The town where I was born is a cradle of evil. I’m sure of it. I’ve felt it, I’ve seen things there that just don’t happen in real life, only in the movies.
I don’t live there now, I got out as soon as I could, but I feel it’s pull, I feel it when I go to visit my mom, that angry heavy feeling in the air. It’s the only town in the world that gives me goosebumps as soon as I hit the city limits, and I’ve even been to San Fransisco.
The stories I could tell would fill up this website for years, but for now I’ll begin with eight words that start out every ghost story in my hometown.
One night, out at Fort Phantom Hill Lake…
My brother and I were sitting in the cab of my girlfriend’s truck. I remember it like I was there just last night. I was wedged between another girl and Cody, smoking a cigarette. My girlfriend and two other girls were in the bed, covered by a blanket to battle the lake-chilled night air.
The girls were laughing and whispering, my brother and I had the back window open so we could still chat with them. The girls didn’t seem to want to talk too loud, almost like laughing out into the dark would wake something up. I turned. “What are you girls talking about back there?”
“There’s a guy sitting on the back of his car by the water,” Rachel answered with a puff of menthol cigarette smoke. “He’s been there since we pulled up.”
The back of the truck was facing the water. My brother hated watching Lake. Ever since he saw the Lady of the Lake (our own weeping woman, though that’s a story for later) Cody hasn’t been too fond of Fort Phantom.
He still drove out there whenever we wanted to go, but he was always uncomfortable. That night though he seemed to be in good spirits. So was I. I climbed into the back of the truck, using the window so I wouldn’t have to crawl over anyone, and snuggled beside my girl to look down at the other lake-watcher. “What’s he doing down there?” I wondered, and Rachel shrugged.
Cody chuckled, glancing back at us over his shoulder. “Maybe he’s lonely. How about we offer to let him join the party back at the house?” He said, tapping the brakes to flash our brake-lights in the universal ‘follow us’ signal.
I laughed. “No way, dude, that’s crazy.” I said and Cody grinned.
“Oh, come on, where’s your sense of adventure?” He dared, tapping the brakes again and making the brake-lights flare a couple more times. My girlfriend nudged me, hard.
“Look!” She whispered fiercely, staring down at the shoreline with wide eyes. I looked. The guy below had opened his trunk and pulled something long out of the open hatch.
-This is Texas.- I thought. -That could be a baseball bat, a shotgun, or a machete.-
“Dude, chill out Bro, I think he just pulled something out of his trunk.” I whispered loudly to Cody without turning my head. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the guy below, who was currently shutting the trunk of his smaller car. Looked like a volvo or a Nova, something sporty.
I watched him walk around towards the front of the car, slowly, then suddenly the brake-lights of the truck flashed again. “Dammit, Cody, I told you to chill out!” I growled, my head whipping around. Cody was flustered.
“I know, it was an accident!” He yipped, and I knew he was afraid. I was getting scared too. I was still looking back at him when I heard the car door below slam. Rachel held her breath. I just slowly turned to look down at the shore. The guy was just sitting in the car, like he was daring us to flash the lights again.
“Cody,” I began quietly, as steady as I could. I moved towards the tailgate a bit so that Rachel and the two girls could hold on a bit better. “Get us the hell out of here.” I finally said, a bit too loud maybe. Cody started the truck with no trouble.
The car below and its driver didn’t move. I let out my breath, thinking it was just some jerk trying to scare us and that he wasn’t going to do anything after all. Then Cody hit the brakes to shift from ‘park’ into ‘drive.’
I wasn’t looking at the car below, I was too concentrated on sitting with my back against the tailgate, holding the side in the common ‘texas back-end seatbelt’ position. Seconds after our brakes flashed, there was a roar.
It sounded like machine and beast made one, like something was howling at us. Cody’s head snapped around to look behind him, his eyes wide and I got chills. “GO!” I yelled, just as the car came roaring up the side of the shoreline. It was steep there, no sporty little thing should have been able to do that in mere seconds, but it did.
The car was on us quicker than it should have been, and I felt my teeth rattle as the truck lurched forward, spewing gravel and dust. I held on for dear life as we cleared Johnson Park, swerving wildly onto the side road, over the dam, and deep into the dark belly of Fort Phantom Hill.
The back roads there are pitch black at midnight, and the dark seems to swallow you whole, no matter how bright your headlights are. We pitched onto the dirt roads, speeding down them without really knowing where we were going.
