A true story by Craig Mitchell, artwork by Brian Feldges
Saturday, October 15th, 1988
“Let’s turn off the flashlights.”
“Man, I dunno,” my friend Brian said apprehensively.
“Oh c’mon! It’ll be cool. There’s nothing out there that’s gonna get us. What’re you so worried about?” I said, plodding through the shadowy forest in my clunky pair of combat boots. Our flashlight beams bounced over gray skeletal trees and occasionally threw our distorted silhouettes against the hillside like a silent movie.
In those days I lived in the backyard of miles of undisturbed wilderness. And earlier in the evening we’d parked my nuclear-yellow Volkswagen Bug at the end of a deserted road about a quarter mile or so from my house. From the dead end, we’d ventured into the trees with flashlights in hand, following a twisty-turny horse path leading deep into the heart of the forest.
Brian was following along behind me, cradling the remains of a twelve-pack of Budweiser Light we’d stolen from my parent’s basement.
“I’m totally stoned and besides…” he was saying. “At least with the flashlights you have a chance to avoid running through all of these fucking spider webs. I mean, we could have gone to go see this cave of yours after-school on Monday or something. It’s like midnight or so man. We should just turn around and go back.” Just about the time Brian said that, my Mohawk cut through a whole nest of spider webs and dead leaves hanging across the path.
“Oh c’mon man, I’ve ridden horses through here for years.” I shook my head violently, trying to get loose of the webs, and ran my hands through the stiff fin of hair riding on top of my head. “We’ll get there, trust me. You’re just afraid something’s gonna jump out and get us, like a demon or a crazed murderer or something.”
“So maybe I am,” he admitted. “You’re the one who insisted on smoking a second bowl of that stuff. As stoned as I am I think it’s totally natural to be a freaked out about by all of this. And really, I don’t even need to be stoned because you get out here in the woods at night, out in the moonlight, and your adrenaline starts kicking in and you start hearing things. And seeing things…”
I knew what he was talking about. There was a full moon hanging low in the sky that night and the forest was drenched in a spooky luminescence. The glow was transforming things… stumps became huge wolves waiting to pounce on us. Fallen trees became mangled dead bodies. A few branches blowing slowly in the wind behind a tree became a stumbling zombie about to fall into our path.
I stepped over a dead body, ahem, I mean a fallen tree, and jumped up a small incline of rocks, continuing down the path. In my mind, I kept drifting back to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, “Young Goodman Brown.” Sometimes I imagined seeing the flicker of firelight through the trees, no doubt a coven of devil worshipers practicing their rights.
“Yeah I know. The hallucinations are the best part,” I said. “It’s like when I was a little kid, I was terrified of the basement.” I took a swig of my sour-tasting beer and winced at the taste of it. “I don’t exactly know what there was about it that scared me so bad. Maybe it was the dark, musty smell of the concrete or that it was so poorly lit and shadowy.
“But anyway, we had these lights in the basement, you know, the kind that you turned on and off with a pull-string?”
“Yeah. We have the same kind in our basement,” he said.
“Well I’d go down there at night diggin’ through a box of my parents old albums, and I’d find the one I was looking for, and be ready to go back upstairs. But before I did, I’d have to pull that last string at the bottom of the stairs. And then it would be pitch black down there. So as soon as I’d pull that string, man, I’d run up those stairs as fast as I could! I had this really crazy fear that if I didn’t, something might grab me from behind and pull me back down into the darkness.”
“I used to do that too,” he said. “I’d always sprint up the last couple stairs.”
“Yeah, so you know what I’m talking about then. Anyway, a few months ago I was alone in the house and I caught myself doing it again. I was downstairs in the basement stealing a twelve-pack from my parent’s stash and I caught myself running up those damned stairs again. I’m eighteen years old for Christ’s sake! I don’t believe in things that live under my bed or in my closet anymore. Why the basement? Why did it scare me so much? So you wanna know what I did?”
“What?” he asked.
I paused in the path and turned around to face him. “I stopped in mid-run up those stairs, and I turned around slowly and marched right back down to the bottom. I stood there at the foot of the stairs in the darkness for awhile and when nothing happened, I said, ‘C’mon! Come and get me if you’re going to. C’mon, get me! Get me!”
“You’re a big freak,” he said.
“No really, I’m not. Don’t you get it? I was confronting my fear of the basement head on, tete de tete,” I said, hopping over a log. “If something was really down there then I guess it would’ve slithered out of the darkness and ate me – but it didn’t. It didn’t get me because nothing was down there in the first place.”
“So what’s the point of this whole story?” Brian asked.
“My point is we should turn off our flashlights for the same reason.”
“So aren’t your parents gonna miss all this beer you steal from their basement?” Brian asked, changing the subject.
“No, my mom gets two cases a month from her work and they just stack up in our basement until they throw a party or whatever. There’s a mountain of the stuff down there, way too many cases for them to keep track of. Can you imagine that? She works for Anheuser Busch and my parents don’t even drink beer. Good thing their eighteen year old son does. Heh.” I examined the silvery can in my hand for a second and took another swig.
“Shit man, how much longer is it to this fucking cave? This pot is really starting to kick in. And here, you carry this thing for awhile. I’m getting sick of toting it up the hill.” He shoved the twelve-pack of beer at me as though it weighed several hundred pounds and were some incredible burden to have to bear.
“Just chill out man, the path’s gonna level out in awhile here and then we make a left, and it’s about a quarter of a mile down hill from there. Why don’t we just turn off the flashlights. It’ll make it go faster.”
“Man… I don’t think so,” Brian said.
“Oh c’mon Brian! It’s October. It’s the perfect time to be running through the woods in the dark. What do we have to worry about? And look at that big old full moon up there in the sky! It’s so bright out here our flashlights are almost overkill.”
“Look, I’m not worried about the devil or the bogeyman or the thing that lives in the basement. I’m worried about the real things that live in the forest. We’re pretty deep into the woods now,” he said. “There could be wolves or mountain lions or snakes – all kinds of dangerous shit in our path. And I’m totally stoned Craig, I could trip over something and break a leg.”
“Let’s just do it for awhile then. For as long as we can stand it and then we’ll turn ‘em back on again.”
“Alright, whatever you idiot,” he said with a heavy sigh of exasperation.
He shut his flashlight off.
I painted my light over the path and the trees around us one last time to get my bearings and then shut mine off as well. And we stood there for a few moments, immersed in the darkness and eerie quiet of the forest.
“I can’t see a fucking thing,” Brian said finally, breaking the silence.
I squinted at the ground and traced the path. It wound up the hill, through a few gnarled trees and then disappeared into the gloom.
“Then just chill out and stay with me. My eyes are already starting to adjust. I can see just fine. Don’t look at the moon for awhile and keep your eyes on the path and yours will adjust too. Hey, watch out for this branch,” I said, ducking under a tree leaning across the path.
“So what’s up with Cindy’s friend Beth?” I asked nonchalantly, trying to distract him.
Of course, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit I was trying to distract myself as well.
I staved off my own fear in the belief that any self respecting forest terror wouldn’t risk an encounter with two guys like us. I had a huge Mohawk that rose over six inches above my head. And Brian was tall and skinny and had ‘Liberty spikes.’ They were long spikes of hair that either stood on end above his head, or shot out at an extreme angle, and thus the allusion to the Statue of Liberty.
Stomping up the path in our combat boots, chains and leather jackets, I suspected we could give the old bogeyman or any of his minions, for that matter, a good run for their money if they were up for a rumble.
“I dunno,” Brian replied. “She digs me though. Or at least that’s what Cindy says.”
“Oh yeah? Does she go to St. Joseph’s too?” I asked.
“Yeah. They’re in the same grade.”
