This is my Friday Frights for this week. The theme this month is Hidden In The Dark. My story is based on things happening on and around Clinton Road, New Jersey, the most haunted road in the world. Take a peek into what you might encounter there. If you dare . . .
Damn! It’s cold! Mere moments ago I was sweltering from August’s oppressive heat: ninety degrees with humidity to match.
Mists rise from the reservoir, drifting towards me, luminescent shapes taking form, my imagination running wild. Through the darkness I see indistinct forms, looking human but with no solidity to them, almost like shadows with features. But the eyes . . . the eyes are staring at me, watching me intently. Within minutes I am surrounded.
The chill intensifies as they close in on me, drawing nearer with each second.
And then it’s all gone: no more chill, no more forms with eyes. Nothing. Even the mist is gone. The oppressive heat and humidity are back, and everything is as it was.
No one else fishes here at night. The stories, the legends, chase them away.
“Don’t venture onto Clinton Road at night,” I’m told. “There are mysteries waiting there, ones you don’t want to know the answers to.”
Okay I’m worried now, not so much by what just happened, since those “things” are gone, but by what might happen next. I’ve seen strange things before on my fishing trips here. Those things were always off in the distance; tonight was up close and personal. Damned near too personal.
Settle down, Bob! All these tales are in your head. Ghosts, Satanic cults, demonic beasts, body parts strewn all over the forest- food for the vultures. You’ve been listening to this stuff for too many years. Get a grip!
Yeah, right! I don’t care how good the fishing is tonight. I’m getting the hell out of here. I’ll reason it out at home-far away from the reservoir and forests.
Playing my light along the trail, I find my way back to my jeep, half expecting to find it either demolished or inoperable, but all is well and my old Willys starts right up for me. People can keep their fancy-schmancy new jeeps. The best jeep ever made is a Willys.
The stench of decay rips through the jeep via the open windows as I drive south. Behind me, barreling down fast, is a dark truck, driven by a person wearing a baseball cap. The way he’s taking the curves, it’s easy to see he’s in a hurry and has driven these roads many times before.
Fuck! This bastard is going to catch up to me and run my ass off the road! My jeep is dependable and built for off-road driving, but this is open road driving. Whatever he has under the hood has a lot of power. He’s gaining on me! There are still two miles left before I’m off this road.
I do the best I can, accelerating as much as I dare on the straightaways and easing off on the turns, hoping I don’t flip over. But he keeps coming. Closer and closer. With a mile to go before I hit Route 23, he pulls alongside me and grins. It’s a grin of death. His face is covered not with skin but a tight layer of what could pass for leather, barely stretching across his skull. His eyes are not eyes but deep recesses from which a reddish glow emits.
There is no way I am going to out-run this figure of death, so as he steers his truck towards me to shove me off the road, I slam on my brakes and watch his truck going where he intended me to go: off the side of the road and down an embankment of about six feet. It lands on its side and I speed out of there, not stopping at the light when I hit the highway, only slowing down enough to turn right. It is only when I reach Franklin, get inside my house, and bolt the door behind me that I feel safe.
And even then . . .
My nerves are fucking shot now. I go to the fridge and grab a cold bottle of beer. No way can I go to sleep yet. The good thing? Clinton road is ten miles away, and everything that happens there stays on the road and in the woods surrounding it. It’s like some evil enclave of terror exists there according to the stories. Devil’s land. A place forgotten by God.
No sense comes to any of it. I never drink before I drive, so it wasn’t some drunken stupor causing the illusions at the reservoir. Some kind of natural phenomenon must have momentarily worked its way across the water and into the forest-a shifting of light due to convection currents. Yep, that’s what it was.
The driver of the truck? Probably just some redneck living on the fringe area of the forest: a close-breed. That would account for his face. It’s a wonder he had enough smarts to drive.
Six beers later, I’m relaxed enough to go to bed. Shit, by tomorrow I’ll be ready to go fishing there again.
Not even bothering to shower, I take my clothes off and lie down on top of the blankets. I always sleep naked and sure don’t need any blankets tonight. It’s hotter than hell in my little bedroom. I won’t even turn the fan on; I want it quiet in case something has followed me here; I want to be able to hear it.
The beer works its magic, and I’m asleep before I know it.
