Off the Beaten Path: The Old Bridge.

Several years ago, I was hiking through the backcountry of Greenbrier County when I came to a small stream that blocked my path. I picked my way across it and on the other side found an old logging road. It was in a terrible state and looked like no vehicle had driven on it for many years. Looking around, I saw an old weather-beaten car off the side of the road, sitting in a little clump of trees beside the stream.

For this month’s Off the Beaten Path, I share with you this last journal entry and a picture I found inside the notebook.

It had an out-of-state license plate on it, so I became curious and decided to give it a look. I didn’t find much of interest inside except an old notebook on the floorboard. It was yellowed and brittle with age and had a foul, musty smell. I flipped through it and found that it was a journal, written in print with heavy black ink. Most of the entries seemed to be about everyday kinds of things. But the last entry was different. For this month’s Off the Beaten Path, I share with you this last journal entry and a picture I found inside the notebook. I’ll let you decide what it all means…

16 September

I awoke this morning in my hotel room in Glen Ferris. The room was gloomy and oppressive even though the curtains were spread wide. Looking out the window, I saw that a leaden gray pall hung over the otherwise beautiful little town, this being no doubt responsible for last night’s thrashing storm, the explosive lightning bolts of which had kept me awake a good portion of the night.

When finally on the road, I headed east, following the old Midland Trail, seeking out whatever roadside amusements I could find along the way.

I had lunch riverside with sandwiches from my pack, listening to the now raging falls in the distance, ragged clouds scudding furiously by high overhead. When finally on the road, I headed east, following the old Midland Trail, seeking out whatever roadside amusements I could find along the way. I stopped in briefly at the strange Mystery Hole and gazed over the famous Hawks Nest overlook among other things, and by the time I reached the vicinity of Lewisburg, I was thoroughly exhausted. Even so, I thought to stop by the old Herns Mill Bridge, since I have always been interested in covered bridges but never had the chance to see one.

The rain, which had fallen off and on throughout the day, had slowed to a trickle now…

It was after dark when I finally arrived at the turnoff to the bridge, but on a whim I decided to continue on anyway and give it a cursory examination as best I could. The clouds had parted somewhat in the east, and a bright gibbous moon hung over the mountains, a rheumy yellow eye peering down on me as I drove along the lonely, deserted road. The rain, which had fallen off and on throughout the day, had slowed to a trickle now, so I rolled down my window to better smell the rural air. The usual, pleasing country smells were there, but there seemed also to be a certain electricity in the air that was hard to define – a form of tenseness about the place, as though the very atmosphere were laden with some violent energy, the like of which I had never encountered before.

I found myself nearing the bridge as the rough, narrow road made a steep decline to the creek bed…

The lane cut between rain-drenched fields, awash in shimmering pools of yellow and silver that lay upon the pavement. I inched the car along the isolated and forlorn track, rain pattering on the roof, feeling held back by some sense of trepidation of…I knew not what. A short time later I found myself nearing the bridge as the rough, narrow road made a steep decline to the creek bed, a sudden maw of darkness seeming to swallow me and my tiny car up completely.

And then, finally, there it was, its rough-hewn and rain-slicked boards gleaming wanly in the reflected light of my headlamps. I stopped the car and followed the road in front of me with my eyes as it flattened out and disappeared into the interior of the bridge, through a hole so dark that it made my surroundings seem almost cheerfully bright by comparison.

Looking in the rear-view mirror my eyes could not penetrate the darkness…

I sat there staring at the bridge for a few moments but soon became aware that the tenseness of the place only seemed to be intensifying. Covered bridges be damned, I thought – the sooner I got away from this ghastly place the better. I drove forward a bit and snapped a quick picture through the rain-spattered windshield and was about to put my car in reverse when I heard a faint creak and then a snapping sound, as if a small tree had fallen somewhere in the surrounding woods.

Looking in the rear-view mirror my eyes could not penetrate the darkness, so I lay the camera down on the seat and got out of the car to make sure there was nothing blocking my retreat. It was then that I heard another, similar snapping sound, and then, momentarily, yet another, appearing to originate from somewhere up the creek bed.

