ROSEBUD, SOUTH DAKOTA — Sometime after midnight, I passed over into the Rosebud Reservation. The Pow Wow music had long since faded into static and the stars the only source of light on the road.
Highway 18 spans the southern length of South Dakota and passes through three Indian reservations. It is notorious for being haunted by trickster spirits, especially along the Rosebud Reservation. I could have turned West and stayed in Hot Springs for the night, but I decided to try my luck with the spirits instead. I wanted to see if I could get a vision.
I’d heard stories about Highway 18 since I started researching Wounded Knee. I was especially warned about the area I was passing through now. Cars were always breaking down at random, and it was the last place you wanted to be stranded at night.
My first source had her first highway encounter as a teenager. One night, she and her best friend were out smoking and driving. A tall, shadowy figure with evil eyes crossed the road in front of them. They screamed and slammed on the breaks, but the figure disappeared. After collecting their composure, they drove straight home and didn’t leave the house again.
My second source was driving down the highway when she spotted a crying child alone on the side of the road. When she stopped to ask him where his parents were, the little boy didn’t say a word. He only looked into her with his strange eyes. The woman put him in the backseat and drove to the police station. When she parked the car and turned around, the little boy was gone.
A third source recalled the night he was almost lured off the road while drunkenly stumbling home. The lights beckoned to him, motioning to follow them into an abandoned farmhouse far off the road. He shook his head and refused their call. He decided to play it safe and passed out in the ditch beside the road instead.
Much to my simultaneous relief and disappointment, I had yet to meet any spirits on the road. Unfortunately, my energy was fading fast. I knew there was nowhere to stay on the Rez when I came here, but I decided to go for it when the last motel I passed in Nebraska had MURDER written all over it. I noped right out of that one, much preferring the company of a few trickster spirits over Nebraska’s very own Norman Bates.
In spite of my exhaustion, I decided to press on. I knew my vision was close at hand. I lit another cigarette and rolled the windows down to give my head a lift. I checked the mirrors behind me. No other cars were on the road and I hadn’t passed any in some time. The nearest town was miles out of the way; more like a collection of trailer houses than actual place.
I was all alone late at night in the middle of nowhere on a poverty-stricken Indian Reservation. Yet I felt safer than I had in a long time. Maybe burning all that sage and sweetgrass beforehand was more effective than I thought.
The road in front of me began to twinkle and blur. The wheels of my car swerved further to the right. I was just beginning to nod off when suddenly a bright white light appeared before me. I snapped awake just in time to slam on the breaks. The ball of light exploded in a flash and transformed into a crow taking flight on the road in front of me. It looked at me for just a moment before disappearing into the night.
When I recovered from the shock, I noticed the lights of a gas station flickering close by. It wasn’t there before, but I drove up to it anyway. It looked like it had been abandoned for years. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure it was real. For all I knew, I was being lured into a trap by a trickster spirit. It was no matter. If it was some kind of elaborate death trap, it was a good day to die.
An abandoned gas station on the Rez wasn’t exactly my first choice for a safe place to stay, but it wasn’t giving me MURDER vibes either. Under the circumstances, it would have to do. I resolved to take a short power nap and stop again in a more populated location.
I offered the spirits some tobacco and asked for protection. I left an open bag of chips outside of the car as an offering and smudged with sage again. I crawled into the backseat of my Jeep into my cocoon of blankets. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was fast asleep.
The old tribal cop pulled up to the gas station and looked around. No bodies on the ground, two vehicles in the lot. The first, a semi truck with the driver fast asleep inside. The second, a Jeep he had seen only once before. The cop looked at the bumper sticker on the rear and contemplated “The End.”
His suspicions were confirmed as soon as he ran the plates. So, the Wašíču writer had remained a loyal ally after all. He knew she was a keeper when he met her at Wounded Knee. But what the hell was she doing here at this time of night?
The cop wondered if the vehicle was stolen and decided to investigate. The name RUSSELL flashed across his badge as he climbed out of the car. He checked on the semi again before approaching the Jeep with caution. He put his hand on his gun, his heart pounding as he crept closer.
He looked through the window and gasped. Asleep in the back was the same beautiful young woman he had met before. Accompanying her was a wild assortment of her belongings. She looked like she had been living out of her car for sometime.
The cop shook his head. He didn’t know what she was doing out here, but he knew she had to be protected. Now he understood why he’d suddenly been called all the way out here at this time of night.
He picked up the tobacco and bag of chips off the ground, then returned to his vehicle to keep watch. He kicked the seat back and put his boot heels up on the dash, singing to himself softly as he ate his snack and smoked his pipe.
When I woke up again, I saw the cop car and panicked immediately. I didn’t even take the time to consider who or what I was seeing. I made sure my souvenirs from Colorado were stashed safely In the back and hopped back in the front seat. I took off flying across the reservation and didn’t look back. The cop car followed me until I crossed the border, then suddenly vanished into thin air.