At least I think I’m asleep. My head is spinning, reliving the memory of the luminescent shapes, but with even more eyes staring at me this time. It’s as if I’m under a microscope, slipping around on some slide while they attempt to dissect me with their eyes and reach inside my mind to read my thoughts. Repeatedly, I fall back asleep only to have it happen again.
I wake in the early morning, my blankets soaked, not so much from the heat but from the uneasiness of my sleep.
Make the coffee extra strong this morning, Bob. You’re going to need it.
I start brewing the coffee while I brush my teeth, shower, and attend to other business. It’s still hot in my little house, so I don’t even bother to towel off completely. Grabbing a cup of hot joe, I step outside in my boxers and sit in a lawn chair, waiting for the darkness to leave and the sun to rise. Living alone has its perks: I dress however I want in the house and come and go as I please. Being retired means more freedom.
Deer are still milling around the big lawn in front of the school across the street. They come down from the forests at night to feed on the lush grass. Most people think New Jersey is nothing but Parkways and city streets, but there are pockets of farmland and forests scattered around. I live in one of those places.
I’m into my third cup of coffee by the time the sun starts coming up over the hills to the east. Sitting here that long has given me the chance to sort things out in my addled brain. After I eat breakfast, I’m going back where I was last night and check things to see if any pieces of the puzzle will fall into place. Maybe nothing will come to me to shed any light on anything, but I need to give it a try.
“Good morning, Bob,” says Jack, owner of the Franklin Diner, as I walk into his place. “The usual?”
“The usual would be great, Jack,” I say. “I worked up an appetite last night.”
“Was the fishing great?”
“You could say that.”
“One of these days you’re going to catch a new state record Bass out of that reservoir, although I still don’t know how you can fish there at night. That whole area gives me the willies.”
I laugh, trying to hide my true feelings. The last thing I want is anyone to know that I, too, have fallen prey to the stories. At least I have the guts to do something about it, though.
“Mighty big Bass there, Jack.”
“Yes, there are. The warden still tells the tale of the time you put that huge one in the antique tub on his porch. Came out the next morning and there was this Largemouth staring him in the face. Only two ounces off the record. “
“I’m a catch and release guy. That’s why I carry that huge chest around filled with water. He keeps that tub filled up now. After he weighed it, he put it in the big pond on his property. One of theses days he might catch it again and he’ll have the new record.”
“Wouldn’t that be cheating?”
“Nah. I’ll just catch a bigger one.”
Jack laughs and leaves, shaking his head. He returns soon with my pancakes and I get to eating. I’ll need some fuel for the day ahead.
I leave a tip on the table, get my thermos filled, and buy some doughnuts for lunch. Twenty minutes later I’m on Clinton Road. The first place I check out is the area where leather-face went off the road in his truck. It takes some looking, but I find the skid marks from my jeep. I see nothing else there. The ground is undisturbed. Not only the shoulder area, but the embankment has no evidence of anything having happened here.
Okay, Bob! There’s some wonky shit going on here. You know something happened. Your skid marks are here. That was no fucking dream last night!
I get back in my Willys and drive to my fishing place from last night. I’m not surprised when nothing of interest shows up. Things happen; evidence vanishes; and Bob looks like an idiot.
Now I’m getting angry. There’s a reason for what’s going on, and I aim to find out what it is.
There is one thing I notice that on the surface seems insignificant, but with what happened last night, I won’t discount anything. An odor of burned wood permeates my nostrils. It’s coming from the island in the middle of the reservoir. I’ve seen fires there before: not last night, but that doesn’t mean anything. A fire could have been made after I left. How do these people get out there at night, and what are they doing?
I drive the length of the road to Upper Greenwood Lake and see nothing to tickle my interest, although an ominous feeling sits with me, almost as if it’s a passenger I’m driving around before he decides he’s waited long enough to drive a knife deep into my ribs. I’m compelled to pull over to the side of the road and work through the anxiety attack I’m experiencing. I can hardly breathe and I’m forced to grab the door handle of the jeep to keep from falling over. Pressure and pain rain down on my chest; my neck pulsates, sending tremors around my shoulders and down my arms.
The worst of it all comes when lightning bolts of agony shoot from my upper back and chest simultaneously, going towards each other and meeting in the middle. My hand breaks loose from the door handle, and I fall to the ground.
