Horror Stories - The Trestle: Installment One
A few years ago, I began writing horror fiction based in the small towns in and around the Allegheny National Forest. I started strong, finishing tons of writing in a very short space of time, but ultimately, life got in the way, as it so often does. Today, however, I decided it might be fun to breathe some fresh life into some of these old horror stories and post them in weekly installments right here on The Keystone Statement. The first story is The Trestle, about two kinds in the early 90's out trying to find some summertime adventure, who find quite a lot more than they bargained for. I'm not sure how many installments this will be, but I hope everyone enjoys and feels free to comment, even with cutting remarks about my lack of skill in the realm of fictional storytelling. Harsh criticism tends to be a good learning tool for me.
Chris Duncan loved nightmares.
While most others will try to twist free of the fetters which hold them suspended in their unhinging sleep, Chris would try to swim deeper down and study the face of the beast chasing him.
In narrow mazes and empty mansions, in black castles and abandoned freighters, Chris would find himself alone. Alone, of course, save the disjointed creatures who shambled after him through the ever changing walls of whatever macabre building or vessel he found himself in. Yes, alone, but Chris thrived. He would turn and face whatever grotesque beast pursued him, only to find empty walls and hallways behind. And then Chris would take chase, running back toward where he came from, praying for the confrontation that always seemed to elude him at these moments.
Chris always knew when he was dreaming, and that’s what gave him his power over the specters that haunted the strangest and most secret corners of his mind. He knew no fear because all he needed to do was give his head a rough shake and he would come out of his sleep and see the familiar glow of his digital clock reading some hour that was almost specifically reserved for the eccentric. This knowledge, however, was also what damned him in his desires.
Indeed, Chris loved nightmares. But he never had them anymore.
It always seems that the more one desires something, the more that particular something is averse to being around. The same is true in relationships, in riches, and in life and death. It seems that with all these things, the tighter a person’s grasp, the worse his hold. Such was the case with Chris and his nightmares.
For months, Chris would fill his mind with darkness that even his father wouldn’t dare pick up. He entangled himself in the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft (the most frightening, he thought, was In The Vault), the cracked, obsessive works of Poe, Stephen King’s cruel and disturbing novel, Cujo, and ended finally with Shirley Jackson’s highly regarded, The Haunting of Hill House. He would shut off his flashlight at around 11:30 every night, feeling he must be one of the most well-read eleven-year-old boys alive in this, the year of 1992. Then, he would rest his head and wait for the horrors to come. He awoke disappointed every morning.
As the light of the school year dimmed and finally extinguished, Chris found himself reading more, more and still more tales of disquiet. He had not experienced a nightmare since early October and it was becoming almost unbearable for him to listen to his friends tell of their dreadful delusions and of the cowardice they exhibited in running away from their monsters, or in simply snapping themselves awake.
This became so unbearable, in fact, that by mid-June, Chris had had enough.
He began looking for ways to make his own nightmares.
Her eyes snapped awake with the shout, but she was not yet sure if it was a dream voice that had addressed her, or the voice of-
She lunged out of bed and dressed quickly as possible. Oh, no, she thought with a half-dreaming mind that was aged only ten years and nine months. I can’t make him wait.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs there stood a figure painted head-to-toe in black but wearing a smile bright enough to counter. This figure extended its alien arms, and Shelly rushed to them, but stopped just before they enfolded her with a suspicious smile touching her lips.
“Nearly got me, huh?” she said innocently.
“I let you off the hook,” returned Harold. “I could have squeezed you until you looked like you fell down a chimney!”
Harold let go a laugh that was of Shelly Kitch’s favorite brand. It was the kind where his eyes laugh too, as if the rest of his face let them in on the joke. When Harold had that look on his face, she always wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.
“Go shower, Daddy!”
Harold Kitch came down from his shower clean (except for behind his ears, he always misses behind his ears) and greeted Shelly with that smile she loved so dearly. She watched his face as he sat down to the breakfast she had prepared for him. He never complained before (even when the food wasn’t quite up to par) but she always watched him with the same, tentative look on her face, hoping that his smile wouldn’t be replaced with a grimace. Balking, however, was not in Harold’s nature, most especially when it came to his daughter.
Harold grew up in Dugan, Pennsylvania, he was raising his daughter there, and he had every intention of moving across the street to St. Gregory’s Cemetery when his ticket was punched. Though his parents were not well off, they attended to their only child’s every need. Instead of coming out spoiled, Harold was one of the lucky few who was able to gage his parent’s struggles and appreciate every small luxury they would afford him. He would look out the front window at 3:30 every afternoon to see his Father walking down their long, dusty driveway, covered head to toe in whatever blackness floated through the air in the pressed metal factory where he spent his weekdays. Every day his Father carried a paper bag with a few pieces of penny candy that he picked up for his boy. As he watched his Father walk down the driveway in his strange minstrel show outfit, carrying candy that he had to double back toward town for, Harold would think to himself, How does he do it? How can anyone work like that and still be so unselfish?
