North Woods Terror
North Woods Terror
As he shifted gears trying to get the large rig up a muddy road to the top of the next hill, Everett Courson could think of many places he would rather be than lost in the Maine North Woods on Halloween night. As the engine roared, struggling to pull the empty flatbed trailer behind him, he tried to think of the most horrible things that could happen to him hoping to take his mind off his present predicament.
“Hell,” he said as the tractor stalled about halfway up the rutted, muddy logger’s road. “Nothing is worse than this. Got to back up a little and try again.”
When he found reverse, he thought that just maybe he was stuck. Playing with the gears, edging forward as far as he could and then going backwards, he finally got the rig moving back down the hill. Sensing that he was on solid ground, he put it in gear and got up as much momentum as possible. The moon was high on the eastern horizon when he finally reached the top of the hill where he stopped and considered his options. They were few. He could go ahead or go back and try to find a road that might lead him to Greer’s Timber Management Company.
Still shocked, terrified of what he had seen back there just after he got off I-95, he knew he couldn’t turn around, he had to keep going. The mysterious person in the big black rig with the chrome wheels was somewhere behind him.
Cursing himself for accepting his uncle’s invitation to pull a load of logs from Greer’s Timber Company to Bangor, he scratched his chin and tried to read his map in the dim illumination from an overhead light. If he hadn’t been hungry for extra money, he would be on his farm near Ottawa enjoying trick and treat with his kids. The job paid well and his uncle was desperate for someone to replace the driver that normally made the run. He had just delivered a load of prepackaged meals to Cincinnati and when he received the call, he thought it would be a quick way to make a little extra cash. After all, the run was on his way home to Ottawa, sort of. Everett had enjoyed the trip up I-95 and had not had any problems until he turned off the main expressway and headed north toward the woods.
All around him, in the darkness, he could see nothing but trees, shadows and an occasional moose moving through the woods. From the top of the hill, he could see for several miles around him. All he could see was trees and more trees.
Glancing at the map at the neat red line he had used to show the route he should travel, he knew that he was nowhere near the main road. It was one of the few paved roads in this part of the state. The entire area was crisscrossed with hundreds of dirt roads used by loggers and the timber companies to remove trees from the forest. He knew from what his uncle had told him that some of the lumber companies, desperate for cash, were cutting trees and not replanting them. As a result of that, many areas of the forest were as bald as an iceberg. His uncle had told him that it was crooked politics between the lumber companies and the state senators. The politicians always had to have their share so they ignored the negligent lumber companies.
The more he looked at the map the more confused he became. He knew that the paved road was somewhere to the east of him. I-95 was in that direction, too. If he could find his way back to either of those roads then he could ask somebody where he was. If he could find anyone awake at this hour of the night.
He knew he couldn’t go back. That was entirely out of the question. He might be waiting back there for him. As he studied his map, his mind wandered back to the black truck with the black trailer and the shiny chrome wheels that had tried to run him off the road. What was his problem, anyway?
After exiting onto SR-11, he drove north for a while before noticing the other truck behind him. Seeing trucks in Maine, especially in the North Country where the logging operations were wasn’t unusual, however this particular truck caught his attention real quick. It was moving up fast behind him on the paved road and he wondered if the bastard wasn’t intending to pass him. Whoever was driving the rig was in a mighty big hurry. Everett slowed his rig so the other driver could pass, if he wanted to. He wasn’t in any big hurry. According to his uncle, he should take I-95 to SR-11 and then take another road that he couldn’t remember the name of (he had written it on his map) toward the northwest. What could have been simpler?
Except now, he knew that simple things have a way of becoming complicated, real quick. The truck had tried to pass him. There was plenty of room for him to do so and the road ahead was clear. However, he hadn’t passed him as Everett expected him to do. The other driver matched his speed. If he slowed down, so did the other driver and when he pushed down on the accelerator, so did the other driver. Glancing over at the cab of the tractor, he could see nothing. The windows were tinted with a darkness that only allowed him to see reflections of his own rig and passing trees. He didn’t know who, or how many people were in the other tractor. At that moment, a chilly hand massaged his neck and cold, icy water ran down his spine.
