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Turnpike Jack

Author since 2023 2Stories 2 Followers
Turnpike Jack

In the fall of 1979 Martin “Marty” Joseph was a 23-year-old rookie highway patrolman with the Pennsylvania State Police.  Marty was fresh out of the academy, and before that had been a star football player at Temple University in Philadelphia, before returning to his native Western Pennsylvania to attend the State Police Academy. He was tall, stout and handsome by traditional standards. Dark brown hair that he kept high and tight in accordance with the state police regulations. He had dark brown eyes, and a sharp jawline with high cheekbones. He was the envy of all the older officers at his station, many of whom were nearing retirement and jealous of Marty’s imposing physique and boyish charms. He had only been at his station for a month and had already gotten quite the reputation for being a real “ladies man”.

As a patrolman with the Pennsylvania State Police, Marty was stationed out of Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, the county seat of Cambria County. Marty’s patrol “beat” was a 50-mile stretch of U.S. Route 22 between Blairsville and Hollidaysburg, which he considered to be “the loneliest road in the state”. The other troopers he worked with had given him this particular stretch of highway and the surrounding small towns because they knew it was not an easy place to fill their “quota” of speeding tickets, especially on the night shift. Though he knew it wouldn’t be easy, Marty accepted his route and got after it as best as he could. Marty didn’t mind the route because he had grown up just south of US 22, in Johnstown, and contrary to what some might think of a 6 ‘2 former college linebacker, Martin Joseph preferred to leave the excitement on the field. He liked the quiet darkness and loved the idea of being able to navigate the mountains, valleys and hollers of Cambria County with nothing but his thoughts.

During his first few weeks of training on his route, he had been under the tutelage of a few senior officers who had worked it previously. Though he was sure they were just messing with him he found it odd that they each told him the same urban legend.

“Has anyone told you about Turnpike Jack?” asked Sergeant Kelly. Thomas Kelly was a 54-year-old, soon to be retired Irishman, who had joined the force after immigrating to the states at the age of 19. He too had once been an imposing figure in his youth, standing even taller than Marty; however, the years of police work had aged him and worn away much of what used to be muscle.

“He’s a real menace to us Staties, especially out by the old Ghost Town Trail.” said Kelly.

Marty had heard the story of the supposed “Phantom of the Freeway” since he was a kid, but was surprised that these seasoned, veteran state troopers would waste their time trying to scare him as an adult. He thought it a little absurd that grown men of the Pennsylvania State Police had nothing better to do than mess with the rookie, but the job could be quite boring, especially in this part of the state, and they needed to find ways to occupy themselves.

“A girl from the Glo went missing a few weeks back, just another poor victim of Turnpike Jack.” said Kelly.

“Pretty little brunette, cheerleader I think,” he added.

“Just another runaway, trying to get away from the tiny coal town of Nanty Glo, Pennsylvania.” thought Marty, but it was his last training shift with another officer so he bit.

“You think Jack ate her whole, or piece by piece?” Marty laughed, but Trooper Kelly’s face was no longer lighthearted.

“Now listen here boyo, you may not believe in Turnpike Jack, but that demon son of a bitch certainly believes in you”

Kelly turned his focus back on the dark stretch of highway. A very awkward silence followed for what seemed like an eternity before he spoke again.

“Back when we were fully staffed I had a partner, Robert Raimie. We got called to check out a disturbance on the Ghost Town Trail, at one of the old mine sites.” he paused.

“I’m sure you have been briefed on what happened to ol’ Bobby Raimie,” he said, knowing the answer.

Marty had been. Robert Raimie was murdered and dismembered, after their cruiser was run off the road by the Ghost Town Trail, a not-so-popular hiking trail that connected several old mining sites and abandoned communities from the golden age of the coal industry. The trail weaved between the towns of Nanty Glo and Ebensburg, following along the Blacklick River.

Raimie and Kelly had been reporting to a call when they were struck head on by what Kelly had remembered as an “old black truck”. Kelly was thrown from the vehicle and barely survived, but when he came to after the crash, the only sign of Raimie was a bloody mess. His blood-soaked badge was left sitting at the edge of the trailhead. They found pieces of him for miles along the trail, but the culprit was never caught.

