The taxi driver was startled when a woman in white waved him down as he was driving into Hammond. Still, a fare was a fare. As he pulled up, he realized her fancy gown was, in fact, a wedding dress. The style was old-fashioned, but it looked good on her. She was young, with long blond hair and stunning blue eyes. She must be a model on her way to a photography shoot, the taxi driver thought admiringly. He couldn’t think of any other reason why a lovely lady in a wedding gown should be hailing a taxi.
As the woman stepped into the back, the air in the taxi cooled abruptly, as if the driver has turned on the air conditioner---which he hadn’t. The man shivered a little as he glanced in the rearview mirror and asked the lovely bridal figure for the address. She told him to drive to Cline Avenue in Hammond. The driver nodded and pulled out into traffic.
“You doing a photo shoot?” he asked, unable to control his curiosity.
At first, the woman did not answer. The taxi driver glanced into the rearview mirror, afraid he’d offended her with his question. When he saw her ashen face and trembling lips, he stuttered an apology.
The woman shook her head sadly. “No apology,” she whispered. “The fault is not yours. It is mine. I thought . . . I thought . . .” Her voice drifted off on the last word, and she lifted a dainty hand and wiped her eyes.
The taxi driver tore his eyes away from the pale bride and kept them on the road as she told her story. . .
She was seeing a man from the other side of town against her parent’s wishes. They wanted her to marry a man from their own nationality, and her boyfriend came from another part of the world entirely. Still, the couple loved one another in spite of their differences, and they met often on the banks of the Calumet River. They planned to wed secretly, and she saved all her money and bought the perfect wedding gown. On the appointed day, she snuck away after work to meet her boyfriend at a local church where a priest had agreed to marry them. She dressed herself carefully in her new wedding gown, and then she waited. . . and waited . . . and waited for her groom to arrive. But he never came. After two hours, the priest gently urged her to return home, and she had reluctantly agreed.
“Oh miss, I’m so sorry,” the taxi driver began, glancing in sympathy at the white-gowned woman pictured in the rearview mirror. Then he gasped! The woman in the backseat no longer wore a pristine white wedding gown. Now she was soaked to the skin, her white wedding dress torn and covered in mud and river slime. Her face and lips were blue, and she seemed not to be breathing.
A desperately honking horn brought his attention back to the road. He’d swerved into the next lane while his attention was on the woman in the back, nearly causing an accident. The driver fought for control of the taxi and managed to get over to the side of the road just before the bridge over the Calumet River. He threw the taxi in park, put on his hazard lights, and whirled around to face the woman in the rear. The back seat was empty, except for a damp patch on the back seat and the smell of river water in the air.
The driver clutched at his heart in shock. What? How? He fell back against the seat and took long, slow breaths, trying to calm himself. Then he put on his blinker and pulled back into traffic, wondering what the heck had just happened to him.
He thought about the eerie incident the rest of the day. Finally he told one of his friends about the incident. His buddy, who had been driving a taxi in Hammond for a long time, didn’t seem surprised by the story.
“Did she ask you to take her to Cline?” he asked.
“How’d you know?” the taxi driver asked in astonishment.
“That was Sophia,” his buddy said. “She’s been haunting that stretch of highway for a long time. She didn’t tell you the end of her story. The day her boyfriend left her waiting at the church, she ran outside and hailed a cab to take her home. But when they reached the stretch of Cline Avenue near the bridge, she told the taxi driver to halt. Then, she leapt out of the cab, raced frantically down to the edge of the water, and threw herself into the river before the cab driver could stop her. Her heavy skirts pulled her underwater, and she was swept away by the current. Some fishermen found her body a few days later, floating along the shore in her ruined wedding gown.”
The taxi driver shook his head in sorrow remembering the tears the woman in white had shed in the back seat.
“Poor girl,” her murmured. “Poor abandoned girl.”
“They say her fiancé was killed in a mill accident the day before the wedding. That’s why he didn’t show,” his buddy said.
“Did anyone ever tell Sophia that?” asked the taxi driver. “Maybe it would help her to rest in peace.”
“You do that, the next time she asks you for a ride,” his buddy said, half in jest.
“Maybe I will,” said the taxi driver. But remembering the drowned figure in the back seat, he wasn’t sure he wanted to give Sophia another ride in his taxi. Once was enough.
Excerpted from the book Spooky Indiana by S.E. Schlosser. Copyright © 2012 by S.E. Schlosser. Illustration © 2012 by Paul G.Hoffman. Excerpted by permission of Globe Pequot Press.