Marvel Boseman’s second place story of ghostly intervention.
Charlie Watford felt as if he had been driving forever.
He reached up for the third time that morning and pulled down the hand-drawn map off the dash of the old pickup truck. As far as he could tell, he was still headed in the right direction. He sighed loudly and began searching, once more, for signs that he was getting close to Virginia Winston’s house. He had spoken to her just that morning about his coming out to look at a truck she had for sale, a 1978 Kenworth.
This was Charlie’s big chance to own his very own truck. At 27, he had only worked as a company driver, and he was itching for the chance to run his own equipment. He hadn’t been able to believe his luck when he had come across Virginia’s ad in the newspaper. It had clearly announced, “Widow needs financial help, must sell! 1978 Kenworth with KT9 engine. Must see to appreciate. $5,500 or best offer.” Charlie had jumped at the opportunity, surprised that she had not already made a sale. Still, he thought with trepidation, this was an older truck; what if it wasn’t even worth the asking price? Just then, he spotted the large, rust-colored barn sitting in the field on his right. This was a landmark on his map, and he slowed down, satisfied when he saw the winding dirt road that led to a small, white farmhouse visible in the distance. He turned onto it and followed the well-worn path.
A small, shirtless, blond-headed boy in a pair of cut-off jean shorts, who had been standing in the yard, turned and raced into the house, slamming the screen door behind him. Charlie switched the pickup off and waited. A few seconds later, a plain woman in her mid-30s came out onto the front step. She had a small child of about 2 years old on one hip, and a little girl, whom Charlie judged to be about 9 years old, was hiding shyly behind her, peeking around at Charlie every few seconds.
The woman handed the baby to the little girl and walked the short distance to Charlie’s truck. “You here to see the truck?” she asked him in a cautious voice.
“Yes ma’am, I’m Charlie Watford,” Charlie introduced himself and smiled at her. Up close, he noticed how thin she was; lines of worry creased the corners around her eyes and mouth. The blue eyes looked tired and haunted somehow. Charlie saw a blush stain her face and realized that he had been staring; he quickly looked away.
“It’s back here,” she said, motioning with a movement of her head toward the back of the house. Charlie nodded, got out of the pickup and followed her. Rounding the corner, Charlie stopped dead in his tracks. There sat the truck of his dreams! The mid-morning sunlight shone brightly off the chrome and caused the flawless paint job to glow a rich chocolate brown. “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Virginia Winston asked, somehow reading Charlie’s thoughts.
“Pretty is an understatement – she’s beautiful,” Charlie answered, still staring at the rig.
“It was Eddie’s pride and joy,” she informed him. The wistful note in her voice caused Charlie to turn and look in her direction. “Eddie was my husband,” she told him in answer to his questioning look. She was staring at the truck now. “God, how he loved that truck, babied her like she was one of the children, never allowed a scratch on her and never let anyone else drive her,” she finished, pride evident in her voice.
“How did he die?” Charlie asked in a soft voice. After a short silence, she answered him in a voice that was flat, bitter somehow.
“He had a heart attack, died behind the wheel. Coroner said he had to have been dead before he parked it; Highway Patrol said there was no way.” She seemed lost in another time as she spoke. Her eyes focused on the truck as if she could still see her husband there behind the wheel. “I begged him not to make that last trip,” she continued. “The doctors told him his heart was too bad to continue driving, but Eddie wouldn’t hear of it. Driving was his life. I even asked him what the kids and me would do without him, but he just smiled and told me we were taken care of, told me to go see Tommy Sparks at First Security. He said Tommy had handled everything for us and had a $300,000 life insurance policy made out to the children and me. We would be set for life.” Charlie whistled low, interested despite himself.
“That’s a lot of money, Mrs. Winston. It must have been a lot of help for you and the children.” Charlie was surprised by the bitter laugh she gave before answering.
“It would have been, except we never saw a penny of that money. Mr. Sparks informed me that unless I had some proof, Eddie’s copy of a policy, he just couldn’t pay out that kind of money.”
“Where was Eddie’s policy? Surely he had one?” Charlie couldn’t believe the cruelty of some businesses that would allow the poverty of a widow and her children.
“I don’t know. Eddie always took care of things like that; he said he had it in a safe place. I’ve never been able to find it.”
“Maybe in the truck?” Charlie suggested, gesturing in that direction.
“No,” she stopped him, “Done searched it. There was nothing; that’s why I have to sell Eddie’s truck. We have to eat; the bills have to be paid.” Charlie admired the determination in her voice.
