Chapter 42: War Damn Eagle
Kevin Cloudbreaker had not seen the Ghosts of Ross Bridge since Halloween. The adults pretend like nothing happened, thought Kevin. But I’m not going to pretend. I saw what I saw. Even Hollie didn’t like talking about it. Being the girl from an oddball family who talked about ghosts didn’t fit with Hollie’s regular life.
Kevin knew the ghosts were still on some people’s minds, if not on their tongues. He could see the signs. Take the tunnel, for example. The dark tunnel where he and Stephen met Red Eyes was now full of lights. Kevin thought it unlikely that a person would randomly install big florescent lights in the tunnel. Somebody was motivated to install those lights. And nothing is more motivating than meeting a pair of ghostly red eyes in a pitch-black tunnel.
Theoretically, with the lights installed the tunnel should have remained brightly lit. But these lights had a habit of turning off at the precise moment they were needed the most. If they were on a timer, nobody could figure out the schedule. Some nights they were on, some nights they were turned off. There was no rhyme or reason to the pattern.
Some kids claimed the lights would suddenly turn off on you while you were inside the tunnel. One boy said, “I’d rather take my chances with the cars up on the street than go through that tunnel again.” But he was reluctant to share specifics.
There were other rumors, too. One night, some kids Hollie knew built a campfire out in the woods. Later in the night they heard sniffling, and a strange howl—almost like a woman wailing. Then a female voice asked, “Have you seen my William?”
This confused them, for there wasn’t anybody named William in their group. What kind of joke was this?
The girls began pointing fingers and accusing each other of being the one who asked the question. The prank had been in bad taste, and it was not acceptable. The catfight continued at school on Monday, but the culprit never confessed.
That’s not the best story Kevin had heard, though. The best story was about a birthday boy and his new truck.
For his sixteenth birthday, the boy’s father checked him out of school early and took him to get his driver’s license. When they returned home from the DMV, there was a new truck waiting in the garage. It was the boy’s surprise birthday present.
The truck was a crimson red Ford four-wheel drive: an avid Crimson Tide fan’s dream vehicle. A black toolbox saddled the truck bed, a custom image of the University of Alabama mascot strategically positioned on the back so that at a stoplight, Auburn fans had to sit under the pachyderm’s stare.
That night, the birthday boy picked up his girlfriend and went out for a ride. He gently scolded her for placing her purse under the windshield, for he did not want scratches on his flawless dash.
After placing her purse on the floor, she scooted over to the middle seat. With his left thumb, he pushed steering wheel controls to notch up the volume of the 8-speaker surround sound. He wrapped his right hand around her and inhaled deeply; the new car smell mixed with her perfume in a magical way. It created a feeling of contentment that could never be reproduced. As they drove down John Hawkins Parkway, he moved his hand down her waist and squeezed her closer to him. It occurred to him that this could be the best moment of his life.
By and by, they went off-roading to park and ended up by the old creek ford. The very same ford where Stephen and Kevin first met Silver Eyes. They were kissing and making out when the girl opened her eyes to find a pair of red eyes locked on her!
She let loose a blood-curdling scream that almost gave the young birthday boy a heart attack. He turned to see the red-eyed ghost, and screamed louder than the girl.
Grotesque red eyes peered at the boy through the passenger side window. Sergeant Brock was most displeased with the birthday boy and his gaudy Alabama truck.
The boy’s instincts for self-preservation took over. With little regard for his prized truck, or the hazards of the surrounding wilderness, he tore down the primitive wooded road like it was Talladega Speedway.
The driver’s side mirror became the first casualty, knocked loose by a giant pine that got in the truck’s way.
All the girl saw were trees passing headlights as she bounced around inside the truck’s cab like a super bouncy ball. They zigged and zagged down the road such that the poor girl feared they would run into the woods but at the last second the boy would cut the wheel sharp to stay on the road.
In his haste he zigged when he should have zagged and was unaware he’d made a wrong turn until they ran out of road. Consequently, they splashed straight into the creek, which was known as the “Creek of the Shades of Death” in older times.
The water was low, and the bottom was solid. The boy put the truck in four-wheel drive and continued off downstream. The truck plowed through the water, throwing up a tremendous wake of waves. In hindsight the boy would think how beautiful his truck must have looked in that moment—taillights reflecting off the water to create a glowing crimson tide charging through the night.