“Wow Brian. Well then I guess the real question is… when are you gonna ask her out?”
Something moved behind a tree to my left and I felt my stomach drop out of my body like a condemned man on hangman’s noose, but I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it was only bunch of weeds moving in the wind.
“She’s on vacation with her parents right now. I think she’s getting back… Wait, stand still for a second,” Brian said, his voice dropping into a whisper. “Do you hear that?”
“What?” I whispered.
Neither one of us moved an inch. I was about to start giving him shit for being so paranoid but then I heard it too. The sound of crunching leaves, something coming through the underbrush…
“I hear it,” I said in a whisper.
“What d’you think it is?”
“Shit man, I dunno. Sounds pretty big, maybe a deer or something. Whatever it is, it’s a few hundred feet down the path. You know, where we had to step over that log.”
“No, it’s not a deer. Listen,” he insisted. “It sounds like someone walking. You can hear their footsteps.”
I listened again. “That’s ridiculous, Brian. We’re like a half-mile away from the dead end or even the nearest house. No one is out here with us,” I whispered. “It’s just you and me, the Budweiser beers and the animals.”
I started walking again, hoping he would just follow me and stop freaking out.
“Can I turn my flashlight on for a second?” Brian asked.
“If you have to, pussy.”
“Hey, fuck you! I’m not afraid,” he said out loud. “I dropped my Zippo back there while I was trying to light a cigarette.”
He flipped on the flashlight and backtracked, fumbling around in the weeds next to the path. Then the flashlight went off, and his lighter flared.
“Shit, now I can’t see again.”
“Which way do we go?” he asked.
“That’s the path we want to take on the left. See where it splits?” I asked.
The disembodied, red-tipped cigarette followed me down the steep hill, twisting through trees and outcroppings of rock.
“How old is she?” I asked.
“Yeah, who’d you think I was talking about?”
“I think she’s a year younger than I am. Sixteen or so,” he said.
“So she’s the one with the cute little punk girl haircut right?’
“It’s shaved on the sides and back, and then it’s kind of spiked up on top, with a few long pieces hanging… Shit man, there it is again! It’s even closer now,” he whispered.
“No one is following us, Brian! Trust me. Besides, we’re almost to the cave. It’s should be right around the next curve.” I brushed another spider web off my leather jacket and felt around in my hair again to make sure I didn’t have any more hitchhiking webs or critters.
I didn’t want to freak him out even more. But I was seriously beginning to doubt my theory about the sound being some ordinary forest animal. The hair on the back of my neck was standing on end because I was starting to notice a distinctive shuffling sound, like something was stumbling through the woods behind us dragging one leg.
Whatever it was, it was big and it was moving in our direction, crushing leaves and brush beneath it as it advanced. And the most terrifying thing was it was definitely following us! It had turned left at the top of the hill just like we had, and now it was coming down the hill towards the cave.
“Hey! I thought you said the cave was around the next bend,” he said.
“I got confused, alright? Maybe it’s around the next one.” I picked up stick from the ground and started knocking down the spider webs hanging over the path from large fir trees. “Hey, you know what would be awesome?”
“If we had some music! The Cure’s ‘Faith’ would be perfect! You ever listened to that one?”
“Yeah, it’s awesome. My older brother has it.”
“They might as well of named the thing ‘An October Night,” I said. “That first song, ‘The Holy Hour’ or that other one – the third track. What’s it called?”
“All Cats are Grey,” he replied.
“Yeah! You couldn’t ask for more perfect ‘walking through the woods at night music.’”
“I guess they have a category for that at that Camelot Music store you work at now?” he asked sarcastically.
“’Walking through the woods at night music?’”
“Yeup, it’s right next to the ‘New Age’ section.”
Finally the path took a bend to the left and opened up into a clearing.
“Here it is…” I said.
We walked into a level clearing perched on the side of the steep hill. The first thing you noticed was that it overlooked miles of forest. And the second thing? A huge cave mouth, maybe thirty feet in diameter, opened up at the top of the clearing. It was big enough you could have driven a car or van into it without any problem at all. And hanging over the mouth of the cave, a huge gnarled Indian tree spread it’s branches.
“Holy shit! This thing is huge,” Brian said, bounding up to the mouth of the cave. “It looks like the proverbial gateway to hell or something.”
“Well it isn’t. Hell isn’t that shallow. You can only walk in there two hundred feet or so until the thing stops. Apparently the area Boy Scouts closed it off a few years ago because there’d been a few collapses and they didn’t want anyone getting trapped.”
“Fucking Boy Scout do-gooders,” he said.
“Bastards…” I agreed. I downed the rest of my beer and winced again at the taste of it.
“You don’t like beer huh?” he asked, noticing the expression on my face.
“Yeah, I guess you could say I haven’t acquired a taste for it yet,” I belched loudly. “But give me another one. I gotta learn at some point.”
He tossed me a beer across the cave mouth. I caught it and sat down on the rocks. Brian flicked his cigarette into the cave and the small red light hit the bottom, rolled down into the darkness and disappeared.
“I don’t hear it anymore,” he said.
“What? The thing in the woods?”
“Uh huh. Listen…” We sat in silence for awhile.
“I think you’re right. It’s gone,” I said. “I wonder if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe it’s just waiting at the top of the path for us to come back up.”
“Yeah, whatever man…” Brian said. That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. “Hey, this is one hell of a scary looking tree,” he said, touching the tall tree that hung over the cave. “Check out this branch here. It almost looks like a pointing skeleton hand.”
“It is pointing. It’s an Indian tree.”
“How can you tell that?” he asked.
“Look at it. See how it’s twisted unnaturally at the base of the branch? It wouldn’t have grown like that naturally. The Indians used to tie down a branch on really prominent trees and point them in the direction of water. After awhile the rope would break, but the branch would still grow in that direction.”
“Sort of like ‘Gas, Food and Lodging five miles ahead?’”
“Yeah.” I burped again.
“What Indian tribes do you think were around here?”
“Well, we had the Shoshone, the Sacs and the Foxes. Then you had all the tribes moving through the area on their way to somewhere else like the Delaware, and the Iroquois.”
“How ‘bout the Mohawks?” He grinned.
“Nope, no Mohawks. Just me,” I chuckled.
“It’s really weird to think Indians walked through this same forest. Over a hundred years ago they were standing right here next to the cave and they tied down that branch,” he said.
“Uh huh. And they probably sat down where we’re sitting right now and took a rest, and talked.”
“Maybe they even camped in this clearing. Yeah, camping….” Brian said, as if it were obvious. “We should come up here and camp! We could bring a few tents and some girls down here.”
“Would your parents let you stay out all night?” I asked.
“I could make up some excuse, like I was crashing at your house some night. They wouldn’t know. What about your parents?”
“I can stay out all night now if I want to.”
“That’s right. Explain that one to me again? How do you get away with all that shit you do with your parents?” he asked.
“Well, up until my senior year they were really strict with me. I had to tell them where I was going, when I was coming home and who I was going out with. And then I let Adrian cut my hair into a Mohawk and came home with it sticking up in the air. It was only about three and a half inches back then, but my parents totally freaked out. It was totally stupid because I practically had a Mohawk as it was. Adrian just shaved it thinner and stood it up.”
“They had had a problem the standing up part, huh?” Brian chuckled. “My Dad just laughed at me when I started putting my hair up. I got the message. He thought I looked like an idiot but at least he didn’t freak out.”
“Well my parents freaked out. They were threatening to throw me out and all this shit. Not that I think they were really going to or anything, but that was the threat at the time,” I said.
“So what happened?”
“I don’t know, I still haven’t figured it out. Eventually, they just threw up their hands and said ‘whatever.’ But they decided that if I was gonna wear my hair like this and make decisions like that for myself, then I was officially an adult and I could fend for myself.”
