preface to going out in daylight*

Hitchhiker Revenant

from The Rest of Your Unnatural Life, by Heather Fuller

Sherilee lingered in the ocean until the man holding binoculars on the pier retreated to the dockside bar. Each time a wave broke against her torso, her bikini with the side string ties slipped to expose the cleft of her ass or a crescent of nipple.

Sherilee suffered no concern for any indignities of middle age the man on the pier might have glimpsed through his spyglasses. Her focus was dead set on beelining to her tank top and cutoffs laid out in the sand. Her window of time to catch dusk at Salter Bridge was narrowing. There in the last few weeks she spotted a river otter, wood grouse, brown thrasher, fisher falcon, and the most improbably small snapping turtle, somehow spared from shoreline predators. The creature she wanted most to encounter, however, was the Hitchhiker Revenant.

The drunks at The Pelican spoke of little else. Some claimed the Hitchhiker Revenant was once a groom who ran out of gas on the way to meet his betrothed on the other side of Salter Bridge. A truck not only jackknifed the groom as he stepped out of his car with his thumb pointing road-ward; it also pushed the car over the bridge railing, catapulting it to a riverbed tomb, where, legend goes, it rests still. Others insisted that the apparition was none other than a death row inmate who escaped from custody during transport to the state pen. A bus struck him down at the base of the bridge as he stumbled into traffic in leg irons. Sherilee occasionally dropped by The Pelican to drink a briny Mexican lager and listen to the old stories, hoping for a recounting of an actual sighting.

Today, as she pulled her cutoffs up over her damp bikini, she wagered she would at least spot a gecko or a brown bat, if not a revenant. She climbed the plank walk from the beach to the roadway and turned toward Salter Bridge. As she walked the half mile up the coastal highway, she began to make out a figure at the base of the bridge. She paused in the dwindling light to focus. The figure was definitely human-like. It wore white and something black around its neck.

Sherilee’s stomach churned. She plodded on, stepping further off the road, slowing her pace, involuntarily hunching lower to the ground. When she was close enough to see the figure but not be seen herself, she crouched into the drainage ditch and periscoped her neck to study her subject. The figure sat on the bridge railing with its head toward oncoming traffic. Cars passed by, but the figure did not raise a thumb to hitch a ride. It bent forward slightly, and Sherilee visualized a profile with shaggy sun-bleached hair and salt-and-pepper beard. She squinted to zoom in on the black object dangling from the figure’s neck: binoculars.

Sherilee leaned back into the ditch. She remained until dusk morphed into a murky scrim that obscured the figure in white. Sherilee would start again tomorrow for a chance at a closer look.

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