House On Darque Hill Enigma 7
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!
FIRST VIEW OF DARK HILL
"We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it opposes."
Half-asleep or half-awake, I was still stymied by the inability to retrieve what I searched for in my past. Likely, this neurocognitive quest was the primary motive the ongoing psychological drama was leading to––finding the lost or misplaced master key to my locked past. Another queer aspect was how I seemed to be pitted against myself, as well as a stern adversary who controlled our mutual confrontation. All things considered, I was cast into an arena in the guise of a vintage vehicle and given just so much to work with while the rest I had to try and figure out for myself.
Presented with this oddity of presumed perception, to some extent, I expected the driver might acknowledge my latest solitary deliberations. In fact, this time, I welcomed hearing what he had to say because his sentiments would confirm my suspicions, even though I was still his captive. But there was no such announcement or confirmation heard. The brash driver’s intention was meant to continually confound and control me, and with one objective: deliver his disinclined detainee to Dark Hill––dead or alive. As for the alleged Dark Hill destination, it might very well turn out to be both a prison and a place. Hence, no an infirmary, much less my home.
Something attracted my attention and dispersed the combined concerns that consumed. Thus, a welcomed detraction from self-condemnation and discouragement. The vacuous and banal scenery that defined this sector’s environs we drove through underwent a seeming metamorphosis. Notably, it wasn’t the headlights that altered the tedium of a miserable and immutable view beyond the windows. Instead, it was the natural world––flora minus the fauna. Near the edge of the road on either side clusters of bushes and bantam-sized trees appeared. Gradually, the assembly of mixed foliage got more dense whose emerging biotic community was a welcomed sight, indeed.
Sitting up straighter, I relished and observed these lifeforms with keen interest, and for a good reason. Namely, instead of the endless darkness and uninspiring vacuum of space that had betrayed very few landmark features since I first awoke, the collective of the biotic gathering that defined this region’s ecosystem altered the mundane to somewhat fanciful. Whether the ecosystem was temporary or permanent, I felt grateful for what my eyes seemed ravenous to devour, simply as a pleasing environmental modification. Furthermore, it appeared we had started across a chaparral environs punctuated with quintessential Arizona or New Mexico desertscrub. What reference I implied making this connection, I couldn’t say. Nevertheless, that backdrop still represented was a remote terrain. At the very least, what I was somewhat comforted seeing was less dismal than before. I also thought it odd how simple lifeforms, like bushes and bantam trees, reminded me of a naturalist’s axiom based on neurobiology: humans, animals, and plants are all interrelated, at least, at some level. Notably, sharing digestive similarities––microbiological similarities––each sustaining micro colonies that, in turn, sustain each life form. Therefore, increasing collaborations corresponding to the nature of plant intelligence.
Audibly, I responded to this supportive feedback and wanted the driver to hear, “Did you know from a spiritual perspective, these plants and trees we’re seeing on the side of the road can be viewed as the ultimate alliance for humans because all life forms––even you––are part of a spiritual ecosystem where matter and form co-exist. Moreover, within this co-existence, the environment is an integral part of leading a holistic and balanced life.”
Pausing to hear what he might say as added commentary or mockery, he merely turned his head toward me, then faced the road again. I sensed his usual scornful countenance and irritating silence that sufficed as an ill-mannered response. I then added, “Of course, some of us really aren’t humans but are monsters in disguise. And you know what they say: if the shoe fits, wear it!”
Despite what the driver likely heard telepathically, again there was no verbal response. Still, I was motivated by those concepts and that’s why I recited out loud to the indifferent and daft driver. It was as though I had once been an actor on the stage, addressing an audience. Thus, another possible clue to my former multifaceted background.
Glancing upward, I noticed another welcomed change of view: an eyeful of starry points flickering in the immensity of a sable night sky. To the left, the pale face of a waning moon drifted in and out of rough-looking clouds. Presented with this agreeable tapestry of the cosmos, I concluded both the terrestrial and celestial changes were proof enough I was still on this side of death’s door, and, therefore, above the grass and breathing. Beyond that, I wasn’t about to think my chances of surviving this excursion were any better than before. Then again, I didn’t feel so alienated from myself or from the world of other sentient beings (besides the driver, of course). In my favor, imagined or otherwise, I may have just found my way back the dark side of the moon.
