When you spend a better part of the year traveling around the country with a chest full of some of the world’s most haunted, cursed, and paranormally-active artifacts, road trips become a lot more unpredictable than they already are. As curators of the Traveling Museum of the Paranormal & Occult, my wife Dana and I have found ourselves at the mercy of restless spirits more times than we can count, from playing victim to unexplainable car troubles to being straight up stranded in ghost towns. But despite the occasional tantrum, I can’t help but believe that the haunted objects in our collection enjoy being with us, and there’s no better example of this than the time they saved us from being murdered in the middle of rural Maryland.
On our way home from an event in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Dana and I decided that we’d drive down the coast of New England, cutting west through Maryland on our way back to Weird HQ in Cincinnati. After a busy morning in Salem, Massachusetts and a long day of driving, we found ourselves at gas station near the border of West Virginia. It was two in the morning and a perfect a time as any to refuel, so I made my way inside the building to grab a snack when I was stopped by a voice from behind.
“Love the bumper sticker, buddy,” said an older man in a heavy camouflage jacket, pointing to the “HONK IF YOU LISTEN TO ART BELL” sticker slapped on the back of my car. “Coast to Coast was my favorite radio show!”
I struck up a conversation with the man, recounting Art Bell classics like the tale of Mel’s Hole and the rogue airplane pilot flying into Area 51, before our talk turned to the rest of the stickers on the back of my Scion xB.
“MUFON, Bigfoot, Planet Weird – you must be a paranormal investigator, ain’t you?” the man asked.
“I prefer professional weirdo,” I replied, half-joking, “but yeah, I guess you could say I chase monsters for a living.”
The man’s face lit up, his eyes widening as he leaned in close.
“If you want to see monsters, you ought to head out to Friendsville down yonder,” he whispered. “The graveyard just outside of town’s got a creature in it. Big red eyes, people see that bastard all the time.”
Never one to turn down an adventure, I had the man jot down directions on a a scrap of paper, punched Friendsville into my GPS, and hopped in the car to share the news with Dana, who was all too eager to get out and stretch her legs in a haunted cemetery.
Scan of the map to the cemetery where the “red-eyed creature” was sighted
Half an hour later, were driving through the tiny town of Friendsville, remarking at just how quiet, dark, and empty it seemed. Even their sole gas station was closed. At last count, the community consisted of just under 500 people, and it appeared that every single one of them was fast asleep. The hastily-scrawled map told us that the graveyard we were looking for was a couple miles or so outside of town, so we pressed on.
As we drove slowly down the backroads of rural Maryland, we scanned the landscape for any signs of strange creatures with red eyes, and just as I was about to remark to Dana that the man at the gas station could have been putting us on, I was blinded by the light of high beams reflecting in the rear-view mirror, and the loud sound of a hollow bang echoed in my ears as the car lurched forward. Out of nowhere, someone had crashed into us.
“Holy shit,” Dana yelped, “did someone just hit the car?!”
I quickly placed the car in park and hopped out to assess the damage. Behind us was a boat of a car, a Lincoln, and as the driver opened his door, the yellow dome light illuminated its passengers. In the back seat were two nearly identical men, with big bushy mustaches that matched their dark, shoulder-length hair. In the passenger’s seat was a woman who looked like a low-rent Dolly Parton, bleached-blonde hair puffed high to the car ceiling, bright makeup applied with a shotgun, and earrings that sparkled in the dim light. Each of them were dressed as if they were ready to attend a church service.. in 1974. It was the driver, though, who left the most startling impression on me.
The driver’s side door slammed shut, and the dome light clicked off, shrouding the car’s passengers in darkness. Slowly, the figure of a man lurched forward and into the red glow of my tail lights. A tan suit hung on his slight frame, and a loose bolo tie dangled from his neck. His thinning hair was slicked back, and several days of stubble covered his weathered skin. As he passed the beam of the headlights, I could see that nearly the entire left side of his face was covered in a purple bruise, and his eye was bright red, as if every vessel in it had burst. He looked like Harry Dean Stanton, if Harry Dean Stanton had been run through a meat grinder.
