The Night Bus, Part 2: Limbo

Joe lifted the mug to his lips. However the mystery of the phone alarm still bothered him. He slammed the mug back onto the counter.

“No, no!” Joe grabbed his head, “I’m sure there’s a bus outside, if it hasn’t left already! Let me go look.”

He tried to walk past the thick one, but he pushed Joe back onto his stool with a meaty hand.

“Drink the coffee, pal,” the thin one slid over a mug of coffee to him. “The waitress just poured it for ya. Are ya really goin’ to be that rude?”

“What’s going on here?” Asked a new voice.

Joe looked up. The middle-aged man in the rumpled suit from the bus was standing in front of the two men.

“The bus!” Was all Joe could gasp.

The man’s eyes grew wide. He slapped a hand to his forehead, “How could we forget! We have to go!”

Heads turned all through the diner.

The thick man started toward him, hands outstretched, “Hey now, don’t go yellin’ like that now!”

The middle-aged man spun around, his fist crashing into the man’s nose. The thick one stumbled into an occupied booth, crushing its occupant under his bulk.

“Let’s go!” The middle-aged man roared at Joe as he sprinted toward the door.

Joe grabbed Rosie’s arm and hauled her from her seat. The three of them ran out of the diner and across the parking lot. The bus’s engine was already roaring. It hissed as it raised up from the ground.

“Faster!” The man yelled.

He was the first in, covering the last yard by a leap that landed him on the steps inside the bus. Joe, feet slamming the asphalt, was seconds behind. He dragged Rosie behind him. The three of them collapsed in the seats nearest the front. Joe in the window seat with Rosie beside him, the other man by himself in the opposite row.

The other passengers came tumbling up the stairs moments later. The doors closed and the bus rolled away from the diner. Joe looked back. They had all made it except the young kid in the hoodie. He must still be in the diner, most likely where he’d be for the rest of his life, drinking coffee.

As the bus passed the diner, Joe saw two silhouettes—one thin, one thick—standing in the doorway. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly very dry. It took him a moment to realize the middle-aged man was talking to him.

“Hey you, jackass, what’s your name?”

“Hm, Ah! Oh, it’s Joe. What’s yours?”

“Andrew,” he said, then gripped the armrest of his chair with long, white fingers and stared straight ahead.

Joe then heard someone chuckling softly behind him. He craned his neck back to see who it was. The man with the buzz cut who had stayed on the bus was looking directly at Joe and chuckling to himself as if the two of them shared some private joke. Joe turned back around and sank low in his seat.

Joe tried to rest. He knew it was going to be a long ride to Denver. But when he closed his eyes, all he saw were the fathomless eyes of the two men from the diner. He glanced over: Rosie was curled up in her seat next to him. Her eyes were closed but he knew she wasn’t asleep because she kept fidgeting with her hands.

“Hey, Rosie?” Joe said softly.

Rosie opened her eyes and looked at him, “Yeah?”

“Where are you from?”

Rosie close her eyes and sighed. She sat up straighter.

“You really want to know about me?”

“Yes. Why not? We may not get a chance to talk soon, depends where you’re headed.”

Rosie looked at him for a long time. She stroked her hair thoughtfully. Finally she said, “I’m from LA originally. You?”

“Oh, uh let’s see. I was born in Texas, but we moved when I was pretty young to Denver. I went to college at Berkley. After graduating, I lived in Las Vegas for a while, but recently I decided to leave town. Now I’m headed back to Denver.”

“That’s nice,” Rosie said, sinking back down in her seat.

Andrew, who had been eavesdropping, butted in, “Denver? What the hell is in Denver for you? Work or are you just going their to smoke weed?”

Joe chuckled weakly. He scratched the back of his head. Now that he was thinking about it more, he wasn’t really sure why Denver. It had just been the first place to come to mind when the bus driver asked. No matter, it’s not like Joe had to stay in Denver once he go there. He could always try living out on the east coast.

“I’ll figure it out when I get there. I’m just glad to be out of Vegas. Where are you going, Andrew?”

Andrew shrugged, “Don’t matter where. Anywhere is fine by me. Hell, maybe I’ll spend the rest of my days wandering the open road.” Andrew went back to staring straight ahead.

“So,” Joe said to Rosie, “where are you headed?”

Rosie rolled her eyes, but a smile played on her mouth, “You like asking questions, Joe.” She rubbed her eyes and let out a sleepy groan, “Maybe I’ll tell you later. Right now, I really need to sleep.”

“Alright, alright, I don’t want to keep you from your beauty sleep. Sorry I asked,” Joe folded his arms.

He rested his head against his headrest and watched the desert shrubs on the side of the road whip by. In the distance he saw the occasional shadow of a butte against the velvety sky.

Joe tried to doze like Rosie but he soon found that he hadn’t completely emptied his bladder at the diner. He squeezed past Rosie, who sleepily turned to the side to let him step out into the aisle. Joe walked in between the seats toward the back of the bus. He swayed gently from side-to-side with the rocking of the bus.