Those heavenly broken clouds were of particular interest to me. Each appeared to merge into a larger assembly and I pondered the possibility of a storm that might eventually develop. Glancing down toward horizon and beyond the point where the headlights could not penetrate, I noticed a flicker of light, but only for an instant. It was difficult to ascertain what that anomaly was, as a fixture, and I focused my attention on whatever might show itself again and didn’t blink for fear of missing whatever it was. After a moment or two had passed, I saw nothing more of that puzzling beacon of light, if that’s what it was.
Once more, I looked up at the blue-black outline of the cloud assembly. Vectoring from left-to-right, cloud segments rushed toward the greater mass, as though by a preplanned objective. The driver was more or less headed in that direction and I wondered what he would do if a storm unleashed. Accordingly, would he slow down? For this excuse, alone, I welcomed a deluge and a plan I hastily conceived: slowing down I had a better chance to leap from the vehicle with little or no injury, that is, if I could force the door open. If successful, all I had to do was run as fast as I could and hide somewhere before the driver caught up and dragged me back to his mobile prison.
The usual frequent bumps and potholes lining the road affected the vehicle’s suspension, which, in turn, the protest was, especially, hard on the shocks and struts. Tuning in the different squeaking noises issuing below the chassis, worn ball joints and bushings added up to the same problems I wondered and worried about earlier. Namely, the driver drove too fast on the seriously neglected roadbed. The rhythm of the thumping wheels seemed to mimic a metronome set to allegro. Not sure what I knew about ball joints or bushings or a metronome, but I assumed ‘allegro’ inferred fast. And that adjective perfectly described the accelerated rate of speed as the vehicle raced down the road.
“Mister, for the third or fourth time, I’m asking you to please slow the fuck down. Are you on a time schedule or something, you crazy bastard? SLOW DOWN, I say.” This time, I didn’t expect a reply nor did I get one. Possibly, the only relative consolation I felt was the fact the road remained relatively stretch.
Sitting back in the seat and anchoring my body by extending both arms and bracing against the dashboard, I resumed my watch on the suspended celestial canopy. I thought it odd how the clouds, a partial face of the moon, and a relative few stars made a slight and favorable difference in my, otherwise, prevailing unsmiling attitude. Nevertheless, I was interested in near and far view and thought maybe there was another clue waiting for me to see and discern. Traveling on the ground and crossing any chaparral or desert, it was an immense country we drove through and I could easily get lost if I did escape and was willing to take my chances with nature rather than with the driver. However, with a thoroughfare, like this backcountry route we followed, I could backtrack and maybe find my way to wherever this bizarre odyssey started. At the very least, I might find my way to the luminous satellite town or small city that denoted the first glimpse of civilization somewhere in the distance. The relevant question I then asked myself was divided into two parts: Could I find my way in the dark and could I survive the night if a storm suddenly broke? But I was already chilled to the bone and running the risk of hypothermia, by exposure to rain, would likely be my undoing. Another thought quickly followed in the form of an intimidating challenge––What if I got lost and couldn’t find my way anywhere in this damn dismal darkness? Remember: the stranger who never even told me his name, much less the purpose of hauling my ass cross country, knows this terrain and I don’t. If I escaped and he pursued me, then he would be quick to find me. Ergo, I would have to go somewhere far away and off the beaten path and try to elude him. Yes, that’s a given. But where could I go in this flat and raging topography?
Just ahead, I saw a fork in the road. My exigent homily and concerns should I make good my getaway instantly halted. Leaning closer to the dashboard, I wondered which way he would go. Pondering the situation, I whispered, “So, my tightlipped friend, there’s one road, one fork, and two different ways. I suspect you know which fork to take?” Then to myself, I assed, For me, I better remember this place, especially if I find my way back here and continue from here to wherever I’m going.
