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Skinwalkers

A family encounters a creature from the dark side of Navajo legend

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ALL OF HER LIFE, Frances T. has "seen things," heard things and felt them. Born into a family of sensitives, this was rather normal. "In my family, you were considered odd if you didn't experience 'abnormal' things," Frances says. "We never talked much about our experiences or our feelings about them. We just accepted them as normal - which, in fact, to us they are."

But nothing could have prepared her family for what they encountered on a dark, desolate road in Arizona 20 years ago. It's a mysterious and traumatizing event that haunts them to this day.

Frances's family had moved from Wyoming to Flagstaff, Arizona in 1978 shortly after her high school graduation. Sometime between 1982 and 1983, 20-year-old Frances, her father, mother and her younger brother took a road trip back to Wyoming in the family pickup truck. The trip was a vacation to visit with friends in and around their old hometown. The only member of the family not present was her older brother, who was in the Army and stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

The course along Route 163 took them through the Navajo Indian Reservation and through the town of Kayenta, just south of the Utah border and the magnificent Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Anyone who has lived in Arizona for any length of time knows that the Indian Reservation can be a beautiful if harsh place for non-natives. "Many strange things happen out there," Frances says. "Even my friend, a Navajo, warned us of traveling through the reservation, especially at night."

Along with the warning, however, Frances's Native American friend blessed the family, and they were on our way.

"We have company."

The trip to Wyoming was uneventful. But the trip back to Arizona along the same route more than justified the warning from Frances's friend. "It still gives me goose bumps," she says. "To this day, I have major anxiety attacks when I have to travel through the north country at night. I avoid it at all costs."

It was a warm summer night, about 10:00 p.m., when the family's pickup was heading south on 163, about 20 to 30 miles from the town of Kayenta. It was a moonless night on this lonely stretch of road - so pitch black that they could only see just a few feet beyond the headlights. So dark that closing their eyes actually brought relief from the fathomless black.

They had been driving for hours with Frances's father at the wheel, and the vehicle's passengers had long ago settled into quiet. Frances and her father sandwiched her mother in the truck's cab, while her brother enjoyed the night air in the back of the pickup. Suddenly, Frances's father broke the silence. "We have company," he said.

Frances and her mother turned around and looked out the back slider window. Sure enough, a pair of headlights appeared over the crest of a hill, then disappeared as the car went down, then reappeared. Frances commented to her father that it was nice to have company on this stretch of road. If something went wrong, neither vehicle and its passengers would be alone.

Thunder began to rumble from the vast, clouded sky. The parents decided that their son should come into the cab before he got soaking wet from any rain that might fall. Frances opened the slider window and her little brother crawled in, squeezing between her and her mother. Frances turned to close the window and again noticed the headlights from the following car. "They're still behind us," her father said. "They must be going to either Flagstaff or Phoenix. We'll probably meet them in Kayenta when we stop to fuel up."

Frances watched as the car's headlights crested another hill and began its descent until it disappeared. She watched for them to reappear... and watched. They didn't reappear. She told her father that the car should have crested the other hill again, but hadn't. Maybe they slowed down, he suggested, or pulled over. That was possible, but it just didn't make sense to Frances. "Why in the hell would a driver slow down or, worse yet, stop at the bottom of a hill in the middle of night, with nothing around for miles and miles?" Frances asked her father. "You'd think they'd want to keep sight of the car in front of them in case anything happened!"

People do weird stuff when they are driving, her father replied. So Frances kept watching, turning around every few minutes to check for those headlights, but they never did reappear. When she turned to look one last time, she noticed that the pickup was slowing down. Turning back to look out the windshield, she saw that they were rounding a sharp bend in the road, and her father had slowed the truck to about 55 mph. And from that moment, time itself seemed to slow down for Frances. The atmosphere changed somehow, taking on an otherworldly quality.

Frances turned her head to look out the passenger window, when her mother screamed and her father cried out, "Jesus Christ! What the hell is that!?"

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