He kept walking. His eyes were locked on the back wall; he didn’t want to make eye contact with the other passengers. After a moment, Joe realized he had gotten no closer to the bathroom. He looked back over his shoulder. To his shock, the front of the bus was much farther away than should have been possible. The entire length of the bus separated him from his seat: he could just see the top of Rosie’s head.

Joe wondered if he had simply lost track of things because of how tired he was. He reached out his right hand and touched each seat as he walked past to make extra sure he was, in fact, moving forward.

Yet still the end of the bus refused to come any closer while the front faded until Joe could barely see the windshield: a dark square at the end of a long tunnel. The size of the bus was now well beyond the realm of possibility. An impossible number of seats stretched on in complete uniformity. Not all the seats, however, were empty.

Joe had noticed that the man with the crew cut seemed to be jumping from seat to seat. He always appeared ahead of Joe in the blink of an eye. The man stared a little past Joe with a deeply amused smile. The further Joe walked, the more and more people—men and women of all ages—filled the seats. They all had the same blank stare.

Joe began to despair, believing he had gone insane and that he would be stuck in this bizarre limbo forever. The front end of the bus was now long gone from sight. The back was still—as it had been for the last eternity—only a dozen paces or so in front of him.

Joe tried running. He moved forward at a headlong sprint, thinking maybe he could break free of whatever was holding him back. But running proved as fruitless as walking. The silent passengers filled every seat.

Heart hammering and sweat running down into his eyes, Joe finally collapsed onto the floor. When he lifted his head, he saw all eyes had now focused directly on him. Sitting immediately to his left was the crew cut man, who was holding back laughter.

“What the hell is going on?” Joe sobbed.

The man chuckled, “Welcome to the Night Bus. It has room enough for everyone. Here, take a seat.”

He scooted over and patted the empty seat. Joe pushed himself to his feet. He didn’t feel safe sitting next to that man. He took a step forward.

“We’re all prisoners,” the man said with a giggle, “while we’re on the bus. All that matters to you know is where you’re headed.”

Joe set off once more for the bathroom, the stranger’s words echoing in his head. Joe walked for what might have been hours. His already tired mind entered such a delusional state that he could no longer tell if he was sleeping or awake, alive or dead. Joe gave up ever being free of this hell. He finally accepted that this was his life from now on.

Joe nearly walked into the back row of seats.

“What the hell?” he gasped.

Looking back, the front of the bus was clearly visible, only a dozen or so paces away. There was the top of Rosie’s head and there was the shaved man, smiling at him. Joe opened the bathroom door and went in.

After relieving himself, Joe sat back down in his seat beside Rosie. She was waking up slowly.

When she saw his face, she said, “Man, you look spooked. What happened in the bathroom?”

“Nothing. Just tired,” Joe couldn’t help glancing back over his shoulder as he spoke.

The driver’s voice came crackling over the speaker, “We’re arriving at our last stop before you folks get off. I’ll stop and you folks go on inside and get your tickets. I can’t take you anywhere without those tickets. I’ll give you folks a half hour, then we hit the road for one last time.”

Joe looked out the window. A city of black high-rises lit from behind by an orange glow, like a huge fire, loomed ahead. All around the city was barren desert. Joe had no idea what city it was but he prepared himself for whatever was there waiting for him.

The Night Bus, Part 1: The Diner

Joe didn’t remember exactly how it happened. One minute he had been cruising down the highway, his headlights illuminating the same white and yellow lines. Then the next moment he was slumped in his eat, his car in a ditch. His forehead ached from where he’d smacked it on the wheel.

He vaguely remembered something—a critter of some kind—gad gone skittering across the road. It had either been a small animal or plastic bag in the wind. Whatever it was, Joe had swerved to avoid it and gone crashing into a narrow ditch beside the road.

Joe shook himself. He picked up his phone from between his feet and climbed out of the car. After scrambling out of the ditch, he resurveyed the damage. The front of his car was smashed up and the back of the car was in the air. There was no way for him to get the car out by himself. Swearing and holding his head, Joe walked in circles for five minutes.

When he finally calmed down, he tried his cell phone to call a tow truck. He had no signal. He was miles from the nearest exit. To either side of the road was open desert, painted blue by the crescent moon.

Joe ran his fingers through his hair. He pulled several locks free. He stared down the road in either direction, hoping some solution would appear. Just when he was thinking he’d have to walk twenty miles to the next town, he noticed a light ahead of him on the road. It wasn’t the headlights of a car. Joe jogged down the road as fast as he could.

The turned out to be from a small bus stop. It was nothing more than a small patch of dirt on the side of the road with a ticket booth, which was closed, and a covered platform. Joe looked into the booth: no one was there. He sat down on the bench. His legs were shaking.

He hadn’t been sitting for more than three minutes when headlights came toward him. An engine growled in the night. Joe shielded his eyes against the bright lights. A moment later, a bus pulled up alongside the platform. It was white with a blue stripe and the words “American Expeditions” on its side.

Joe ran up to the door, which rattled open for him. He leapt up onto the steps.

“Excuse me! My—My car crashed! Where is this bus going? Can you take me to the nearest town? I—I can’t seem to use my cell phone. I have cash! I can pay for a ticket.”