So far, there was only this thoroughfare we traveled. A single-track bad road and occasional switchbacks the driver raced up like a banshee, and nearly as fast going the other way. I sat straighter and studied the view ahead, waiting to see what next would transpire. There was also something else that I saw that riveted my attention––a road sign. Just as we got closer, I attempt to read the signage but the print was too small and faded. Moreover, he drove too fast for me to read most of the words. Nevertheless, I thought I saw the letters D A N E above whatever else was written on the sign. For all I knew, the sign announced a township or a county we had entered. If so, it was likely we were approaching the outskirts of some municipality. Perhaps it was also a mileage marker to the next village, D A N space followed by the letter, E, then another missing letter. I chastised myself for not identifying all the letters and wondered if I should ask the driver. I psyched myself to do just that, when he abruptly turned to the vehicle to the left, and executed with a fishtail skin in the opposite direction.
For whatever reason, we had left the main road and assumed it was just that. We were now driving down a branch road of sorts, which was in worst shape than the previous route we followed to this sector of the outback. The only benefit was the driver slowed down. What what I could tell, the track looked more like a footpath than a road. Risking the driver’s wrath again, I asked, “Is this even a thruway, mister?” No answer. Forming a high crown in the middle and deeply furrowed on either side, he centered the vehicle but occasionally slipped into one or the other ruts, tilting the vehicle left or right. Both twin scars defined the somewhat sinuous track ahead. Where this branch road led didn’t so much matter to me, but I trusted the driver knew where he was going. Still, I was more curious where the main road headed. Something made me think its hard-packed dirt surface eventually merged with a paved road, similar to U.S. Forest Service roads through forests and backcountry that extend toward urban or rural areas.
“U.S. Forest Service road?” I blurted out without regard to the driver hearing what I said. “Now, what to I know about this service? Yet another inkling of my past, is it? Well, right now I’d give anything to know something worthwhile about my future.” Pausing, I turned and asked, “I don’t suppose you would know anything about that, would you?”
He was having difficulty keeping the vehicle centered and I was glad he looked straight ahead and concentrated on where he was going.
Eager to know the direction we were headed, and since there were no trees in this sector, I glanced up at the sky and remembered something about Polaris. Namely, its importance in the night sky as a reliable stellar compass. Trying to recall the specific details, however, was like everything else that affected my lapse of memory. Then it came to me: Yes, now I remember. Polaris is the North Star; a beacon of light, as in a direction finder in that direction. But which one of those stars points north?
Viewing the cosmic geometry above me, as a changing arrangement or pattern of stars it was one thing to find a referenced stationary point, but quite another to identify a specific configuration of corresponding signature constellations or asterisms. In short, I searched for an identifiable shape and collective of stars relative to Polaris’ beacon. Searching that seeming However, studying that concave umbrella of twinkling lights, I recognized no known pattern of stars grouped in a specific arrangement. I was indeed disoriented and lost in both the terrestrial plane, as well as the heavens. I muttered, "If Polaris is shinning up there, then the driver has to be headed north. The problem is anyone of those flickering points might be the direction finder I’m looking for. Fine, but does Captain Kirk know because I sure as hell don’t?”
Whoever Captain Kirk was, something else that I noticed since the driver turned onto this secondary route was the increasing velocity of wind in this direction. Regarding its hum and oscillating frequency, these variable sounds turned my attention away from the night sky. Instead, I focused on a transfixed audible report that sounded like a voice or a murmur that called to me from some distant place. Tempted to ask the driver if he heard anything unusual I decided not to bother him. Evidently, he was having difficulty through this demanding stretch of road such that it even was a road. Besides, the last thing I wanted to do was end up in his lap or hurled to the floor if he failed in the attempt.
When I thought the backcountry track we were on couldn’t get any worse, it straightaway did just that. There were frequent stretches overgrown with shrubs and other undergrowth such as vines and exposed roots. At times, it seemed we might abruptly plow into larger shrubbery, perhaps even stunted trees. Hence, an overgrown rough surface that was more like a footpath vectoring through the woods, instead of a thruway traversing open terrain.