Panicked, he applied his brakes and slid to a stop almost going off the road in the process. He thought the other truck would stop, except it didn’t. Recovering from the shock of what had happened, he watched the rig as it drove down the hill in front of him. Who was the driver and what did he want? Was he trying to make him stop and if so, why? Those questions paraded through his troubled mind as he watched the truck almost in a daze. Then just as he was ready to dismiss the entire episode from his mind, the truck slowly vanished as it was going up the other hill. Just like that, it was gone in an instant.
If that was all that had happened to him, he might have been able to attribute it to too much time behind the wheel and too little sleep, except that wasn’t the last time he had seen the truck.
Folding the map so he could see the vicinity where he thought he presently was, he stuck it on the dash so he could see it while driving. Gazing into the rearview mirror, he stared at a sandy haired man in his late thirties with blue eyes and a weathered complexion. “Are you nuts?” he asked the man in the mirror. “Or, are we just seeing things. Well, I guess we’re about to find out, aren’t we?”
Hoping he could find a house with lights on—doubting if anyone lived in such an isolated area—he drove on down the road, over the hill and got up enough speed to get up the next long hill. As he watched lonely trees roll by him, listened for the sound of another diesel engine, he thought about the last time he had seen the truck. Traveling north on SR-11, he had finally convinced himself that the experience had just been a fluke of nature or he had imagined it. Trucks don’t disappear, he told himself as he placed an audio book into the CD player. As he listened to Death Next Door by someone he had never heard of, he wondered seriously if he shouldn’t call his father and ask for directions.
Then the thought struck him like a limb falling from a tree and bouncing off his head. The truck had not made any sound. He was sure of it because he had his window down and should have been able to hear it. As he listened to his own engine purring like a kitten, listened to the rattle from the trailer behind him, and the sound of eighteen tires slugging it out with mud, he wondered how such a thing was possible. A dark cloud hung overhead dropping a steady downpour of rain all around him.
Everett Courson didn’t really want to think about what had happened to him and the story he was listening to, a mystery, didn’t appeal to him right now. He had one of his own to solve. He was more the ghosts and goblins type, especially on Halloween. He loved the author’s work, however he would have to pass. He would listen to it later when he was in a better mood. Ejecting the disk, he put it in its cover and turned on the radio. As he tuned across the AM band all he heard was static. Even WLW in Cincinnati was silent. He had never felt so alone in his entire life.
Images of the truck appearing in front of him on SR-11 occupied him for a long time. It had happened when he was least expecting it. The sun was shining, it was two o’clock in the afternoon, and he was hoping to reach the logging company, get loaded and deliver it before dark. He had planned to stay in Bangor for the night and head home in the morning. His plans had been torn apart when the truck appeared in front of him just before he reached the turnoff he was supposed to take.
It wasn’t there one minute and the next it was right in front of him. It was just as big, black and ominous as it had been back there when it had tried to play games with him. What pissed him off the most wasn’t the fact that the truck had disappeared and was now sitting on the road in front of him, what turned his adrenalin on was the fact that the bastard was parked right in the middle of the road.
Pulling up behind the rig, Everett sat watching the truck to see if the driver was going to get out and say something nasty to him like, “Well Buddy, how do you like my new rig. Don’t you think it’s a real beauty? I mean, all I have to do all day is run around making other people’s lives miserable.”
When the other driver didn’t get out and Everett felt his anger subside, his worry increase and his heart beat faster, he wondered if he should get out of his own rig and see what the problem was. He had to get around the bastard and pick up his load. The last thing he wanted was to be driving in the dark miles from civilization without a clue as to where he was and where he was going. If he didn’t get to his destination that was exactly the situation he would be in, alone in the dark in the North Woods. Unfastening his seat belt, he opened the door and got out. He wasn’t getting anywhere sitting in his cab.
Cautiously walking toward the idling truck, he stood for a moment and looked at the plates on the back of the trailer. Not a speck of dust marred its surface and that wasn’t all, either. The trailer was as spotless as grandmother’s dishes. He became surprised when he couldn’t find a trailer number and the license plate was blank. Puzzled, he walked toward the cab intending to ask the driver how he drove around without legal plates and markings on his rig without getting pulled over by the State Police. As Everett neared the cab a voice in his head warned him to be careful. You never knew who might be behind the wheel of one of these things, he had thought. Could be a drug junkie, a serial killer or something even worse. It was the latter that concerned him the most.
