Dire Lane isn’t a hard place to find, so long as you’re already lost.
If you wish to become sufficiently lost to find Dire Lane, you’ll need to head out on some country back roads that you’re unfamiliar with, and preferably have never even been on before. Depending on where you live, you may need to drive for a bit to find a suitable locale. Don’t try this in the winter, since the kind of roads you’ll need will be too rural to receive any winter maintenance. They also need to be completely devoid of any street lamps. You'll need to be driving not only at night but on a night so dark that you can only see what’s illuminated by your own headlights. You must have no GPS devices with you, including your phone, or any form of a map. Even directions jotted down on a napkin may stop you from getting as lost as you need to be. You may bring others with you, so long as they're just as unfamiliar with the area as you are.
Once you have your location and a suitably black night, you'll need to drive down the side roads until you are good and lost. Whenever you reach a crossroads, you'll need to decide at random whether or not to turn. I recommend bringing a single die for this part of the ritual. Assign a choice for each side of the die: turn left, turn right, turn back, go straight, roll again, or ace's wild. Do not write down the results of each die roll, and do your very best not to remember.
The danger in this part of the ritual is obvious, if mundane; becoming lost with no means of calling for assistance. For this reason, it is strongly advised that you bring ample food and emergency supplies with you, as well as inform someone where you’re going and tell them to send out a search for you if they don’t hear back from you by a certain time. You’ll also want to perform this ritual with a reliable vehicle and ideally someone capable of performing emergency repairs. At the very least make sure the locks work, and you may bring weapons if you wish, though I can’t say they’ll be of much help.
You’ll know you completed the ritual correctly when you come across a deer in your headlights, specifically a spotted doe. She won’t have jumped out at you, but rather have been standing in the road waiting for you. She won’t react to your presence until you come to a full stop. Make absolute certain not to harm the deer. If you did run into her, turn around immediately and drive back the way you came until sunrise. Do not drive below the speed limit, stop only for traffic signs and obstacles, and do not look behind you. You won’t be able to see it in your mirrors, but it will be there, chasing you. If you see it, it won’t matter if you escape or not, because it will always be in your head.
But if you managed to avoid hitting the deer, once you come to a stop, she will begin trotting down the road. You must follow her closely enough so as not to lose sight of her in the darkness, but again taking the utmost care not to hit her. If you lose sight of the deer, you won’t find her again. But should you succeed in tailing the spotted doe, she will lead you to Dire Lane.
Dire Lane is a stone-paved road, not unlike what one would have found in the Roman Empire or other fallen civilizations. It simultaneously appears ancient yet pristine, as if it had just been laid yesterday. You will find no cracks, no chips, no grass, and no moss upon Dire Lane. The stones themselves will have a midnight blue iridescence, like a grackle’s plumage, and if you were to reach out and touch one, you’d find it to be as cold as metal. Though you may be tempted to take one or more home with you, you mustn't pry any of these stones loose. Each and every one is crucial to the structural integrity of the Lane, and the loss of a single stone will cause the entirety of Dire Lane to plunge into the surrounding abyss, taking you along with it.
In spite of its enticing peril, Dire Lane’s unique appearance makes it easily distinguishable from any paved, gravel, or dirt roads that you’ll likely be turning off of, so you couldn’t miss it if you tried. To make it even easier, the entrance will be marked by a pair of dead trees covered in bioluminescent mushrooms, one on each side of the Lane. These trees will be the last wild plants you see, as there is no longer any sun in this place. The land around Dire Lane is completely overrun with the same odd mushrooms that grow upon the gate trees, and they've long since devoured whatever plants once lived there. Turn your headlights off at this point, as the mushrooms will provide all the light you need, and they may spook the locals. It is safe to leave your vehicle at this point on the Lane, so if you wish to gather up some mushrooms, feel free. They will glow for only one day and two nights once you pluck them, and there are some plane walkers who say that their light will only cast the shadows of astral forms, unveiling the presence of any spirits in your vicinity. Some, of course, have tried to use them for visions, but I will simply say that the mushrooms will only open your mind to darker reaches of reality best left unexamined.
Whilst you are in the mushroom fields, you will immediately note an abundance of small floating lights in the air which you could be forgiven for mistaking for fireflies. They are, however, the spores of the mushrooms. They will dance about on aethereal eddies, trying to wow and awe you with their aerial ballet, and once your mouth is agape in wonder, they’ll rush right in. No one knows why they do this or if they’re harmful in any way. I’ve certainly never heard of anyone with glowing mushrooms growing inside of them. But if you want to play it safe, then consider wearing a protective face covering of some kind.
Once you’ve picked your basket of mushrooms, drive on down a little further, and you’ll see wicker stalls and huts lining each side of the road. This is the Dire Lane street market, and it’s the main reason most people seek out Dire Lane in the first place. You’ll see a variety of otherworldly flowers, foods, and artifacts for sale here. The street vendors themselves will be not quite Homo sapiens. They’re gangly, androgynous creatures no more than five feet tall, with unpigmented, papery skin, large pale eyes and lanky black hair. To my eyes at least, they looked sickly and frail, but perhaps that’s just how they are. They’ve never been observed to speak, but whether this is because they cannot or simply because they prefer not to speak in front of outsiders, I cannot say.
