As a child, I lived in what most would call the “country”. Every morning my parents would awake before dawn. My father, a farmer by trade, would wake me to help gather eggs as he milked the cows. Every morning like clockwork we would be greeted by my dog Butterscotch and she and I would race to the barn together. I would pat her on the head and receive a lick to the face in turn. My father and I would then enter the barn to complete our morning chores. After finishing our tasks, we would return to the house with milk and eggs in hand.
My mother would cook us breakfast nearly every morning until she took ill in the winter of my fifteenth birthday. By then I had brother of four and I pretty much took care of things until she got better, although she never fully recovered. My father had always taught that a man had to be able to fill in any task, no matter how small. I have remembered that all my life.
After breakfast, I would ready myself for school. My mother would greet me at the door with a butcher-paper wrapped sandwich made of salted ham and homemade wheat bread. By that time, the sun had yet to rise and my father would have started his work in the field. I, however, would be whisked out the door with a kiss on the cheek and a pat on the head.
If your parents ever told you that they had walked eight miles to school every morning, they were probably exaggerating a bit. I had to walk a half mile down a dirt road every morning before sunrise and every evening before sunset, save weekends. Now, for a child of ten, a quarter mile felt like ten and a half and a mile like fifty. In the time I have been an adult, I have since returned to that road and it was actually a little less than a half mile, but like I said, it felt like fifty for a child of ten.
Walking that road alone in the hours before dawn, or in the evening when the sun was setting, was a time when my mind would wander. On most mornings, my dog, Butterscotch, would accompany me on my trek. Occasionally she would feign sleep and stay curled up in her dog house my father had built her.
On this particular morning she stayed behind acting the part of “Lazy Dog “. So, like the obedient son I was, I went out to face a new day down the path that led to my bus stop. If I had known what was lying in wait before me, I probably would have played the part of “Lazy Son” and acted sick. However, to me it was just another ‘picture perfect’ morning in the country.
The morning started like any other, I remember. The pre-dawn air sent a chill up my light jacket (it was nearly summer, so light clothing was in season) as I marched down the dirt road. The darkness of the night had nested well in the trees which seemed to be slowly waking to the growing rays of day.
I walked down the dirt road, whistling a tune I had heard on the radio, until I came to that spot.
Now, before I continue, I have to clarify a few things. Every child that has ever walked anywhere has a place that causes goose flesh to form on the back of their neck and that turns their insides into Jell-O. A place where, if there is a Devil, his children taunt us from there. To some children it’s a house at the end of a street, for others, it’s a single room in their home, maybe an attic or the basement. To me it was a road.
This was not just any ordinary road, no. This road was sinister. The trees where thicker, the road rough and overgrown and, even at mid-day, the road seemed to have a shadow that lived in the very air surrounding it. This road was, to me, the road to dead things and creatures that lived under your bed.
Most times, I would take a deep breath and run across the opening that led down the evil road and continue on my way, sometimes with eyes closed, others without. On those mornings my run would be accompanied by the mantra every child knows. “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God” Occasionally, when I felt exceptionally brave (and only when Butterscotch accompanied me) I would steal a glance down the road secretly hoping (like all kids) to catch a glimpse of something otherworldly. Each time I managed a glance, however, I would get a gagging feeling in the back of my throat.
As I remember, the road would start like any other, bright and well-traveled. Then, as if every person who had ever ventured down the path had turned back, the road became rough and over grown. You could still make out the grooved dirt that had been cleared by an unseen hand but it looked to be slowly consumed by the darkness beyond. If you stared at the darkness at the end of the road for too long, it would almost stare back at you.
This particular morning, however, I was feeling exceptionally brave, even though Butterscotch was nowhere in sight.
Walking and whistling I had stopped at that corner of a road I called “Creepy Lane”. (In my adult hood I discovered it to be called “Faust’s Crossing”, a reference that would have been lost on me at the age of ten.)
