House on Darque Hill Enigma 5
A Psychological, Existential Thriller & Mystery
Richard Kerry Holtzin
Backstory: The 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.) Feel free to add any comments whatsoever, including grammar tips (which I have not edited this draft for such). Instead, the draft is the last one that I wrote before editing. Now, of course, maybe the commentator will make such suggestions. Sure would be helpful!
AN IMMINENT CRASH?
"Never was anything great achieved without danger."
Given an impending and expedient opportunity to flee from the driver who insanely drove us to Dark Hill without a concern for his or my safety, I came to the rash conclusion the only chance I had to make good a getaway was not only a passenger in a crash, but also surviving the mishap. His injuries would also have to warrant serious injury, and, therefore, an inability to chase after me. Immediately after that momentous thought and option came to me, I had to find a way to survive, or, at least, sustain minimal injuries. Without safety restraints of any kind installed in the vehicle, the probability of being ejected through a glass window was high, and, therefore, the consequence of death or serious injury. If the vehicle flipped end over end or rolled over, ejection was also possible, but so was being crushed inside the vehicle.
Addressing these aberrant thoughts, I whispered, Then I’m fucked. We’re both fucked. Why does it seem everything is against me, even when I think I might have found a way out of this goddamn lunacy? Yes, that's true, but doing nothing about anything is the oxymoron to try and solve, yes? Even failure given the attempt is success in its own way, yes? Well, then, stand up for myself and do something because it’s sure as hell better than doing nothing. Think, then act. And maybe some good luck to boot!
Sensing good luck had nothing to do with my taut situation, nervously, I stared at the driver. I wondered what he thought about what I conceived as yet another desperate means to escape. Since my consummate cynicism was stronger than a serious lack of optimism, it would require more than hope or a miracle to survive a crash given the usual accelerated speed he drove. I would, therefore, have to wait until he slowed down or altogether stopped. Since the door was locked, I had to execute my getaway only if he got out, then opened the door and removed me from the vehicle. But could I surprise and overpower the driver turned assailant and flee? Even if the driver did stop and prepared to do his worst, I quickly decided against a potential confrontation. Surprise simply was not within my purview to think I had a slim opportunity to outwit the driver.
To my disbelief, the vehicle did, in fact, begin to slow down. I wasn’t certain why this happened, other than the driver was about to do the unthinkable and teach me a lesson. Ergo, he picked up my imaginary and last chance gauntlet and I was about to be violated.
First, he downshifted into second gear and I lunged forward to brace myself on the dashboard. Anticipating the vehicle might soon come to a complete stop, the driver was going to physically demonstrate the mental powers he possessed. Possibly, he might harm me in such a way I could not conceive of another opportunity to flee. I sized him up again and considered if I could defend myself. In a nanosecond, I sensed I would fail. Still, I might have a slight edge if I suddenly lashed out and caused a meditated distraction that might buy me a few seconds to make my getaway; that is, if he got out of the vehicle, then opened my door and pounced on me.
Panic abruptly and forthwith set in. I said to myself, I called down the thunder and now it’s do or die. I then heard the gears grind as the driver downshifted again. The vehicle was now in first gear. Anticipating we were about to stop, the tenseness I felt was insurmountable. Part of me didn’t know what to expect while part of me did. Still, I was afraid to admit what I suspected would be a probable outcome, even though I had already accepted the likelihood of a showdown once we stopped. I heard the words in my head, Angels of mercy protect me. Why can’t you hear me? Why doesn’t someone help me in my hour of need?
Just ahead, and directly in the beam of the headlights, I saw where the road came to what seemed a dead-end. The vehicle slowly rolled forward. I pleaded with myself again, Are we here––Dark Hill? Then the end was nearer than I thought. Oh, what did I do to deserve this punishment––this unspeakable torment and horror? Why is this happening to me? Am I to die at the hands of an assailant without knowing what transgressions I made to deserve such a fate? Is there nothing or no one who can help me? Can’t I even help myself? Realizing I had previously made similar statements and protest, now that death was closer my frantic pleas were more imperative.
