I don’t consider myself easily rattled. My life experiences have led me down odd paths like living in combat zones to jumping from planes to walking into a burning house looking in closets for trapped people. All of them had my heart pumping and sure, I have been spooked here and there. After my video series run of “Spooky NC” I definitely have seen my fair share of things which made my hair stand on end but that’s not saying I was ever terrified. Shocked and surprised would be better descriptions.
There was this time in 1998, however, that I have told few about but I can honestly say, it terrified me.
Back then I was a few years into the US Army and had enough rank to become comfortable in my own skin and developed true friendships with my fellow brothers in arms. Stationed up in the Dahlonega mountains of North Georgia at Camp Merrell Ranger Training base, I was able to live off post with a couple of buddies, Mike and Jeremy. This was a new-found freedom I had not really experienced before and though our mornings started at 3am, evenings were ours to drink beer and hit the town in search for wild women and song. Actually, Jeremy had a girlfriend and Mike was a goody-two-shoes officer in training so I was often alone in my quest.
One fateful Saturday I had some off time so I headed to visit my high school chums who all led normal college lives in Athens, Georgia which was about an hour and a half from my apartment. It was a welcome getaway for me. No yelling and explosions. Just screaming coeds and booze.
Unfortunately, a soldier’s weekends were always cut short and I had to be back on base the following Sunday morning so I decided the least painful thing to do was to leave that night and drive the curvy HWY 52 all the way back and catch at lease a few hours of sleep. It was a dark and spooky drive with little traffic. I am sure it has changed over the past decade but then it was the Ichabod trip home from the ball, traveling past farmlands and vacant old farm houses.
It also lacked important things like gas stations and well-lit areas in case of trouble. A two lane road with waist-high grass is no place to have a breakdown, especially when large semi trucks rocket past every so often. Occasionally a dead deer carcass reminded you of these very large trucks.
That night I made the poor decision to not fill up the car before I left the safety of the city and arrogantly believed a quarter tank of fuel was plenty to get me to the BP next to the complex. I learned a few things that night and one of them was the limitations of a Honda Civic LX.
I was within a mile from the intersection where 52 met the road the apartment was on and that is when the engine, oil and that triangle with an exclamation point in the middle light came on. The wheel lost power steering and I remember shouting, “NONONONONO!” and I drifted into the tall grass, clearing the car from the road. I couldn’t make it over the hill which had an orange flashing glow cresting the top. I tried restarting but if you have ever done a bone-headed thing like run out of gas then you know it is hopeless. I tuned on my hazards and waited for a few minutes both pissed at myself and concerned how I was going to make it home and make first formation which was only a few hours away. At that point I was unsure how close I really was to home. It could have been another fifteen miles for all I knew. I decided to walk.
I made my way to the top of the hill and realized how close I was to home because in the distance I saw the warning of road construction that was happening not too far from the apartment. I knew if I began to jog I could be home in less than ten minutes and bribe Jeremy to get out of bed and take me back to the car. The only concern I had at that point was passing the notorious abandoned gas station and shed which nature had taken over some thirty years ago.
I remember forming a plan to switch to the opposite side of the road when jogging past this creepy structure. Many locals believe weird things go on there and the local sheriff has arrested odd characters and drifters taking shelter there. I wasn’t frightened by this but I didn’t want to find out anything more to add to the legend.
About a hundred feet I began to cross over but then I noticed the weeds were tall and absolutely nowhere to run along side the road. That’s when I also noticed a semi’s lights coming from behind to I was forced back to the other side where the gas station was. This is where I remember but can not tell if pure adrenaline blocked certain stuff out or add stuff in.
As the truck passed at a considerable speed, someone jumped out from behind a brick berm and screamed as if he were in terrific pain, swung either a pipe of a crowbar and hit the pavement inches from my feet. The force of that swing was so strong it must have reverberated up his arm causing him to drop the metal item. I looked over in that split second to see a gigantic human reaching out and taking ahold of my collar. This is when I lose memory of how I slipped out of my shirt and miracled myself up the top of the hill. I turned around and to this day that sight makes the hair on my arms stand on end and feet go numb.
I never saw faces because the road construction orange warning lights illuminated in blinking rhythm behind the few figures. I saw the outline of a large man with disheveled hair holding a long object which must have been what he swung and missed me with. I saw a few others but for the life of me, I can’t accurately describe them because my next focus was on the child size person who was bald and skipping. It was a fucking Marylin Manson video in real life.