“So what does fending for yourself include?”
“I can’t use their car. They won’t give me any money. My mom won’t fix me food anymore. However, I’m free to grab whatever I want out of the fridge so go figure… But the best part about my new “adult” status is I’ve been able to come and go as I please without having to check in with them. I can stay out all night if I want to.” I grinned.
“You’re lucky. My brother Tim is 19 and he still lives at home, and he doesn’t get away with anything like that.”
“Well, it’s kind of double-edged.”
“How’s that?” he asked.
“Well, I know they still… you know, I know they love me and everything,” I said, tripping over the phrase. “But I think I really pissed them off with the whole Mohawk thing. We haven’t been that close since they imposed all these new ‘adult sanctions’ on me.”
“What difference does it make?” Brian asked. “You’re still their kid. You stay out of trouble. You’re really smart and articulate. You graduated from High School and now you’re taking college courses. So what if you have a weird haircut and listen to punk rock.”
“Yeah, I know. But I think they’re embarrassed because now everyone in town knows them as the parents with the Mohawk punk rocker son,” I said. “I mean, I’d be an oddity if we lived in the city. But in a small town like Eureka, I’m kind of a local celebrity and traveling freak show rolled into one. And now they’re minor local celebrities too because they’re the parents of the freak show.”
We sat there for awhile not saying anything. I don’t know what Brian was thinking about. But I was thinking about my parents… and about where my life was going to go in the next couple of years.
Brian took another swig of beer and looked around the clearing. “Even if we didn’t camp here, this would be a totally cool place to have a party. Talk about atmosphere…”
“Whoah, you’re right, that would be awesome. We should do it,” I agreed.
“The only problem is, how in the hell are you gonna get all those people out here to the middle of nowhere? A helicopter?” he asked.
“We could have everyone park at the end of that road where we parked tonight, and hand out flyers with a map of the paths to take.”
“Heh,” he snorted. “You’d have people getting lost in the woods, and some of them wouldn’t be smart enough to show up with flashlights and then they’ll get eaten alive by that thing that was following us earlier. It’d all turn into one big horror movie.”
“Okay, then how about a multifaceted approach. We could hand out flyers with maps, and we could mark the trail somehow – maybe by tacking flyers onto the trees along the way. Then we could insist that people bring flashlights. And last but not least, we could have guides at a few points on the path early on to make sure the majority of the people found their way. Think about it. Not only is this the perfect gothic atmosphere for a party in October,” I reasoned. “But it’s in the middle of the wilderness of Eureka. The cops couldn’t get all the way out here to bust us if they tried.”
“You’re serious aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yeah, why not? It’d be great. Look at the size of this clearing. We could easily get a nice little bonfire going without having to worry about starting a forest fire. In fact, look at this,” I said, kicking my boot through some old charred wood. “Looks like someone had one going here at some point.”
“Ok, so who’s going to organize it?” he asked. “And when are you gonna have it? On a Friday or a Saturday? Saturday would probably be better because I don’t think all those guys that live downtown would make it out on Friday night.”
The wind whipped through the trees scattering leaves across the clearing, and I pulled my leather jacket a little closer to my body and zipped it up to my neck.
“Ok, how about the Saturday right before Halloween then?”
He thought it over.
“Yeah, that’d work.”
Tuesday, October 18th, 1988
“Did you get that stack of flyers I gave to Tim to give to you?” I asked, idly twisting the phone cord around the spiked bracelet on my wrist.
“Yeah,” Brian said. “I handed them out all day today at school. And I gave a bunch of them to Eric to hand out to the guys downtown. Pretty cool flyer too. Where’d you get all those great skeleton pictures?”
“This guy in my Psych class was going downtown to do some research at the University library and I tagged along for the ride. I found this great book on the Mexican Day of the Dead.” I pulled the phone cord all the way over to the refrigerator and rummaged around for a snack. “The imagery is just great, you should see it. It reminded me of that Oingo Boingo cover and that’s where I came up with the name, “‘A Dead Man’s Party’”
“A Dead Man’s Party,” Brian chuckled, reading my flyer. “’Leave your body at the door – and bring your own booze.’ That kind of has a nice ring to it. Pretty good map you drew too. I don’t think anyone’s gonna have problems finding the road.”
“Thanks. We’ll still have to mark the path with flyers every so often so people don’t stray off in the wrong direction. But do you think people will drive all the way out to Eureka?”
“Sounds pretty much like they will,” he said. “Everyone seems to be hyped about the idea of having a party in the woods.”
“I guess we’ll find out in a few days here. I just checked the weather forecast though and it’s supposed to a really nice, kind of brisk night.”
Saturday, October 22nd, 1988
I sat with my back against a tree in complete darkness and watched my breath drift out of my mouth in ghostly white clouds. Every once in awhile I’d peek around the tree and catch sight of an approaching flashlight in the distance. Someone was coming up the path.
Tonight I was one of those evil things lurking behind the trees, the thing you half imagined you saw moving in the darkness at the side of the path. Actually, I was supposed to be a guide, making sure people spotted the left-hand turn where the path split and headed down the hill to the party. But after ten minutes of relative boredom I decided that if I was going to be hanging out waiting for people, I might as well be hanging out waiting to scare the shit out of them too.
It was another full moon that night, but the temperature had dropped off quite a bit since Brian and I had taken the late-night excursion to the cave. The temperature had dropped into the lower 50’s and the smell of burning wood and leaves was in the air.
The plan to mark the path by tacking flyers to trees had to be ditched at the last minute, because as we were hanging them, a strong wind picked up and carried half of them off into the night. I couldn’t resist making a few jokes about Hansel and Gretal and breadcrumbs, but in the end my friends and I cut up a bed sheet and tied pieces of it to trees along the way.
It was kind of silly though, because the only sheet I could find that I knew my mother wouldn’t miss was a light-blue Star Wars patterned sheet I’d had on my bunk bed as a kid. So shards of light-blue Chewbacca, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader-patterned cloth hung on trees all across the forest.
The flashlight was getting closer. Occasionally light would cut through the darkness and reflect off a nearby hillside or tree. I huddled up against my tree, trying to keep my body completely out of the reach of the light.
And after awhile I started to make out the voices…
“Are we even going the right way?” one voice said.
“I think so. We’re still on the same causeway of reality. There’s supposed to be another galactic-reality guide at the top of this moon dune to tell us where to send the tide of our presence next,” someone replied. “Hey look! There’s another piece of Star Wars artifact. Our planetary course is set.”
I recognized the first voice. His real name was Stacey, but everyone in the crowd we hung out with called him ‘Space.’ He was one of the guys who’d made the journey in from the city.
I knew the other guy could have been no one other than Tory Z. Starbuck just from the totally screwed-up way he had of speaking. He was Space’s roommate and was somewhat of a celebrity around town.
Now I should say that I could turn some heads walking down the street with my tall Mohawk, but Tory Starbuck was an in a league of his own. His one true idol in life was David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character, and for as long as anyone could remember, Tory had emulated his idol’s appearance and erratic disposition. He wore thick, white facial makeup and had a long mane of cotton-candyish hair that was purple some days, and on others, was fire engine red. You never knew what to expect.
Around the month of October it was kind of ironic because of all the months of the year, Tory fit in for once, walking down the city streets in his silver space boots and black tights. Everyone just assumed it was his Halloween costume – but it wasn’t. This was the way he dressed year round.
“Tory, can I inquire as to why you’re pointing the flashlight at the sky instead of guiding our way?”
“I’m looking for cat-friendly UFO’s and heavenly visitors of Venusian origin,” Tory replied, matter-of-factly.
