Standing in front of the large six foot opening of “The Pipe” I started to reconsider my new found courage. The air felt colder just being near the opening and the sound of
running water echoed back at me. Every pebble or leaf that broke the flow of the water gave it an eerie popping type sound that seemed to swirl around the smooth sides of “The Pipe” until it landed in my ears. Outside of the “The Pipe” the world was silent as the heavy humidity hanging in the air seemed to cushion the sounds of traffic and of the singing birds in the trees nearby. My hand went to the clear and red handle of the Craftsman screwdriver secured in the waistband of my jogging shorts and a slight nudge of calmness came over me.
Now it was time
I glanced over at the graffiti and I notice how poorly painted they really are. But before I could muster a smile a sudden gust of air enveloped me. Colder air pushed through “The Pipe” from somewhere up ahead. My mind instantly went to a story my Grandfather told me.
The property I grew up on use to be a real working farm (not like those silly fake farms you read about, joke). I can’t tell you when it was built but my Grandfather would tell me that his Mother always told him that the ancient looking fence posts down by the road were put there by Civil War P.O.W.s. She told him that she remembered the men putting them up and her and her mother (my Great-Great-Grandmother) took water out to them while they took breaks in the shade of the trees. So our little homestead predated the Civil War.
The farm used to have a blacksmithing area and I remember seeing the old furnace and bellows when I was younger, but they have since been removed. Along with the blacksmith shop, barn, chicken coop, and other assorted sheds and buildings the farm used to have a mill. The mill use to sit where the small shopping center across the street sits now. The spring that now fed into “The Pipe” use to be larger and flowed a lot stronger back in those days, before there was a highway…or roads in general. One night when my Grandfather was very small the mill caught on fire. My Grandfather told me he still remembered how intense the heat felt that night. The mill was lost, and he never told me if anyone lost their lives that night. The only evidence that remained was a large stack of thick beams and boards that were saved and kept in our barn. Their sides still black and charred by that fateful night long ago, sitting as a silent testament of the immolation and terror they witnessed so many years before.
As the cold breeze covered my body I couldn’t help but think back to those stories and if anyone did perish that night. Was this their ghost telling me not to enter this place that I feared for so long?
I stepped forward, pushing back against my imagination. My cheap gray nylon and (fake) swede tennis shoes tread into the flowing water and a shiver ran up my spine. I stopped a few feet into “The Pipe” and let my eyes adjust from the glaring summer sun to the now pitch darkness. The drop in temperature soon became comforting as it battled against the humid hot air a few feet away at the entrance, now exit. As my eyes soon became use to the darkness I could see that there was a pin point of light at the far end of the perfectly round and smooth dungeon I now stood in. I never saw the light before from the outside. That light was now hope that lifted the heavy as a stone heart in my chest.
I continued. My shoes were soaked and my socks were beginning to wick the dampness up my legs. See we wore our socks high in those days, which I see now has made a come back. The flat head of the screwdriver at my waist was beginning to gently slice at my thigh. With every movement of my leg the steel would bite into my flesh. I pulled the makeshift weapon free from its elastic sheath and held it tightly in my hand.
Suddenly a sound over took me.
Fear gripped me like a vise. The concrete tube around me seem to growing smaller as a sound I never heard before over took my very being. The waves of sound seemed to take physical form and entangle me, reaching into my chest and stopping my heart. I froze, unmoving for what felt like an eternity. The sound was big, booming, and had an undercurrent of a whine. The sound trailed off and disappeared as quick as it came. Still in shock it took a moment for me to regain my senses. I felt the screwdriver in my fist and realized that if something would happened it would be useless because I would be useless. I wondered if I should turn back and I glanced over my shoulder.
The entrance I came in, now was only a small saucer of light that seemed to match the size of the light I journeyed to. I guess I was now somewhere in the middle of “The Pipe” and an easy escape was going to be hard to come by. I still stood motionless listening for any sign of the sound returning. The sound of running water lightly echoed all around me. With each trickling second my heart began to slow and return to normal. With my heart rate slowing down, the pressure behind my eyes ebbed and my eyesight began to shift from blurry red tinged back to its normal crispness.
