Nightmare on 14th Street

24 Mar 2017 by gebhard, No Comments »

The last picture of hero’s before they head off into the unknown, completely unaware of the danger that awaits.

Our adventures began before getting to site.  As we neared the end of our long drive, we had decided to stop for the night about an hour from site. Azriel brought up the directions to a “hotel near us” on google maps, and it was just a short distance off the freeway. We got off on a standard two lane country road.

It was nearly pitch black in the cloud covered night. Then, the heavy winds kicked in pushing the van around like a falling leaf from a tree. The rain fell in large drops. The world disappeared into only what we could see in the van’s headlamps.

The van was doing the best it could to cut through the walls of wind as they broke over the little road.  Then suddenly, the two lane road split. To the right, where the GPS indicated was the proper path, the road became a one lane road of broken concrete.

To the left was a sharp ninety degree turn that faded into the dark curtain of night and rain.

Given one road the GPS knew and one it didn’t, I decided to follow the GPS.  It showed the name of the road was 14th street, likely one of the major roads in this backhills part of Mississippi. It looked like it would go up and over a small hill and “should” connect to the back of the hotel parking lot.

I pulled the van very slowly onto the old concrete road. The rain started to beat down on the roof like high school band made up only of snare drummers. I could see nothing but pine trees on either side of the van. No houses, no lights, nothing but mud, trees and dark.

Just about twenty feet onto the new road, I stopped the van. About one hundred feet ahead, the road dipped over the crest of a hill. “We should turn around,” I said, but the road was too narrow. I’d never get the van aimed the other direction, and I couldn’t see anything but black out the rear windows. Putting the van into reverse didn’t illuminate anything.  Without some sort of additional light, backing out wasn’t an option.

It seemed like the best action would be to hold the course. We crept forward another thirty feet or so, barely able to see or hear anything over the rain.

Continuing on, I had been about ready to crack a joke about banjo music, when I saw Azriel lunge forward, the seat belt tightening around her, preventing her from slamming into the dashboard. There was a deafening BOOM and a wave of water washed over the windshield. It was like the worst log jammer ride ever.

I spent the next several seconds trying to orient myself and making sure Azriel wasn’t hurt.  White mist surrounded the van as water evaporated rapidly from the cold water washing over the hot exhaust and engine block.

Eventually, I realized the headlamps were roughly ground level.  The van was tilted forward, and the sound of running water was everywhere.

We had a brief debate about whether we could rock the van clear, so I put the van in reverse. I heard the rear tires spin without seeming to contact the ground.  

I decided to step outside to investigate the extent of the damage. Opening the door revealed the bottom of it completely submerged in water. Outside, there was a gap in the terrain where the road had collapsed. The resulting ditch was about four feet wide, and the van was tipped down into it. I could hold onto the side of the van and jump to get to solid ground, so I did. When I could see how things were, it became clear we weren’t going to get the van out of this ditch under its own power.

I climbed back in the van, and we called a tow truck. After thirty minutes or so, I got a call back from the tow truck driver. He’d never heard of 14th street.  After another thirty minutes of trying to describe the various shades of dark and the turns I’d seen, he managed to find us.

I met him on the corner.  He took one look at the glowing tail lights of the van down the broken road and promptly refused to endanger his truck. “Not doing it.” Plain and simple.  I don’t blame him.  His truck was huge, the kind that picks up semi-truck cabs, and the road was quite narrow.

He declared he would follow me on foot to the van to see if his tow cable might reach it. We turned to walk to the van, and a few steps out onto the road, a small section of concrete gave way.  I sank into the cold water down to my knees. It seemed water had been eroding away the ground under the old road. The tow cable wasn’t going to be long enough, and the driver suggested calling another truck.  He’d wait until it arrived.

I got back in the van, and Azriel and I spent time posting on Facebook, making jokes and generally staying positive. Then, I got a call from the tow truck driver saying he’d gotten another call and had to go. He pulled away, and darkness once again fell over the van.  I thought to myself, “I know this part.  This is the part where you thought the heroes were going to get out alive, then things start to go really badly.”