“I don’t know what he is, but I know that he is still out there”, Kelly continued, but now barely above a whisper, “These damn woods are cursed.”

His first night on his own Marty Joseph found himself repeating the word’s of Trooper Kelly in his head, “that demon son of a bitch certainly believes in you”.

It gave him a shiver down his spine, but he had grown up hearing ghost stories of Turnpike Jack, and knew they were just that, ghost stories. The stories of a community that was ravished by poverty and looking for any excuse as to why so many people just up and vanished, never to be heard from again. “Most of them,” he thought to himself, “are probably down in Pittsburgh celebrating the World Series and living it up.”

Two weeks earlier, the Pirates had defeated the Orioles in seven games to take the 1979 World Series, and it was all Marty, a “bucco” fan from childhood, could think about recently. That, and Turnpike Jack of course. Particularly Kelly’s thought that “he is still out there.”

As he drove his cruiser, a 1979 Dodge St. Regis, up and down his stretch of US 22, Marty found himself trying to find something on the radio to occupy his thoughts. For a minute he was able to catch a verse and the refrain of The Knack’s “My Sharona”. He drummed along on the dashboard, “Ooh my little pretty one, pretty one”, but in the “foothills of the Appalachians”,  as people called this part of Pennsylvania, he was lucky to get any radio signal at all. Even his police radio kicked out more times than not. Likely because this particular stretch of highway was lined with 2,000 foot tall signal blocking mountains.

“Foothills of the Appalachians my ass!” Marty shouted at the static on the radio.

“If these were foothills I’d still be able to pick up WJHT-Johnstown!”

He killed the radio and went about his route.

As Officer Joseph was coming down into a large holler,he pulled off onto a small one-way road, hoping to flip around and make his way back towards the town of Nanty Glo. He was surrounded by 40-foot oaks, which in the dark October night resembled thousands of long skeletal fingers reaching up to the moon, hoping to pull it from the sky and illuminate the woods below.

He decided this was the perfect time to have a smoke, hell, nothing was going on anyway. He parked the St. Regis on the side of the road and pulled out an American Spirit from his soft pack.

“Three left,” he thought.

“That should get me through tonight”

He took a long drag and breathed in a mix of sweet nicotine and crisp, fall mountain air, it was sublime. After his second exquisite inhale, he realized there was a light up ahead on this little one lane road in the middle of nowhere.

It was nearly 3:00 AM on a Thursday in late October, who the hell could be out on this stretch of road at this hour, and why would they be stopped? He decided it was his duty as a patrolman to inquire further into this mystery. Marty took another long drag from his cigarette, then crushed it out and rolled up his window.

As he approached, Marty decided to kill his lights. He figured the most likely culprits were some teenagers, not much younger than himself sneaking out and trying to hook up. The last thing he wanted to do was to cockblock some horny locals, so if that’s what it seemed to be, he would try to not interrupt them.

Marty pulled the St. Regis close enough to get a better look at what was going on. There were two cars parked, an older black pickup truck without a license plate, its low lights on, and just in front of the truck a bright blue VW Beetle. The truck was quite rusted out on the bottom, either that or it had a good deal of fresh mud. In the low light he could make out two figures in the back of the Beetle and he thought to himself, “It really is the love bug tonight”. Just as he was about to pull an about face and let these two lovebirds enjoy themselves he heard an ear shattering scream come from the Volkswagen.

Marty turned on his lights and saw what now looked like a violent struggle underway in the back seat. The larger figure seemingly engulfed the smaller one in the back seat as the lowlights of the truck flickered in and out. As he instinctively began to reach for his service weapon, a Smith and Wesson .357 revolver with a 6” barrel, he saw a colossal shadow figure drag a young woman out of the back seat of the car onto the ground in front of the truck. The figure seemed to be that of an extremely tall man, but he was scarecrow like in his build. He was clad in a long black overcoat that hugged his frame tightly, exaggerating what seemed to be all knees and elbows. Marty noticed this man’s skin was so pale it almost seemed translucent. The young woman he had dragged from the car was a beautiful young blonde, no more than 21 years old if Marty had to guess. The look of complete terror on her face was all he needed to see.

“Put your hands where I can see them!” Marty shouted at the man in the black overcoat.

“Step away from the young lady and put your hands in the air!”

