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Backseat Charlie

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I was a typical teenager. I enjoyed driving on my own. I had a handful of close friends. I loved to goof around, go to the movies, and have sleepovers with my best friend Angela. Typical teenage gallivanting. I felt invincible, like the world was mine to conquer.

My father was not overly strict, but like most teens, I had a curfew. My father wanted me home no later than 11 PM, which, in retrospect, was not unreasonable. However, in my rebellious teenage years, I argued until I was blue in the face to stay out later. He refuted, stating I did not have enough experience driving at night, especially alone. I would counter, asking how I would get the experience if I was not allowed to stay out late. I wish that I had listened. I’ll never drive at night again.

It was summer break my junior year of high school. I was chomping at the bit to go to college and flourish into someone new. I took any excuse I could to leave the house by myself. That summer, I was excited to spend more time with Angela. I had missed spending time with her, and looked forward to some summer adventures in the sun.

My friend Angela and I went to different high schools. We had grown up down the street from one another, and we were virtually inseparable. However, when we both were about to enter high school, her father got a new job and they had to move. We took our summer breaks to catch up and spend as much time together as possible.

That summer, Angela asked if I would like to go to a party with her. A boy from her high school was having a bonfire in Calin Woods. It started at 11PM and most of the attendees would be camping out. She really liked this guy, and insisted I go with her to keep her company. I knew my father would not let me stay out that late, but I figured it was worth a shot, and went home to ask him if I could go out later that night.

When I got home, my father was puttering around in his office. A small desk fan was whirling and his fingers were clicking away at the keyboard. I gently knocked on the door, and his chair creaked as he swiveled to greet me. He gave me a big smile, pushing his thin-framed glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“Good afternoon! How was Angela? Did you girls enjoy yourselves?” He smiled at me. He was always formal, regardless of whom he was speaking with. It was a habit instilled in him from his corporate days in his office. His professionalism is what made our next conversation so bizarre to me.

I told him about the party in Calin Woods. I insisted that this was a common thing for high school kids to do in the summer. I promised him I would behave, but all my huffing and puffing was falling on deaf ears. As soon as I told him the location of the party, he vehemently denied my request to attend.

“Those woods are not safe. It’s not just party behavior I’m worried about. Please, please promise me you will not go out to those woods at night. There is something strange about those woods. I swear, if the party was not there, I would let you go. I trust you, I really do. Just please, promise me you won’t go out there tonight. I know how persistent Angela can be.”

Before I could get in another word, he turned around and began clacking away at the keyboard again. I sighed and left him to his work. I went into my room and shut the door. I pulled out my phone and flipped it open to dial Angela. I relayed to her how my father had forbidden me to attend the party, just because it was in some stupid forest. I was annoyed and disappointed that I wouldn’t get to meet Angela’s crush. I had wanted to make sure he was a good guy before I supported Angela in her romantic endeavors.

“Just come on!” She insisted. “You can easily sneak out of your bedroom window. Just leave the lights of the car off as you’re pulling out of the driveway and he will never know! You’ve got to come! It’s going to be amazing, and I really want you to meet Matt!”

“I really don’t think I can sneak out, Ang…” I tried to resist. I was pretty responsible, even for a teenager, but Angela was laying the peer pressure on pretty thick.

“You’ve just got to come with me! Please! I NEED my best friend!”

“You just need a ride!” I snorted at her through the phone. I was really not happy to tell her no.

“You know that’s not true! I LOVE you! I need you there with me! Ple-e-e-ase!” Angela had finally worn me down.

“Fine, fine! I’d do anything for my best friend. We just need to make sure we get back to my house before the sun comes back up.” I whispered into the phone. “I don’t want my dad to know I went when he expressly told me not to go into those woods.”

“HOORAY!” I could feel Angela’s excitement through the phone. I smiled and told her goodbye before flipping my phone shut.

I went back out that evening, around 6PM. My dad thought it was a fair compromise to let me go out with some friends that night, instead of going to the party. I went to a movie with Angela, excitedly chatting about the nights' festivities. I was excited to meet some new people, and hopefully make a few new friends.

I arrived back home promptly by nine. My father was surprised to see me home so early, but I explained that Angela’s mother had let her go to the party, so she needed to get ready. My father shook his head and mumbled something about “irresponsible parenting” before going into the kitchen for his night-time snack. He tucked his Tom Clancy book under his arm and carried his snack upstairs to his room.

