Getting lost in the middle of nowhere was never fun. It sucks even more when you are not expecting it. No matter how well you plan a trip, even if it isn’t too far, something can always go wrong. You can end up somewhere that is too far away for you to walk to help. Or worse, the place can be such a deathtrap that even if help was close by, you’d be damned to find a way to safety without getting yourself worse off.
That is what I, Brandon, and Mikey, my friend, thought we would never have to encounter. The two of us planned trips together all the time. We loved road trips and would travel as far down as Florida from our Pennsylvania home. Perhaps the reason why we always made it through is because of our trusty GPS. It always guided us out of even the tightest predicament. I had laughed at the idea of people being distrustful of the GPS devices. Well I am not laughing anymore.
Last year, Mikey and I went on what was supposed to be a short, mini-trip. Well, mini by our standards. We were leaving our home in Scranton, Pennsylvania and heading towards the city of Hershey, home of the Hershey chocolate factory. We had wanted to go there as kids, but we hadn’t gone until now. Why we didn’t go earlier, I don’t know.
The trip wasn’t a very long one. Just a couple of hours. There was no need for a hotel or motel this time. We could get there and back in one day. We packed everything we’d need. Mostly snacks and CDs we bought from a local store. I hooked up the GPS and we were on our way.
Time seemed to fly by as we sang along to our favorite tunes. It didn’t take much to keep us entertained. That’s why we could endure a long, many day trip across states. As long as we have a CD player, snacks, and healthy throats to sing aloud with, we were good. We’d also pass the time telling jokes and other silly things. The only time we would stop our vehicle is for gas, using the restroom, and getting a bite to eat.
We were reaching what I believed was the halfway point. We had used up a lot of gas, so we decided to find the nearest gas station. I looked at our GPS and set it up to locate the nearest pump for us. I was surprised to see there were none very close by, except for one. It was roughly in the same direction we were going, south west. There was a road up ahead we had to turn on. As our GPS spoke in its computer voice to turn on that road, we did.
During the ride, we didn’t see any signs of civilization. Well I take that back. We did, but it was very sparse. I didn’t really see anyone, so it was hard to tell if they were just inside, were busy with their jobs, or just plain didn’t live there. The road itself felt like it was in need of some polishing. It wasn’t bad, mind you. But there were a few small cracks in it.
The disrepare got worse as we went further along the road. Still, the GPS told us to keep going on this road. There were a few more turns we had to do, but even after that, the roads still looked bad. Then again, this was the USA. Bad roads were common here. So I thought nothing of it.
That is, until we suddenly hit against a risen crevice. The road had split down the middle, the hardened tar bulging slightly upwards. One of our tires was sliced against a sharp edge. We could hear the treadful hiss as air escaped. That was not our only worry. I had lost control of the car and it was spinning madly across the road and into the dirt. I managed to stop it and the two of us stepped outside.
We went over to the struck tire. We both let out an audible groan as we saw it was completely shredded and flat. We had forgotten to bring along a spare tire. We thought about calling a family member to pick us up, but we had no idea where we were. How could anyone help us if we didn’t know what city we were near? And the highway number wouldn’t help; I had forgotten what it was and I didn’t see a sign anywhere on this stretch of road. Finding which way to go to find the nearest sign would be difficult.
We decided to head north. I don’t know why. We just did. We walked along the road, keeping on the soft earth. That split ground back there made me worry to stand on the road. We brought whatever snacks we had left with us. For once, neither of us were in a joking mood. How could we be when we were stuck in an unfamiliar part of the state?
It felt like at least an hour had past before we finally saw some kind of sign on the road. To our disappointment, it didn’t have any information that would help us. It was covered in some kind of black material, as if it were charred. The only things we could make out were “ing”, “der”, “re”, and a couple full words, “could”, “present”, and “ground”. We couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but we assumed that we wound find more of these signs if we continued walking on this road. Or even better, a sign that told us where we were.
