Vampire Man in Upstate New York

August 19, 2009

OK - this is a snippet from my recent vacation. I can personally attest that every word is true!

My kids and I, along with my dear Sister's family (her, her husband, and two daughters) went to upstate New York for a fabulous retreat from society a few weeks back. We stayed at a reclaimed farmhouse from the 1800's, which was literally across the street from the Oswegatchie River, in St. Lawrence County. Our little home away from home was situated on 85 acres of beautiful meadow and woods.

One of the first things that struck us as we set out to see what upstate New York had to offer, was that there really wasn't a whole lot to choose from. It turns out that while simply gorgeous, St. Lawrence County, isn't exactly the cultural mecca of New York. With help from my trusty GPS, Emily, I set out trying to add some destination-based fun to our week.

The entire list of available activities for us - beyond the fishing, kayaking, hiking, and boating which we could do from the property itself - is as follows: there was a water park over 2 hours away, a museum in town, bowling, maybe a movie, Natural Bridge Caverns, a huge hedge maze, a privately owned aquarium and of course, in Alexandria Bay, we could visit Boldt Castle.

One morning, we decided to caravan to Natural Bridge Caverns. Both families ventured out together in separate cars.  Emily (smug with satisfaction) instructed me to "Please drive to highlighted route" in her crisp, Australian accent.

Eventually, we began seeing road signs advertising Natural Bridge Caverns. A heartfelt "waaa hooo" went up from the back of the van. Turning down the road that Emily and the signs pointed out, we soon found ourselves in a tiny, rundown town looking like something out of a Stephen King novel. I made nervous small talk indicating as much.

Up ahead, on the right, the signs all pointed. Moving slowly, I eventually came to what appeared to be an old gas station building. But instead of pumps, a parking lot overgrown with weeds was all that there was to welcome us. Both vehicles turned in and slowed to a stop. The shades were all pulled on the little gas station building, and a large faded orange sign hung in the plate glass window. "Closed", it said mockingly.

I couldn't believe my eyes. Surely this was the wrong place! Crestfallen after having driven an hour, I parked the car, and got out to talk with my Sister and her husband. My son took the opportunity to get out of the van and stretch his legs. As I conversed with my sister, a very tall man appeared from behind the building and lumbered slowly towards us. Despite the fact that it was 10am, he was clutching a beercan in one hand and a pack of skoal in the other. His pasty white skin and even his hair and eyebrows, were covered in what I assumed was drywall dust. (A hoax to camouflage his true nature).

Immediately, I recognized him for what he was: Vampire. Moving quickly to collect my son and trying to keep everyone in one place, he approached us and asked us if we were there to see Natural Bridge Caverns. His voice was an odd mixture of Canadian accent and slow Southern Draw. He told us that the owner of the cavern had passed away about 5 years ago (he probably fed on him!, my mind called out), but that he would be happy to show us the entrance and exit of the cave. He noticed my daughter at this point telling her aunt that she had to find a bathroom. In his slow Canadian draw, he invited us to follow him to the facilities.

Although every fiber in my body was telling me that maybe we should just go back out on the main road and find a fast food place to go to the bathroom, I silently followed my sister and daughter around back to where the "facilities" were supposed to be.

What we found was a house - presumably the vampire's lair. It was completely devoid of furniture, but not of people. A heavily tattooed man was there plastering over drywall, along with a young girl roughly the age of my own daughter. She had a wild look in her eyes. It occurred to me that we had driven an hour from the safety of our cabin and were now entering a complete stranger's house to use the bathroom, and no one knew where we were.

(This is wrong - this is wrong - this is wrong, I repeated to myself in my head). While my sister and daughter went into the bathroom together, I looked around and tried to calm myself. I reassured myself with the fact that if we didn't come back, her husband would come looking for us. The young girl seemed especially happy we were there. In just a few seconds, a fast-looking, yellow Mustang skidded to a stop outside the little house, and a hard looking woman got out and entered. Eying me up and down sideways, (surely wondering whether she was going to take our kids or our cars after she killed us), I waved my white paper brochure for Natural Bridge Caverns in an attempt to demonstrate that I'm a tourist and I surrender...I later found out that when it was my turn in the bathroom, the little girl told my sister that, "when I was born, my Momma got schizophrenia and I became a cancer." She now lived with her daddy (presumably Tattoo Man).