I followed behind him to my own room. We wished each other goodnight and closed our respective doors. The next few hours felt like the longest hours of my life. I had the television in my room on at a quiet volume. I changed my clothes and did my hair and makeup to get ready for the party. At about 11:30PM I tiptoed out of my room.

I hesitantly made my way to my father’s door and pressed my ear against the wood. I heard his heavy snoring, indicating to me he was fast asleep. He had always been a heavy sleeper, and I insisted our rooms be far apart so I did not have to hear him "sawing logs" as I tried to sleep. That night, the arrangement worked even more in my favor than usual.

I walked into the bathroom that was near his bedroom. I flushed the handle on the toilet and turned on the faucet. Just in case my footsteps did wake him, I wanted to make him think I was just using the bathroom. I walked back to my room and shut the door. I was confident I could make it out unnoticed. I opened the window to my bedroom and shimmied outside.

I made my way to the car and turned the ignition. The starting of the engine had never sounded so loud in my life. My pulse quickened and I stared at my father’s window intently. When no movement occurred or lights flicked on, I slowly pulled out of the driveway. Once facing away from the house, I flipped the headlights on and drove to Angela.

I had always been nervous driving at night. My eyes seemed to play tricks on me. I was always afraid that someone was in the car with me. It always felt like there were eyes on the back of my head as I drove, and not just the driver behind me. I would shake it off. I told myself it was all in my head, and when I arrived at my destination I would always forget I even had the feeling. This night was no different.

As I was driving to Angela’s house, I felt a chill run up my neck. I checked the backseat windows of the car, but they were closed tightly. No breeze was giving me the chill. I looked in the rearview mirror, and for a moment, I thought I saw moonlight reflect off of something in the backseat. I quickly put my eyes back on the road in front of me, but I could not stop checking the back. All the way to Angela’s house, I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched. I convinced myself it was just guilt for sneaking out of the house.

When I arrived at Angela’s house, excitement rushed through my body. My fear was suddenly replaced by anticipation and triumph. My father had not called asking why I was not sleeping in my room. I had made it!

Angela was waiting at the end of her driveway. My heart beat hard against my chest and my whole body was buzzing. Angela opened the door and we both squealed at each other.

“I can’t believe you made it out! I am SO excited! This is going to be great! I can’t wait for you to meet Matt and all the girls!” Angela was dancing in her seat as she clipped the seat-belt into place.

“This will be great! It will be worth it. I could care less if I get grounded! I am just glad we get to have a fun night out!” I put the car into gear and drove away from her house with a big smile.

Angela directed me to Matt’s house. He lived in a fairly large home on the edge of the woods. His backyard kissed the tree-line of the woods. There were cars lining either side of the road near his house. I worried when I could not find a spot. I was not the best at parking, even during daylight.

“Where am I supposed to park?” I asked Angela. She pointed to a spot in between two cars.

“Someone must have left already. LAME! Oh well, grab the spot!” She laughed.

“God, I don’t want to parallel-park. Are you sure there isn’t somewhere else?” I didn’t want to try to parallel-park in the dark without an experienced driver to help me.

“Don’t be just a baby! Just park!” Angela snapped. She was clearly in a rush to get to the party.

I cautiously pulled up to the space and did my best s-curve on the wheel to get the car into place. I was so pleased with my parking job that I did not notice Angela rush ahead of me. She was anxious and excited, and I could hardly blame her. I looked toward the woods and saw a faint glow of orange from the bonfire.

“Come on! Let’s go! Why are you just standing there?!” Angela called back to me. I locked up the car and headed toward her. She was smoothing down her hair and applying some lip-gloss.

“Sorry! I’m on my way. You look great, don’t stress!” I called up to her. She beamed at me and grabbed my hand. She started to pull me through the woods to a small clearing. There were red cups littering the ground and about ten teens gathered around the fire. A boy looked our way and started to wave.

“Hey Angie! You made it! Who is this with you?” The boy had an easy smile and kind eyes.

“Hey Matt! This is my best friend, her name is Lisa. She goes to the other high school. I wanted you all to meet her!” Angie turned to me and pointed to the boy. “That’s Matt, and over there is Kyle, and the girls there are Katie, Abby, and Rose.”

“Hey!” The group chirped in unison.