The mere sight of the man’s face was enough to creep me out, but even more unsettling was the unshakable feeling that I’d met him before. Something about him seemed all too familiar, but even going a mile a minute, my mind couldn’t place where or how I knew him.
“I am so, so, sorry,” the Bruised Man exclaimed in a half-yell. “By the time I saw you, I just couldn’t hit the brakes quick enough. How’s the damage?”
I kneeled down to check out the bumper, the side of which had popped out half an inch. I gave it a good whack with my first, snapping it back into place. The only thing that I couldn’t fix was a deep gash in the hard, silver plastic. All things considered, the accident sounded a lot worse than it looked, and for a vehicle from 2006, it wasn’t anything I felt worth the hassle of getting insurance companies involved with.
“I’m good,” I said. “That’s what bumpers are for, right?”
As I stood up, I caught the Bruised Man peering into the back of the Scion, which was loaded to the hilt with antique boxes, wooden chests, and padded cases housing haunted artifacts. His eyes darted back to me when he knew I was looking in his direction, but he knew I had caught him.
“Aw, my old rust bucket? I’m not worried about it,” he said with a southern drawl. “It’s you I’m worried about. It might look fine, but you never really know what might have been rattled loose until later. I’d feel awfully bad if we didn’t exchange information.”
The damage done by the Bruised Man’s fender-bender
I shook my head and told him it wasn’t necessary, but the man insisted. Reluctantly, I walked back to the car and plopped down into the driver’s seat, leaning across Dana to open the glove box.
“Is it bad?” she asked. “Are we going to make it home ok?”
I recounted the Bruised Man’s frightening appearance and his insistence on exchanging insurance info while I shuffled through a stack of papers, but I quickly became distracted by a strange noise behind me. Dana and I each fell silent as we realized one of the boxes stored in the rear of our vehicle had started to rattle violently, as if something stored inside was trying to escape. I quickly turned my head in an attempt to pinpoint the source of the commotion when my eyes caught sight of the strange man. Rather than retrieve paperwork from his glove compartment, he had popped his trunk, and as he made his way to the back of his Lincoln, the rear doors flung open.
In that moment, I knew, whether by latent psychic intuition or the process of elimination, that I was about to die. I put my foot on the gas and pressed the pedal harder than I’d ever done before.
“FUCK THIS!” I yelled, as a cloud of gravel formed behind us.
I can tell you right now that a Scion xB has never driven as fast as ours did in that moment, nor were they ever designed to. Boxes banged against windows, padlocks clacked against metal clasps, and Dana and I bounced in our seats as we tore through the rural roads on the outskirts of Friendsville. Stop signs were ignored, as were speed limits, until we had reached the highway. We were well into West Virginia before I stopped to assess the situation at a well-lit, fairly busy truck stop.
There was no sign of the Bruised Man and his car full of strangers anywhere.
Dana managed to snap this photo about an hour after we met the Bruised Man
I let out a huge sigh and slumped over the steering wheel. I felt like I hadn’t exhaled in thirty miles. Dana put her head in her hands and yelled.
“Oh my god, dude, do you realize what just happened?”
“Yeah,” I groaned, “we were almost murdered by a crazy tent-revival preacher in the middle of nowhere.”
Dana sat up straight and gestured behind her seat.
“The only reason we aren’t being robbed or killed right now because one of the objects got our attention. They were trying to warn us.”
She was right. It was likely that the Bruised Man had intentionally slammed into us in order to get us off the road. If we hadn’t heard that rattle of the artifacts in the back of the car, we would have never looked back to find the strange men reaching for god knows what in their trunk. Had it been a gun, and we’d wasted those precious few seconds discussing the Bruised Man’s appearance, we’d have very likely been relieved of our belongings, if not lying in a ditch outside of Friendsville. The haunted artifacts from the Traveling Museum of the Paranormal & Occult had saved our lives.
Our frightening encounter in rural Maryland was just another reminder to pay close attention to the people, places, and things we deem as haunted. They’ve always got a message to send us if we only listen closely enough, and sometimes they can save our lives.
Oh, and never visit Friendsville in the middle of the night. It’s not nearly as friendly as the name suggests.