The man stepped away from the car and revealed his full height. He must have been nearly seven feet tall and his arms stretched below his knees. As he obeyed Marty’s command he revealed long, bony hands complete with sharp, blade like talons at the end of each finger.

“Nice and slow buddy. I finished at the top of my class at the academy in marksmanship and I won’t hesitate to put you down!”

Marty was channeling some confidence from his football days, using his “tough guy” voice, more to convince himself that he was in control of the situation than to actually command the perpetrator. It was at this point that the giant slicked his jet black hair out of his face to reveal something that made Marty’s hair stand on end. His skin was white as snow, his eyes blacker than the abyss with a complete absence of light, and it appeared they were devoid of any white at all. This alone, coupled with the creature’s figure would be enough to haunt Marty’s dreams for the rest of what he thought could be a very short life, but the thing that horrified him most was its TEETH!

This man, if you could call it that, unleashed an impossible smile, one that literally stretched from ear to ear, and from nose to chin, showing what appeared to be dozens of razor sharp teeth intricately aligned together like the keys on some sick piano. Each fang had to be the size of a kitchen knife. Marty thought he had to be imagining it. Every instinct told him he should turn tail and book it out of there, but Marty stood firm, transfixed by the grinning ghoul before him, praying that he would live to see another sunrise. He was brought back to the situation at hand by another scream from the young lady.

“Fucking shoot him!”, she pleaded from the ground in front of the beast.

In an instant the smile was gone, and the creature moved at a speed that would rival Barry Allen, snatching up the blonde and throwing her in the back of the truck before Marty knew what was going on.

“If you take another step it will be your last!” Marty exclaimed as he took aim.

The next few seconds seemed to move in slow motion, as the monstrous tower of a man pounced on Marty. He was able to get off a single round from his revolver which he thought winged the bastard, but if it did, it wasn’t enough to slow him down. He slammed into Marty with the force of a semi-truck, propelling him several feet into the front windshield of the St. Regis, leaving him momentarily incapacitated and the windshield spiderwebbed, but intact.

After maybe half a minute of writhing on the hood of the cruiser, he saw the old truck pulling away. Marty mustered every ounce of strength he had left and hopped in the St. Regis, flooring it to try and pursue his assailant. His head was pounding and he was certain he had at least a half dozen shattered ribs, but he would be damned if he let Turnpike Jack get away that easily.

Marty needed all 195 horsepower of the St. Regis to catch up to the old truck, and he nearly lost control on the back holler roads more than once, but he was now only about a car’s length behind. He tried multiple times to radio for backup, but between the damage the cruiser had taken and the already horrible radio signal he was out of luck.

Marty decided he was going to ram the truck and try to force him off the road. He floored it again, taking an angle to try and clip the back left of the truck’s bumper, forcing him to the right and hopefully into a ditch. What Marty did not count on was the driver of the truck slamming the brakes at the exact right time to send Marty’s cruiser end over end from the direct impact.

Hanging upside down from his seat belt, which he must have put on in a haze because it was only around his waist, Marty peered out into the cold dark night. His vision was fading, but the last thing he remembered seeing before fading to black was the distinct silhouette of the slim giant with the black eyes and the razor grin, Turnpike Jack, coming his way through the darkness.

When Marty awoke he found himself having to adjust his eyes to the low light of what appeared to be a cave or cavern. He had an open gash above his right eye which had bled and crusted, impeding his vision even further. The fact that the blood had already dried meant he had probably been there for a while. As Marty tried to wipe the blood from his eye he quickly realized his hands had been bound behind his back. He searched his surroundings for any indication of where he might be, finding a small amount of light resonating from a lantern set up against the cave wall opposite him. As his eyes adjusted, he scanned the area in the light only to behold a sight that turned his stomachs and forced a muffled wretch.

On the far wall, a few feet from the lantern, was the young blonde. She was dead, ripped open from sternum to naval. Her torso had been emptied of its contents, leaving just a bloody shell. She had literally been gutted. Marty turned and hacked up everything that was left in his stomach and gasped for breath. It was then that he heard a sinister cackle coming from the deepest, darkest part of the cave.

Out of the darkness rose the form of Turnpike Jack, flashing that same visceral smile, except now his teeth were no longer white, but stained and dripping with red.