Approaching the tractor, wondering if he shouldn’t turn around, get back into his cab and use his cell phone to call the police, he stood waiting for the door to open and a giant with dirty biker’s clothes and a full beard to step down out of the cab and punch him in the face. When the door didn’t open and the biker-type didn’t appear, he walked up to the cab and pounded on it, a little too hard he thought, after he had done it. Funny, he said silently to himself, the door didn’t sound like metal, it sounded like … wood.
When nobody appeared and he didn’t hear any activity inside the tractor, he reached up and hammered on the door, this time a little gentler than he had before. “Hello, is anybody in there. I want to talk to you.”
Everything was silent. No birds, no wandering moose and no traffic on SR-11. Not even a rabbit crossed the road.
Frustrated, he ascended the metal step on the truck and grabbed the handle, which was cold as ice in his hand. “Enough of this,” he yelled. “I need for you to move your rig. I have business up the road. Do you hear me, damn it?”
Jerking the door open, he stepped back down as numbness swept over him and a cold chill drifted down his spine like ice water running over a ledge in the middle of winter. The cab was empty.
Except for the large black thing with a black hat, big dark eyes, a long nose and a black cloak that covered its body. Whatever it was, Everett could plainly see that it wasn’t human. At least it was not like any human he had ever seen.
Paralyzed with fear, entombed at the bottom of cold stairs in horror, he stood looking up into the cab where smoke or maybe a gray mist surrounded the creature. At times, he could barely see it. The mist and the creature seemed to be indistinguishable from each other.
Unable to run, incapable of speaking much less thinking, he stood like a statute trying to convince himself that he wasn’t seeing anything at all. When his fear gave way to anger, he was finally able to face the creature with a little less horror than he had felt before. What right did this thing have to block the road, he wondered. Was someone trying to play a joke on him? Then he realized that it was Halloween. Of course, it was all a prank by a bored or unemployed trucker. He was out having fun. Perhaps a few joints and a little beer on the side had encouraged the fun. He knew that truckers were a mixed breed, some good and some not so good. This one was apparently someone that liked to run around scaring people and causing them to lose contracts. After all, if you didn’t pickup and deliver, that would be one more job for this bastard. The world was full of rackets, he told himself, and this one wasn’t much different from any other. Well, if he thought he was going to get away with it, he had another thought coming.
Angered, he stepped up and reached into the cab. He would jerk the moron out of his cab, give him a busted nose and move the damn truck himself. He didn’t have time to play games with someone that wanted his job. As he reached for the man in the Halloween suit, his hand sliced through thin air. It was as if the creature wasn’t even there at all.
Terrified, his legs gave way under him and he tumbled down on the pavement feeling sharp pain spilling from his hip. Turning over, driven by fear, he managed to get up and limp to his truck. Glancing back at the strange truck and the even stranger creature in it, he felt relieved when he didn’t see the thing coming after him.
As he climbed up into his own cab, a feeling of terror gave way to one of complete disgust. It was all a trick, he told himself. Somehow, the trucker had managed to create the mist and an image of himself in the cab using holograms or something of the sort. Why had he gone to so much bother? Feeling as if he had been fooled, deceived and taken-in by the trickster, he got back down out of the cab ignoring the burning and aching in his hip. He would ask the bastard one more time to move the truck and then he would move it for him.
“What do you want?” he asked as he walked up to the cab again, this time with a little more caution than he had used last time. The door was closed. Reaching up, he opened the door. The cabin was empty. Then he saw movement. A head appeared and then a body materialized in front of him. This guy is good, he whispered. “Can you please move your truck?”
“No. You have four hours to live and then I will come for you,” a distant voice said. “Until then, I will occasionally keep you company for a while. You must not take that road ahead. Many truckers are lost and are never heard from again in that confusion of intersecting roads. If you evade me and find your way to your destination, you can live. Otherwise, guess what? You are mine.”
“You’re nuts,” Everett said stepping down from the tractor and standing with his hands on his hips. “What do you want from me?”
“Your death,” the creature said.
