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This story takes place about 20 years ago; I was new with the department at the time and was just really getting my bearings. While I may have embellished a little on the dialogue, make no mistake, the events in this story really happened…
It had already been a long night when my supervisor, and partner for the night, announced his desperate need for some coffee and one of those big glazed donuts with the raspberry filling. He never just said anything. He had a way of making every statement sound like some kind of announcement for the betterment of mankind. Tonight, he announced his need for sugar like he had just cured cancer or some shit. I laughed out loud.
“You’re a walking cliché, man,” I teased. And he was. He was every bad cop cliché you could think of… he was loud, overweight, and he was always drinking coffee and eating donuts. He even had the bad 70s porn mustache that cops always have in the movies. He just laughed it off like always.
“I’ve earned it, kid. There’s the Gas & Go up here on the left. Be nice and I’ll buy you one of them candy bars ya like so much.” One of his usual jabs at my age. I’m his junior by more than a decade and he liked to remind me as often as he could.
“They’re protein bars, Chief,” I protested for the hundredth time. “They’re good for you. You should try it; it might push back your next heart attack a few years.”
“Right. Whatever ya say, kid. For the record, that wasn’t a heart attack. It was gas. Like this.” He farted as he motioned me over underneath the one working streetlight on the lot. “Just park it; I’ll be back in a sec.”
His name was Eugene Leonard Smyth; we just called him Skipper. It was mostly because he bore an uncanny resemblance to the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island… honest to God. Still, it wasn’t until he wore a blue polo to a Department cook out that the name really took hold. After that, the name just kind of stuck. But we told him it was because he is the supervisor on the night shift. He was OK with that. Anyway, if the boss needed a coffee break, we took a coffee break. In truth, I needed a break myself. Like I said, it’d been a long night. Maybe I’d have him get me one of those “candy bars” after all. We still had three hours left on shift and I needed the boost. I had only been on third shift for a few weeks at that point; we rotated shifts every couple of months and it was my turn. Honestly, I liked the quiet. This wasn’t one of those big cities that stayed up and running all night every night. No, the folks around here tended to roll up the sidewalks and go to bed about 10 PM. And that was fine by me. I love my job, but I don’t crave excitement like a lot of the other guys do. I have a family that I need to get home to every night; boring was fine with me. And most nights were just that… boring.
“Here ya go, kid…. I got you a real candy bar.” The boss said as he got back in the cruiser and tossed a small bar at me.
“A Snickers, Skipper? Seriously? You know how much sugar is in one of these things?”
“Exactly. You’re welcome,” he said with a grunt as he shifted in his seat to get comfortable.
I was about to protest again when the first sign of headlights became visible just over the hill past the little gas station. Whoever it was, they were flying. They were past us before we could even use radar to get a speed on them.
“You see that? With us sitting right here in plain view! I swear these punks ain’t got no respect no more.”
I hit the blue lights and pulled the cruiser out onto the road and began to accelerate up to speed. It didn’t take long to catch up; the old Honda seemed to be just holding on and these little speedsters were pushing it to its max. As soon as we got close, the little car pulled over to the right side of the road and came to an abrupt stop. Without warning, the occupants jumped out of the car and began running back toward the cruiser. In our line of work, you can’t afford to take risks. So in a case like this, you tend to assume the worst. Were these kids high? Crazy? Were they on high and crazy? Either way, we weren’t going to take the chance; the Skipper and I got out behind the relative safety of the car door and took a defensive stance with our weapons drawn. It was the Skipper that spoke first.
“Stop! Stop right there and keep your hands where I can see them. Now!” he barked.
To my relief, they did exactly as they were asked. Their faces were a blotchy red and their eyes had a wild look to them. Not like they were going to attack, more like terror. They appeared to have tears running down their faces.
“Turn around and face away from the car,” Skipper continued. “Place your hands on top of your head and walk backwards towards the sound of my voice until I tell you to stop. Now stop and turn to face the vehicle. Place your hands flat on the side of the vehicle and prepare to be restrained!”