The driver, a little old man with glasses that magnified his eyes, smiled at Joe.

“Slow down, son, slow down! You’re alright now. Where were you headed to before your crash?”

Joe gaped, “Ah, well… Um, I guess I was going home. I left Vegas. Um, I guess I was headed to Denver.”

“Well I could take to the closest town, which is about twenty miles away. Or I could take you all the way to Denver.”

“Really? That—That’s awesome! Man, I’m lucky you showed up when you did! How much is the ticket?”

“50 cents.”

Joe blinked. He stepped back, “Really? Only 50 cents?”

“Yup. Special deal for you, sir, since you’re in a bad strait and all.”

“Wow, thank you so much!”

Joe fished out two quarters and gave them to the driver. In return, Joe got a ticket. He looked at it as he was walking down the aisle to find a seat. The ticket gave the place of origin as “Las Vegas” and the destination as “Denver”. Strangely, the ticket had his full name on it. Joe hadn’t given the driver his name.

Joe stopped and turned around. The driver was looking at the road ahead as he disengaged the parking brake. The bus rumbled forward slowly. The driver glanced up in the overhead mirror. Joe quickly turned back around. Best not to distract the driver while he was driving.

The bus was a big one with enough seats for more than fifty people. However, there were currently only half a dozen passengers. They were the type of people one expected on a late night bus:

A young kid in a hoodie with earbuds in his ears and a distant look on his face;

A college-aged Asian girl curled up on two seats, her head resting on her backpack;

A large black woman in a bright pink shirt and a concerned, even angry look, as she fiddled with something inside her humungous purse;

A clean-shaven man with a crew cut sitting straight up in his seat, staring out of the window and muttering to himself;

A young woman in a tight skirt with the shoulder-length, groomed hair that had the look of a working girl;

And a thin, middle-aged man in a rumpled suit with such a severe scowl he might as well have just gotten off the phone with his soon-to-be ex-wife.

Joe sank down into a seat near front. He leaned against the window and watched the desert night fly past. He entered a kind of limbo of time after a while. The same desert landscape and same smattering of silver stars in the sky lulled him into a light doze.

His eyes opened as the bus came to a stop. Joe blinked and rubbed his eyes. he looked at his phone. It was midnight. He looked out the window. The bus had come to a stop in the empty parking lot of a gas station. Light spilled out of the windows, spilling across the empty spaces.

The speaker overhead crackled, “All right, folks, we’re making a quick stop to refuel. Feel free to go inside and buy some snacks, stretch your legs, or use the restrooms. We’ll be leaving again in ten minutes. Please be back on time: we have a tight schedule tonight.”

Joe and most of the other passengers rose to their feet. The clean-shaven man stayed seated. He watched them all file past with wide eyes that seemed not to see them at all. When Joe alighted on the asphalt, a warm breeze rolled over him, making him wish for the air-conditioned bus. He crossed the parking lot. Dust devils swirled in the distance.

Joe took out his phone and set a timer for ten minutes. He was so tired, he figured he might doze off in the diner and miss the bus. Joe stopped in front of the doors and looked up. Neon signs blazed in bright red and gold overhead. “Lonesome Road 24-Hour Diner” the largest sign said.

Feet caught on the curb behind him. A woman cried out. Joe turned and half-caught, half-bumped into the girl in the short skirt.

“Oh thank you!” She said, rubbing her eye once she was safely on her feet again. “I’m so tired, I could hardly see where I was going.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Joe said as he opened the door for her.

She flashed him a smile as she walked past. Inside, the diner brightly lit; a sharp contrast to the bus and the night outside. Joe blinked as he followed the girl to the counter. Booths lined the wall and a long counter stretched most of the length of the diner. The place had a retro theme, with bright red upholstered seats, chrome edges on the tables and counter, and the waitresses in light blue and pink skirts.

A scattering of people sat in booths or on stool. They all minded their own business and made hardly any noise. The other bus passengers sat by themselves.

Joe sat down with an empty stool separating him and the girl. He wanted to sit close to her but without giving the impression he was stalking her. When Joe had a cup of coffee in front ho him, he turned to the girl. Strands of dark hair had fallen over face when she hunched over her coffee cup.

“What’s your name?” Joe asked.

She looked up, clearly surprised that someone was talking to her, “Huh? Oh, um, Rosie. What’s yours?”

“Joe. Where are you headed, Rosie?”

Rosie looked over and gave Joe an apologetic smile, “I’m sorry, Joe, but I’m really tired and not really in the mood to talk. I’m really sorry!”

“Oh, no don’t worry about it,” Joe looked down into his cup of black coffee.

He kept glancing at the clock on the wall. He didn’t want the bus to leave without him. Joe didn’t really care that much to go back to Denver: all that was important was that it wasn’t Vegas and it was a familiar place. And he certainly didn’t want to get stuck in the diner. Who knew where this place, he certainly didn’t.

“Another cup, dear?” the waitress asked with a smile.

“Sure.”

She filled up his mug. Joe drank. Even though the night was a hot one, the hot coffee was surprisingly refreshing. The more he drank, the more he wanted. It was far from your typical “diner” brew.

