Crossroads with the paranormal

A Friday the 13th Wake-Upper

(Editor’s note: This article by Tessa R. Salazar first came out in the July 2017 issue of Carmudi Philippines Magazine)

We may have told each other ghost stories during long road trips just to keep us, and our drivers, awake. We may have feigned fear just to get a laugh. It’s more fun to scare the hell out of each other than to bore ourselves to sleep, though nowadays it does take some more effort to recall or concoct stories spooky enough.

Sometimes, I plant an urban legend story in the mind of a young friend who has just learned to drive around the city. “Don’t look at your rear-view mirror when driving alone at night and you’re passing through Balete Drive in Quezon City.” He told me later on that what I said kept him awake everytime he drove late nights, because that spooked him, alright.

Often, these stories have been made up just to get a laugh, or raise some hair strands at the back of the head.

Yeah, it’s fun. Until you experience the unexplainable yourself.

For me, it happened not once, but twice.

The first happened around 13 years ago. It was past midnight, and I was behind the wheel with two fellow motoring journalists, waiting for the light to turn green at an intersection along E. Rodriguez Sr Avenue in Quezon City. We were engaged in small talk when, from the opposite lane, a motorbike and its rider approached. As it came nearer, we realized that the bike was floating some eight feet up in the air. Then I noticed my vision blurring somewhat (like it was cross-eyed), and as the motorbike passed, it just as suddenly disappeared, and my vision went back to normal. One of my passengers also saw the apparition, and experienced the same blurred vision. Eerily, my second passenger said he didn’t see a thing, and wondered why we looked all shook up.

The second occurred 7:30 p.m. of June 10, 2015, on the coastal highway of Antique Province. I and my co-driver Aries Espinosa had come from Iloilo City and were rushing to catch the RoRo (roll-on roll-off) barge that would transfer us from Caticlan to the port of Bulalacao in Mindoro. We were in the final stretches of our epic 11-day Luzon-to-Mindanao-and-back tour (on board a compact sedan at that!), and the two of us were quite worked up with the thought of finally being back in Luzon soon.

Provincial highways tend to have very light traffic as the evening wears on. And at past 7, with towns few and far in between, it was only us and another vehicle in front that were traversing the moderately winding coastal road, which was flanked to our right by a mountain range. We were cruising between 50 and 60 kph, eating suman cassava for our dinner-on-the-road, following what looked like a sub-compact hatch (which we estimated to be around ten car lengths ahead) for around 10 minutes, when suddenly that vehicle turned a sharp right and disappeared.

Three seconds later, as we passed the same spot, we saw that the road was actually an elevated bridge, with waist-high concrete and steel railings, and that there was no road turning right. What’s more, this bridge was right smack beside the slope of a mountain. Realizing the impossibility of what we saw, we were dead quiet for a few seconds, staring at each other. And we knew.

Aries and I would talk about it for the next couple of days, analyzing every aspect, every plausibility. To this day, we still had no logical explanations. When we recounted the incident to some friends, one of them said that he read about a horrible accident occurring in the area some time ago. Could this be the “ghost car” from that accident? Our biggest regret was that we had no dashcam. Boy, that would have gone crazy viral. (But on second thought, it might have been branded a hoax.)

In October 2006, I wrote a story for the Inquirer, titled “Ghosts in the machine?”. The piece was anchored on the two-hectare Pulilan impounding area of the Tollways Management Corp—which also served as the “graveyard” of abandoned and wrecked vehicles on the North Luzon Expressway.

I visited the place several times to interview its officials. On my last visit, I smelled the stench of decayed blood and flesh from a totaled vehicle that was recently brought in. I learned that the driver of that vehicle fell asleep, and never woke up from the resulting crash.

The guards and staff members of the facility never did run out first-hand narratives of apparitions seen inside and around the wrecked vehicles. Sometimes they would hear the honk of horns from parked vehicles, see headlights turn on and off, and even come upon their showers and faucets with the water running.

One employee, assigned in the traffic rescue unit, recalled an accident involving a small truck that occurred during an All Souls’ Day weekend a year before (2005). The driver of that truck had died. As the truck was towed into the impounding area, it started honking its horn. The rescue worker detached the cables from the battery. To his surprise, the horn continued to blare out.

There was another instance when another motorist came in one early morning to claim his multicab, which overheated the night before at the expressway and had to be towed in. At the impounding area, the motorist went back to the guards to ask them why there was a man, seemingly resting, inside a crumpled sedan beside his multicab. The motorist described the man as wearing a checkered polo and a cap.

The guards, who came out and checked the vehicle, went back and told the motorist there was no one inside the sedan. However, upon learning of the motorist’s description of the man, the guards told him those were the same clothes of the driver of that sedan who died in the accident.

Ghost stories are supposed to keep us awake and entertained during those long-haul drives. But when it actually happens to you, driving at night takes on a whole new dimension. And yes, this is really a piece to spook you to safety. It’s better to hear a ghost story, hey, it’s better to even see a real ghost, than to become one. If you find yourself too sleepy or drowsy–or drunk–to drive, better stop and take a power nap, or relinquish the wheel to a sober and wide awake co-driver. And one last thing, don’t be too distracted when you encounter strange things behind the wheel. Keep your composure, and don’t forget to save-protect that potential viral video in your dashcam.