Thursday, February 23, 2012

I've been there.

“I have been there.” Richard said pointing at the drawing in Susan’s book.
“Ah your life hasn’t been that tough Richard.” she smiled bemused at his odd comment.
“I am not speaking metaphorically.”
“So what are you saying sweetie?” Susan replied in her lovingly sarcastic way.
Looking at the white sunlight coming in through the window warming the twisted sheets, Richard was reassured. He didn’t think he could have ever talked about it without that reassuring warmth.
 He had never told anyone, usually only letting the memory of that day sneak back on lonely nights staring out the window. At night a light that seeped in from the hall made that window an impenetrable pane of black. Thoughts would get lost in that blackness. Sometimes he thought he saw something looking back at him. When sleep did come so did the nightmares. Those nights Richard never shut the blinds, because only that first light made the bad things go away.
Susan turned in her chair to face Richard. She placed the red rubber eraser of a number two pencil against her perfectly pouty lower lip. She dazed at him with those angelic brown eyes, waiting for his story. Richard knew she expected something silly from him, not the lifelong fear-condemning confession that follows.
“Well,” he said looking out the window at the beautiful day. His eyes tracked a student walking across the bright green shimmering grass of the quad. “When I was twelve my mom thought it was a good idea to move our family up into the mountains. They loomed over the town where I had grown up. By that time I had been in and out of hospitals for most of my childhood. I had seen a dozen doctors, not one could agree on what was wrong with me. I guess my mom figured if none of their treatments worked why not start trying her own ideas. She hoped getting away from the city up into the clean air might just be what I needed. I actually ended up having more of my spells up there but it seems besides the point looking back. It was a lot of fun up there in the beginning, I made a friend my first week her name was Sara.”
Thinking of Sara’s face he looked away from the window closing his eyes. The images that came into his head made him almost change his mind but Richard had to keep going. He didn’t think he could stop if he wanted to. Feeling the reassuring warmth of the window he continued.
“Sara lived right next door to me. The houses weren’t back to back like down here; small portions of forest separated each. Behind our houses the mountain stretched up seemingly endless. We would venture up some days exploring the hill side, always turning back before dinner. Each time we went in just a little further. Sometimes we would find an outcropping of rocks and pretend an old bear was lurking in the gaps between. Sometimes we would find a hollowed out tree big enough to play in or use as base camp for our adventures. Then one day when we had been pushing dusk and our parent’s wrath, we found a house.” 
Susan had slouched down in her chair making herself comfortable; I could tell from her expression I had her attention.
“It seemed to be a normal house just like the ones we lived in down below. We walked all around it there didn’t seem to be anyone there but it didn’t seem abandoned either. The windows were intact, the siding and paint were fine. It showed no signs it had been left to bear the harsh seasons without upkeep. The weirdest thing was there was no driveway or road to the graded lot the house sat on. The pine trees came within a few feet of the front door. The way we had come seemed the only way to get there. Maybe it was the way the windows reflected the pale sky or the shadowy trees darkened by the low hanging sun but the place creeped me out. Sara seemed intrigued by the place, we both knew we had little light left to make it back.
 We hurried down the mountainside. Sometimes one of us would lose our footing forcing us to kneel and slide. You could get going pretty good in the soft dry earth filled with pebbles and pine needles. We called it mountain surfing and it was fun except for the prickly debris left in your shoes. I remember the evening seemed colder that night. Darkness had overtaken us just as we glimpsed light from windows on the street below. The evening air carried a sweet pungent smell of pine dust. Playing on the mountain always reminded me of playing in the ocean, when you got back to the sand or in this case the street you were never near where you went in. We ran back up the street to our places. I waved silently good bye to Sara as I passed her house.
