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To tell this story I must go back even further to the very beginning. In the year 1841, a self-made paper mill owner, by the name of Alvah Crocker caught wind of plans for the Western Railroad project. Crocker began lobbying his idea for a northern route to provide a direct passage between Boston and Troy, New York, which he and others of the milling industry would in turn profit from greatly. He as well as others argued that the Western railway which traveled through Worcester and on into Springfield left the more northern settlements such as Cummington, Cheshire and Stamford in a state of oblivion. Not to mention that the Western Railroad needed to negotiate some very difficult grades and curvatures. In March of 1845 Crocker had opened the Fitchburg railways which lead from Boston to Greenfield. Unfortunately, Crocker knew the only way to complete his route now would be to climb the Deerfield Valley and penetrate through the heart of the Hoosac Mountain which stood in his path.
One day in the late spring of 1845, Crocker and a colleague of his by the name of Laomi Baldwin, walked into a meadow of stunted yellow grass and gray weeds. They stood on a ridge overlooking the lower basin of the Deerfield Valley. The land sloped but only slightly, far out at the low crest, no oaks waited, only more struggling grass and weeds, and beyond the crest lay an ashen sky, bearded and blind. They found themselves standing at the foot of the Mountain near the East Portal. In an arbitrary act Baldwin said, “Why, sir, it seems as if the finger of Providence has marked out this route from the east to the west for us, wouldn’t you agree so?”
“Perhaps,” Crocker replied,” but it is a pity that the finger of Providence has been thrust through the Hoosac Mountain.”
October 12th 1932, the autumn air could be compared to the north side of a January gravestone by moonlight. The country at that time was in the worst of the Great Depression. Worldwide gross domestic products fell by fifteen percent and the unemployment rate had risen to nearly twenty-five percent at this time. People were drifting by the thousands searching for work anywhere they could find it. Families were forced to leave their homes and start up new lives elsewhere. Just up in the northwest region of the Deerfield valley, where the mosquitoes are said to grow as big as English sparrows and the Tree frogs are as large as full-grown housecats and where the locals’ smell of rotgut, poached eggs and pickled okra; just nestled off the Vermont border lays the sleepy little town of North Adams. The town in itself was mostly an agrarian society. Work was in short supply let alone in places such as this, the town’s trademarked sign was an antique, tumbledown wood sign which read, “No work, transients turn back, now!”
Back then my grandparents, Paul and Joan Harrington; owned a Bed & Breakfast on Bradford road. My grandfather, Paul, in 1927 was the first to build a year-round home on Bradford Road. Back then most of the valley was nothing but flatlands and dirt roads. Business was slow as usual that time of year, everything was quaint and calm. In the west great purple and blue thunderheads were slowly amassing. They’d just finished having dinner with their friend, Peter Caldwell, whom my grandfather had met towards the end of the First World War. He was a burly, barrel chested man of reliable good humor, who usually entered a room with a laugh line followed by handshakes and hugs.
A new family had just moved in down the road. Although they had not officially met their new neighbors, when you live in a small town like North Adams gossip seems to spread like measles in a county school. “Noonan” was their last name; a family from upstate New York. My grandfather counted four in total while he was out raking leaves one day; the husband, the wife and two young boys. The father received a job as a teacher at Thomas Gallaudet’s school for the deaf on Grundy Avenue. Like most teachers, Mr. Noonan thought he had a novel in him somewhere that he would write someday, while the missus was just a stay-at-home wife. It wasn’t till two weeks after then that my grandparents had their chance to meet their new neighbors, but unfortunately it was one they would not forget.
Paul, Joan and Peter sat around the dining room table. They’d finished dinner and were midway through dessert. Paul and Peter were having themselves some brandy with their pecan pie while Joan had herself a cup of tea. She was six months pregnant with my father, Collin Harrington. Just east of them the thunder rumbled overhead and the wind rushed energetically against the side of the house. Off in the distance a jagged bolt of lightning struck. Peter finished his brandy with three, huge slugs.
“Have one for the road.” Paul said as he poured himself and Peter a fresh glass. Suddenly a violent banging came from the front door, with a startled look of apprehension their attention turned towards the front of the house.
“Who in the name of Sam Houston is out in this weather?” Paul asked. As he approached the door the banging grew more vicious, making loud hammering sounds. He opened the door and found a young couple standing there on his doorstep. A man of about thirty-two years with his arm wrapped tightly around the woman’s shoulder with the woman clinching a twisted fistful of the man’s buttoned-shirt as if anticipating a sudden cyclone would pick her up and spin her away from her husband. The man was dressed in a suit made of brown Houndsooth fabric. The pants were pleated and pure as was the jacket. It was the type of attire men wore to a formal occasion, although I do not think they were on their way to a cocktail party or any form of social gathering on this night. The pants were a pure-wool flannel, wide at the hip, high-waist and tapered down in long columns like legs. The woman was tall and slender with a very small waist and narrow hips and was dressed in a double-breasted, pewter grey overcoat and sporting a fedora with a pair of T-strap high heels.