Joe forget to check the clock. All he wanted to do was stare into his cup, like all the other diner-goers. He drained his cup two more times: each time, the friendly waitress in the pink dress filled it all the way back up. Soon his mind was in such a state of content euphoria that time lost any meaning to him.

Minutes and hours were unknown concepts to Joe. He looked around him. Rosie was chatting to the waitress about the coffee and how delicious it was. Joe drained his cup once more. He didn’t even have to ask for a refill.

Something began vibrating in Joe’s pocket. Whatever it was made Joe jump in his seat. Rosie gave him a sideways look.

“Sorry, sorry, I’m not sure what’s wrong with my phone,” Joe said as he pulled his phone out.

He stared at the numbers on the screen and the message that his timer had ended. Joe couldn’t conceive what he’d need a timer for. He shrugged, turned the alarm off, slid the phone back into his pocket, then got up to find the restroom. He leaned against the wall as he emptied his bladder into the urinal.

He was already dreaming of getting another cup of coffee when he returned to the diner when something clicked in his mind: the bus, the timer, it all came back in a flash. Joe finished his business and came sprinting back into the counter. He was about to tap Rosie on the shoulder when he noticed two men in suits and fedoras sitting where he had.

They turned around. Their eyes were pure black.

“You look like you’re in a rush, pal?” The thin one said.

“Yeah, where you headed in a rush at a time like this?” The thick one said, rising so he blocked the way to the door.

“I just remembered I have to go otherwise I’ll miss my bus!”

The thin one scratched his chin, “Don’t remember no bus. You remember a bus?”

The thick one shook his head. He spoke to Joe, “What bus would run at a time like this in a place like this? We’re in the middle of the desert, pal. Not exactly downtown Vegas, if you know what I mean.”

“No, there’s a bus outside in the parking lot! And it’s about to leave!”

Joe whirled around, pointing out one of the windows. But as he looked, he realized none of the windows faced the direction of the bus. The two men shook their heads in unison.

“I think you dozed off and dreamed about a bus, pal,” the thick one said. “Why don’t ya sit down and have a nice cup of coffee. It’s good here, not your usual cheap stuff.”

Joe sank onto the stool, his shoulders lumping. He was starting to think the two men were right. He glanced at them. They grinned, their white teeth evenly spaced as they looked at him with their pure black eyes. The thin one nodded toward the mug in front of Joe.

Joe reached out a hand, thinking it might be better to just do what they said.

Besides, the coffee really was good…

The Night Bus

night_bus

America: a country that spans an entire continent and touches two oceans. Roughly 2,680 miles wide, America has nearly 3 million miles of public roads. It is only natural that urban legends have arisen concerning the open highway.

One of the most interesting of these roadside legends is that of the Night Bus. Incidents of the Night Bus legend are found all over the continental United States; unlike other urban legends it is not geographically contained to a specific city, state, or stretch of road.

The Night Bus is a fifty-seater white and blue public transportation bus with the name “American Expeditions” on its sides. The description of the bus and the name of the nonexistent company is universal in all retellings, giving proof that this is no mere fable.

As its name implies, the bus only appears at night. In the stories, it often picks people up after their car has crashed or they are desperate for transportation. The Night Bus defies any laws of nature: it can whisk people across the country in a single night. Space and time work differently on the bus.

Travelers are brought to strange, unidentified road stops or entire cities. There, they face many bizarre challenges. Some of these might be things from their own past. Others are simply the strange denizens of the different stops. Always though, these challenges attempt to prevent unwitting travelers from reaching their destinations.

It is like Odysseus, trying to return home in spite of all the obstacles. One of the most commonly recurring obstacle takes the shape of two men in coats and fedora who will often follow travelers to different stops. These two men are described as having pure black eyes.

It will be impossible to capture what it is like to be visited by the Night Bus in a single post, so I will instead share a story concerning three passengers of the Night Bus, each with their own unique fate.

The story I’ve selected highlights the unusual encounters travelers have with the Night Bus. So please enjoy as we ride out onto the moonlit highway together…

The Cumar Killings: Return of Nodens

Since the fateful year of 1966 when detective Owen Clarke foiled Alan Rhys, Owen moved quietly to the Welsh countryside. He married and lived with his wife Lily on a farm. The victims of Rhys coped with their traumatic experiences in different ways. Stewart and Amanda Tindle lived with their loving grandparents. Though both children suffered recurring nightmares, they eventually resumed a normal pattern of life. They became, for the most part, ordinary teenagers.

Reagan Jones, who had been four when she and her family were kidnapped, was eventually taken from her relatives and moved to an orphanage due to reports of drug abuse. Reagan was changed from her time as Rhys’s prisoner. She spoke to no one, suffered terrible nightmares, and ate little. As she grew up, it became clear to her caretakers that she would never outgrow her trauma.

Caitlin MacDonell fared the worst. She moved back to Glasgow and attempted to pick up the threads of her old life. However, she failed to hold down a job and changed boyfriends just as frequently. She took to drinking heavily to cope. Eventually she moved to America and was last seen with a group of hippies in rural Oregon.

