Here is (to date) my one and only monster story. It’s odd, but this truly is the way I remember it. I’d be quite interested to know how Kathie remembers it since she was there..
It must have been 1985 or ‘86 and it was Homecoming at Rim – that means it was late October. The skies were clear but there was a mighty wind tearing through the trees. Not a gentle whooshing but a roaring, shake-the-house, the-gods-are-warring-in-heaven sort of wind. That by itself gave he night a particular feel. There was no peace, no sweet October breeze. Instead everything was clamorous and tense. Later that night, as Kathie and I were driving across the Rim, we watched from a mile above the surreal effects of the wind storm as entire city blocks would suddenly go dark – victim to some tree falling into a power junction...or worse.
But I’m ahead of myself. We drove across the Rim because 330 was closed. For some reason Kathie picked me up in Running Springs. I don’t remember why, but perhaps it was because she had her CRX and I only had access to my father’s 1972 1/2 ton Dodge pickup – not really a ‘date’ vehicle. Regardless of the reason, we left my house and headed down Live Oak with plans to have dinner at Edward’s Mansion in Redlands – a house that looks almost exactly like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland (just another vaguely spooky detail).
There was nobody else on the road, which was odd. It was Homecoming for more people than just Kathie and I and it was a Friday night to boot. You would think there would be people everywhere, but instead everything was buttoned up tight. Maybe the rest of the mountain somehow sensed that something otherworldly was afoot and decided to wait it all out behind closed doors. But Kathie and I were excited to be out and about. I was probably wearing a new sweater that Kathie bought with my mom’s money – a little plan the two of them had foisted upon me. I was willing to wear clothing that my girlfriend bought for me, but not anything that my mother bought for me. So the two of them conspired to upgrade my wardrobe bit by polyester and velour bit. Kathie was no doubt wearing a new dress with hair up and makeup – the whole nine yards. We were committed to go get our picture taken at the dance and no silly wind storm was going to stop us.
As we pulled to a stop at he bottom of Live Oak, where it joins Highway 330 on a wide, mile-long, five-lane slope, there was a Caldrons truck parked across the two downhill lanes. The truck’s back, and the driver’s, was to us and the pale orange glow from the sodium street light cast everything in sharp angled shadows. Keep in mind that the wind is absolutely howling. It’s bitter cold and even Kathie’s little sports car was being blown about in the gale.
It’s at this point where something went screwy in my head. Several very weird things are about to happen and yet they didn’t seem weird at all at the time. It was as if were hypnotized or something. I was the storm trooper letting Luke and Obi Wan go by as the Jedi waves his hand. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for...” It was only quite a bit later as I started to think back on these next few minutes that I became convinced that I was witnessing something unnatural.
I’m at a stop sign with my windows closed against the wind. Roughly twenty-five feet away is this pickup-truck with it’s tail toward me. This major highway, on what should have been a very busy evening, was absolutely empty. I can see the back of the driver’s head through the rear window but I can also see his face, reflected in his port side mirror – the big 12 x 8 truck mirrors – and his face is not human. I wouldn’t say it was demonic, but it was monstrous – think Sloth from Goonies (“Hey you guys!”). All skin, and no hair – misshapen eyes that weren’t symmetrical, a mouth with protruding teeth and swollen lips. His window must have been down because I remember his arm resting on the sill like he was just killing time at a gas station. He never turned around to face us but I know that we had a brief conversation that could not have happened. With the wind, and the distance between us, and my closed window, it was impossible that I could have heard him, nor could he have heard me. But as we pulled to a stop I heard him say very clearly, as if he sat next to me in the car, “The highway is closed.”
“Oh.” I said, “What happened?”
“A semi truck jack-knifed. You’ll have to turn around.”
Despite the fact that everything in this moment was wrong in some way, none of it seemed odd in the slightest right then. Of course I can hear the monster man from way over there. Of course we have to turn around – I’m sure he’s only looking out for our safety. Of course he’d sit there with the wind screaming through his open window – it’s a lovely night after all. So I said “OK” and turned the car around.
I don’t particularly remember the next 20 minutes or so. I couldn’t tell you if Kathie and I spoke to one another or if we were silent. The next thing I do remember was mentioned already, driving across the Rim, trying to meet our reservation despite an additional hour of driving we had to do, and watching San Bernardino lights flicker and die in the invisible storm. I also know that Kathie and I were pretty certain that we dined with a vampire at Edward’s Mansion, but with so much Garlic on the snails, I guess we were pretty safe all the same.
It was an odd night all around, but the monster working for Caldrons was definitely the weirdest...although it does explain a lot about Southern California roads.