several years ago (we’re talking almost 40 of them, dear friends), back when i first acquired my driver’s license, i used to drive my friends and myself around the hills above hacienda heights for shits-and-giggles after school got out. when i first started attending high school i was going to a school (bassett in la puente in the bassett unified school district) with a 3-year curriculum. we moved, however, 4-months into my sophomore year to another district (west covina unified), which put me into a school (edgewood) with a 4-year curriculum. because of this, my classes were all screwed up. for the next 2¾-years most of my classes were with underclassmen. except when they were with the class ahead of mine. so, i did not know very many students who graduated the same year (1971) as myself. i was the first of my edgewood friends to have a driver’s license.
one of the things we used to do while we were up in the hills was visit this old hermit. strange dude! his hands were always loosely tied together with an old ratty robe sash. according to him it was because he had arthritis and it kept him from moving too much. he was living in this old panel truck that was abandoned in the middle of an old dirt road. we used to bring him care packages of food and cigarettes. according to him, his son made him live there.
one of the other places we hit was a place we called gravity hill. i think every place has one of these alleged anti-gravity slopes where it looks like you’re going uphill when you’re really going downhill. even my imagination didn’t fall for this place. but, everyone else in the car was diggin’ it so, who am i to be a wet blanket?
something else that was in this area that is in just about every place is a haunted house.
this house was on a peak along the ridge that ran between hacienda heights and whittier. you couldn’t actually see the house from the road, but we all knew it was there and we all knew that it was haunted. even the students all the way across the valley in west covina were hip to this old house and that it was haunted by the ghost of a woman who was killed, along with her faithful german shepherd, some years ago by someone-or-an-other for some-thing-or-an-other; the stories varied, but they were surely true. who would make up something like that?
the entire estate was fenced off with chain link, even the driveway, which had an old wrought iron gate that appeared to not have been opened since the last of the murder investigations way back in the 1930s, or 40s, depending on who told the story. behind the gate was a wall (i think it was brick that had been covered in cement or some kind of adobe to give it a smooth, contoured effect) adorned by inlayed tiles that surrounded the property. the only openings in the wall, besides the driveway, was a front walk that welcomed visitors from years passed and was the only place to access the house as the smooth-sided wall was far to high to climb; the gate was no longer barring the front walkway.
you still, of course, had to climb 8 feet of chain link to gain access. but, what was an 8-foot fence to high school kids looking for kicks? at least it didn’t have a course of barbed wire across the top.
so one day we did, indeed, climb the fence and walked through the archway where the front gate used to swing from its hinges, which were still bolted to the wall.
just inside the archway, the walkway made an abrupt turn to the right in a maze-like fashion. the brick walkway was about 6 feet wide with a wall equal in height to the surrounding wall dictating the direction one would have to walk to enter the property.
after about 50 feet the walkway turned 90° to the left for about 2 feet then made another 90° left around the wall and opened up to a once landscaped hillside, now overgrown with shrubbery and weeds showing years of neglect; large trees shaded the area from the sun.
the walkway followed the other side of the inner-wall until it reached about the midpoint of the outer walkway before turning right and ascending brick stairs, which followed the contour of the hillside; a short brick planter, maybe 2 feet high bordered the stairway.
about 100 feet up the stairs there was a square cement basin about 10 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep that once held water for a fountain, which looked like had been vandalized years earlier; the only thing left in the basin was a shallow pool of stagnant water covered over with a skim of algae; a couple of rusty pipes jutting out from the center. the brick walkway went around both sides of the fountain before rejoining on the other side and continuing back up the hill with more stairs.
the stairs leveled out onto several terraces (maybe 3 or 4) every 100 feet or so as the bricks continued their ascent to the house above. we stopped at each terrace to reassure ourselves that there was really no ghost and if there was we were too wise (spelled: s-t-u-p-i-d) to be hurt by it. the higher we climbed up the stairs, the more of the house we could see as the contour of the hillside revealed more of the structure.
as we gained the top of the stairs the brick walkway split into two directions around the multi-story (3, maybe 4) structure, which stood about 100 feet in front of us.