Stopping at the corner I drew a deep breath. My first instinct was to dash across like any other day. My thoughts suddenly jumped to my father and what he would do in a situation that scared him and I suddenly (uncharacteristically) walked to the center of the cross way and stopped. Turning slowly, I looked down the road and a chill filled every fiber of my being. Even now, I wonder why I had made such a rash choice. For a child of ten your father is normally your number one hero, but that would have rarely caused me to do something against my nature.
Staring down the overgrown dirt road I saw a darkness blacker than I had ever seen in my entire life. The black seemed to be made of tar or pitch. It seemed to writhe in the faint moonlight of the early morning. How long I stood there, I will never know, but after a time I saw something that I had never seen down that old road. Lights.
At the far end, where the blackness was at its thickest, a pair of bluish white lights hovered above the ground. The odd thing that struck me, even at ten years of age, was that these lights cast no light. All they were was a self-sustained glow that seemed to grow slowly the more I watched them. What I had not realized at the time was that they were not growing at all; I was in fact walking toward them without so much of a thought. It seems, now that I have had a chance to look back, that the lights had entranced me and took hold of my mind in a fashion that was beyond my comprehension.
From behind me a low growl emanated followed by a steady barking that caused me to glance backward, effectively breaking my gaze on the two lights. Turning my head, I saw Butterscotch standing nearly ten feet away from me, where I had thought I had been standing. Fear gripped my heart as I looked about me and the tendrils of darkness that had just started to surround me down ’creepy lane’. At first, I could not move. It felt like those times when father had poured fresh well water on me because I would not get out of bed. The cold wet feeling spread to my bones as I stood frozen, trapped between safety and certain doom. Then, something inside awoke, I burst into a run towards my beloved friend.
Although I know it was only about ten feet till I reached the safety of my barking companion, the road seemed to stretch before me. From behind me, I could almost feel the tendrils of darkness pulling at my clothing and my hair, trying to pull me back to the lights as I ran through the overgrown dirt road. The closer I got to Butterscotch, the harder she barked at whatever was behind me. I ran until was well past ’creepy lane’ and only stopped when I could not see the evil path behind me. Butterscotch took up a run beside me and, when I finally stopped, we both collapsed in exhaustion upon the main road. Giving Butterscotch a hug and receiving a welcome lick in turn, I dusted myself off and we walked the rest of the way to the bus stop. When we arrived, I saw the bus lumbering up the paved road that intersected with our dirt one. Giving Butterscotch one more hug, I boarded the bus and went on to school for the day.
For the rest of the day, I was in a daze. Although I remember vividly the events before and after that particular school day, I cannot remember anything about what was taught that day. If the teacher had revealed the secret to life; I would have been the only one that would have been left behind.
That whole day, I could think of nothing but those two lights with the inner-glow. I found myself dwelling on how they entranced me and how I walked toward them without as much as a thought of my own safety. How could I have, even at ten years of age, been so easily pulled along? If Butterscotch hadn’t come along… Butterscotch.
Then I realized an even greater fear. Butterscotch would have had to return home after her walk with me to the bus stop. She, being a faithful and intelligent dog, would have followed the path back and would have to cross the path of ’Creepy Lane’. What if the light wasn’t satisfied with losing me? What if it had gotten my dog on her way back?
For the rest of the day my mind lingered on all of the possibilities at hand, none of them good. All I could think about, was what I would find upon my return home.
On the way home that evening, my mind still pondered on the upcoming event. The bus left on time but, much to my dismay it was delayed an hour because of a flat tire. Now, normally, I would arrive at the bus stop at home by five o’clock. Most evenings, I had plenty of time to walk home and finish my evening chores with some daylight left to spare. This evening, however, I arrived at my stop at around six and the sun had already decided to begin its decent that evening. The walk home would take nearly an hour for me and my small legs so that would place me at the evil road just as the sun hit the point where the shadows begin to grow.
Stepping off the bus, my pace quickened.