The engine started bubbling, barely able to idle. Was the van sinking? That wasn’t a pleasant thought. If the engine shut off, I might not be able to get it started again.

Then, Azriel noticed a licence plate about twelve feet in front of the van.

She suggested it came from the last sucker to get caught in this death trap. She said she’d like to see it.  I mulled it over, I would really like to not get more wet:  the first rule of survival is,  “Keep your feet dry.” Then I thought, “Oh, who am I kidding, I’m wet up to my knees.”  I decided I too would like to see the plate;  maybe it would be a souvenir of the trip, It will become my “The Sucker Before Me” trophy and will look nice on my wall.

In spite of the efforts of the horror movie audience in my head to convince me not to get out of the van, I climbed out, jumped back to land, and moused around the path of water as best as I could.  When I got to the plate, I lifted it off the ground. Later, Azriel said she saw the red and blue stripe, she realized it was an Ohio plate and was amazed that someone else from Ohio got stuck in this thing. Meanwhile, in the light of the dim headlamps, I noticed something familiar about the plate. I turned it around so Azriel could see it and I yelled, “It’s my plate.” It must have popped off the van when it went nose down into the earth and water.

Just as I climbed safely back into the van, my phone declared, with perfect Hollywood timing, “GPS signal lost”. Now, we really were all alone in the dark.

To lighten the mood, Azriel asked, “If something rushes the van, what would you use to fend it off?”

I replied, “Well, all the weapons are in back under other things, so I guess we could use this.” I picked up a tambourine.
“So, you’re going to hit them with that?” she asked.

“Nope, I’m going to kill them with bad rhythm.”

A few moments later, I watched the indicator lights on the dash light up, blink, then fade out one by one.  Things were starting to fail as the fuse box was filling with water.  The headlights dimmed even more, and the engine idle was more rough and sounded like it would stall any moment.

I figured we had between 40 and 90 minutes until the engine shut off with no hope of getting the van restarted. We started to talk about plan B. I said it was too cold to stay in the van, and I was also worried it was sinking (recall the corvette museum).  I couldn’t say this was a rational fear, but nothing so far had been overly rational about this situation except that there weren’t any alligators or zombies…… yet.

Azriel thought leaving the van was a horrible idea. At this point, we were both listening closely for the sounds of banjo music, vampires, werewolves or a pack of blonde haired children.

Finally, I got a call from the second tow truck driver. He was just about to us. I got out of the van and ran to the corner. I could see his lights approaching. Sensing salvation, I ran toward him, waving frantically. He slowed down, then drove right past me.

I stood alone in the dark and the rain, only the soft, faint glow of lights from the van visible.

Oh no, I know this part.  The heroes get one last chance, then they separate. Then DEAD! It’s always over once they separate. Oh… I’m hearing it now, the Banjos are a comin! I start my dash back to the Van.

Before I made it back all the way back, my phone rang.  It was the tow truck driver. He asked if he’d passed me. I said he had, and suddenly, he pulled onto to the little broken road. His tow truck was small, about the size of standard pickup. In a flash, he spun it around, dropped the brace, put the cable around the tow hitch on the back of the van, and in just a few minutes, the van was out of the hole. As the water drained out of the under-carriage, all the lights came back on and the engine began to purr just as it always has. The heroes had been saved!

A small fee later and we we were on another route to our destination. We pulled into the hotel lot just over the crest of the hill. In the lobby, we broke down into a good fifteen minutes of laughter. I’m sure the clerk, in rural Mississippi, in the middle of the night, thought we were insane.

We were thrilled to have survived the first adventure of Gulf Wars.  We hadn’t even made it to site, and already it had made me appreciate the people in my life.  This episode would have made many people sour and likely to regret even leaving the house. The warrior spirit is rooted in defiance.  As warriors, we must to look opposition in the face and say, “Not today!”. We do not go gentle into that good night, nor into that that hole of water. For we know, whatever it is we face now we will overcome, and tomorrow will become all the easier for having defeated this.

And maybe tomorrow’s challenge I can take on with dry socks.


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