I was thankful when we were able to get out of the lair, and headed back to the car. However, Vampire Man had already beat me out there and was talking to her husband. "Sure", I heard him say. "We'd love it if you could show us around."

 And so it began. Our little group of 7 following our beer-chugging, snuff chewing Vampire tour-guide into the overgrown bushes and shrubbery to the left side of the gas station building.

The journey to the mouth of the cave was uneventful - save for the fact that access to it was down a steep set of overgrown earthen stairs covered with loose gravel and a trip over a wooden foot bridge that was so rickety we were advised to cross it one at a time. By this time, her husband was engrossed in his conversation with Vampire Man, and I was unable to get his attention to let him know that we were all going to be killed soon.

Oblivious to my not-so-subtle head and neck jerks in his direction, he led the way and we eventually made it out of the mouth of the cave and back to the safety of the parking lot. "OK, thanks!" I said in an attempt to dismiss him from his services or distract him from whatever plans he was forming in his head. "We'll be leaving now. Too bad it was closed, but thank you for your time." (There, that ought to do it.)

I was more than half way to the mini-van when I realized that the majority of our little group was once again following Vampire Man....into the woods this time, to look at the exit of the cave. This time the hike was a little further, and I began exchanging nervous looks with my sister. The children, of course, were completely oblivious to how shady this all seemed. It seemed perfectly acceptable, to them, that we would have a private tour guide.

Of course after the 5 minute hike through the woods to see the cave's exit, it was only a short hike to the "blow hole." Surely we'd want to see that too, right? With every passing minute and every step we took, my brain was exploding with all kinds of warnings. This was just about the time when my sister leaned over to me and whispered, "he's taking us so far away so the others can hotwire and move our cars...there'll be no trace left of us."

At the blow hole, Vampire Man tried to get me to go closer to the hole to take "really good photograph" (it was a hole straight to Hell...I know this because my son threw a rock down and it *never* hit bottom). I just said, "ummm ahhh...no thank you." (please don't kill us, please don't kill us).

Urgently thinking that we really should be getting back to the vehicles right about now, I was stunned to see her husband still at the front of the line engaging Vampire Man in a one-on-one discussion on local geological finds and other caves nearby. Over another old footbridge, that spanned a large gorge with all the lateral slats rotting away ("stay on the verticals, and I guess you'll be fine", our tour-guide shared,  with a mischievous grin) we trudged forward into the bug infested woods.

It wasn't even 10 minutes later that we came upon, what I like to call, the crime scene. My sister and I - well and truly freaked out now and beginning to speak up from our place at the back of the line - frantically took pictures of the scene in case our cameras ever made it out of these woods. Up against the trunk of a tree with weeds and underbrush growing all around were the remains of a pair of denim pants, a t-shirt, boxers, and a toothbrush (yes, a toothbrush!). But no body. (Oh my God, this is it, we're getting ready to be killed, and her husband is up there talking about rocks!)

I lean over to my sister and tell her that if, by chance, we do happen to make it out alive, at least we'll have an *awesome* story to tell. She responds by leaning over to me and telling me that the rest of Vampire Man's posse (Tattoo Man and Mustang Woman) is waiting for us up ahead, and that they'll probably let Cancer Girl feed on us first, since she's just a kid. I gulped nervously and said loud enough for her husband to hear, "OhhhKayyyy, we really need to be getting back to the car now....remember, we have those *other* plans for today, too."

A short time later, he simply hiked us back out to the cars. I was happily surprised to see that they had not been moved (not that I could see, anyway). We piled in and quickly drove away; anxious to put as many miles between us and the town of Natural Bridge as possible. But not before asking Vampire Man to be in our family photo. In front of the drawn shades and the Closed sign, Vampire Man held up his beer in a silent toast to us, the ones who were getting away, while surrounded on both sides by my family.
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