The White Van
Location – Central Pennsylvania
It was a day like any other in the small town where I grew up. A sleepy little unasuming mountain town that was built during the early railroad days, which it was still famous for. This was a quiet and friendly place where a good majority of the people knew each other by name. It was the early 90’s and most parents, mine included, would allow us to have alot of freedom, especially during the summer to do what kids do.
My friends and I were a very tight nit group and spent alot of time together. We’d spend the day playing sports, hiking the local woods or just walking around the town talking and exploring, with kids coming and going from our group throughout the day. In nice weather it was a normal thing to spend the whole day away from the house without anyone really knowing where we were. Sometimes even arriving home after dark.
I was 12 or so at the time and having this kind of freedom at such a young age made me feel like my parents trusted that I could take care of myself and was smart enough to keep myself out of trouble. My mother had always warned me about stranger danger though and how I needed to be careful around people I didn’t know, because there were as she put it. “Bad, nasty people in this world.” Of course she also taught me to be respectful and polite to everyone I came across but always cautioned me to use my instincts and if something felt wrong to run or find an adult. This advice always stuck with me and I’m glad that it did.
Me and a group of my friends always played pick up games of football at a old softball field next to an American Legion Bar where some older gentlemen often frequented. The field and bar were located up behind a decent set of woods and very secluded from any main roads or houses. We liked it because it was so private and really felt like our own personal ball field. We played there alot over the summer and during some of the hotter days we would walk over to the bar to get water. As I said it was the 90’s and this was a secluded bar in a very small town, so no one really cared. We did however always make sure not to go in alone just on the off chance there really was someone with bad intentions in there who liked messing with young boys.
One this day there was about 10 of us that went up the long heavily wooded gravel trail that connected the ball field with the rest of the town. We were laughing, talking, goofing off as kids do. It was late summer day, blue skies, a light cool breeze and we were enjoying the last days of our summer vacation. It was a perfect day really. We arrived and were soon deep into competitive but light hearted battle between friends. At one point during our game someone mentioned how there was this van sitting in the lot next to the field. When they pulled up no one knew, it wasn’t there we started playing. We thought this strange and a little unnerving since no one ever parked there as there was a completely separate lot for bar patrons. After a short discussion we assume that it must be someone who needed to sober up, perhaps they were eating, or it was someone who just wanted to enjoy the day summer day also and upon seeing us thought they’d watch for a few minutes. We were pretty serious when we played and actually had some very competitive matches, so we tried to laugh it off and someone even made a joke about having fans. However we all acknowledged that it was strange and uncomfortable for an adult to be watching group of kids play.
Reluctant to leave and wanting to finish the game we decide to go on and just keep an eye on the van. We start playing and are soon lost in the moment once more. Some time goes by, we finish our game and are talking about whether to start another one or head home for the day. Seeing the strange white van still sitting and watching we decide it’s probably best to leave since it was giving us all the creeps even though we did our best to talk about it jokingly. We lived in different parts of town and not wanting anyone to walk alone we agree to walk home in 3 separate groups and we all spilt up and go our own ways, telling everyone to be careful and that we would continue our battles another time.
So me, my best friend, and his brother who was a few years younger head back down the gravel trail towards town and his home. At one point my friend, being a prankster and trying to make light of the situation jokingly yells to his little brother who he knew was a little more scared than the rest of us and had walked ahead. He yells with a laugh, “Look out bro, here comes that van. He’s going to get You!” Being young and scared the kid begins to run down the trail in a panic. My friend yells for him to stop, that he was joking but it was no good and his brother is quickly far out ahead of us and out of sight. Knowing that his home was not far off we let him go, and figure we’ll share a good laugh with him about this when we all catch up at their house.
We continue walking, and after the laugh at his little brother’s expense we were back in our light hearted mood talking of what we would end up doing later, giving no more thought to the weird stranger in the van. After a few minutes though the sound of a vehicle could be heard traveling slowly down the gravel road behind us. The fear and concern hit us immediately and we look back to see a glimpse of the white van between the treeline. My friend’s joke had become all to real. Rather than running we quickly ducked into the forest since they were closing in quickly and hid under some pine trees hoping they didn’t see us leave the trail and would just pass by.
Now we still didn’t know if these people meant us harm or we were just being paranoid. We sat quietly for what seemed like minutes, but was probably only 30 seconds. The sound of the van creeping ever closer, the sound of its wheels crushing and moving the rocks was like an impending doom. The fear and dread weighed heavily on me and something inside told me that we were in real danger. Knowing my friends house is not far away and feeling unsure if they saw us leave the trail I ask my friend if he thinks we should make a break for his house though the small patch of woods. He assures me we are hidden and if we just sit quietly they’ll drive right by us. The van is closing in on us the whole time. I suggest again that perhaps we should move, still nothing. Finally, as the van creeps ever slower and closer I begin to frantically but quietly beg him. “Please man I really think we should go, we’re not safe here! Please let’s go now!”
Perhaps hearing the panic in my voice he finally gives in and we begin sprinting down through the woods as fast as we can, finally stopping at the end of the little patch of trees and peaking back up the trail to see the van stopped right where we were sitting. Two older, gruff looking men get out and begin to search the woods with a seemingly malice intent where we had sat moments earlier. My heart sank and without a word we both finish the sprint to his house, bursting in the front door and telling his father what had happened. Angry and concerned his dad, who was a big powerful man, gets up and goes out to the front porch hoping to get a look or possibly confront the men. After a few moments, to our shock the men drive by their house slowly and we tell his father that’s the van. His dad gave them a look I’ll never forget and the tension was incredibly high as they drove by, not knowing if they would stop, try to overpower him and take us. But they just drove by slowly, staring hard at us.
After we went back inside we had a long talk with his father about what happened. A few days passed and life returned to normal. We kind of forgot about the encounter until a news report came through town that residents should be on the look out for a white van. Apparently a man had been trying to lure kids near or into his van for who knows what reason and had been seen lurking near parks and similar places children frequent. Out of fear and embarrassment I never did tell my parents or even many others about this encounter and only after writing it down years later as an adult did I realize how different things could have gone that day.