House on Darque Hill Enigma 2
A Psychological, Gothic, & Existential Thriller
Richard Kerry Holtzin
Backstory: If you are new to this series, please read the PREAMBLE. That information is what this posting is all about. This novel was drawn from a short story I wrote in the mid-1980s entitled “SKYE KEEP.” The longer subtitle reads: A Quirkish Novel about a Haunted House, a Charming Cat, Romance in the Rockies, the Georgetown Loop Railroad, and Small-Town Politics” (For the synopsis, view this URL: https://amzn.to/2Vbr1BH A larger rough draft of the manuscript followed years later.)
FACE-OFF WITH THE STRANGER
"Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality."
For an excessively large transport. . .the stranger’s vehicle absorbed the constant pounding, bouncing, and excessive force on the shocks and springs. With erratic fishtailing around curves, the driver managed to correct the course until the next menacing stretch of yet another bend on a bad road. Despite my criticism and concern about both his driving and excessive speed, he met these frequent challenges and continued driving our lumbering transport to Hades. That was my impression, at least, even though the destination, as a point of reference, made no sense to me. Bracing myself with both hands on the dashboard, and sometimes with both legs, the seat was too far back. Consequently, I was forcefully thrust backward, then rendered helpless until I braces and anchored myself in the slippery seat. By now, I realized it would do no good if I chastised the driver again, because he would likely ignore the request and scoff my pleading. My fear and anguish got so bad there were times when I didn’t care if he crashed the vehicle, just as long as there was a chance I might survive the ordeal, then escape.
Though he was still ensconced in a cloak-like shadow, there was something about the driver that I inherently loathed. I also thought the sentiment was based on a sense of foreboding because I was trapped inside the vehicle with him and a mere arm’s length away. Although it seemed an indeterminate measure of time had passed since I awoke into a seeming diurnal nightmare, I couldn’t ascertain if it was minutes or hours. Even more outlandish was the impression of time may have altogether ceased. Moreover, nothing felt right all along because everything seemed to be out of kilter for reasons I could not begin to discern.
Given the import of those musings, I reflected on common signature aspects; aspects of my ordeal that might afford me with a better comprehension of the concrete facts. Namely, the unpinning of an uncanny narrative I was part of in some way. For instance, what, if anything, did I discern about the bleak, unsettling, and terra incognita geography we raced through; pummeling transport in an unknown vehicle with an unknown cargo in the back; an uncommunicative, rude and rash driver; and my alarming reaction to a series of circumstances that simply doesn’t make sense? All these observations I took note of were akin to adding zero to zero. In short, everything I sensed about this unpleasant experience was accentuated, as though to get my attention, which, of course, did just that.
Yes, I thought to myself after that somber and sobering reflection; but it’s like discovering an answer to an undisclosed question. And how can I get a convincing answer if I don’t know the right question to ask? Oh, and I forgot to ask––who the fuck is Spiritus Mortuorum and what has happened to the space-time continuum? I know something about this, right? If so, then what the hell is a space-time continuum?
I sat uncomfortably in the seat and contemplated these thoughts. It seemed to me that I had entered into some kind of a time warp. If so, then it was moot how the reality of such a continuum had nothing to do with me or my situation––except in a quasi-physical sense. I also ascertained likely a fluke or distortion of some kind had happened, which was the most confounding aspect of the dreary drama I had to endure.
Tempted to turn my head and observe the driver, this time, I was too leery and intimidated to see his face. I knew he was instrumental given this charade or sortie in progress. It also occurred to me that perhaps the state of amnesia I was in, whether it was drug induced or by some other means, very well might turn out to be a prank. What wasn’t a prank, however, was having a sense of eternal midnight. Therefore, the added concern of being enmeshed in the weirdness of timeless existence.
A prank! I abruptly said to myself. Disbelieving what I heard myself say, I whispered, “Yes, but who’s playing a trick on me if this explanation turns out to be the case?” Angling my body and leaning against the door, I turned and faced the driver, then continued the one-sided debate and asked, “If he’s in on this gag, which I suspect that he is, then he’s good; he’s damn good to continue the eccentric = cameo he’s playing.” As before, he didn’t respond to my thoughts and rumination or spoken words. He just drove the vehicle into the blackest night I ever witnessed, despite the fact I still had no memories of anything.