While he watched the creature—who grinned at him displaying two rows of long, sharp teeth—he was terrified when the truck vanished just as it had before. Trembling from shock, his stomach feeling like it was filled with slimy worms, his legs weak, he had walked back toward his rig. Maybe the truck could disappear once and he could convince himself that he was just dreaming, he thought, but not twice. Something was going on here and he wanted to know what it was. As he had climbed into the cab, all sorts of possibilities entered his troubled mind.
Maybe he had crossed over into another dimension somewhere back there without realizing it. Perhaps the creature was a vampire, a werewolf or some other supernatural creature that roamed the north woods. He almost laughed when he realized that all of his thoughts were absurd. There had to be a rational explanation, except he didn’t know what it was.
Nothing was logical or coherent about the black truck and its hideous occupant. Nothing made any sense, except that maybe the creature really didn’t want him to reach his destination for some reason he didn’t understand. He had told him not to take the road ahead. However, the road ahead was the road that led to the timber company where he had a load waiting for him to deliver to the train yard. Nothing was going to stop him from doing his job. Nothing.
Glancing at his map, he had determined that the road was the right one. Putting the big rig into gear, he drove forward and found the road. Reading the sign on a post at the intersection, he turned left and followed the dirt road. Trees, bushes and dense forest closed in on him.
That was the last time he actually saw the black rig—back there on State Route 11, although he could sense that he was nearby, in front of him, behind him, or somewhere out there in the woods watching him. He still did not understand what the creature was or what he wanted. Was he the devil that wanted his very soul?
He’d seen lots of movies and read many books. In his spare time, he read a lot and wrote horror stories hoping to become a novelist. After countless rejections, he had just about given up on getting published by the New York Five, a conglomerate of New York based publishers who only published those established writers who made them money. In every story he had read, the antagonist turned out to be a werewolf, vampire or something similar, except he wasn’t sure what this creature was.
Now, he was alone in the dark trying to find his way in the North Woods. Just when he was sure he was on the right road, he started having doubts. The ruts and the mud made it almost impossible for a vehicle, especially a tractor and trailer to traverse through the winding maze. At the top of another hill, he stopped, turned on his reading lamp and looked at the map. The road he had taken was not the one he had marked on the map. The creature had tricked him into taking the wrong road. He had driven west for a while and now the road was heading north again. He was deep in the north woods, far from human habitation and lost. If he went back, he probably could find the main road again, except there wasn’t any place to turn around. He could not go in any direction except forward.
Sighing deeply, cursing his luck silently, he reached over and picked up his cell phone from the passenger seat. Dialing his father’s number in Ottawa, he put the phone to his ear and listened as the computerized voice told him that the number was not available. Disappointed, he looked at the phone and saw that it was roaming, searching for a nearby tower that did not exist. He doubted if a tower were within a hundred miles of him. He tossed the phone on the seat and started down the hill knowing he was really alone now, except for something that wanted to kill him.
As the rig rumbled down a long incline toward another hill in the distance, the headlights struck a figure on the side of the road. The event happened so fast that it caught him completely by surprise. What was a man doing out here in the middle of the night?
He was tempted to drive by the man except his curiosity got the best of him, and he needed someone to talk to. Anyone would do.
“Maynard York,” the man said as he climbed up into the cab. “What’s your name?” He strapped himself in as he stared at Everett with deep brown eyes. His stringy brown hair looked as if it hadn’t seen a barber’s chair in ages and his teeth needed the attention of a toothbrush. A purple knot on his forehead looked as if it had been there for several days.
“Everett Courson,” he told the stranger as he pushed down on the accelerator. “What in the world are you doing out here this time of the night without a flashlight or a jacket?”
“Uh, my rig broke down back there a ways and I decided to walk. I was hopin’ someone would come along, but to tell you the truth, I wasn’t really expecting it.”
“I didn’t see a rig,” Everett said. “Did you break down somewhere?”
The man nodded. Putting his hands between his knees, he stared straight ahead as the truck moved forward through the lightless night. “I came down from the north. I sort of got turned around after I came off I-95. My truck is a short distance up one of those other roads that cross this one. There are dozens of them. Most are impassable.”
“Tell me about it,” Everett said. “I’ve been attempted to take another road north, except they all look about the same as this one. I can’t even use my cell phone to call for help.”
