Watercolor city in the distance. Painting by Anna Loscotoff, 2022
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The Hitchhiker | A Short Story

The Hitchhiker

I see a woman standing at the crossroads of the country road, her thumb sticking out.  Her hair is long and dark and straight; like mine.  Her back is turned.  Even though I am young and alone and female, I instinctively pull over to the edge of the road.  

I hit the electric unlock button, the click of welcoming this young woman into my car, into my life.  

She opens the door and slides smoothly into the seat next to me, her hair cascading over her shoulder and concealing her face.  There are freckles on her hands.  Her long patchwork skirt pulls at her thigh.  Her feet are bare and travel-worn.

My hands are on the steering wheel and I look forward at the skyline; a city silhouetted in the distance.  We are in the middle of nowhere, the country road extending out before us.

“Where are you going?” I ask her.

“The same place you are,” she responds quietly.

I turn to look at her, still hidden by her veil of hair.  She is staring out the front window, towards the city.  

I press my foot on the gas and begin to drive.

We drive in silence.

“It is time to remember,” she finally says and I am startled from my hypnosis.

I glance at her, sitting at my right.  She puts her hand on my arm and I begin to feel a vibration in my spine. 

The Hitchhiker, digital drawing by @blu.s_drawing.s. A girl sits in profile, hidden by her hair.
The Hitchhiker sits in the car, her face hidden. Digital drawing by @blu.s_drawing.s

Electricity, racing up the middle of my back, up my neck. A series of zaps that transcend themselves along my spine.  My brain filled with the noise of vibration, my head rocking with each wave of energy. My eyes are forced to close.  Her hand wraps around my upper arm.

I am lying down.  There is something tight around my right arm.  Her hand?  It is squeezing. Releasing.  Squeezing.  There is the steady rhythm of a machine, beeping in the background. Air is blowing into my nose, cold and pure.  

My eyelids are heavy and don’t want to open.  I try to speak and hear a voice.

“You’re almost done.  You’re doing great.”

The voice is gentle and sweet.  A hand pats mine.

I am driving my car and see that it is the woman patting my hand.  The woman with the long dark hair.  I look back up to the city, still sitting on the horizon.  

“You’re back,” she says.

“I’ve been here all along,” I say.

A house appears in the distance on the left side of the road.  

We drive closer and it appears out of place; a city house in the country. I can visualize a little girl in the yard, climbing a tree, playing in the sand, digging ditches, allowing water to flow as she turns sticks into boats and watches them race.  I can see the look of fear on her face when a voice calls from the house.  She hides behind the tree. 

The house comes closer and I put weight on the gas peddle, going faster, refusing to look.  Pretending it doesn’t exist.

“Don’t you want to stop?” asks the woman to my right.

“Why would we?” I ask.

“The little girl might need our help,” she responds.

I step on the peddle harder as we speed by the city house sitting alone in the country. I see the girl on the front porch and refuse to look.  She watches me as I drive by, ignoring her; pretending to miss all the things I know she’s seen. 

Again, the woman on my right touches my arm.  I glance at her, and she is small in the seat.  The child from the house.  Her hair is long and dark and still her face is hidden from me.  I jerk my arm away as if her touch was fire.  

“Why are you ignoring me?” the girl asks.

Again I feel the sensation, a movement of electricity up my spine and into my head. I can hear its vibration as it pulses inside me.  Again and again, I am filled with waves of electricity.

I am able to crack open my eyes, only a tiny bit, as the sensation slows. 

A white room.  Machines.  A hospital bed; the mattress hard beneath me. A beaker of what looks like urine sits on the countertop.  The world is blurry and I wonder if I am ready to be taken apart to see how I tick. How will they interpret what they find?

The beeping of the machine bounces a green line with the beat of my heart.

The woman at my side pats my hand.

“You’re all done.  Just close your eyes and rest. You won’t remember any of this tomorrow.”

I try to speak but my voice is foreign and jumbled. 

The woman lets go and stands.  Behind her is a window.  The girl with the long black hair stands silhouetted.

She turns to look at me and my stomach drops; that feeling deep in the pit of your soul when you’ve been caught.  When you’ve done something wrong and you suddenly realize your guilt.  The face looking back at me is a mirror.

She turns to look at me in the car; my eyes, my nose, my mouth.  She pulls my hand from the wheel and I try to protest, but she is stronger than me.  She puts my hand on her heart and I can feel the scars, the torn flesh beneath her thin top.  My broken heart made real.