“Well you’re not gonna find any of them with that cheap Wal-Mart flashlight. So do me a favor and point it at the path before we walk off a cliff or through a huge spider web, ok?”
“Ahmeowplease.” Tory said, uttering one of frequently homemade words.
I peeked around the tree again and spotted them coming up the path. Space was in the lead. I saw his lighter flare and he tipped his head forward to dip the end of a long cigarette into the flame.
I stood up slowly behind the tree as they approached, trying my best not to make any noise and give myself away.
“Do you see anyone yet?” Space asked.
“I left my stargazing shades back at the shuttle,” Tory said. “I can only see the white translucent façade that is the continuum.”
If the rest of the world lived in a land called “Non-fiction,” Tory and Space lived in one called “Science Fiction and Fantasy.” Everything with them had to have a space theme to it. Their ‘shuttle’, for instance, was actually a beat-up clunky old Chevette with a novelty ‘hyperspace’ button velcro’d onto the dash right next to the rear defrost button. It was unlikely their frequently malfunctioning shuttle could have made it out of the city limits, much less the atmosphere before it ended up a roadside casualty.
“I’m surprised Craig isn’t out here guiding people up the path,” Space said. “When I talked to him earlier tonight it seemed like that was his intent.”
“Mr. Mitchell converses with the galactic flow engineers,” Tory said. “And when the currents are right, they spin the songs of life and cosmic indifference.”
I nearly laughed out loud at that one. That was Tory through and through. It didn’t matter what you said, as long as it made most people say, ‘huh?’ and it sounded vaguely poetic. I covered my mouth and bit a finger to keep from laughing.
They’d stopped at the intersection of the paths and were standing about five feet from my hiding place, looking at the map.
“Hey, here’s another path that intersects this one to the left. I wonder where this guy is who’s supposed to point us in the right direction.” Space said. “Well what do you think Tory? Take a chance and turn left or keep going?”
“The star map seems to send us hurtling leftward…” Tory said.
“Make a left guys.” I said, stepping out from behind the tree and into the path behind them. Tory spun around, not with a look of terror, but of bemusement.
Space, on the other hand, had a different reaction. “Gahhhhhh!!!!!!!!” he yelled and started to run… By that time, however, Tory had his flashlight steadied on me, and a smile cracked slowly beneath the thick white layer of makeup on his face.
“Hey guys!” My laughter became a blue cloud of mist floating through their flashlight beams.
“That wasn’t very nice…” Space smiled. “You’re supposed to be showing us the way, not playing the troll under the bridge.”
“Who is that with you?” I asked. “Mr. Starbuck I presume?”
“In the flesh,” Tory said.
In addition to two or three decorative gun belts, Tory had an acoustic guitar slung over his back. And in the glow of the forest, with his makeup and painted-on eyebrows, while you might not have mistaken him for a genuine extraterrestrial, you would’ve definitely noticed he had something extra going on in the terrestrial department.
You might have thought to yourself, hey look, there’s a grinning, gun belt-wearing, guitar-playing pseudo space alien wearing silver spray-painted snow boots standing in the path.
But if Tory set you back a few steps, his roommate Space had the completely opposite effect. He was well spoken and wholly ‘of this world.’
Two things come to mind as I stumble for a way to describe him – he was ‘cool’ and also, he was unmistakably ‘positive’ about life. He was the sort of guy that could have a good time under practically any circumstances and if you weren’t on his happy-train, he’d be giving you a hand up onto one of the boxcars.
His frizzy, natty mop of black hair was tied back in a gauzy bandana and he wore a long black coat like a cape. He peered out from behind his round shades with a calmness that spoke more of Far Eastern religions and meditation than it did of punk rock angst.
“How many people are here?” Space asked. “I saw a lot of shuttles docked at the dead end.”
“I dunno. I think about seven or eight people have passed by me so far. But it’s early. I’m sure more people will show up as it gets a little later,” I said. “Hey, did you guys bring some booze?”
“I don’t drink alcohol or consume drugs,” Tory said. “I drink the stars, the earth and the moon.”
“He might not,” Space said coolly, nodding at his roommate. “But I do,” he said. He drew a bottle of Seagram’s 7 out of his backpack and held it up in the moonlight. “And hey man, you wanna do a one-hit?” He pulled a metallic pipe from his coat sleeve.
“Nah, no thanks. I think I’ll stick to drinking tonight,” I said. “And listen, you guys should get moving so I have a chance to scare the next crowd that comes through. Take a left right here just like the map says, and head straight down the path. It’s about a quarter of a mile down the hill. And do me a favor when you get down there.”
“Yeah?” Space said.
“Send a few volunteers up here to replace me and the other guides. I don’t know about the others, but I need a break soon.”
The next set of flashlights started cutting through the darkness soon after I’d gotten settled into my hiding place again. Fortunately Tory and Space were already on their way down the hill so I didn’t have to worry about them ruining the surprise for the next group.
The new voices were still pretty far off, but long gusts of wind carried them up the hill to my hiding spot.
“…how could you not notice that he had a Mohawk? You guys have worked together a few times. When he’s at work he parts it in the middle and feathers the flaps of hair down behind his ears. Then he pins it down with some kind of heavy-duty hair spray or paste. But you can still totally see all the shaved stubble beneath it.”
“I’m not stupid JP. I noticed the baldness. I guess I thought he was wearing a toupee, or that he was undergoing some heavy cancer treatment or whatever. I mean, that’s not really something you can be comfortable asking someone about. Like, ‘Hey Craig, how’s the chemotherapy thing going? Hey, nice wig by the way, I hardly even noticed at first.’”
I recognized these voices as well. A few earlier, I’d started a new job at a mall record store, and on a whim I’d invited one of my new coworkers. As far as I could tell, JP was just an easy to get along with, really cool guy. We worked a lot of night shifts together and we got along famously, talking about computers, music, and growing up in St. Louis.
The second voice was Bob. He worked a lot of day shifts at Camelot so he was usually leaving as I was coming on the clock. I didn’t know that much about him, but I could tell at a glance he was a ‘Robert something the III,’ with lots of family money at his disposal. He’d probably taken the job at the Camelot Music for the employee discounts, freebies, and so his parents wouldn’t think he was a complete bum.
“Stop!” I heard JP whisper.
“Someone’s out there in the trees.”
I didn’t risk looking around the tree and it was a good thing I didn’t, because a moment later, two flashlight beams started painting the trees and bushes around me.
If JP was falling victim to the typical dark forest paranoia, it sure was uncanny that he seemed to be aware of my approximate position…
“How do you know?”
“I just do.”
“Well, fuck, what are we gonna do? Are we gonna dive into the brush and get lost trying to find this supposed ghostly person or are we gonna keep walking?” Bob whispered. “I want to get to this party before it’s over with man.”
Their flashlights scanned the trees around me one more time, and then I could hear them moving again.
“That left we’re supposed to take must be coming up soon. He said we’d go up a short hill and then it would level out. Then the left was supposed to be right after that,” JP said.
I stood up behind the tree and in the process, a few leaves and some brush snapped beneath one of my feet. Almost instantly, a flashlight hit the tree I was hiding behind. I glanced down slowly at my chest and legs, but I was well enough behind the tree, they couldn’t have spotted me.
“You see anything?”
“No, but I know someone’s out there,” JP insisted.
They had stopped fairly close to my hiding place. Now I just needed to wait for the perfect moment to jump out and scare the shit out of them. I didn’t have to wait long. They were busy trying to decipher the map when I pounced.
“BlahhahahhHHH!!!!!” I yelled, lunging forward.
I watched Bob’s hair stand on end, but apparently JP was expecting my surprise attack because he didn’t flinch at all. What I wasn’t expecting was the long wooden staff JP swung at me as I pounced. Just as I jumped out onto the path, it caught me square in the stomach and sent me hurtling backwards into the brush.