“Please, help us! Our Children are lost out in this storm!” said the woman; Paul gestured for the couple to come inside, “Hurry before the wind picks you up and carries you away.”
As the couple walked into the house Paul immediately noticed them as the Noonan’s, the couple that just moved in down the lane from upstate New York with their two sons.
“Our Children are lost and the storm is coming in quickly. Our house doesn’t have a phone yet. We had nowhere else to turn to so-”
“It’s alright…” Joan said while gesturing for the woman to lower her voice, “Just relax, we’ll help you find your children.” she said reassuringly, as if she’d known the Noonan’s would be coming up to their front doorstep that evening.
“Thank you.” the woman replied tentatively.
“Let’s go into the dining room and talk this over and try to figure things out before we go rushing out into the storm of the century.” Joan said. They sat around the dining room table; the lamp overhead flickered once or twice, but that was a usual occurrence in a storm.
“What are your children’s names?” Paul asked.
“Stanley, he’s our oldest, and our youngest, Robert.” Mr. Noonan said.
“He prefers Bobby.” Mrs. Noonan added.
“Alright, when did you last see them?”
“This afternoon, just after lunch; Stanley was taking Bobby fishing.” Mr. Noonan said his hands were fidgety; he incessantly readjusted his grip as if searching for a position of comfort.
“Did they say where they were goin’?” Peter asked. The couple contemplated for a moment or two then the husband said, “Stanley said he was takin’ Bobby to the old ravine by the abandoned millhouse called the…”he trailed off as Paul, Peter and Joan suddenly all stared at each other. My grandmother told me my grandfather’s posture changed in that instant. Suddenly he sat erect, head lifted, alertness signified by a slight rising of his eyelids and by the ceaseless subtle flare and quiver of his nostrils, like a dog that had just caught a whiff of something hazy. Outside the wind moaned and bustled. Joan felt the hairs on her arms and on the nape of her neck quiver as though responding to the silent flute of static electricity.
“Owe My God…” Paul whispered. Damn Yankees still as foolish as ever he thought to himself.
“The mountain…” Joan said absently while looking over at Paul.
“What’s wrong? What is it?” Mrs. Noonan insisted.
“Jo” Paul said, “Get on the horn with the constable.”
“What should I tell him?” she asked.
“Everything…” Paul replied in the driest tone he could manage.
Joan rushed to over to the candlestick phone on the kitchen counter and began running her fingers thru the keyholes as quickly as possible.
“What is it, what’s happened?!” Mr. Noonan asked now sounding aggravated,
“What are you not telling us? What’s up there?”
“An old train tunnel that leads into the mountain…” Peter replied absently.
“Stanley and Bobby know better than to go playing on the train tracks.”
“Train conductors don’t run shipments through the mountain much anymore, especially after dark.” said Peter.
“What… Why?” But no one answered.
Joan called over to Paul, “The phones are out. The storm must have knocked out one of the power lines.”
“Dammit!” Paul’s voice raised, his hands balled up into a fists and came down on the table’s surface. The room was unfavorably quiet. With his hands folded and his head fallen forward Paul contemplated their next course of action.
“Alright, looks like this will have to be our play.” Paul said in a flat voice.
“Paul, you can’t be serious?” Peter asked.
“GOD DAMMNIT WILL ONE OF YOU TELL ME WHATS HAPPENED TO MY CHILDREN!” Mr. Noonan roared, he pushed back his chair and slammed his fists down on the table causing the whole room to vibrate for a second. Mr. Noonan may have been a man with a more lavish background then others in those days; however, he was still a man of considerable size, he looked like he could go one or two rounds in the ring with Mike McTigue.
“Mister, I’ll say this once…Sit down and shut-up, losing your composure won’t help your children.”
Mr. Noonan looked around the room and suddenly realizing where he was and what he’d just done. In those days men of his stature were required to maintain their composure better in comparison to the standard, blue-collar, working-class man. He sat back down and hung his head.
“I’m sorry.” he whispered. Mrs. Noonan put her arms around her husband’s shoulders for comfort.
Paul, Joan and Peter moved into the kitchen where they could talk more openly without tormenting Mister and Missus Noonan with the details. Mr. Noonan sat at the table, his arms wrapped around his now weeping wife saying over and over, “Its okay, we’ll find them.”
“We can’t leave ‘em out there.” Paul whispered, not wanting the Noonan’s to catch wind of their conversation.
“What if they’ve been got at already?” Peter asked Paul in a shallow and apprehensive tone.
“Maybe, but we can’t be too sure.” Paul said, his eyes staring off into nothingness.
“Pete, you still keep that .45 in the glove compartment of your truck?”
“You know I do, Paul.”
“Alright, I’ll fetch my .410” Paul said, “Jo, you still wear that crucifix your mother gave to you?”
“You are seriously considering goin’ out there?” Joan asked superfluously.
“Jo, you know I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew there was somethin’ I could’ve done.”
Jo looked up at Paul with wide eyes that were beginning to dampen, “I’ll be fine.” he said.
“I comin’ with you!” she said assertively.