In the distance, I observed something that instantly attracted my attention and took lessened my concern given the immediate hazard we both faced: the stark outline of a structure silhouetted in moonlight and shadow. The anomaly was there for only a few seconds, but given its size it resembled a mansion or perhaps a castle. Then, whatever it was, faded from view. Presented with my heightened state of imagination, it seemed that engaging edifice was captured in the light because it wanted me to see it.
Immediately after that eccentric notion passed, I questioned my ludicrous reaction, murmuring, Yeah, right. As if someone built a house or a mansion way out in the middle of fucking nowhere! Still, I looked in that general direction, searching for the telltale outline of whatever it was that snared my attention, and perhaps renewed my faith I was part of civilization by way of being near someone’s residence. I even thought the driver might be taking me to that setting and structure.
Sitting back in the seat while rubbing my eyes, I faced another mental conflict. Thus, was that structure real or fantasy induced by my tired and tricky state of mind? Moreover, was I kidding myself about the driver taking me there? Still waiting for the image to show itself again, I regarded a sliver of moonlight peeking through a vertical crack formed by clouds steadily closing on its lunar shine, and then the backlighted profile of the house suddenly appeared again. This time, I acknowledged and welcomed what I beheld in the distance. I also identified the classification of clouds that were forming in that sector––cumulus. Thus, potential harbingers of rain. The cloud cover was not only getting lower, but converging more quickly. I also noticed the lunar orb was nearly ensconced by that gathering mass composed of drops of water or ice crystals. Nevertheless, what I briefly saw left a lasting impression on my senses. Thus, raising the ante on the inquisitiveness that brought me back to the original question I entertained when I opened my eyes and realized I was in some stranger’s vehicle. Still riding in his transport, and traveling through a veritable wasteland, the conundrum ‘which is more real––the waking or the dream?’ was not entirely solved and satisfied. Now, however, there was that structure I saw earlier and a new conundrum was added. Namely, did it have anything to do with Dark Hill? If so, why was he driving his tank-like vehicle on this outland spur that seemed to get farther from where I first saw that looming edifice in the distance?
Hoping to catch another view, if only to confirm the sighting again, the lunar shine was now thoroughly absorbed by cloud cover and the inky darkness had returned.
I thought to myself, Well, no matter. Besides, what’s important is analysis that might generate more awareness about the house. Namely, what do I know about that place and setting that I obviously don’t recall just now? The way my tired mind feeds me these teasing morsels or suggestive images is like I’m allowed only so much review of my past, yet without context. In other words, I remember something about Polaris but not associative subject matter, much less why I know such things about the cosmos. The same can be said about my displaced personal history: mere tempting tidbits, sort of like a frame of a painting, yet without the painting.
From that private discussion, I recalled the latest mental journal entries I stored somewhere, and these, at least, were retrievable. First, it was an array of lights I saw off in the distance and recently it was a structure that also aroused my curiosity. If it was a house, a mansion or a castle in the desert, then it might, at least, be a refuge for me to spend the night. But it did no good to wonder or worry about this fact when the driver continued to steer away from that sector. It was then that I had another foolish notion to try and overpower him, that is, toss him from the vehicle and drive the damned thing myself. I could also reverse course and find the main road again, then use my wits to find that outpost of brick and mortar or wood and stone, given whatever materials created its structure. But if he was determined to take me elsewhere, then I would have to wait until we arrived at our destination before considering the option of attempting to seize his vehicle.
Regardless if I managed to survive the bold stunt I mulled over, I realized that I was still in a jam. Thus, maybe there was no way to get to that distant house from main thoroughfare that connected to this secondary route. Then again, would I be daring enough to try and go there, only to discover if it was occupied, then it would suffice as a temporary refuge? The more I thought about it, I had the impression there was something familiar about that structure; something I thought I knew about its iconic appearance. I plundered my mind to reveal what I knew about that secluded abode but nothing came to me. The only thing I could fathom was the fact that structure was the only manmade feature I saw since this queer journey began. It may also turn out to be the only place of its kind for miles in all directions.
☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎
The veritable backcountry route we traveled continued weaving its way in the opposite direction away from the house. The terrain we were on was also more dense because of the chaparral vegetation featured a stand of trees on both sides. They were the first trees I saw this close and somewhat of a welcomed sight and relief from the barren open country that described the scenery up to this point. Still, I hoped to see the house again, but only if there was a clearing. Otherwise, the view of the horizon on either side of the road was obstructed.
By now, I convinced myself I had to find that potential refuge on my own. In fact, I was obsessed with this quest. Now only was its profile enticing, as a savored and anonymous edifice to behold, but also the only manmade structure I beheld since my seeming pilgrimage began. Why I thought the journey was analogous to a pilgrimage, I had no idea. Nevertheless, I sensed there was an implied religious implication, yet none of what had transpired thus far was remotely close to a religious experience. Of this assessment, I was sure.
Naturally, my latest urge to try and alter the driver’s plans entailed a getaway. He might also discover such a scheme given his uncanny sense to tap into my thoughts. Regardless, and given my growing obsession, I needed to find that outback location. True, I thought it possible I might convince the driver to take me there or somehow commandeer his vehicle and drive myself. Already, the trees on both sides of the road were starting to thin out and replaced by the usual mix of tangled shrubs and bushes. What appeared to be the start of a fairly open tableland might also feature another spur somewhere in the direction of the house. If that was the case, then there could be a connection with a main road leading to where I thought we should go, or perhaps me, if I had the nerve to do what I thought might be the only chance to get to where I needed to go.
Up ahead, I saw something that might be what I had thought about and hoped for. Thus, another confusion of mixed spurs, including a route that curved in the general direction I counted on. Here, the driver slowed down, and almost stopped. It was as though he might be confused which way to go at this point because there were, at least, three spurs that I saw. Watching as he turned the wheel to the left, which generally was the way we had been going, I surprised myself when I reached out and grabbed his arm. My action also surprised the driver, for he snarled and hissed at me in protest. He then tried to push me away but somehow my strength held and I continued to pull hard on his arm. But then I let go and grabbed the steering wheel while also reaching with my legs across the floorboard, then pressed down on the accelerator. The engine raced and the vehicle was now out of control. It swerved left and right as he tried to take control of the runaway vehicle. Abruptly, the front wheels hit a hard, high bump and I felt the jolt in my feet and legs.
The next thing I knew we were headed away from the secondary route and another spur that appeared to head straight. Now we raced across a flat, uneven landscape, still headed in the general direction I wanted to go––right. The driver was infuriated and I could not make out his words, except his complaint and wrath was clearly understood by sound and emphasis. Still, I would not let go of the wheel or take my foot off of the gas pedal. It even amazed me that I took charge of the stranger’s vehicle, but more than that I was willing to force a showdown between us.
When I thought we had gone far enough, I released the wheel and lunged back toward the door. The vehicle slowed down while the driver continued to bellow his rage given what I did––hijack his vehicle. Still defiant, I bellowed my own complaint and said, “Damn you, mister; I’m not going to Dark Hill with you. I’m going to that house I saw earlier. You’re going to take me there or I’ll find a way out of this contraption and make it on my own.”
Now the vehicle considerably slowed and I prepared myself to battle with the thoroughly agitated stranger. All of a sudden, he seemed to regain control of his temper and got quiet. I tried to anticipate what his next move would be and half-expected him to reach across the seat and punch me in the head. But he didn’t do it. Instead, the vehicle continued to coast, almost stalled out, then increased speed, and still in high gear. He was driving again. We were on some kind of an open expanse, quite bumpy and uneven, but generally headed where I thought we should go. I don’t know whether it was providential, but an arc of moonlight shined from behind a bank of clouds. Smeared on the horizon was the same telltale shapely silhouette I beheld earlier. I cried out, “The house! There it is. See? That’s where I want you to take me!”