It hurt but luckily the blow didn’t completely knock the wind out of me. It did, however, send my ability to speak on a short vacation. For about a minute or so, the only thing I could say was “Ackkk! Ahhgh, agahhhawh…”
JP and Bob each grabbed an arm and hoisted me out of the bush I’d fallen backwards into.
“Are you alright Craig?!” JP asked me, brushing a bunch of leaves out of my hair.
“..eah.. Yeha’er, ..giv.. meee a…”
“A beer?” JP asked hopefully, trying to finish my sentence for me. He held up a red and white cooler and raised an eyebrow.
“Gom’ me’ia sek…” I rasped. “..anda.. a bey’eer ah tooo’n.”
“See, I told you there was someone in the trees,” JP said to Bob, pulling a beer out of the cooler and handing it to me.
I didn’t end up waiting for a replacement on the path. After getting knocked in the stomach with a wooden staff, there was no doubt about it, it was Miller-time.
“JP, what the fuck possessed you to bring that staff with you?” I asked as we slid down the steep path towards the cave.
“I thought I might need it,” he said.
“For being in the woods, for the adventure,” JP said, grinning.
He was really into ‘Dungeons & Dragons,’ I’d figured that much out in working with him. And here he was in the middle of the forest carrying his magical staff. The rest of his adventurer’s gear that evening consisted of a light-blue knit “Polo Shirt of Protection’, some ‘Levi’s of the Ogre’ and of course, don’t ever leave home without your ‘Elven Topsiders of Speed.’
As we walked down the path, I was beginning to notice that Bob and JP’s flashlights seemed to drift in my direction quite a bit. And suddenly it occurred to me that they might be a little bit uncomfortable. After all, they were from suburbs and the closest they’d probably ever been to a punk was yelling, “Hey faggot!” at one from a moving car.
And if that was the case, then this was really going to be interesting. Because up ahead, standing around the bonfire in front of the cave’s mouth was a group of my closest friends; a collection of weirdos and punks that probably looked even more ominous by firelight. And if Bob and JP thought I looked weird, wait until they met some of the guys…
“I think I hear music,” JP said.
“You’re hearing things man,” I teased.
“No, I do!” he insisted. “Listen, right there.”
“I’m just fucking with you man.” I laughed. “I hear it too. In fact, I can even ID the song for you. It sounds like ‘Go’ by ‘Tones on Tail.’”
I’d walked this leg of the path about four or five times that week, and for some reason, I always thought I was closer than I really was. Sometimes I expected the clearing to be around every bend, and when it wasn’t, I assumed it would be around the next, and so forth.
But we walked around the next bend that night and there it was in front of us. My friends had a huge bonfire going in front of the cave. Embers danced up into the night sky, and the Indian tree threw weird shadows onto the whole scene.
As we walked into the clearing, my friends were dancing in a circle around the fire, gyrating and jumping to the music.
A boombox was propped up on the rocks next to a crate of cassettes that had obviously been drug out of someone’s car for the occasion.
I watched Bob and JP’s reaction to the whole scene out of the corner of my eye. Their eyes darted from one person to the next, and then finally to Tory who was sitting next to fire accompanying the song with his guitar.
I waited until the dance had ended and introduced them.
“Hey guys, this is JP and Bob. I work with them at Camelot up at Chesterfield Mall. And this is Space, Tory, Eric…” I introduced everyone, and was amazed to see there were even more people there than I’d originally estimated. …fourteen, fifteen and… sixteen, I counted in my head. Had some of them managed to sneak past me on the path, I wondered.
“Have you guys explored the cave yet?” I asked.
“No, we were gonna wait until you got down here,” Space said. “Let’s go check it out,” he said, turning on his flashlight.
“Alright.” I set my beer down near the fire and grabbed a flashlight. “Be careful here. I’ve fallen gone ‘ass over tit’ into this thing a few times. The rocks are really slippery,” I said, climbing down into the darkness.
Water dripped from the walls and the temperature was about five or ten degrees colder even a few feet into the cave. I waited at the bottom as Eric and Space climbed down after me.
“Oh whoah!!” Space said. “Look at this bat!!” A fruit bat was tacked to the ceiling about twenty feet up. “It looks like he’s fossilized. He has some kind of crystals on his wings. Was is that stuff?”
“I dunno,” I said. “But I don’t think he’s fossilized. Watch this.” I stuck a finger in my mouth and let loose with a shrill whistle. The bat flapped his wings a little bit, and so did quite a few other bats we were beginning to notice…
“Check ‘em out! They’re all over the fucking place!” Eric said.
We shined our flashlights over the ceiling, revealing ten or twenty more of them. “Luckily they aren’t at hair level or I might have a problem with being down here.” I chuckled. “I knew a guy in Junior High that had one of those suckers get stuck in his hair and it wasn’t too cool from what I understand.”
“How far can you go into this thing,” Space said, walking down deeper into the cavern.
“Not too much farther. The Boy Scouts blocked it off a few years ago. Apparently it was kind of dangerous cave.”
“That’s no way to better the universe,” Space said, looking concerned. “They should be out picking up trash in State parks instead of ruining our fun.”
“Hey, they have some Skinny Puppy on out there, we should climb out of here and dance!” Eric said.
One of the bats took flight as we crawled back out of the cave and people ooohed and ahhhed as it circled the bonfire a few times before soaring upwards into the night.
The tempo of the party was increasing as people became intoxicated by the cold nighttime air, the trees, the forest, the cave, and of course, all of the bottles of booze that were making the rounds.
But my friends were well-behaved. I only had play host once – to discourage a few people from jumping over the bonfire instead of dancing around it. I mean, the flames were rising five or six feet into the air, and only drunken logic or the Bionic Man could jump that high.
I was wondering where my suburban coworkers were going to fit into the scheme of things. But when I found them later that night, oddly enough, they had a lively conversation going with – of all people – Tory! I walked up to see what they were talking about.
“I like Iron Maiden,” Tory was saying. “Their ‘trip,’ its imagery. Its otherworldly like Japan’s ‘Gentleman Take Polaroid’s’ or Midge Ure’s ‘The Gift.’ I listen to them while I’m cleaning the bathroom.”
“Yeah, I love them,” JP said, apparently glossing over the ‘bathroom’ comment. “I’ve got everything they’ve ever done. And I’ve seen them in concert three times.”
“But their lead minstrel, I don’t know about him. Bruce Dickinson looks like a…” Tory searched for a word. “He looks like a blissful Wildebeest.”
“Huh?” JP said.
I chuckled. Brian should be here to hear this, I thought. And where the hell was he??
Elsewhere that night…
Bauhaus blared out of the rear speakers of Brian’s white Pontiac Sunbird as they turned off the highway at the first Eureka exit.
Telegram Sam, you’re my main man, Telegram Sam you’re my main man…I said Bobby’s alright! He’s a natural born poet – he’s just out of sight – sight!!.
“So how do you know people from Eureka?” Beth asked, twisting the rearview mirror her direction.
“Well my parents live in Fenton and the town only has a middle school. So grades 9 – 12 have to bus into town here for High School,” Brian said, turning onto the main drag. Jack-O-Lanterns leered from front porches, their triangles and slits of eyes flickering yellow and orange in the darkness. They passed the Junior High School and its windows were brimming with fake spider webs and Halloween decorations: ghosts, Frankenstein’s, mummies, tombstones, skeletons and vampires.
“And you go to school with Craig?” Beth asked.
“No, not anymore. He graduated last year. I moved here from Colorado last winter when he was a senior, and it was the middle of my junior year. So we only went to the same school for a semester. I didn’t really know him that semester, but we both worked out at Six Flags this summer, and he knew my older brother Tim,” he said.
