(With all stories of this nature, the disclaimer “Do not try this at home” is a given. That being said, I could probably prevent copycats by changing some of the details so that even if you managed to find the right pickup spot you wouldn’t be able to summon the Hitchhiker. But hey, if you’re adventurous, go for it. If you follow the rules it’s perfectly safe, but the knowledge you gain may not be.)
There’s an urban legend in my hometown about a hitchhiker on Butter Street that will appear if you follow a series of instructions. Once summoned you drive him to his destination, and if you play the game right, he will answer an unknowable question for you. If you play it wrong, well, just don’t play it wrong.
There’s an old gravel pit at the end of Butter Street, the water there is the deepest blue. It’s almost like staring into the ocean, that’s how deep it is. More than one car over the years has been dredged up from the depths there.
Officially these drivers all fell asleep at the wheel. But unofficially, the deaths from cars careening off the road into the gravel pit during the wee hours of the night only add more veracity to the urban legend. They were the poor souls who broke the Hitchhiker’s rules.
So far no one has pinpointed the origin of the legend. I’ve reached out to the local historical society and searched through newspaper archives in the local library and haven’t found any mentions of the Hitchhiker. It’s a modern piece of folklore passed around coffee shops and diners in the early morning hours until it eventually made its way to high school cafeterias. It wasn’t until someone posted about the Hitchhiker on a local Facebook group that people began sharing their experiences and the rules of how to summon him.
But as more people shared their experiences, the details about the Hitchhiker varied from person to person. His clothes have switched up over the years, growing more modern. His speech doesn’t reflect any particular time period either, no mannerisms or 23 skidoo phrases to help date him. Sometimes he’s in his late teens, sometimes he’s much older. Even with these differences, everyone who claimed to have summoned the Hitchhiker swears that he was real.
The only common thread in all of the stories of the Hitchhiker is that he’s always wet when he enters the car, followed by what were always his first words to the driver.
“It’s a bad night for rain.”
To which you reply, “Is there ever a good night?”
He laughs, and that’s when you know you’re playing the game.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should go back to how I got him in the car.
The game starts by turning your car on exactly at midnight. Where doesn’t matter, only when. And once the car is on, you can’t get out, nor can you let anyone else in. Just you, in your car, at midnight.
What comes next is a lot of waiting, because you have to be at the pickup point on Butter Street at exactly 3:00 am. That’s right; three hours in the car. Those are the rules.
With three hours to kill, a lot of people show up early and just cruise the road so they can time getting to the pickup spot at exactly 3am. But as the urban legend has grown in popularity, the local police will pull you over if they see your car circle back down Butter Street more than once. The local cops all know the rules, so if they pull you over they’ll have you turn off your car and get out of the vehicle, thus ending the game.
On the night I decided to summon him, I filled up my car at the gas station at 11:45, then went in and took advantage of the facilities to ensure I wouldn’t need to make any pit stops before 3am. Then I waited in the parking lot until it was exactly midnight and started up my car.
I should add that it doesn’t matter what type of car you drive, but a four door car is preferred over a two door or a pickup. You don’t want to look directly at the Hitchhiker, not until the end of the trip. That’s much easier to do if he’s sitting in the back seat vs. sitting beside you.
I drove in a big loop around the county until it was time to head to the pick up, avoiding any of the known police traps to keep from having to try again another night. I kept my Maps program running on my phone so I knew exactly what time I had to make my way to Butter Street. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to be an urban legend hunter before realtime GPS maps.
Sidenote: you can play with the radio on or off, it has no impact on the Hitchhiker. Radio on is preferred if you choose not to engage him. He can get quite loud and belligerent if you won’t talk to him.
I pulled up to the pickup spot, stopped the car and then followed the summoning instructions. The rules posted online had small variations, but attempts that contained the following actions had the highest rate of success.
- Leave the car on and in Drive but engage the emergency brake.
- Turn off everything but the car (lights, air conditioning, radio, phone).
- Unlock the car doors three times.
- Roll down all the windows.
- Press the brake pedal three times.
- Turn the headlights back on.
- Wait three minutes.
If he’s not there by 3:03 am, then you did something wrong.
