Always Wonder

It was the final depths of the early morning, sometime in 1997. The sky was moonless and the pines hugged that stretch of I-10 between Jacksonville and Lake City, Florida, my headlights dimly illuminating a straight line of muddy gray asphalt through the greater gloom.

Ahead of me as I drove, I noticed taillights lit up my own headlights. From a distance, it looked like a stopped car. As I approached I slowed down a bit to see a woman standing by the side of the road, seemingly distressed, hood of her car up, stranded.

If you don’t know, that stretch of I-10 is not a good place to be stranded, especially for a woman. It’s utterly empty — no towns or stops for miles — and this was a time before most people had cell phones (even today, that stretch does not have good reception). And many unsavory characters use this road as that’s how drugs make their way from Jacksonville to other parts of North Florida and southern Georgia. (And I know this because my mom transported some of them.)

I passed by the woman at first, not wanting to scare her. But I thought as I drove, Crap, I can’t just leave her there, alone. Not on this road. I’d driven less than half a mile. I could see the entire road behind me for more than a mile and over a mile ahead. Remember, Florida is very flat.

So I found a way across the median and turned around, driving east now. I got to the spot where the woman and her car had been — and nothing. No one. Not a trace. I crossed the median again to turn around west and I could find no sign at all of the woman or her vehicle ever having been there. I drove a bit more, though my memory was pretty clear to the location (I hadn’t traveled far) and there was just no indication of her presence at all.

I have pretty good night vision and I would’ve seen her if she’d driven away, even with her lights off. There was no way I was hallucinating her or the car in my original sighting. I was sober, not that tired, and drove by less than six feet from her and the car.

Nevertheless, she nor the car were there.

I have no idea where she went. It was as far as I could tell then impossible for her to have left in a way I wouldn’t have seen.

The only thing I didn’t check was that perhaps she was so scared when I turned around that she managed to roll or start her car enough to get it in the pine forest deep enough where I couldn’t see it. But she would’ve had to have done this very quickly, more quickly than I can really understand how it could be possible. It was perhaps flat enough there to do so, but how someone could do this with such speed, and a likely-disabled car, I have no idea. The forest was not that dense, so it would’ve have to have been driven or rolled in quite far for me to not see any sign of it, probably a hundred feet or more.

I always wonder where the woman and her car went, and what happened to her. It’s one of the strangest things that I’ve ever experienced.