by Jerry B. Jenkins
A long stretch of Kellogg Road was unlit, and the thin young hitchhiker
appeared only briefly in Reggie Ingle’s headlights. Reggie braked,
honked, and waited. Hearing and seeing nothing, he lifted his foot from
the brake. As he was about to accelerate, the passenger door opened.
“Thanks, man,” the guy said. “Nice wheels.”
The young man wore docksiders, no socks, tight blue jeans, a maroon
college sweatshirt, and a baseball cap. “Where to?” Reggie said.
“Just to the highway. Lonely stretch here. Dark.”
When was the last time anyone told Reggie he had a nice car? All he had
heard about the Trans Am, for which he was in hock up to his ears, was
that a pastor’s son shouldn’t drive something so—pick your own
adjective: flashy, expensive, hot, showy. Though his father hadn’t paid
a dime of it, he took as much heat for it as Reggie did.
Pastor Ingle made clear that he wasn’t thrilled about the car, either,
but he also said he was grateful he had no serious worries about his
youngest son. They disagreed on modes of worship, and Reggie was more
comfortable with experience-oriented faith than his father was, but
otherwise they got along.
“I’m going west as far as First Church ,” Reggie told the stranger.
“That’s OK. I’ll just get out at the highway.”
Reggie cocked his head. A hitchhiker who didn’t want to get as close to
his destination as possible?
“Look,” the young man said, “could you do me a favor?”
“Do you happen to know the MacKenzies in Forest Lake?”
Reggie pursed his lips. “Sorry. Don’t think so.”
“Blonde daughter, Barb, mid-twenties. Beautiful.”
“My loss. Friend of yours?”
“We used to go together.”
“I’ve got time to run you there. It’s not far.”
“No, no. It’s just that I’ve got some stuff of hers from when we dated, but I’d rather not see her.”
“Broke your heart, did she?”
“Actually I broke hers. Went off to Albion College and sort of never
“Found somebody new?”
“You want me to drop something off to her?”
“It’s a lot to ask, I know.”
“Just tell me where she lives.”
“You’d do it, really?”
“The way you described her, I’d be crazy not to.”
The young man dug into the pocket of his jeans, and his Detroit Tiger
cap brushed the ceiling. “Right up here will be fine,” he said, nodding
toward the highway frontage road.
Reggie turned it over. “You mind?” he said before reading.
“To Edward with all my love forever, Barb.”
Reggie noticed that though Edward had thick, dark eyebrows, the hair
showing under his cap was buzzed almost to the skin.
“I should be doing this myself, man,” Edward said.
“Hey, I don’t mind.”
“I’d mail the stuff,” Edward said, “but then there’d be a postmark.”
Reggie took the directions and looked forward to the task. He had no
knowledge, no responsibility—just a delivery to make.
“See you around,” he told Edward.
“No, you won’t,” Edward said softly as he left the car. “But I sure
As Reggie pulled onto the highway he saw Edward in his rearview mirror,
hands jammed into his pockets, shoulders hunched against the chill. Then
he seemed to disappear in the darkness. Reggie glanced at his watch.
Nearly nine-thirty. Not too late for a social call. Forest Lake was ten
The MacKenzie house was lit and active. Guests were leaving. Reggie
parked in the street and felt awkward approaching four people exchanging
hugs and good-byes.
“Night, Mom. Night, Dad.”
“Night, honey. Bye, Steve.”
The young woman stood arm in arm with the one they’d called Steve. The
foursome turned as one to stare at Reggie.
“I’m looking for Barb,” Reggie said.
The young woman said, “That would be me.”
“Oh, your hat must have covered your blonde hair.”
No one smiled.
“Do I know you?” she said, squinting.
He shook his head but didn’t know what to say, now that he had found her
with another boyfriend. “I, uh, have something for you from an old
friend. Maybe we could speak privately.”
“Not to be rude,” Steve said, “but she doesn’t even know you—”
“I’m sorry,” Reggie said quickly, “I don’t mean to be so mysterious. I
just happened to pick up a hitchhiker who asked me to bring some stuff
back to you for him.”
“Who?” Barb said. “What?”
Reggie hesitated, looking first to Barb, then at Steve.
“It’s OK,” she said.
Reggie pressed the trinkets into her hand. Barb held them up to the
porch light and did a double take. Reggie thought poor Edward might be
glad he wasn’t seeing this. The woman appeared not to remember to whom
she had given her ring and pin and picture.
“Where did you get these?” she managed, her voice thick.
“Edward,” Reggie said.
Her knees buckled, and Steve caught her.
“Take her inside,” her father said.
Reggie stepped aside as three-fourths of the party disappeared. The
father stepped out onto the steps in his stocking feet. “Where did you
get that stuff?”
“I told you, sir. Hitchhiker named Edward. That’s all I know. I’m
“What did this Edward look like?”
“Tall, very short hair, dark eyebrows, skinny.”
“What was he wearing?”