Now Harold knew. It’s difficult to argue that one’s path is set the moment that they are conceived, especially if you look at the case of Harold Kitch. Though his parents did everything they could to give Harold everything that every other boy had, they were unable to send him to any kind of post-secondary education. Instead, in 1967 at the age of 19, Harold took a job in the very plant that his Father worked in and came home every day covered in blackness like his Father did. The two worked alongside one another for the next 13 years until his Father passed on with a heart attack only two months after his Mother suffered her fatal stroke. Suddenly, Harold found himself completely alone in the world, living like a shadow in the home where he was raised.
As a result of the loneliness he found himself engulfed in, Harold decided it was about time he found himself a steady woman. Deciding that he has seen all the female attractions that Dugan had to offer, he started spending his evenings checking out the bar scene in the neighboring town of Westonburg. It was in one of these bars that he discovered a young hairdresser by the name of Bethany Young.
For the remainder of 1980, the two spent every night together. Even on the days that Harold told her he was staying home for the evening, he would not be surprised or disappointed when she would come strolling down his driveway as the afternoon submitted to twilight. Harold found it was impossible to be upset with her for showing up unannounced. She would flash him that diffident smile of hers and extend a bottle of cheap wine toward him, and he would melt for her. On these occasions, the agenda for the evening was always the same: They would go inside, drink half the bottle, and head to the bedroom.
Sometimes they would simply fall asleep afterwards, but more often than not, Bethany would ask if he would like to finish the bottle outside. Undismayed despite the morbidity of it all, Harold would follow her down his long driveway and across the street to St. Gregory’s Cemetery, where they would always finish off the bottle on the steps of the same mausoleum. The nights they spent on those steps seemed endless, and Harold wouldn’t have it any other way.
Shortly after 1981 overtook 1980, Bethany informed Harold that she was with child. Harold was elated at the idea of being a father, and soon started mentioning that he would like to be a husband as well. Despite Bethany’s obvious indifference to the idea of being married, Harold proposed to her in early July. She denied him, stating that she would much rather wait until after they had the baby so that she could feel beautiful in her wedding dress. Harold accepted the idea without question or comment.
On October 7, 1981 at 1:42 a.m., Shelly Olivia Kitch was born. Harold, who had recently been placed on the 11 to 7 shift, left work the moment he received the call and arrived at Dugan’s tiny hospital just in time to watch his daughter come into the world.
By the time Shelly was two, Bethany and Harold still were not married and both were losing their patience. Bethany was growing tired of giving excuses and Harold was tired of indulging them. One morning when Harold returned from work, Bethany simply wasn’t there. Harold contacted the police at around 5:00 p.m. and when he hung up the phone, he knew already that she would never come walking down that dusty driveway again. He went to his daughter’s room, looked in on her and cried silently as he wondered what exactly he would do now.
“They’re fine, honey. Thank you.” Harold said behind a mouthful of scrambled egg.
Shelly noticed that he was staring at the necklace she always wore and her hand went to it absently as she afforded him a shriveled smile. She slipped the end of her pinky finger through the little diamond ring at the end of the chain- the ring he had bought for Bethany all those years ago.
“Where do you think my mom is right now Daddy?” Shelly spouted.
Harold fixed her with a curious look for what seemed to her like an eternity and then returned his gaze to his plate.
“I couldn’t say pumpkin,” Harold said to the remainder of his scrambled eggs. “She was just about the definition of a free spirit. When you’re looking for people like that, you might as well just throw a dart at a map.”
“Do you miss her Daddy?”
Harold chewed on this idea along with his breakfast for a few seconds.
“Sometimes, yes, I do honey.” Harold said quickly. “I guess I miss her the same way you might miss a shooting star. Perfection for a moment and then gone forever.”
“I’m glad I have her ring.”
“I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see it on.” Harold said, presenting her with that smile of his. “Now, let’s get down to business. What are you up to on this hot Friday?”
After his parents left for work, Chris gave his Father’s idea some serious consideration.
He had come downstairs that morning dead-set on breaking into the old Guthrie farmhouse which had gone abandoned since around the time Elvis died trying to take a shit. That evening he and Shelly Kitch were going to climb in through the broken kitchen window and see what exactly had been moving within that structure for the past twenty some odd years. Shelly was not aware of what she was going to be doing within the next few hours, but Chris knew he would be able to convince her. After all, she had had a serious crush on him ever since they were in 3rd grade.
By the time Chris had made it through his second bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, however, he had decided that walking through an old house, smelling rat dirt and rotten wood would not frighten him nearly so much as it would gross him out. He gazed across the table where his father was eating some dry toast and reading the sports section.
