Impressions From A Lost Highway
He walked down the desolate road, his feet weary, lonely farms passing by under the veil of a starless night sky. It was raining steadily and the sound of his umbrella echoed in his head; a steady whoosh, as of giant wings from the unplumbed depths of half remembered etheric dreams. Each step marking a heartbeat that led him deeper into the Connecticut valley darkness, not another soul to be seen. His only company was the ominous silhouettes of crooked trees and the occasional cry of wildlife off in the distance from the thick surrounding forest. A crossroad loomed ahead, where modern life met the remnants of the past; the paved road stretching on into eternity in three directions and an old dirt road slowly climbing into the hills of the forest from the fourth. A mist slowly churned out of the unknown beyond the trees, moving towards a rusted street sign.
He reached the sign and held the cool metal pole as he stopped to rest, glancing up to see white lettering against faded green that read Hell Hollow. How long he stood there, his tired mind lost in thought as the rain fell around him he was unsure, but he was snapped back to reality as a warm yellow glow approached from a hill before him. An old pickup truck came over the rise, blinding him momentarily from its solitary headlight; like a strange spotlight through the sheets of rain and for a moment he felt as if he were on a stage, a wayward traveler acting in the play that was life. The truck pulled up and a blanket of warmth washed over him as the window rolled down and for a moment he was disoriented, as he thought he heard the fleeting sound of leathery wings beating from above.
As he lifted the umbrella he was greeted by an odd scent that emanated from the stranger. He found himself looking upon a queer looking man in dirty clothes that curiously held the odor of the cemetery. He pointed to the passenger side as he grinned with a mouthful of rotting teeth. Quickly, he closed up his umbrella and pulled on the rusted door handle and slid into the truck, happy to be out of the rain. The man flashed him the strange smile again and said, “Howard,” and nodded at him as he pulled away onto the dirt road heading into the forest.
They drove into the thickening darkness in silence as the trees grew denser. Twisting and winding, the old road was spotted with water filled pot holes, their depths only to be guessed at in the light of the solitary headlight. A few times they hit them so hard he thought the axle was sure to break, as the entire frame of the truck bounced beneath them. He glanced out the window into darkness, unable to make out any of the features of the surrounding landscape and as they continued on, the strange man's quiet began to unnerve him.
“This is the way,” the man abruptly said; breaking the silence as he took a sudden turn and the truck jolted to one side.
The truck bounced and pitched and he held on to the dash board to keep from sliding back and forth. He struggled to form words but found they wouldn't come out and the odd man just smiled his crooked smile and kept driving up the old road into the ominous hills. The scent inside was overpowering and he rolled the window down a little to let some fresh air in, the rain greeting him with that strange sound in the distance that he had heard before. When he turned back away from the window, the man was staring at him with a queer gaze.
“This is the way,” he said softly to him.
The rain was beginning to fall harder and a chill breeze gripped him. He was hoping that they were close to some form of civilization, any sign of another human being when he suddenly, in a moment of confusion realized they were back at the beginning of the four way intersection where he had been picked up. The words Hell Hollow glinted back at him from the corner, as the moon began to come out from behind the clouds and for an instant he thought he saw something cross its path. Before he could say anything to the stranger that was driving him back into the abyss of the aphotic forest, the man turned towards him and gave him an eery smile.
“Within the light of the moon you see strange things on lonely roads. You don't realize what's looking you in the face.”
He looked upon him puzzled as he went back to driving, starting to feel a nervousness creep over him. The man began to speed up and he bounced upon the seat of the truck as the trees outside flew past and the rain sounded like a hammer beating upon the metal hood. He wondered for a moment if this was all some strange midnight reverie, a dream that he would soon awake from, warm and safe within a bed. An abnormal grin was painted across the man's face as he navigated the dirt road, seemingly oblivious to the toll it was taking upon the vehicle.
“Most people don't see what's really there, hiding within strange corridors, disguised among the angles. Doorways...doorways everywhere. Horrible, unnamable things waiting to be noticed...you can hear them as dreams overtake you, if you listen carefully. This is the way.”
He hit the door hard, a sharp pain shooting up his shoulder as his crazed chauffeur swung the truck around a turn. They hit the connecting road hard and he bounced off the seat, his head impacting with the roof. He leaned against the window and gazed up and for a moment swore he saw terrible things against the canvas of the sky. The man was humming to himself with that discomforting grin draped across his face again and as he watched, the man's complexion seemed to darken and take on a slightly different form.
“Madness is no different from what people consider sanity. Who's to say sanity isn't truly madness; for what is honestly sane about following a mundane routine that limits the potential of unconscious thought? Those that follow the road to madness will find it is quite fulfilling to be set free from the confines of a cage that they were forced into at birth. All they need to do is find the way.”
The man continued to drive as he pulled a cigarette out and lit it, letting it hang from his lip as the smoke curled around his face. They were nearing the top of a hill and the moon came into full view for a moment and then in the blink of an eye he found himself back at the intersection again and this time terror overtook him. The man had a crazed look in his eye and he flew past the dreaded sign that said Hell Hollow. Their speed increased as the man began to laugh. Frozen in fear he watched as the man's complexion grew a shade darker, his eyes glimmering in the light of the moon.
“This is the way...crawling through...the old ones move in the spaces between the light...coming down from the places beyond...listen! You can hear them near...”
The man began to laugh hysterically, the smoke from his cigarette choking him. He began to cough as the sound of beating wings pounded within his head and a terrifying musical piping began to play from somewhere in the distance. The landscape turned into blurs of black and gray as the truck plummeted into the depths of the forest. He tried to scream but not a sound came out as they careened around the turn in the road and headed up into the dreaded hills. He gazed in horror upon the man who had taken the form of a dark shadow, nightmarish red eyes glaring back at him from the driver's seat. They drove faster as the sound of the man's laughing intermingled with the strange piping and the horrid sound of beating wings headed towards the grinning moon that looked down from the top of the hill upon them and suddenly he felt himself lifted out of the open window and into the sky.
He saw the truck down below as he went higher, headed towards malevolent Luna in all her terrible splendor, the man's final words trailing on the breeze. Headed into the spaces between light in the leathery clutches of some necrophagous creature that had crawled out from unknown cimmerian shades. It was dragging him to the throne that lays in eternal darkness, of the one whose name lips shall not utter; that awaits hungrily amongst the terrible piping flutes and maddening drums that lay beyond the vacant stare of the moon. As his sanity left him the man's farewell words echoed within his head, as silent screams tried to escape his throat.
“The Moon looked down and laughed friend...the moon looked down and laughed.”
(Impressions From A Lost Highway appeared in The Oval Window & Other Odd Tales.)
Artwork by Justell Vonk