“But why are you selling it so cheaply?” He knew he had to be cutting his own throat, but he felt compelled to ask. Again, Virginia Winston sounded bitter as she answered.
“I have sold this truck twice before for a higher price, but each time the driver brings it back, demanding his money back.” She said this while looking Charlie square in the eye.
“Why, is something wrong with the engine?” Charlie felt his hopes begin to plummet.
“No, Eddie gave the engine a complete overhaul before he died,” she answered slowly. “They said it was haunted.” Charlie looked at her, not quite believing his ears.
“Haunted?” he repeated.
“Yep,” she sighed, “haunted. Neither one of the men would go into details, just demanded their money back.” Charlie stood for a long moment, the silence hanging between them tensely. Finally, he gave a small laugh to break the mood and smiled at Virginia Winston.
“Mind if I crank her up?”
“Not at all,” she answered, “I got the key right here.” She withdrew the key from the pocket of her dress and placed it in Charlie’s hand. Charlie forgot about their conversation as the climbed up into the cab and sat behind the wheel. The interior was soft, buttercream leather with not a rip or tear in sight. Charlie peered into the stand-up sleeper, then inserted the key into the ignition and listened as the big engine roared to life.
“Well, Eddie,” Charlie spoke aloud, “it appears you kept this baby in excellent condition.”
Satisfied that the engine was sound, Charlie knew he wanted this truck. His thoughts returned to Virginia Winston’s earlier words – haunted? Not likely. More likely the two previous owners had allowed their superstitious minds to stand in the way of owning a real nice piece of equipment. Probably too much time spent alone on the road. He had heard that some drivers couldn’t take it, hours and miles of driving, nothing to do but think. Not enough sleep and sometimes the mind could wander, play tricks on a driver if he wasn’t careful. “Well, not this driver.” Charlie grinned to himself; this was his lucky day!
Charlie climbed down from the truck and smiled at Mrs. Winston. “I’ll take it,” he told her. She looked relieved, but not excited. Charlie felt compelled to give this woman some comfort. “I’d like to pay you $6,000 for this truck, ma’am,” he said in a serious tone. She looked surprised, and her lower lip quivered a little.
“I’m only asking $5,500,” she reminded him.
“I know, ma’am, but it’s worth more.” She hesitated a moment, then nodded her head.
“I’ll hold your money only one week,” she told him. “If you change your mind in that time, you can come and get it.”
“I won’t be changing my mind, Mrs. Winston,” Charlie told her and thought he saw a flicker of hope in her eyes. He wrote out a check and told her he would be back tomorrow evening to finalize the paperwork and to pick up the truck.
The next evening, Charlie had a friend bring him back to the Winston house, where he and Virginia Winston finalized the sale of the truck. His truck, he thought with satisfaction as he drove the truck out of the driveway and down the road. He couldn’t wait to lease onto a decent company and start pulling in owner-operator rates.
Charlie’s dream was realized just three weeks later, when he found himself newly leased to an outfit out of Channahon, Ill., and under his first load. Charlie hummed along with a tune on the radio as he drove down the highway. His life was looking up. He had his own rig (at a great price), he had leased to a good company that paid great rates, and he was his own boss. What more could he ask for? The empty rumble in his stomach reminded him that he had forgotten to include breakfast in his list of blessings, and he grinned to himself as he began looking for a place to stop and grab a bite.
After a hearty breakfast and at least two cups of coffee, Charlie was feeling pretty good about his life; fate was definitely smiling in his direction. He whistled a tune as he made his way from the restaurant and back to the truck, admiring the look of the paint and chrome as he got closer. Charlie’s attention was drawn suddenly to the sound of music playing loudly from somewhere close by. He recognized the tune as an older one that his parents had enjoyed listening to when he had been a child. The music seemed to grow louder, and Charlie
About The Author
Marvel Boseman is a housewife and mother from Florence, S.C. Both of her parents, three brothers, a sister and a brother-in-law are all truckers, and Marvel was at one time a dispatcher for a local trucking company. She says “Charlie’s Dream” is based on a true story.
felt a small feeling of annoyance that some driver was playing his radio so loudly. As he walked up to his own truck, he realized that the music seemed to be coming from inside the cab of the KW. Charlie felt a rush of anger, believing that someone had broken into his cab while he had been at breakfast and was now making himself at home! He pulled on the latch of the driver’s side door and found it still locked. The music seemed to vibrate within the truck as he made his way to the passenger side and tried that door latch. Locked! The feelings of contentment and happiness that Charlie had experienced earlier that morning vanished as he felt his anger rise at the thought of a stranger violating his property by breaking into the truck and then daring to lock him out! Another driver walked up to the truck parked beside Charlie’s and stopped. He looked at Charlie and smiled.