After another half hour of walking, we sat down on the road’s edge to eat something. I could feel my hands shaking in hunger. As we snacked on what little remained of our food supply, we saw something rise out of the ground in the bunches of trees in the direction we were headed. It appeared to be smoke of some kind. Smoke was sometimes a good sign. It could be indicative of a human being being present. The smoke was probably from a factory of some kind.
After we were doing eating, we continued our hike along the shattered road. Its condition did not approve much as we continued heading north. We both considered turning back, but we had traveled so far already. We decided to just keep going.
Suddenly, I caught my foot on something. I tripped into the ground. As I wiped the dirt and filth off, Mikey came over to see what had caused me to fall. There was something hidden in the earth, covered in the soil. We pulled it out and wiped it off. It looked to be a wooden sign, but most of it was blackened, just like the sign we saw earlier. The only bit of letters we could see amongst the blackness was “trali”.
I didn’t know what the word “trali” could mean. Mikey believed it had to be a name of a town or city, but I knew of no such place with that group of letters. But despite my disbelief, Mikey was confident we were getting close to a town. He reasoned the sign must have been burned down and was replaced with a new one. If his hunch was right, if we kept on this road, we would eventually find civilization.
But after another half an hour or so passed and there was still no sign of anything, I truly began to fear we would die out here. We had finished up the last of our snacks and we were getting hungry. There were some trees and grass around us, but no signs of any fruits we could pick. And I wasn’t about to eat grass or leaves.
Finally, we reached something that was different. There were finally more roads to turn onto. The frequency of them led us to believe we finally reached some civilization. The thing that really convinced us so was the presence of a worn out sign that read Locust Ave. Mikey felt proud of himself and I started to feel some relief.
We didn’t turn on any of the roads. We just kept heading north. It wouldn’t be long before we would see some buildings. Hopefully the people here would be friendly enough to give us a hand. It’s so hard to find hospitality these days, you know?
When we didn’t see any buildings, we began to get a little confused. Just how far away was this town? We looked down the roads we passed and there was nothing in sight. Our confusion increased when we came onto the next road. The sign read Main Street. We continued north and found ourselves on Centre Street. Still seeing no signs of human life, we turned onto Centre Street and headed to the west. That’s when I noticed something that sent a chill down my spine.
There were smaller patches of road that crossed over one another. This resulted in small patches of rectangular land. This kind of formation only existed in a town. A building would be present, usually a house or a business. But here, there was nothing but the roads and the rectangle patches. Just where were the buildings?
I tried to reason with myself that this area might be under construction. But in the end, I knew that made no sense. The roads didn’t look like they were worked on for years. But that smoke. It had to have come from somewhere. It was still out ahead of us. It was closer now. It wouldn’t take long for us to reach it.
As much as we hated it, we continued walking down Centre Street. We felt uneasy walking down this eerie, empty place. When we finally saw a building up ahead on the left side of the road, we felt relieved. We quickened our pace, careful to avoid the cracks in the ground, until we came up to the house. We slowed down as we approached it.
But as soon as we got a closer look at it, we knew something was wrong. The house was run down. It was a wonder it was still standing. Vines grew all over the building, choking it. Parts of the house were missing, large holes quite visible from this distance away. This house could not have had a living soul in it. We looked at each other as the horror of realization began to set in, and we asked ourselves the same question: what if the entire town was like this?
We explored the town, if we could even call it that, walking down every road we could find in the vicinity. We found a couple more buildings. But they, too, were in advanced disrepair. It was almost like we stepped onto the set of a horror movie. We felt like we had gone into the future and we were walking on the remains of a post-apocalyptic world. It was unsettling. We finally gave up and sat on the ground in deep thought.
I wondered why our GPS led us down this road. This was the kind of place that GPSes were supposed to avoid right? It looked like it hadn’t been repaired for decades. The conditions of the road were awful. Surely, the GPSes would be programmed to avoid this stuff, right? Perhaps we were better off just buying a road map and using that instead of a GPS.