Now, as I said before, Butterscotch liked to occasionally play the part of ‘Lazy Dog’ in the mornings, however in the evenings she was always there. She had never failed me before and now, for the first time she was nowhere in sight. I called out to her in a panic as the bus drove away. I yelled her name until my voice became horse and painful. With tears streaming down my face, I realized that I was alone and that I had to face this beast by myself. In a nutshell, I was scared out of my mind.
Mustering up all of the strength my young body had to offer; I began my long trek back to the house. As I walked I began to notice the lack of fauna in the surrounding area.
If you have ever lived in a rural setting, then you’ll understand how odd it is not to hear the occasional scurry of a rodent or the rustle of a bird as it is frightened by your approach. You would also understand what it means and that creepy feeling that washed over you when the crickets have stopped playing. Most city people comment on how quiet the rural areas are compared to the city life and to them it is. However, if you have lived in the country for any length of time, you realize there is just as much, or more, ambient noise caused by nature than any city could ever manufacture. It’s in these noises and subtle nuances that you become accustomed to the longer you remain in the country. It’s when these noises are silenced that we, country folk, begin to get scared. To me, the utter lack of ambient noise was absolutely terrifying.
As I walked I noticed a slight chill in the air and the wind began to pick up. At the horizon before me darkness began to creep over the trees. As I walked and watched, the clouds grew and with them the sun was slowly being devoured by a darkening sky. Although normally I would have a few rays of light remaining, I realized that I would not make it home before the clouds swallowed up the sun. Not only would I not make it home, but I would not have made it passed the intersection of road of darkness.
I continued forward, for to stop would accomplish nothing, until I reached that dreaded spot. I stopped just short of the corner and closed my eyes. Saying a brief prayer, I closed my eyes and started past the road. About half way across I heard a sound that I prayed I would not hear. Butterscotch was barking from the darkness of ’creepy lane’.
My first thought was, once again, to run like the wind. However, if you have ever been ten years old and had a faithful dog, you know what was going through my mind. I could not, under any circumstances, leave my lifelong friend to be consumed by such a malevolent entity. I turned towards that road once again and opened my eyes.
When I opened my eyes, the sun had been consumed by the growing storm clouds. The road, dark as it seemed that morning, was even darker if such a thing were possible. It was as if someone had laid out black velvet on every tree and bush then covered the road in a swirling tar that seemed to have a life of its own. If it had not been for the barking of my longtime friend in the center of that darkness, I would have fled from it in a heartbeat.
Most people think of children, especially under the age of twelve to be scared of everything. Most expect a ten-year-old to have the courage of a mouse and flee at the first sign of the cat. That, my friend, is not the case when a youngster is faced with a life changing decision. Children can be tougher than any soldier in the field. Even now, I don’t know what makes children, under impossible stress, respond better than most adults. Is it the lack of life experience or the sheer innocence? Or is it that, as children, we better understand the fine line behind good and evil? Maybe we know that, even though we could be killed, we have no choice but to face our fears and step into that realm of adulthood even for a brief moment.
I am not qualified to give an answer as I have already passed into adulthood, but I do know that I walked forward into that blackness before me with just one mission, to save Butterscotch from certain doom.
I advanced, dropping my school bag; my ten-year-old frame shook as I braved the utter darkness. The more I heard the sounds of my dog fighting with whatever I had seen that very morning, the quicker my pace grew. Before long I had stepped into a dead run toward the sounds emanating out of the darkness beyond. I could feel the tearing and scraping of my clothes and flesh as the darkness around me grabbed at me, trying to hold me back from its prey, regardless of the pain caused by the cuts and scrapes that I received in the dark, I ran toward the sounds until a sudden yelp broke the battle. Screeching to a stop, I listened for any sound of Butterscotch. All I could hear was a choking silence and an occasional whimper from somewhere before me.
“Butterscotch!” I yelled out and was only greeted by the same soft whimper that seemed to be getting further from me with each sound. Before long I was left in the dark, alone and afraid. I turned around and realized that, in the rush ahead I had lost my bearings and no longer knew which way I had to go to get help from my father, as I should have done before.
