It was approaching midnight as Marsha, an ER nurse, piloted the Toyota sedan along the winding country road. Today’s rain had left the air misty, with steam rising from the warm road. The temperature was falling.
Marsha just wanted to get to the family cabin and get out of this weather but Frank, a radiologist and her weekend date, was getting on her nerves with his endless prattle. He considered himself an expert on Asian movies, had published an article somewhere on the theme, and was trying to impress her with his knowledge of Asian horror films.
“This country road, out here at night, this reminds me of one of those Japanese ghost movies.”
“Oh really? I don’t care that much for ghost stories, I prefer crime fiction.”
He was persistent. “So what do you do if you’re driving along, on a night like this, and you see an Asian woman standing in the middle of the road, dressed in a nightgown, bare feet, long black hair coming down to her waist, totally pale skin, just standing there?”
“Uh, I don’t know, ask if she’s alright?”
Frank laughed. “No, and hell no! You do not stop. You drive right past without even looking at her.”
“Because she’s a ghost, obviously. If you even make eye contact she grabs you and sucks your soul out.”
“And this was in a movie?”
“Yeah, I think it was based on one of those feudal Japanese legends – in fact I think it’s been in several movies. It’s like one of those archetypes or whatever.”
“What’s an archetype?”
“You know, one of those Jungian… it’s supposed to be like a symbol that recurs in many different cultures – or something. Like mining people’s fear of the dark and the unknown. So if you see her, standing in the road – in fact it’s best to just drive right over her and keep on driving, do not stop.”
“Drive over her? What if she’s a living person?”
He chuckled. “When did you ever see a woman in a nightgown just standing in the road in the middle of the night?”
“And the impact won’t damage the car, like when you hit a deer?”
“No, ’cause she’s a ghost — she has no real corporal materiality. So just get the hell out of there.”
“I get the picture. I don’t usually watch horror movies, so it’s good you’re here to protect us.”
Just another two miles to the cabin. Marsha could picture the stack of kindling and the ash wood logs waiting for them in the wood-burning stove. Get the fire burning, a warm soak in the clawfoot tub, some nice red wine with cool jazz playing, and she’d be ready to put Frank to good use. She knew he could ride her hard, and she would enjoy reciprocating. Then after a good night’s sleep, another round of physical therapy in the morning, another hot tub soak, lox and bagels with Champagne, a walk by the lake, and the weekend would be perfect.
Rounding the bend, their headlights illuminated someone standing in the road, shrouded by a pocket of fog. Marsha slowed down to a crawl. As they approached, she could see it was an Asian male, standing perfectly still, dressed in what looked like a white karate uniform and barefoot. She slowed to a dead crawl.
Frank’s voice quavered: “Jesus, that looks just like Toshiro Mifune!”
“You know, that great Japanese Samurai actor, played in all those Kurosawa films.”
“Something’s wrong with him. Maybe he had an accident.”
Marsha stopped the car and unbuckled her seat belt.
Frank lost it. “What the hell are you doing? Didn’t you listen to a word I said?”
“Stop it, Frank, he’s obviously in some kind of trouble. It’s cold out, and look at him – like he’s in shock or something.”
The rain suddenly picked up, wind buffeting the car. Marsha pulled her jacket’s hood over her head. She always carried a first aid kit in the car. She pulled the door handle.
“Marsha, stay in the car, lock the doors, and let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Frank, we have to help him. You stay here if you’re so scared.”
Leaving the car idling, she pushed the door open and stepped out. Frank called, “Marsha, come back here, don’t be crazy!”
She moved toward the immobile man. “Hey, are you alright?”
He didn’t move or respond. When she was closer she saw what looked like blood splatters on the front of his garment. His eyes were vacant, his head soaked from the rain.
“Have you had an accident?”
Frank honked the horn, laying on it, piercing the night’s stillness.
Annoyed and holding her ears, she turned toward the car. “Stop it, Frank!”
Turning back, the man was gone. “What the…?”
She blinked, looked again, moved to each side of the road checking the nearby brush but didn’t see the man.
Holding her hood to shield her head from the driving rain, she returned to the car. “Frank, he’s gone!”
She pulled herself behind the wheel and put the car in drive, eyes still fixed on the road in search of the apparition. She accelerated slowly until she was sure he wasn’t somewhere down the road.
“Frank, you’ve really gotta lighten up, it’s our duty to help someone in distress. I just wonder what happened to him.”
Frank was uncharacteristically quiet. She pulled her hood back, wiping rain drops from her brow.
“Don’t be upset, Frank, you know I had to stop. Frank?”
She turned her head to see the Asian man in the passenger seat, looking stoically ahead.
Jonathan Worlde is the byline of Paul Grussendorf, an attorney representing refugees, a former Immigration Judge and consultant to the UN Refugee Agency. His legal memoir is My Trials: Inside America’s Deportation Factories. Jonathan Worlde’s neo-noir mystery novel Latex Monkey with Banana was winner of the Hollywood Discovery Award with prize of $1000. Recent short fiction appears in Antietam Review, The Raven Review, the 2020 anthology Ghost Stories of Shepherdstown, in Cirque Journal, Ab Terra Voices, and Stupefying Stories. He is also a traditional country blues performer under the stage name Paul the Resonator, whose CD is Soul of a Man.