“Jeans, an Albion sweatshirt. Tiger cap.”
The man moved past Reggie and leaned over, hands on the wrought iron
railing. He stared at the ground. “What did he say?”
“Just that he used to date Barb until he went off to college.”
The man lifted his head and sighed, facing Reggie. “If this is some kind
of a prank, it’s not funny. If it’s not, I’d like you to come in and
answer a few questions.”
Reggie looked at his watch, not sure he wanted to get into this.
“Oh, so it is a prank,” the man said, “and you have to race off and tell
your friends what kind of a reaction you got.”
“No, sir. I’m telling you straight what happened. This guy asked me to—”
“Save it for the others.”
* * *
As Mr. and Mrs. MacKenzie sat holding hands and Steve sat with his arm
around Barb, she wept as Reggie recounted every detail. He noticed Steve
and Barb wore matching wedding bands.
Barb hid her face in her hands. “Tell him, Daddy.”
“Reggie, two and a half years ago our daughter was engaged to Edward
Dodge. She was even willing to marry him after he contracted leukemia
and a bone marrow transplant failed.”
“No wonder he looked so thin,” Reggie said.
“Reggie,” Mr. MacKenzie said, “Edward has been dead nearly two years.”
Reggie stood. “Well, listen, I’m sorry. Someone is pulling an awful
prank and put me right in the middle of it. Believe me, I never saw this
guy before in my life. Please, forgive me. I had no idea.”
“Sit down, son,” Mr. MacKenzie said. “I need you to help us find this
person. I’d like to make him regret this. Can you tell us again exactly
what he looked like?”
Barb jumped to her feet, crying. “Daddy, don’t you see? It was Edward! I
knew he would try to communicate with me! I just knew it! It was him!”
“His spirit?” her mother said, barely above a whisper. “You think Edward
is trying to contact you?”
“Nonsense!” her father said.
“I agree,” Reggie said. “It’s a sick joke, someone’s idea of a—”
“No!” Barb wailed. “No! Steve, you agree with me, don’t you?”
Steve looked stricken.
“Tell me!” Barb said. “You agree, don’t you?”
“Barb, I never knew Edward. I don’t know any of his friends. I can’t
imagine anyone doing this to you.”
“Steve! It’s Edward! He’s telling me it’s OK that I married you! The
last of my personal stuff is back, the stuff I would have wanted to give
only to my husband.”
She held it out to Steve, but he recoiled.
“You don’t want it?” Barb said, nearly hysterical.
“Honey!” her father said. “You’re not making sense!”
With that she marched upstairs. Steve followed but soon returned,
dropping to the couch. “She’s convinced it was Edward’s ghost.”
“Unbelievable,” Mr. MacKenzie spat. “A grown woman.”
“Well,” his wife said, standing. “That makes two grown women. Don’t rule
it out just because you don’t understand it.” And she too mounted the
“This guy didn’t levitate or disappear or anything, did he?” Mr.
Reggie smiled and shook his head, but twice it seemed Edward had
disappeared. “He wasn’t dressed for the weather, and he must have been
walking a long time unless he somehow talked someone into letting him
off near the woods at the unlit portion of Kellogg Road.”
Steve sat up. “Could there actually be anything to this?”
“No!” Mr. MacKenzie said.
“Could I see a picture of Edward?” Reggie said.
Mr. MacKenzie got one from the other room. Reggie stared at it in
“You don’t fall for this kind of thing, eh, Ingle?” Mr. MacKenzie said.
“Not until now,” he said. “This is the guy I picked up tonight.”
* * *
Reggie Ingle had long felt his father was too closed to supernatural
manifestations of God, so he was surprised now to sit across from him in
the family room and note his lack of snap judgment. Nigel Ingle was
hearing him out.
“Fascinating,” Nigel said at last, setting down his tea cup and
smoothing his robe. “What do you make of it?”
“This guy appeared in the road and disappeared later,” Reggie said.
“Now, don’t look at me that way, Dad. You’ve been with me all along.”
“You hadn’t declared yourself 'til now, Reg. What about the fact that
the Bible says it’s appointed unto a man once to die and after that the
“I believe the Bible, Dad. But why couldn’t his spirit come back and
comfort his former love?”
“Do you also believe that God is a God of order, who never changes and
“You said yourself that the girl had put the tragedy behind her and was
getting on with her life. Was it comforting to have the ghost of her
dead fiancÚ return and put tension in her marriage? Why wouldn’t Edward
have come back sooner? Too much paperwork in heaven’s travel agency?”
“You’d scold me for sarcasm.”
“Sorry, but let’s use our heads. If this was divine, it would have some
of the divine in it. Wouldn’t Edward have a message of hope, of healing,
of salvation? Would he not speak some word from God?”
Reggie’s father was awfully hard to argue with. “Dad,” he said finally,
“what do you make of it?”
“I think you’ve had it right all along, Reg. It’s a sick joke.”