They came to the old ford and he took a sharp right to get back on the road and begin their second attempt to escape the haunted woods. Being an inexperienced driver, he failed to take into consideration the incline of the creek’s bank, the rate of speed of his truck, or the sluggish handling one might expect when the tires are on slippery moss-covered rocks under two feet of water as opposed to asphalt. His miscalculation resulted in him missing the road slightly, so the passenger side of his grill impacted the creek bank.
The right headlight was buried in creek dirt, illuminating the bank in an eerie glow. The left headlight shone directly forward, squarely spotlighting the ghost of Sergeant William Lee Brock, who remained standing in the same spot as before, having not moved an inch since the couple began their hurried escape.
The frightened birthday boy threw the truck in reverse and floored it. The limited slip axle did its job well, quickly dislodging the truck from the north bank. It proceeded to quickly traverse the small creek, and lodge its rear bumper in the muddy south bank.
The oak tree had hung over the creek at a precarious angle for the past four years. Many a man who viewed the tree wondered why it didn’t just go ahead and fall in the creek. Apparently, the tree was waiting for the opportunity to fall on a crimson-colored pickup truck.
The tree’s wait was over.
The truck collided with the undercut bank in the perfect way for the tree to fall inside the bed of the truck, so that its root ball lay against the tailgate, its trunk lay across the roof of the cab, and the branches spread across the hood. Had it not already lost its leaves for the fall, the birthday boy would have been unable to see anything due to the canopy.
Undeterred, the boy put the truck in gear and floored it again. The truck lurched forward, but quickly jerked to a halt. A few remaining roots of the tree remained anchored to the bank and were reluctant to change locations. Loud groans filled the air as metal strained against wood and dirt. The engine labored, permeating the cabin with an awful smell, and yet, desperate to break free, the boy kept his foot on the gas and moved the steering wheel to and fro.
Suddenly, the roots pulled free. As if launched by a rubber band, the truck lurched forward. This time the boy’s aim was true, and the truck exited the creek onto the wooded road.
A red-eyed ghost stood directly in the truck’s path. The boy trembled with fear as he looked into the ghost’s fearsome red eyes. He dared not slow down for such an evil spirit, and instead accelerated forward. The girl grabbed the ‘oh shit’ handle and braced for impact.
The truck passed completely through the ghost.
The boy was so stunned by the non-event that he would have continued driving forward into the woods, but for a flash of light that brought his attention back to the moment. The headlight happened to reflect off a sideview mirror, which, coincidently, had recently been placed beside the pine tree.
He gave the obstacle a wider berth this go-around, but the limbs from the hitchhiking oak tree had a wider reach than the mirror. The tree on top of the vehicle was thusly pruned as they once again raced by the massive pine.
As they bounced through the woods, the trunk of the hitchhiking tree rose and fell, banging on the roof of the truck as if King Kong were smashing the truck with a mallet.
Mercifully, the girl stopped bouncing around and noticed they were finally riding on asphalt.
“Take me home,” she demanded.
“What about my truck?”
“Take me home!”
The boy turned to look at her, but saw nothing but ceiling as the truck’s headroom over the middle seat had been considerably reduced.
The girl’s parents were sitting in their den when a light shown through the front window. They looked outside to see a grotesque abomination of wood and metal pull in the driveway. It took several blinks before they could identify the thing as a Ford pickup truck with a freshly pruned oak tree draped across its length, nestled in a cozy, custom-fitted slot which had been hammered into the truck’s roof. The truck looked significantly worse for wear compared to a few hours earlier. Its left headlight was correctly pointing forward. The right headlight, however, had been repositioned so that it was shining up and to the right, into their house.
Had they been able to avoid gawking at the tree, they would have been quicker to notice the truck’s significant damage. The instant the vehicle came to a halt, their daughter jumped out and, without saying a word to the birthday boy, marched towards the house with an intensely distraught expression covering her face.
As they watched their traumatized child, the parents silently embraced each other in a gesture of mutual support. After fighting through the trials and tribulations of life together, it is amazing how husbands and wives become bonded so they function as one. Without uttering a word, each knew exactly what the other was thinking. They turned and looked into each other’s eyes.
“We don’t have to worry about her going out with him again!” she said.
“And we won’t have to look at the obnoxious truck anymore, either!” he said.
“War Damn Eagle, baby.”