A journey to the border zone of past and present in Missouri and Oklahoma
By Christopher Cartwright
Barreling down the Oklahoma back road at fifty-five miles an hour with truck headlights veering up
over my shoulder like some kind of archangel, I felt terror from another dimension. Not the kind of
horror I had suspected or hoped for when I took this detour into the no-man’s-land space of eastern
Oklahoma and western Missouri… no, this was terror of the most foul, physical kind. Alone, with
no cell reception and no kind stranger for at least forty miles around, I had reached my story’s end.
The truck moved closer. I feared he might be some sort of psychotic, backwoods freak, come to kill
me for snooping around the edges of his property. At night, anything was possible…
And ostensibly, anything was possible. This was, after all, a famous all-American mystery spot at
the nation’s bleeding center. The Tri-State Spook Light looms as one of America’s most famous
mystery lights. An attraction since the 1800s, dozens of people have scrawled newspaper articles,
book chapters, and web pages documenting the glowing orb seen down this lonely road on
Oklahoma’s edge. Even Fate Magazine’s pages profiled the light in the September 1964 report by
It’s not that I had planned to be in this situation. But when the job market strikes and a call comes
down the line from Wisconsin, the only economical thing to do is hop in the car and cruise north.
Fresh out of college with only a few-hundred bucks in my wallet, I piled my college possessions in
the back seat and left Dallas in the dust. My route spat me out in Anderson, Missouri: I knew I'd
never get closer to the infamous spot. It was do or die.
The unfortunate dilemma with Fortean investigations these modern days concerns not the theories,
but the cost barrier. Ever since the cryptid explosion into reality television, everything seems to be
about the biggest rig, the greatest camera, the newest technology: From FLIR heat cameras to EMF
meters. But for the unlucky Joes like us who happen to be starting new jobs and blowing our money
as we hightail through the Great Plains, there’s nothing to use but our eyes, our phones, and our
guts. I had the first two, but soon discovered that the latter came in short supply.
I stopped at a pizza joint in Seneca with the intent to interview eyewitnesses. But as the waiter
brought me my meal and our eyes locked, I froze. Maybe it was something about the teenager’s
floppy brown hair. I wasn’t quite sure, but scolded myself as I sulked off into the night with my
pepperoni slices. Every proper investigation requires eyewitness accounts, and yet I couldn’t even
talk to some kid on the side of the road. I needed to grow a beard, I decided. Something long and
thick and scraggly to give me an air of sophistication and danger. If I simply changed my physical
appearance… or presented a press badge… or grew five inches in height… then, then I might feel
confident. Then and only then would I be able to overcome my shortcomings. I searched the dark
roads for answers to my failings and found nothing.
The light promised a difference. Throwing aside my anxious thoughts, I concentrated on the legend
at hand. If I witnessed the light itself, I’d still have some story to tell. It would lend credence to my
writing. Give it a sort of narrative arc, a climactic finish – then I could join the annals of paranormal
A peach sunset dwindled on the western horizon. Clouds loomed overhead. A wind picked up,
scattering leaves across the road, blowing away the last remnants of summer as the calendar turned
over into September. The sun’s final rays vanished as I slipped across the liminal Missouri-
Oklahoma border. I noticed ghostly wisps appearing before my headlights. At first, I thought that
they must be tricks of my imagination. They continued appearing every few seconds, ephemeral
clouds billowing across the road. Like dust or fog–confined to a very specific area–floating perhaps
ten feet above the ground.
I don’t claim to have seen a ghost. Elsewhere, shadowed figures moved on my vision’s periphery.
I’d been driving for five hours that day, so exhaustion could explain it all. Either way, my nerves