my unwelcome passenger lit a cigarette. Though I don't smoke, and the smell gives me a headache, I said nothing. I thought that perhaps it would be easier for both of us if the guy was occupied with something. He seemed to sense my irritation at his presence and did not attempt conversation.
The irrational thought that I knew him from a previous encounter kept returning. I studied on it in the silence. Where had I met him before? A sense of foreboding grew in me as I tried to remember. It seemed that the man was connected somehow to some terrible danger I'd been in . . . that I'm in now. The thought came unbidden. Was it true? Was he dangerous? His appearance certainly did nothing to inspire confidence.
Then it hit me. That crazy dream! The guy was in a dream I had a couple of nights before. I remembered waking up around two o'clock in the morning with the conviction that it was some kind of warning. The next morning I'd dismissed it from my mind, thinking it was ridiculous. Now I wished like hell I could remember the dream and how it ended. I turned for a quick glance at my passenger, hoping I'd recall the dream if I saw his face again.
What I did see caused my heart to lurch sickeningly. The hitchhiker's hand was emerging from inside his vest. He clutched an 8-inch hunting knife. The blade gleamed hideously and I caught my breath. The man turned, noticed my expression, then laughed.
"Didn't mean to scare you. Thought I'd clean my fingernails." He proceeded to do just that, but my fear was not alleviated.
"You know, man, it's hard to hitch a ride." He spoke, as he continued digging under his nails with the...