“Hey, have you ever met Tory or Space, or Eric of any of those guys?”
“I don’t think so… Do they hang out at the Animal House?” Beth asked.
The Animal House was a notorious under twenty-one club that had been carved out of an old movie theater. On Friday nights they’d spin music videos on a big screen TV – Dead Or Alive, The Call, Cocteau Twins, Doctor and the Medics, Bronski Beat, Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and the Banshees; and cover bands with names like The Eyes and The Chosen Few would play U2, Sex Pistols and the Clash. You didn’t need to go anywhere else in town on Friday night.
“Uh, no. I don’t think so. They’re a little older than we are. But I’m sure you’ll recognize some people at the party from ‘Animal Hole.’”
“Your hair is really cool!” Beth said, learning over to tug at a few of his spikes. “You’re so tall, some of the spikes are poking into the ceiling!” She giggled.
“Heh, yeah, I know.”
She was wearing an oversized dark-blue sweater, a short black skirt, and black stockings. And Brian had to keep reminding himself to keep his eyes on the road, because he’d was beginning to notice that if he let his eyes wander, they’d be gazing contentedly at her legs before he even realized it.
And that was dangerous, because the main road had given way to twisty, cramped farm roads that were barely wide enough for two cars to pass side by side. If you met a car on one of these turns, you just had to cross your fingers they were minding their side of the road.
“My friend Marcy trimmed my hair up this morning. I love how it feels.” She ran her hands over the short stubble on the back her head, and brushed her long bangs out her face. “I’d never shave my head right down to the skin because then you’re missing out on the soft stubble. Here, you wanna feel it,” she said
“Yeah, hold on for a second.” He waited until he was around a turn and on a straightaway, and then he reached over and rubbed his hand over the short, quarter inch-long stubble that circled the base of her head. All girls are soft, but Beth’s hair felt like baby’s hair, like velour. “That’s awesome…”
The night was getting darker, or rather, the streetlights were getting less frequent. He looked over at her and could hardly see her anymore, just the glow of her eyes reflecting back the dash lights.
“You can always tell when you’re getting close to Craig’s subdivision,” he said, turning onto Thunder Mountain Road.
His car drifted down the gravel road in the darkness. Rocks made pinging noise on the undercarriage of the car as the tires kicked them up, and the headlights cut through dust clouds made by an earlier car.
“This is spooky,” Beth said. “It’s so dark out here.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of amazing out here in the country. It almost looks like a Planetarium show you can see so many stars.”
A car was coming the other direction on the road and he moved over to the shoulder to let it pass. A late model car drifted by slowly, it’s occupants peering out of foggy windows. Brian couldn’t make out any faces, but the car was packed with people in dark clothing, and as it passed he spotted a ‘Sisters of Mercy’ sticker on the back window.
“Hey, I bet they were heading for the party!” he said. “But they’re going the wrong way.”
“Do you think we should back up and let them follow us?” Beth asked.
“No, they look like they’re in a hurry,” he said looking in his rearview mirror. “I bet they’re making a quick run into town for cigarettes or booze.”
He pulled his car back on the road.
“How far is it from here?” Beth asked.
“Well, where we’re going to park isn’t far at all,” he said turning up the hill that led to the dead end. “But then we have to hike for about a half of a mile into the woods. Shit, that reminds me. I never even noticed what kind of shoes you’re wearing. Are you equipped for a hike or am I going to have to carry you?”
“I’m always prepared,” she said, hoisting her feet up to the top of the dash. “I’m wearing Alice in Wonderland shoes tonight – my Mary Jane’s.”
“Oh man, I love those shoes. I don’t know why but…” Brian was starting to say as they rounded the corner and drove into the dead end. But they’d just run head on into the unexpected…
“Oh my God! What the hell is going on?!” Brian nearly yelled. “Fuck… We’re getting the hell out of here – like right now. Hold on.”
He cranked his Sunbird into reverse without stopping, turned it around in the ditch nearly hitting a tree, and flew off in the opposite direction down the gravel road.
Back at the Party…
“Yeah, my friend Dan went to school at Eckerd College down in St. Petersburg, Florida,” I was saying. “And he said there was a coven of vampires down there.
“Real vampires?” JP asked, skeptically.
“Well, that’s open for speculation. Dan didn’t seem to think so. He knew one of the girls in the coven and she was a student at Eckerd, and his whole point was like, if she’s a vampire then why is she going to school and paying tuition like me?”
“Hey, vampires have to learn too,” Space said, taking a swig of Seagram’s and passing the bottle to the next person. “Haven’t you ever heard of the United Vampire’s College Fund?”
The party had split into two groups, as parties often do. One group sat around the campfire speculating about supernatural affairs. And the other group was sitting on the rocks above the cave smoking pot and listening to Tory play sing and play guitar.
I was having trouble doing the vampire story any justice, not because of my intoxication, but because in the back of my head I was wondering why no one new had joined the party in over an hour. I could have blown it off and just assumed it was going to be a shitty party with even shittier attendance and that no one was going to show, but there were some problems with the theory.
For one thing, Brian said he was going to get there early as soon as he picked up his date. He was one of the original conceivers of the whole thing, and he was nowhere to be seen. And even stranger, a half-hour earlier we’d sent two people up to replace the guides on the path and no one had returned.
An already surreal evening was beginning to take on undeniably sinister qualities. I had the distinct feeling something was watching us from out in the trees. And I felt as if I had a duty to keep an eye out for people straying too far away from the fire. Because maybe, just maybe, the thing we’d heard shambling through the brush that one night was waiting out there for us. Maybe it was waiting behind a tree just outside of the reach of the bonfire’s light, and just like in a horror movie, it was biding its time, waiting for the opportunity to pick us off slowly, one by one…
“So what did this girl look like?” JP asked. “And how did your friend know she was involved with a vampire cult?”
“Uh, oh yeah,” I said, regaining my train of thought. “Well, he said she was death white which was kind of a strange thing in Florida since it’s sunny down there most of the time. And he said she wore really weird jewelry with Egyptian symbols and stuff…”
“Yeah so what,” Space said, nodding over his shoulder. “Send Tory down there on vacation and everyone would probably think the same thing.”
“Well wait a minute, let me finish here,” I said. “Dan said one night he was studying in his dorm room, and all of their rooms were garden apartments. And so he’s sitting at his desk near the window with the breeze blowing in one night, lost in his own world. And suddenly there she is. Outta nowhere she’s standing at his window. He didn’t even hear her walk up. But anyway, he’s starts talking to her, and they’re about school and stuff and she notices this ring he’s wearing and asks him if she can see it.
“So Dan takes it off and he’s handing it to her through the window – and she makes some really quick movement towards him! And he jerked his hand back just in time.” I paused. “And get this. He said she had a razor in her hand.”
“Jesus…” Bob said.
“So she was trying to cut him?” Space said.
“Apparently, I don’t know wha…”
We all saw it at the same time. A bright whitish-yellow glow was ebbing through the forest to the east.
No one said anything for a full ten seconds. I think everyone was trying to apply their own personal rationalization to the ghostly light.
“What the fuck is that?!” JP said.
“Maybe someone has some really bright ‘brights’ on their car at the dead end,” Bob said.
“No way man,” someone said. “There’s no way a set of headlights could look like that, much less reach this far. That thing’s totally bright!”
“Perhaps the moon fell out of the sky and cratered our shuttles,” Space mused.
From our vantage point on the hillside, we could see that it was illuminating a good quarter mile of forest. And it wasn’t a steady light, it was pulsating and was sending rays out in four or five different directions at once.
