As a little kid, I was told repeatedly, “There’s no such thing as ghosts.” Presently, I’m not so sure of the answer to that question.
While living in New York, on Long Island, I learned of a local urban legend based around Mount Misery Road, a street that had inspired a number of myths and horror stories. For some, on Halloween especially, it was a tradition to make a trek through this mysterious woodland, either in hopes of seeing a ghost, or simply to prove one’s bravery.
On one particular Halloween night, I hadn’t made plans with any friends. Instead, I decided to defy my fears of the twisted, isolated road and walk along it alone. As a precaution, I had brought along a cell phone, in case of any real danger. Truly, I didn’t anticipate any.
As soon as I turned my car off of the Northern State Parkway onto Round Swamp Road, however, an uneasy feeling crept into my stomach. What if the haunting stories were really true? Could this path possibly pose some threat?
The street, seemingly like any other suburban road, had an eerie stillness about it, even as I passed several houses and streetlights. After barely a half-mile, I made a left onto Hilltop Drive, so named because the elevation gradually rose as you traveled eastward.
A brief drive down Hilltop finally led me to the infamous Mount Misery Road, whereupon I stopped the car. Strangely enough, its name came not from any haunting phenomena, but the fact that in the days of covered wagons, its hills created much “misery” for travelers.
Momentarily, making sure my cell was working properly and that I was carrying a decent flashlight, I shut off the engine. I left the dark red Volkswagen off to the side of a dirt road.
I closed the driver’s side door with a thump, one that echoed across the outwardly deserted woods. My heart started to pound rapidly…I was in survival mode. Yet, I was tempted to ask, what for?
Not far from where I had parked, I spotted an opening in the trees. Was this the “entrance”? It seemed as reasonable as any other. Though, with no external light source, it was black as a raven’s feathers; I ventured toward it. My feet began squishing against piles of fallen leaves, now soaking wet due to the rain that had fallen two hours prior.
Anxious, I clicked on my flashlight. Despite its small size, its blue beam cut through the night, illuminating my obscure surroundings. Encircled on all sides by trees, I felt as if in the company of slumbering leviathans. So as not to disturb them, I kept the light pointed straight ahead, making clear my path. Where exactly it led, however, I knew not.
Mount Misery Road has its fair share of history, as well as spine-tingling stories. Friends had told me of seeing a “woman in white” along the roadside, who would appear briefly to travelers…and then fade. I had also read of strange happenings taking place underneath the Northern State’s bridge, located on nearby Sweet Hollow Road. Yet, as with all the stories I’d heard, I had no evidence to prove them.
Gaining confidence in my ability to press through this maze, I started to slog through the muddy, branch-ridden path. My ears, however, soon became attuned to the voices of the night, and not all were inviting. While the usual crickets’ clicks and gusts of wind slipped through the air, I could have sworn I heard some distant laughter. Whether or not this was my imagination, I’m unable to say. What also struck me were some unexpected scents, especially a burning smell, like that of a smoldering fire.
Tempted as I was to turn back, I pushed further uphill, feeling an iciness travel across my skin. My previously steady breaths became shallow, more frequent, as if compelling me to run from some invisible pursuer. But…
A sound then erupted, from nowhere, booming through the trees! It recalled some creature taking giant steps. Yet in these woods, there had been no sightings, to my knowledge, of any beast larger than a deer. I took three gentle steps forward…and there it came again! At that moment, I visualized some demon emerging from the trees, black-winged and yellow-eyed, out hunting for its prey…
Not willing to find out what was producing these echoes, I promptly turned back, swiftly sloshing through deep piles of leaves and tripping several times over gnarled roots. Frosty sweat began materializing across my arms, making me feel as if I were alternately traveling through a wintery wasteland and a fiery sauna.
Soon, when I thought I had nearly escaped the maze, I came to an impasse. Two separate paths lay in front of me; I had no recollection of choosing between them. With the feeling that something horrific would befall me if I simply stood there, I dashed off to the left, scrambling down the pathway.
I had a vague recollection of traveling this path before…but there was no way of telling. The tree branches and leaves seemed to repeat themselves, forming an endless Escher-esque pattern, and I was trapped in…
The exit. I was outside! There I stood, in front of the same entrance through which I had descended into those woods. After breathing a peaceful sigh, I began walking once more…at a normal pace.
In front of me, several hundred feet away, sat my car. The road remained silent as before; yet inside, I felt I had conquered something.
Momentarily, I approached the front door, and gratefully pressed my thumb against the “unlock” button. The car’s yellow lights flashed, announcing its presence. Once inside, I revived the engine with a growl, and as quickly as I’d arrived, I turned the vehicle in the opposite direction.
That would be my last trip onto Mount Misery Road.