The moonlight bathed the sky and that terribly large structure took advantage of the lunar spotlight that highlighted its cathedral-like profile and features. I saw the driver turn his head and glare at me. Then he spoke to me in the same ghastly voice as before, “Theeeeeee Houssssseeeeeeee Onnnnnnnnn Daaarrrrrqqqqquuuuueeee Hillllllll. Yessssssssssss.”
I asked, “What do you mean, yes? Is that Dark Hill where the house is, mister?” But he didn’t answer. He just left me with that message and now I had to wonder what the hell was going on since we were surely headed in that direction, whereas before we were going the other way.
The unpaved surface we were on was merciless on both the vehicle and my body. Why the driver didn’t turn around and head back to the spur, or whatever connecting route he was about to take, I couldn’t say. All I knew was the vehicle continued moving forward on that open track of landscape. Sensing he wasn’t about to slow down, and despite how unforgiving the terrain was, if I understood him correctly, the house that had disappeared then reappeared behind a parade of fast-moving clouds, was indeed the destination he had intended all along, only headed another way to get there.
Strangely, the image of that lofty structure seemed to toy with my senses. More than that, I wanted to know what I thought I had recognized earlier about the house and its setting. Some background information was trying to get through to me, I could sense this, except the violent shaking and pounding we endured crossing this open country took precedence over my thoughts. I wasn’t sure if the vehicle could hold up to the strain, especially because we were no longer on a road of any kind. It was also apparent the driver might be lost now that the spur we were on was somewhere behind us. If so, he had to take a chance finding the original road we were on, that is, if this cross-country detour I forced him to take might sooner or later connect with a main or secondary road leading to the house.
Disturbing and disquieting thoughts wagged their mental fingers at me. Perhaps what the driver said was true given the sense the sole purpose of this sordid journey was intended to transport me to that very structure––the house on Dark Hill, and whose secret significance I may have laid aside in memory along with most everything else relating to my past. Placating this judgment, I was aghast at what I might be trying to tell myself at some level I still wasn’t in touch with. Then I heard a voice, I think my voice this time, call out to me––Are you afraid, RK Alleman? You should be. Your wish has been granted. You are going to that house on Dark Hill. But it won’t be the refuge you initially thought it might provide. Yes, you should be afraid. Very afraid.
Exasperated and exceedingly exhausted by the odds that I now faced, even more odds than before, what else could I do other than fume and do what I had been doing all along––ponder an abiding and stubborn mystery that was manifestly too inconceivable for me to comprehend by any rationale I employed? Next, I pondered another discouraging thought that came to me––When do we ever feel alone, truly alone, in our finite-infinite appearance in the phenomenal world? I let the import of that directive sink in. At least, my mind functioned at some level. I was also mentally transmitting what I thought were clues or insights to help me in some way, even to prepare me for my demise, if circumstances should turn out that way. When I ruminated on the dire significance of those fatalistic words, I had to admit the message made sense, despite how morbid the residual feeling that came with it.
Then it occurred to me that I wasn’t as alone as I thought; at least, not in one sense. It dawned on me there seemed to be something or someone watching me all this time. But it wasn’t something corporeal that I sensed. Rather, the sensation seemed like some kind of silent witness given the overall effect and evaluation of my unpleasant experience. I thought maybe the gut level feeling I had might be attributed to something similar to a higher self, and certainly, something metaphysical. Moreover, I assumed such a presence to be real and implanted in my conscious or subconscious.
In the final analysis, this latest barrage of thoughts provided one more piece of a strange puzzle that had to wait to be solved until I could find out where that part of the puzzle belonged in the all-embracing scheme of things.
While I could agree with that timely assessment that came to me, I was also in conflict with myself for knowing such things that needed to be clarified. Thus, finding those key displaced memories that would make better sense of the lost world that amounted to the measurements and design of the vehicle I rode in, and with a stranger who likely knew everything about me but would not divulge that information.
☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎ ☁︎
(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!