The more I focused on the driver, the more intimidated I felt being close to him, even though my body was pressed against the door. But then I noticed something altogether aberrant about the stranger, that is, despite his large, hunched silhouette leaning over the steering wheel: there was a bluish glow emanating from his face that was still disguised by shadows. Blinking my eyes several times, I tried to focus on his image. If my eyes weren’t deceiving me given the duress I was in, it seemed the pallor of his skin was just that––a bluish tint. At first, I thought it could have been makeup or perhaps I noticed for the first time he wore a mask. I wanted to call him on his costume, if that’s what it was, but didn’t know how to break the tense silence, by engaging him in a conversation. Still, the presentiment I felt was unsettling. In fact, what I saw or thought I was seeing made me even more nervous.
For the first time, I thought there was something familiar about the driver. It was as though I met him before in some other place and some other time. Where and when this happened, I didn’t know. Perhaps now he thought his secret was safe and that would make the game he played more suspenseful. But the question remained: Why was he driving so fast and careless? Was this also part of the ruse? I could only wonder.
At this point, instead of asking more worrisome questions, I needed to find answers, starting with why I was continually in a drowsy and exhausted state of mind and body since I awoke. Immediately after that challenge came to me I called out, “I have that answer––carbon monoxide poisoning! That’s also why I’m confused and my mind and body are duly affected.” Turning to face the driver, I added, “Maybe you’re suffering from the same deadly effects.” He ignored the terse remark and never even looked at me. But, this time, I lost patience. I reached out and grabbed his arm, which jerked the steering wheel. Instantly, the vehicle skidded sideways and I let go. I then hollered, “Hey, mister––do you know what carbon monoxide is? It means we both might die of noxious deadly fumes that emit no odor. Are you even a sentient being? Deaf? Stupid, maybe? Why don’t you acknowledge me? I demand you tell me something. This disconcerting silence and shit your are pulling has gone on long enough. LONG ENOUGH, I say. Do you hear me loud and clear. Answer me, goddamn it.”
My emotional outburst and defiant reaction soon did as I had hoped: I could tell he was upset and animated. For the first time, the driver turned his head and stared at me. Although I couldn’t see his eyes and not too much of his face, it was that stern and intimidating expression that told me he heard everything I said. But now I was nervous and afraid given his reaction and anger for what I just did. I then heard a deep, resonant hissing sound, then pointed a bony finger at me and said, Keeppppppppppp quiettttttttt! His intimidating gesture and sustained response shocked me, but the hissing sound he made that preceded the words was, even more, alarming. The brief silence that ensued was followed by a snarl or what sounded like an animal’s snarl. Afterward, he faced the road again and I climbed into myself as far as I could, merely to try and hide from him. The fairly straight segment of road we were on also reminded me of a ribbon, for there were many curves he negotiated, and I had the impression we were losing altitude.
Now that the menacing driver was busy negotiating the numerous turns, I thought to myself, My God, did I just hear what I think I heard––hissing and snarling? And he did tell me to keep quiet, didn’t he? Or did I imagine he said anything or made those hideous and unnerving sounds? I didn’t even see his mouth moving. Now that I think about it, maybe he communicated with me telepathically. Who the fuck is this driver, if he or it is even human?
I waited for a response to those frantic and direct questions but there were no answers. If he would have said something else––anything in the way of an afterthought or another directive, then I could be certain what I heard was not imagined. But he remained silent; turning the steering wheel left, then right, and repeating the changing direction and sequence. If I thought the suspense was heightened before our brief exchange of conversation such that it was, now it was worse, far worse because I, apparently, pissed the driver off and I didn’t have the words or the courage to apologize or make peace with him.
Make peace with him? I shouted inwardly; peace with this thing that just threatened me? I think I just awakened a sleeping dragon, only this dragon is human; at least, I assume that’s what he or it is. He also communicated his threat and umbrage by words; also terrifying sounds no human would utter. Pausing, and not knowing what to do at that point, I responded to the monologue, I need to get the hell out of this death trap he’s driving. Yes, but the two-part question is how and when do I escape?
