I recognized myself once in a ghost story I heard from a woman in Wichita. We had stopped to stay a night with her, and we sat in her basement on a secondhand couch, eating celery sticks and drinking ginger beer. It was late and I was tired, but we tried to be polite as she offered road advice.
“When you get to New Mexico, you fill that tank as often as you see a gas station. Don’t never skip it, a gas station. If you aren’t careful, you’ll end up stranded when you get going up into them mountains. Don’t mess around. It’s different there. Lot less people.”
We nodded, and my mind wandered, across the plains and up into those mountains to the ski resort, our destination.
“And you don’t pick up no hitchhikers, not a single one.”
He laughed. “Isn’t that how you met my parents, ma’am?”
She leaned over, across the coffee table. He was sitting on the floor across from my perch on the end of the couch. She took the ginger beer out of his hand and set it down gently, taking his hand in hers.
“And this is why I’m telling you. That was a different time. Now, no hitchhikers. And I don’t mean just stopping for them. I mean looking at them. Don’t make no eye contact with no hitchhikers in New Mexico. You understand?”
He didn’t break her gaze. He nodded, solemnly, an obedient child grown into a compliant young man. I slanted my eyes a bit. Why wasn’t she warning me?
“Why no eye contact?” I asked, but she didn’t turn toward me.
“Because that’s how they take you.”
“The skinwalkers. Them glowing eyes will look into yours and switch you out.”
“Switch you out? Where do you go?” My boyfriend’s voice was small.
“Into them. For a time. Maybe a short time, maybe a long time. However long they need your suit.”
“Body, love, they take your body and keep your soul trapped in theirs.”
S.M. Knisely | 15