Tears began to drip from my eyes, but were covered up before long, buy a gentle cold rain that fell from the black sky above. If you have ever sat in a completely blacked out room for any length of time, then you have only a hint of what the darkness around me was like. Get inside your closet, block out any bit of light from penetrating and then have someone sprinkle water on you head when you least expect it. Then you will have a slight idea of how it was for me that night. After standing for I don’t know how long, I looked out in front of me only to see that which gave me fear that very morning. The lights had returned.
They were closer than before and sat in the darkness beyond as if two hungry eyes staring at me. I watched the bluish glowing balls of light as they danced with one another. Then they began their approach. This time I was certain that I was not moving. I knelt slightly and touched the ground only to feel the solid dirt, rock and grass beneath my feet. Using the lights as a point of reference I turned the other way and began to run. However, much to my dismay, my situation became much more complicated in doing so.
When I had turned to run from the oncoming lights I was greeted by yet another pair of lights that advanced on me at a quicker pace. Behind these lights, however a deep rumbling growl emanated. I looked behind me and saw the two swirling blue lights had stopped as the new lights came at me. I knew at that moment that my life of ten years had come to an end. That whatever had lived down ‘creepy lane’ was going to remain a mystery for all those around me. I would become like all of the other little lost boys, a tale or a legend to tell other children around the camp fire. I closed my eyes, not having even the strength to even cry, and stood to accept my fate.
The deep rumbling sound came closer as I stood in the middle of ‘creepy lane’ waiting for my death, and then stopped just short of my small body. I heard the sound of a car door and a voice call out my name. Braving a look, I saw that the second pair of lights had not been the creatures mate at all, but my father’s old pickup coming to look for me in the darkness of the storm. I ran to him, sobbing like all frightened children do when they find their safety. Most would say it was out of just fear, but in reality, it was out of both fear and happiness.
“What happened to you, son?” my father asked me as a hugged against his chest. I could feel one of his arms around his body, his other hand holding a shot gun. “What the devil is that?”
I opened my eyes and looked outward. Just beyond the light of the headlights, we saw that the two bluish lights had stopped and still hovered not eight yards before us.
Lifting me into the truck, he looked me in the eyes and then looked back at the lights.
“Stay here, son.” he said as he shut the door to the old pickup. I sobbed louder and cried out that they had gotten Butterscotch. Cocking his shotgun, he fired in the air. The crack reverberated in my skull and I hid my face for fear that the lights would retaliate. Instead, the next thing I knew was that my father had gotten back in the truck and, pushing me to the passenger side, took off at a speed I had never seen him drive before nor after. We didn’t stop until we reached our home, where my mother awaited at the doorway, tears pouring down her wizened pretty face.
She hugged me as I got out of the truck and asked my father what had happened. My father, a man I had never known to know fear was white as a sheet and the hair at his temples had gone white like those stories you hear of people seeing something traumatic. He shook his head and told my mother that he would tell her later. After my mother fixed me a glass of warm milk, I was sent to bed.
Now all, children are a curious sort and I would like to tell you that I snuck down to listen to my fathers’ tale of what he had seen. I cannot however, after what I had seen myself, I was no longer brave enough to know what he had encountered down on ’creepy lane’.
The next morning, I awoke and, although it was a school day, my mother kept me home. Two weeks later, my mother and father packed our pick up and we moved to a small house in the city, where my father began working for a small hardware store. Although I asked many times before he passed, He never would tell anyone what he saw down that old dirt road that caused him to quit farming and move us to the city. I never saw my dog again after that day; I will never know what exactly happened to her nor what my father saw that turned his temples white.
I have since returned to our old homestead in my elder age and looked for the dirt road that Butterscotch disappeared down. However, although a few old maps show the road labeled as ‘Faust’s crossing’ the undergrowth has consumed all traces of that evil place. I wonder still what caused those lights, what my father had seen and what would have happened to me if Butterscotch hadn’t barked at me when I was walking toward those lights.
Part of me never wants to know.
Late to the Game 9/29/17