“No towers, man,” Maynard said. “Out here there are places where your phone don’t work. The only thing to do is to keep going until you can find a place to turn around or just keep driving until you find your way.”
“Is your head okay?”
Maynard felt the purple knot on his head and nodded. “Struck it when I went off the road,” he said.
“Where were you going, Maynard?”
“Timber Management Company,” he answered. “I drive for them. Have been for two years now.”
“You’ve been driving these roads for two years and you got lost?” Everett asked. “How come?”
“Took a wrong turn, I reckon. This black rig ran me off the road and after that I never found the road I was looking for.”
Everett glanced at him. The lights from the dashboard illuminated his pallid face. His eyes were wide and he was shaking all over. “Are you all right, Maynard?”
“Yeah, Man. Haven’t you ever heard of—?”
His voice trailed off. Gusts of cool wind rushed into the cab. Everett rolled the window up and felt a cold chill. “Haven’t I ever heard of what, Maynard?”
Maynard looked at him. Everett saw terror in those eyes. He also saw something else. His eyes stared off into nothingness. “The North Woods Phantom,” he answered with quivering lips. “Haven’t you ever heard of him?”
“No, can’t say as I have,” Everett said. “This is my first trip and probably my last one.”
“Well, I’ve been driving these woods for a long time and so have many others. Everybody has heard the story about the trucker that hauled logs from these woods a long time ago. He drove a black rig and hauled logs for timber companies that were just cutting trees and leaving the land bare. When he protested and organized conservation groups to work against the companies, they sent a goon squad out into the wilderness to kill him. The State Police never found him or his rig. Some people say that they see him every Halloween driving these back roads just looking for truckers that are still hauling for those companies. He runs them off the road, tries to deter them from reaching their destination and if they fail—”
Everett looked at Maynard. He was frozen to his seat still gazing off into the distance. “Incredible,” Everett said. “What happens if he we don’t reach our destination?”
“That trailer, man,” Maynard said glancing at him nervously. “Caskets. The trailer is loaded with caskets, each of them waiting for another trucker that didn’t make it. Don’t you get it, man? The North Woods Phantom collects bodies and souls of truckers who haul for the lumber companies, the ones who cut down these trees and don’t restore the land to what it once was.”
“Crazy,” Everett said trying to remember through foggy memories how the creature looked when he saw him. “Have you ever seen him, Maynard?”
“No, and I don’t want to,” Maynard said leaning forward and placing his head in his hands. Massaging his forehead, he finally sat up and looked at Everett. “I only saw the truck and that was enough for me. He forced me off the road onto a side road. I was so horrified that I became confused and lost. My mind was a blank. He has some kind of effect on your mind.”
“I know,” Everett said as rain pounded the windshield. “That’s all we need, more rain and mud.” He could already feel the wheels losing traction on the dirt road. Caskets, huh?”
“Yeah, they’re supposedly made from the same trees that are being harvested. Say, have you seen him?”
“Yeah, I more than saw him. I talked to him.”
“No kiddin’? What did he say?”
The engine strained while it pulled the trailer up the next hill as the trailer whipped from side to side. “He said that if I made it to my destination that I would live. If I didn’t that I would die.”
“That’s him,” Maynard said. “What did he … well, what did he look like?”
Everett told him about his father calling him and how he happened to be out here in the Maine Woods on Halloween night. As he was talking, he realized why he was really out here. The driver he was replacing didn’t want to drive on Halloween. “He was horrible, Maynard, and he definitely isn’t human.”
Maynard shook his head and looked out the window as rain pounded the truck. The wipers were having a tough time keeping the windshield clear. “Only a couple drivers who have seen him have actually lived to tell the tale,” Maynard said. “Nobody believed them. I believe them now.”
“Where did he come from? Is he a ghost?” Everett heard himself asking the question and still couldn’t convince himself to believe the incredible story, even though he had seen the black truck and the mysterious driver.
“Maybe,” Maynard said. “Some of the truckers believe that he is an ancient entity that lived in the forest and was disturbed because the trees were disappearing.”
“He took over the truck and the identity of the driver,” Everett added as his writer’s imagination came into play. “I suppose that makes a little sense. Look, Maynard, we have to put our heads together and figure a way out of this. We have to consider that this is real and not a nightmare.”
