White Man on a Midnight Road

By Lang MacDougall

 

He was there when I rolled. That much I know.

I remember it, every second of it, with painful clarity. Every little snowflake was framed against a timid blackness, shining in the headlights of my own vehicle and oncoming traffic. A classic rock station flickered on the radio. And there, in the middle of this odd tranquility, was a white figure. He looked to be wearing a large coat, and that was all I could make out. There was no face. Then time caught up with me, the car continued to roll, and as the windshield shattered, he disappeared.

The car came to a stop. In a few short seconds, I perceived a few things. The roof was far closer to my head than I would have liked.  Smoke was billowing from beneath the hood. Classic rock had been replaced by chaotic static. Something was burning, and there was a dull whistle, from somewhere. The whistling got louder. Heat was creeping up my leg. An acrid smell invaded my nostrils, and I passed out.

***

I liked that car. I got it at a bargain price and got my money’s worth from it over the years. Rust had begun to seep further into its panelling, and paint was flaking on the door and hood. It was entirely unremarkable, but was cheap on gas and fun to drive. I certainly didn’t set out in my little car knowing that a wall of malevolent snow and wind was churning towards me. I was expecting a perfectly normal Christmas. If I had, I would have stayed home. I could’ve flown, or waited a day. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

Didn’t.  

***

I awoke in a hospital bed. Despite being pumped full of painkillers, I still felt like someone had parked a truck on my forehead. I’m not sure what time it was. The room was quiet, save for the dull beeping of whatever machine I was hooked up to. I could see very little of what was around me. Something was keeping me from rolling onto either side. This was probably a good thing, as even the smallest of movements felt like my skin was being dragged against a cheese grater.

I smelled cigar smoke.

I can’t quite explain his presence. He was there, but not, simultaneously. In the corner of my eye I could see him, but if I looked directly at him, he was gone. I should clarify here that I’m not entirely sure that it was indeed a male; however, a relatively blockish figure and what I could make out to be a varsity jacket lead me to believe it was. He was standing (floating?) beside me. He reached down, as if to touch my hand, then disappeared.

Not soon after he disappeared, Ed came in.

Ed, a retired high school football coach, was also on his way home that night. He watched the whole crash unfold in a matter of seconds, and by the time he got off the road and over to my car, I was already burning. Luckily, I wasn’t pinned; he was able to get me out and onto the snow. Soon after, the entire car went up in flames.

“Like a spray paint can in a burn barrel,” he told me, “a real big spray can.”

***

I did not see the white man again for quite a while. Ed hadn’t seen anything like what I described, and he was in the car right behind me. I convinced myself that my ghost had been nothing but a delusion, a product of my concussion and trauma. Life resumed as normally, or at least as normally as it could be for me. The heat I had felt on my legs during the crash was my jeans catching fire and melting onto my skin. When the bandages came off, it looked like someone had rolled a pair of pub-style hot wings in gravel, then backed over them a few times. I had hit my head hard enough to get a decent concussion, and my face and chest had been cut up by broken glass. I was in and out of physio on a bi-weekly basis, and still needed a cane to walk. I spent a brief while at my parents’, where I was made a local celebrity of sorts, before I had to return to the city. Apparently, almost dying is not enough to get one out of attendance marks.

I was sitting in a lecture, doodling obscenities in the margins of my psych notes. Wasn’t exactly my favourite class. Woody smoke tickled my nostrils. It took me a moment to realize what he must be there again. I looked up. He was up at the front of the class, standing behind my professor. This time, he was wearing what looked to be coveralls. Looking at him was not unlike looking at my reflection on a metro window—I could see him, and behind him, at the same time, but if I focused on one, the other disappeared. I quickly gathered my things and bolted from the classroom.

His most recent visit caught me in the middle of what was, up until then, a fine night of “tea and fine reading”—a fancy name for me catching up on course notes while getting absolutely plastered. I was sitting on the couch, alone in the apartment. Once again, his harbinger was the pungent, woody smell of some cigar. This time, he sat across from me in the old leather Lazy Boy. He was back in his jacket, and I could even make out details of a beard upon his face. This time he almost appeared solid. He gestured towards me, then to my fireplace. I followed where he was pointing, and when I looked back, he was gone.

I have not seen him for months now. In a few days, it will be a year since my accident. I can walk on my own again. My face is scarred, but healed. I even bought a new car—new to me, at least. I graduated. Ed and I keep in touch, and I even went to his sixtieth birthday. I’ve entirely moved on. Except for that damn ghost. To this day, I have no idea who he is—or was, for that matter. Maybe he’s a guardian angel. Maybe he’s some dead relative.

Whoever he is, I’d really appreciate it if he’d kindly fuck off.

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