It was a long haul between Leavenworth and Casey. Tom knew if he didn’t fill up in Organ Springs he’d never get the cargo to Casey without running out of fuel. He’d been a trucker for over twenty years, but had never driven this particular route and wasn’t any too happy about doing it now. The narrow road wound itself like a snake through the mountain passes and the passing rain left just enough fog and mist behind to make seeing the dark road difficult. Tom couldn’t see the steep cliff to his right, but knew it was there and it made him nervous.
Turning the radio on, he settled for a station playing an old favorite about lost love. Listening to the old familiar tune, he could feel his anxiety slip away. He’d be in Organ Springs in less than twenty minutes and was looking forward to some hot coffee and a brief rest. Looking through the slapping wipers, he could just make out the Organ Springs road sign up a head at the crossroad. He geared the big truck down, preparing to stop.
Just as he was getting ready to turn right onto the road leading into town, he caught a glimpse of something white in the middle of the road to the left. He looked again, but didn’t see anything. Oh, boy, I’ve been on the road too long tonight. Now I’m seeing things that aren’t there.
Continuing on his way, he quickly put the incident from his mind. All he could think about was getting that much needed coffee to clear his head for the next leg of the trip. Hopefully, the mist would clear and he’d have smooth sailing the rest of the way. Tom had always been proud of getting his cargo where it was supposed to be and getting it there on time, but he never took unnecessary chances. In his twenty plus years on the road, he’d never had an accident. A fact for which his company was grateful. Cora, Tom’s wife, felt they should have shown their gratitude in a more tangible way such as a raise in salary.
Tom smiled, as he thought of his wife of twenty years. An outspoken woman, Cora loved him with a fierceness he’d never thought possible before meeting her. And he loved her the same if not more. Cora had finally succeeded in convincing him to retire from the company in five years with a nice pension. Then they’d finally be able to move to the little house on the cost of Maine they’d bought years ago. Cora could paint all day and Tom could fish, something he never seemed to have time for now.
When his twenty-year retirement date came up, Cora had tried to convince him to take it. He thought they should wait another ten years, so there would be more money. Cora argued they’d spent too many years apart as it was. So they had compromised on the twenty-five year retirement.
Lost in thought, Tom never the less was paying attention to his surroundings and when the white thing appeared in the middle of the road, he was able to stop in time. Looking closer, Tom saw a lady in a long white dress. Jumping down from the cab, he hurried to her.
“Geesh, Miss. I could have run right over you. What are you doing out here in the middle of the road? Did you have an accident or something?”
“No, sir. I’d appreciate a ride into town. I was out walking and got caught in the rain.”
“I’ll be happy to oblige, I’m Tom Withers.”
“Thank you, Tom. I was afraid no one would come along and I’d have to walk all the way back, I’m Celia.”
Tom helped her into the cab and then climbed in himself. He looked over and realized she was shivering from wet and cold. Turning the heat on high, he reached behind the seat and pulled out a warm blanket to drape over her.
“Why, you poor little thing, you’re wet and freezing. Were you at a party? That’s a mighty pretty dress to be out walking in.”
“It’s my wedding dress. Do you like it?”
Tom was taken aback by this comment. Looking at the woman more closely, he saw a pale oval face and large dark eyes surrounded by purple smudges. She had an air of sadness about her that wrung his heart and he wondered if she’d gotten cold feet and run off from the wedding.
“It’s a beautiful dress, Hon. Are you getting warm now?”
“Yes, it’s nice and toasty under this blanket.”
“I’d better get you back to town then.” Tom put the big truck in gear and headed towards Organ Springs.
On their way to town, Tom tried to make polite conversation, hoping to get more of her story out of her, but she didn’t seem inclined to talk. She began to hum the tune to the same old love song he’d been listening to earlier and he softly sang the words. She turned her huge eyes his way and smiled, then continued to hum as he sang.
Right at the edge of Organ Springs sat a huge, old Queen Ann style house that had seen much better days. It was here, Celia asked Tom to let her out. Tom stopped the truck and eyed the old place dubiously. It was dark and there wasn’t a sign of a light inside the old place. The weeds growing in the yard were knee high and he couldn’t imagine anyone living there.
“Are you sure you want out here, Hon? I could take you on into town.”
“Oh, no. I live here. This is my home. Isn’t it just beautiful? Charles said we’d have lots of children to fill it up.”
Tom was worried about dropping the lady at this dilapidated old house. “So then, there’s someone waiting inside for you?”
“Of course, Charles is there waiting. He’s been waiting for such a long time. He’ll be so happy to see me.”
Tom glanced back at the old house, as he helped Celia from the cab of the truck. A small light came on in one of the front windows, easing his mind.
“There, you see? Charles has put the light in the window for me. He does that every night.” Happiness lit her eyes and her face seemed to glow as she said the words.
“Well, Celia, I’ll bid you goodnight then and I hope your wish of filling the house with children comes true.”
The glow left her face and she smiled sadly up at him before making her way through the weeds to the front door. Tom climbed back into his truck and drove to the truck stop on the other side of town. He was surprised that he was the only trucker around the place. He didn’t see how they could stay in business with so few customers. While the attendant filled his truck, he went inside to order coffee and a bite to eat.
He sat at the counter and an elderly man in a white apron came to take his order, shouting it to the cook in back as he filled Tom’s cup with hot coffee. Tom sighed, as he sipped the fragrant brew. “This is what I’ve been needing. Thank you.”
