Here's a short, 5-minute story that's a little creepy, a little spooky, and perfect to read under candlelight on Halloween night...
by Christopher Pinto
There were no lights on that stretch of Route 9, it was just a flat, dark, pine tree-flanked two-lane road running through Leeds Point in South Jersey. I drove it a lot though, especially since I started bartending at the Oyster Inn, set deep into the backwaters of the bay. Getting off work at two a.m. was a drag, but it paid the bills.
That night I was heading home after my shift, a little groggy from knocking back a few beers with the customers, but not drunk, by any means. The old reliable Malibu was purring nicely along the lonely road, cruising at a cool 35. I had the AM radio on (since the 8-track stopped working years ago), and was listening to some Rock ’n’ Roll, playing low. I only looked down for a second to change the station. When I looked back up, two red eyes were staring into mine from the middle of the road, dead ahead. I slammed on the brakes but it was no use, whatever it was got creamed by the chrome of my bumper, and I could hear it…feel it…bounce around under the car, getting mangled on the driveshaft and tail pipe as the car skidded to a stop.
A million things ran through my mind. What did I hit? Was it dead? Did it damage the car? What was that thing?
That was the question that lingered longest, ‘just what was it in the middle of the road’…a head like a deer, yet too small and too…upright…to be a deer. And did I see wings? Like a giant bat? Couldn’t be, I thought, must be raccoon or maybe a fox. But with red eyes? Crazy.
I took a deep breath, made sure the car was in park, and grabbed my flashlight out of the glove compartment. After another deep breath, I got out to survey the damage.
The road was desolate. Not a car, creature or man-made light to be seen anywhere. The only light came from the cloud-shadowed moon and stars, casting a dull blue hue over the road and forest. I looked around and shined the flash behind the car, where the body should have been. Nothing. Not even blood. I shined it into the woods…shadows leapt from the pines and underbrush, but nothing living, and nothing dead. Then it occurred to me that the thing could be caught under the car, hanging from the tailpipe or something…I shuddered, and shined the light under the rear of the Malibu. Nothing.
Next I made my way around to the front of the car. The wind picked up a little, sending a late October chill through my bones. I braced myself for the worst…imagining blood and body parts dripping from my grill. But when I shined the light on the Chevy’s front end, again I found nothing. Oh, there was a huge dent in the bumper and grill where the thing had hit, but no blood, no fur, no hooves, nothing – as if the thing I hit were made of steel.
Another gust of wind and another chill ran through me. My mind was spinning with crazy thoughts. Red eyes, I couldn’t get the image of those red eyes out of my head. Wings like a bat. Face like a deer. No blood, no fur. Whatever it was should have been mangled and dead. Instead it seemed to have survived without a scratch.
A queasy feeling came over me, and I decided that hell, if the thing survived and there was no blood or guts all over the road, then good for him. I was only a mile from home and really just wanted to hit the sack. I climbed back into the old Chevy, started her up, punched the gas and headed home. Only now, I didn’t dare go over 25.
Looking back, I remember it really started about a half a mile from my place. The first major “Thump!” on my roof took me so off guard I almost threw the Malibu into a ditch. Good thing I was going slow, or I really would have. The thud was so loud, and right above my head, that I jerked the wheel and hit the brake at the same time, a bad combination. But I got my head together and straightened it out before I ran up a tree, and kept going. I wanted to stop, but something was telling me know way, Jack. So I kept motoring down that dark, lonely stretch of road, until I got to the cut-off at Leeds Creek Road. That’s where my room was, down the end of a one-lane dirt road cut out before the Revolutionary War, named after the landowner who settled the area 200+ years ago. Down the end of that dark, tricky dirt lane sat a little cluster of turn-of-the-century cabins, part of a fishing village that went belly up during WW2. Some guy got the bright idea to renovate them into rental units, and being tucked way back in the woods by the creek, they came cheap. So that’s where I lived, with my room mate Rick, in a little 20’ by 20’ cabin with two beds, a kitchenette and tiny shower/head. Hey, at $45 a month I couldn’t complain, even about the mosquitoes.
The second thud thundered through the car like a freight train. It left my ears ringing, and made a dent in the roof that pushed the headliner down to my hair. This time I slammed on the brakes and brought the 10 year old car to a dangerous stop; I could smell smoke and hear things clanging and knocking that never should have been. Dirt got kicked up all over, and the dust swirled in the yellowy headlights as I tried to see if anything was out there. Again, nothing. But I knew something was, I knew that thing…whatever it was that I ran over…had followed me, stuck with me, and was pretty damned pissed off.
My brains jumped. I didn’t know what to do now, should I stay in the safety of the car or get the flash and check outside? What if that animal was rabid? What if it was brain damaged from the accident, and nuts and just wanted to hurt anything near it? The last thing I needed was a trip the Emergency room with a raccoon bite. If it was a raccoon.