Owen tended to his farm and did investigative consulting work on the side, helping PIs and greenhorn police officers with difficult cases. Though never forgetting the Rhys case, Owen had put it behind him. He was content to have caught the man and freed his victims. The island of Anglesey returned to its former state of slow, rural life without the disruption of kidnappings, fires, and police sirens. The locals happily shunned the memory of Alan Rhys.

So when on January 1, 1970, locals discovered a strange monument on the summit of Y Gwrach, people wanted to believe it was the work of local hooligans having fun. The monument was wicker covered in yew bark. It was shaped in the likeness of an elongated human figure with antlers. The statue was very abstract in style, and many observers though it was horribly made. In his long, crude fingers, the statue held a torc and a stone.

nodens_monument
Supposed photograph of the monument shortly before police intervention

Police quickly took the monument down and blamed it on kids pulling a New Year’s prank. However, the rumor did start to circulate around the island that it was a sign that Alan Rhys’s vengeance was coming. Rhys had at this point been in the grave four years. To those paying attention, the next few months were a time of suspense as they waited with held breath for the first strike.

When a break-in was reported in Cumar, no one panicked. Though unusual on the rural island, no one was alarmed. Initially anyway. When police arrived at the house of Catherine Llewelyn, they found a first-floor window had been smashed from the outside. Catherine herself was nowhere to be found. The neighbors who made the call said they heard the window shatter and saw movement inside the house. They were unaware Catherine was missing and were sure she had been home. Catherine’s bedcovers were thrown back, as if to suggest Catherine had leapt out of bed in a hurry. Yet there was nothing to indicate a struggle has taken place.

Police investigators thought that someone or something had broken Catherine’s downstair window. Catherine, who was nearing 70 and lived alone, was probably so frightened that she fled from her house and got lost or had been met by an accident in the dark woods around her house.

Those islanders who remembered Alan Rhys knew that Catherine Llewelyn had been critical in turning him in. In pubs and around dinner tables, the people of Cumar and Anglesey whispered of Rhys’s return from beyond the grave. Who was next—or if anyone would be next—was anyone’s guess.

Soon on the heels of Catherine’s disappearance, five more people disappeared from their homes around the island in the span of a three weeks. The scene was always the same: a downstairs window or door smashed open and the victim gone without a trace.

The police realized quickly that these people were being kidnapped—six people vanishing from their homes in the middle of the night was too much of a coincidence. No trace of the culprit was ever found. They were clearly dealing with an expert body-snatcher.

Over the next month, ten more people went missing from their homes. The victims all lived in different towns across the island—though three were from Cumar. The only connection between the cases aside from the same crime scene was that they all happened around or during the full moon.

Fear of Alan Rhys’s wrathful ghost swept through the countryside. The North Wales police department kept the news from spreading to the mainland, though Anglesey newspapers ran headlines declaring Rhys’s vengeance.

After three months of increasing numbers of disappearances, the police were at a loss. The third full moon since Catherine had seen more than a dozen people go missing from their homes. Panic threatened to take hold of the island’s population. A small breakthrough happened when investigators found a human femur in a gully near Y Gwrach. However, they were unable to determine who the femur belonged to.

The chief constable for North Wales decided they needed all the help they could get. So he called on the man who had brought Alan Rhys down: Owen Clarke. You may recall that Clarke had been forced to resign after he caught Alan Rhys.

Owen heard the phone ring late one Friday evening. He said when interviewed later that he got a gut feeling what the call was about as he was walking toward the phone. He answered and heard the familiar voice of Matthew Dulvey, chief constable of North Wales and his former boss. After hearing the situation in Anglesey, Owen hung up the phone, put on his coat, kissed his wife goodbye, and drove to Colwyn Bay on the north coast of the country. Owen was debriefed in person by Dulvey and signed on as a private investigator.

Clarke confessed later that he had mixed feelings about the case:

“The minute I heard about the break-ins, the kidnappings, and the peculiar nature of it all, I knew I had to help somehow. It all felt connected to Rhys. I don’t know how: the man was dead; I watched him hang. But maybe he had accomplices. The whole Rhys case left us with a lot of unanswered questions. Of course this meant that I had to work for the same men who had fired me. But I swallowed any resentment I had and focused on the task at hand.”

Owen Clarke returned to Anglesey in midsummer 1970. He immediately got to work. All the disappearances were marked on a map of the island. Owen wracked his brains, trying to see a pattern in it all. While he worked, another full moon came and went, bringing with it another round of missing persons. These were added as new dots on the map.

That’s when a a revelation struck Owen. He noticed where the disappearances were not. The coastline was for the most part not affected. An idea started to form, though it was still foggy. Owen had another revelation. All the people were taken from their homes at night. No vehicles were ever spotted anywhere near the targeted homes, meaning the culprits traveled at least some distance on foot.

Owen calculated where someone could hide, yet still reach all the affected towns in a night’s journey. He drew a circle on the map several miles in diameter. Y Gwrach sat very close to the middle of the circle. It wasn’t an exact measurement, nor was this theory conclusive, but given its history, Owen knew he had to check out the strange mountain. He would at least be able to rule it out as a place of interest.