“Nice tune, but you like it a little loud, don’t ya?” Charlie stared at him, not knowing what to say as he watched the driver insert his key into his own lock and pull the handle. Charlie remembered his own keys then and, feeling foolish, he angrily snatched them off his belt. He quickly inserted the key into the lock and turned. In one fluid motion, he jerked the door open and swung up into the cab; he was met by silence. Charlie made a jump for the sleeper, angrily pulling the leather curtain aside – empty! He turned and looked to his side and then looked behind him; still, no one. He checked the driver’s side door and found it still locked. Bewildered, Charlie fell wearily into the driver’s seat and sat there for a while, his mind struggling to make sense of what had happened. Had he imagined the music? Maybe it had come from another truck close by? He remembered the comment from the driver who had been parked next to him; that man had heard the music, too. It had sounded as if it had been coming from the inside of Charlie’s truck! Finally, finding no plausible explanation for what had occurred, Charlie cranked up the engine and headed back out.
After driving for a little while, Charlie began to feel somewhat better. He decided that what had happened was probably just a fluke. Some smart aleck kids had probably been parked close by and had decided to share their car stereo system with everyone else. Charlie was beginning to feel his mood lighten again, and as he drove, he allowed his mind to daydream about the future. He thought of his house, a big sprawling farmhouse in Iowa. It had belonged to his family since before Charlie and his sister Meg had been born. The property had been passed down through the years to the oldest child, and Charlie had inherited it after his parents died two years ago. The house needed a new coat of paint, a new roof, new fencing and a new porch, but Charlie had been unable to afford the necessary repairs. Now, if things went as planned, he would soon be adding to his savings and could restore his family home, maybe even marry and raise his family there. Charlie continued to drive for most of the day, skipping lunch and only stopping long enough to purchase a cold drink or use the restroom. By the time night had fallen, he was ready to pull over and get some sleep.
Something awakened Charlie from a sound sleep, and he lay still for a few moments trying to clear his mind and determine what had disturbed him. Smoke! The odor filled the cab of the truck as Charlie came out of the sleeper and began searching frantically for a fire or some other source. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary inside the cab, Charlie swung the driver’s side door open and jumped to the ground. At first, he stood back from the cab and looked for visible signs of smoke, and then he walked all around the cab and the trailer, looking underneath both until he had satisfied himself that nothing was burning. Finally, shaking his head, Charlie climbed back into the cab and checked all of the wiring around the dash. Nothing. The smell of smoke, so strong minutes before, had dissipated until there was only a faint scent remaining. Charlie sat behind the wheel, trying to figure things out. He knew he had not imagined the smell; it had almost smelled like burning brakes when they have been applied too quickly and with too much force, but why here, in his cab?
Charlie could not go back to sleep, and he sat up until dawn, taking the time to update his logs and finish a letter to Meg. He had no appetite for breakfast and decided to get an early start. Though he could not return to his light mood of the past few days, he decided to forget the incident of last night and determined to put it out of his mind as he switched on the radio and turned it to his favorite country station.
Charlie sang along with the song that was playing as he drove. In mid-chorus, he found himself listening to an old tune from the early ’50s. Surprised, he looked at the dial and found that the station was no longer the one he had been listening to but had somehow been moved to what appeared to be a golden oldies station. Charlie reached out and turned the knob until he had relocated his station and the sound of country music once again filled the cab. He was stunned when a few seconds later, the music once again changed to oldies. Some impulse prompted Charlie to speak out just then. “Sorry Eddie,” he declared to the empty cab, “but this truck’s mine now, and I don’t frighten easily.” Having said this, he felt foolish, and he reached over to turn off the radio, preferring to ride in silence.
Charlie was not really startled as hour later when he began to smell smoke in the cab. He had begun to expect almost anything. This time, though, the smoke smelled like cigarette smoke. He decided that he needed a break, and he stopped and went into a nearby truckstop for a cup of coffee.
