Here’s an eerie story that’s considered to be the most popular urban legend ever. It’s known around the world by many names, but in the U.S. it’s called The Vanishing Hitchhiker…
A man was driving home one night after a long day out. He had decided to take a shortcut through a back roadway but was starting to regret it.
His eyelids were drooping uncontrollably. The long, straight road was so deserted that he had nothing to look at but trees on the side of the road, and it was hypnotizing.
Then all of a sudden he was jolted awake by the figure of a person standing on the side of the road ahead. It was a young woman in a light, flowing dress and she had her hand out in the classic hitchhiker sign. His mother had always warned him that picking up hitchhikers was dangerous, that some people got murdered. But as he got closer the woman locked eyes with him and looked at him so desperately that he couldn’t help but hit the brakes.
She got in the back seat and held her throat like it was hurting her, barely managing to say “Thank you. Home is down the road, blue house on the first right.”
The man noticed how cold she looked and saw that she didn’t have a jacket, so he took his brown leather jacket off and handed it to her. She smiled shyly and put it on, tucking her hands into the pockets.
He tried to talk a little to her a bit more but she seemed distracted, staring out the window intently. Her eyes were deep and soulful, and he wished he could ask her about her life, what her story was, anything. But instead he clicked on the radio. It was odd, he turned through all the stations but they were all static except for one: a faint station playing old music.
When he drove the car into the driveway of the blue house he looked up into the rear view mirror to say something to the woman, but instead his heart froze in his chest. The backseat was empty!
The man got out of the car and frantically ran around the it, searching the backseat and even looking underneath it, but the woman had vanished without a trace.
A light turned on in the house behind him and an elderly woman came out, wrapping a knitted blanket around her shoulders. He looked at her with mouth open, not sure how to explain what he’d just experienced without sounding crazy and her possibly calling the police.
Luckily the elderly woman spoke first. “It’s okay,” she said kindly, “my name is Mrs. Williams. I’m guessing you’ve seen Heather.” She proceeded to tell him the story of Heather, her daughter. Many years ago Heather had been walking home from a dance. It was after dark, and she had been hit by a car full of drunk teenagers. The teenagers survived, but she had died on the spot. Ever since, her ghost appeared every so often to a person driving that same road, trying to get back home but never making it.
But the man didn’t believe it, he’d seen her with his own two eyes and heard her voice. The elderly woman was patient, and described to him what her daughter looked like. The description fit the hitchhiker perfectly. Finally she said quietly, “we buried her in Evergreen Cemetery twenty-five years ago.”
Something about these words made him start to shake, he rubbed his neck nervously and mumbled something about how he had to go. He jumped in the car and drove off, on the way out he could see the elderly woman’s kindly eyes watching him go.
That wasn’t the end of it though. The man tried to forget all about what had happened, but he tossed and turned all night. When the sun started to rise his eyes were still wide open …he knew what he had to do.
He drove to Evergreen Cemetery and stumbled through the mist, going from headstone to headstone reading the names. As the sun started to warm the air he began to feel a little foolish, maybe this was all some sort of bizarre dream?
But just then something on a headstone two rows ahead of him caught his eye. As he walked closer he couldn’t believe what he was seeing and fell to his knees. There, draped over the corner of the headstone was a brown leather jacket …his brown leather jacket that he had lent to the hitchhiker the night before. And chiseled on the stone was her name: Heather Williams.
Brrr, I really like the ending of this story. Believe it or not The Vanishing Hitchhiker is a kind of story that’s thousands of years old, and even has a version found in the Bible. In modern times, however, The Vanishing Hitchhiker story usually takes two forms: doomsday prophet or a ghost trying to reach home.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s stories of vanishing hitchhikers swept through the US and Europe, sometimes putting people into a panic and causing them to drive off the road. The hitchhiker usually took the form of a nun (surprising, right?) and warned of impending doom of one kind or another.
One example from my home state of Washington is of a hitchhiking nun who spoke in an ominous voice and told people that the 1980’s eruption of Mount St. Helens was God’s warning to the area. She talked on and on about how if people didn’t repent their sins they would be obliterated in the next eruption of the volcano, and then she would mysteriously vanish from the car.
As far as stories of ghosts trying to get home like the Heather Williams story, it seems like each little corner of the US has it’s own version that has lasted into present day. It’s gotten to the point that people even try to make the vanishing hitchhiker appear by doing things like driving back and forth late at night on the road where she’s said to have died. Or they will follow superstitions such as circling the local cemetery where she is buried three times at night, with the car door open, to try to make her appear in the back seat.
It’s amazing how many different versions of The Vanishing Hitchhiker story are out there, not to mention all the different superstitions about how to make her appear. So my question for you today is an interesting one… is there a Vanishing Hitchhiker story from your area? If so, leave a comment below, I’d love to hear it!