All the people at the party seemed nice. There was a keg of beer, but I did not want to drink. I was never really into the whole party scene, but I enjoyed going to parties every now and again and meeting new people when I was invited to attend. Angela was sitting by the other girls, all of whom were seated across the fire from the boys. I took a seat next to her.

“Hey! I know! Let’s tell a ghost story like the ones they used to tell at camp!” Abby exclaimed. She was a slender girl with dark hair, donning all black. She seemed like the type of girl who told ghost stories even when not seated by a fire.

“Come on Abby, that’s so dumb. Let’s just catch a buzz and hang out!” Kyle said, half laughing. Abby’s head dropped, and Rose patted her on the back.

“Don’t be mean, Kyle!" She shot him a cold stare. "Go ahead, Abs, tell your story!” Rose smiled at her friend. Abby picked up her head and shot everyone a glaring smile from under her dark hair. She interlocked her fingers and stretched out her arms in front of her, stretching her arms and cracking her knuckles at the same time.

“Alright! Well, this isn’t so much of a ghost story as it is a warning. Don’t you guys know about these woods? Bad things happen here.” She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and stared into the fire. Angela looked at me for a moment, gauging my reaction. I was slightly unnerved, especially since my father had clearly warned me that these woods were not safe before I left. She gave me a little nudge with her foot and smiled. She turned back to Abby as she continued her story.

“Before there was a neighborhood here and houses were built around the road, that road was the trail that lead from town to the woods. People would go to the woods to dump stuff they didn’t want anymore. Kids, pets, garbage, whatever. It got so bad that they had to shut down the road. But people still drove out here at night to illegally dump whatever they wanted. You guys don’t know about Backseat Charlie?” Abby looked around the fire before continuing. We all shook our head.

“Well, the story goes that just before the neighborhood was built, a woman made a drive out to these woods. She had her baby and her dog in the backseat. She was coming to the woods to release the dog, as she could not care for both like she had planned. When she got out of the car to let the dog out, a local prowler snuck into the car.” She paused for dramatic effect, glancing around the fire before continuing.

“When she got back in the car and started to drive away, she saw a man in her rearview mirror. He jumped up from the backseat and killed them both, dumping their bodies in the woods. There was a witness, someone else who had come to the woods that night, who said they saw a man dump the bodies and the car in the woods. They called him Backseat Charlie after they found a pocket watch with the name 'CHARLIE' engraved on it when searching the backseat of the car. They never found the owner of the watch.” She looked around the fire, indicating she was done with her tale.

When Abby was finished all the kids burst into laughter. I did not find this story funny. I always had a bad feeling when driving alone at night, and this story just hit too close to home for me. I looked at Angela, who was roaring with laughter. All the laughing just compounded the uneasy feeling I was having.

“Backseat Charlie! How stupid! That’s what you call people who try to drive from the backseat! If you were going to make something up, you should have been more creative!” Angela was beside herself.

“Yeah, if you were going to try and scare us, you really should have tried harder!” Rose giggled to her.

The boys were done laughing and got up to refill the girls’ drinks. They handed me a cup, but I turned it down. I was thinking of leaving, so the last thing I wanted to do was start drinking.

“No thanks. Actually, I think I’m going to get going. I don’t want my dad to find out that I left…” I didn’t have the heart to really leave, but I was getting uncomfortable.

“You really can be such a party pooper. I shouldn’t have brought you.” Angela looked hurt. She was pouting, and I really did not want to upset her. Something inside me was urging me to get out of the woods, and soon.

“I’m really sorry. It was nice to meet all of you. We should hang out again sometime! Sorry again.” I stood up and brushed the dust and ash from the fire off of my pants. I waved at them all and looked at Angela.

“Come on, Angela. If you want a ride from me, I’m leaving now.” I looked at her sternly. A nagging feeling told me not to leave her behind.

“I’m not going. One of these guys will give me a ride home. Just go. I’ll call you tomorrow.” She turned away from me.

“Fine. Talk tomorrow.” I replied. Lingering just made me more uncomfortable, so I gave up on trying to force her to come with me. I knew her well enough to know she would not listen to my pleading. I took one last look at the group, all of whom had resumed their party without me. I wanted to say something, but the words escaped me. Defeated, I walked back to my car.