Charlie tried to make sense of the events of the past two days as he sat at a table, sipping the steaming liquid. He could not think of an explanation for what had happened. He knew he had not imagined the smoke; it had been real, both times, and what had happened with the radio had been more than a lost signal. He remembered the loud music that had sounded as if it had been coming from his truck; the song playing had also been an older tune. So, if the past events had not been his imagination, he reasoned, then what could have been the cause? Wearily, Charlie ran his hands through his hair. Maybe he was going crazy? Maybe he couldn’t handle running his own truck? He heard Virginia Winston’s voice in his head. “I’ll hold your money for one week,” she had promised. Charlie sighed as he recalled the look of hope on her face when he had told her he wouldn’t be back. “Haunted,” she had said. Charlie began to feel the stirrings of anger inside of him. He didn’t believe in ghosts! He felt determined as he paid for his coffee and made his way back out to the truck. Once inside, he looked for anything amiss. Finding nothing, he decided to catch up on his lost sleep and crawled back into the sleeper. He didn’t have to deliver his load until that afternoon in Arizona, and he was only an hour’s drive away from his destination. “I bought this rig fair and square,” he said aloud after he was stretched out on the bunk, “and I’m keeping her.”
Charlie awoke feeling much better about his situation and relieved when nothing out of the ordinary occurred on the way to deliver his load. After delivery, he stopped for some supper and made his check-in call with dispatch. Dark was falling when he began driving again. He had gone the rest of the day without anything strange happening, and he began to relax a little.
He had made it about 12 miles just outside of Bullhead City, Ariz., when he began to feel uneasy. It was nothing he could name, just a feeling of expectancy. He braced himself for an occurrence, sniffing the air for unexplained smoke and waiting for the radio to suddenly blare golden oldies. The sudden pull of the truck toward the right side of the road took Charlie off guard. He began to feel his alarm mount as the wheels continued to pull in that direction. A few seconds later, Charlie was panting for breath and fighting in earnest to hold his rig on the road. Every muscle in his body was tense; his arms and hands ached from gripping the wheel and pulling it in the opposite direction. He tried to press the brake pedal, but it wouldn’t budge! Charlie began to feel real panic rise up. It felt as if something or someone was gripping the wheel, determined to fight him for control. Charlie found renewed strength as he realized that he was fighting for his life.
The curse he had been about to scream turned into a scream of utter fear as Charlie felt what appeared to be a pair of icy hands cover his own hands on the wheel. He felt as if he could not let go and gave in as the wheel turned once more toward the right. The thought that he was having a heart attack came unbidden into Charlie’s head – is this what Eddie Winston had felt during his terrifying struggle to control his vehicle?
Charlie felt the truck leave the road. The jarring and shaking of the cab were almost too much when he felt the brake pedal begin to work once more. To his utter relief, the truck finally came to a stop. He sat shaking, every muscle in his body weary and shaking. He sucked in great gasps of air and slowly felt himself regain a small amount of control. Suddenly the anger began to build. It started out slowly and began to rise until Charlie felt as if he would explode!
“Damn you!” he shouted aloud and slammed his fist into the dash. “I don’t know what kind of man you were when you were alive, Eddie Winston, but my guess is that you were a selfish jerk!” He was screaming now, his earlier fear forgotten as he vented his anger. “Don’t you want Virginia and your children to be happy?” he continued, looking wildly around the cab for some indication that his anger wasn’t in vain.
Finally, spent and exhausted, he leaned back in the seat and bent his head far back to ease the pain in his neck. It was then that he saw it, a tiny piece of white, not quite noticeable at first, peeking out of the leather covering on the ceiling of the cab. Charlie stared at it for a long moment before finally reaching up and touching it. He felt with his fingers and realized that someone had made a small, neat incision in the material the width of about four fingers. Charlie reached inside and felt something thick and smooth. He pulled at it until he had worked it to the opening and then pulled it from the ceiling.
He was holding a medium-sized stack of papers, folded in half. Charlie grinned a huge grin suddenly, as he opened it up and saw the name “First Security Insurance” typed across the top of the first page. It had been here all the time! Probably worked loose by all the jarring and shaking. “Is this what you’ve been trying to tell me all along?” Charlie asked aloud. “You’ve been looking out for them the whole time, haven’t you?” He slowly shook his head, incredulous at his discovery. “Well, you can rest now, Eddie,” he finished in a soft voice. “I’ll take it from here.”
Charlie slowly pulled the truck back onto the road, the control of the wheel completely his own. A feeling of peace that hadn’t been present before filled the cab as he headed back toward the town and a telephone; he had to call a dispatcher about a load home.