Mikey convinced me that we should at least locate the smoke’s origins. There was the chance that maybe, just maybe, we’d find some civilization around here, some human life, even if it was just one person. Although I went along with him in the direction of the smoke, I did well to hide my fear, suspicions, and doubt.
When we did find the source, it wasn’t at all what we expected it to be. While I did not think we would find a populated building, I sure as heck wasn’t expecting this. To the side of the road, there was a patch of dead earth. The plants in a small section had shriveled away and turned yellow. The dirt was cracked, much like the road we were on. Smoke pillowed out at a rapid pace.
The sight of that froze us where we stood. This sight was common if there was a forest fire. But there was no fire. It was a lone patch of land with smoke coming out of it. It couldn’t be coming out of the ground. Far as we knew, there were no tunnels underneath. Neither of us saw any indication of such a thing during our search through the would-be town. So how could there be a fire here? If there was no fire, what was causing the smoke?
Mikey worked up the courage to take action. When he informed me of his intentions, to walk over to the smoking ground, I pleaded with him not to do it. But he was persistant. I don’t know why he wanted to walk towards the smoke. I guess he just had a strong sense of curiosity. Or maybe he just wanted me to feel better. He didn’t like seeing me so upset and tense, so he might have thought if he tested the area himself and it proved to be save, that I’d ease up.
That proved to be a mistake. As he stepped onto the ground, the earth seemed to be sinking underneath him. It was like he was walking on a rug of some kind. At first, I thought that maybe the ground was wet. No, that couldn’t be right. The ground looked way too dry. The ground sank in deeper, and then I saw another sign laying on the road. It was the same kind of sign from before, only this time, I could actually read it, well most of it. What I could read nearly stopped my heart in terrifying revelation.
could result in serious injury or death.
Ground is prone to sudden collapse.”
Everything happened in a blur. I was rushing to the other side of the road, my hand outstretched towards Mikey. I screamed out his name, told him to come back. It felt like a minute, but really it all happened in a few seconds, the ground broke open. Mikey’s screams filled my ears as he was swallowed up by the earth. The ground, for a moment, was like quicksand; dirt rolled in after him. I heard his screams grow slightly fainter and then I heard a loud thump and a crack.
My head was spinning as I got out my cellphone and called 911. I don’t remember how I managed to tell them where I was. I don’t remember much except crying and pleading for help. Time seemed to speed up all around me as I panicked, my heart racing. I hoped, prayed, that Mikey was all right. Please, let him be all right, I told myself countless times.
When help had arrived, it came in the form of not paramedics, but a squadron of police specialized equipment and masks. Before I had time to protest, I was being ushered away from where Mikey fell. As the sun was setting deep in the horizon, bathing the land in an eerie yellow-orange color, I managed to look behind me, towards the hole the police were surrounding. I could see, underneath the dirt and ground, glows of blue and red-orange peaked from smaller cracks in the earth.
I tried to ask the officers where I was, but I couldn’t get myself to say anything. The shock of watching my friend fall into the earth left me speechless. It was a wonder I could even call for help. I could barely hear the officers talking into their radios. My clouded mind barely registered them confirming my friend’s demise. My mind was numb, locked down.
As we approached one of the police cars, as they prepared to take me to a hospital to make sure I hadn’t breathed in anything toxic, we happened to pass another ruined sign. Similar to the second one we found, only this time, the full name could be read.
For those wondering, Centralia is indeed a real place in Pennsylvania. It is pretty much a ghost town, or close to it. It became this way when an underground mine was set ablaze. This fire spread toxins, forcing Centralia and neighboring areas to empty. To this day, the fire still spreads, having been burning for at least 50 years, and they say it will still burn for another 250 years. The eerie near-ghost town inspired the setting for Silent Hill.