Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pebble Beach: The Consuming Dark

A wisp of the weird wafts through Pebble Beach.

I'm not talking haunted country clubs or some unspeakable dweller in a mansion's basement or sirens sweetly singing over the roar of the surf (while hidden in its mist).

I'm talking about what might be in the Dark.

I'm consumed by the Dark often--usually about 5 a.m., long before the stirring of any tourist, golfer or inhabitant. It’s a fringe benefit of being a dedicated runner with a gate pass.

What's the Dark?

Start with this. Pebble Beach may be gated, but it isn't a gated community or gated town as much as it is a gated forest, with houses and mansions interspersed between. In the foothills, right above the ocean, dwellings, no matter what their size, get swallowed by towering cypress and pine. Other places are simply remote. No people. No sidewalks. No street lamps. House lights, minimal. A solitary vehicle once every fifteen minutes.

Pick a winter morning without a moon and you’ll likely find yourself running mid-street through and into an absolute void. That's the Dark. On a gloomy day, shrouded in fog, it's positively womblike: wet, welcoming and warm (thanks to my body heat).

My craving for the Dark may not easily be understood, but despite its hold, sometimes there's a slightly disquieting element beneath. Much as you'd try to let go and lose yourself, you just...can't. It not a fear of muggers or anything human, more that there's (with apologies to Manly Wade Wellman), "Worse Things Waiting."

Sometimes I see things. A flickering orange light that I can’t catch up to. A barely visible hooded figure, marching by in the opposite direction, faceless as it turns to look at me. The sudden appearance of small animals, close to the ground, silhouettes darker than the

Dark, running in tandem with me until I cross to the other side. One October, a Jack Pumpkinhead figure (though less human in appearance), came to life, eyes glowing, bouncing on the fence where it hung, emitting a rusted creak of a laugh over and over again.

Sometimes I hear things, over my light footsteps on the pavement, through the sound of my even breaths. Your hearing gets sharper in the Dark, for better or worse. Might be the rustling of the wind in the pines, high above your head, or the call of a night bird in the distance. Though you're a mile away from the water, you can hear the seals clearly--sometimes their screams remind me of anguished children.

Other times noises seem significantly nearer, in the vegetation rolling up on the road. A fox perhaps, or a raccoon, or occasionally something bigger. Deer? There's mountain lion sightings around here all the time, maybe that's why few share my enthusiasm for the Dark, although many of the folks who tell such stories are older and prone to anxiousness. Or so they say.

Of course, if an "incident" did occur, and you were dragged off into the bushes by a carnivore or something else, no one would know for awhile, certainly not those nice septuagenarian gentlemen who drive the Pebble Beach Security trucks at that hour of the morning.

They always seem a little nervous. On their rounds. In the Dark. In the comforting, consuming Dark.