I decided the best thing to do was to stay in the car and get home. There were lights at the cabins, and they’d probably scare the thing away, I figured. So I eased the Chevy back onto the road and took off slowly. The dirt street was lumpy with potholes anyway, so I couldn’t go more than 15 even in bright daylight. So I took it easy, inching along…until I could see the lights of the cabins.
In three minutes I was parked in front of Cabin Number 9. I suddenly felt a lot better, under the glow of the antique porch light, surrounded by little cabins full of people, even if they were mostly sleeping. I knew Rick would be up, probably watching the Million Dollar Movie on the portable TV, and that made me feel better too. Yet I sat there in the car, motor off, lights on, doors locked, the flashlight in one hand and the keys in the other. What if that thing was still out there? What if it had latched onto the roof somehow? Why the hell did this animal follow me home?
I tried to shake it off. I told myself I was crazy, and that my paranoia was the result of too much beer (or not enough). I took a deep breath, and opened the car door…
To my own surprise, I leapt out of the door and did a rolling summersault so fast that I didn’t even have time to think about it. I landed on my feet and spun around with the flashlight aimed right at the roof of the old ’65, expecting to see some monster perched there, a gargoyle figure ready to pounce me like an owl on a mouse. But there was nothing there, no monster, no fox, no raccoon. Just the car. I took a quick swipe around with the flash, and thought I saw the faintest trace of a shadow jump behind the cabin, but figured it must have just been the shadow from the trash cans. Feeling relieved, I locked up the car and got into the cabin.
“Hey man, you took your time getting home, it’s almost three, dude,” Rick said as I slammed the door shut and locked it. “You get hung up with some chick or something?”
He was sitting on the couch, with his hand-woven Indian blanket over him to keep out the chill. He loved the blanket, dirty and full of holes as it was. There were empty beer bottles and a half-eaten bowl of BooBerry on the coffee table, and some black and white horror flick was playing on the TV. A typical Saturday night for Rick. “Nothing that interesting. I hit some animal on Route 9 on the way home. Banged up the car pretty bad, in front.”
“Jesus dude, are you ok?”
“Just a little rattled, that’s all.”
“Is the animal…dead?” Rick had a soft spot for animals, being a Marine Biologist-in-Training.
“I dunno. I don’t think so. I couldn’t find it after I hit it,” I said, and gave a nervous little laugh. “No body, no blood, no nothing.”
“Cool, so maybe it’s like, ok.”
“It put a dent about three inches deep in my bumper and grill. You don’t think it’s a little weird that there was no blood or nothing?” I asked, cracking open a beer for myself.
“Well, like, what kind of animal was it? Like a deer?”
“No, not a deer. Not anything…I dunno, it was dark, ya know?” I said, the image of those bright red eyes burning into my brain. “Maybe a fox or something. Smaller than a deer. And it was kind of standing up, you know, upright, like a dog on his hind legs.”
Rick now had his full attention on me. He pushed his floppy, ragged hair out of his eyes and looked at me like I was nuts. “What else do you remember about it?” he asked, cautiously.
“Honestly? Well, it kind of had a face like a deer. Long snout. And it was black. But it had red eyes, reflecting in the high beams. And I think…I could be crazy, it was dark, but I think it had wings. Like a bat.”
To my surprise, Rick didn’t seem to think that was all that nuts. “Did it have hooves?” he asked seriously.
“I don’t know. It happened too fast. Why?”
“Jesus man, don’t you know? You’ve lived here like, what, three years now, and you don’t know?” He had a somewhat terrified look in his eyes now, and was visibly shaking.
“You’re freaking me the hell out, man. What gives?” I said, remembering the giant thumps on the roof of the Malibu. What did he know?
He was about to answer when three loud, deliberate slow knocks came at the front door, a full second apart each. We both jumped out of our skin.
“You expecting anyone?” Rick asked, staring at the door.
“No, man.” An eternity went by as we remained frozen, both looking at the door as if we expected it to burst open. “You gonna see who it is, man?” Rick finally asked. I shook my head. “No, I don’t think so. It was probably just the wind blowing something against the front of the cabin anyway. It stopped.”
It was right then that all hell broke loose. First came the thunderous bangs on the cabin’s roof, as if a 747 had landed and skipped across it. Rick instinctively went for his baseball bat by the door, I just stood there incredulous, shaking with fear. What the hell was this thing? Why was it doing this? What kind of animal…monster…could have the sense to follow me home and terrorize me?
“What the hell, man! You led it right to us!” Rick screamed, peering out the side window.
“Led what to us? You know what this thing is?”
“It’s the damned Jersey Devil, man! You ran over the Jersey Devil! Don’t even tell me you never heard of it?”
“Aw hell,” I said, “That’s just a myth, some dumb fable to scare kids!”
“No man, it ain’t no story. It’s true, that thing’s been sighted plenty of times. The 13th son of the Leeds family, cursed at birth as a devil. The thing’s been living in these woods for 200 years man, and you went and pissed it off royally.”