Hearing those instructions, I realized both the challenge and the peril. Thus, opening the door, then exiting the vehicle. Whereas before he drove much faster, I would have been injured or killed had I tried to escape. However, on this stretch of road, he’s driving slower and I would have a better chance of avoiding either penalty. I was also certain he wouldn’t stop and let me out if I made that request. Therefore, making a fast departure was my only chance to do what had to be done.
Unsure if it was the smart or dumb move to make, I searched fora door lock pull knob just below the window but didn’t find it. Then I felt lower for a door handle, keeping my eyes on the driver and prepared to do whatever next might happen. Finding the lever, I pressed downward but didn’t lean into the door to try and open it. For one thing, I wasn’t sure if the door was locked or unlocked and I wanted to be especially furtive if he sensed what I was up to, then suddenly reached out and grabbed me. Hesitant to do what I thought was my only choice and chance, I leaned on the door. To my dismay, it wouldn’t open. Leaning harder, I took another chance and used my upper body to ram and force the door open. It still wouldn’t open. I pleaded with myself, Unlock the fucking door and take a chance, come way may. I reached for the door handle, yanked it up then downward, but the door still would not open. “Damn it to hell,” I cursed and whispered. I then thought to myself, The lever moves but that’s all it does––moves up and down. Now I’m screwed. I’ll bet he already knows what I’m trying to do. There must be something on his side of the car that prevents me from opening this damn door. Shit! Nothing’s going right for me. Nothing!
All of a sudden I felt a dam of emotions break and I was about to explode and curse the stranger for keeping me captive in his locked vehicle, but then I heard the voice again. . .his ominous voice. This time, it was an external voice loud in my ears. He bellowed, “Youuuuuuuu cannnnnnn nottttttt escapeeeeeeee!” His hissing and drawn out tone of voice was, once again, followed by a sustained snarl.
Jerking my head to the left, I shouted back, “You mean I’m your prisoner? Is that it? Well, goddamn you. . .whatever you are. Who do you think you are and why am I your captive. I demand you tell me and where you are taking me, you evil bastard; your curse among the living.
“Beeeeeee quuuuietttttttttt! Sitttttttttt stilllllll!” As a response, that’s all he said and it was enough to get my attention.
I was about to ask if he knew my name all he said to me when he added to his curt directive,“Spiritus Mortuorum, but you have no name. Not anymore!”
It was obvious he must have known this name and may have learned it by probing my mind. I couldn’t be sure one way or the other. One thing that I was sure of: this morbid journey was preposterous beyond belief. I thought I had a name––Spiritus Mortuorum––by the driver said it wasn’t my name. Worse than this declaration, he said or claimed I didn’t have a name. And did he mean he didn’t know my name or I had lost my name? I thought to myself, How in the hell does a person lose his name? It was another rhetorical question, though, nonetheless, important to me. In fact, vitally important. Moreover, I still could not tap into any personal history associated with my past, much less being cognizant of that singular designation––Spiritus Mortuorum. The somber thought I dwelled on was the fact the driver likely knew more than he let on, and particularly, everything about me that I had obviously forgotten.
Whether he really was an actor or someone genuine and dreadful in all respects, I supposed I had just discovered part of what I didn’t feel good about knowing. It was also abundantly clear that I was his captive, and, for all I knew, this creepy stranger in my midst might turn out to be my executioner.
Apprehensive and anxious dealing with too many possibilities at once, I began to sob and whispered, “My God, this can’t be happening. Why is this happening?” Pausing, I added, “Please help me, God! Please, please help me angels, saints, and Hail Mary. Protect me from evil and this man or monster across from me.”
After that feigned invocation, the driver looked at me, hissed, and declared, “Noooooo oneeeeeeeeee cannnnnnnn helppppppppp youuuuuuuuuu nowwwwwwwwww. Nottttttttttt evvvvvveeeennnn Goddddddd!”
After that challenging and forthwith address, my felt faint and utterly helpless, even more than I already was. I could scarcely believe what he expressed so empathically. Ironically, his stern, cold admonition was like a surging fire that burned inside me. This malevolent presence across from me was surely no actor, and this entire scenario from the start to the present was no prank.
Compounding my concerns was the mental stupor I was in, which made me feel more desperate and exhausted. It seemed as though I could sleep for centuries, yet my thoughts racked my brain while my body slowly drained energy. Even worse, the aura of prana was immediately subdued.
