The Mistress of the Highway

March 10, 2011
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Once upon a time, there was a lady who was married to a fireman. Every time her husband left for work, she gave him a passionate kiss goodbye, worried that it would be for the last time. She dreaded the possibility that one day a man will come, announcing that her husband had sacrificed his life to save another family, perishing in the fire. What would she do, she thought, if she suddenly became widowed? Sadly for her, that day did come.
She was dusting the mantelpiece when she heard the doorbell ring. She froze. Her husband was late; it was nearly eleven o’clock at night. His shift ended three hours ago. Not being able to stay idle, she had been repeating her day’s chores. Now someone is ringing at her doorbell. It’s clearly not her husband; he would just unlock the door. Slowly she placed her feather duster down, smoothed out her hair and dress, and took a deep breath, attempting to brace herself against bad news. She glided to the door and looked through the spyglass. The young man who rang the bell was dressed in a soldier’s uniform, hat tucked under his left arm. He lifted his hand, preparing to ring the bell a second time.
“Enough stalling, Miriam! Just open the door,” she whispered furiously to herself. Drawing another deep breath, she twisted the doorknob, and pulled before the man could touch his finger to the bell again. He started, but only barely let his stiff posture falter. He cleared his throat and offered to take Miriam’s hand. She gave it to him hesitantly, and he gently kissed it.
“Madam Miriam, The Fire Department of New Jersey is sorry to inform you that your husband, Quincy Herald, has perished in an unfortunate fire at quarter to seven this evening,” the man announced. “He valiantly saved the lives of Gregory and Susanna Boswell and little baby Abel. A funeral has been planned to honor Quincy Herald’s life-“, but Miriam was no longer listening. Her eyes have glazed over and she had snatched her hand back from the young man the second he had said the word “perished”. She was repeating one sentence over and over again; “It’s not true. It’s not true. It’s not true.”
“I am truly sorry for your loss, ma’am,” he whispered. “Quincy is a hero. Be grateful that he has not died in vain.”
“No! He has not died, period! It simply can’t be true!” Miriam insisted. “Is there even a body? If there’s no body, perhaps he left without anyone noticing. And if there is a body, perhaps it’s not him!”
“I am afraid I do not know the full details of his death, ma’am. The Fire Department will be sending you a letter explaining more clearly how he died. If there is indeed a body, you may see it, though I do not recommend you to. It may be too traumatic,” the young man carefully explained. “We can also appoint you a therapist to help you through this. I apologize, but I really must go. I wish you well. Take care.” With that, the young man turned on his heels and quietly walked down the porch steps, down the walkway, and into his car. As it rolled away, Miriam blinked back furious tears and slammed her front door shut. She would not be getting any sleep that night, nor the next night, nor the night after that.
Refusing to let anyone convince her that her husband has passed away, she sat in an armchair by the fireplace, never taking her eyes off the front door, waiting for him to walk in. The third day, an envelope flitted in through the mail slot. It was Quincy’s autopsy report. She threw it in the fireplace, where the somber flames greedily licked it up. “Quincy has not perished in a fire. Only this offending letter,” she huffed. The fifth day, another envelope arrived. It was an insurance check for ten grand. This too, she fed to the flames. Exactly one week from the time the young man came, she had enough. She hadn’t showered since that day and seldom ate. To say the least, she looked ghastly as she walked out the door, neglecting to shut it. She proceeded to saunter down the avenue and towards the highway. She knew Quincy always took Exit 58 coming home. So that’s where she decided to wait. Every time a car took that Exit, Miriam stared hard at the driver, trying to discern their faces, hoping for her husband. Many people thought she must have been crazy. And many people were perhaps correct.
It has passed midnight. A car that looked strangely familiar was turning into the exit. She looked closely.
“Quincy! Quincy!” Miriam exclaimed, so certain it was him, she stepped into the road, with her eyes closed and arms open, ready to embrace him. The car, driven by the same young man who came to her doorway that fateful night, was going too fast, and besides it was raining. Her body got slammed by the incoming auto, instantly killing her.



Epilogue---

To this day, every night past twelve, whoever takes Exit 58 in New Jersey will see her ghost standing in the middle of the road, wailing her husband’s name over, and over. If you drive into her, you will feel a sudden chill and some people have claimed to have even felt her embracing them. If you look in the rearview mirror, you will see her staring back with hollow eyes, black tears streaming down her face. She will emit a bloodcurdling shriek and then disappear in a burst of fire, angry that she has not yet found her husband. Hundreds more have died on Exit 58, swerving to avoid her, only to end up crashing into the forest nearby and killing themselves. She is now known as the Mistress of the Highway.





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