My heart beat like a tympani, whatever that was. The cadence was erratic and I didn’t know if the pounding in my chest could endure such unbounded hysteria and the impending violence that I sensed was about to be unleashed. Chaos had erupted and internal alarms went off, thereby affecting accelerated neurotransmitters. Consequently, my blood pressure increased. All this medical analysis put me into the frenzy of a flight or fight response. If it wasn’t for an unwavering diagnostic focus throughout this entire unpleasant experience, I might have easily gone out of my mind. Somehow, all along the key to my survival had something to do with both my cognitive abilities transmitting notions that sometimes made sense to me, but mostly cryptic data. Perhaps it was also an inherent will to survive, despite the odds of maintaining my existence.
Reaching for the door handle again, and still trying to find and lift the door lock pull knob that’s usually where the recess of the window begins, not finding it I yanked down hard on the lever. But the door still would not budge. I could not escape; at least, not from this side of the vehicle. In desperation, I looked and searched behind me and thought I might leap over the seat, then exit out the back. If so, I had to do it before the vehicle came to a complete stop, which it almost did. But then the engine suddenly revved, followed by a loud metallic grinding issuing from the transmission. When the driver shifted into an even lower gear, the noise sounded as though the transmission might come apart at any second. He was obviously clumsy working the clutch. I prepared myself for the worst while assessing the driver’s lack of driving skills and knowledge about engines, clutches, and transmissions. More to the point and reality of circumstances I faced, I knew I would have to fight him, even though I barely had any strength to engage my captor in such combat.
To my great surprise, however, the dead-end I thought was ahead was not to be the case, for the road had nearly turned back on itself. I watched as he negotiated a sharp curve that began on a steep incline. The vehicle jerked violently when he let out the clutch too soon. I thought we might stall at any instant and hurl over the side but the transmission held and the engine didn’t quit. Its whine protested as the incline rapidly increased. Apparently, we weren’t stopping as I had thought. Instead, we were soon at the base of a hill, perhaps a mountain, and were about to tackle another segment of a dangerous road that hadn’t been maintained for many years.
Whatever fate awaited me, it wasn’t to be decided here and now as I had anticipated. My heart and respiration rate slowed considerably, although the apprehension I felt remained on high alert. I was still a prisoner in the stranger’s vehicle and I could not escape even at the slow speed we were traveling. Therefore, the danger existed and I remained a forlorn hostage in a menacing drama that made no senses whatsoever, except for the fact what had thus far transpired was dramatic and frightful.
☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎
At the bottom of the incline, the driver raced the engine and I felt the rear of the vehicle fishtail around a tight bend in the road. This segment was the lower part of a continuing S-curves connected to the upper segment. The blare of the engine’s rpms steadily increased. Shifting out of the granny gear and into first gear, then into second gear, abruptly, the speed increased. Besides the continuing indifference to apparent dangers the winding road posed, the driver continued his mission and our combined journey. In places, the roadbed vanished in front us as the headlights illuminated a screen of dark, empty space. I slid toward the driver and tried to keep from touching him. He muscled the steering wheel as the rutted thoroughfare dog-legged to the left, then instantly back to the right.
But the bottomland we were on soon changed to a topography of more switchbacks. I heard the distinct sound of tires losing traction, followed by sliding, then made contact with the hard pavement again. I cursed out loud and exclaimed, “Mister, we’re climbing again. You’re actually going to try and scale another mountain pass and negotiate a zigzag course with this oversized heap you’re manhandling? Are you deliberately trying to intimidate me? Well, you’re doing just that. And what if. . .”
But I couldn’t complete the sentence. I had had enough of the What if? scenarios. Still there was something here to worry about because the road was narrower compared to the other stretch we were on. The two segments obviously were separated by a deep ravine. Although I couldn’t see the drop-off on his or my side of the road, and depending on which switchback we were on, I got the sense this next series of switchbacks were carved into a much steeper flank of mountainous topography. If the driver missed any one of these turns, we would be launched into empty space, then fall an indeterminate distance to the bottom. As chilled as I was, I felt perspiration on my forehead.
