My friends and I used to love to play practical jokes on people living in our small town way back in the early '80s. We lived in Steadville, California, population 500. It was a rundown place with one grocery store, a bar and lots of stray dogs. We'd dress up like scarecrows, wait until it got dark, then run from house to house knocking on the windows or front doors and scaring people. Other times we would make hot air balloons using dry cleaning bags, candles and straws. We would light them and set them off over the town in the night. Once they were high enough, they looked like UFOs. We would dig holes, fill them with watery mud, then cover them with regular dirt and leaves and wait for people to walk into them. It was funny!
One night, my friend Joey had a good idea for a joke. We took a flashlight, got into Joey's pickup and drove down to the irrigation canal a few miles out of town. We turned off the main road and drove alongside the canal for about a mile until we found a spot where we parked the truck, got off, then walked over to a nearby tree. In the darkness we waited until we saw some headlights coming down the main road toward the canal. Then we turned on the flashlight and aimed it at the car, waving it frantically up and down, turning it on and off, giving the impression of somebody needing help. The joke was, if somebody took the bait, we would get back in Joey's pickup and, with the headlights off, drive away further down the road, then stop and turn the flashlight on again. We would repeat the process if necessary to see how far people were willing to go. Besides, it would be kind of scary, you know -- the mysterious light.
Well, that first car we shined the light on slowed down and turned off the main road and started heading down in our direction. We jumped in Joey's truck and -- wouldn't you know it? -- it didn't want to start! Joey kept trying. It would crank over, but didn't want to catch. He kept trying, popping the clutch and all that, but it still wouldn't start.
I was nervous now and I could see the car was already halfway toward us, and I told Joey we have to get out and hide somewhere because the people in that car won't be too happy to find out it was all a joke. But Joey didn't want to abandon his truck. Then we realized that, hey, we really do need help after all. It's going to work out all right. Nobody's going to get mad or anything.
So we sat there until the car came up right behind us and stopped, its headlights lighting up the inside of Joey's truck. We sat there for a minute or so. Both of us were nervous, then Joey opened his door and got out. He was facing the car and started walking toward it when the headlights went out. I was looking at Joey when the headlights were turned off, and to my and his amazement... there was NO CAR!
Nothing! Just the stillness of the night, the sounds of crickets in the fields. I started to freak out right there and then. I screamed and Joey got back in and tried to calm me down. I could tell he was scared, too. He was sweating all over and didn't say too much. He tried starting the truck again, and thank god it kicked over. It started! We got the hell out of there and drove straight home.
The next day, we told our friends what happened and they couldn't believe it. They told us it was probably a ghost car or something; something not natural. We drove out to the spot with our friends and re-enacted how it happened. We looked for tire tracks besides our own, but it was useless, for there were all kinds of tire tracks from all the heavy traffic that goes on during the day on that road.
It was sometime later when we heard the story about a teenager who committed suicide. He was distraught over the breakup of his relationship with his girlfriend and drove to the very spot where we were right next to the tree and shot himself. This happened a while back, but there have been reports of his ghost being seen from time to time in that location. We never heard of the story before. I can't help but think... Was that his ghost driving his car that we encountered that night? I never believed in ghosts before. I do now!