When my daughter told me a movie about Munger Road was being released this weekend, I pulled her close to me and wept. Finally, the truth would come out.
There wasn't a member in our household that hadn't been frightened along that two-mile stretch of potholed pavement at sometime or another during our twenty five years in Bartlett. I could only hope that this motion picture portrayed our experiences accurately.
It all started shortly after my daughter turned five. Her brother, barely a year old, had become a burden on our young family. Desperate, I did something that I'm not proud of; I grabbed a flashlight, got into my car and went to work delivering pizzas five nights per week.
From the glow of the illuminated billboard suctioned to the roof of my car, I began to see my sleepy bedroom community in a whole new light. The oversize homes that sprung up from vacant farm fields overnight were hiding a shameful secret. The occupants of these mini mansions, Bartlett's nouveau riche, spent their evenings in total darkness save for the glow of television sets emanating from the very back room of their unfurnished homes. They paid their tabs by check in the exact amount (we called it a power stiff).
On the far fringe of our sprawling suburb sat a trailer park - a stark reminder of the town's humble past. Its dwellers lived life with all the lights on, surrounded by every nicknack imaginable. They ordered nightly and tipped generously.
The Bartlett I thought I knew was clearly trapped in The Twilight Zone.
The responsibilities of a pizza delivery man required extreme vigilance and a dependable car. We drivers feared but three things; dogs, customers that placed orders one minute before we officially closed, and dark country roads.
Munger Road was Bartlett's dark country road. It had only three structures along it; the brick bungalow with the oversize garage, the rundown farmhouse, and the dilapidated shack along the railroad tracks. We hardly ever saw a living being outside any of them.
The occupants of the farmhouse were the embodiment of our worst nightmares; they lived on a dark country road, they ordered late, and they had a dog.
Their yard was littered with old washing machines, half-assembled motorcycles, and large car parts. Lurking around their metal compost pile was a mangy mutt. It appeared to be part wolf or half coyote, maybe even a collie of some sort - a breeding experiment that had gone horribly wrong. My best strategy for avoiding a deadly attack was to swing a 180 in the driveway and blind this creature with my high beams while I sprinted to the porch.
My memory is a little fuzzy on the details of the house. A Google Maps satellite search shows no trace of it ever existing since the place was burned to the ground many years ago. From what I recall, there was a woman that lived there, probably in her thirties, soft-spoken, with eyes that held a secret behind them.
A man's voice could be heard in the background, dictating how much change he wanted back from his cash payment. I can't recall if I ever saw his face. All I remember is wanting to complete the transaction quickly so I could sprint back to my car before the dog spotted me. Once safely behind the wheel, I laid rubber all the way up Munger Road, the dog chasing behind for at least half a mile.
One week, we read of a domestic dispute at a residence on Munger Road. A woman was charged with domestic battery. Upon her release the following day, she was struck by a train while driving her pickup truck across the railroad crossing no more than a half mile from her own driveway.
Why was she on those tracks? Was she fleeing the farmhouse? Was she distraught and seeking to end her own life? Or was her truck yet another pile of junk that stalled frequently?
Miraculously, the woman survived. How she survived remains a mystery. Was she pushed from the tracks by an unseen and unknown Good Samaritan? Did her Satanic dog finally catch a bumper and drag her and her truck to safety? Or was the train going so slowly that it barely tapped her and merely spun her around?
No one knows the whole truth except maybe the woman, the train crew, the first responders, and anyone who bothered to read the newspaper account...
Shortly after the train accident, the occupants of the farmhouse relocated to a nearby town, yard ornaments and all. The house was burned by the local fire department and the Forest Preserve District purchased the land. The woman continued to order at two minutes to close, but her scary dog and unseen male companion did not appear to make the move with her.
With the triple threat removed, I traversed Munger Road with greater frequency. I could bypass two stoplights, speed without fear of being pulled over, and quickly service the residents of the burgeoning subdivision just south of the tracks. I even convinced my wife to use it as a shortcut.
Until tragedy struck her.
Late one Saturday afternoon, around dusk, she was making the turn to head north on Munger Road. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a shadowy figure appeared at the hood of her car. It collided with her driver's side fender, ripped off the outside mirror, dented the back door and then vanished without a trace.
My daughter, seated in the front passenger seat, turned white and began sobbing uncontrollably. The police were summoned to the scene. There were no witnesses other than my wife and startled daughter. Neither could be certain what had happened nor how many perpetrators were involved.
The officer had encountered this scenario many times before. He brandished his pistol and offered to give chase. Without a blood trail and an eyewitness account, he was uncertain which direction to head. His speculation that it was probably already dead did nothing to calm my two girls.
While they each eventually came to grips with what they had experienced that fateful day on Munger Road, I was still faced with a very expensive car repair. I had no choice but to tell the insurance adjuster that my wife had hit a deer.
Despite the horror of the rundown farmhouse, the legend of the Good Samaritan who occupied the crumbling shack by the railroad tracks (before it was also burned to the ground), and the mystery of my wife's car accident, I still couldn't resist the allure of Munger Road.
I was willing to jeopardize my own life, time and again, to avoid four stoplights on Route 59. I braved the potholed surface, the desolate landscape, and the ominous overgrowth along the road's edge just to ride my bike without encountering another living soul. I even taught both of my kids to drive on Munger Road.
It doesn't get much scarier than that.