Clinging to the seat and door handle, I waited and watched in panic, anticipating a quick end to the mounting climax. Turning the steering wheel hard in the direction of the turn, the driver downshifted from second to first gear, then back to second gear while trying to maintain traction on the loose dirt surface. In places, I felt the vehicle slide backward, then regain momentum before the wheels slipped again. Steadily gaining elevation, and the switchbacks now shorter, he continued negotiating the demanding and precipitous incline. Monitoring the racket of the strained engine protesting every inch the vehicle gained, the thought crossed my mind maybe we were, in fact, approaching the summit of Dark Hill. But if it was a hill, then applying this description was a misnomer.
Given the severity of the lengthy incline, as well as the frequent dog-legged switchbacks leading to the the summit, I said out loud, “Guanella Pass; we’re on Guanella Pass and heading toward Georgetown.” As expected, the driver didn’t want to confide anything and said nothing. But I did and murmured, “Has to be. Why would I even think of this pass and hamlet in the Rockies?”
By now, we had gained appreciable elevation in a relatively short distance, which described the connecting switchbacks from the bottom to the top of the summit. I could only imagine how far it was to the bottom. If ever there was a time and place to suddenly careen over the edge, this was surely the place. But the driver kept going. He cared nothing for the nerve-racking sound of the chassis pounding against the pavement, or how the transmission protested, or what was happening to the differential, or if the engine might seize at any instant. Still, the metallic sounds I heard from the strained engine were telltale signs something had to give sooner or later. Either the mechanics of the vehicle would altogether fail or the physics of centripetal force would lay down the final trump card and seal our fate.
There was something else that startled me: up this high the roadbed was not only deteriorated in some segments, but also littered with scattered small tree branches, as well as chunks of rocks. Driving over this debris could easily cause a blowout, which would hurtle us over the edge. Plummeting into the abyss of darkness, the vehicle would fragment into pieces, instantly killing both of us. At the very least, driving over a small or large rock might also damage the oil pan. Consequently, an immediate loss of oil pressure that would disable our laboring transport.
No sooner did this discouraging analysis come to mind when I heard an explosive racket below my feet. Glancing at the instrumental panel, I expected to see a red light appear at any second. Somehow the engine maintained its mechanics and hydraulic fluids, cranking out every rpm it could produce. Given the severity of the gradient, I wasn’t sure if this was good or bad news, mostly because if the vehicle failed in the attempt to reach the high summit, then we would have to abandon it, leaving both of us stranded. But then what would the driver do to me? I could only speculate. However, the chief concern remained: hurtling over the edge would denote the final act to this freakish encounter with the equally freakish driver.
With a deliberate impatient tone of voice, and meant to snare his attention, I called out, “Mister, why are you driving like a maniac? Look what you’re doing to this contraption we’re riding in? I don’t have to remind you of the chances and consequences you’re taking.” Still, nothing I said seemed to get through much less garner an acknowledgement. But then I murmured, “Wait a minute. . .RK Alleman? Guanella Pass? Did I just mention Guanella Pass? And who in the hell is RK Alleman?”
It was the first reference to what sounded like someone’s moniker; also, the second reference to a locale I previously mentioned––Georgetown. Nevertheless, I had no idea who RK Alleman was or a geographical reference for Guanella Pass. Perhaps we weren’t close to Dark Hill as I previously assumed. Despite my latest remonstration expressed to the driver to heed my warnings, we were still on a mountain road and pass whose route led up to the other side, then continued on the other side to some other unknown sector. These latest fragments of information that I snagged from my subconscious would likely turn more revealing when other associative fragments also circulated. Meanwhile, the next question I asked myself was conspicuous as it was telling: Will this behemoth of metal and glass even make it to the summit?
