By Chef darthvarda
Driving through the backwoods of eastern Kentucky in the dead of night is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. Anyone who’s ever been in the area knows exactly what I’m talking about. All the light from the moon and the stars is blocked by thick vegetation and hills, so it’s pitch black. There’s history in those hills, a lot of history, and this energy fills the place with this crazy bad vibe. It’s like the very land is pissed at you, like it wants you dead.
The roads aren’t well-traveled, and you’ll be hard-pressed to see a single car driving down them at night. Cell service out there is—at least for me—spotty at best, non-existent at worst, and you pray to whatever you believe in that your car doesn’t break down, knowing full well the folks who live smattered across the hills are isolated, private people; knowing that they wouldn’t be very happy seeing you wandering onto their property in the dead of night. None too happy at all.
It’s what my mom calls “badcountry”, one word. She always told me to avoid the area if I could, saying that I’d likely be murdered or worse out there. And I’ve heard the stories too. Stories about people getting out of their car to help a stranded motorist, only to be ambushed, robbed, kidnapped, and/or murdered. Stories about strange lights and ghost killers and vanishing hitchhikers and crazy inbred hillbilly families. There are said to be hundreds of unreported deaths out there, people just vanishing off the face of the earth, never to be seen again.
I’ve always avoided driving through those hills, but one night I found myself driving straight down KY-52 S instead of I-75 S, straight into those hills, straight into their darkness.
Around midnight, I got a message from my mom that my dad had been taken to the hospital and that his condition was serious. I immediately jumped out of bed and into my car despite my mom telling me to wait until morning to drive down. I lived up in Richmond at the time, while my parents were down in Hazard. It’s a little under a two-hour drive via I-75 S and a little over two via KY-52 S. That night, though, I-75 S was closed due to an overnight bridge reconstruction project, so I had to take KY-52 Southbound, and it goes through some pretty gnarly “badcountry”.
I figured nothing would happen, that it’d be a smooth, yet anxiety ridden, two-hourish trip, but there was this dread I couldn’t shake boiling up in my gut, urging me to wait until morning. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had to see my dad.
I got from Richmond to Irvine just fine, driving the winding road and hilly terrain with ease, going faster than the speed limit. It was from Irvine to Jackson that things took a turn for the worst.
First off, it was dark. Really fucking dark and even with my brights on, they still only barely lit up the surrounding area. The constantly curving roads didn’t help either. I found myself slowing down, having to navigate through the dark, around the switchbacks and turns, inclines and depressions, hoping to God I didn’t run off the road or hit an oncoming vehicle.
And the dread was at the forefront of everything now. Sure, it could’ve been exacerbated by worry for my dad, but there’s something about those hills, something evil, and I was really fucking afraid. The radio was dipping in and out, so I put in a CD (Dio) and tried to drown out the fear with music, but after the first song, I turned off the stereo completely and drove in silence, all my senses on high alert.
It felt wrong.
It felt like I was being watched. Every so often, I would see a light flash in the woods, like a campfire, but brighter. And I swear at one point between Crystal and Beattyville there was this pale and hairless and huge humanoid running after my car next to the road. Swear I saw it in the rearview mirror. It disappeared into the darkness and the trees when I braked and spun around in my seat.
Thirty minutes out of Beattyville I saw a kid. He was wearing a yellow shirt, blue shorts, and a red jacket (hood up)—colors that reminded me of Superman. He wasn’t wearing shoes. That bothered me. I flicked my brights down to their normal strength and slowed to a crawl wondering what the hell this kid, who looked to be under ten, was doing out in the middle of bumfuck nowhere.
I made sure my doors were locked, cracked my window, and asked him if he was okay as I rolled toward him. He didn’t respond. I glanced down at my phone. No Service. Shit. I asked him if he was okay again and he looked up at me quickly, making his hood fall down. He was crying.
I slowed to a stop and he immediately ran over, sticking dirty fingers into the crack of my window, pounding on the door. He was screaming something about how “they” were “hunting” him, and that “they” were going to “let the monster eat” him and “they” were watching us now, waiting, just beyond the darkness.
At this point, I was seriously freaking out and I might’ve been screaming too. I tried to roll my window up while trying to not hurt the kid, but he wouldn’t release his grip on my window. I think he was trying to break it. A bright light flashed onto us and the kid screamed even louder, let go of my car, and began running down the road, back towards Beattyville.
And, I’m ashamed to say, I took off. I was afraid I was going to die and become another statistic of these hills.
In my rearview mirror, I watched as what looked like three men in hooded robes ran out onto the road. The spotlight one of them was holding was trained onto my car and hit the mirror at an angle that blinded me, but it looked like the other two were going after the kid. I blinked and looked back towards the road, speeding like a bat out of hell.
I pulled off in Jackson and drove straight to the police station. Two detectives and an FBI agent who happened to be in town working with a liaison listened to me with grave faces. When I was finished, the FBI agent thanked me, then told me that a kid had gone missing the day before, from a Bible Camp near the Kentucky River, he said that’s why he was in town in the first place. Apparently, the kid and his friends were out playing hide and seek in the woods in broad daylight when he just disappeared. He was wearing yellow, blue, and red, like Superman. The strange thing is, his footsteps just stopped, and his shoes were still there. It was like he was lifted off the ground by air. It was weird.
Half a dozen cop cars with twice as many cops, the agent, and a search and rescue team were dispatched to the area within minutes after me reporting what I’d seen. I drove to a local diner and ended up staying in Jackson until morning, making the fortyish minute drive down to Hazard after the sun rose. After hearing why it took me so long to get down there, my mom was beside herself with panic, but was also glad I was okay, telling me I did what I had to do to survive, that I was brave, and wasn’t a coward. My dad ended up making a full recovery.
If you’re wondering if I do feel like a fucking coward, if I regret not letting that kid into my car, the answer is a resounding yes, I do, I am. It haunts me to this day. But I don’t know what would’ve happened if I stayed there any longer, and I don’t know if either of us would’ve made it out alive.
No trace of the kid was ever found.