Another pattern was made clear to Owen. The kidnappings had no motive other than the act itself. The victims ranged widely in age, gender, and location. Even the time between kidnapping was random. Sometimes it was a day, sometimes five, between kidnappings. Sometimes there were two on the same night. It seemed to Owen rather like a predator randomly picking off any prey it thought would make an easy kill.

Owen went with twenty police officers and dogs to Y Gwrach during the next full moon. Every other available officer patrolled the island or waited at the entrances of affected towns. Owen and the police scoured the mountain as clouds gathered overhead. Rain fell from the clouds in torrents. The police told Owen to call off the search. He refused and continued to look for any sort of clue.

Then something strange happened. Owen said it best in his interview:

“I can’t tell you what happened exactly, but when the clouds parted for a moment, revealing the full disc of the moon, I looked down from my perch and saw a cave down below. I swore there hadn’t been a cave there when I had climbed up. I hunched over to shield my map from the rain and shined my flashlight down on it. There were only two caves on the map, and they were both on the other side of the hill. I decided to go down and check it out. Who knows, maybe our culprit was hiding in there?”

“I entered the cave and was glad to be out of the rain. I shone my flashlight around. It was a deep cave, unlike the others, and I couldn’t see the back. This kept going down in the Witch’s guts. I walked further and further in. I quickly figured there was nothing in there, but I had to make a thorough check, just to satisfy my own curiosity.”

“Well, maybe a dozen yards in, this stench hits me like a slap to the nose. It was like a rotting corpse, but so much stronger. Like a whole room of rotting corpses in the middle of a hot summer. I knew something was in the cave. I turned a corner into a larger opening and then I see it: a mass of gray and white flesh. I thought for a second it was some dead animal, but then I noticed it was moving up and down. Then I saw the blue eyes staring at me out of the shadows.”

“It was some kind of hideous giant thing, like something from a child’s fairy tale. I can’t say—even now after all these years—what it was. Though there was something in the eyes that reminded me of Rhys. However, I don’t remember Rhys looking like that. Nor smelling that bad.”

Owen confronted this monstrosity, the strangeness of which froze Owen where he stood. The thing was hunched over because of the low ceiling, but was probably eight feet tall or more when fully erect. After his mind had enough time to process what he was seeing, Owen drew his revolver and opened fire. Owen claims to have emptied his gun into the creature, yet his bullets only had the effect of making the creature angry.

The thing let our an ear-splitting howl. Owen had to drop his gun to cover his ears. Then the huge, gray hands shot out and grabbed Owen. They flung him around the cave. Owen hit the wall, breaking some ribs. As he lay on the ground, a fist came down and smashed his head against the ground. Blood ran down Owen’s face.

The giant towered over him now. The white lips opened to reveal slab-like teeth which descended toward Owen. Owen reached out and grabbed something hard. When he held it up he saw it was a skeletal human forearm. Owen jammed the bone in the open mouth. As the creature reeled back, Owen crawled desperately for the cave opening.

A hand shot out and grabbed his ankle. Owen reached out, grabbed his flashlight from where it lay, and shone the beam right in the creature’s eyes. The giant reared back and howled once more. This gave Owen enough time to crawl out of the cave and into the torrential downpour.

He was found the next morning in a delirious state in a thickly-forested gulch. Owen Clarke was taken to Colwyn Bay for medical care. When he regained consciousness, Owen babbled about the monster he had found inside Y Gwrach. His superiors feared he had suffered some kind of schizophrenic episode and kept him confined in the hospital. His mentally stability had already been questioned by some after how he handled the Rhys investigation.

Owen spent two weeks in and out of consciousness as surgeons drained fluid from his head and set his broken ribs.

In Owen’s absence, Anglesey was at the giant’s mercy. More and more people—now near a hundred total—were yanked from their homes. Thunderstorms drenched the island with rising ferocity. Cows and sheep were found mauled to dead in fields. The island’s medical offices were filled with people troubled by insomnia and night terrors.

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One of many mutilated cattle

Most of these visions shared a common element: a terrifying, antlered figure with blue eyes who attacked dreamers and demeaned their obedience.

After a month and two weeks in the hospital, Owen Clarke decided he’d had enough. He knew what was happening at Anglesey: the severe storms were reported in the local news. Owen checked out of the hospital and drove to his house, where he picked up his Remington shotgun. Then he drove all the way down to the Tower Colliery in southern Wales. His father had worked there and Owen still had family friends there.

As arranged, an old friend left three sticks of dynamite in a place where Owen could find them. Owen then went all the way back to Cumar. He waited a week until the next full moon. He stayed in an inn under a false name. The police had not given him permission to leave the hospital, so Owen had to be incognito. When the full moon rolled around, Owen returned to Y Gwrach.

When he reached the summit, Owen walked past the frog pool. Something glittering under the water made him stop. He looked closer. There, lying at the bottom of the pond was a sword, shining like silver. In all his previous times climbing up and down the hill, Owen had never seen the sword. He wondered if it too was revealed in the full moon.

