Terror on Wheels: Three Tales of the Unexplained
The Willful Car
I need to make one thing clear before I dive into the following story. The source of this tale, my father-in-law, has never read a book by famed author Stephen King. He has not seen the movie Christine, nor is he familiar with the plot. That being said, he once owned a car whose story seems to have leapt off the pages of a horror novel.
In 1992, my father-in-law, Larry, purchased a 1963 Ford Falcon. It was the car of his dreams and he was thrilled to have it. He discovered that he was to be the third owner in the vehicle's history.
The first person who had owned the car had been an elderly woman who had bought it fresh off the assembly line. After she passed away, a gentleman purchased the car at an estate sale. Several years later, following the man's death, the car fell into Larry's hands.
Larry knows everything there is to know about cars, and he was well aware that he had lucked into a gem. The car purred like a kitten, and he enjoyed nothing more than showing off his newfound treasure.
Strange Troubles With the Radio
One thing that Larry noticed right away that he found a bit odd was that the car's radio would only receive signals from AM radio stations. On top of that, the channels that he could access only played music from the 1940s big band era.
No matter which radio station he tuned into, big band music would be playing. It made no difference where he travelled; the music was always the same. Whether he was driving in North Carolina, Ohio, Florida or all of the states in between, every station on the dial filled the car with music from the 1940s.
In 2000, Larry installed a brand-new custom fit AM/FM cassette player in place of the old radio. He discovered that the cassette player worked perfectly, as did the FM radio. However, when he switched over to AM, it was the same old, same old. Big band music would pour from the speakers.
Three years later, the car was all but destroyed when a hurricane tore through parts of Florida. Not wanting to invest the time it would take to fix the car, Larry opted to sell it to a man who restored classic cars. That should have been the end of the story, but it wasn't.
A Bizarre Incident in the Salvage Yard
A few months later, the man who had bought the car showed up at Larry's door. He wanted to know if Larry would be interested in buying back the car. The story he then told was one for the books.
The man said that, one day, he had opened the gate to where he stored the cars he was working on and walked towards the Ford Falcon. As he was approaching the car, it suddenly lurched forward and ran him over right there in his salvage yard.
It had taken the poor guy over a month to recover from the injuries he had sustained that day. He couldn't explain how the accident had happened since no one was in the car at the time and it hadn't been in working order anyway. Needless to say, he no longer wanted to keep the car in his possession.
In spite of the bizarre tale, Larry agreed to buy back the Falcon. He decided that he would restore it himself, but he never got around to it. Instead, he sold it to yet another car enthusiast who was fascinated by its shady history.
That was the last that Larry ever heard about the car. Maybe the new owner got it up and running and is enjoying it to this day, big band music and all. Hopefully, he is careful not to stand in front of it when it gets the urge to accelerate on its own and go for a spin. One for the books, indeed.
My maternal grandfather suffered a massive stroke one month before my birth. He was living in Fort Springs, West Virginia, at the time, which was a good four hours from my parent's home. Even so, they immediately packed up my seven-year-old sister and set out to be by his side.
When they arrived at their destination, they learned that my grandpa had been transferred to the Veteran's Hospital in Beckley. My eight-months-pregnant mother wasn't up for another car trip just then, so it was decided that she and my sister would spend the night at my grandparent's house. They would leave for Beckley first thing in the morning.
A Fishing Trip to Relieve the Stress
My father, on the other hand, had other plans. Never one to pass up the opportunity to fish, night or day, he called his brother-in-law and made arrangements to pick him up to go jitterbugging.
It was already dark by the time my dad and uncle started out on the road to White Sulphur Springs. People deal with crises in their own ways. My dad's way was to get his mind onto something else—which, in this case, was fishing.
The two of them stayed out until the wee hours of the morning before packing up their gear and heading back towards town. They started out onto the dark back country roads that would lead them into civilization. My dad had already made plans to stay over at my uncle's house before joining my mother later in the morning for the drive to Beckley.
No other cars were on the road that night. It was just my father and uncle, regaling each other with tall tales about who was the better fisherman. It was the middle of the night and all was quiet in the rural setting.
A Blinding Light
With no warning whatsoever, the darkness was suddenly obliterated by a blinding light that forced my father to slam on the brakes to keep from losing control of the car. As he described it, the entire road and woods surrounding it had been enveloped in a white light so bright that he and my uncle were left unable to see for a few moments.
