This is a short story published in “Signs Along the Way,” a zine by San Juan Writes, a group of island writers. It is available at Griffin Bay Bookstore and will be at the Holiday Market Nov. 25 and 26.
No one paid particular attention to the old road next door. There was no reason to. Blackberries climbed up the alders and Douglas firs lined it just like every other drive in the neighborhood. It was, for all intents and purposes, a driveway which, theoretically, one must use sometime. It never registered no one was ever seen going down it. Adults did not take note of the apparently abandoned lane, and we children were drawn to other locations like the ponds that kept the golf course green, the oak groves, and the nearby beaches. The driveway failed to capture our imagination.
I was fifteen when the county renamed the roads. Some names were a great improvement. These roads, I imagine, swelled with pride. Other names should have been sent back to the drawing board. Those poor roads surely buckled in shame. When the shiny green sign went up pointing down “Old Crab Lane,” I became increasingly fascinated, some might say obsessed. It beckoned to me daily. My friends didn’t want to go. They laughed, “Oh give it a rest. There isn’t anything down there, except maybe some old guy’s house. Come on, let’s hit the beach.” Hadn’t they noticed that Old Crab never became overgrown despite the fact that not a single car was ever seen driving on it? Or how even though it seemed to be a dead-end if one looked carefully, there was a sharp bend leading to more? Didn’t the hairs on the back of their necks rise with an eerie feeling of being watched when in the vicinity of Old Crab?
It was a Sunday afternoon in June, one more week until the end of the school year. Everyone was busy with finals. My mind was swimming with facts and figures, exploding with stories and ideas. In other words, I desperately needed a break. I grabbed my Ray-Bans, my tunes, and set out fully intending to find out what was at the end of the Old Crab Lane once and for all. If I was going at it alone, so be it.
The air was warm and smelled of wild honeysuckle. Bees buzzily tended blackberry blossoms. Gravel crunched beneath my feet, as the trees began to arch thicker overhead. As I headed beyond Old Crab’s sharp turn, my heart skipped a beat, overcome with the sensation I was passing the point of no return. I stepped forward hesitantly.
Old Crab wound between two opal lakes, like big (seeing or unseeing) eyes, before marching up a steep hill. My parents think I’m still doing homework, I thought, stopping to take an assessment of my location. Was it getting dark already, or were trees blocking out more of the sun? Even time seemed to have disappeared down Old Crab. I switched my music from Mudhoney to Temple of the Dog and continued walking. Somewhere close, an owl let out a low hoot. I hit play; Chris Cornell belted “I don’t mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence. But I can’t feed on the powerless when my cup is already overfilled” to a heavy guitar rift. I cranked up the volume.
According to my instinctual direction, I should be heading down toward the ocean. My house looked out across forested land that gradually sloped toward the water. Perhaps I got turned around, because Old Crab, neat and tidy as could be, kept a steep incline up a mountain that should not exist. I rubbed the goose bumps forming on my arms. I’m not going to lie to you, I considered turning around on several occasions. If only I had. Instead, through the woods I trekked. Oh, the decisions we make.
A rock wall began to line the drive, signaling an end to my journey. Judging from the flawless masonry that constructed the wall, the owners had put a lot of money and labor into it. With that kind of investment just in the wall, I imagined the house itself must be a mansion overlooking the sea. I hoisted myself up on the wall to catch my breath. I could really use a Coke about now. Maybe the owners would drive me home, or at least down the hill, I thought, taking my headphones off. I hadn’t been prepared for hiking. You would think I was out of shape, the way my heart was pounding, but no, I was a skinny kid, always on the move. The owl, nearer now, called once more. A shiver crawled down my spine. I stood up realizing this was it, I had arrived! A heavy black iron gate stood fifteen feet ahead, behind it stood an old man, his opal eyes intently watching me. A barn owl, with its white heart-shaped face, peered from his black-cloaked shoulder.
“I was wondering how long you were going to sit there.” He rasped. “Come on in. Care for a Coke?”
“Thank you.” I stepped through the suddenly wide open gate. I was after all desperately thirsty and had no reason to distrust him. I heard the iron shut with a soft click behind us as we walked quietly toward the beautiful stone mansion overlooking the sea.
That was about twenty years ago. Old Crab still never talks much, just rasps constantly at my side. I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like had I not walked down Old Crab Lane that fateful day. I’ve been shackled to this house ever since.