Even when I was little, afternoons tended to depress me. It was the time when the day felt old and drawn on..
I was out in the back yard one hot and hazy summer afternoon. The sun was low over the old sand pit across the canyon.
The long shadows stretching over the hills made the whole world seem mysterious and weird.
I went over to the little wash house to ask my mother a question. Inside we had a great big old fashioned tumbler washing machine. It was one of the first tumblers ever built, with a heavy gear box below. There was only one window in the room, and Mother kept it closed except for when she used the machine. I peeked in and called, “Mommy can I bring my trike in the house? Mommy…”
There was no answer, and then….“WHOOH”
My mouth dropped open, and I just stood there screaming.
A tremendous spider web stretched clear across the room, all the way from the side of the wash tub to the wall. An enormous dark brown spider hung suspended in the web, right in the middle of the wash house. I had never seen such a monstrous spider. It was almost as big as a California tarantula, and it was so close that I could have touched it. Startled by my scream, the huge spider scrambled back to its hiding place above.
Now, I had seen many weird things, and been to strange places before. Due to the fact that I was lonely and very young, things like this popped up on me and I confused them with dreams. The things in the dreams were distorted and ugly exaggerations of things in nature. They made the most ferocious bird-like creatures of my imagination look like kittens.
Sometimes I would wake up screaming in the night.
Most nights in The Heights were beautiful and fascinating.
But many weren’t so beautiful.
I’ll never forget those weird nights isolated away in the lonely hills.
Much of the wildlife was nocturnal.
I was very sensitive, with acute hearing. Frightening sounds would enter into my room through the closed window.
On some spooky nights I would stay close to my great grandmother. I would ask her about the sounds, but she would be half-asleep, and her ears could not pick them up. Sometimes it was the low hooting of an owl on a nearby telephone pole, or howling coyotes in the distance.
One quick scream of a cat fight would break the silence like a firecracker in a quiet room, and trigger off all the dogs barking.
I remember one night when the air was very clear and dry. When I first went to bed it was cool and there was a slight northerly wind. I could see for miles over a panoramic view of the city below.
Layers of atmosphere rolled like waves, and city lights twinkled in the darkness. Strange sounds drifted on the wind, and faded into silence.
The sky was black with thousands of stars, all little lights and worlds of their own.
There were bands and ripples of thin high clouds like white ghosts flying across an empty sky. My own little world felt tiny, and insignificant against the vastness that surrounded us. I knew how small and unsafe I was when I looked up there.
A tree branch scratched against the wooden house. I tried to ignore it, but the uneasiness clutched at me.
And then I heard other crying or humming noises like some creature slowly dying.
We ate our own chickens back then. I often watched my father behead them with an axe.
I didn’t like it, and couldn’t forget the horrible sight. Something out there sounded just like a thrashing headless chicken. What could it be?
Over the faint whispers of the hills I could hear the growling of a diesel truck on the road far below. What is it that makes distant sounds so mysterious?
The faucet dripping in the bathroom next to me slowly seemed to grow louder, along with gurgling and bubbling noises of the toilet and bathtub. There was a roaring like a jet plane echoing in in the bathroom vent pipe.
Something out there sounded like the faint crying of a cat but it was too persistent. Maybe it’s the screaming of sirens in the night. Maybe there’s a smudge pot burning with flames raging out of control in a spiraling funnel of smoke and gas.
But it wasn’t a fire. Some other upset or tragedy must have happened. What horrible thing could be roaming the neighborhood to get all the sirens screaming and dogs barking?
Then suddenly the hills went silent. But there it was again, so faint I could barely hear it: that thrashing sound of a dying chicken without a head. The branch touches the house again. The haunted wind and those strange and lonely sounds in the hills slowly began to break me down. Despite my creeping uneasiness I got up out of bed and curiously peeked out the window.
Except for two lights in the distance up on the hill, it was otherwise all dark. It seemed as if there wasn’t a person in the world, so lonely.
My mother, Daddy, and Grammie were all sound asleep in another room.
Then I noticed an unfamiliar shadow down the road. Is it a post with a cat or owl on it, or is it just a dark area? It might be the figure of a man, but it’s so indistinct that I can’t make it out. Now I hear dogs barking far away.
There were ghostly long shadows lying across the street and moving up the road toward the house.
From that point on every sound and movement seemed to follow in perfect sequence. What was that noise? Is it a branch scraping, or a prowler trying to pry in? In the garage, a gas can expands with a dent. Mommy and Daddy are asleep and can’t hear. But if it were a prowler, how could he get in? The doors are locked, and the dog would bark.
I felt relieved for a minute. That’s right; he would bark. But what if he’s asleep in the other room or even worse maybe the prowler knocked the dog out?
A sudden fear gripped me. I stood there tensely watching the door almost waiting for the first turning of the doorknob.
Then I climbed in bed and got under the covers. Suddenly there’s the sound of someone bumping into things or footsteps down the hall outside of my door. An overcoat creaks on the chair. The sink keeps dripping in the bathroom. I stare with eyes open and breathing hard.
There’s that low, muffled cry again. Did it enter through the closed window, or was it right at the foot of my bed?
There was the sound of a man hanging over me and swallowing. A shadow of a thing like a man with upraised arms by the window at the foot of the bed.
There’s a shadow on the bathroom wall. Is that you, Daddy? Daddy? But there was no answer.
I was surrounded by shadows and sounds. That dying chicken sound is nearer. Maybe it’s some kind of an animal out there, a freak moose-like thing like a skinned horses head formed from a bloody headless chicken.
Or is it a weird, mean old man? A horrible fear runs through me like a spider crawling on the wall. Please don’t look…
It builds up, vibrating blood ringing in my ears until I can’t stand it anymore. Weird shadows appear on the shades and there’s that sound of a dying chicken again Dogs are barking ferociously. My imagination goes wild.
There came to my mind a thing so horrid that I dreaded even the near thought of it. I scream for my Mommy.
And she comes in and sits on my bed.
“What is it, Peter?”
“Please turn on the lights”.
“What are you yelling about?”
“Well, I just got awful scared. It’s so dark and quiet.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Darling. You should be sleeping at night.”
“But, Mommy, I can’t. I hear scary sounds around and see shapes.”“ Well, go to sleep Honey, I’ll see you in the morning.”
“No don’t turn out the light, there might be ugly things in the dark.
“Where? I don’t see any.”
“No, you can’t with the light on. They disappear and run away...
“Where, though, Peter”?
“Maybe in the closet, Mommy.”
“That’s ridiculous, there are no such things as ugly things. You only think you see them. Don’t be afraid of the dark. It’s nice to sleep in comfort. Now when I turn the light out, you’ll fall asleep.”“OK, Mommy.
Next: Story Five. The Deep Dark Hole>