Inspired by the 1965 folk song, “Bringing Mary Home” by The Country Gentleman.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Harry grumbled under his breath as he leaned in even closer to the windshield, willing his eyes to work harder and wiping the condensation from the glass. The snow cascaded down in oversized flakes against the backdrop of an utterly black sky. His tires threatened to lose their grip as he maneuvered each winding curve, but he was not deterred. He didn’t care how far away his ex-wife and her rich husband lived or how much wilderness surrounded their pretentious mountain mansion. He would see his daughter on her birthday and he would not waste a single night of the measly two weeks he got to spend with her each year.

He glanced at the digital clock on the dash and it glared back at him: 11:39 PM. He should call Tina and let her know that he was getting close. Reaching over to the passenger seat to grab his cell phone, eyes glued to the icy road ahead, he instructed the phone to “Call Tina.” Silence. Damn technology. He reluctantly looked down at the phone screen, only to discover a complete lack of bars. No service, of course. He tossed the phone over to the passenger seat and snapped his eyes back to the road. His gaze was immediately drawn to the warm glow created by the headlights reflecting off of a bright yellow sign depicting three stick figure deer crossing the road.

Walking toward the sign was what appeared to be a young teenage girl in a white coat with a fur trimmed hood. Tendrils of long black hair escaped the hood, swirling in the wind. Harry instinctively tapped his brakes to slow down and felt his tires lose touch with the pavement. He held his breath, terrified for a moment that the car would slide into the girl. Instead, the tires resumed their places on the slippery terrain and he very carefully came to a stop. The girl was looking over at the car by this point and he found himself taken aback by how pale her skin was, nearly matching her stark white coat.

Harry lowered the passenger window and called out to her. “Are you alright, Miss? Do you need a ride?” She looked concerned for a moment, biting at her lip as she contemplated. It was hard to argue in this weather, though, and she quickly nodded in agreement. He watched as the girl glanced between the passenger door and the back door before choosing the latter. She climbed into the backseat and closed the door behind her, shivering. “Where can I take you?” Harry asked, glancing at her in the rear view mirror. “Home,” she replied. Her voice was high pitched, shaky, and incredibly quiet. “It’s just up the road.”

She pointed a tiny white finger straight ahead. He nodded and lifted his foot from the brake to resume driving. The girl was so silent that it was making him uncomfortable. “So, what’s your name?” he asked, almost expecting to get no response. “Molly,” she answered meekly. Harry flashed a friendly smile, resisting the urge to remove his gaze from the snowy road. “You look about the same age as my daughter, Molly. Her name is Jade.”

Molly sat completely still, never shifting a muscle. “I turned thirteen today,” she responded in her barely audible tone. Harry’s eyes widened in amusement.“You don’t say! Today is my Jade’s thirteenth birthday too!” Molly flashed a small smile, although Harry didn’t see it. They rode in silence for a moment while he contemplated the odds of such a coincidence. Eventually, the quiet started to eat at him again and he racked his brain for something to say. “Are you a Billie Eilish fan?” he asked. “I just got tickets to take Jade to her show for her birthday.”

Harry beamed at the thought of being so close to surprising his daughter with her gift, and spent a moment picturing the fun they would have at the concert. The slight pull of the car beginning to slide was enough to rip him from his thoughts and he let up on the gas pedal, slowing down. Molly stared straight ahead, offering no reaction. Finally, she faintly responded, “I like Adele.” Thankfully, before another painful silence engulfed him, Harry spotted a small house ahead and noticed that the lights were on inside, even though it was past midnight now. He immediately thought of how worried her parents must be.

“Is that it?” he asked. Molly whispered, “Yes.” As he inched toward the house, the wind picked up, blowing a veil of snow in front of his vision. Harry slowed down to a crawl, squinting to find the driveway in the whiteout. By the time the car had crept up next to the house, he had broken out into a sweat. “Well, we made it,” he announced, twisting around in the driver’s seat to face Molly. Much to his dismay, the backseat was now empty. Dumbfounded, he flung the door open, jumped out, and circled the car, as if he might find Molly hiding on the other side.

Heart pounding in his throat, Harry nearly jumped out of his skin when a man’s voice spoke beside him. “You okay?” In his panic, he hadn’t noticed when the porch light flickered on, nor had he heard the man walk from the house to where they now stood in the driveway. Harry was speechless and only managed to spit out a couple of meaningless syllables before the man let out a somber chuckle and held up a hand, signaling for Harry to stop his attempt at speaking.

“You gave Molly a ride home, didn’t you?” he asked knowingly. This confused Harry even more. “Yes! But you don’t understand…I think she’s still out there!” Harry gestured wildly in the general direction of the road but the man just shook his head and sighed. “No, sir. I’m afraid you don’t understand. You see, Molly’s been dead for ten years now.” Harry narrowed his eyes, feeling a ripple of both shock and suspicion. Surely, this couldn’t be true. All the same, he felt the hair on the back of his neck rise and goosebumps cascade down both arms.

The man continued, “She was staying with her friend down the road for her birthday, but they got into an argument and she tried to walk home in the snow. A car slid off the road and hit her, right down there by the deer crossing sign.” He pointed in the direction Harry had come from. “I know it’s hard to take in but, you see, she does this every time there’s a snowstorm on her birthday. That’s how I knew to stay up and wait for you to get here.” He flashed that sorrowful smile again and fell quiet, giving Harry a moment to process what he’d just been told.

“I…I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry,” Harry stammered, still not sure if he could believe that this was all real. His thoughts kept returning to his sweet Jade and wondering how he would possibly go on if something terrible were to happen to her. The man nodded in understanding. “I’m sure she chose you for a reason. Thank you for trying to keep my daughter safe.”

When Harry returned to the car, his hands were shaking. As he finished the drive to Tina’s house to pick up Jade, he continually checked the rear view mirror, half hoping and half fearing that Molly would reappear in the backseat. By the time he arrived at his destination, Jade was deep asleep and he was offered the guest house for a few hours of rest. Harry tossed and turned, falling into occasional bouts of fitful slumber, rampant with vague nightmares. When Jade still wasn’t awake by eight o’clock, he slipped out and made his way through the snow and into the nearest tiny town.

An hour later, he returned to wake Jade up with her childhood favorite, cherry donuts. He had to choke back the tears when she hugged him, images of poor Molly and her father instantly invading his mind. By ten o’clock, they were on the road and it was just the two of them for the next two weeks. They chatted about school, friends, and even boys until suddenly, Harry slowed down and pulled the car over. Jade watched quizzically as he got out, walked around to the back of the car, and popped open the trunk.

After she heard the thud of the trunk closing, she saw Harry walk across the road toward a deer crossing sign. He turned to face the sign, revealing a bouquet of bright white roses held in his arms. She wondered if he had lost his mind when he bent and gently placed the flowers in the snow at the base of the sign and then headed back to the car. “Are you going to tell me what that was all about?” she asked as Harry climbed back in, kicking the snow off his boots. He smiled and glanced back to the seat where Molly had waited patiently for him to take her home. “Buckle up,” he nodded. “You’re not going to believe this one.” As they drove away, the wind blew another sheet of snow across the road, this time bringing with it a single white petal.