I was blinded by the headlights of the car behind us, deaf from the sound of the beast-engine and the rattle of gravel on the undercarriage of the truck. Cody yelled, and only as he took a sharp left turn did I realize what he’d yelled. “Hang on!” My hand clamped down just in time to keep me from pitching over the side of the truck-bed, and I had to yank to keep steady.
When I looked up I saw the driver of the other car, just for an instant. His eyes were dark and sunken in, his skin looked gray in the light, and his lips were stretched in this ugly grin. Next thing I knew the truck tipped again and I lurched to the other side of the truckbed, my chest banging against the opposite side.
Rachel yelled, sobbing but when I looked up there was no car anymore. Just a trail of dust. I let out my breath, rubbing my chest. “Damn! Good job, bro!” I had to yell, but, man I felt good. My head wasn’t splattered across that guy’s Nova, so my night was going peachy keen so far.
As we made our way back to the main road, which only took about 5 minutes, we all laughed and talked about how we’d “smoked that guy” and what a great driver Cody was to get that truck to move like that. 5 minutes to find the main road seemed to make us cocky enough to think we could go back to lake-watching.
“Let’s go back!” Rachel laughed. “There’s no way he’s back by now and I came out here to have a good time dammit!” She giggled and I laughed too. Mind you, Rachel is not my girlfriend anymore.
So we went back. Talk about the stupidest thing we could have possibly done.
We cruised up to the park and pulled in, looking around to make sure that we were alone. We pulled up to the shoreline, looked around and I laughed. “Yep, looks like we lost him.” I said, then just after I said it I heard the engine. Cody cussed and I looked around wildly, feeling sweat slide between my shoulders. “Where the hell is it?!” I yelled.
I heard Cody cuss again as he put the truck in drive. “Screw this! We’re going!” He hit the gas and we sped towards the exit. We were halfway there when headlights hit us, and I saw the car come from out of the trees and brush of one of the lake’s trail paths. It roared after us, right on our tail, and out onto the main road. We didn’t stand a chance.
It only seemed like we’d pissed him off. I looked back and all I could see through the window of the sports car was two gray hands clutching the steering wheel so hard the knuckles were white, and the cuffs of a high school letter jacket. Everyone was screaming, even me.
I could hear the bumpers scraping, and it made my teeth shiver. I remember yelling stop, then there was a flash of red, a hard bump that threw me forward onto Carol and Rachel, then screeching tires.
We were still moving when I looked back and saw the car do a U-turn and peel out back towards the lake. On the back window I saw numbers separated by a dash. 37-1. What the hell? I still don’t know for sure what it means.
I scrabbled to the window and put my head through it to look at my brother who was white like ashes, with both hands clutching the wheel. “What the hell did you do to make him stop!?” I yelled, still half-panicked.
He barely looked at me, his eyes were wide with terror. “I tapped the brakes.” He replied in a trembling voice and I sat back, staring at him for a minute.
When we got back to town the panic had worn off, and we skidded to a halt outside of the Denny’s. That Denny’s is the last bit of civilization you see on the way to Fort Phantom Hill, and it’s also the first haven you have upon leaving it. “What the hell did you mean ‘I tapped the brakes’?” I asked Cody, who was shaking as he lit a cigarette.
“I remembered that if you’re playing chicken with someone then someone has to back off and give over the road before the other stops. I don’t know why but I just felt like he was playing chicken with us.” He replied and I shook my head, not buying it. Then I thought about it. Why not? This was Texas after all, crazy stuff happened.
Then Rachel got mad. “That’s not funny! He scared the crap out of us and Sam almost got killed! We should go back and beat his ass!”
I shook my head some more, stealing a drag from my bro. “No, let’s just leave it alone. Frankly, I don’t want to mess with someone who was grinning like that when I almost plastered my face onto his hood.”
We argued about it for an hour. In the end I lost, and we went back…again. -Stupid, stupid, stupid.- I kept thinking. I was shaking and scared that we’d have to play chicken all over again.
I was wrong.
When we got there, we didn’t have to look long to find the sporty little Nova that nearly creamed me. It was parked on the same path it had roared out of before, only this time, there was grass in the tires, one of the tires was flat, the windshield was cracked and there was long soft grass that stood not only around the tires, but nearly up to the grill.
The thing was coated in dirt, when just a little while ago it looked shiny and new, and even creepier, there wasn’t anyone in the car or the park. In fact, just us idiots were out at Fort Phantom Hill that night, and that car didn’t look like it had moved for years. So the question is:
Phantom Car, or crazy chicken game? You know what I think.
Cradle of evil strikes again.
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