He left the bar in Olde City around 4 when his bartender buddy decided it was time to go home to his wife. He walked down 2nd Street to his car; despite drinking more than a few Arrogant Bastards; the two friends had spent the last hour drinking coffee and he had been cleared to drive. He gunned up the engine on his old black Acura and headed up Walnut to Fifth and then over the Ben Franklin Bridge out of Philadelphia and into New Jersey. He drove briskly down Route 70; through Cherry Hill where his own sleeping wife was waiting for him, pausing at a stoplight to light the cheap convenience store cigar he had been chewing in the bar, and beyond through Marlton and Medford and finally turning at the roundabout where 70 and Route 206 intertwined.
At a stoplight in Tabernacle the driver thought he ought to turn around and head home, it was nearly 5 am after all, but he was in a pensive mood and decided to keep driving towards sunrise. As he passed through the Pine Barrens he noticed that the cigar smoke, intended to serve as a stimulant, was starting to intoxicate him; the driver was beginning to feel drunk on its cheap perfume the way normal men might react to the scent from a strange woman’s neck. It seemed as though amidst the fens of pitch pines and scrub brush odd shapes were arising; here was a woman in a white dress, there a tall demon, everywhere revolutionary soldiers and their families. He shook his head violently, and the images melted to smoke and dust, so he continued his journey.
It was another twenty minutes before he realized he was being hypnotized by the white lines as they shot past him in the dark. He knew the tricks, he rolled his windows down further, allowing a white billow of smoke to escape, threw a Decemberists’ CD in the player and shook his head again. The intricate guitar and organ and drums and lyrics gave his mind something to work on while the cool breeze off the many lakes and bogs in the Barrens helped to shock his body awake. The driver knew it was time to turn back, but a shimmer of gold caressed the horizon and he knew it would be mere minutes until he could spot the sun creeping lazily into the sky. If he floored it he would make it out of the Pine Barrens and be at the coast for the spectacular glory of sunrise.
Accordingly, the driver pushed his foot on the gas pedal slightly, taking him from 60 mph to 70 in an instant, his little Blackura was made for just such maneuvers, and raced steadily to the shore.
Suddenly a shape appeared before him, a woman again, beautiful beyond compare and dressed in an ethereal brightness. The driver swerved sharply, seeming to narrowly miss the lady in white and slammed sharply into the guardrail before plowing through and over the side into a ditch along the tree-line. He looked up and saw his windshield covered in blood and reached his right hand forward to touch it. The blood was on the outside; it wasn’t his. His left hand was outside the car and he shook the rest of the cheap cigar from his hand onto the sandy embankment below. The driver was alive.
Then he saw it. flickering outside the car. It was a handsome man in leather trousers and a billowy white lace-up shirt like one might see at Batsto Village nearby, but he slowly changed into a tall, horned demon, wings jutting sharply from his shoulders, red sinew and veins traced over pale white skin and tall black horns haphazardly growing from the top of its head. As it walked towards him it seemed to flicker back and forth from man and monster, ever closer to him as he felt the horror seize his gut and paralyze his throat.
The investigating officers would rule that the man, who had clearly been drinking the night before, had been driving too fast and possibly under the influence when a deer had run out into the road. After swerving to avoid, he had hit the deer hard enough to basically disintegrate the beast but the impact had caused fatal internal injuries. The autopsy had yielded different results and the coroner had declared he had never seen internal injuries such as these; it seemed as though the driver had died of fright.
If you drive down Route 206 late at night, as I have, you can see the decaying flowers and rotting posterboard from his memorial. And if you drive fast enough and look close enough; among the ghosts of the Pine Barrens you can see a young man with bloodshot and tired eyes smoking a cigar. As you speed past him it almost feels like he is shouting a simple message: turn back now.