“Prana,” I whispered; “I know this word but can’t remember its meaning or purpose. Now there are too many possibilities that might have triggered an apocalyptic physical and cognitive incident, by which all else has followed. Apocalyptic? Did I just say ‘apocalyptic?’ Yes, but what was intrinsic cause? I don’t know. But I do know somehow my mind and soul were eclipsed, leaving me––a mortal under Heaven’s errant eye––trying to win back my life. It’s as though I had lost it. . .wait, what the hell am I saying? How do I lose something I can’t remember having? This is sure some bizarre shit I’m dealing with, not to mention my fiendish, outspoken, and wiseass arch enemy harassing me. And was it a mini-stroke that began this astonishing caper? Inebriation? What about carbon monoxide? Who can say? Maybe he can but I don’t think this possessed demon is going to admit anything much less provide a credible explanation. Then again, what if my presumed captor has some strange power over me, like he hypnotized me or something? What if he intends to harm me when we get to wherever he’s taking me? What if. . .what if. . .what if, and so what? All I have are questions begetting more questions. He or someone has the answers, and certainly not me.”
Presented with those funeral thoughts, I dropped my personal and troublesome load of worries and concentrated solely on the driver. Namely, I wondered if he was less than a chauffeur and more the case a bailiff. Consequently, I was seized against my will and being delivered to a judge or maybe an executioner. Given this new direction of thought, each question and scenario that came to me only got worse. Thus, more depressed and more confused. It was also true I was beseeched with numerous questions and concerns, and yet there was no relief given anything I thought might or might not be the case. What’s more, there was too much speculation that continued seeping from my tormented mind. In fact, there were still so many missing pieces to this confounded and compounded conundrum, by now I was too fatigued to do anything other than shut the hell up and face the consequences, regardless the peril.
“Regardless the peril,” I said in a low tone of voice; “fuck that. I’m not a lamb about to be slaughtered. I protest everything and I plead innocence based on the fact I have no memory of anything prior to waking up and confronted by horror and perdition. If I am accused of something that put me here in the first place, then I have the right to know what the charges are.”
Daring to turn and face the driver again, and with my upper body still hard against the door, this time, I wanted him to know how pissed off I was, despite the fact I was equally powerless to avoid the torment. I needed him to think I had some kind of an edge. Of course, I really didn’t have an edge. Still, it was time for me to try and be more proactive. Therefore, assuming the role of an invigorated thespian in a maddening scenario. That scenario also made me think of a classic literature book about someone named, Dante, faced with the nine circles of Hell. Either I was making everything up as I went along, or remnants of memories were indeed coming back to me, yet without the full and beneficial context of a more complete narrative. But none of this reasoning essentially mattered there and then because I knew it was time to take back the power I had given away. Still, the high drama and anguish I was forced to deal with bolstered my spirits to do just that––recoup what I had lost or was taken from me.
After that private rumination, I heard a distinct sound of laughter––sinister and mocking laughter––that saturated my mind. I sensed what I heard or thought I heard was intended to deride me. Then the driver turned his large head and stared at me. Finally, I knew his capabilities. “Oh my God, he really can hear everything I’m saying. How can he do this? Tell me it isn’t so. Please tell me he can’t possibly fathom what I’m saying and thinking.”
The only thing I heard following that outburst was a repeat of the sinister sound of derision and wicked laughter. When the silence in my head returned, this inscrutable stranger who controlled both the vehicle and my fate didn’t say another word. Turning my face the other way, my hands touched the cold window. I could only peer into the darkness and wonder how to conceal my thoughts, then continue my plans to get away from this riveting madness. The worst of these pensive and desperate rumination was the fact I could no longer deny what was happening, much less comprehend why. However, through no fault of my own I was a victim; at least, I surmised I was not at fault. If anything, I had little or no chance to escape my captor; at least, not at this point. A growing sense of dementia merely added to my pessimistic outlook.
Most assuredly, I was on a bad road traveling with a sinister stranger driving an oversized behemoth that would end up delivering me to a godless destination. Now I was convinced this cheerless and gloomy outcome would happen, just as I described. This forecast I contemplated was also an imperfect match for a tormenting ride into a portentous night that was so pervasive its impenetrable shroud even denied the cosmos a single pinpoint of starlight to shine through much less a sliver of moonlight.
☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎
(to be continued next week)
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