Either it was from my returning calmness or increased awareness of my surroundings but I noticed something I hadn’t seen before, a small and dim column of light. A few feet ahead of me was a light. Not very strong, the light appeared gray and dim. As I walk towards it I could see that there was a small square inset formed into the concrete pipe. The inset was were a storm drain from the surface world met up with “The Pipe” and I could see the thick metal bars of it crossing overhead. Leaves, trash, and other bric-a-brac covered most of the drain and hung suspended in the metal bars. What light there was fought to pierce through the waste of past storms.
Suddenly the sound was approaching again.
This time it didn’t come all at once. This time it was a low rumble that was slowly building up. Through the grate I could hear the familiar jingling of chains and thumping that I have heard a thousand times before. Off of a side street around the bend from my house, well below the confines of “The Swamp”, was a trucking company. Everyday, many times a day their trucks would thunder down my street. It was a sound that I heard ever since I was an infant but I had never heard it from below ground and in the middle of a tube.
As it drove over head, the same deafening sound filled the enclosed space I was standing in. I relaxed the grip on my screwdriver and scoffed at myself. Boy, I felt stupid.
The rest of the journey through “The Pipe” was more lighthearted as I stepped with confidence through the water. Light was beginning to become bigger and brighter with every step I took towards the end of “The Pipe”. It was in that newly illuminating light that I saw something odd, something I didn’t expect.
“The Pipe’ ended in a much larger “room”. I don’t know what to call it but it was a large square box that was much higher and wider than “The Pipe” itself. The water flowed into this area and collected. I can’t venture a guess at how deep this basin was as I never decided to be that brave and jump in. It was easy enough to walk around this bottomless pool (hey, it could’ve been) and continue on to the outside. The constant level of water caused the flow to continue as well, to the outside.
Another smaller section of pipe the same size as “The Pipe” lead to the outside world. Sounds from the outside instantly came back into my reality. Birds were singing, the water was babbling, and the sound of the warm summer breeze through the trees filled my ears.
As I stepped out of “The Pipe” I was surprised to see a large creek bed. Steep, tree laden embankments were to my left, right, and behind me. The trees seemed tall and the canopy they created felt like a large dome. It was peaceful and hardly any noise from the highway a hundred yards away could be heard. For some reason as I think back to this moment I also think about “Baby: Secret of a Lost Legend”. The film came out in 1985 and I remembering seeing it in the theater. Can’t remember if I saw it around the same time as my adventure or if my mind just thought this creek bed reminded me of the African jungles where “Baby” took place.
To my left I noticed another smaller pipe coming out of the hill. The pipe was much, much smaller but a steady and more forceful amount of water poured from its mouth. Like two separated lovers, these two water sources met in secret within the trees, intermingling together they created a bigger, deeper, and stronger creek. The smaller pipe must have been rerouted from across the highway too, and I guess this also fed the mill that once stood nearby.
Above me on the top of the hill was the small used car dealer and a small hamburger joint called Harrys Sub Shop (For anyone reading that lives in the Westminster, MD area, yes there used to be two different Harry’s. They were unrelated and sadly they both are gone now. Harry’s was awesome, could get 4 burgers for a dollar back in the day and had great subs.). The crest of the hill held litter from these two businesses and a discarded shopping cart from the nearby Ames department store. Hunks of blacktop and concrete also rested on the top of the hill, while some had tumbled down the hill and rested against the trees.
All the while I forgot about one thing that resided down here in the swamp…
Sharp and loud barking broke the silence as I jolted back to attention. To my right was the garage/junk yard, and its guardian hound, that up until this point I would hear at all hours of the night but never saw. Coming from around the yellow metal sided pole building was a large Doberman Pincher. A length of chain trailed behind him as he trotted confidently into my line of vision. This is a dog that knows a thing or two. After countless years of being tethered to a chain this beast knew its limits and knew who to push those limits for. A pudgy kid in short shorts was no one to push limits for and risk a wrung neck at the end of a chain. But no the less I continued eye contact with the dog while I made my way down the creek bed. The dog gave zero fucks as it stood like a statue, matching my gaze. Probably imagining how sweet fat kid meat tasted.
As I traveled on, the building broke our lines of sight and the Doberman gave a little “woof” as to say “Yeah, that’s right” before I heard the jingling of chain as it moved on. With my life intact I looked around at my surroundings. To my left was the garage, and to my right was overrun with weeds and sticker bushes. In front of me was another pipe, all be it much shorter in distance. Above the pipe was a road, and an eroded bank that lead up to it.
