Riding with a Ghost

I drove. He talked. That’s the way I remember it.

I’d picked him up by the side of a long, straight, dusty road in the back end of beyond. Everything he owned lived a small, green knapsack that he slung over one shoulder, except for a battered tin canteen that lived over the other and a hat, dark with his sweat and dusted with salt where it sat on his forehead.

He was much younger than I’d expected. His full beard was dark with reddish highlights that glittered in the evening light, but it was also flecked with grey. There were creases in his face. He’d squinted too much, shading his blue-grey eyes from the harsh sun, but the wrinkles around his mouth were purely from laughing.

He laughed a lot. Made fun of anything and everything. Brought tears to my eyes a few times, too. He’d seen enough of the world, he claimed. I asked him what he meant, and he shrugged.

But, when he stripped that night, unselfconsciously in the dim motel room, I saw the three dog tags he wore, and the scars across his muscular back.

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