Again, they complied to every command.
At this point I came around from the door and moved to place them up against the car. Yeah, they had definitely been crying; they were also mumbling something low to themselves.
“Thank God…. thank God…. thank God.”
It took nearly half an hour to get the kids to calm down. They seemed like good kids overall and I’m pretty sure I had seen at least two of the them at the church my wife and I belong to. If I was right, I knew their parents. Good folks. We’d taken off the cuffs almost as soon as we put them on; these kids weren’t any danger to us. But, we kept them in the back of the cruiser until they were able to tell us what exactly was going on.
“Alright. Which one of you wants to tell me why y'all are out here this late driving around like your momma didn’t teach you any sense at all? And what’s got you so weepy, ladies?” The Skipper wasn’t known for his bedside manner.
“What my partner here means is… what’s going on, guys? You could have killed someone driving like that. And what’s got you so upset?” I tried to smooth it over hoping it might get them to open up.
“You’ll either tell us here and now or we can call your folks and have them meet us down at the station… your call, ladies,” Skipper added. I swear, he must have skipped the day they taught sensitivity training at the academy; these kids were visibly shaken. The tallest of the boys, a kid named Jeff, whispered so softly I could barely make out what he was trying to say.
“I’m sorry, son; I didn’t catch that,” I replied.
Jeff took a deep breath; then he looked at me and the Skipper dead in the eyes and said “better to die out here speeding than back there with that…thing.” It was barely more than a whisper. At the mention of that “thing,” the other boys, Jake and Tony, began to glare at Jeff like he’d just told the teacher they’d been smoking behind the gym.
“Shut up, Jeff!” said the scruffiest looking of the three. His name was Tony and he was clearly the leader of the Three Amigos.
“Why? It’s the truth… you saw it too. We all did.” Jeff was getting angry.
“Saw what?” Skipper demanded. “Out with it!”
“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you, pig boy. Go back to your donuts and just call my Mom.” This time it was Jake that responded. This one had an attitude, but I could tell it was just tough talk. He was scared, and he didn’t want to show it in front of the others; I’d seen it a hundred times with kids his age. The question was, what had these kids so spooked?
“Listen, guys. I get it. You saw something and it scared you; that doesn’t make you criminals. So we’re not trying to set you up or anything like that. But, if there is something out there, we need to know about it. Do you want it hurting someone else?” I tried to relate to them as best I could by helping them rationalize squealing to the cops. If they thought they could help someone else, it might not look like they were scared. At least that’s what my training told me. Finally, Tony began to look down at his feet. He was squirming in the back seat and I could tell he wanted to tell us what was going on. It only took a little more prodding; once he started talking, the others were quick to follow….
It was late when they received a call from a friend they called Hound Dog, or the Hound, or some shit like that. He had been at a party late that night when he realized his ride had bailed on him earlier in the evening to go see their girlfriend. He needed a ride home and they were happy to oblige. They live on the other side of the county; so by the time they got to the party it was already past 1:00 AM. They picked him up and they headed out to his place.
This Hound guy lived off a dirt road at the top of Emory Mountain, a local mountain peak between Cary Lake and Baker Falls. It was about 2 miles from where the kids had been pulled over. The road to the top of the mountain is filled with dangerous curves all the way up and back down to the highway. It was one of those roads that was probably five miles in length overall but could have been less than one mile if it had been made straight. Some of the curves are sharp and the max speed a car, even a small car, can get up to is about 35 miles per hour. Maybe a little more in a couple of places, but there weren’t many of those. As they pulled onto the little road that took them to the top of the mountain, one of their headlights blinked a couple of times and then quit working. Freaked them out a little. They knew there were no street lights, or lights of any kind, along the road to the mountain’s peak. So, with limited visibility, they proceeded up the little road to take their buddy home.