Owen waded in to retrieve the sword. Owen later said that, “I don’t know what made me stop at that moment to pull out the sword. Maybe I’d been too fascinated by King Arthur as a child. Maybe God told me that I needed the sword to defeat that monster in the cave.”

Owen climbed down the east slope of the hill. There was the cave in the moonlight. Owen walked inside, shotgun in hand, the sword tucked through his belt. The giant with Alan Rhys’s blue eyes was waiting for him. When Owen turned the corner, a gray fist and the reek of death rushed at him. He ducked, firing his shotgun. The creature recoiled, yet the blast had not damaged it visibly. Rolling to avoid more blows, Owen fired blast after blast, aiming for the eyes. At last, the monster howled as it shielded its eyes. Owen dropped the gun, pulled the sword out, and ran the thing through the chest.

The giant roared in pain as black blood showered Owen. The creature tried to rise and grabbed Owen, but he rammed the sword in deeper and then leapt back. Owen ran to the cave mouth, lit the three sticks of dynamite, and tossed them at the approaching giant. When Owen turned to run, his half-healed ribs sent pain shooting through his side. Owen flinched and stumbled. The blast picked him up and threw him into the air.

Owen landed hard, breaking a leg. his left eardrum had ruptured and his left side was covered in burns. gritting his teeth against the pain, Owen looked up the mountain. The cave was gone. Tumbled rocks stood in a heap where it had been. Owen limped to his car and drove back to the hospital.

Clarke later said concerning the giant:

“I don’t know who or what it was. I still don’t, not to this day. And I can’t say I want to know. It wasn’t a man that’s for sure. It looked like a great big corpse with sharp blue eyes. Whether it was Alan brought back by some trick or that god of his—Nodens I think—I don’t know. I’m just glad it’s gone. It was unnatural.”

The storms, the visions, the kidnappings, all of it stopped that night. The police officially blamed the storms on a freak occurrence and the kidnappings on hooligans, who had been killed in a shootout with the police. The shared nightmares were silently swept under the rug. Owen was publicly commended for his actions. When he told his side of the story to police officials, Owen was ordered never to speak of it to anyone.

Owen Clarke passed away in 2017 at the age of 89. He died peacefully in the company of his loving family. Months before his death, he told a select group of friends and family his side of the Alan Rhys affair. These friends and family later told us about Owen Clarke’s incredible story.

The cave where the creature lived was never found. The case was quickly buried. With the death of the giant, the specter of Alan Rhys lifted for good. Anglesey became a sleepy little island again. And the town of Cumar a sleepy little town.

The only “loose end” to this story is Caitlin MacDonell’s child, which was conceived during her time as Rhys’s captive. No matter how much digging I did, I couldn’t find so much as a rumor about it. What orphanage it was sent to, its gender, or who—if anyone—adopted it is unknown. Somewhere out there, the child of Nodens’ promise lives on. Perhaps they don’t even know the incredible circumstances to which it was born.

Just this year, in 2018, someone bought the house of Alan Rhys. The thing at this point was a ruin. A legal liaison came to the town council of Cumar and offered them a generous deal. The liaison never disclosed who he represented.

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Alan Rhys’s house circa 1995

My theory is that perhaps it is Caitlin’s child who bought the house. If this is true, why he or she did so is a mystery. Surely it can’t be a sentimental wish to preserve the place of their conception. Any plans they have for Rhys’s old home will be posted later if they occur.

For now, the infamous “Cumar Killings” are finished. Case closed. They were Wales’s strangest string of crimes, yet no one today knows about them. Even the natives of Anglesey never speak of Rhys or Clarke.

Like the giant in the cave, the Cumar Killings have been buried, forgotten. For now.

Haber Forest Raptor

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Forests have long been breeding grounds for frightful tales. And no wonder. The trees that press close, the thick canopy that casts an all-day shadow, the hush that settles over everything, the snap of a twig nearby, and the ease with which travelers loose their way make forests alien places. Like the fathomless sea, we cannot see its deepest heart. And like the sea, sometimes monsters rise from their depths.

Haber Forest in Alberta, Canada has been home to supposed monster sightings since at least the early 19th century, if not before. Haber Forest is a 22,000 acre wilderness in north-central Alberta. It is named after Jeremiah Haber (1702-1776), an English explorer for the Hudson’s Bay Company who built outposts and villages along the Peace and Athabasca Rivers. It wasn’t until 1814 that Haber Forest was mentioned officially in a report about a caravan of settlers on their way west. The caravan vanished after last being seen headed toward Haber Forest. Though remains of their wagons were discovered years later, no trace of the forty-seven men, women, and children were ever found.

Other caravans and travelers went missing in Haber, earning the place a sinister reputation. Rumors began to circulate of a terrifying monster that lived there: the so-called “Haber Forest Raptor”.

Named after birds of prey, the Raptor was blamed as the source of thunder and blood-chilling, shrieks heard by numerous travelers in Haber. Partial skeletons of animals as large as grizzly bears have been found throughout the forest, but particularly near Thunder Bluff. Chipewyan tales, heard by early Canadian settlers, helped give rise to the Raptor legend. The native Chipewyan people of northern Alberta always avoided the forest.

