When I was eleven, we took a family vacation to Minnesota. By this I mean an extended family vacation. We were all going to stay at a resort by a big lake near the Canadian border. There were twenty of us in all, including myself, my sister, my parents, my grandparents, three aunts, three uncles, one great uncle, six cousins, and my dad’s cousin.
My family lives several states away from Minnesota, so we had a long drive ahead of us. We got up at 6:30 in the morning and met at our grandparent’s house. We stopped at a Denny’s for breakfast. My cousin, Christina, thought it would be fun if we used walky-talkies to communicate while on the road (keep in mind this was during the 1990s, before seemingly every kid who had learned to talk got a cell phone). She had four walkies, the cheap kind you get from Toys R Us, that each had a ten-mile, line-of-sight range. My sister and I have three sets of cousins including the Christina belongs to, so we divided them accordingly.
In the car, I was listening to compilation discs on my cd player (again, 1990s, no MP3). I was listening to a certain song from the soundtrack certain obscure anime. I’ve always been into anime. You probably don’t know the song, like I said, the anime is very obscure, and even if you do know it, the song I’m talking about isn’t the theme song, so you probably wouldn’t remember it anyway. I was starting to get bored of listening to music, so I thought I’d try the walkie-talkie. My sister and I played around with the handheld for an hour or so, talking to anyone in our range on channel 22 (mostly truckers).
We talked to our cousins a few times, and also a kid named Cal. Cal was also traveling with his family on vacation. We tried to identify each other by describing our cars to each other, but with no success. We talked about a few things, like what states we were from, where we were going, what school was like, etc. Eventually we lost contact.
We all stopped to rest at a hotel. Me, my sister, and cousins all went down to the pool and the arcade. We played there for a couple hours until it was dinner time. Then we all went to bed.
The next morning, our car broke down, so we had to stay a few more hours. We agreed to meet up with the rest of our family again at one of our aunts’ house in Iowa. The shop took longer than expected to fix our car, so eventually we just rented one and agreed to pick it up on the way back.
While on the road, we decided to play around with the portable radio again, although it was less fun now that our cousins were now hours away. You know that feeling you get when you’re at a Christmas party with your extended family and then they all start leaving until you, your parents, and your grandparents are the only ones left? Well that’s the sort of loneliness I was starting to feel, but I figured the feeling would go away once we met up with them again. It didn’t help that it was starting to get dark.
And then the strangest thing happened. We reestablished contact with Cal. This was odd, considering we were in Missouri now and we had last talked to him in….Colorado, I think it was? The strangest part was that he didn’t remember my sister and I. He said he had been playing around with his own walkie-talkie for hours but only made contact with truckers. But I knew it was him. The voice and name was the same, and I again asked him where he lived, what kind of car he was in, etc. and he gave the same answers as before. We again lost contact with him after a few minutes.
I was getting bored and tired, so I took a nap. When I woke up my sister and my mother were asleep. It was 2:30 in the morning. That feeling of oppressive loneliness returned even stronger. I was about to ask my dad to turn the radio on to relieve it when I heard a muffled noise. It sounded like music so I picked up my headphones, only to find that the batteries in my Walkman were dead. I looked around my seat for the source and realized that it was coming from the portable radio. It was very soft, so I turned up the volume. I had to turn it all the way up to make it out clearly…
It was that song I mentioned earlier. The song from the obscure anime. The song no one I have ever met recognizes. Yet someone was playing it on CB channel 22. The vocals were stripped, so it was just an instrumental. Also, it was slowed down slightly. Actually, it was slowed down enough for it to take me a few seconds to recognize it, but I’m sure only someone like me who’s listened to it a thousand plus times would have noticed.
This was one of the most unnerving experiences I have ever had. Even so, I was curious as to what other anime geek might be in the same ten-mile radius who also liked this song or anime, so I tried saying “Hello, who is that?” After a few attempts at making contact, the song stopped. I asked my dad if he had heard it. He said he had heard the music but didn’t recognize it.
Later, we were driving up a steep hill with tall conifers on either side. There were no other vehicles or buildings in sight. Suddenly we heard another noise coming from the walkie-talkie. It sounded like an owl hooting. This went on for a few seconds before stopping. But that was just the beginning.
At first I thought it was a dog howling and barking. But then I realized an owl was hooting outside. Then two, then several of various species. Soon the whole woods on either side were producing the noise. It was like every owl in the area was hooting/screeching/howling. The combination of the various pitches from the various species made it sound sort of like when you hear all the tornado sirens in your vicinity winding up. It was especially terrifying and surreal due to the fact that we had opened all our windows earlier because of the heat. We only ever saw one of the owls as it flew across the road. There were other times when we thought we could see them but weren’t sure due to the darkness.
The noise went on for several minutes as we drove along the hilly road. An hour or so later, the sun began to rise. We went on with our vacation without incident and had a damn good time up at the lake.
On the way back we saw one of those makeshift memorials on the side of the road. It had a bunch of teddy bears and balloons tied to a wooden cross. We passed it quickly, but I thought the name was “Cal Robertson”. Also, it said he had died two months before we left for Minnesota.