You’re awake before the alarm even goes off, and without even a sip of coffee…on second thought, better see if the continental breakfast at the hotel is open yet as you head out.
Sober as ever with gear bag equipped, you smile and nod to the concierge as you step out into the dark and chilly November morning in Vermont. A brisk 38℉(~3℃), not accounting for the infrequent gusts which sting your cheeks. You think that you should have packed a scarf. Thankfully the long-johns help, and you’ve got the red sweatshirt that you could wear under your dark blue winter coat, although it’s supposed to warm up later. You walk back along the route you took last night, towards the Green Gopher where you’re supposed to meet Tom.
It’s dark out, and despite or perhaps because there are some sparse streetlights, you can’t quite glimpse the faint suggestion of dawn beyond the horizon. Beneath the gray-black skies it appears almost gloomy, and in the stillness of this quiet town the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and you shudder, just a chill. Your imagination has gotten the better of you, and so you increase your pace as you see the lights of a truck running at the curb in front of the pub.
You swing open the passenger side to be met with a thumb jabbing towards the rear of the truck, “Ah ah, crap goes in the back.” You take off your large bag and toss it gently into the bed of the red Ford Ranger, noting Tom’s own bags and gun case. Returning to the door you lift yourself up into the truck and notice Tom nod at you and tap the digital clock display on the dash, 4: 04. “Dunkin’ ain’t open ‘till five so, outta luck there.”
You shrug and he nods. “We’ll just head outta town north on East Road a ways, about a half hour, then we turn onto Glastenbury Road and that turns into the little road that’ll take us in.” As Tom shifts into drive, you hear him exhale. Not a sigh, but more of a preparatory breath. You think about referencing your map, but it’s in your bag in the back, and you’d only be able to see it when you passed by a streetlight. After only a few minutes also, the streetlights are no more. Still on a paved road, you’re passing by houses, park fields, and schools. Although there is a soft hint of sunlight somewhere far away in the sky, the only lights are the headlights of Tom’s truck, and the occasional porch or door light left on.
The farther away from Bennington you go, the more it feels that you’re leaving the world you know behind. Not even halfway through the relatively short drive, you notice that the residences are becoming fewer and farther between. The trees on the side of the road seem to arch inwards and over, further obstructing the coming of day. Even the road has thinned, and you wonder if two trucks would even be able to pass one another. Tom slows down around a corner, and you pass beneath a highway upon which you see other cars and lights. For a moment you forgot other things existed, as if you were fully and wholly alone in the seemingly endless dark of morning. You exhale, realizing you’ve been holding your breath.
“So uh, what are you planning to do once we get there?” Tom asks, breaking the long silence. You realize you haven’t been thinking about that… You’ve been so absorbed in noticing and observing everything you forgot yourself a little. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, almost, humbling? Though now you feel a little foolish, and instead ask Tom what his plans are.
“Well. The road there ends just before Black Brook. There’s a bit of a trail right across that’ll lead eastwards to the old town. I’ll probably go north then east along the brook looking for bear sign, maybe hike up the mountain a bit then come back the same way. Maybe I’ll make kind of an oval, who knows. I don’t plan on staying the night though, but it looks like that’s what you packed for. You’re gonna want to find a good spot, outta the wind, and you gonna be warm enough? There are always the Long Trail shelters if you need. Hell are you sure you’re even gonna be okay? I don’t want to feel responsible for you if something happens.”
You assure Tom you’re a seasoned hiker back home, and you’re well educated on survival skills. At least in theory… you’ve never needed to use many of the things you’ve read about, but, there’s one road in and out that you’re going to mark and know. The Long Trail is nearby, with shelters should you need them. You’ve packed and prepared, and by goodness you’re going.
“Alright alright, don’t let me dissuade you. Just take care all-right?” Tom said the last word as a real question, not just a word tacked on. You assure him you will, and he makes a left turn onto a single lane road that plunges deeper into forest. You don’t recall when the pavement switched to dirt, though you remembered the sign for Glastenbury Road a few minutes ago. This was the final approach, and this was what you had hoped for.
All around, is dense with forest. As headlights illuminate pockets in the woods with each bump and thump of potholes, you notice chunks of rock, fallen trees, and “Deer!” you blurt out as you see a buck leap into the woods after being flashed over with the lights. You remember the big round yellow eyes first, but of course there are going to be deer and you calm yourself.
“Dang, looked like at least an eight-pointer, maybe more. Season doesn’t start until the 12th, but maybe enough reason to come back…” Tom said, somewhat more to himself.
Even though the clock in the truck now read 4:43, it seemed as though it was darker than before. The sky hung gray and looming overhead, not threatening rain but yielding little hope for a bright sunny day. Not that you can hardly see it through the masses of leafless branches overhead. As you’re jostled along in the seat you notice ahead where the road ends, a sort of rounded rectangle parking lot with no other vehicles. Tom pulls in to the side, to a space near the road, and shifts into park.
For a moment, you both sit there, each stewing in your own anticipation and the warmth and light of the running truck. Tom sniffs. You hear what sounds like a distant twig snap, and then a loud splintering and shattering sound, paired with a high-pitched screeching and crackling. You jump in your seat and notice that Tom flinched as well, and you both turn instinctively towards the back of the truck where the sound came from.