I don’t actually know much about them, but whatever their exact species or genus is, they are people. As with any people, it would be naïve to call them good and cynical to call them bad. Like most of us, they’re just trying to muddle through as best they can, and they most likely won’t harm you if you don’t give them a reason to. Remember; you’re the stranger here. Don’t hurt them, don’t steal from them, and don’t threaten them. If you brought any weapons, don’t go brandishing them about. Unlike with the deer, the danger here is mere retaliation. They may be small, but even if you came with every seat in your car occupied, they’ll have you outnumbered.
Though they don’t speak, they will be willing to barter with you for their wares, and you’ll be able to communicate with basic gestures well enough to facilitate this. You will want to bring a plentiful supply of trinkets to swap with; the more novel, the better. It’s hard to say exactly what the Dire merchants value, but the laws of supply and demand seem to apply. Common objects that many other visitors are likely to have traded with before will be prized less than rarer ones, though keep in mind that their rarity doesn’t necessarily have to correspond to monetary value.
The objects you're trading for will be extremely foreign to you, and the merchants are of no help in explaining their purpose and value. You'll just have to go with whatever catches your fancy and accept the risk that you may be getting swindled. Make sure your vehicle is locked while you're conducting your business, as some of the merchants may be willing to rob it or even try to stow away with you. It's possible they may even steal the vehicle itself, leaving you stranded. I’ve only heard rumours about what happens to people who get stuck on Dire Lane, and since I’ve never been able to confirm any of them, I won’t repeat them here.
Another potential danger are the tall, hunched, hooded figures who lurk just on the cusp of visibility outside of the Dire Lane street market. If you call out to them, they won’t respond, and if you approach them, they’ll retreat into the darkness. Follow them far enough, and you’ll lose sight of Dire Lane itself. Just like the deer, if you lose the Lane you won't find it again, except this time this means you'll never be able to get back home.
Once you’ve bartered away your trading goods you should set back on down Dire Lane. And you must always go forward. Never try going back the way you came. Dire Lane only exists in one direction, and I cannot emphasize this enough; if you lose sight of the Lane, you’ll never find it again.
Not that Dire Lane is the safest place to be; far from it. Be aware that from this point on the road gets a little ‘bumpy’ so to speak, and it will no longer be safe to leave your vehicle. Keep your doors locked and windows rolled up. The deer will be long gone, so you won’t have to worry about hitting her. Drive as fast as you feel you need to. There’s no need to rush either though, necessarily, and based on my experience driving faster doesn’t necessarily get you off the Lane any sooner.
Anyway, once you’re out of the market they’ll be regular flashes of silent sheet lightning, lighting up the landscape around you. The Lane takes a long, winding route through a hilly country covered in crumbling crystal ruins overgrown with mycelium – fungi roots, essentially. They actually look like they might be interesting to explore, if it weren’t for the… creatures crawling among them. I’ll call them Dire Hounds, for simplicity’s sake. They’re hairless, white, canid-like entities, around six-feet-tall at the shoulder with humanoid faces. They’ll notice you, that’s for certain, and they’ll approach your vehicle almost like curious deer at a nature park. They have these freakish smiles, and they’ll paw at your car like a cat, almost as if they’re expecting a treat.
Again, I reiterate: do not roll your window down or get out of the car. If you’re driving slowly enough, they will pull on the door handle, which is why it’s so important that your doors were locked when you left the market. If you try to escape, they’ll chase you, and they will be able to keep pace with whatever vehicle you’re driving. This is another reason why it doesn’t really matter how fast you drive. It might even be more dangerous to try to outrun them. Better to just putter along until they lose interest in you.
But you see, the real danger of the Dire Hounds is when they try to speak. Oh yes, they can speak. Their voices are intelligible, but inhuman. Shrill, banshee-like utterances that can chill you to your marrow, but that’s still not as bad as what they say. You see, the Dire Hounds only speak the most terrible truths. What that truth is depends on the person, but it can easily be enough to ruin your life or shatter your entire sense of self or worldview. This is especially dangerous if there’s more than one person in the car, as the Dire Hounds will often reveal the darkest of secrets that can instantly turn life-long friends into murderous enemies. For some, the pain of these truths is so great that it’s worth risking a deadly crash just for the chance to escape it a little bit sooner. You might try stuffing your ears with earplugs and turning your stereo up full blast to try to drown them out, but you’ll still catch garbled snippets of the gnosis they offer you. You may very well drive yourself mad wondering if you heard them correctly. Even the deaf are not spared this torment, as they’ve claimed to feel the Hounds’ voice vibrating in their very bones.