A few days went by. I hadn’t seen much of Sara. I also hadn’t let the vision of that eerie house roam far from my mind. On a rather bright afternoon I sat on a large rock outside my front gate, watching a mass of ladybugs congregate on my mailbox post. I always found ladybugs rather cute but the undulating mass on the post was at least a foot long and four inches deep and was giving me the heegeebebees to say the least.  I remember sitting as the sun began to get hot and I could feel the tickle of sweat on the back of my neck. I heard a whiz as a stone zoomed a centimeter past the mound of bugs and bounced off the fence. A second stone hit it dead on, sending a cloud of bugs into the air. The stone left a small gooey clump of dead and live bugs on the post. I sprang up and turned around to see Chris bouncing another pebble on the palm of his hand. He was walking towards me and had Sara with him.
Chris was a true local his family had lived up there for generations. The real locals were a tight nit group and a bit stand offish to anyone new. Chris had never been too friendly to me, he got along fine with Sara but she had been up there longer. The fact she was a girl helped. He was older but almost a foot shorter than me, I also think that was part of his problem.
“Sara said you guys found the blue house?” Chris said with a smirk as he tossed the pebble behind me and wiped his hand on his dusty jeans.
“I guess, creepy place. Who would wanna live up there?”
“Nobody ever lived there from what I heard.”
“Sure looked like it, what is it? a summer rental?”
“Nah, it’s been up here since before any of the other houses. People say all kinds of things, maybe it was a safe house for gangsters or the government, you know spies and shit or that it was a cult hang out and is haunted, all kind of wild b.s. The only thing people seem certain is it’s been abandoned for fifty years.”
“Sure didn’t look that old or abandoned.”
“Really?”
Squinting one eye from the sun, I shook my head, nonverbally saying that was the case.
“I never knew anybody that had been there. You think you guys can take me?”
That had been the first time Chris ever asked me for something let alone to hang out. I didn’t really want to go back but looked at Sara and could see she was excited with the idea. Weren’t a lot of other kids on the mountain so getting to be on Chris’ friends list seemed to be a good idea.
“Sure when you guys want to go?’
“How about now?”
I thought for a sec, it was earlier than we had set out before. I remembered the landmarks. It seemed from the back of my house you just had to head straight up.

“Ok, sure lets go.”
I opened my front gate and led the way.  We approached my house where I knew my mom was inside somewhere. Once in the back we headed up. It seemed to take much longer this time. The day was hotter than it had been.  Every step made you perspire, sticking dust to you. The dust made your eyes sting and your lips taste like dirt. Chris began asking if we knew where we were going. His tone seemed to ask if we had lied about finding the place. Just when I thought we wouldn’t find it and he was going to think we were liars Sara shouted.
 “There it is.” A few yards up visible between two trees was a corner of the blue house.
The last few feet before the plateau was very steep. Holding on to exposed tree roots I pulled onto the level ground. Perched on my knees I surveyed the house. It was just as before and had lost none of its forbidding in the bright afternoon. Chris climbed up to my side. I put my hand out to assist and he made a point of ignoring it. He sprung to his feet and headed towards the house. My legs were very tired, I struggled to stand. I felt a tug on my arm as Sara assisted me.  Sara’s eyes were glowing with adventure. We sprinted to catch up with Chris. He was already down one side of the house and headed around a corner.
We caught up to him standing in the front. He was looking it over. I didn’t want to say anything but I couldn’t shake the feeling the house seemed to be looking back.
“Boy I see what you mean, doesn’t look like it’s been up here that long. It’s got to be the place though.”
“I know.  Look, the paints not chipped, the doors aren’t even weathered. The glass on the windows looks like it was cleaned this morning. You sure nobody lives here?” I said looking at our reflections in the windows.  
“Let’s find out.” before we could objet Chris walked up and knocked on the front door.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to run if someone answered, which is odd we hadn’t done anything wrong. The place looked to be a normal house. In fact it looked nicer than where I lived. We sat there quietly trying to listen for any sound from inside but none came.
“I told you, nobody’s here. Let’s see if it’s locked.”
Chris tried the handle. He opened the door just a little while looking back at us with idiotic self amusement. Again I was about to say that wasn’t a good idea when he tossed it open the rest of the way. The entrance was pitch-black from where we stood. No noise came from inside, not even a door squeak. Chris hollered a hello that was not returned. He stepped inside out of sight; we hesitantly followed to the doorway. Peering in with Sara by my side I tried to make my eyes adjust. Something in the dark moved a few feet in. Then I heard a click and there was light.