“It is a nightmare, man. Only this nightmare is real. We have to avoid him until dawn, until the sun comes up. He’ll disappear until next year.”
“How do you know that?”
“How do I know? That’s how the others made it out alive. We have to do the same.”
Everett put his hand on the other mans shoulder. “We’ll make it, Maynard. Don’t worry.”
“This is the right road to our destination,” Maynard suddenly revealed. “I recognize some of the area. We have to stay on this road no matter what happens. Oh, I can’t believe it. He’ll try to deter us, Everett. We must not leave this road, do you understand?”
“Yeah, I understand. That bastard won’t scare me. Are you sure this is the road?”
“Of course,” Maynard replied as rain hammered the cab. “We’re only a few miles south of the company. This isn’t the main road, but I have been this way several times. When it isn’t raining, it’s passable and a shortcut to the main road.”
Everett sighed as the rain abruptly quit. Ahead of him was level road and the big black rig with shiny chrome wheels.
Maynard saw the black truck and wrapped his arms around his head as if he were trying to get away from something. Trembling like a leaf in a spring storm, he cowered down in his seat as Everett slowed the vehicle. There wasn’t much room to get around the black truck, if he could get around it at all.
“Hang on, Maynard, don’t freak out on me now,” Everett yelled shaking him. “We’ll get out of this.”
Maynard placed his hands on the dash and peeped up over it. “Don’t let him get me. I don’t want to die. Please, do something.”
Everett didn’t know what to do, except he wasn’t ready to give up yet. Anger built up inside him as he saw the creature floating around the side of the truck from the cab as if he were going to a church social. “This isn’t happening,” Everett shouted. “It isn’t real.” The creature now floated behind the trailer holding his hands up toward the approaching truck. “Damn bastard wants me to stop so he can put us in our caskets,” Everett said wondering if Maynard could hear him through the terror that fogged his mind.
“Go around him,” Maynard yelled. “You can make it, man.” His voice trembled and his body shook. His eyes glanced from side to side like a madman.
“No room to go around him,” Everett shouted. “So, we’ll go through him. If we’re going to die we may as well take him with us or at least try.” Shifting gears to gain more speed, he pushed down on the accelerator feeling the powerful engine respond as the truck lunged forward.
A hundred feet and the phantom held his position ignoring him.
Fifty feet and the grin on his face was as clear as the moon on the horizon.
Twenty feet and the creature looked as if he weren’t sure about what to do.
Everett looked down at the speedometer and was satisfied that he was doing sixty miles an hour on a dry road. The rain had either never happened or the road had dried at an amazingly fast rate. Things were happening fast now. Maynard was screaming, the wavering dark figure enshrouded in fog hadn’t moved at all as if he were defying him and the back of the trailer loomed in front of him. Bracing himself for the impact, he held onto the steering wheel as his rig crashed through the phantom and went right through the black truck as if it weren’t there at all.
Seconds later, the moonlit road was ahead of them. Everett stopped the truck and tried to bring Maynard York back into the real world. “It’s all right,” he told him. “Calm down and let’s have a look back there.”
Jumping down from the cab he stood in the moonlight looking back behind his own rig. Nothing was where it should have been. The black rig had disappeared again. Maynard walked around the front of the tractor and joined him. “See Maynard, old Buddy, it’s gone.”
“What happened here?” Maynard scratched his face as if his skin was covered with hot ants. “Where did he go?”
“We beat him, Maynard. Don’t you see, buddy. We went right through him because he preys on your mind. If you allow him into your mind, he will come in. Since I didn’t believe he was really there, he wasn’t.”
“You mean that we’re just seeing things, that he doesn’t exist?”
“I didn’t say that,” Everett warned him. “I just didn’t believe that he did exist and blocked him out of my mind. You do the same and we’ll be fine. C’mon, let’s get out of here.”
They climbed back into the cab each lost in their own thoughts. Everett knew that he was still out there somewhere looking for truckers who did believe in him, truckers that could be influenced into becoming part of his traveling morgue. Happy that they had a chance of reaching their destination, he drove on into the night promising himself that he would never drive in the Maine North Woods on Halloween again.