My advice is this; do not seek out Dire Lane if you cannot handle harsh truths. If you take companions, choose them well, and drive very slowly through the ruins. No matter how fast you drive, the Dire Hounds will not leave you be until they’ve said all they have to say. Though many consider this to be the worst part of the experience, there are those who drive down Dire Lane - madmen, mostly -specifically to hear what truths the Dire Hounds have for them. If someone invited you on a drive down Dire Lane, consider the possibility that they may wish for the Hounds to reveal your deepest secrets.
Once this ordeal is finally over, the Hounds will disperse and a torrential rain will start to fall. You won’t be able to see anything, even with your wipers at full blast, but you must drive. The Storm will not pass; you must pass through it. At some point, you’ll start to feel that you’re going downhill. The slope will be gentle at first, but gradually grow steeper. You’ll start to pick up speed, and you’ll find that taking your foot off the gas or applying the brakes will do nothing to slow you down. You can still steer though, and it’s vital that you don’t let your vehicle veer off the road. You won’t be able to see, so you’ll have to go by feel alone. The instant you feel the ground beneath your wheels change from stone to earth, swerve back immediately. Dire Lane is the only way out of the Storm, and if you lose the road, you’ll be stuck in the Storm forever.
But if you manage to keep on the road during your descent down the hill, you’ll experience what most people call‘the fun part’ of Dire Lane, ironically or otherwise. The rain will let up, and you’ll be able to see again. You’ll see the Lane sharply turning upwards and then ending in a dead drop. Your breaks will work now, but you can’t use them. You’ll need all your momentum to make the jump, and since Dire Lane only goes in one direction, if you lose momentum, you’ll never be able to make the jump again, and you’ll be stranded. The second you see the jump, slam the gas and go for it.
Once you’re airborne, turn your headlights back on if they weren’t already. Turn your high beams on if you want. For an instant, you might catch a glimpse of the strange denizens that inhabit the Darkness at the end of Dire Lane. Netherhaunts is a name I’ve heard for them, though that’s actually a broad term for any poorly understood entities that lurk in the spaces between realms. The Netherhaunts you’ll find at the end of Dire Lane look like twenty-foot long, translucent sea dragons, with two main exceptions. The first is that their foremost leafy appendages are actually a pair of long arms with sharply clawed hands, strong enough to peel the exterior of your vehicle like an orange. Second is that instead of the long, goofy snout of a seahorse, they have a much more ghoulishly humanoid head. If you forget to turn your lights on, they will kill you. Fortunately, they are deathly afraid of light, so that’s all you require to keep them at bay. Do not roll down your windows yet, however, as the extra drag will cost you the momentum you need to escape. You see, the danger in not having enough momentum to complete the jump is not that you will fall, but that you will simply become adrift in that strange void. Then it’s just a matter of time before all your batteries die, all your lights go out, and the Netherhaunts move in for the kill.
Emerging from this Darkness, you’ll find Dire Lane back under your wheels again, and just ahead of you should be an ordinary country road running perpendicular to it. You’re almost out now, but your path will be blocked by a pagan priest wearing a cervid skull and bearing a torch. Running him down will incur the same consequences as hitting the spotted doe from the beginning of the Lane. Come to a stop and roll down your window to speak with him.
He'll ask if you found what you sought. Don’t lie to him. You must be as honest as the Dire Hounds.
He’ll ask if you gave as much as you took. For your sake, I hope you did.
He’ll ask if anyone was left behind, or if you picked up any new passengers. Count and make sure. Dire Lane has a way of making you lose track of things like that.
Depending on your answers, he’ll either request additional compensation from you in some form, or offer it to you. Either way, do not refuse. If you do refuse him, or lie to him, or otherwise displease him, he will cast his torch into your vehicle and you will be instantly swallowed by flames. Otherwise, he’ll let you pass back into the mortal realm, but not before checking your trunk for contraband and stowaways.
After reading about what an ordeal Dire Lane is, you’re probably wondering if it’s really worth it. As to that, I can only give you my personal opinion.
Are the mushrooms that lose their powers within thirty-three hours of being plucked worth even the risk of getting lost on the country backroads? No, not at all.
Were the geodes from the street market that hold a galaxy’s worth of starts within their crystal shells worth even the implicit threat imposed by the looming hooded figures? Not in the slightest.
Were the revelations of the Dire Hounds that drove one of my travelling companions to suicide and another to opioid addiction really worth the potential obliteration of my sanity? Absolutely.
That is my advice to you then. Seek out Dire Lane if, and only if, you sincerely value knowledge above all else, no matter the cost or sacrifice, and bring only those with you who feel the same. The only thing in Dire Lane that is worth risking your life for is the Truth.
Get a detective is my advice to anyone who wants to find "the absolute truth" their seeking, not a silly ritual that has literally no logical merit to it.
The reason this isn't any good, plotwise that is, is because again, the risk is far greater than the reward, and in order to get to said reward just investigate with conventional means, or don't be some asshat whom will have people keeping "deep dark" secret from. Though then again, some truths are better kept hidden - even for those who seek them.