They were on their way up the mountain when, about halfway up the road, a man appeared in the glow of their one headlight. It was just on the other side of a particularly dark curve in the road and he was walking right down the center line. He was dirty and wore nothing but a pair of old coveralls. No shirt, no shoes. He was walking away from them and didn’t seem to even realize there was a car behind him despite the car’s light illuminating the woods and road around him. They honked. Nothing. They honked again. Still nothing. The boys had no choice but to go around him. As they pulled alongside the man, they rolled down the driver’s side window and tried to speak to him. It was late and he appeared to be in bad shape, so they asked if he was OK or if he needed a ride up to the top. They were met with silence. He didn’t even look at them… he just continued his walk up the road towards the top of the mountain. They asked Hound Dog who he was, thinking he had to be a neighbor. But he was as much a stranger to him as he was the other three. It was odd, they thought, but being kids they didn’t think much about it. Not at the time, anyway. They reached the top of the mountain, turned off down Hound Dog's dirt road driveway, and made their way to his house. They said their goodbyes, made plans to hang out the next evening, and the other three boys pointed their one head lighted little Honda back down the dark, winding mountain road.
Half way back down the old road, they came upon the same man they had encountered just minutes earlier; this time he was walking down the mountain, once again moving in the same direction as their car. They pulled around the man and, once again, they slowed and asked if he needed assistance or a ride. They admitted to us that they had no intention at this point of letting him in the car. He scared them. Unlike the first time, however, the man stopped and turned to face the boys. He stared through the car’s glass at each one, one at a time, sure to make eye contact with each. There was something unnatural about the way he looked at them, without any hint of emotion. He appeared to be coldly sizing them up one at a time. Jake, the mouthier of the three, had had enough and began to provoke the walker. He taunted him about his clothes and his hygiene, he admitted. But the man did not react; he simply stood there and continued to stare at them moving his gaze from one to the other and then back.
Jake was confident, at the time, that the man was just trying to scare them. He admitted it had worked. Still, he wanted to show him that he was not scared and that he couldn’t be intimidated by a “homeless old hillbilly.” The Skipper got a kick out of that. Afterwards, they pulled around the man one more time and started down the hill again, slowly leaving the man standing alone in the middle of the road… still staring. But, boys will be boys, I guess. So, to show just how brave he was, Tony threw an empty can of Mellow Yellow out the car window, striking the man squarely in the chest. He broke his gaze then and looked down at the empty can on the ground. Then he looked back at the car. Only this time, he was looking at them with fierce yellow eyes and a sinister sneer twisting his lips up to reveal sharp yellow teeth. The man had begun to change.
“Wait,” barked the Skipper. “Just what kind of load are you trying to sell me here, kid?”
“See, I told you,” Jeff broke in. “You don’t believe us.”
“It’s not that,” I interrupted before the Skipper could reply. “It just sounds a little… out there. That’s all.”
“You haven’t heard the worst of it,” was all Tony could say.
The three kids sat there unblinking as they watched the man turn into…something else.
The man’s eyes, still staring blankly at them, took on an odd shape. The irises were still yellow, like a cat’s, said Tony, but the whites of his eyes darkened and disappeared until his eyes looked like round pools of water with the moon reflecting brightly in them. His brow pulled together into a wrinkled snarl and his posture began to draw up unnaturally. He was hunched over now, almost touching the ground with one hand. His body had twisted and morphed into…something else. Something dark and forbidden. Worse still was his smile. It crept across his face as a tight black slit at first, but then, like the opening of a great trap, it grew into a wide gaping mass of unnatural yellow, crooked teeth. It was like the mouth of some great beast…like a lion or wolf. But, the smile was still there. There was no sound except the boys own heavy breathing. Without realizing it, Tony had stopped the car in the middle of the road...they were all frozen in place as they watched the man’s transformation.