“The electricity works.”
 Chris was standing by an antique looking table lamp. He let go of its cord and it bounced with a clink against the glass shade. There was a grandfather clock in the corner sitting still. Under the window was a red paisley couch, the kind you could get sick on and no one would ever know. In the center of the living room was a coffee table with a porcelain tea set on top. The whole place looked like someone’s grandma had just left to get cookies from the kitchen. Its out-of-place mundane veneer was disturbing. It was more than just a youthful need for adventure, we all knew there was something more there.
Above the fireplace was a watercolor of a mountain stream. It seemed so generic, the kind you see at the dentist office, not in a home. A layer of dust was on everything and the stale air seemed to say no one had been there in awhile.
Sara ventured in further and I followed. I wanted more than anything to get it over with and get out. There were two bedrooms, a bath and a kitchen/dining room. All the windows seemed tinted in a way not to let the sun in. All the rooms had working lights. Each room was furnished and decorated but with no signs of people. No clothes in the closet, nothing really that said anybody had ever lived there. On weekends my mom used to drag me to look at model homes at new housing developments, she thought it was fun. Those models look lived in but you can tell that no one lived there, that’s how this place felt.
“Okay no ghosts or gangster loot, let’s get out of here before we get in trouble.”
 I was headed for the door, Chris was looking around vigorously. He seemed on a mission to find something intriguing to make it worth the journey. Then he found it.
“We’re not getting in trouble.  No one has been up here in… hey, what’s in here?” Chris headed into the kitchen.
 I stepped around Sara to see what he was looking at. There was a pantry door just past an old fashioned fridge. The door came up from the floor about half the height of a normal door.
“Hey it’s locked.”
To my dismay Chris opened it with two swift kicks of his heel.
“Oh wow you guys, check this out.”
Chris moved to let the light in and for us to see. Inside was a little space with a round open metal hatch in the floor. It was what you imagined to see on top of a submarine. Next to it on the wall was a switch. Sara flipped it, a loud click echoed from below and a light beamed up. Chris squeezed between us and we looked in. There was a metal ladder that seemed to lead down to an opening about fifteen feet below.
“Let’s go!”
“I’m not going down there.”
“Suit yourself sissy.” Chris said as he began down the ladder.
Sara placed her fingers on my cheek, “Come on! Come have an adventure with me.”
I couldn’t refuse. Sara went and I followed.
Each rung felt cold and wet, making the short climb slippery and unnerving. The ladder let down into a small yellow lit hallway. The floors, walls and ceiling were concrete, all dark with the dampness. My view behind Chris and Sara was blocked but there looked to be a gate at the end. I remember rubbing a hand on the wall as we walked, feeling the moist grit on my finger tips.
“You think it’s a bomb shelter?” I tried to hide the trepidation in my voice.
“Maybe, still doesn’t make any sense, not up here.” Chris replied.
“Hey look!”
Suddenly, Chris and then Sara disappeared. There was an entrance I hadn’t been able to see before cut into the wall to my right. It was a small locker room with a wooden bench in the center. Similar to all locker rooms: it smelled of rusty metal but unlike most there was no hint of old gym socks. Chris opened one of the lockers containing a white jumpsuit and yellow hard hat. Sara opened another and found the same. So did I. Finding nothing more of interest we went back to the hall. This time I was in front and could see clearly. The gate was an elevator. I pulled on the door. It opened with a tug and the shriek of old metal springs. It was a metal cage with a wooden plank floor.
“You think it works?” Sara said slipping by me.
“Even if it does, better question is it safe?”
Chris pushed passed me and stood behind me.
“Come on only one way to find out.” the taunt in his tone was obvious.
I was getting fed up with Chris and more and more oblivious to any danger. I turned trying to play fearless and pressed a red button but nothing happened.
“I think this is it.” Sara said as she pulled a rusty handle above the button. A sputtery sound of ancient machinery came from somewhere and the elevator started downward with a slight jolt. It became very dark as we went between the floors. I felt a panic start somewhere in my gut but it was subdued when Sara found my hand in the dark and held it tight.