“Hey Tory!” Space yelled over his shoulder. “There’s your ‘heavenly visitor’ friends you were looking for earlier.”
The glow was getting closer now and seemed to be rising above the trees. By this time, everyone was on their feet, totally slack-jawed, staring at the light.
“I’m going to turn the stereo off,” JP said. “I want to hear if this thing is making any sound.”
“It sounds like someone whispering.” Tory said. He’d propped his guitar against the Indian tree and was watching the light show with the rest of us.
“It has to be a helicopter,” JP said.
“How do you know?” I asked. “And even if it is, what would a helicopter be doing all the way out here, shining a spotlight at the forest?”
“Maybe some prisoner’s escaped from the jail out in Pacific,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s a possi…” I started to say.
The hair on the back of my neck and arms stood on end as a bunch of people came running into the clearing at full kilt. I heard their boots stomping down the path before I actually saw them.
It was the first set of guides… and their replacements.
“Cops!” they yelled, running into the clearing. “It’s the cops,” my friend Steve yelled, gasping for air.
“What?” I asked.
“They’re everywhere… all over the place at the dead end.”
“Now wait a minute Steve, slow down,” I said. “Are they coming down the path?”
“No, I don’t think so. But there’s like ten police cars blocking the whole dead end!”
Now we could hear the whispering sound a little better as it got closer. The light was advancing towards us across the forest, illuminating miles and miles of trees.
JP was right. It was a helicopter.
“That light is a police helicopter! And they’re gonna see the fire!” I yelled.
“They’re gonna see it either way,” JP said. “If we put it out, then they’ll see the smoke. But we have to put it out in either case, because we might need to run. Here, help me out with this,” he said, grabbing a large cooler someone had brought. “We can dump water and ice on the thing and put it out most the way. And then we’re gonna have to run because they’ll home in on all of the smoke just like it was beacon.”
“Ok,” I said, raising my voice to address everyone. “Everyone dive into the cave and take as much stuff down there with you as you can. That thing is going to be here in less than a minute!” I grabbed one end of the cooler and JP grabbed the other side, and we dumped off the excess water and ice onto the fire.
The fire made a horrendous hissing sound as we poured the water onto it, and a huge tower of smoke and steam rose into the sky as people jumped through the cave mouth and scrambled to hide their belongings.
“I think that’s the best we’re gonna do,” JP said, grabbing the boombox, “Let’s take cover, it’s almost here!”
I made one last pass across the clearing, grabbing a cooler someone had forgotten and then I jumped through the mouth just as the spotlight hit the edge of the clearing.
The helicopter was deafening now, maybe twice as loud because the sound was echoing throughout the walls of the cave.
“Shut off that flashlight!” I yelled at someone. “And Tory, quit playing that fucking guitar, you’re gonna give us away!”
“C’mon Craig,” JP said from somewhere nearby in the darkness. “It’s so noisy out there, they’re not gonna be able to pick out the sound of an acoustic guitar in-between all that racket the blades are making.”
“Yeah Tory, keep playing,” someone said. “Let’s have us a cave party.”
The helicopter was hovering right over the clearing now. I peeked out over the lip of the cave and watched the spotlight examining the remains of our bonfire and scanning the surrounding forest.
“Play some Skynyrd Tory,” someone said, and everyone laughed.
But a moment later, right on cue, we heard the first cords of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ ring out of the darkness. A few people started singing along, and before long I felt the nudge of a bottle in my back.
So as the police hovered a hundred feet above us in their helicopter, Tory played his guitar. And surprisingly, or perhaps not, someone down there in the in the darkness knew every word. We followed his lead and sang along, and played a game that would have been called, “Try to Pass the Seagram’s Bottle Blindfolded” if we’d been pressed to give it a name.
Big wheels keep on turnin’,
carry me home to see my kin.
Singin’ songs about the south land.
I miss ole ‘Bamey once again and I think it’s a sin, yes it is!
Well I heard Mister Young sing about her.
Well, I heard old Neil put her down.
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember,
a southern man don’t need him around anyhow.
Sweet Home Alabama!!!
And then as if the redneck song had some magical power to ward off police, the helicopter suddenly shut off it’s spotlight and soared upwards into the sky.
The cave erupted into applause and cheers, as the cave dwellers closest to the lip crawled up and out of the abyss and into the night air again.
I was still pessimistic about our good fortune. I figured now that we’d been located, the cops would swarm en masse into the woods and arrest the lot of us. But I had at least one reason to be in a good mood though.
For all practical purposes, the party had been a total and complete disaster. But it didn’t seem to matter to anyone. As I’d just witnessed down there in the darkness of the cave, no one seemed to care! They were totally lucid and having a great time! If anything, the police helicopter had added more adventure to an already adventurous evening.
“Can we continue with the party?” Eric asked. “Or is that the end?”
“Are you kidding me man? I’m not going down there to the dead end to hang out with a bunch of cops. If they want to come into the woods to get us, then let them,” I said. “We’ll just try to have some fun until they do, or hopefully, until they go away.”
With JP’s fire building capabilities, we were able to rebuild the fire on the soggy ruins of the previous one. And it wasn’t long before the music was blaring and people were dancing again.
An hour passed and everyone got to feeling safe again. If we were going to get busted, it certainly would have happened by then.
Then my friend Todd showed up at the party, and ran into the clearing from the path. Everyone stopped in their tracks.
“What?” he asked, looking at the crowd. “What’d I do?” He stood there smiling. We played a lot of practical jokes on Todd over the years, and I guess he figured this was just another one. “Why’s everyone looking at me?”
“You parked at the end of the road and walked up here?” I asked.
“Yeah Craig, and where were these fucking ‘guides’ who were s’pposed to show me the way? I almost got lost you dumbfuck,” he said.
“And there weren’t any police down there?” JP asked.
“Police?” Todd said. “What police?”
Eric let out a holler. “Whhhhhhoooooooo!!!!!! Oh Yeah! Bye, bye!”
Then everyone, including the boys from the suburbs, danced around the campfire to The Damned’s “In Dulce Decorum.” And the party continued on into the night.
Sunday, October 23rd, 1988
I got up at 7:30 that morning somewhat hungover but in fairly good shape. Who knows how I did it back then, but I jumped over hangovers as easily as I skipped stairs running through our two-story house. And even better than the lack of a hangover, I hadn’t slept on my Mohawk or banged it up as I’d slept. That would save me about 45 minutes in front of the mirror with a hair dryer and a can of Aquanet Super-Extra Hold hairspray.
I took a shower, got dressed and flew downstairs before the rest of my family was even out of bed. I made a few Pop-tarts and threw them into a greasy, reused brown paper bag along with a can of Coke and an apple. I glanced at the kitchen clock on my way out the door. 8:05.
I had to get back to the cave to retrieve all of the stuff we couldn’t find in the dark the evening before. I didn’t know how much we had left, but I knew for sure that we’d lost a case of tapes, and few bottles of liquor.
I flipped on the lights in the barn and the horses stuck their heads out of their stalls, blinking rapidly at the bright light. Their breath floated through the aisle in giant clouds as I opened the feed bin and filled a bucket. Measuring the grain with a rusty coffee can, I poured their breakfast into their troughs and gave them all a portion of hay to chew on.
Then I wrote my parents a note in the dust on the front of a stall door:
‘Horses fed. Went riding. Took Fig.’
I played with my cat Dobson until my mother’s horse, ‘Figgy,’ had finished eating a majority of her breakfast, and then I took her out of her stall. I brushed her reddish-brown coat and took the burs out of her mane, and she seemed happier to be free of all of the sawdust and mud. When I put the saddle on her and was tightening the girth, however, I heard her stomp and paw the ground a few times. I think she was a little pissed that she wasn’t going to get a chance to finish her breakfast.