The Raptor remained a thing of folklore through the 19th and 20th century. It wasn’t until 1982 that a trio of University of British Columbia students set out to prove once and for all the existence of the Haber Forest Raptor. Douglas McGovern, Martin Denis-Claire, and Phoebe Milson drove to Haber Forest with cameras and camping gear. Their plan was to camp in the forest for a week and record any and all traces of the fabled Raptor.

Four days later, the trio had packed up and driven back to Vancouver. They blamed bad weather for ending their adventure prematurely. All three were shaken and showed no interest in going back. They all claimed to have heard horrible shrieking—like the call of a giant raven—in the night. During the day they heard thunder, even when the sky was clear.

Fortunately, they had managed to take a number of photographs and some video footage. Their pictures showed swaths of forest where the trees were felled as if by a tornado. Like many travelers to Haber, the trio noted the number of tall trees which had their tops snapped off and the gashes, several inches deep, found on felled trees.

The trio claimed to have sen a giant shadow swoop down on one of these clear areas and carry off a full-grown buck. They were unable to take a picture, as it too fast. The sight horrified all three members of the group.

It was this incident that drove them form the forest, they claimed later.

Since the trio had been unable to record tangible proof of the Raptor, its existence remained a mystery. Skeptics explained that the damaged trees were caused by the severe wind storms which sweep through occasionally. The incident of with the buck was blown off, as the group had no actual proof except their own testimonies.

Ever since the disappearance of the forty-seven settlers in 1814, Haber Forest was home to a string of disappearances throughout the rest of the 19th century and the 20th. Of course, the mostly likely explanation for these are the severe storms which wrack the forest in autumn and winter.

The most noteworthy of the recent disappearances is that of Luke Bendell in 1995. An American and amateur rock climber, Luke had driven up to Haber Forest to climb Thunder Bluff, a 1,000-foot cliff and tallest peak in the forest. When Luke failed to return home, local authorities were alerted. Some of Luke’s gear was found scattered at the foot of the bluff. Luke’s body was later found in the forest some thirty yards from the cliff. While investigators were at first baffled by the distance of the body from the bluff, it was clear that a long fall had been the cause of death. Eventually, they reasoned that Luke had fallen while making his ascent, not been killed immediately, crawled into the forest, and then died from his injuries shortly thereafter.

Of course there are some who believe Luke was a victim of the Raptor, who had picked Luke up and dropped him to the ground, explaining why his body was far from the cliff. Others try to explain it by claiming Luke committed suicide by leaping from the top of Thunder Bluff. One of the investigators, who has remained anonymous, does claim that they are skeptical of the official cause of death. The amount of scattered gear and the distance of the corpse from the cliff just didn’t add up. There were also reports of lacerations on the body, which have since been explained as being caused by branches which Luke hit on his way down.

Interest in the Haber Forest Raptor died down during the later half of the ‘90s. It remained a popular legend in Alberta, but the rest of the world soon forgot about it. That is until 2008 when hiker and native Albertan John Cotter posted a strange video to his YouTube channel. Here’s the video:

John claimed he was hiking around Haber Forest when he heard the unnatural sounds. John is an experienced hiker and wrote that he had no idea what kind of animal could make those sounds. If this video is real, this proves that something lives inside the depths of Haber. John’s video rekindled interest in Alberta’s fabled monster.

In 2010 several photos were posted to a now-defunct cryptozoology forum by a man who claimed to be a park ranger for the province of Alberta. Though the originals were taken down soon after, I have saved versions here:

 

The setting appears to be Haber Forest. As you can see, there is something flying in the distance. If these photos are real, then they are the best visual evidence of the Raptor to-date. However, the man never revealed his identity, so it is unknown who actually posted the original. And the pictures are so grainy, it is impossible to say conclusively what we are looking at. If it is a bird, it is a strange-looking one.

The Raptor has had the same description—with only minor variations—for more than a hundred years. Canadian settlers told of a human with enormous wings and talons for feet. Some versions described it as having a naked body and a shriveled head with a beak, like a vulture’s head. Others said that feathers covered most of its body and that it had fangs instead of a beak. People guess that, for a human-sized being to fly, it would have to have a wingspan of at least 40 feet. The huge wings would explain the booms of thunder associated with Raptor sightings.

An interesting connection that people have made is the similarity between the Raptor and thunderbirds of the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest, Great Plains, and the Great Lakes region. This mythological creature made thunder by the beating of its huge wings. Many omens were associated with the thunderbird. It could be that the Haber Forest Raptor is the progenitor of these myths, or—as some have put forward—the Raptor is the last remaining member of its kind, a species of human-like bird creatures that used to live in southern Canada and the northern US.

Whether a myth, a supernatural being, or a remnant of some prehistoric race, the Haber Forest Raptor will continue to haunt Alberta. Stories, like this one, will continue to be told about it. Perhaps one day, we will find definitive proof of its existence. Until then, Haber Forest will be shrouded in mystery and legend.