Thursday and Friday there had been rain showers for the first time in about a month. The local creeks and rivers had been low, with sand bars and roots making any canoeing difficult, but by the time the skies cleared on Saturday they had risen, and we had a good time. We canoed about a dozen miles downstream, and sunset was only a half-hour away when we finally pulled out at a bridge. Sam's car had been left at the put-in spot, so Josh and Lisa drove him back to pick it up while I stayed with the canoes.
There wasn't much to do, and after maybe twenty minutes I wandered up the landing to the road to see if I could see anyone coming. It was still too early for the others to be back, though, so I started back down, when I was surprised to notice that someone had pulled off on the other side of the road. It looked like they must have come from an antique car show; both their car and their clothing looked like something out of the 1950's.
There was something about them that seemed wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it. The people looked normal enough: two young men and two young women, who might have been their girlfriends or sisters (they all looked vaguely Italian to me), and an older man who may have been one of their fathers. The two women, one of whom was visibly upset, held back near the car with the older man. The two young men had gone down to the creek, where they threw in something small. My uneasy feeling seemed to be strongest about these two. They were doing something else, but I couldn't see or hear very distinctly what that was.
No one had noticed me yet, so I went back down quietly to the canoes. My friends got back a few minutes later, and before long we had the canoes packed away and were headed off to find something to eat. As we pulled out, I noticed that the “Italians” were gone. Also, even though our cars were leaving ruts in the muddy ground, there were no such ruts on the other side of the road.
I didn't think about the “Italians” again until several days later, when an errand took me out of town and I came back around dusk by the same road. I was surprised to see they were pulled off at the side of the bridge again. I slowed down in case they were having car trouble, but as I got closer I saw that they were doing exactly the same thing I had seen them do that previous day. What's more, even though I was on their side of the road, it looked like they could not see me. Glad of that, I sped off again.
The next day at work I mentioned all this to Sam. At first he thought I was kidding him, but when he saw I wasn't, Sam wanted to see for himself. I met up with him again after supper and drove him out to the bridge; we both thought that the time of day might be important.
Sure enough, there they were again, going through exactly the same motions as before. I slowed down to about one mile per hour, but I was not willing to come to a complete stop. After a couple of minutes, I sped back up, never to see them again. “Got it!” Sam said.
He had had the sense to take down the information from the car's tag. It took him two months, but Sam was eventually able to identify the “Italians.” They turned out to be an immigrant family of Hungarian gypsies. The tag was from 1955, and its owner was a widower who had two adult sons and a grown daughter. The older son was married, but his wife divorced him the next year.
Most surprising to me was the fact that they were all still alive, though the father was now nearly ninety. Well, almost all of them, anyway: I had some strong suspicions about the small thing that was thrown into the creek, but no way of knowing for sure.