“Come from Clancy, did ya?” The man asked him.
“No, over the pass, I’m heading to Casey.”
The man’s eyes grew round in surprise. “Well, I’m mighty glad you made it safely. Guess you don’t know, but most truckers won’t come over the pass, they circle around through Clancy and take southbound 180 to Casey.”
“Yeah, I saw that route on the map, but that’s a good forty miles out of the way.”
“Most feel the forty miles are worth it. You didn’t see the ghost, then?”
Tom grinned. “What ghost might that be?” He’d heard these stories before in many small towns all over the country.
“The ghost of Celia Matheson.”
Tom choked on his coffee, coughing and sputtering. Once he’d got his breath back, he looked into the face of the old man and saw the knowing look in his eyes.
“You did see her then?”
Tom nodded, thinking the old man was pulling his leg, but wanting to hear more anyway. “Tell me about her.”
“Celia and Charles Matheson were childhood sweethearts. I went to school with both of them and they were in love from first grade on. Charles was going to law school when he and Celia decided to get married. A few months before the wedding they bought the old Queen Ann on the other side of town, course it was a beautiful place then. Celia loved that house.”
“What happened with him and Celia? They did get married, I guess.”
“Yes, sir, they did. Got married at the little church over on Walnut Street. They left for their honeymoon, but a big truck ran the stop sign over at the crossroad and rammed right into them. There wasn’t much left of the car and Celia didn’t make it.”
“That’s terrible. What about Charles?”
“He lived, still alive in fact. He’s lived in that big old house all alone for the past fifty years.”
“The house is in pretty bad shape. Hard to believe anyone lives there.”
“Yep. Charles is one of the good guys. He’s helped a lot of folks out with free legal advice over the years and has defended more than a few of his neighbors in court, never asking for a dime. So when his health began to fail, folks would get together and mow the lawn, do a few repairs. Charles thought it was charity and got so upset, everyone figured it was best to leave him be. He never did remarry and puts a light in the front window of that house every night, saying it’s for Celia to find her way to him when the time is right.”
Shivers crept along Tom’s spine. He didn’t believe in ghosts, but this was getting pretty spooky. “Right time for what?”
“For the two of them to be together again. They say Celia haunts the old crossroads. Before word got around, there was many a trucker come to town and swore they’d run over some lady in a white dress and then she’d just disappeared. Some said they stopped in time to miss her and actually spoke to her and offered her a lift, but she always said the same thing. ‘It’s not the right time’. So what’s your story, Mr.? Did ya run over her or offer her a lift?”
“I not only offered her a lift, but brought her to the old Queen Ann house and dropped her off. Now why don’t you tell me the real story behind all this nonsense. Is this some kind of way to draw in the tourists?”
“You say ya dropped her at the old house?”
“Yes, I did.”
The old man behind the counter rushed to the phone and dialed a number. “Hello, Sarah, let me talk to the sheriff.” He waited a moment and then spoke into the phone again. “Yeah, Pete, it’s me Hank. You better get a car over to the Matheson house. I think Charles might be ailing. Yeah, okay, let me know what happens, will ya? Thanks.” He hung up the phone and walked back to counter.
Tom finished his meal. He’d had enough of this silliness for one night and needed to get back on the road.
“Thanks for the meal, Hank, and for the entertainment.”
He left the truck stop and headed his big rig out of town towards Casey. He couldn’t get Hank’s story out of his mind and he kept seeing Celia’s lovely, pale face full of sadness. “Darn it,” he whispered. He just had to see for himself what was going on at the old house.
Turning the truck around, he headed back to Organ Springs and drove to the old Queen Ann. There was an ambulance and a police car parked in front. As he watched, they wheeled a gurney out of the house, a body covered with a white sheet on top of it. An ache settled into mid-section and Tom wondered if it were possible he’d actually had an encounter with the ghost of Celia Matheson. He climbed down from his truck and wandered over to a small group gathered in front of the house.
“What’s happening?” He asked one woman.
“Poor old Mr. Matheson passed away tonight. It’s a shame. He was a nice old man.”
Tom returned to his truck and began to turn it around to head back out of town, many questions running through his mind. As he started to pull away from the old house, a flash of something white caught his eye in the side mirror. Turning quickly, he saw Celia Matheson and a handsome young man in a dark suit walking hand in hand down the road.
As he stared open mouthed, Celia turned and looked at him. She smiled brightly before turning and continuing down the road, snuggled close against the side of the young man. As Tom watched, the two of them disappeared into the mist. Only there was no mist. It had cleared while he was having coffee. Tom shook his head and rubbed his eyes. Either he was going crazy or he’d actually just seen Celia and Charles Matheson’s ghosts.
Tom was quiet and thoughtful for the rest of the trip. After dropping his cargo, he found a phone and called Cora.
“Hello, Sweetheart, I’ll be home tomorrow. And, Cora, I’ve decided to take the twenty-year retirement. This is my last trip. Ah… Honey, don’t cry. Yes, I know. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home. I love you too. Bye, Darlin’.”
Tom walked back to his truck with a smile on his face. Ghost or not, Celia Matheson had shown him that spending time with his Cora was more important than a few extra dollars in retirement benefits.
Copyright Elizabeth Melton Parsons
All Rights Reserved