I live in New Jersey – the state known for its “haunted roads.”
Crack open a copy of Weird NJ and you’ll see what I mean. Clinton Road – a body dump site for the Mafia and home of a little ghost boy. Shades of Death Road – where a woman buried her husband’s head and body on opposite sides of the street.
But have you ever heard of Victoria’s Road?
It’s in Warren County, where the congestion of the Jersey suburbs fades out into mountains and trees. It’s easy to miss – just a narrow gap in the thick forest, that you’ll drive right by if you aren’t careful. But if you find it… you’ll see, walking along the side of the road, a woman in a purple dress.
You can ask her one question. Any question.
She will tell you the answer.
I went with my best friend Mira late one summer night. We were parked on the side of the road, overlooking the valley below, to review the “rules.”
Mira handed me the piece of paper, now damp and crumpled. “It was in my pocket all day. Sorry,” she said, through smacks of gum. I rolled my eyes and began to read.
1. You must be the only car on the road. For this reason, go late at night, or early in the morning.
Check. It was 12:45 AM.
2. Your radio must be tuned to 102.2 the entirety of the drive. Turn off all other devices, including your cell phones.
“I don’t think it’s even possible to get that station,” I said, as I turned off my phone. But when Mira gave the dial a spin, it easily landed on 102.2. Static filled the car.
3. Don’t stop your car for any reason other than Victoria. No matter what you see or hear, do not stop.
“Weird,” I said to Mira. She shrugged.
4. DO NOT, under any circumstances, attempt to make a U-Turn or go back the way you came.
“Easy enough,” I said.
I turned back onto the road and rolled down the window. Yellow fireflies danced between the trees; the sounds of crickets filled the air. The breeze was warm and humid. “Are you sure it’s this way?” I asked. The road tilted up, climbing the mountain. In a few minutes, we’d be at the top.
“Positive,” Mira said. “It’s just around the bend, there.”
She was right. Within minutes, a tilted signpost came into view. Faded and cracked, wrapped with vines and foliage.
I turned on the blinker – despite the road being completely empty – and swung left.
The road was dark. The headlights barely punctured the thick shadows; it was as if we were submerged in murky water. Mira, however, didn’t seem scared at all. She practically vibrated with excitement. “So, if this thing works – which it probably won’t, I know – what are you gonna ask her?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe what college will accept me.”
That was a lie. I knew exactly what I wanted to ask her. Is Dad ever coming back? After he met Linda three years ago… it’s all been missed calls, one-word texts, empty promises. “So, uh, what do you want to ask her?”
“If Sarah McCoffrey likes me. Duh.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Isn’t she super-Christian? Like Bibles and cross necklaces all the time? Are you sure she’s even –”
Mira stared at me blankly. “Christians can be gay too, Hannah.”
I suddenly felt dumb. “Well, uh, I just assumed –”
My foot hit the brake.
We jolted to a halt.
A deer sauntered across the road. It stopped in the center and turned towards us, its eyes glowing in the headlights. “Oh my gosh, that scared the bejeezus out of me,” Mira said. My heart pounded in my chest.
But then she grew annoyed. “Wait, wait, we’re not supposed to stop! Remember? Rule #3. We’re going to screw it up!”
“What do you want me to do, plow into the deer? We have to wait for it to cross.”
But as we sat there, the deer didn’t move. It just stood there, in the headlights, watching us. Get out of the way. Come on!
Finally – as if my thoughts willed it – it took a step.
Not towards the woods. A step forward, towards our car. “What’s it doing?” Mira asked. It walked closer, its fur scratching against the hood of the car, until it was just a few feet from my window. It stared at me with those black, glinting eyes.
Then it reared its head –
And rammed against the car.
“What the hell?!” I screamed.
The car jolted forward, and we sped down the dark road. “What a crazy-ass deer. It must be rabid or something.” Mira shook her head. “Is the car okay? Did it leave a dent?”
“No idea. If it did, Mom’s going to kill me.”
We drove for the next few minutes in silence, save for the crackles of static from the radio. The road continued through the forest, growing even darker and narrower. I don’t like this at all. Maybe we should turn around –
Suddenly, the static on the radio stopped.
But when I looked at the glowing console, it no longer said FM RADIO; it said BLUETOOTH AUDIO, like it usually does when my phone is connected.
A man’s voice came through the speakers, cut with static.
“Hannah, hey, you there?”
I gulped. “…Dad? Is that you?”
“Yeah!” He laughed his cheerful, warm laugh. “Sorry to call you so late. But I happen to be driving through Blairstown right now – had a work thing in Philly. Do you want to meet up?”
“Now?” I said.