for some reason, the walkway did not come up to the front, back or even the side of the old house. it came up to one of the corners. i guess the walkway was an afterthought or maybe it was some architect’s idea of a unique approach, or feng shui.
unique it was!
after a moment or two of discussion as to which way we would walk toward the house (left or right) we began to walk to the right; me in the point position.
after a dozen steps, or so, we heard something that chilled us more than the sight of any ghost: a barking dog; a big barking dog and, by the sound, it was quickly running in our direction.
being the one in the lead as we approached the house, i was the last in line as we turned and ran down the stairs!
before i reached the first terrace on our frantic way down i could hear the dog’s claws clicking on the bricks as it ran after us, continuing its frightening bark.
i was sure i was going to fall a couple of times on my way down the stairs as the dog quickly shortened the distance between us (me) and it but did not.
at least not so far.
as i approached the fountain, the dog sounded as if it was about a dozen or so feet just behind me. not wanting to slow down to negotiate the sharp turns around the fountain i ran straight to the edge of the slimed-over pool and leaped across it, not knowing if i would clear the edge, drop into the pool, impale myself on the rusty pipes, slip and break a leg from the algae or crack my head on the far rim.
god knows how, but i cleared the pool and did not lose my footing, which gave me a few extra feet on the dog as it ran around the right side of the basin. i heard the its claws slide on the bricks and body crash against the planter; its bark changed slightly as it crashed into the wall.
not that it mattered much: the dog would surely reach me before i could get halfway up the chain link fence, if i even made it that far before the angry hound would catch me.
all the way down the stairs i was afraid to look around at the dog. not because i was scared to see our attacker. i didn’t want to take the time to turn and maybe lose my balance. besides, i was nearing the bottom of the staircase now and would have to make a 90° left turn at the inner wall; i’d probably see more than i wanted once i got there. especially since the dog was now right on my heels, still barking as its nails continued to sound the distance between the two of us; maybe 8 feet.
as i reached the wall i put my hands out to stop from crashing into it and pushed myself off to give me a little boost to help me negotiate the sharp turn. my friend, tony, was just going around the 180° turn around the inner wall; i could hear bob, or maybe it was dave, climbing up the chain link on the other side.
that left me alone with the dog!
as i made the left turn i looked over my shoulder expecting to see the huge dog ready to pounce as my alleged friends deserted me to be mauled by the mad giant.
there was nothing there!
the mad barking had ceased as well.
all i could hear was dave, or maybe it was bob, now on his way over the fence and tony’s running steps on the other side of the inner wall.
i didn’t stop running until i reached the end of the inner wall.
the dog was not in sight!
“he’s gone!” i yelled out of breath as tony began to climb the fence. “he’s gone!”
“what do you mean he’s gone?” bob asked from his sanctuary on the other side of the fence.
“there’s nothing here!” i replied panting for air, and stuck my head around the inner wall to see tony stopping his climb at the top of the fence. “come here and take a look!”
“you’re fucking crazy!” tony said and continued to climb over the fence.
“no, really!” i said, and leaned back into the other side of the inner wall – the dangerous side of the inner wall. “there’s nothing here!”
tony dropped down the other side of the fence. “get over here idiot!” he pleaded as he hit the other side; the others joined him in convincing me that i should do the same.
i took one last look up the stairs and walked toward the fence. i think i might have walked backwards as i kept an eye out for the phantom dog, but we never saw or heard it again.
i clumsily climbed over the fence as my muscles were now feeling the affects of the run down the stairs and dropped to the other side to join my breathless friends.
without a word, we jumped into my car and locked the doors behind us. we sat there for several minutes talking about what we had just experienced. we all agreed that we were being chased by a large dog, maybe a doberman; maybe a shepherd; maybe something bigger! we all agreed that whatever kind of dog it was it chased us all the way down the stairs before the barking stopped. only i was able to verify the visual aspect of the encounter, or lack thereof.
after a few minutes we left and took the shortest route back to west covina without stopping at gravity hill.
we returned to the house on several occasions. but we never went beyond the fence again.
i’ll leave that for somebody else!