The sputtering turned into a loud clanking and the elevator vibrated. I was sure a loud snap and long fall into some bottomless pit was next. Then light appeared on my toes and grew pushing away the darkness. The ride stopped hard on solid ground. I opened the door and we stepped out. A slight smell of something similar to compost hung in the humid air. We were in a large room. There were four large tables with cabinets underneath. At the opposite end from where we stood was a door with a window in it and two large windows on either side of it.
The light that seemed so bright in contrast was really just a flickering dull yellow.  We walked slowly towards the other door. The tables were strewn with various tools, brushes, a little pick, and such. The largest item a microscope looked very much like the one at my old school. A table closest to the door was covered with large pieces of paper taped together. A rubbing, I stood confused looking at what seemed to be writing but couldn’t make it out.
“Oh my God!” Sara screamed.
“What is it?” I almost screamed.
“Nothing, I thought I saw somebody standing at the window.”
Chris and I looked, the windows were black. If anyone had stood on the other side you wouldn’t see them. Although from a brief look at Sara’s face I knew that she had seen something.  Chris found another switch by the door. Some lights came on outside the windows. Through the wire webbed safety glass we could see a large open cavern. It was illuminated by some work lights on stands with cables running back towards us. The ceiling was very high, a huge craggy blue granite room. Directly across stood a large archway in the stone, it seemed an entrance to another cavern. It was too dark under the arch to see for sure. Above the arch was writing that covered its trim from floor to floor. It was some of the same writing from the rubbing and it would be a few years before I had an idea of what it said.
We went out the door. Just I and Chris at first, Sara followed but only after I taunted her.
“I am sorry Sara.” Richard whispered to himself.
Sitting on his bed eyes watery he thought a moment before continuing.
“It seemed we had discovered some sort of abandoned archaeology site, it seemed a fine end to our adventure. Then Chris moved towards the arch, closer to the darkness. When Chris got a few feet from where the light stopped, something came out of the darkness to meet him.
Chris stopped in his tracks, all the arrogance sucked out of him. Sara and I both ran to his aid. No more than a few inches away we saw what had him so scared. It was a man or had been at one time. Now it was blue as a corpse, it was also naked and hairless. A putrid fluid dripped down the back of its legs from its buttocks. Its skin hung on its protruding spinal vertebra.  Its neck and head was twisted completely around. A horrible face pointed in the wrong direction stared at us with black eyes.
“You two should run, run while you can and never tell. Never tell you were here,” its voice was forced and not more than a whisper. Then it turned its perverse face to look at Sara almost ravenous.
“I smell her sins even the ones to come. No need to wait, we will take her now.” The blue man’s voice became louder and shrill. It took one heel first step towards us. While it spoke no one had noticed another creature lowering itself by a single thread. This creature had never been human. While we stood it was positioning itself behind Sara’s head.
It dangled there for a moment just beyond my peripheral comprehension.  It reminded me of a splayed rib cage the size of a child’s.  It seemed almost arachnid. The creature dripped slime from each pointed rib tip. The burgundy meat holding it together seemed to squirm in anticipation for flesh. The blue man kept staring with vile interest at Sara. She backed away slowly and stopped an inch from the arachnid creature. That’s when I yelled for her to look out. It almost looked to be salivating as it dripped the viscous goo. She turned just as its two sides closed like snapping jaws flinging slime.
Sara had ducked just in time and joined Chris and I. We ran. I didn’t remember us stepping more than twenty feet from the door but then it had seemed we could not get there fast enough. As we ran I heard the blue man whispering in my ear, “Don’t tell a soul what you have found Richard.”
I didn’t have time to think about how he knew my name. As we ran more of those ribcage things were lowering themselves all around us, some as big as we were. They smelled of a rotted carcass and the air became nauseating. It looked as if we were in a maze in a meat locker. It took great care for me not to scrape against the oozing rib tips as we ran. Chris was first to get to the door, he swung it open and almost kept going but I yelled for him to get Sara inside.