“Yeah. Where are you? We can meet at that 24-hour diner –”
“I’m with Mira. We’re uh, just on a little adventure.”
“Oh, sounds fun!” He laughed again. “Well, do you want to meet up? I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”
I glanced at Mira.
“I’m so sorry, Mira. We’ll have to do this some other time.” I began turning the wheel, to swing left. “I haven’t seen my dad in six months, and we’ve been trying to reach each other –”
Mira thrust her hand into my pocket.
“Hey! What are you –”
She pulled out my phone. “You turned your phone off, remember? It was in the rules.” Her voice began to tremble. “There’s no way that could’ve been your dad, Hannah.”
“But I –”
“Do not, at any point, attempt to turn around. Rule #4, remember?”
I stared out the window. At the disjointed shadows; at the road that disappeared into the black.
And then I continued forward.
Tears burned at my eyes. Hearing his voice again… I shook my head, forcing the thought out of my head. The static faded back in. The road began to dip down, as if we were finally descending the mountain. Wayward branches scraped at the car. I slowly rolled down the window; but the summer air was silent, devoid of crickets, wind, rustling.
And then Mira screamed.
A blur of white darted out of the forest. In front of the car. I hit the brakes.
But it was too late.
“What was that?” Mira asked, her voice trembling.
“Another deer, maybe.”
But I knew it wasn’t. My entire body felt numb, frozen, paralyzed. I didn’t want to know what was under the car. What had just happened. I wanted to turn around, speed as fast as I could away from this place.
But I forced myself to open the door. Took a shaking step onto the cold asphalt.
The headlights shone into the darkness, motes of dust and debris swirling in the light. The surrounding forest was silent. My heart thrummed in my chest. I stared at the ground as I paced towards the front of the car, waiting for something terrible to come into view.
Nothing here, so far. Maybe I’m okay.
I took another step.
I took another, rounding the corner.
I crumpled to my knees.
White cloth. Wrinkled, crushed, stained deep red. Patches of pale skin poking out. A tangle of red hair.
I shot to my feet. As soon as Mira’s eyes met mine, she understood. “Oh my God, Hannah –”
I broke into choking sobs. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t even see her. It’s my fault. I can’t believe –”
My sentence ended in a strangled yelp.
Something grabbed my ankle.
It violently tugged. I fell to the ground, screaming. The tar scraped against my chest. The metal bumper hit my head with a sickening thump.
It was pulling me under the car.
And then darkness. Darkness, save for the few inches of light between the dark metal of the car and the pavement. “Help!” I screamed; my voice was muffled, muted, under the car. I thrashed and squirmed, but the grip held tight.
And then Mira’s face appeared.
She grabbed my hand and pulled. “Hannah! Hold on!” she screamed.
Within a few seconds, I was out. Panting in the darkness. “Hannah, are you okay?” she kept asking, but all I could hear was a ringing in my ears.
We looked up.
The red-haired woman was no longer under the car.
And the car was rolling forward.
The car roared towards us. The mirror glanced off my shoulder. I flew into the forest, branches and trees scraping across my chest. When I finally got back up, the car was already turning around, coming back to finish us off.
“How do we get out of here?” I screamed, nearly out of breath. “I have no idea,” Mira yelled back, several feet from me in the darkness. The headlights flashed across the trunks.
Snap, snap, snap.
The car was half off the road, threatening to follow us into the forest.
“Help!” Mira screamed. “Someone, please!”
A voice, over the roar of the engine, the sounds of our ragged breaths, replied: “Yes?”
We both looked up. There, in the shadows of the trees –
Was a woman wearing a purple dress.
You may ask her one question. One question, only, and she has to answer it. I no longer wanted to ask about my Dad; all of that was gone from my mind. I took a deep breath, and shouted:
“How do we get out of here?”
She smiled, suddenly just a few feet from us. “That’s always the question, isn’t it?” She pointed into the darkness of the woods. “Run that way, until you find the stream. Turn right; in ten minutes you’ll find yourselves on a residential street.”
We didn’t need to be told twice.
We ran through the darkness, the roar of the car fading into the distance. We didn’t stop until we got to the stream; then we turned, like she instructed, until we knocked on the nearest house.
The police never found my car. They just tossed our file in with the rest of the strange occurrences on Victoria’s Road.
So, yes. The legend of Victoria’s Road is true. Every person who drives down it gets one question answered. But the question they choose to ask is always the same: “How do I get out of here?”
But that doesn’t mean our other questions went unanswered.
The experience forced us to ask the questions ourselves, to the people who could answer them. In the wake of such terror, asking out the girl you like – or calling up your estranged dad – just doesn’t seem that scary anymore.
We got our answers.