The man cocked his head to the right and then twisted it back to the left like some demonic bird watching the boys. Jeff had said it almost looked like curiosity. But, curiosity changed to malice in an instant as the man let out a roar that rocked the car windows. The sound shook the boys out of their frozen state as their fight or flight instincts kicked in. It would be flight. Tony put the small car in gear and hurled it down the hill. Jake and Jeff watched the man in horror out the back window as he continued to morph. He flopped around, but gracefully. It was like watching a gymnast stretch, Jeff added. The man bent low into a tight ball and then exploded out and threw himself backward into an arch nearly touching the ground behind him. He paused like that for a moment, then launched himself forward into a run after the car. He was running on all fours.
They nearly went off the road as they took the first curve as fast as the car could manage; they seemed to have put some distance between them and the…whatever it was. At that point, they weren’t sure what it was. Their relief was short lived. Jake saw the man jerk toward the left side of the road and move into the woods heading down the mountain. With the curves, he would be directly in their path again as soon as they rounded the next corner. The realization terrified them, and the two passengers began yelling for Tony to go faster… they had to beat him to the turn. He was no more than a few feet away from the car as it skidded through the turn just ahead of him. Tony gunned the little Honda as they moved into one of the few short straightaways. Tony kept the pedal on the floor as much as the road would allow, knowing that the man’s path, if he continued his straight-line run through the woods, would put him in front of them around the next bend. Tony could hear Jeff crying in the back seat.
To their relief, there was no sign of the thing chasing them as they came around the corner and moved toward the next turn. Tony slowed the car down. The others pleaded for him to speed back up, but Tony knew the road well and that they had to slow down to make the next couple of turns if they wanted to stay out of the ditch. The idea of wrecking the car and having to walk back down the hill with that “thing” out there forced Tony to slow down enough to stay on the road. He just told them to shut the hell up, so he could drive, per Jeff’s account. They begrudgingly agreed, and the little Honda slowed down even further as they moved into the next turn. Still no creature. They let out a collective sigh. They’d made it. That was before they each saw a dark shape crouching over a low branch hanging out over the narrow road. Tony wanted to stop. He wanted to be at home in bed. Grudgingly, he realized he had no choice but to punch the accelerator hard as he moved into the turn hoping to move too fast beneath the creature for it to catch onto the rack on the top of their car. The little Honda’s engine whined and the tires squealed sharply as Tony did everything he could to keep the car from going into the ditch. As the car regained its traction, they heard the shrill screech of something scratching harshly along the top of their car. It was the sound of metal on metal and they knew it was the creature. It was trying to get its claws into their roof as they sped under the heavy branch it was perched on. With a thud, they heard the beast fall heavily on the road behind them. Tony knew he had to keep his foot firmly on the pedal. It was right behind them.
The last stretch of road was straight as they headed towards the turn onto the highway. Tony looked down and saw the speedometer move past 45 miles per hour; but to the boy’s horror the man was keeping up with the car, right behind them, running on all fours. Impossibly, it was closing the gap between itself and the car despite the speedometer closing in on 50 miles per hour. Tony wondered how it possible as he pushed the Honda even faster. He didn’t even apply the brakes as he made a fast turn onto the highway. They didn’t look back. They just drove. They couldn’t be sure the man, the creature, wasn’t behind them. Not until they saw the welcoming glare of the blue lights kick on in behind them. Fear subsided into relief and they each fell into quiet shock. Tears filled their eyes. Fear drove them out of their car and they ran for the safety of the cruiser. That’s why they had jumped out and ran towards us. We knew the rest.
“That’s quite a story,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. The kids had obviously seen something, and they weren’t showing any of the normal “tells” that people do when they were lying. I didn’t know what these boys had actually seen, but they believed every word of the story they had just relayed to us. It was most likely a prank or a hoax…maybe it was something that their friend the Hound, or whatever they called him, had set up. Either way, I knew we had to check it out.
“What? No way. These kids are on something,” the Skipper growled. “We ain’t going up there on some damned wild goose chase.”
“Come on, Boss. Do they look or act like they are high? I mean, I don’t want go up there either; if you’re scared…” I didn’t think reverse psychology would work, but I figured it was worth a try.