…curiosity, vague wonderment, rising terror, each of these flooded and coursed through me

The clouds by this point had opened further, allowing more silvery moonlight to penetrate the dense canopy of the trees. Looking toward the source of the sound, I thought I could make out something whitish in the distance, which to all appearances was slowly creeping down the creek toward the bridge. A sudden rush of rank, fetid air bored its way down the ravine, sending leaves and other debris flying from the forest floor.

The feeling that overtook me at this point is hard to relate – curiosity, vague wonderment, rising terror, each of these flooded and coursed through me, seeming to ring me round and grip me in place.

I stood transfixed as the grayish-white mass crept low through the channel, being able to distinguish more detail as it grew ever closer. The thing looked for all the world like a drifting bank of fog, except that it seemed to be somehow grotesquely alive. In its vanguard were roiling, twisting vortices that oscillated to and fro, as if searching the way forward.

With anxiety and dread rising to a crescendo, I was finally able to break free of the gripping terror and move one of my feet…

At first, it appeared that behind this there was nothing more than a flat expanse of white, stretching from one bank of the creek to the other, and somewhat toward the rear, but then I noticed to my horror that the center was occupied by some vile and sinuous thing that jerked and quivered about under the surface of the fog, if indeed fog is what it was.

Suddenly, when the mass was fast closing on the bridge, there came a rustling sound from along the near bank of the creek, as of some animal leaping through the underbrush, on a course headed directly for me. With anxiety and dread rising to a crescendo, I was finally able to break free of the gripping terror and move one of my feet, but just as I did so a clearly terrified deer crashed out of the brush and nearly ran headlong into me. Sensing me standing there, it quickly changed course and dashed to its right, disappearing into the opening of the bridge.

With my muscles somehow continuing to cooperate, I made a beeline for my car and jumped inside, throwing it into reverse. I was just about to slam the gas pedal to the floor when I looked through the rain-spotted windshield and saw that the deer had reappeared….

It was standing in the opening to the bridge staring straight towards me, its eyes ablaze in the lights of my vehicle. I got the overwhelming sense that it was wanting me to help. To protect it from the creeping malevolence that was now almost upon it. Likely it had been treated kindly by humans in the past, who had fed it and admired its graceful form. But now I dare not do anything but look on.

When the nightmarish form reached a point where it was about to travel underneath the bridge, a tendril shot out from its center, where three dark oval shapes broke from the surface momentarily before darting back under the roiling froth. The tendril slithered up the bank and curved toward the bridge opening, quickly encircling the deer’s legs. I watched as the poor animal started to thrash about, calling out loudly again and again in that strange whirring sound peculiar to deer. But try as it might, it could not break free, and the writhing mass had soon enveloped it completely, toppling it to the floor. Wasting not a moment more to make my escape, I mashed down on the gas pedal and backed away from the hideous thing at such a speed that I very nearly lost control.

But escape I did, and I sit here now, some hours later, writing this account from the safety of my hotel room in Lewisburg. I can scarcely believe that the horrifying events I have recorded here did indeed happen. But they must have! What other way can I choose to look at it? The hotel clerk himself seemed totally taken aback at my appearance upon entering the lobby, asking if everything was okay and if I needed a doctor. As to that question, I probably do, but what kind of doctor I am not sure.

Who would believe me? Do I even believe myself?

After lying down and thinking things over for a bit, I now realize that to come to grips with what I have experienced, indeed, even to maintain my sanity, I must research this thing further. I managed to get only one Polaroid of the bridge when I first arrived. Events moved on too quickly after that for me to even think of my camera. I have no evidence. I have nothing but my terrifying recollections to go on.

Who would believe me? Do I even believe myself? Tomorrow I must trek back to the old bridge, as frightening as it may be. Perhaps the light of day will calm my shattered nerves. If I can’t find anything there, perhaps I will explore the surrounding countryside for clues. Hopefully, I will find some evidence of the horrific entity that I encountered last night.

Until next time, watch where you tread, and maybe, just maybe, you might sometimes want to go OFF THE BEATEN PATH.

– Barry Pyne, HashtagWV #136. October 2021. Contact the author at offthebeatenpathman@gmail.com

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