I climbed the bank to survey the road and where it went. Up past the garage were the houses that that lined the gravel street that extended down around the bend in my road. A thick and dark wood separated them from where I now stood. The floor of the woods was heavily carpeted with ferns and Skunk Cabbage plants and a thick and musty scent accented the heavy and hot summer air. I wouldn’t be able to explore these woods until later that fall when a family moved into one of the homes on this street and I made friends with the kids that lived there.
In the dead center of this “bridge” over the much shorter pipe was a large sign that read “ROAD CLOSED”. The sign was free standing, large, and very, very heavy. I would learn how heavy later in life because those same kids and I tried to push it over because it would have made a sweet bike ramp.
On the other side of the “ROAD CLOSED” sign things were far different and a bit surreal.
A couple feet past the sign the road disappeared into a large, overgrown field. The field was nothing more than weeds and grass that had be unchecked for years. The grass stood up to my waist and an eerie calmness hung over the area. The area My feet found where the road was. Inspecting it closer, dark asphalt was being eaten away by the grass exploiting every little crack it could find and growing through it. On all sides of this large area were thick and dense trees and brush. Up a high hill to the right and past the trees was the highway, to the left and ahead were more trees that gave way to county office buildings.
Ahead of me in the distance stood a lone and vacant house. I was drawn to it as my feet left the security of the lost road.
The light teal colored house stood quietly in the center of the overgrown area. For a house that was abandoned it looked in good shape and for some reason reminded me of something from the Brady Brunch. Not only did the color remind me of something from ’60s television, but the art deco style of rancher it was harken back to that era. As I got closer I could see that in the back yard there was a pool. Poking out from the high grass was a white sliding board that glided into the once (I imagine) immaculate pool. Small bushes that once accented the house now stood like patchy wooded skeletons of ancient beasts, guarding the abandoned home.
This is the part of the story that I wish I could say that I went into the house and explored it and maybe ran into a couple ghosts, but no I can’t say that. Just looking at the house alone and dark sent shivers up my spine and the thought of what could be lurking at the bottom of the dark, rain water filled pool scared me. For a house that looked so alive at one time, the stark contrast of abandonment unnerved me.
I regret not going into the house or even getting closer to it. The next summer it was bulldozed down and the entire grassy field was trampled down and terra-formed to make way for yet another county building and a car dealership. The only upside was that they also built a 7-11 and I learned about the world of Coke Slupees, MLB collectors cups, collectors “coins”, and single slice pizza in triangle boxes. (It was also where I got my first Marvel Comics Star Wars comic book, but that’s a story for another day.)
I solemnly walked home. I didn’t take a return trip through “The Pipe”. I chose to walk above ground and walked on the street. My legs were covered in small cuts from the thick high grass, my shoes were still wet, and my white socks were now a shade of light tan. My head hung as the amount of questions rattling around in my brain were weighing it down. How or why was that house there? What happened to the people?
Later that night I asked my Father about the house. Sadly I can’t remember what he specifically said about it but the owners sold the land to the county a long time before I stumbled acrossed it. There were also other houses there at one time but they were where the lower income families lived. Sadly it’s things like that, that make me sad that I can’t remember.
I traveled down “The Pipe” many, many more times during my childhood. It serviced many settings in my imagination as neighbors and I played army, monster hunters, X-Men, and Star Wars. I have no idea what it looks like nowadays. On the rare occasion I drive by it, I instantly remember my childhood. I sometimes entertain the notion of stopping and parking in the parking lot that I once rode my bike in and climbing down to see what ever became of “The Pipe”, but like I said the freedom of being a child is long gone.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for waiting almost 2 months to read the non-climatic conclusion to my story. Its hard to believe I began this on my birthday back in July. The world seems so much different now. I look out my window and Fall has replaced Summer, natural disasters have ravaged Texas and the Gulf Coast (with another hurricane on the way to Florida), and nuclear war looms on the (possible) horizon. It’s no wonder I and many others have retreated into the memories of our childhood. Those memories are what help me get through the day, be a better father and husband, and help me sleep at night.
Again, thank you.