Labor Day, Monday, September 2, 1968
Jesse Graham squinted through the windshield wipers at the rain-swept road ahead of her. In her twenty-eight years, she had never liked being out in a thunderstorm, and this one was a doozy.
“NASA plans to put a man on the moon next year, but nobody can invent windshield wipers that work in a downpour,” she grumbled.
She hadn’t meant to work until after sunset, but she’d obsessed with putting up creative bulletin boards and adding final touches to the course guides to be ready for the first day of school tomorrow. Though she had taught in Rochester for five years, no doubt her obsession stemmed from the fact that she was the newest faculty member at St. Bartholomew Academy for Girls.
Adjusting to the late-summer darkness was hard enough, but add this thunderstorm and visibility was nil. At least upstate New York didn’t suffer through tornadoes or hurricanes. She gripped the wheel, concentrating on avoiding the deep ditch carved out along the shoulder.
A flash of lightning revealed a shape sprawled in the middle of the road ahead. She leaned forward, as if that would help her see if it was a deer someone hit and left to die. Another bolt of lightning illuminated the shape again, revealing blonde hair spread out on the wet pavement. In a moment of clarity—at least she could always count on that oddity in the midst of panic—she knew it was not a deer. Downshifting, she slammed on the brakes, her 1965 Volkswagen Beetle skidding sideways. She broke out in prickles of sweat as her car thudded against the form and halted.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” she cried out.
She was pinned to her seat. Her legs shook, then her whole body. She fumbled for the door handle, unable to find it at first. Finally, she grasped it, threw open the door, and scrambled out onto the road. The sky strobed as a lightning bolt slammed into a nearby tree. Her nose stung with the acrid smell of sulfur. Her knees buckled, but she recovered, stumbling toward the immobile form. Slowing her pace, she neared the cloth-draped figure, afraid it might leap up and attack her. Afraid it might not move at all.
Have I just killed someone?
Trembling, she dropped to her knees beside the form. Bile rose in her throat at the sight of long, blonde hair streaming out from beneath the gray wool blanket that covered the shape. Pulling the blanket back, she gasped. A blonde wig was perched atop a dummy fashioned from burlap stuffed with hay. What the…? Slowly, she realized what she was looking at. She breathed with relief. But her relief was short-lived.
Son of a bitch. This prank could have sent someone flipping end over end. Storms weren’t known to improve traction.
“Who the hell would pull a rotten trick like this?”
She looked around—was the perpetrator standing just off in the trees beside the road? Rain spattered against her hair. As she brushed the clinging ringlets from her eyes, she pulled up the hood of her nylon poncho. Heart pounding, she leaned back on her heels, inhaling deeply to still her trembling. Hot breath escaped through her flared nostrils. Grabbing the dummy, she wrapped the blanket around it and lugged it to the car.
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