“So some friend of Edward’s made himself look like Edward, stopped the
first car heading the right direction, and lured an unsuspecting fool
into his prank.”
Pastor Ingle nodded. “Except for the friend part. This was no friend of
Edward’s. It had to be an enemy. Hers or her late fiancÚ’s.”
“You make a lot of sense, Dad, but it’s more fun to think this might all
“Leave that to the entertainers, Reg.”
“Let’s say you’re right. If it was a bad joke, I have to do something
about it. I was used. It hurt to see that girl so upset.”
Reggie’s father rose and took their cups to the kitchen. “I like your
thinking. Focus on the people and their pain rather than on fantasy.
Investigate. You always wanted to be a cop.”
* * *
Reggie started at the community college he attended. He figured a
prankster wouldn’t take the chance of being picked up by someone he
knew, so he hitchhiked on a lonely road that led from the campus to the
other suburbs, but at night. If he was a student, he probably attended
during the day. Reggie hung around the campus social center in the
mornings before going to work in the afternoons. His patience wore thin
near the end of two weeks. He saw no one who matched the description of
Mr. MacKenzie reported that his daughter had separated from her husband.
“It’s a shame,” the man said, swearing. “This was a good marriage, and
Steve is a nice boy. No husband wants to compete with someone from the
past, even if he’s dead. But this business—this has Barb so upset that
she can think of nothing else. Steve felt he had to move out.”
“It’s not your fault. You got used.”
Did I ever.
Reggie had been pretending to read while searching every male face and
frame, looking for the short-haired, lanky collegian who had duped him.
The next week Reggie spotted him. Now his cap bore the Cincinnati C, and
the sweatshirt was from Colorado . He wore white socks, but the shoes
and the jeans were the same.
Edward was bantering with a red-headed coed, but she called him Gary.
Reggie stared at Gary ’s back and hid behind the magazine when he
turned. The eyebrows were lighter but just as bushy. And that face. It
was him. Edward/Gary slipped on a jacket, then pulled the girl to him
for a quick kiss. Reggie followed him to the parking lot and saw him get
into a beat-up sedan. Keeping his distance, Reggie trailed him for more
than thirty miles to an apartment complex where he entered a glassed-in
foyer and pushed a button.
Half an hour later the young man emerged and headed for his car.
Reggie walked to the foyer and scanned dozens of mailboxes. His breath
caught when he saw “S. Fisher.”
He told himself it was a common name, that it meant nothing. Still he
rang the buzzer.
Reggie lowered his voice. “Me again. Forgot somethin’.”
The door buzzed and Reggie hurried through to the elevator, wondering
what he was going to do now. He knocked at apartment 1210, and when
Steve Fisher opened the door, Reggie stuck his foot in.
“I have nothing to say to you,” Steve said, trying to close the door.
“Oh, then I’ll just tell your wife and your in-laws that I ran into
Edward’s ghost at school and followed him to your place. Quite a
coincidence, I think. They’ll think so, too.”
“I don’t care what they think.”
Reggie shook his head. “If you wanted out of the marriage, why didn’t
you just say so?”
“I didn’t always want out. I hoped she’d forget her sainted boyfriend.”
“Then this sure backfired.”
“Oh, I gave up on that long ago. This was just to push her to where
she’d be impossible to live with.”
“How did you do it?”
“Easy. I found that stuff among her junk when we moved. Edward’s folks
must have given it to her after the funeral, and she either never went
through it or forgot about it.”
“So you found someone who looked like Edward and—”
“He sure did.”
Steve looked at his watch. “So, I suppose you’re going to blow the
whistle on me.”
“You bet I am. You’re a rotten guy.”
“I’ll deny everything.”
“Feel free. Maybe they won’t believe me anyway.”
“I’ve got to ask: why did you make it so complicated? Why didn’t you
just tell Barb and her parents they were driving you crazy with Edward?
Don’t you think they would have tried to get her some help?”
Steve looked at his watch again. “I’ve got a lot to do today.”
“Just tell me why, and I’m out of here.”
Steve sighed. “Let’s just say Edward wasn’t the only thing wrong with
Reggie heard keys in the door, and the other thing wrong with Steve and
Barb Fisher’s marriage walked in. “Oh, sorry, sweetie,” the red-headed
coed said. “I didn’t know you had company.”
She sat on the arm of Steve’s chair. He pretended not to notice. “He was
just leaving,” Steve said.
Reggie rose, smiling broadly. “Well, you can probably expect a call from
Steve sat with his head in his hands while the red-head stared at
“Interesting,” Reggie said. “At school, Red here and Gary are an item.
Guess you’d call that a double, double, double cross.”
* * *
Early that evening, Reggie met Barb and her parents at their home. “I
have a story to tell you,” he began. “One you’re not going to like, but
which you’ll be glad you heard.”
What do you think about that? Off-the-map speculative fiction by Jerry
B. Jenkins right here on WhereTheMapEnds. Not too shabby. Thank you
again, Mr. Jenkins!