* * * *
My eyes open and stare at a white ceiling. It’s dark, the only lights being the ones flashing on some machines. There are patches on my chest and needles in my arms. Fuck! I’m in a hospital. From the pain in my head, I know the patches are nitroglycerine. They always give me headaches.
I have to get out of here! I’m not finished with what I set out to do.
Damn, Bob, what’s wrong with you? You had the supreme panic attack to end all panic attacks, and you think you’re ready to up and leave. These people at the hospital thought you had a heart attack even. Just kick back and relax.
“Oh, Mr. Oldham, I’m glad to see you’re awake.”
A middle-aged nurse is standing at the side of the bed. At least I think she’s middle-aged. My eyes still aren’t well focused yet.
“You gave us quite a scare. Had that mailman not spotted you alongside the road, you might still be there. Are you able to talk? Maybe you could shed some light on what happened.”
I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.
This sucks! I want out of here, but I can’t even tell anybody!
“That’s okay, sir. You can talk when you have the strength. Our diagnosis is that you had a heart attack, but we are confused because all your vital signs are looking good. It’s as if you had a heart attack and then completely healed.”
She checks the machines and makes sure the patches and all are connected well. I wish I could tell her I’ve had enough of the nitro patch, but that’s a pipe-dream.
“I don’t believe you’re ready for solid food quite yet, so I’m going to give you something to help you relax. We’re going to be watching you closely.”
The last thing I want is drugs! I’ve been asleep: for how long I don’t know. I need to get strong and get out of here!
But I’m too weak to resist, and she slips the needle in. My pain lessons, but the grogginess is coming fast. Morphine . . . she gave me morphine!
She leaves the room, closing the door behind her. Once more I am plunged into a state of near darkness. I welcome it, though: my eyes and head both hurt. The darkness will soothe them. However . . .
The luminescent figures return: and with them, the eyes. They are everywhere again, but this time it’s different. They try to tell me something, but eyes don’t talk.
Yet . . .
New forms come in to sight this time; humans, dressed in black robes, their heads and part of their faces covered by hoods. A fire is burning and these people-whatever they are-chant and throw something into the flames, causing the fire to get much larger. The increased light shows a few women shackled to trees, completely naked, looks of panic etched into their faces.
One at a time, they are brought to an altar in front of the fire where they are held down by four men holding on to their limbs. As some sort of a ceremony unfolds, the apparent person in charge picks up a knife and carves a reverse pentagram into the stomach and forehead of each woman. I know now what is happening!
The two men holding on to the legs of the women spread them out even farther apart, and the chief sorcerer calls for something standing in the shadows. As the women scream in pain, each one is brutally raped by horrific looking beasts. They appear to be part human. Whatever else they might be is a mystery. I can only surmise.
Over and over again they are tortured, their cries filling the night until they can cry no longer. When the desires of the beasts are sated, the Priest of Evil eviscerates the women, laying their entrails on their bodies as the assembled watch them die in agony.
I tremble from the horrors I have just witnessed. This is more than a morphine induced high causing delusional visions. Even as the images vanish from sight, filtering outward against the walls, causing grotesque shadows that laugh at me before being gone for good, I find it difficult to fathom the terrors that were hovering around me in this room.
The darkness returns and with it a solitary pair of enormous eyes: a look of pain etched deep within, and tears welled up at the corners. I nod; I understand.
* * * *
Bert is waiting for me when I get released from the hospital, reading a copy of Field & Stream-good reading material for a Game Warden.
“Well look who they’re letting out,” he says. “Of course, from what I hear, once you started to heal you did nothing but insist on getting out of here. They hid your clothes even so you couldn’t vanish in the middle of the night.”
“I am happier than them that I’m leaving. You know me, Bert: I’m a busy guy; I’m always moving.”
“Your Willys is at my place. C’mon, busy guy. I’ll take you there.”
We don’t talk much on the trip to Bert’s house. Just pretty much a little shooting of the shit, but he doesn’t have to say anything when I stare at Clinton Road as we pass it on Route 23. I can feel his eyes burrowing into my back.
“C’mon inside for some decent coffee before you go home, Bob. I’m sure that watered down shit in the hospital didn’t suit you much.”