I was living a horrible dream and so terrified I began to laugh. I have no idea why this was my reaction but it was half insanity and half complete panic. I turned to run but only made it so far before I was winded and in hysterics. I had to pull myself together and survive this. I am in a specialized Army unit and this is how I am going to out? No way, José.
What seemed to be a life time, I finally made it to the BP station which was only a few hundred yards from the Apartments. And of course, it was closed with only the illuminating halogen lights over the pumps. A rational person probably would have used the pay phone and call the police but I believed if I could make it home, that was the safest place to be at the moment. And that’s when I heard it.
From the woods behind the gas station I heard cackling and screams. This was a real life horror movie and whether it was just bored red necks screwing with me or more malevolent people, it elicited a terror few have known and even fewer have lived to speak of. And that’s when I fucking began to laugh again! I couldn’t believe it!
Some how they figured out where I was going and were trying to cut me off through the woods. From deep within these said woods I could hear hysterical and maniacal laughter and screams. It was inhuman and if they were looking to give a young man a heart attack, they were doing a brilliant job. I honestly never heard anything spoken. Just cackling and screaming.
Finally, I reached the apartments and hesitated to run up to the door in fear that they would know where I lived but at that point the sounds were closing in so I either face them outside or pray that Jeremy or Mike was home and lock the door behind me. I decided that I needed some backup and raced through the from door shouting something stupid.
“Jesus, Jeremy! Mike! They are coming!”
Jeremy busted out from his room in complete surprise. I didn’t even get through half the story before he darted into his room and pulled out a .45 and loaded it as I grabbed another shirt. His girlfriend in the bed began shouting at him to call the police and not leave the apartment but our fear had switched to macho and he and I raced out the door down to his car. It’s amazing what a Colt .45 can do for the spirit when up against unknown forces.
We made it to the front gate of the apartment and realized leaving Stephanie alone was a horror movie no-no and went back to drag her along. She was pretty pissed about us darting out and leaving her. I believed we were called assholes no less than 900 times.
We sped to the spot where I was originally attacked and demanded Steph to wait as we got out with the headlights pointing at the station and shed. I didn’t hear any more shouting or laughing but I knew they were there. Watching. Jeremy had the pistol out and like we trained many times before we entered cautiously into the building only to find uneven floors and broken glass. There was obviously no one there or had been there in sometime so we went to the shed behind the store and that’s when we pieced it all together.
I wish we had cellphones with cameras but in the late 90’s because I still can’t believe it and nothing I can tell you would have done it justice. There were quite possibly over fifty candles, all recently blown out. A table with a large pentagram painted on it with, of course, my damn shirt in the middle. Also, a ton of feathers and what we agreed to be a deer skull lying on a chair. It was so creepy and unnerving, I can’t tell if it was something I actually witnessed or a dream. It just doesn’t seem like it was a real event. But it was. I had my friends to witness.
We walked steadily back to the car where Steph was even more agitated. But before we reached the car Jeremy turned around to the woods behind the shed and shot off a number of rounds from the .45. The sound of the gunfire echoed and we didn’t hear a sound after. I stood there waiting for something to come running but there was absolutely nothing. Not even a cricket chirp.
We came home and Jeremy and I sat on the porch as the sky began to turn a purple hue. Stephanie had enough of the excitement and went back to sleep, shutting the door behind her in a forceful way. He declined to share with her what we found in the shed behind the station. Jeremy had a way of keeping those types of details from her as she was the type to cry over Snuggle Bear commercials.
He and I didn’t really speak, as we had a couple of beers and let the adrenalin drain from the system. I began to tell him about the skipping child-like figure and he cut me off not wanting to know. I think we figured out what scared us both and sometimes it’s better not to dwell on such matters.
When the sun was up I got into uniform and he drove me to put a can of gas in the car as we cautiously kept watch in the woods. I could get out of there fast enough and back to base.
A couple of months later we closed the apartment and I headed to Bosnia as Mike and Jeremy had other assignments. I kept in touch as best as I could but in those turmoil days after 9/11, we all went our own way. It’s an unspoken understanding I have learned over the years.
So that is a very true story. It happened and there isn’t much I can add. I have told this a few times but until now, I really haven’t reflected upon it in great detail. Now I need to go watch cartoons.