With the lights off I noticed a fog rolling in. Whether it was part of the ritual or not I don’t know, but it added a creepy aesthetic to waiting on a dark road at 3am for a ghostly Hitchhiker.
Other than the idling of my Subaru, the road was still and quiet. I had even shallowed my breathing so I could listen for footsteps, giggling teenagers, other cars. But there was nothing.
I never even heard the car door open. I only heard it shut.
“It’s a bad night for rain,” a voice said from the backseat.
I felt every hair on my body stand up as a chill ran up the back of my neck. Over my stuttered breathing I could hear the steady drip of water from his pant leg hitting his shoe.
I didn’t turn around, but I stole a peek in the rearview mirror. He wasn’t a big guy, maybe my height. He was dressed in a white Doctor Dre The Chronic t-shirt, a red windbreaker and what looked like dark denim jeans. The rules said the mirror was fine as long as you didn’t turn the lights on in the car. But never look him directly in the face, not until he’s out of the car and ready to answer your question.
I gathered up my courage to reply back, but the words stuck in my throat. I cleared and tried again.
“Is there ever a good night?”
A pause as I stared back in the mirror at the shape in my backseat. I held my breath, waiting.
Then after what felt like ages I saw his hand slap against his wet knee as he laughed. I let out the breath I was holding as I disengaged the parking brake.
“Hold up, put your wipers on, champ,” he said. “With all that rain you won’t see the road.”
This was a scripted reply, part of the game.
“Right, sorry.” Also a scripted response.
Despite his insistence on the rain, it was bone dry outside. Per the rules, I turned on my windshield wipers, setting them to their fastest setting. He settled back against the seat, laying his arm across the back window.
“Mind if I turn on the radio?” I asked. This wasn’t part of the game, but I figured it was best to ask and be polite.
“It’s your ride,” he said. His voice was a smooth baritone. “One request, no country please.”
“Sure thing,” I answered. I put on a local top 40 station.
I pulled back onto the road just as the clock hit 3:03. I stole looks in the rearview mirror as often as I felt comfortable while still keeping the car on the road. Luckily this part of Butter Street was pretty straight and not a lot of traffic.
From his voice and the hand tapping against the wet knee in the backseat, I could tell he was a black man, maybe mid twenties, and dressed like he came straight from 1996. Nothing like any of the descriptions I read on the Facebook post about the Hitchhiker.
“Where you headed?” I asked. This was a scripted part of the game.
“I’m headed to see my girl, I worked the late shift tonight, thought I’d pop in to surprise her.”
His response to this question was always different. That, coupled with the fact that the appearance of the Hitchhiker seemed to shift led many to believe that it’s not the same spirit every time.
I pulled up at the stop sign at the end of Butter Street.
“Yeah, you want to make a right here,” he said.
I followed his orders, turning right. Other than following them, the destination and directions were irrelevant. The ride goes until 3:33am, when he tells you to pull over.
“So what’s your story, man?” he asked.
A scripted prompt, but how you reply was completely up to you. Some have ignored talking to him altogether, which apparently is not recommended. Some have shared a little out of politeness. Others have talked right up until drop off time, filling the air with their own words. The more you talk to him, the more he talks back. It doesn’t impact the game, it just makes the journey a little more interesting.
Even though I’m driving a ghost, his voice is disarming, making him easy to talk to.
“I have a day job that pays the bills, just boring office stuff, but in my spare time I like to explore urban legends and haunted places. Go out looking for proof of life after death.”
“Aw, for real? Damn, that sounds spooky as hell.” Unscripted reply.
He leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees. In the rearview mirror I could see the sleeves of his windbreaker were shredded.
“What’s the scariest thing you’ve seen? Take a right up here.” Unscripted.
I wanted to say “besides this?” but I held my tongue. All indications from everyone who has played the Hitchhiker’s game say that he was unaware of his situation. He’s just a passenger getting a ride to his destination. Attempts to get him to recognize his ghostly predicament do not go well, so I do not advise bringing it to his attention.
I took the next right as I continued my story.
