THE HOUSE ON HIGHWAY 13
excerpt from the forthcoming memoir MINDSWEEPER
by LEE BRIDGERS
ne feverish summer night in late August, we were awakened by the sound of an infant crying under the floor directly beneath us. The idea that a baby would be in the dirt under the house with so many black widow spiders, rats, rattlesnakes and copperheads was instantly terrifying and my mind went wild trying to grasp it. How did it get down there, and why? Was there something or someone under there with it? Why was I lying in bed, hoping this wasn’t real? I pictured a terrified young mother jammed up against one of the brick supports under the floor joists, shielding her baby from a mad dog. Miki and I lay shivering in each other’s arms in the darkness, frozen with fear, imagining very bad things as the crying grew louder and louder, more disturbing and pitiful until the mind warping screams morphed into a high pitched tortured shriek of a young child, but then . . . it could be inhuman.
“What is dat?” Miki whispered.
“I don’t know.”
Every hair on my body was on end. The oppressive weight of fear and indecision crushed my will as the horrible crying continued, expanding time into an eternity. We thought of the other noises that woke us in the pitch of night, our personal symphony: the intermittent rattling and clanking of dishes in the kitchen sink even when there were no dishes in the sink; the skittering, clicking, swishing and thumping inside the walls and the odd crawling noises in the hall; the one big crash then dead silence for hours. But this was different. It was a primal and oddly human, operatic shriek of sustained anguish, ringing out like an old song on a gramophone compressed into a scream as loud as a fog horn. Something very bad was happening to some unfortunate innocent soul under the wooden floor of our bedroom and there was nothing I was willing to do to stop it. I was frozen with fear. Then the sound changed again, turning into something recognizable, a sort of howling and yelping.
“Does he have a baby down dere?” Miki asked as she clung to me shaking in nervous panic.
“Is he eating a baby? Oh, my God. Is that really Whitey?”
Suddenly the howling stopped as if by the flip of a switch and the night fell completely and utterly still as an even more terrifying silence enveloped the room. My heart absorbed the dead calm like a sponge and thumped loudly in my chest and suddenly there was a sharp BANG! from the next room, like someone had struck the wall with a hammer, then the horrible, impenetrable silence smothered us again.
And then came the insidious, bold footsteps; hard leather soles on the floor boards in a slow march; clop, clop, clop, past the fireplace on the other side of the wall; clop, clop, clop, clop, then at the door between the two rooms, turning into our bedroom; clop, clop. Each step shook the floor more and more heavily as the person approached onto the soft carpet next to our bed; clump . . clump! . . . CLUMP!! . . . .
There was a very large human being standing beside me in the total darkness and I realized that whoever it was had been hiding somewhere in this house all along. My body was electrified, tingling with fear as I listened for breathing . . . but only emphatic silence remained, hanging in the air like the blade of a guillotine. I imagined a monstrous man in Army boots with a knife . . . and I wondered what was next: Rape? Murder? Robbery? Or some indescribable terror?
We waited inside a deep timeless moment, huddled together, anticipating horror; for the report of a gun to light up the room in a ball of fire; for a sadistic command barked from a dirty southern Deliverance mouth; for a knife or a heavy hand to fall. But the deafening silence remained, insisting upon itself. No roaring trucks from State Highway 13 just a few yards from the front door. No low flying fighter jets from Seymour Johnson Air Force. No wind. No whispers. No noises from under the floor. No Zilla whining and clawing at the door in the kitchen. No crickets! There was only the absence of all of the noises we’d reluctantly grown accustomed to.
I reached for the light on the bedside table and pulled the switch, expecting the Devil himself to be standing over me, but the light hit the far wall without striking a form, without casting a shadow of the thing that was still standing next to me. I could sense what I could not see and there was a strange smell of electricity, chlorine, death and alcohol.
“I wish we were back in the boat,” Miki meekly murmured. “Dis is not our home. It’s somebody else’s house. I miss de boat,” she cried.
“I’m sorry. I’m so ashamed I brought you here. I miss the boat, too . . . and our friends . . . and I’m afraid we’ll never see Amsterdam again.”
“I miss de bells and de little store and de couple who gave us flowers.”
“I miss the junkies in the Waldec and Pippo and Solomon and Rob and Miriam and the cold rain and the whores . . . and everything. But we’re stuck here.”
Lee Bridgers is an author and fine artist living in Moab, Utah. He works in film, video, painting, music and the written word and has MFA and BFA degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute and BFA from the University of North Carolina. He has taught and directed film schools and worked in the film industry, had one man art shows in Europe and the USA, published three books and numerous articles and builds custom bicycles and leads cycling tours for his business in Moab, Dreamride LLC. In 1992 Stan Brakhage read one of Lee's memoirs and made him promise to dedicate himself to writing these stories of his life as art. Lee has currently written three volumes in a series entitled, THE MEMOIRS OF A TARHEEL GUITAR PLAYER. Volume #1, THE SPY FROM WEIRDSBORO, a collection of twelve short stories, is now available as a Kindle book. It follows Lee's life up until 1973, documenting the effects of the Vietnam War, the pill, recreational drugs and the cultural shift toward consumerism on his generation. Lee is currently seeking a publisher for MINDSWEEPER, volume #2 in the series, which includes the story sampled above. MINDSWEEPER is about life as a musician in the Haight Ashbury leading up to and through the AIDS epidemic. Volume #3 AMSTERDAMNED will be ready for publication in 2016. A selection from Lee’s memoir, THE SPY FROM WEIRDSBORO, What Daddy Did appears in the August 2014 issue of HelloHorror.
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