“Thanks, Bert. You’re a pal.”
Bert makes his coffee in an on-the-stove percolator, the kind where the coffee shoots up through the glass bubble on top when it’s hot and getting ready to drink. No Mr. Coffee for him. He grinds his coffee fresh, too. Shit, he puts Jack to shame.
“Are you going to be able to drive the jeep home, Bob? Do you feel well enough.”
“I should be okay; I hope so anyway. What I would really like to do is check out the road again.”
Bert gets up and pours coffee into a couple of mugs and brings them back to the table. “You stupid son-of-a bitch! That road almost killed you and yet you want back on the mother-fucker again?! Where are your brains?”
I stare at Bert, wondering what’s eating at him. This goes beyond me returning there. He has a vendetta against the road.
“What’s wrong, Bert? You talk as if the road is a living thing.”
“Don’t you get it Bob?! The road is a living thing. It feeds off of pain and suffering. Evil nourishes it.”
“What evil?! The same evil that almost killed you; the same evil that chased your ass down the road the other week and almost pushed you off the side. And there’s more evil out there. The evil behind the evil!”
Something’s wrong . . . very wrong here! Bert has always warned me not to go on the road alone, but he’s obsessed. I thought he’d laugh at me because I believe in the old stories now. However, he is the one who feels that I’m not taking things seriously enough.
I drink some coffee and wait for him to talk some more. From the way he’s fussing around, the sweat pouring off him, the nervous twitching, I know there is a lot more.
“Okay, Bob, I’ll get to the point. Years ago my sister vanished. Right off the face of the earth. She was in an abusive relationship, and one night she packed her things and left. We all just thought she went far away so her husband would never be able to find her. I know different.”
“She became a victim of the road, to the terror that resides there and within the forest. You’ve been having dreams, right?”
“Yes, I have. How did you know?”
“I’ve had them for years. My sister . . . my sister is one of those sets of eyes. She keeps imploring me to help her, but I don’t know how. I haven’t pieced it all together yet. It is the eyes you dream about, right?”
“Yes, Bert, it is the eyes. But there is more. A new dream I had in the hospital. It answers some questions.”
“Jesus, man! What new dream? Tell me about it?!”
“Devil worship; Satanic rituals; witchcraft. Women are being raped by man/beasts and used as human sacrifices. I don’t know the ultimate power behind it, but it seems to me it’s a deity of high status. Maybe the highest of the Dark Powers. The eyes showed me this and are begging for me to help them. How, I don’t know, but I know I have to try.”
Bert gets up, pours us some more coffee, and wanders around the room. He starts to talk several times but seems unsure of what to say. His prancing about is worrying me: he has always seemed to be a strong individual. Today, that’s not the case. He wants to act on his impulses, but like me is unsure of what to do.
“Okay, Bert, sit your ass down and let’s reason this out. I thought I was crazy, but I see I’m not. Neither of us alone is going to be able to get to the bottom of this, but together we have a chance. We need to cover each others backs or we could both wind up as food for the vultures. These eyes belong to souls longing for revenge so they can go to their proper resting place. We are the keys for them to achieve this; we need to find the doors these keys fit.”
“But you were almost killed. During the day no less.”
“True enough, but I was alone, and the spirits, those with the eyes, seem to only have strength at night. So even though it sounds stupid, night is the time to ferret out the evil. The tormented souls might be able to help us then.”
“You just got released from the hospital, Bob. You’re in no shape to go after whatevere’s out there.”
“Okay, okay, maybe I’m not ready yet. Give me a couple days to regain some strength.”
“Why don’t you stay with me until we’re ready? That’ll give us time to formulate a plan and give you time to heal as well.”
“Makes sense to me. Is your cooking any good or do I have to cook?”
Bert laughs. “I can cook. Don’t worry about it.”
I’m not used to staying with anyone; I’m set in my ways and don’t like to adjust. Bert wants to watch me to make sure I don’t go back on my own. That’s pretty obvious. However, we do need to get ready. This won’t be easy. I’ll go along with his wishes. Once on Clinton Road, though, I think I’ll have to be the one directing things. Bert is too close to the situation.