I could not shake the feeling that someone was behind me as I walked back. I kept checking over my shoulder, but I knew better. Angela wasn't following me, and no one else knew me well enough to try and tag along to get a ride home from me. I told myself that I was just spooked from the story that had struck a nerve with me. When I got back to my car, I hit the unlock button on the key fob, but did not hear the click that the door had unlocked. My hand hovered over the door handle.

I knew I had locked the door before walking to the party. I really was feeling uneasy and I was not excited about this dark drive home. I got into the drivers’ seat and buckled my belt. I looked in the rearview mirror, and for a moment I thought I saw a glint of light.

“Must be the bonfire.” I mumbled to myself as I threw the car into drive. My foot was pressed hard against the brake as I turned the wheel to get out of my tight parking spot. I pulled out and onto the road.

I drove around the corner of the neighborhood. The clock in my car read 2:30AM. There was not any indication that the sun was coming up soon, so unless my dad had decided to check on me in the night (which he never did) I was home free. The neighborhood was lined with trees, and the street seemed darker than normal. My palms were slightly sweaty from my nerves. I could hear my heart beat ringing in my ears and my cheeks felt flushed. I checked the rearview mirror once more, and again, I saw a glint of light.

I stopped the car. I was pressing the brake as hard as I could. I stared at the rearview mirror. I analyzed the backseat carefully. There was no movement, and there was no more light.

“Stupid girl…stupid story…” I grumbled to myself again. I was scared for nothing, I kept telling myself. I released the break and started to drive forward. I was almost out of the neighborhood, when I checked all my mirrors once last time. That’s when I saw him.

In the rearview mirror was a man with a large bald head. His eyes were like pieces of charcoal, abnormally shaped and not rounded around the edges. He flashed a menacing smile. In my terror, I swerved the wheel, sending my car careening into a nearby tree. The hood punched in and hugged the tree. The windshield shattered, and I felt glass fly past my face like tiny daggers of ice.

The rearview mirror was now hanging at an odd angle. Dazed, I looked back up, terrified of the gaze I would meet. The man was no longer in the back seat. I saw his figure behind my car, walking toward the woods. The last image I saw was his figure carrying something over his shoulder, and cradling something in his free arm.

I wound up in the hospital with a concussion. My father came immediately when he heard the news. I thought I would be scolded, but when he saw me he rushed to my side and flung his arms around me. He was sobbing, and telling me he was just relieved I was alright. I asked him if he had heard from Angela. I felt his grip tighten on me before he gently let go and stepped back to look at me.

“Honey, Angela is dead. She was found in the clearing of the woods near a bonfire. Anyone else from the scene was missing, although their phones and other belongings were still there." He paused to compose himself before continuing.

"I got a call from the paramedics at the scene of your crash, telling me to hurry to the hospital. I met them here, and they informed me that when they searched the woods for any other passengers, they found her in the woods. It looked like she had been killed at the bonfire, and dumped deeper in the woods." He paused to choke back tears.

"There were foot prints leading from your car to the clearing. When they searched the scene of the party, there were the same set of prints, alone, leading away from the bonfire. The paramedic said they saw a man at the scene in the woods, but he fled before the police arrived. The only evidence at the scene of the crash was a smashed up watch in the backseat of your car. I was so worried that you were with them. I’m just glad you’re safe now.” The tears he had been holding back were now running down his face from behind his thin rimmed glasses. He reached out to hold me again.

I sat in the hospital bed, stunned in horror. I could not bring myself to return my father's embrace. I felt as if I was trapped in a nightmare. The lights of the hospital room were blindingly bright, and the silhouette of my father against the white walls was surreal. Guilt washed over me. If only I had insisted we stayed home. If only we had had one of our regular sleepovers. The missing people, my dead best friend, it all felt like my fault.

That's why I've decided to give you all this warning - it is a sad attempt at easing my mind. Even now, 10 years later, no one knows who owned that watch that was found in the backseat of my car. No one knows who killed Angela. After years of wrestling with the guilt, especially as story after story rolled in of new tragedies within those woods, I decided it was time to talk about what happened. If I can stop any more incidents in Calin Woods with this story, then maybe it was all worth something.

Please, avoid Calin Woods if you can. If you have to go, never go there at night. Never leave there alone. And never leave your car unlocked or unattended when visiting.

Written by BlizzardLemon
Content is available under CC BY-NC

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