But that was alright. Knowing Figgy, she’d eat three times her weight on the way to cave. Wherever that horse went it was a buffet: weeds alongside the road, leaves from the trees we passed, grass from the ground if I let her reins get too slack… If it was edible, Figgy would eat it.
As I was pulling the straps of the bridle over her ears, she leaned over and started inspected the bag that held my breakfast. I swear that horse could smell an apple through a steel safe. “Alright Miss Piggy.” I pulled the apple out of my bag, took a bite, and gave it to her on a flat palm. She devoured it in about two seconds.
Wrapping the reins around the saddle horn, I put a combat boot into the stirrup and launched myself up into the saddle. I unfastened a leather strap and tied the remainder of my breakfast to the side of the saddle, and then off we went into the brisk October morning.
Figgy was my mother’s horse and consequently she didn’t obey me very well. On top of that, she was pretty difficult to ride. Her gallop was extremely rough and was likely to cause you to suffer momentary dizziness and headaches. But she had a really smooth trot that made up for all of that, and with miles and miles of personality, she was my favorite horse out of the bunch.
I rode her slowly up our driveway to the brownish-red clay gravel road that wound through our subdivision.
“Chitch-chitck, chitch-chitck, chitch-chitck… Chitch-chitck, chitch-chitck, chitch-chitck… ” I made a clicking sound with my tongue pressed to the top of my mouth. Then I pulled back sharp on the reigns and emphasized the command by tightening my legs around her sides. I had just said, ‘faster now, don’t run. And make it a trot please,” and when she took off, she did exactly that, dropping into an easy rocking-horse trot.
We sailed down the roads of my subdivision as the sun was coming up. I slowed her down a few times, once to pass the Bradshaw house because they had a llama and an ostrich penned out near the road. And Figgy absolutely despised the big screwy bird and was known to buck or take off at a run if she even saw the thing.
We slowed down a second time to let a car pass. One of our neighbors, Mr. Romero waved at me from his BMW as he went by. I waved back.
I think the neighbors were initially a little unsettled about having a horseback riding punk rocker loose in their neighborhood. But most of them had eventually become pretty accepting of it. After all, they’d known me for a long time and had seen me go through a number of phases: from pink Izods and purple Polo’s to Ocean Pacific T-shirts and parachute pants, from paisley-patterned shirts to long bangs and a shaved new-wave hair cut… and so forth.
We trotted up to the dead end and I brought Figgy to a stop near the start of the path. I leaned over and pulled a tattered flyer off of a tree. “It’s a Dead Man’s Party, leave your body at the door,” It read. I chuckled. Well, it hadn’t exactly been the party we’d hoped for, the cops had been a drag, and Brian and Beth had never made it, but nonetheless, it had been a lot of fun.
I rode up the path watching for trash to pick up while Figgy looked for opportunities to eat things. My friends had been remarkable clean the night before; I didn’t spot a single piece of trash.
As we walked up the path, I unlashed the brown paper bag from the saddle and bit into a warm cherry Pop-Tart. The morning was starting to warm up as the sun rose. I unzipped my leather jacket, managed to slide out of it, and tucked it underneath the edge of the saddle.
Suddenly Figgy’s ears shot skyward and turned into miniature satellite dishes above her head. She’d heard something. And sure enough, a minute or so later as I was opening my can of Coke, I heard it to. A horse was running down the path, coming straight at us. I counted the hoof beats and decided the thing was going fast enough that it was hardly touching the ground. I yanked hard on the reins and pulled Figgy to left to get out of the way.
A moment later, a giant black horse rocketed past us on the trail, it’s rider hugging its back to avoid the hanging branches. Horse and rider both noticed us at the same time and they made an attempt to stop. The man reared up in the saddle, and fought to rein in his horse.
It was one of my neighbors, Ray Kato. He was a car salesman and he and his wife lived a block or two down the road. I liked him. I’d house sat for him a few times. They had a really posh house, a totally cool entertainment center and a decent album collection. I think Ray and his wife might very well have been the first ‘adults’ I ever related to.
“Well if it isn’t the ‘horse hotrod’ and his demon nightmare steed,” I said, as he walked up on his horse.
“I thought I was under attack by some Mohawked Injun’s and that it might be time for ‘Kato’s Last Stand.’” Ray said, grinning as he came to a stop a few feet away. “What the hell are you doing out here so early… oh, wait. I guess I don’t have to ask.” He smirked.
“You guys had that party somewhere in the woods last night, right?” he asked.
“Yeah, well sort of. It ended up being pretty small because someone called the cops and they went gung-ho trying to break it up. We were just a bunch underage drinkers and but they brought out a search helicopter! Talk about overkill…”
“Yeah, well you’re just lucky I was around to talk to them,” Ray said.
“You called them?!”
“No, Mr. Overkamp did. He saw all the cars at the dead end and he thought a bunch of rednecks were out here poachin’. The cops showed up and found a weird flyer tacked to a tree and they thought they had themselves some Satanists on their hands.” Ray chuckled. “What did it say on that thing say again? Something about a dead man?”
“A Dead Man’s Party. We had a Halloween party. That’s the name of an Oingo Boingo song.”
“Oinkin’ what?” Ray asked.
“Oingo Boingo. It’s a band I like.”
“Oh,” he said, pulling back on the reins. “Well you have to tell me… You guys didn’t get all out of control last night on kiddy drinks and go and cut some poor fellow’s head off did you?”
“Are you kidding me Ray?”
“No, I’m not. The cops said they drug a headless body out of the river down on Zombie road. And seeing that we don’t get many murders out in these parts, and that flyer of yours, old Boss Hogg, Cletus and rest of the Eureka police yokels thought they had the case solved.”
Every town has a haunted house. Our town had a haunted road. Zombie road was foggy gravel road down near the flats of the Missouri river that was lined by creepy, flooded out deserted houses. There had been a few mysterious deaths down there over the years; most of them kids who drove down there for a thrill or to make out, and ended up drowning in the river, falling off a cliff or through the floor of one of the dilapidated houses.
“Oh my God!!” I stammered. “You’re kidding me! No wonder they were after us with a helicopter! Now I’m just trying to figure out why they didn’t come into the woods after us with a posse or something.”
“Well, they would have if I hadn’t showed up and put an end to the silliness. I told ‘em you were a local boy and that you and your buddies were just up there in the woods getting’ to the bottom of a few bottles of booze,” Ray said. “And my argument got stronger when some of your weird-haircut friends started showing up in their derelict cars… Most of them were maybe sixteen, seventeen years old. I think the cops realized they’d just wasted a big ole’ chunk of their time and resources on a buncha kids having a party.
“You should have seen them. They were lookin’ like they were gonna cry as they got into back into their police cars to go home.” He laughed. “They were all hopped-up to net themselves some Satanists; with their shotguns, bullet proof vests and fancy search helicopter. I don’t know whose party got crashed worse – yours or theirs.”
“Man, I owe you one Ray…” I said.
“Forget about it,” he said. “You’re a good kid. One of these days you’ll look like the rest of us, and you’ll look back on this whole thing and you’ll laugh your ever-loving ass off.”
“I don’t know about that.” I grinned.
“Well, you better go get your stuff. I tried to find your stash of booze this morning to grab it for myself but you must’ve hid it in a good spot,” he kidded me.
“Hey Ray, did the cops ask where I lived? Are my parents gonna find out about this?”
“Oh, they asked. But I didn’t tell ‘em straight. I told ‘em your name was Eric Romero,” he said, naming this older kid in the subdivision. “That little bastard gave me a lawn job a few weeks ago and I was figurin’ it was about time for a little payback. So don’t worry about your parents. The word is mum, understand me?”
I nodded. “Thanks Ray.”