Hometown Folklore - 12.20.99

One of the times that I've been most scared in my entire life took place one fall evening of my junior year of high school. In retrospect, it all seems kind of silly, but during the minutes when everything was taking place, I don't think that the goosebumps on my arms went down for any longer than a few seconds at a time.

The night in question started out normal enough. It was a Friday or Saturday evening and since I didn't hang out with the crowd who was into drinking, I was trying to figure out was I was going to do. Because I lived in a small town, there really weren't a whole lot of options besides driving to one of the two large cities nearby to do something. By the time I'd gotten around to making any real decision, though, it had already reached 9pm, so a trip out of town was already out of the question. I could make the drive, but even the larger cities seemed to close down at about 10pm for those who were still under the age of 21.

Fortunately for me, a friend called me up on the phone just about the time I thought I was going to start having cabin fever. He'd just gotten a new speaker in his car and he asked me if I wanted to cruise around for awhile and just listen to some music. Just getting out of the house at that point sounded like a good idea, so I told him I was up for it and he was at my house within 10 minutes.

After driving around for a few minutes in town and getting bored very quickly (you can only go on so many streets in such a small town), we decided that we'd drive out into the countryside on gravel roads to at least get some new scenery. My friend lived out in the country and knew most of the roads fairly well, so we left the locals behind and headed to the great wide open.

As soon as we'd gotten out of town, it became clear just how bright the moon was. Not only were there hardly any clouds in the sky, but the moon was nearly full and I swore I could see the moonlight casting shadows off different objects. Just to be a smart ass, my friend turned off his lights a couple different times and we drove through the night with nothing but the light from the moon to guide us down the road. Although I could see pretty well, I wasn't familiar with the roads that we were on and after several instances of me yelling, he turned the lights back on for good.

Cruising down the gravel roads with the loud music playing in the background, we were having a pretty decent time. We'd only been out for about 10 minutes so far, but again we were starting to get kind of bored with our situation. Just as I was about to ask what we should do next, my friend said something that would eventually lead into the fright that I would later feel that evening.

The first thing he said was, "I think that we should go out to monkey mountain." Knowing that there were no mountains (or even large hills for that matter) around, but having heard the name mentioned before, I asked him what he was talking about.

As he told it, the story began with an abandoned railroad track that ran through just outside of town. Apparently, in the 1930s or so, it was one of the major railways in the state and although it didn't pass directly through the town, there was a lot of freight brought into the place through it. Another one of the main features of the railroad tracks is that every year during the summer, a circus would come through on them and play shows for a week or so before packing up shop and heading on their way.

Explaining even further, he said that during one particular summer, there had been a problem with one of the acts and several gorillas had escaped from the show into a nearby forest. They were never caught or found, but apparently they'd (or their decendents) had been seen in the forests several times since then by hunters and local farmers. Apparently, some people had even occassionally found chewed-up animal remains in the forest where they were said to have escaped. This last part made me laugh a bit until I remembered seeing nature shows where gorillas went completely crazy and attacked humans and even animals larger than them. And damn, they had some sharp teeth.

After he'd told me the story, he asked me if I wanted to drive out to the forest and walk the abandoned tracks. Since there wasn't really a whole lot else to do and I wasn't really scared yet, it sounded like a good idea.

Since he knew the way, it only took us a little over 5 minutes to make our way out there. We turned a corner, drove across what was left of the railway, and turned the car down into an entrance to a nearby field before my friend turned off the car and we slowly climbed out and into the night.

Standing outside the car without lights was completely different than driving along without them on. We were now outside the protective shell, and the moon took on a decidingly more sinister tone. After locking up, we made our way up to the tracks and looked down them as far as we could see. They went on straight from the road for awhile in the open before turning to the right and disappearing into leaf-less trees. At almost the same moment, we looked at each other with unsure smiles, then took our first steps down the wood and broken rock of the railway. We never really decided how far we were going to walk, but I figured that the trip would end when the fears of one or the both got the best of us.

As we walked, our footsteps seemed amplified by the surroundings. The rocks below our feet would shift with nearly every step and several times they continued to settle behind us after we went by, usually causing at least one of us to jerk our heads around and look to see what was behind us. The closer we got to the forest, the more intensified everything around us became. Our eyes had adjusted to the strange lighting, and I for one was looking for movement almost all the time. I scanned the trees ahead of us for any dark figures hiding out and pricked up my ears for any movement sounds that might be emminating from beyond.

The further into the trees we walked, the less the light shone through. Although the trees were completely bare, the moon was obscured by branches much more than it had been and those lazy shadows I had seen earlier while driving seemed to make their way across everything.

It was just about this time that we heard a rather large crash in the woods ahead of us and off to our right. Stopping dead in our tracks, we looked off in the general direction of where the noise had come from, then at each other. In my quietest voice, I whispered, "it sounded like it was just a deer." We both looked in the direction again for a few seconds, then the noise of more brush and sticks repeated itself, sounding like it was even closer to it than even before.

No sooner had it gone silent again when my friend whispered, "fuck this" and turned around and bolted back the way we had come. Not wanting to be left behind, I turned around and started running as fast as my legs would take me as well. I could see his dark form a few steps ahead of me and I tried to catch up while keeping one eye sort of trained on the ground ahead of me, hoping that I didn't trip over a misplaced rock or loose board.

As always happens in the movies (to the stupid people who get killed by the monsters), we both stopped running once we had reached the road. We turned around and looked back into the trees, trying to re-adjust our eyes and calm our breathing so we could hear if the noise was still out there. It was again eerily quiet, and we both shared a nervous laugh again before we started for the car.

We walked in silence the short distance back to the car, probably both thinking to ourselves how silly we had acted and just how much we'd gotten ourselves worked up over the incident. As my friend was unlocking the doors, he said, "So, that was pretty fun, eh?" I was just about to agree with him when the some noise in the distant trees sounded off again, reminding us to get moving.

Once we were back in the protective shell of the car again, we finally had a good solid laugh about it all again. I agreed that it had definitely been fun, but that I had gotten a bit scared. Even if there hadn't been any sounds coming from the trees (made by a deer or a gorilla or whatever), it was creepy walking along the desolate tracks in the dark with the nearly full moon shining down on us. He agreed and put the car in reverse to pull out onto the road.