When I was in high school, my friend Steve and I enjoyed scaring ourselves. This usually manifested itself in the two of us going to see scary movies late at night or renting horror movies on the weekends. We’d also go out at night to cemeteries or creepy places in an effort to be frightened. We had a friend who swore that her house was haunted so of course we wanted to spend a lot of time there. We didn’t ever see any signs of haunting but we definitely tried to witness some. The night of October 3rd, 1986 wasn’t supposed to be one of the nights where we got scared but it turned into the creepiest night of my life. Steve called me and said he and his girlfriend had just broken up and he was pretty crushed. He asked what I was doing and I was just getting ready to go to the football game. He told me he’d pick me up and after the game we’d go do something. This sounded good to me. Three hours after the phone call, the game was over and we headed to our local Goody’s Market and Steve went in and bought a six-pack of Corona for us to share. He was only 17 but had a receding hairline and could get beer at Goody’s without fail. The plan was to drive around, drink beer, and shoot the shit. That was it. But we would up driving to a part of town we didn’t go much.
Lower River Road in Vancouver, Washington is a stretch of two-lane road that goes for about 6 miles and has no other roads crossing it. It runs parallel to the Columbia River but about a half-mile from the water. There is farmland alongside both sides of the road. Steve drove us down Lower River Road, past Vancouver Lake Park on the right and then another 4 miles to where the road stops. At the end is a small cul-de-sac surrounded by a little guardrail. I think the road was built years ago with plans to develop the land but that never materialized. You get to Lower River Road by driving West on Fourth Plain until it gradually turns into Lower River Road and civilization fades away. There is a Minit Mart and a factory of some sort, along with a neighborhood but after the factory there is nothing but the road for a couple miles until Vancouver Lake Park. Then past the park is absolutely nothing for four miles until the cul-de-sac. There are no driveways, there are no other roads, there are no streetlights, and there is just the gravel shoulder of the road melting into fields of corn or just grass. For four miles this road goes entirely straight. In the late 60’s and seventies, high school kids would drag race there and after a couple kids died the police started to monitor the area heavily. By the time 1986 rolled around, nobody, police included, went there. People just forgot about it.
Steve and I took his 1976 red mustang down the road to the cul-de-sac at the end. It was a terrible car that made belching noises and clicked incessantly. It was a very clear night where we could see thousands of stars, and the moon was absolutely glowing. We got out of the car, took out the beers, sat on the hood while reclining against the windshield, and talked about his breakup with Katie. We were a picture right out of a John Hughes movie. It was the fifth time they’d broken up so I was pretty used to this discussion. I didn’t say much except, “Screw her,” and “She treats you like shit,” which was true. Steve came around and eventually we started talking about our plans for the rest of our senior year. It was a nice night and we stayed there for a couple hours, finishing the six-pack with me drinking four and him nursing a couple because he was driving. We were relatively responsible, even at that young age.
Steve had a midnight curfew so we decided to head home at about 11:40. After driving about a mile, the inside of the mustang lit up. I looked over at Steve and he was squinting into his rear view mirror, saying, “What the hell?” I turned around and behind us a couple hundred yards was a pair of headlights with its high beams on. The light was reflecting off the rear view and illuminating the interior of our car. At first I was really annoyed because high beams are such a pain. But then Steve asked, “How did a car get behind us?” and that shook me. There were absolutely no side roads on either side of our road so how DID A CAR GET BEHIND US? Steve started to drive faster. I turned around so I could see the car behind us and it was getting closer now. I told Steve. He pushed the gas pedal to the floor. Unfortunately, the 1976 Mustang topped out at about 60. We had another 2-3 miles to go until we hit the Park entrance and the car behind us was still getting closer, now less than 100 yards away. I couldn’t make out any details because the brights were still on and they were blinding.
“How the hell did that car get behind us?!?!” I yelled at Steve. He was silent as we plodded along at a cool 60. “It’s getting closer! About 100 feet away and gaining!”
“Buckle up! I’m gonna slam on the brakes and we’re gonna beat this guy’s ass.”
I turned back around and buckled up. Steve skidded to a halt on the gravel shoulder, almost sliding into a cornfield about eight feet off the road. We both unbuckled and jumped out ready to fight but we were met with near silence. There was no other car in sight and the only noise was Steve’s Mustang slowly sputtering down. We walked onto the middle of the road where we could see miles of road ahead of us and behind us. There was no car. There were cornstalks on either side of the road and they were softly blowing in the breeze. It was the eeriest thing I had ever witnessed. Since the moon was huge, our vision was great and there was seriously no car anywhere other than Steve’s. “That’s messed up,” said Steve.
“I have no idea what to say. What the hell just happened? There was a car behind us. That is a fact. There is no car there now. What the actual hell?”
“Maybe it turned off into the fields?”
“We’d hear it. And the corn looks undisturbed.”
“Get in and let’s back up a bit and see.” I jumped in, Steve turned the car around, and we headed back down from where we came. Both sides of the road were nothing but corn for a half mile. Nothing had disturbed the corn. Steve turned the car back around and we headed for home.
“That was seriously the most creepy thing ever,” I said.
“I almost pissed myself,” Steve replied.
“Did we just see a ghost car?” I asked.
Steve just laughed and said, “I have no idea what we saw but I’m never ever going down that road again.”
It is now 31 years later and that was the last time I’ve been on Lower River Road.