This story is based on events that happened to me many years ago, and would later be the inspiration for my first novel, Under the Black Sand.
It was around an hour after midnight in late summer of 1988 when I drove out of the city to spend the weekend with my grandparents. They lived on a farm around 45 minutes away. The first part of the drive took you across the mountains that separate Reykjavík from the farmlands on the south coast.
Alone in the car, I turned up the music and enjoyed the darkness and solitude on the road. I passed the old house where my father had died, the lake opposite, the old shop where people bought hot dogs, located close to the Ghost Hills. I continued through what they call the Pig’s Lava Fields, probably driving too fast. Never stopping to wonder who the pigs were, or the ghosts. I was just enjoying having my driver’s license and being able to play music loud.
Right after passing the old ski resort, the car climbed the slope up to the highest part of the route. As I reached the top, a woman was standing alone by the side of the road. It was dark, but the headlights made her almost glow in the dark. It was too late to stop. The car sped past her, but I pressed the brakes and looked in the rear-view mirror. Couldn’t see her.
What would a young woman be doing on her own on top of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night? Maybe she was in trouble? Had there been an accident? I stopped, reversed, and backed up to the place she’d been standing and got out of the car.
Nobody there. I looked around and saw nobody. Down below, a small house stood, but there was no movement there, no lights. There were no signs of an accident, no skid marks.
There was no doubt she’d been there. I was absolutely sure of it. I’d seen her. She had dark hair, was average height, slender and wearing a hospital uniform, like a nurse. I saw her in detail. She was as real as anything I’d ever seen.
Where had she gone?
This was pointless. There was nobody here. I was crazy, I had to be. Giving up, I got back into the car and drove off. Slower this time. No music. I couldn’t get the girl by the road out of my head. Half an hour later I was at the farm. I got inside and went to bed.
My grandfather was in the kitchen as I got out of bed. He’d already milked the cows and was brewing coffee for himself. I sat down at the table and he handed me a cup. ‘How was the trip last night,’ he asked and smiled?
‘Interesting,’ I replied.
He looked at me, and I wondered whether to tell him about the girl. He would think I was mad. But then, he loved interesting stories, so I decided to tell him.
He listened as I explained how I’d seen the girl by the road.
‘Was it just after the ski resort?’ he asked.
I hadn’t told him where it happened, so it was surprising to hear him pinpoint the exact location. I confirmed that’s where I’d seen her.
‘She was standing by the side of the road, you say? On the right-hand side as you drive up the hill? Actually, at the top of the hill, as you reach the high plateau? That’s where you saw her, right?’
‘Was she wearing something out of the ordinary? Like a uniform or something like that?’
‘Why do you ask?’ I was in some kind of shock by this time. How could he complete the story without me having gone into detail?
‘Dressed like a nurse, I believe?’
My jaw would have been on the floor at this point. How did he know this? All I could say was yes, as I asked him how he knew.
‘They say the house at the foot of the hill is haunted. People can’t sleep there. Many have seen strange things in the area. Sometimes a driver will see a man sitting in the passenger seat. He says nothing. Just sits there. It’s like having a hitchhiker that never waived and you didn’t stop for. He’s just there, all of a sudden. Doesn’t say anything. And then he’s gone.’
I remembered hearing stories like that, but never thought they were anything more than amusing stories dreamed up by superstitious old people.
He continued. ‘Our uncle was driving to Reykjavík years ago when a car came up the hill, on the middle of the road. As they got closer to each other, a collision seemed inevitable. Your uncle was about to pull at the wheel, which would have taken the car off the road and down the steep slope, but at the last moment…’ My grandfather took a deep breath. ‘At the last moment, he noticed that all the windows of the approaching car were blackened. It was like they were all painted black. He decided against turning off the road, to risk the collision. Just before the cars met, the other one vanished.’
‘That’s impossible,’ I said.
‘As for your girl, many have seen her there. She lived in a town close to here and was studying to become a nurse in Reykjavík. After a Christmas break, she was driving back to the city when she lost control of the car in terrible weather. There was a storm, and the road was slippery. She lost control of the car and went down at the exact spot you saw her.’
‘Do you think she saw something that scared her?’
‘We have no way of knowing that.’
We finished the coffee. What we did with the rest of the day, I can’t remember. But I’ll never forget that morning or the night before.
A few years later, I was in Meðalland. Speaking to our uncle, I asked him about his incident and he confirmed it. Said he’d been driving his car down the hill above the ski resort when this other car started playing chicken with him, coming onto his side of the road. He talked about the black windows and how the car vanished just before impact.
Now, dear reader, I am not superstitious in the slightest. I believe in things we can see and measure. However, I know for certain that I saw a girl by the road all those years ago. I also know that my grandfather filled in gaps in my story before I finished telling them. He couldn’t have known, had this simply been my mind being overly active. He knew the story before I told it.
As much as I’d want to write this off as nonsense, I can’t.
But then I can’t explain what I saw, and why I saw it.
This story is the thirteenth installment in the Moments series