He stood to his full height and stepped into the light of the lantern.

“Hungry?” he asked with a laugh, as he gestured toward the body of the young blonde.

“There’s plenty to go around,” he said facetiously. His voice, low and raspy.

“So it speaks,” Marty said to the creature.

“Does it have a name or should I just call you Jack?”

The creature was amused by this line of questioning, mauling over the words it would choose to share with its soon to be prey.

“I have had many names over the centuries.” he paused, seemingly reminiscing.

“In the old country they called me Baba Yaga, in London I was the Ripper. Down south I have been called El Coco, but in this place, I am most frequently Turnpike Jack.”

As he spoke Marty was working on an escape plan. Luckily, this monster hadn’t searched all of his pockets before binding his arms and he was able to secure his Zippo lighter from his back pocket. He knew he needed to keep “Jack” talking long enough for him to burn through the cloth restraints on his hands. Even if he could manage to free himself, he was pretty banged up, but at least he would have a chance.

“Looks like I got you pretty good, huh?” Marty said as he gestured to a hole in the overcoat, darkened with blood.

“Ahh, yes. A few inches to the right and I may have been in some serious trouble. A good thing I had a meal ready to rejuvenate me.” he said as he clutched the hair of the blonde, dragging her corpse closer to him.

As the creature did this a very important thought popped into Marty’s head, an old adage he heard as a kid that, “If it bleeds, you can kill it.”

Marty had managed to light the Zippo and was making quick progress on his restraints. He was almost free, and his thoughts shifted to how he was going to bury this monstrosity. What could he use to his advantage against a creature that has survived for centuries eating the flesh of human beings?

As he was searching for answers it dawned on him that he had been in this place before. It wasn’t a cave, it was a mine. He was in the belly of the old Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company mine just south of the now ghost town of Wehrum. Marty lamented the fact that in high school he used to come down here to get high with his buddies, but his youthful transgression may actually give him a chance to survive his run in with the devil himself.

It was almost by divine providence that Marty noticed an old MJ carved into the cave wall, barely visible in the lantern light. He had put it there when he was 16 and had brought his then girlfriend, Lucy Gallis, down here to do “the deed” for the first time. Marty can barely remember losing his virginity that night, but he could never forget the beating he took from her father for taking her into “one of the most unstable mine shafts in the Eastern United States”. They had shut down several shafts because cave ins and rockslides had killed dozens of miners over the years. Marty knew that where he sat was liable to collapse at any moment, and that with the right kind of force he could bring down the roof.

Marty had been pretty unlucky thus far on his first shift, but there was some kind of otherworldly force working in his favor, as just below his carved MJ, barely within the light of the lantern, was his service revolver. He would not have much of a chance and needed enough time to make his move. He tried to stall what he imagined was Jack’s plan to dismember and eat him, possibly alive.

“So Jack, what are you going to do to me?”

Turnpike Jack’s black eyes widened and he flashed that sinister smile again.

“Well officer, I plan to do to you what I did to this lovely young lady”

He gestured to the blonde.

“Except you Officer Joseph, I will consume whole.”

His smile grew and his dark eyebrows furrowed.

Marty, continuing to stall for enough time to free himself, taunted his captor.

“Not sure that’s possible, even with your big mouth.” he said, almost daring the creature to prove it could.

It was then that the demon showed itself in its truest form. Jack’s already impossible smile began to grow, as he opened his mouth, detaching his jaw and stretching it nearly to the ground. His black eyes rolled over pure white, much like a shark’s eyes when it bites into its prey, as he shuffled what was left of the blonde into his now doorway sized mouth. At this juncture he resembled a giant angler fish in more ways than one; his skin, his eyes, his teeth.

CRUNCH!

CRUNCH!

CRRRRUNCH!

Three bites with his megamouth and she was gone, but this was exactly the distraction Marty needed to free himself. He made a beeline for the Smith and Wesson and secured it just as the beast was slurping up the blonde’s legs like oversized linguini. He raised the gun at the demon and slowly backed out towards the entrance to the mine shaft, one step at a time keeping his hand cannon fixed square on Turnpike Jack.

Jack laughed, “Now that I’ve fed that little toy won’t do much damage”.

“I kind of figured that” Marty retorted, “but I’m going a few tons of coal and limestone might do the trick!”