The mirror shatters, a long crack starting at her eyes and stretching out. The pieces of glass fall to the seat.  The car slams into something and I feel my body propelled forward, the glass of the windshield, the glass of the mirror, showering me with its sharp points.

The moment of our interface.  The moment where my heart and my soul meet.  The moment when I am forced to become one.  The moment where I can no longer divide myself to get by.  

It was too much.  It is too much. My mind wobbles and breaks.  My heart twists, its shape morphing and squeezing, unsure if it wants to beat again. 

My whole life, I have refused.  I have chosen to defer this moment, knowing it was too much to remember.  This experiment called life. The things that have separated me into my two selves, where memories are buried and dead.  For my mind and my heart to meet, is to dig it up again.  To become whole, a state of being I don’t understand; refuse to understand.  

The beeping of the machine stops. 

I am in my car. The windshield has only a crack to remind me.  The city is closer now.  The woman sits to my right and holds my hand.  The child is in the back seat, singing the song of my childhood. 

Notes for The Hitchhiker

The truth is, I can’t say precisely where this story comes from.

Well, not exactly true. The initial idea of the hitchhiker being a woman in a mental hospital came from my daughter as we chatted about the story this week.  I did not do her version justice.  My original idea was more of a fun quip on homeschooling, which I will perhaps try to write as well.  This one just poured out first—therapy through writing.

My version is about Electroconvulsive Therapy and how it has been used throughout history to help with psychiatric illness.  My version is about buried trauma and the things we often refuse to see, especially when we don’t know exactly what there is to see.  My version is about the forgotten inner child and how sometimes we refuse to bring them along.

I had a dream last week—one of those dreams that aren’t dreams, wisdom from the subconscious—about how I have blocked my intuition.  In my dream, the blocks also protected me and kept me alive. I still use intuition in my life and I am careful to listen, however, perhaps I would have greater intuition without these blinders, or perhaps without the blinders I would see too much and not be able to cope. (Check back if you’re curious, I’m working on a blog about this dream and will link it here when it’s ready.)

I believe that my dream was being brought forth because of the writing I’m doing here. Writing is about diving into the subconscious and seeing what you find.   Even when my writing isn’t ABOUT me, it’s still always about my life and experiences.  Writers are only influenced by our life experiences, whether it is something we go through, something we watch, or something we read. Even when we think we are good at separating ourselves from our own story, elements of our subconscious slip out.

Yesterday I read about Broken Heart Syndrome—it’s a real thing and it’s been on the rise since the pandemic began.  I found the concept sneaking onto the pages. I often wake up thinking that I am having a heart attack or a seizure.  Nights-on-end of panic attacks. This article about Broken Heart Syndrome tells us that it is not just caused by heartbreak but also by shock and fear.  It makes me think of my heart at night and what repeated panic attacks are doing to it.  Is there a part of it that is twisting and squeezing and malforming in shock?

 If you’ve read any of my blogs on sleep or dreams, you know that I have nocturnal hallucination which began when I was in first grade.  While I know that I am hallucinating, these dreams now often manifest as panic attacks through the night.  If you’re curious about more, here is my blog about Complex Nocturnal Hallucinations as well as the blog about the first one I remember.

My description of the electricity up the spine is true from my experiences as well. A medication I took many years would wake me from my sleep with this sensation of electricity. It felt like waves of electric shock.  To this day, I need a heating pad to fall asleep because of the sensation of ice in my spine. 

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This Week’s Prompt

6. Picking up a hitchhiker

Include: hospital, defer, interface, experiment, beaker, visualize, mattress, skyline, interpret, zap

Read Bridgette’s week 6 | Through the Glass Windshield

Photo used courtesy of my amazing daughter, on Instagram @blu.s_photo.s

Broken Heart Syndrom – InStyle

Broken Heart Syndrom – CNN

Electroconvulsive Therapy – Scientific America

Electroconvulsive Therapy, Beyond the Basics – Up To Date

Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations

The Skeleton on the Shelf

About me – My most important blog, My Creative Muse and the Afterlife

My retelling – How the TinMan Lost His Heart

More of my 52 weeks

What is the 52-week short story challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Next Week’s Story Prompt

7. Selling a childhood home

Include: dreamscape, convince, pioneer, genesis, cumulous, jump, mash, condition, erase, gold

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