At this point, maintaining traction was even more difficult. Slipping out of first gear and into the lowest granny gear, the driver pressed on. Despite the fact the laboring engine hesitated, as though it was about to stall, he was not about to quit. Approaching a seeming tunnel without a roof, the road considerably narrowed between a flank of tall ponderosa pine trees and the wheels could not maintain their respective purchase. The grade was also so steep the vehicle practically crawled up and through the makeshift canyon growth on either side of the road. Whereas before gravity and centripetal force maintained the vehicle’s traction, at this junction I noticed the driver struggled not only to gain the last few yards of elevation, but also keep the engine running. Still, I expected the transmission and clutch were failing. I also thought I saw a wisp of white smoke emit from beneath the hood.
By now, the forward momentum was nearly canceled and the wheels spun crazily beneath the chassis, causing the rear of the vehicle to sway left and right. Wanting to do something that might help get us to the summit, I rocked forward and backward. Continuing to inch toward, where the headlight beams melded with the darkness I saw what appeared to be the terminus of the road––a black void.
“Mister, maybe the other side of the summit looks like empty space. Maybe the summit leads to a cliff and the road surely ends here.”
Not concerned if he heard me or not, much less acknowledged the imminent danger, I clasped my hands on either side of my face. Not knowing why I made this gesture, I felt the vehicle straining and slipping, then gaining mere inches. “This is it, mister. We’re about to plunge over the cliff. You ass. I warned you. I WARNED YOU this might happen!”
Besides the daunting challenge of a steeply-angled road, there was another danger I thought about: What was the likelihood of our transport flipping backward? Thus, the physics of basic gravity working against the driver’s insane aggression to reach the summit. The laboring engine also sounded like it was about to seize at any second. Unexpectedly, the angle of the gradient suddenly diminished. The tires regained traction and I sensed immediate relief. Ensuing, the driver shifted into a higher gear and the rpms increased. The jolting ride continued but, at least, the road had leveled of. We had crossed the summit and our respective journeys continued. But I wasn’t about to congratulate the driver for his adamant determination to succeed in this quest and phase of his mission. I only felt grateful that we made it this far.
Before long, the quick elevation gained on that side of the mountainous landmark would be lost once the switchbacks on this side were encountered. Apparently, Dark Hill was somewhere ahead. I took note of the fact we were higher in the atmosphere, yet enshrouded by unrelenting darkness. Thus, no celestial objects and no clouds that I could discern. Nevertheless, the unknown remained the unknown. Namely, the obscure rationale predicated on the uninterrupted escapade fraught with foreboding and secrecy.
Angling my body toward the driver, I silently cursed him under my breath. Regardless what he thought of his life and welfare, he had put my life in danger given that conquest. How our transport still functioned I couldn’t say. Perhaps more amazing was the engine and transmission were not damaged. Neither was there a blowout. Still, I wanted to lambaste the driver for his recklessness and impudence for putting me through the strain of this horrendous ordeal. Telling myself that it was a perilous and precipitous ascent did not do justice describing the road’s neglected surface and the sheer incline up the face of the mountain, then presumably at the crest of Guanella Pass.
Presented with everything that had transpired thus far, my inquisitiveness about this perplexing affair somehow maintained my awareness. Thus, consciousness based upon minimal and teasing circumstances without a complete recollection of details. Moreover, I had already speculated on numerous scenarios that might explain why I was an unwilling detainee (and perhaps a hostage) in the driver’s vehicle. However, the sobering truth was that fact I had idea how and where he found me, much less the grounds for chauffeuring me to Dark Hill, ostensibly via Guanella Pass.
All things considered, and given the conquest of the mountain summit episode, my life was spared, as was the driver’s. Nonetheless, my plight continued as before, only we were higher in the atmosphere and still enshrouded by a vacuum of darkness and mystery. Sensing I thought this notion before, it seemed I was between two different worlds but could not remember the light and awareness of the previous world.
☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎
(to be continued next week)
The reader is invited to edit or make a commentary or both. Feel free to express yourself! I will address the remarks and consider any recommendations that are made. Gracias!