* * * *
We load up the Willys. Maybe it doesn’t have the speed to outrun the truck if we encounter it again, but if we need to dodge down a side road it’s just the ticket. My big cooler is out-we’re chasing demons, not catching Bass-and we are loaded to the hilt with artillery of all sorts: two 30/06s, a couple of twelve gauge shotguns loaded with buck-shot, and we’re packing side arms; .38s. I even had Bert get us some plastic explosives. I’m sure he had to do some fast talking for that. However, I was an old explosives man in the Marines and I want some of this shit.
“Looks like we’re getting ready to mount an insurrection instead of doing some ghost hunting, Bob. What do we need all this stuff for?”
“The ghosts are on our side, Bert. We’re hunting other things. I’m hoping we can take them out with what we have.”
“And the canoe?”
I laugh. “We’re taking a moon-light paddle on the reservoir.”
“I’m not liking the sound of this.”
“Then don’t listen: just do.”
“You are a crazy fuck, Bob! Let’s get moving before I have you committed.”
Bert doesn’t want to wait for the crazy stoplights on Route 23. They’re the longest in the state, perhaps the country. “Barrel through those suckers, Bob! No one else is here. Let’s get this done.”
I do as he asks and we slide onto the southern end of Clinton Road. The first two miles are uneventful enough until we hit the long straightaway. A truck comes up behind us.
“Shit! That’s my sister’s truck, Bob! I swear to God. It’s coming after us!”
“It’s not your sister behind the wheel. I tell you that much. Let me try to outrun the bastard.”
Like the last time, the power and speed of the truck is greater than my Jeep, and he gets closer and closer. “Hang on, Bert!” I holler as I make a spinning turn in the middle of the road and go towards the truck. The driver is caught off guard and goes speeding past us.
“What the fuck is that thing?!” Bert hollers.
“Some sort of leather-faced goon. Watch what happens next.”
I pull the Willys sideways into the middle of the road and jump out, grabbing a shotgun. Walking towards the advancing truck, I draw a bead on the gas tanks and pump both barrels into it. The truck explodes into the air, the impact knocking me to the ground. Debris scatters all around. Fire erupts and sets off mini-explosions. The truck is gone.
But the driver isn’t! He advances towards me, that leather face of his melting to whatever lies beneath the exterior. He is one pissed-off dude. I stand and reload the shotgun, waiting for him to get to me. A split second before he grabs me, I empty the shotgun into his head, splattering his brains all over.
"You’re dead now, cock-sucker!"
“Holy shit, Bob! Are you okay?! I wanted to get him with the 30/06 but I was afraid of hitting you.”
“I’m okay. Not very happy about wearing leather-face's brains all over my clothes, but yes, I’m fine.”
“How did you know the truck was real and not a ghost in itself?”
“You said it was your sister’s. I was just hoping, that’s all. I was lucky.”
“One down. How many more to go?”
“Who knows. Let’s go get them, though.”
The Willys is undamaged by the explosion and we’re off to the reservoir. Time is wasting. I can feel that this is the night to bring them down or be brought down trying. Whatever “them” is.
We reach my fishing spot from the other night and drive the jeep to the water’s edge. After placing the canoe in the water, we load the weaponry in and carefully paddle towards the island which even now has a big fire going on it.
“Shit! I don’t want to alert them to our presence, but the sacrifices will start any time now. We have to hurry, Bert!”
We slice through the water, pumping on the paddles as fast as we can. It seems to take forever to reach the island, but we do it fast and grab our weapons. We’re loaded down, and I slip the plastic explosive into the pockets of my khakis which I deliberately wore for the occasion.
Following the path illuminated by the huge fire, and made easier to locate because of the excited shouts of the onlookers and the screams of the women, we burst into the middle of the whole she-bang.
“Sweet mother of God!” Bert shouts.
Sweet mother indeed! Those monstrous human/ beasts are all over the place, and the same head sorcerer from my vision is here, and the wicked smile on his face says he’s not the least bit upset by our being here.
“What took you so long,?” he says. “We’ve been patiently waiting for you. Our spirit friends seem to think you will help set them free. Delusional bitches!”
We’re in a world of shit! Even with our weapons, we’re overpowered. There are too many of them. Bert and I start emptying bullets and buckshot into some of them, but the sorcerer sets up some kind of a force shield, protecting himself and most of the others. We can’t penetrate it.
