April and I found Cokesbury years ago. We were playing a rousing game of Let’s Get Lost. The rules are as basic as the name implies:
1. Get in the car.
2. Start driving.
3. Passengers shout out “turn left here!” “Turn right here!”
4. Repeat step 3. until you are well and truly lost. GPSs, cell phones, etc. did not exist yet. Gas was inexpensive.
5. Figure out how to get home.
The end result of Let’s Get Lost is that it is now very difficult for April and I to be well and truly lost in New Jersey. Even pre-GPSs, we would murmur to each other when accidentally lost, “I think we’ve been lost here before . . .” Cokesbury and Mastoris have been two of the better things to come out of the Let’s Get Lost game.
During the day, Cokesbury always felt like a sleepy little suburb. Once it got to be about 5p, it had a definite creep vibe regardless of the time of year. Even the Wiki thinks it’s a weird little place:
Cokesbury was founded in 1704. The first known settler was a German immigrant named Mindurt Farley. When Farley died in 1790, his farm was passed to his son Joshua. A man named Conrad Apgar built atavern, but it was destroyed by fire in April 1812. A hotel was built by John Farley, Mindurt’s other son. In 1815, the Cokesbury church was completed and the town was thriving. However, the post office constantly misspelled Cokesbury as Cokesburg. Unfortunately, the town started to fall in the 1880s. The wheelwright shop and the hotel closed. In 1915, the post office also closed. Shrinkage continued duringWorld War II.
But it’s never, like, shown up in Weird New Jersey to the best of our knowledge so it’s always been hard to pinpoint what’s wrong with it. We debate back and forth about sending it in but we don’t want the police up in there and we don’t want the cemetery vandalized (both are unfortunate side effects of appear in Weird NJ). We’d come up with pet theories (Serial killer took up residence in the 1880s? Founding families were all demonologists and it became a secret Devil’s Kettle/Mystic Falls situation?), but all we had was speculation and a definite squick vibe. Most of our friends have been lots of places in Weird New Jersey – The Devil’s Tree, The Stone Living Room, abandoned asylums before they were torn down, Gravity Hill and there was always some disagreement about how spooky something actually felt. Everyone who has been to Cokesbury always agreed it was strange feeling.
For years we would smoke cigarettes outside of the cemetery gate in her car. The church next to it was abandoned then, though eventually a Mini Cooper would show up in its driveway. We would wonder if they were rich goths or just really indifferent spiritually unattuned people. We used to go a lot, bringing all our friends. We’d always get munchkins and we’d sit in the car outside the cemetery talking.
Eventually, as we got older, we start to just go during October and maybe once more a year and it’s usually just me and April now. We’ve taken Jow but he hates dealing with April and me egging each other on to be more daring. Everyone always feels the same stomach drop, the headache, the nausea, but April and I have been going so long, we can mostly ignore it now. It took us years to get up the nerve to get out of the car but one Halloween we got up the nerve to walk through the first gate. A year or two later we got up the nerve to drive the car all the way into the cemetery (with a v. unhappy Jow in the car) up to the top of the hill and then finding a place to slowly turn around. We were convinced our car would stop working and we’d be stranded but we got out safe and sound. April tried taking pictures last year but it was dark and it was irritating the dead so she didn’t get too far with it.
This year, we decided to leave Jow home and see what we could see. I decided we’d go around twilight, just when things were starting to get good but before everyone is fully awake. I’d bring my camera and offerings for the dead and put on some salve just to see what happened (science!). Oh and some holy water, a family rosary and some salt. Just in case things got too interesting. We got out of the car and started walking, trying not to be noticed. I feel like we’re in the beginning of a horror movie, I whisper. Me too, she whispered back. I made some tobacco offerings at the gate and as we walked, I spoke in a low voice with April chiming in that we didn’t have any ill intentions or disrespect. As we got closer to the top of the hill (where everything interesting lives), April jerked back. It used to be that she didn’t believe in spirits at all but as she’s gotten older, she’s started to believe more. But even when she didn’t believe, she always had an uncanny knack to know when something was dangerous or when something was coming so she’s sort of my coal mine canary. I’ve become more sensitive with age so I felt it too and we stopped.
As we were leaving, on a whim I said we should explore more of Cokesbury and drive around and see what we could see. We saw a lot. There was a wooden gate that was fully erect in the middle of nowhere with no fencing, garden or any reasonable explanation as to why it was up and the really crazy area in my pictures. I couldn’t get the pictures from the car, I had to get out to get them. Before I got out I told April that she better not leave me enough if she saw the Jersey Devil coming down the road. She swore she would stay put (and she did). Everywhere we went, we felt invisible gates and weirdness. We felt like we were being watched/followed, we couldn’t shake it. We looked at every upscale car suspiciously and we breathed a sigh of relief and excitement once we reach the main highway again. When I got home, Jow made me sage and holy water. He said I reeked of cremation ground activities. I tried to wheedle for him to let me keep my new friends but he said no.