“Scared? You serious, Candy Bar? You know what, if you want to waste our time looking for Bigfoot, fine. Let’s go hunting.” The Skipper was a great cop; he was just a little too predictable sometimes. “But, they’re going with us.”
I hadn’t seen that coming. There was an audible sharp intake of breath from the back seat… and I one of them started to cry again.
“What? No. No way. We are not going back up there,” they said in unison, clearly in a panic.
“Ok,” the Skipper said with a smile. “Just go ahead and hop out.”
They tried, of course. But, they were in the back of a police cruiser…you can get in, but you can’t get out without help from the outside. It was cruel, but it was funny to watch them try for a moment before reality of their situation set in. I pulled the cruiser back out on the highway and pointed it back towards Emory Mountain. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive about what we might find waiting for us as we pulled off the highway. In truth, I had no idea.
When I was a kid, my grandfather had told me about the legends surrounding Emory Mountain. Tall tales, my Mom used to call them. According to him and my great uncle Barney, the whole area had once been land belonging to a tribe of Native Americans called the Yuchi. They had lived on the land for generations until the removal era in the early 1800’s; in fact, there were still a small band of their descendants living on the mountain today. My grandfather was a hunter and had served in the Army in the late 1950s and throughout most of the 1960’s including a tour of duty in Vietnam at the onset of the war. He wasn’t a man that was scared of anything. But, he always seemed ill at ease when he would tell stories to my brother and I about the mountains and the Yuchi legends he’d heard growing up.
“The Yuchi are a peaceful people now. But, once upon a time, they held a lot of animosity towards the founders of the township. Sometimes it even got a little violent,” he’d say careful not to say too much to young boys whose imaginations were already fast at work.
The stories that scared me the most were about the Yuchi Shamans. They were known to possess powerful magic, he’d say. He claimed to have met one years earlier while out hunting with his brother. He’d gone out scouting for new areas to set up when deer season started and was startled by a man sitting on a large rock in the middle of a small clearing. He’d apologized for coming up on him unexpectedly and was about to go his own way when the man spoke to him in the Yuchi language, or so he assumed. He couldn’t understand the man, but it was clear he was angry. He said he was sorry again and turned to leave the area to find Barney when the man grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him to the ground. My grandfather was a big man and was not easily man-handled, but he said that that he went down as easily as child under the strength of the old man. The man looked him in the eyes and in broken English told him that this land was forbidden. It was Yuchi land and the spirits would protect the land against all who trespassed.
Or something like that; it’s been a long time since I originally heard the story. But I do remember clearly that my Grandfather did not go back on that land again for any reason. That’s what I found most unsettling…that and the fact that the old yarn had a strong resemblance to the story that was unfolding with these three kids tonight. It was all I could think about as we drove up that little mountain pass.
“OK, where did ya see this monster at exactly?” The skipper seemed gruff, but I could tell he was as unsettled as I was.
“It was closer to the top,” Tony said in a low whisper. He clearly did not want to be back on this road; he was scared… hell, everybody was scared. I had mine in check, but there was no denying it was there. There was something about the woods up there that just made you feel like you weren’t welcome. I thought of the old legend my grandfather had told me and convinced myself it was just the old story that was causing me to have an irrational sense of dread.
We moved the car slowly up the old road taking each curve carefully; our windshield spot lights were on and searching the woods for our would-be assailant. We saw nothing until we came around the third curve, about half way up the mountain. Just ahead of us in the dark stood a large grey and black dog. It was just off the road on the left and showed no effort to move as we approached. As we approached, the sheer size of the beast became apparent and a little startling. It had to be 150 lbs or more and stood easily as high up as the window on the side of the car door. It stared in the window at the five of us taking note, it seemed, of the boys in the back; there was no fear in the animal whatsoever. As we eased up the road past the big dog, it simply cocked its head and followed our movement with its dark gaze. It’s mouth was pulled back in a snarl revealing a single yellow tooth hanging over its lip on the bottom right.
