Unnamed Forest Road in Eldingdown State Park - P1
The dream always started the same way.
He would be driving a Jeep on a long, narrow forest road. It was Ethan’s jeep, but he was comfortable driving it.
He knew the road; he had driven it before. He had driven it just last weekend. In the dreams, which he’d been having since then, it was always the same. The road was dark, so he had the high beams on. They cut through the clear night but not beyond the edge of the thick treeline.
There was always someone in the car with him, he knew that much. But it was like his head was welded to his spine and he couldn’t turn to look at the passenger’s seat, although he dearly wanted to. He had to keep driving forward. Every night, he got a little farther.
Father Paul met him at the door to the darkened nave at 6:47 AM, with the tiredness he wore around him visible even under the heavy goose-down coat that hung from his shoulders. Brandon apologized for requesting to meet with Father Paul so early.
“Not at all,” said the priest, who produced a key the width of his pinky finger and poked it in the lock to let them into the darkened church. “I’m a morning person, anyway.”
It was the third time they’d met that week, but if the priest noticed his guest's increasing urgency he let it roll of his shoulders as they walked together into the darkened nave. This particular church was in one of the more upper-crust neighborhoods in Brooklyn, so it was a proper 20s-era Catholic church, with granite floors and vaulted ceilings and pews well-worn by a thousand asses, if a little shabby now.
The slot windows let in only a few bands of the morning light, but he was able to follow the Priest’s echoing footsteps down the central walkway between the pews and to the confessional booths near the chancel, where they had met several times before.
“You’re sure you want to talk in here?” The Priest said, gesturing in the direction of his office. The tiredness was audible on his voice, now, but it wasn’t just tiredness from the morning. “My office is just through that door. I have a coffee machine.”
“No thanks, I’m more comfortable talking here.” He chuckled a little bit. “More experience, I guess.”
Once they were both settled and Father Paul had slid the confessional divider open between them so their voices could pass through, he said, “So the dreams. Are you still having them?”
“Yes. Every time I go to sleep.”
“And you tried the herbal tea I suggested?”
“I did, Father. It didn’t help.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
A moment of silence passed between them, amplifying the quiet in the church.
“I’ve been getting farther and farther each time, now. I’m afraid of what will happen if I get to the end of the road. I don’t want to see what’s at the end of it. Last night I—the dream changed. I called you immediately when I woke up.” Another long silence. He could hear Father Paul fidgeting a little in his robes. “I think I need to tell you the story, now.”
“About what happened to you and your friends last weekend?”
For the past five years, since they were in their final year of college, Brandon and his three former roommates had been driving four hours to a remote campsite in the countryside for Halloween. Well, it was partly for Halloween and partly in memory of their fifth roommate, Peter, who had died unexpectedly last summer in those very woods. Most of all, though, it was an excuse to make a bonfire and get drunk in the middle of nowhere for no reason, while also feeling like they were doing something meaningful.
So this is where last weekend found them, with Brandon and his three remaining roommates all arranged in the four corners of Ethan’s jeep as they drove down the secluded unnamed back road to their traditional camping spot in Eldingdown State Park.
It was a long drive, but the convoluted road was beautiful, nearly covered over by the long arms of oak trees in blazing colors and flanked by expansive evergreens on either side, and they all knew the road well, having driven it so many times before.
At what appeared to be the end of the road, Ethan made a sharp right between the trees, and they drove right up to the leaf-covered fire pit that marked the camping spot. They got out and stretched their legs, grinning in anticipation, but also somewhat sobered as their last memory of the place had included Peter in it. They unpacked, relieving Ethan’s car of the tent, numerous cases of beer, and the camp chair apiece that they’d packed as supplies.
"I don't mean to interrupt," Father Paul's voice came from the other side of the divider, surprising him, "but I really must pause the story and go get some coffee. Would you like some?"
"Thanks, I'm fine." Brandon listened as Father Paul shuffled to his feet and then into the echoing nave, wondering how he was going to continue the story.
Knowing they would be too drunk to do it later, they had erected their tents and unrolled their sleeping bags and Ethan put the seats down in the back of his jeep and spread out his sleeping bag inside it. They gathered armloads of firewood which Eric, the Eagle Scout among them, ignited into a sizeable fire. Then as it was getting dark they unfolded their camp chairs and were already well on their way to intoxication.
"To Peter," Ethan said, and they all sobered up a bit and raised their PBRs in salute. "May he be wasted with us in spirit, forever."
"And may that bitch that made him crash his car into a tree go fuck herself." The other three murmured in agreement to Eric's outburst.
The evening stretched into night and they didn’t talk again about Peter. Chris, the fourth member of their group and least intoxicated, brought out marshmallows and chocolate (“fuck, I forgot the goddamn graham crackers,”) and they laughed and joked around and drank so much that whatever they talked about was lost to Brandon’s memory.
Father Paul had come back with his coffee and been filled in on the story up to this point. He noticed Brandon’s abrupt transition to silence and said, “Brandon? Is there a problem?”
“Yeah, I’m alright. Just trying to figure out how I’m going to tell this next part of the story without sounding crazy. I’d gotten pretty drunk at that point, really drunk, everyone was.”
“Well, yes. Jesus forgives you.”
“Chris had passed out and we just let him sleep. That dude could sleep through a train wreck. And the other two were wasted out of their minds. So was I. I don’t even know how late it was at that point, whether it might’ve just been a dream. I don’t even know if it even happened or not but this—” he gestured at the darkness of the confessional booth, “—I’ll just tell you what happened. You can think I’m crazy, or maybe not.”
“I’ll withhold judgment until I hear the story.”
“Alright. Well. This woman came up to our campsite. Just out of nowhere. She was wearing a Halloween mask.”
“What was the mask?”
He strained at his drunken memory to bring the image of the young woman’s mask into shape. “I wanna say… I don’t know, it was just a monster mask, like the type you buy from a costume store. Like a demon mask or something. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. So this girl just came out of nowhere, and she wanted to party with us. She wanted to drink. So we gave her a beer and just went with it.”
“And what happened?”
“She was a cool girl. Took her mask off and chilled with us. She seemed normal, if a little bit reserved. Who cares about that stuff when you’re drunk? I don’t think I realized how odd it all was, or wondered where she had come from, until the next morning when I woke up and she was gone. The campfire was out and littered with bottles and Chris was still just passed out in his camp chair. And she was just gone.”