“About two years ago, I was on a overnight ghost hunt at the Ohio State Reformatory, it’s an old prison up in Mansfield, where they filmed Shawshank Redemption,” I said. I figured if he was from the 90s, he might remember the movie. “So there’s a group of six of us on the tour and we’re over in the administration wing, and I felt this hand press into my back, like it was guiding me forward.”
“Oh hell no, my ass would be gone up out of there, I ain’t even playing.” Unscripted response.
It’s about this time that I realized that all of the street lights were off. Not just the lights on the streets; everything was dark. Granted it was the middle of the night, but we drove past a Taco Bell that was open twenty minutes ago when I passed by on my way to Butter Street. Now, it was completely dark, not a single car in the parking lot.
That’s the second thing I noticed, no cars. We’ve driven fifteen minutes without passing a single car. Not only were there no cars on the road, there weren’t any cars in any driveways or parking lots. As we rolled by a Ford dealership, the entire lot was empty. It’s like we’d stepped completely out of reality into a different one.
“So what did you do?” Unscripted. I’ve got his interest apparently.
I continued the story. “I turn and look and no one is behind me, but I can smell rose scented perfume. Apparently one of the ghosts there is the wife of the warden. She was killed when the warden’s gun went off by accident. It fell out of the closet, went off and shot her in the lung.”
“That is crazy, man. But I can feel why she might be hanging around still, you know what I’m sayin’? Like she’s got some unfinished business and shit because her life was cut short like that.”
We rode in silence for a bit, I don’t know for how long. I tried looking back at him in the mirror but he hung to the shadows.
Then I felt his cold breath against my neck, sending shivers up my spine.
“Could you imagine what that’s like?” He said. Unscripted.
“What do you mean?” I replied, also unscripted.
“Having your life cut short like that due to the careless act of another human being? That’s pretty fucked up.”
My heart thudded against my chest. Did I mess up? Did I not follow the rules? Did he-
He laughed and sat back in his seat. “I’m just playin’ man. You need to relax.”
I felt his hands gripping my shoulders, giving them a little rub. They were cold as ice. He patted my shoulder and sat back. I felt a trickle of water go down my back from the cold wet spots on my shoulder where he grabbed me.
“Oh this right, coming up.”
He leaned forward, pointing at the road. His skin was ashy and his thumbnail was split to the nailbed. The smell of wet loam wafted into the front of the cabin. I made the turn.
I peeked at the clock on my dashboard and saw it was 3:29. Only four minutes to go.
“You got any family?” He asked. Scripted. I felt my heart leave my throat and drop back into my chest, we were back on script.
“I used to. Just me now.”
“That’s tough I know. Before my girl, I was all alone. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have her. Life would be just… empty.”
A quiet stillness followed, like he was hit by a pang of remorse. For a moment it was so quiet I wasn’t sure if he was still back there, but then I felt his wet cold hand clap me on my shoulder.
“But don’t worry, man. You seem like an okay dude, going out of your way to help a young man like myself on a rainy night like this. I’m sure you’ll find someone. Just takes time.” Unscripted.
We rode in silence as I stole glances down at the clock on the dash. As soon as the time flipped to 3:33am, I heard his weight shift as he leaned forward.
“Oh this is me, up here.”
He pointed to a spot up the road. There was nothing there, no house, or driveway, not even a place to pull off.
I pulled the car onto the shoulder and eased to a stop. Just like when picking him up, I turned off the lights, radio and engaged the parking brake, leaving the car in drive. You don’t have to bother with the locking and unlocking three times or the business with the brake pedal. Just unlock.
Also, and this was very important, don’t watch him get out, don’t look at him in the rearview mirror, don’t do anything but look down at your hands on the steering wheel. Keep them on the wheel, ten and two. And wait.
This time I heard the car door open and slam shut. I could also hear the sound of his shoes against the gravel as he walked around the front of the car to the driver’s side. I wanted to look up, but I managed to fight the urge by counting the seams on the steering wheel.
“Thanks for the ride. Do you have a question for me?” he asked. Scripted. It was still his voice, but unlike our previous conversation it was completely devoid of personality or emotion.