“That’s a load of crap,” I said, but somehow knew I was wrong. The deer-like head, the bat wings, the body tough as iron…and now that he said it, the image of the red-eyed beast became clear in my mind. Hooves. Black fur. Almost human-like features on a deer’s head. This was no ordinary animal.
We heard the ominous sound of giant flapping wings outside the cabin. Things went from bad to worse real fast, as the devil came crashing through the side window, shattering glass all over Rick. It hit Rick full-on with it’s massive hooves as it rushed legs-first through the hole, and knocked him clear across the room. Blood started oozing from his chest as he lay there unconscious. Papers and junk swirled around the room as the beast beat its giant, leathery black wings, at least 10 feet in span, until it came to rest on the floor in front of me. Now I could see the thing clearly in the light of the cabin, larger than I first thought, at least six tall. It stood there boring its blood-red eyes into my soul, a scowl on its long, black snout, ugly fangs exposed. It heaved with heavy breaths, clenching claw-like hands in morbid fists, and came at me. Petrified with fear, I had no idea what to do, so I screamed, “I’m sorry I ran you over! It was an accident!”
The thing stopped dead in its tracks, inches from my face. Its hot breath steamed in the cold October air, and smelled of the grave as he leaned in within inches of my face. Then, incredibly, it spoke.
“Not me,” it scraped, with more of dog-like bark than human voice. “You killed my son.”
In its face, I could see its anger turned to sorrow, grief. I mirrored his emotion.
“I…I’m sorry…I couldn’t stop…I didn’t even see him, it was too dark.” I was afraid for my life, but my fear turned to pity as I saw tears…actual tears…streaming from the beast’s eyes. It let out a howl that pierced my eardrums and shook the cabin, and ended in sobs that wrenched my guts. “I wish I could undo what happened, honestly, I’m sorry.”
Then the thing’s sorrow turned to anger once again, and once again I feared for my life. I took a quick look around the room…Rick’s bat was laying next to him, too far away for me to grab. The kitchenette was to my left, with a couple of knives on the counter, but I was sure this thing was too fast for me. I stood there waiting, wondering what was to come next. Then again, it spoke with that guttural growl.
“I could kill you now, but it’s not in my nature, in spite of my appearance,” it said, much more eloquently than I’d expect an animal could speak. “I’ve lived for generations and have never harmed a human until tonight. And yet I’ve never known the sorrow of losing a loved one. And so, human, in place of killing you,” it continued with its horrid breath in my face, “I shall curse you as I once was cursed. You will father a child, and that offspring will not be born a human, but will be born a devil like me, and will come to me in the wood, to be my son. That shall be your punishment. And I shall be appeased.”
“And if I never father a child?” I asked nervously, knowing I was pushing my luck.
“You shall, and it shall be a Leeds,” the devil said, and without another word beat its gigantic wings and veered out the window.
I remained frozen with fear, shaking, crying. I looked down at Rick who was out cold. I wondered if the wounds in his chest were fatal, but couldn’t move to check. I wondered if this was all real, or if someone had slipped some LSD into my beer. I wondered if I was insane.
After a few minutes, I was able to move. The stench of death still hung in the air. The icy cold of night came through the broken window. Rick’s immobile body lay on the floor, bleeding. It was real. I moved over to Rick; he was still breathing, but faintly. Then I called the ambulance, and the police.
That was three years ago. Rick survived, but left South Jersey without telling me where he was heading. I stayed, but for months was terrified I’d run into the devil again on that dark stretch of road. I never did, and as time went by I started to feel more at ease. A year ago, I moved away from Leeds Point to Atlantic City, where I started bartending at one of the local hangouts. I met a woman there, and we started dating. And remembering the devil’s curse, I made damned sure we did everything we could to make sure she didn’t get pregnant. But you see, that’s the problem, Father. Even though we took every precaution possible, she told me this morning that she was pregnant. It seemed impossible. I almost died. I knew I should have ended it when I found out her mother’s maiden name was Leeds. Now it’s too late. I didn’t know who to turn to, and I’m not a very religious man, but I had to ask someone…so I ask you, Father, knowing what you now know…what am I going to do?
This story was inspired by tales of the Jersey Devil, a creature believed to haunt the pine barrens of southern New Jersey. Born the 13th child of the Leeds family in the early 18th century, the story goes that the father, already burdened by 12 children, cursed his 13th when he found out his wife was pregnant. When the child was born, it was born a devil-like creature with horns, hooves, and wings. It attacked the midwife, flew around the room and out a window, destined to live in the woods for eternity. There have been several 'sightings' even till this day, and anyone who lives within 20 miles of Leeds Point, New Jersey knows that the Jersey Devil is more than just a myth, it's a reality.
I set the story in 1975, mainly because I first became aware of the Devil at that time, and because I've always found that era, in that neck of the woods, to be the spookiest...before the internet and 24 TV, before cell phones and fax machines, when today's technology was still in the baby stages and living in a hundred year-old shack with no electricity in the middle of the woods was still considered to be in the norm.
For more information on this mystical creature and the intriguing story behind it, visit http://njdevilhunters.com.