 He turned and held it. With his back to the door he waved franticly for us to hurry. Chris had a mild look of relief as Sara stepped before the threshold.  I was just behind her and looked up; to my horror about five feet above the doorway hung another of those things, it was a little bigger than a basketball. The creature dropped from its thread and free fell. I screamed. It landed on Sara. Its flesh covered her head and exposed bone clamped down around her shoulders.
Sara fell back and laid motionless. I jumped over her into the room. Quickly turning I grabbed her leg above the ankle. A soon as I touched her she squirmed as if I was the attacker. The thing was too wide to get through the doorway. I tried in vain to pull Sara free hoping it would jam against the door and let go. Its grip didn’t loosen but clamped tighter. I pulled with all I had only to have my feet slide on dusty tile.
“You’re going to mess her up.” Chris said looking at the bone portions penetrating her flesh.
“Help me or give me a better idea!” I screamed.
Beyond Sara I could see those things falling to the ground. They stretched to grab earth and pull themselves along the ground. Like horrible centipedes they crawled towards us. Chris picked up Sara’s other leg and pulled, Sara began to thrash violently.  Just when I thought about leaving her, the thing opened and released her. Chris and I fell back against a table. He jumped up slammed the door shut. I crawled over to see how she was.
From chest up she was covered in rancid smelling slime. Where it had gripped her were three bloody holes in her shirt. I called to her repeatedly asking her to please be ok. She laid there looking unconscious or worse. I was ashamed because I wanted to touch her face but I was afraid. I was afraid of the stuff she was covered in. Her head turned towards me and her eyes opened. Her eyes were black just as the blue man’s had been. I scuttled backwards from her. Chris came over to Sara and asked if she was all right. She sat up and looked at me, her eyes were normal now. She told us in a faint voice that she was ok. We helped Sara to her feet and made way to the elevator. Behind us I could hear a clicking against the glass windows.
 Inside the elevator my heart sank as the light slowly disappeared below our feet. Immersed in complete darkness I could feel the things lowering, surrounding my face and head. I tried for the comfort of Sara’s hand but it lay limp at her side. I closed my eyes hoping to get control of my thoughts but when I did I saw Sara looking at me with those black eyes. I opened my eyes knowing it would be just in time to feel one of those things clamp down on my head, but it didn’t happen. When the light appeared above us so did a sense of calm.  The hallway and house went by in a blur. Outside in the forest I felt a relief. I was in the real world and had escaped from a bad dream.
  We made it down the mountain faster than we ever had. Chris and I tried to talk to Sara but it was no use she just looked at us silently. She seemed all there and made it to her house with no problem. By my front gate I could see the bug stain on my mailbox poll. I turned to Chris as he passed.
“I guess we should keep an eye out for each other.” I said not sure what I really meant.
“I don’t want to talk about it, I’ll see ya.” Chris replied.
I never spoke to Sara or Chris again. From that night on I did my best to convince my mom to move us back down the mountain. I couldn’t tell her what happened and suffered many un-consoled nightmares. She hadn’t been happy up there either and we moved four long months later. 
As time passed the nightmares became less frequent and the events of that day more surreal. I met another ex mountain resident while working nights delivering pizzas last summer. He knew of Chris and said he had gone off to seminary school. I already knew what had become of Sara, I found out my high school junior year. My mom avoided talking about it for a while. Before she did I saw Sara’s face on the front of a newspaper in a vending machine. Sara had repeatedly stabbed her parents with a kitchen knife while they slept. She killed them and was sent for life to the west county institution.  
I tried not to but have thought a lot about that day since. In classic lit of my sophomore year I had to read the divine comedy and recognized what I had seen on that rubbing.

“Oh really?” Susan asked looking at me oddly.
“Somewhere in the text around that arch: ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’ was written. I don’t know why but I am sure of it.”
“Are you saying you found an entrance to hell Richard?” Susan said looking bemused.
“I am.” I replied trying to look serious enough not to seem crazy.
“But you weren’t supposed to tell.” said Sara looking at me with eyes black as the depths of the pit.

Copyright S Williams 2012

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