Gaston, South Carolina is a lonely little place.
Sitting just south of Columbia along 321, it's just a small crumb off of the misshapen piece of pie on the United States plate that we call South Carolina. Its population has almost never gone over two thousand, and it is only 3.4 square miles across in all directions. It feels even lonelier when you come in from a place like Roanoke, Virginia.
After mom lost her job, we moved to the only place where the rest of our family resided—Good ol' South Cackalacky. I had been moping on the trip the whole time on the way down here. The way I saw it, the only friends I was going to be making here were fire ants and that inferno of a sun.
Once we got settled in at 304 Dixiana Drive (I always remembered the address because the number in it was carved into the driveway, and it spelled "hoe" if you looked at it upside down), I immediately set out into the neighborhood in search of friends. I didn't know how to ride a bike at the time and I barely knew how to ride a skateboard, so I petered down a long stretch of road directly across from the front of the house on my cheap little Wal-Mart board until I came to a small cul-de-sac that seemed to go uphill.
Sitting outside on his front porch was a chubby kid with glasses that looked about ten or eleven, about my age at the time. I really had no one else to talk to, so I asked what his name was and he told me that it was Terry. He liked being outside a lot and I didn't, but we both seemed to like video games. With that, we would get along just fine. There was one thing that he hadn't told me over the next few weeks that we spent riding around the neighborhood: He was into scary movies.
I was a massive chicken when it came to anything that seemed intent on forcing you to change your underwear every five minutes, so I didn't really like this aspect of him. Even worse, he had tons of horror movie action figures and loads of VHS tapes of all the creepy movies you could think of stacked in his room. Every time I came to visit, he was almost certain to scare the living bejeezus out of me with one of those creepy Freddy Krueger dolls or force me to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with him in the dark.
His room wasn't really that nice looking to begin with. He had a bunk bed (He was an only child, and only his grandmother lived with him) in which he slept on the bottom and all his slasher flicks and action figures slept on top. There were loads of holes in the walls and everything had a generally grimy feel to it. It made those horrifying moments of watching pure terror in the dark all the more... Icky.
One day, when he realized that I pretty much hated any kind of horror movies he threw at me, he began telling me urban legends. Some of them were about the town as a whole, but more than not, they were about our particular neighborhood. I didn't really believe any of them.
That is, until he told me about Hanging Man Hill.
It was about a year after we had met each other and we were riding around the neighborhood (By this time, Terry had told me to "man up" and he had eventually taught me how to ride a bike). He stopped when we were riding in front of a house we had simply entitled, "The Crack Shack," due to its residents being stoned out of their minds on a regular basis. He seemed to be peering out at a small pathway behind the place that went up the farther you went back. He was usually the leader when it came to showing me new places in the neighborhood, so I didn't question a thing when he beckoned for me to follow him up the trail.
It was a pretty steep climb up the side of the hill, with plenty of sand and rocks to send anyone not being careful straight back down. It felt as though the trees were closing tighter and tighter on us until we reached a large opening at the top. Besides the empty soda bottles and used condoms, the only manmade thing in the area that I could see were long stretches of telephone poles going across a series of sandy, dry hills. If not for the two strips of heavy forest on either side of these hills, it might have gone on forever.