A branch had fallen from a tree overhead and shattered in two over the passenger side of the bed of the truck. “Ah shit.” Tom grunted, turning off the vehicle and getting out to inspect the damage. When you hop out of the truck, he is already at the passenger side of the bed and has a heavy duty Maglite flashlight in hand. He shines it up to see where it had fallen from, and sure enough it was the one dead limb on an otherwise tall and healthy sugar maple. Splintered sticks and bits of branch littered the truck bed and the ground, and a series of scratches and dents ran down the side of the truck. Tom sighed heavily and glanced towards the exit road. “Pete’d get a hoot outta this. He’d be telling me it’s some kind of sign.” Tom sighed again and ran his hand lovingly over the damaged side of the truck. “Ah shit.”
You wished you had something to say about how to help with the paint, but automotive repair wasn’t your strong suit. You managed an apology for the happenstance and he thanked you with a shrug. “Whatcha gonna do y’know?” Tom dropped the tailgate and stepped up into the bed to start cleaning out the branches to uncover your gear. He passed you down your bag and you looked through it again, just to be sure.
1. Local map and compass.
2. Can of sunscreen and a ball cap.
3. Rain jacket and long-johns (which you were now wearing).
4. Flashlight and spare batteries.
5. First-aid kit and hand sanitizer.
6. Magnesium fire rod and lighter.
7. Hunting knife and a roll of duct tape.
8. Bag of trail mix and energy bar.
9. Water bottle and a bottle of water purification tablets.
10. One person tent and a space blanket.
You fish out your flashlight, and move the map, compass, lighter, knife, and energy bar, into your coat pockets. You toss the bag onto your shoulders and scan the area with the flashlight, looking at your map at the same time to be sure you know where to return to and marking it with a small pencil “x”. You hear the beep of the truck locking and look towards Tom, taking care to point your flashlight towards his feet. He’s donned a camouflage jacket, a bright Hunter Orange cap with ear-flaps, and a matching… fanny pack utility belt, is what you think to call it. A large central pouch, and several smaller pockets and pouches which appear to be packed full. Slung across his shoulder is a hunting rifle. Tom takes a deep breath looking at you, and exhales to turn his gaze and flashlight beam towards the woods opposite the entry road.
“Well, you all set?”
You nod excitedly, and Tom nods back and begins to lead you towards Black Brook, and the trail towards Glastenbury. As you near the trail entrance, you can hear the brook babbling away gently over the soft crunches of your booted foot-falls, which grind dead leaves into the gravel. As soon as you step onto the trail, Tom stops, and before you have to wonder why, you assume it’s because of the same feeling that hits you.
Something turns in your stomach, and the hairs on the back of your neck rise again. You get the sense this isn’t just a chill. You feel a frog rise in your throat, and you wait, unable to speak. Tom continues on again, and simply says “Watch your step down here.” and the gravel turns to dirt, then to grass, and finally to brook stones as you come to Black Brook. A small waterway not more than 10 feet across and with an old wooden plank bridge wide enough for a car spanning the distance. Through the gap in the trees above, you can see a flicker of yellow-orange sunlight that gives you the hope you need to continue on.
“Here, you oughta have something orange on y’know.” Tom says, handing you a Hunter Orange oversized handkerchief. You fold it into a triangle and tie it around your neck, thanking him. “You sure don’t look like a black bear, but you can never be too careful. Safety first.” He said, holding up a finger. “I’m gonna head off along the brook that way,” pointing to the northeast as he had mentioned earlier, “but there’s the old road,” pointing at the path that continues on the other side of the bridge, “and if you go that way just a minute you’ll see the hiking trail to the old town on your right.”
Standing there between the two flashlights, you maintain your composure, and consider your next steps. You’ve come to explore the folklore and legends, and see if any of it is true; as far as you can tell, most people around here tend to believe it. Most things seemed to happen to people when they were alone. You wonder if Tom will be alright then remember his rifle and years of experience. That didn’t help Middie Rivers back in 1945 though. You think to yourself maybe it’s silly to be so nervous, after all, the only frightening things have really just been surprises, a deer and a branch. Maybe by the end of the day you’ll feel differently, but for now, which direction will you travel on your first day?
[On the Spindle site, where this is a voting story, readers have the following options for voting on where the story goes next. The winning option is in bold.]
A) Ask to go with Tom, following Black Brook to the north then northeast. It’s probably best if you two stick together anyway, and although he’s expressed concern for you, you’re also worried about him being alone. He’s probably in his late 50’s, and even though he has experience, the folklore tells you that won’t help him.
B) Take the old road to the trail that will take you east towards the ghost town of Glastenbury. It’s about three miles to the ruins of the town. You can make that distance easily enough and check out the old buildings. Maybe it would make for a good place to camp later as well.
C) Follow Black Brook to the south. Remembering the map you had skimmed in preparation, Glastenbury Mountain’s peak is actually to the southeast of Tom’s Truck, and south of the ghost town. The summit could be worth the views, and several of the disappearance stories are based around The Long Trail which runs nearby, and is also home to the Goddard Shelter, not a half mile south from the summit.