Once you completed the ride, you were allowed to ask him a question. It has to be something personal but unknowable. You can’t ask for lottery numbers or things like that. People have supposedly asked about locations of lost heirlooms, the exact date and time of their death, the fate of long lost relatives, all sorts of personal questions they’d have no other way of knowing.
For the second time that night, the words failed to leave my throat. I took a deep breath and swallowed.
“Is she at peace?” I asked, then without thinking I added, “does she blame me?” My words were barely above a whisper, but I knew he heard me.
After you ask, then and only then are you allowed to look directly at him. So I did.
I felt all the color drain from my face as I looked up.
The Hitchhiker had no face at all. Only two shiny black spots where his eyes should be. He had no mouth, no nose, nothing else. Just two quarter sized black pools of what looked like liquid ink where his eyes should be, and they reflected every star in the sky. I couldn’t look away from those eyes, even though I very much wanted to.
“That’s two questions, my friend,” he replied. Unscripted.
My heart jumped back into my throat. I broke the rules. I fucked up. I asked two questions!
I was paralyzed staring up into his face. I sat looking up at him for what felt like hours.
I pulled back a little as his hands moved up to the sides of his face, just under his ears. I thought for a moment he might rip off his false face and reveal another, more terrifying one.
He didn’t remove his face. Instead he pulled his hoodie up over his head, returning his empty face to the shadows.
“But since you were kind enough to save me from walking all this way in the rain, I’ll answer you.” Unscripted.
Before I could exhale a sigh of relief, he gripped the door frame and leaned down so I was staring directly into his empty eyes.
“She’s not at peace; and she does blame you.”
Even with the hood up, I could still see every last star in the night sky in those inky black pools. I can’t fully capture what I saw in them. It was like staring at both vast infiniteness and vast nothingness. They held everything and nothing at the same time. His eyes, they were like staring into eternity.
As he stood up from the window, I let out the breath I was holding. My hands shook as I pulled them off the steering wheel.
“Drive safe.” Scripted reply. The last thing he says before he leaves.
He walked away behind the car. You can watch him walk in the rearview mirror, but don’t turn around or get out or try to follow him. I watched until he disappeared into the darkness and waited until I could no longer hear his footsteps against the gravel.
When I turned on my headlights I realized I was back on Butter Street, parked on the side of the road next to the drop off for the gravel pit. This was always where you ended up after the Hitchhiker leaves.
All I had to do was release the parking break and the car would roll towards the drop off, gaining speed until it launched off the cliff into the deep blue water waiting below.
I don’t know how long I sat there with my hand on the parking brake release, contemplating his answer to my question.
But then, I saw them. Headlights. A car was coming up the road towards me. The cars were back, as were the streetlights and houselights. I was back from wherever the Hitchhiker took me.
I locked eyes with the driver as they drove by, having one of those weird moments where time seems to slow down. It was enough to jolt me back to reality. I released the parking brake and aimed my car back onto the road. I got home a little after 5am.
I tried to sleep but was too worked up from my adventure so I called in sick. I laid in bed all day, thinking about the Hitchhiker, his words, and all those cars that end up in the gravel pit on Butter Street.
Maybe those cars aren’t from people who played the game wrong.
Maybe they all played it right, but couldn’t handle his response to their question.
It’s been three days since I picked up the Hitchhiker. I can still smell the wet loam in my car, and his muddy footprints in the floorboard of the backseat are still there.
As I write this, I look up from my monitor and look at the photo of my Abigail, taken two weeks before she died. She’s beautiful, smiling and happy.
“She’s not at peace; and she does blame you.”
It’s my favorite photo of her. I think I’ll take it with me when I take a drive later tonight.
I’m going back to see the Hitchhiker. I have a hunch, and I don’t know if it’s relevant, but I feel it’s important to share with anyone reading this that I’m wearing a gray Adidas hoodie and jeans. If somebody out there reading this picks up the Hitchhiker later on and sees something similar in get in their backseat, well, then I guess we’ve solved part of the mystery.
If you do pick up the Hitchhiker, I hope you get the answer you’re searching for.
As I look outside the skies are cloudy, but I hope the weather holds up for a drive later.
It’s a bad night for rain.