“Dad, is there anywhere in Dugan that you find frightening?”
Gene Duncan peered over his paper to where his son sat and then fixed his sights on his wife who was bleaching the sink. She didn’t lift her gaze, but Gene knew that her ears were tuned in.
“Well kiddo,” Gene began with his most parental voice, “most places that are visually frightening, are also very dangerous. Not necessarily because Dracula is waiting inside for you, but more because structurally, they are unfit for human occupation.”
Chris’ expression stood unchanging.
Gene cleared his throat.
“Take that old Guthrie place down Wayne Road for instance,” Gene said, feeling better now because his son’s attention seemed to have spiked. “Pretty neat place for a horror movie, but I wouldn’t set a foot in there for fear that I would fall through the doorway right into the basement and break my neck or something.”
Chris was now absolutely certain he didn’t want to go there. Letting himself get frightened is one thing, but letting himself get dead was quite another.
“Why don’t you find something fun to do that won’t take years off my life?” Harriet Duncan piped in. “Go play tag, go play some baseball, go-“
“With who mom?” Chris butted in feeling heat rise to his cheeks. “Michael is on vacation, Tucker’s grounded for a month, and Shelly is a girl! Who am I gonna go play baseball with, or swim with, or-“
Now it was Gene’s turn to interrupt.
“Go snipe hunting.” Gene said with a flat expression on his face.
“Snipe hunting?” Chris requested with a small glimmer of hope in his eyes.
Gene tipped his wife a wink and continued.
“When I was a kid growing up here, my friends and I would spend our lazy afternoons in the woods way out on the other side of the Grouse Creek Road looking for a snipe. We would get on our bikes at around 10:30 in the morning and stay in those woods until suppertime looking for a snipe to trap in our paper grocery bags.” Gene leaned over the table slightly. “Never did manage to bag one, but a fast boy like you probably wouldn’t have any trouble, Chris.”
“Did you ever see one while you were out there Dad?” Chris asked as his excitement began to peak.
“Once or twice maybe, but they move awful fast, son.” Gene said while he tried on his best look of longing.
“What does one look like Dad? Where do they stay?”
Here was the part where Gene had to get a little creative. He had indulged his son’s love of horror and knew that if he told him that a snipe was simply some stupid bird that probably didn’t even live in the United States, Chris would lose interest instantly. If he was going to get Chris started on this wild goose chase, he was going to have to make the snipe into something at least partially dangerous, and most certainly horrific.
“Well, son, you need to remember that I only caught enough of a glance to identify the snipe while I was out there.”
Gene took a sip of his coffee and then tented his fingers as he went on.
“On the day that I saw it, my friends and I followed a narrow path and walked it until we came to a puddle that was more like a swamp. Snipes like those sorts of conditions, so we decided to see if we could scare one out of the water by throwing a big rock right into the center of it. Chris, I’ll be darned if that isn’t just what happened. As soon as we threw the rock, out came the snipe.”
Gene leaned forward.
“At first, I thought it was just an enormous toad. But when it looked at me for that one brief moment, I saw that there were some crucial differences. It’s eyes were two red beads and when it opened it’s mouth just before it darted off into the brush, I saw that it had at least a three inch forked tongue and a mouthful of tiny piranha teeth.”
“Gene-“ Harriet started in with a disgusted look on her face.
“Honey, if he and that Kitch girl are going on a snipe hunt they need to be aware of the DANGER involved!” Gene said with some flourish as he looked at his son.
“Did you ever see it again, Dad?”
Gene leaned back in his chair and painted his face with that far-off look again.
“Only perhaps in brief glances, son.” Gene shifted his eyes back to his boy. “But, from what I hear, those woods are crawling with them nowadays. I doubt if many kids today have even heard of the snipes. The snipe hunts lost their luster just as fast as hula hoops.”
Chris was beginning to sense the yarn his Father was spinning.
“How come I’ve never heard of them Dad?” Chris asked as he narrowed his eyes at his Father. “I read a lot you know.”
Gene scratched his sideburn as he quickly conceived a response.
“Well, son,” Gene began. “How many authors have your read that are from western Pennsylvania?”
“Well, I dunno. I guess…none.”
Gene laughed and did a slightly exaggerated shrug.
“There’s your answer kiddo. Snipes only live in this area.”
When they were gone, Chris sat in the living room and considered the advantages of this adventure. Despite his Father’s protests to the contrary, he found it hard to believe that such a creature could escape his awareness for all these years.
This could still be fun though. Chris thought as he crossed to his kitchen to get a paper bag. I’ll bet I can really get Shelly going with the whole idea.
Chris locked his door and started toward St. Gregory’s Cemetery.
Besides, who knows what else we might find out there.