We pulled into the next turn and continued up the hill.
“That wasn’t weird at all,” I said trying to lighten the mood. It didn’t work.
We continued up the old road until we reached the little turn off to Hound Dog’s place. While I still wasn’t convinced that he didn’t have some a hand in this prank, or joke, or whatever it was, we didn’t have just cause at this point to wake his family up, so we turned around and headed back down the mountain pass. That’s when we saw the old man. He was walking down the road away from us; our headlights created a dark, monstrous shadow on the woods behind him as we pulled up behind him. Collectively, we each took a deep breath.
“You boys stay here and keep quiet,” the Skipper growled over his shoulder as I pulled the cruiser over just off the road behind the walking man.
We both got out and I hung back as the boss approached the man who, at this point, had still not stopped walking down the road. Hell, he didn’t even seem to notice we were there. The Skipper announced himself to be with the police department and asked the man to stop walking and to turn to face us.
It had no effect; the man continued his walk down the mountain road.
The Skipper sped up his pace and moved to intercept the stranger; but as fast as he walked, the man matched his pace and stayed just ahead of him, never once acknowledging our presence in any way. I got back into the car and began to pull forward until I had overtaken them both and with a sharp cut of my steering wheel and angled the cruiser into the man’s path.
He stopped and the Skipper stepped in front of him and moved him into position facing the car. The man did not speak; in fact, he didn’t seem to care that the Skipper and I were even there. He simply looked into the back of the car at the boys… and smiled. One yellow, crooked tooth protruded from his mouth and hung down slightly over his lip on the right side. I heard “Oh my God” from one of the boys in the back seat. All three boys jerked back away from the window and seemed to melt into the hard-plastic back seat.
With a shrug of his narrow shoulder, the man forcefully pulled away from the car and tossed the Skipper aside like a doll. I heard a solid thud as he hit the ground on the other side of the cruiser. He hit the ground hard — I felt the ground shudder a little when he hit. I was out of the car in an instant with my sidearm drawn and trained on the man standing just fifteen feet from the car... and from me and the boys. He was just standing out in the woods with his back to me. I grabbed my flashlight and aimed both it and the gun towards the man and began to order him back to the car. I was shaking so hard the light was bouncing sharply up and down, it was all I could do to keep the man illuminated. He remained motionless for what must have only been a few moments, but it felt a lot longer standing there in the dark. Finally, he began to walk slowly into the woods.
I heard a groan coming from the other side of the car.
“Let him go…” the Skipper said, clearly in pain. “I think he broke my damned arm.”
The bruising had already set in; it definitely looked broken. So I shifted my attention away from the man in the woods and focused on my boss and getting him into the car. I did my best to make him comfortable and then turned to look for the old man. He was gone. I walked out into the woods to where he was standing just moments before and was scanned around the area with my flashlight. I knew I needed to get back to the car and to get the Skipper to the hospital, but I had to take one more look. There was no sign of him anywhere so I turned to return to the car. That’s when I heard the voice whisper in my ear in broken English.
“This land is forbidden… the spirits will protect the land…”
I turned quickly, but I was still alone in the woods. I didn’t tell the Skipper that part.; I didn’t tell anybody until now.
I’m not sure what we saw in the woods on Emory Mountain that night. No report was ever filed by the Skipper nor by me. We would be the joke of the department and neither of us needed that. The Skipper was put on a desk for a few weeks to heal from the “fall” he’d taken escorting a few drunk kids home that night and I did the rest of my tour on the night shift without incident.
I went back to the mountain a few times after that. Twice it was due to answering a call, but I once I went back off duty. It was shortly after that night, but I could only bring myself to go back there alone in the daylight. I had to see if there was any evidence the man had been there at all. There wasn’t.
Skipper and I never spoke of it, not even when we were alone. You probably think I’m crazy and, hell, I may be. But if I were you, I’d stay clear of Emory Mountain. There are spirits up there and they will protect the land.
You have been warned.