People never truly know where their fears are or where their courage ends. That is what my ole pappy use to tell me when I was a kid. Pappy would say, “people are never what they seem to be…especially in times of ‘hair standup” time.” Yeah “hairs stand up” was his favorite phrase for the moment a person came to grips with the ‘ghosts and goblins’ of life.
My hair stand-up time came when I was young child, one October evening as I was passing “Grimy Gulch.” Well it isn’t much of a gulch but an irrigation ditch that passed through our town. But what kid wants to have his haunts and hang-out places called “Grimy Irrigation Ditch?” This was a place that found us many a Saturday charging up San Juan Hill or slaying dragons that were predisposed to dispose of ladies in waiting. (Of course if that “lady-in-waiting” was Monica Dreyfuss, the dragon actually had a cheering section.) But, I digress.
This particular night I had just left my best friends house and had to come home. I never understood why parents decided to wait until 10 p.m. on a dismally cold autumn night to decide I had to come home to get in a bath. I was perfectly content to spend the night watching horror movies and eating nachos. But after much whining on my part over the phone, and dad threatening me with Bill Cosby’s “I brought you into this world and I can take you out” line, I knew I was on the losing end of the battle. (Seriously, did dad really think I didn’t understand human anatomy better then that?) But I digress.
Grimy Gulch (Ditch…whatever) had some really large cottonwoods that perimetered the channel. It sunk in about 9 feet at spots and at its narrowest width…you might jump it if you were into pole vaulting. At night it had a quiet, graveyard quality to it. You never heard birds there during the day, nor any form of wildlife, now that I think about it. Some people say it use to be a flow channel for toxic waste from the old tire plant. If that was the case…that explained a lot about my friends…and Monica. But, I digress.
Walking by there that evening I was already in a sour mood. I almost wish dad would try the Cosby philosophy…but I was just mad. But, as I was walking over the bridge of that gulch, something did not feel right. In fact something was terribly not right. Strange, weird moans and gurgling were permeating through the rafters of the bridge. They were moans of the Hollywood, Bela Lugosi variety. Eerie does not give justice to what I was sensing…but, more like a feeling of dread.
There was hardly any moonlight peaking through the mist and the clouds. The Cottonwoods branches directed straggles of limbs pointing to all manner of direction. Their shadows did not help the chill coming up my spine like a squirrel on the loose.
The moans and gurgles began to grow more incessant as I drew closer. I wanted to high-tail it away from there; but, my curiosity got the better of me. I had to know what sort of fiendish apparition or creature could be gripping the night with their pangs of anguish.
The sounds became more pained as I began to climb down into the gulch. The air was filled with the aroma of flesh. The stench made my nostrils grope for any reprieve or help. My mind was racing as fast as my heart with all the possibilities as to what lie behind the next possible scene I would come upon. No past adventure had ever stirred my adrenaline to rush through me with such intensity. Yet, in this whole drama unfolding, one thing was constant…the sounds.
The sounds reached my being with sinful purpose. I felt as if my very essence was being bombarded with the most perverse and dire clamoring possible. The sounds…nay, the haunting noise was purposeful and distinct. What I thought earlier as moans were now distinct as groans…the groans of an animal in great pain. Or so my brain made me believe that’s all it was. I felt as if no matter what I found; I would be weeks in the shower cleansing the vileness of this whole escapade off of me. Yet, I kept moving closer.
I crept nearer to see under the bridge. With tenacious, pain-staking motion I made my way closer so as not to spook what ever malevolence created these sounds of utter pain. The thoughts crowding my brain were, “what could possibly make such hollow and painful noises”, or “Will my body ever be found?” The mind of a child is a wonderful, yet scattered mess in times of excitement or fear. But, I again digress.
It was now just a matter of a few simple feet of me seeing what was pulling me in. My heart was pounding more intense and with rushed rhythm as my I reached forward to pull away the last vestiges of weeds blocking my view. I haltingly stretched my hand forward to part the weeds…then I stopped. “Can I really be this willing to see the full unimaginable horror that was about to unfold?” I quietly asked myself. Nevertheless, I knew I had to know. Was it a trapped beast? Or maybe it was some alien life-form consuming one of the town’s citizens? I could not contain myself…I had to know…I reached out and pulled down on the remaining plants. Into the darkness I look….trying to arrange any semblance of recognition of lay within the shadows.
I looked deep into the bridges underbelly and my heart stood still. The immense horror of the dweller…the villain…the scourge was more then I could handle. It was a true nightmare. Why was this allowed? The horror of it all was too much. Next time make Monica Dreyfuss eat at home.