Turnpike Jack grasped what Marty was planning to do and leered at him with a mix of anger and fear in his eyes. He began his charge, but his movements weren’t as explosive as they had been earlier, he appeared to be a bit more sluggish this time around. Marty had theorized that much like the giant snake that he was, when Turnpike Jack consumed his entire blonde victim in three bites, he would need to digest her before he could attack with the speed and ferocity he had back on the road. It was a huge gamble to apply some basic biological principles to a creature of nightmares, but in this instance it paid off.

Marty had just enough time to expel four rounds from the revolver into the ceiling above before Jack could reach him. The shots did their job, bringing the entire shaft down on Jack with a colossal amount of force. Marty was thrown back almost twenty feet from the impact, adding a broken leg to his running list of injuries suffered at the hands of the monster known as Turnpike Jack. He coughed and tried to see through the cloud of debris. The collapse had left him barely able to move, barely able to breath, and losing a dangerous amount of blood. In his immobilized state all he could do was crawl, so that is what he did. From his youthful exploits in the mine he knew it was nearly a quarter mile to the mine entrance, likely another half mile to the ghost town of Wehrum, and yet another quarter mile back to Route 22.

“Can I make it a mile in this state?” Tim thought to himself. He wasn’t sure if he would survive, but the knowledge that Turnpike Jack was somewhere behind him, buried in literal tons of rock, gave him the motivation to keep moving up the shaft. As he crawled, he was drifting in and out of consciousness. In his delirious state, Marty had a revelation about the world we live in.

“If there can be a Turnpike Jack, what other kind of evil can there be in this world?”

The thought had his head spinning, not just from his probable concussion and loss of blood, but from this new sense of fear, living in a world where the manifestations of our deepest, darkest nightmares could actually exist. As he crawled and climbed further up Marty tried his best to ignore this thought. He actually preferred to focus on the immense amount of pain that he was experiencing rather than think about the existence of true evil in this world.

As he neared the end of the shaft, another thought occurred to Marty. If there was great evil in this world, then there also must be great forces at work for good. He had needed several things to go his way in order to survive his ordeal with Turnpike Jack, many things that were extremely improbable, but somehow, some way, they had turned out in his favor. He thought back to the luck he had with his lighter, the mineshaft, his gun. All of these things seemed to be just coincidences, but the more he thought about them the more he thought they were evidence of greater forces at work.

After nearly an hour of excruciating pain he reached the entrance of the mine, only to be greeted by the morning sunrise, and something else, something he couldn’t believe. It was a tall figure coming towards him, silhouetted by the sun and distorted by the fog of the early morning.

“It couldn’t be Jack”, Marty thought to himself. “I buried him back there”.

As the figure approached Marty tried to prepare himself for battle yet again. He had two rounds left in his revolver and he raised it in front of him, struggling to make out the dark figure as it drew nearer.

“Is that you boyo?”

Marty recognized the familiar Irish accent.

“Sergeant Kelly?!”

Marty was overjoyed to see the face of his superior cutting through the haze of the early morning. He could tell by the look on the sergeant’s face that he must be in pretty bad shape.

“How…” he stuttered. “How did you find me?”

“Someone reported a police cruiser engulfed in flames on a back road not far from here. When we realized you were nowhere to be found we scrambled the troops to come and find you. Don’t ask me how, but something told me that I would find you in Wehrum.”

Kelly helped Marty to his feet and threw his arm over his shoulder to help him limp back to the road.

“What the hell happened to you boyo?” Sergeant Kelly asked as they made their way slowly back to the safety of his St. Regis.

“You are going to think I’m out of my mind”, said Marty.

“You may be surprised”, replied Kelly.

Marty went on to explain his entire ordeal and  Kelly believed every word. Over the next few days the state police investigated the matter, digging up the old Lackawanna Iron and Coal Mine, looking for evidence of Marty’s story, but the only remains were a few bone fragments the coroner speculated belonged to a young female. They never found the blue Volkswagen or the old black truck, nor did they find the remains of a monster straight out of a horror movie. Though he had seen the cave-in bury Turnpike Jack, Marty couldn’t help but go back to what Sergeant Kelly had told him.

“I don’t know what he is, but I know that he is still out there”.

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