The wicked one roars with laughter knowing he has us now. It is just a matter of time.
Rolling mists come in, surrounding the fire, the moisture dimming it and then extinguishing the flames completely. Next . . . next the eyes arrive, some attached to luminescent shapes and some completely apart from them. The sorcerer explodes with anger, trying to cast a spell on them, but he can’t find any.
In his anger, he forgets about the force shield and it drops away. Bert and I blast away at the mutant miscreants and take aim on the sorcerers. We manage to get all of them but the leader who vanishes from sight.
The eyes and spirits lead us to a place where a few rowboats are sitting. This must be where the bastard went. In the moonlight I can see waves and a small shape way ahead of us.
“Shit! We lost him!” Bert shouts.
“Only for now,” I say. “There’s no way he’s letting us go. We’ll be seeing more of him.”
“Oh happy day!”
“Quick, let’s get the ladies in the canoe and get back to the jeep.”
There are four women, and it will be a tight fit, but the canoe is faster than the rowboats. We strip off our shirts so two of them can cover up, grab some more clothing from the dead sorcerers, and we beat it to the waiting canoe.
“Oh shit, I forgot something!” I say and high-tail it back to the quenched fire. I set the charges in the plastic explosives, place them on the altar, and rush back to the canoe. “Paddle like hell! It will be showtime soon.”
We’re about 100 yards off the island when the altar becomes a thing of the past, stone chunks flying everywhere, some getting close to the canoe.
“Nothing like timing everything so we’re almost knocked out of the canoe,” Bert says.
“Thought you guys needed some excitement.”
The Willys is undisturbed when we get back to shore. That’s good. We load everything into the jeep after the women are crunched together in the back.
“You ladies can hold these weapons for us. If something happens, you can hand them to us,” I say.
I turn the key and off we go, the sure-footed jeep digging in and reaching the main road in record time. The ladies breathe a sigh of relief, but the spirits and eyes are back once more, and I know it’s not over.
We haven’t gone far when the road changes, twisting and turning, becoming a serpent-like animal trying to throw us off into the forests. I can’t see him yet, but I hear the High Priest laugh.
“The road is mine, you fools! I control it. I am its Lord!”
There is no escape from the road: we are in its clutches. It changes shape at will, ensuring that we will remain captives to its whims and desires.
The spirits and eyes stop in front of us, motioning that we do the same. It seems like madness to sit here, waiting for the Dark One to finish us off, but I do as they say. I have no answers. They know the sorcerers devious mind far better than I do.
From the forests he comes, calming the road, advancing towards us, his hands shaking in the joy of what he is going to do to us. But . . .
The spirits lead them towards him: two huge dogs; Hellhounds with eyes of yellow and red. They snap and snarl, making their obvious hatred of him known. The High Priest stares in horror as they advance. Years ago he took them from their homes and forced them to stay here. He has not been a good master to them. But that will end now.
They tear into him, ripping him to shreds, blood pouring onto the road, his intestines soon joining the red liquid. He breathes his last breath.
As we watch, the road splits open and swallows him up, chewing, grinding, until he is completely out of sight. The road repairs itself and all is calm again.
The eyes and spirits come to the jeep and Bert and I smile as they converge on us, telling us in their own special way that they are free to go now. A new existence awaits them. They thank us, and all but one go towards a far off light. She flashes her eyes at Bert and gives him a wink, tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
“Good bye, sis. Go to your new home,” Bert says. “I love you.”
She is soon out of sight, and the night is dark once more, only the moon and stars left to shed any light.
“We need to get these ladies to the hospital,” I say. “I don’t know what kind of a story you’re going to give them, girls, but don’t tell them the complete truth or you’ll wind up in a padded room.”
Once they are safely delivered to the hospital, Bert and I go back to his house. “I need a cold beer, Bert.”
“Tell me about it, Bob. Tell me about it.”
We sit on the porch, sucking the beer out of the bottles. One leads to two. Two leads to three. After that, we don’t count.
“Do you think it’s really over, Bob? Have we seen the last of the horrors?”
“I can only hope so, Bert.”
The battle is won. All the evil has been banished. We can rest now.
* * * *
A dark figure emerges from the ruins of Cross Castle. He is freed now. The road and the forest belong to him. He has waited a long time for this moment.
Too long . . .