According to him, the light had swallowed up not only them, but everything around them. To make the moment even more chilling, the entire area was deathly silent. Not one night creature had dared to make a sound. There was nothing there except for the two men, the blinding light, and dead silence.
After only a few moments, the light lifted and darkness once again settle upon them. The roadway was dark and there was no sign of any other vehicles. My father and uncle were both at a loss as to what they had just witnessed.
As they sat in the car talking about the incident, my father happened to glance as his watch. He noted that it was 3 o'clock in the morning. Exhausted from the events of the night, they made their way to my uncle's house and tried to get a few hours of sleep.
Too Late to Say Goodbye
Later that morning, my father picked up my mother and sister and made the trip to the Veteran's Hospital to see my grandfather. My mother was already worried about her father so my dad didn't mention the phantom light that he and my uncle had witnessed.
When they reached the hospital, my mother's siblings were already waiting for her. The news they had to share wasn't good. They told her that her father had passed away during the night. She had been too late to say goodbye.
One of the nurses ushered the family into a private area where they could grieve in peace. She assured my distraught mother that there was nothing she could have done. My grandpa had passed peacefully in his sleep without ever regaining consciousness.
The Time of Death
One of the relatives asked, out of curiosity, what the time of death had been. The nurse's response caught my father's attention right away. She informed them that it had been around 3 o'clock in the morning.
Upon hearing this, my father blurted out the story of the mysterious light they had encountered on the road only a few hours earlier. The grieving family took it as a sign that my grandfather had sent a message to them in the only way he could at the time. He had been a bright light one last time before passing to the other side.
The Lost Souls
Like most people, I've heard many variations on the story of the phantom hitchhiker. Although thought by most to be a simple urban legend, I have had people swear to me that they have been flagged down by a forlorn person begging for a ride. Whether they pick the person up or not, the lonely stranger always vanishes into the night.
The Classic Story
The classic phantom hitchhiker story goes something like this: A man is driving down a deserted street late one night when, out of nowhere, a beautiful girl steps out of the shadows and beckons to him. He pulls over and the girl tells him that she needs a ride home. She explains that she lives just up the street a little ways. Usually, she is distraught and in tears.
Not wishing to leave the girl on the road all alone, the man agrees to give her a ride home. The two of them ride along quietly until the girl suddenly points out a house that she claims is where she lives.
The man drops her off at what he believes to be her home and watches as she approaches the front door. The hitchhiker takes one last look at the man who had kindly given her a lift before disappearing right before his eyes. Shocked, the man jumps out of his car and looks around for the girl. She is nowhere to be found.
Summoning his courage, the man knocks on the door of the house. It is very late and all of the lights are off. After a few moments, an elderly woman answers the door. She looks a bit perturbed by the presence of this stranger on her front step.
The man apologizes for bothering her so late. He then proceeds to tell her the story of the hitchhiker he picked up and delivered to this very house. He goes on to describe the girl, right down to the clothes she was wearing.
The woman's face turns ashen. She then tells the man that the girl had, indeed, lived in the house at one time. She informs him, however, that he could not possibly have given the girl a ride that night. The girl he had described was her daughter, Abigail, and she had been dead for nearly twenty years.
The woman goes on to say that Abigail had been killed in a hit and run accident on the road that led to their home as she was returning from a party. The man would also learn that he wasn't the only driver who had given a ride to Abigail over the years. Her mother told him that it had occurred fairly often, usually around the anniversary of the accident.
Sadly, Abigail would make it home, but never cross the threshold. She always disappeared before actually entering the house.
This is just one version of the phantom hitchhiker story, but they are all eerily similar. These tales are not just an American phenomenon. Strikingly familiar stories also exist in Europe and Asia as well as other areas of the globe.
What Really Happens in These Encounters?
It is, of course, possible that weary drivers simply imagine that they see someone on the road who isn't actually there. They might even give someone a ride only to lose sight of them in the surrounding darkness.
There is still one other possibility, however remote, that some of the encounters with these ghosts of the roadway actually did occur. For those believers out there, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that a lost soul might be trapped in a purgatory from which they cannot escape.
In this void between life and death, they are forced to relive the last night of their lives over and over again until they are finally able to make it back to their families. The lucky ones who do find their way home discover that they are forbidden to enter a place that is reserved only for the living, thereby trapping them in limbo for all eternity.