“You’re a damn fool if you think I’m lettin’ you come with us.” Paul said with a little grin appearing on the corner of his mouth while patting her belly as a reminder. “You stay here with Mrs. Noonan and keep her company. Pete and I will take Mr. Noonan up there and see if we can find them boys.”
“What happens if we don’t find them?” Peter asked, but Paul did not answer, instead he looked down at the floor boards for a moment and sighed; then he walked back into the dining room.
“Mr. Noonan, we have an idea where your kids are.”
“Oh thank Goodness!” Mrs. Noonan said holding her chest, as if the weight of the world had been lifted off of her torso.
“Mr. Caldwell and I will take you up there ourselves. It’s no more than four miles up the road. We’ll take Mr. Caldwell’s pick-up truck. Your wife will stay here with my missus, make her a cup of tea and brew up some hot chocolate for them kids.” Paul said smiling reassuringly, but underneath he was filled with a deep sense of trepidation. He was uncertain if it was too late for the children, but he did not want to rob the young parents of their hope so soon, not at least until he’s seen it for himself.
“Thank you, all of you. Thank you so much.” said Mr. Noonan, the sincerity in his voice was clearly identifiable, but it was still hazy with alarm and anxiety.
Joan fetched two flashlights from the supply closet in the basement and a King James Bible, the one they kept on the top of their book shelf; it was riddled with dust bunnies and grime as if it had just been sitting on the top shelf of the bookcase for decades. Not to say that Paul and Joan were ‘nonbelievers’. The Harrington’s were Congregationalist and attended service every Sunday like most people around these parts. In this area everyone usually wore some kind of religious trinket with them; a crucifix, a St. Christopher’s medal or a rosary.
Paul was busy at the kitchen counter loading two rounds into his .410.
“What’s that for?” Mr. Noonan asked.
“Just for precaution,” Paul replied, “There are lots of wild animals roaming up in those hills. No tellin’ what we’ll run into while we are out there.” but it was not the animals of the forest the frightened him so. Pete came back from outside with his .45 tucked into his back belt loop.
“The winds pickin’up, we’d best get goin’ before the storm hits.” Peter called out.
“Let’s get a move on!” Mr. Noonan said now sounding more agitated and eager then before.
“Just a moment!” Paul called to Peter and Mr. Noonan who were both standing by the front door waiting for him. Joan came back up from the basement with the flashlights in her hands.
She handed them to Paul, “You be safe now, you hear me?” she said looking up at her husband.
“Yes mam.” he said as if he were addressing his mother rather than his wife. She removed the crucifix from around her neck. She stood up on her tippy toes and placed it around her husband’s neck, and then kissed him on the corner of his mouth. Just as he was turning to meet Mr. Noonan and Paul at the front door she grabbed him by the wrist, “Wait, one last thing.” Paul looked back at her; she turned and ran into the family room. He heard some shuffling and something fall over, like a family portrait being tipped over. When she came back she held in one hand a small, clear vile of ashy-red shrubs. She handed it to Paul.
“Is this-?” he asked.
“Mountain Ash.” she replied. Mountain Ash has long sense been associated with witchcraft and magic. Dating far back in many cultures such as Greek mythology, Welsh and even Pre-Celtic, the shrubs of Rowan trees are said to act as an antidote against bad omens, the Evil Eye and even disease. Some use the wood and bark of the tree as talisman to thwart off evil spirits. In the town of North Adams you may find the doorsteps and windowsills of family homes sprinkled with the red shrubbery. To which the town’s people might reply, “Helps keep the evil at bay”.
“Just in case; always best to have a contingency plan.” she said smiling.
“That’s my girl.” Paul said. He hugged her tightly and she hugged him back, they stayed like that for a moment or two then Paul released her and ran to the door to meet the other two men. They ran out to the truck, the wind picked up, the trees danced flamboyantly as the last remaining leaves were torn from their branches. They hopped into the truck and drove down the dirt lot. Out of Paul’s peripheral vision he could see his wife and Mrs. Noonan standing at the windowsill watching them drive off and they were driving right smack into a place no man should set foot in after dark. Joan then went up to their bedroom and kneeled beside her bed like she’d done so every night since she was a little girl.
“Dear Lord, please watch over my husband, Peter and Mr. Noonan. I ask that you guide them safely through their endeavors as they embark on this journey.”
The drive was long as most of the roads in town were still under construction. The wind from the approaching storm rocked the truck from side to side every now and again. The sky was as black as an alcoholics liver; the clouds approaching from the west were a gun-metal grey, a flash of light could be seen crashing down off somewhere in the distance. The car ride was mostly quiet; Paul and Peter sat on opposite sides of Noonan, the three men sat shoulder to shoulder, eyes straight forward.
“Mr. Caldwell, Mr. Harrington…” Noonan said, “Again, I just wanted to thank you both for your help and I’m sorry for being sort short earlier.” he chuckled a little, as if it were something that just tickled your soft spot but Paul and Peter did not laugh with Noonan; they just sat there stolidly looking straight forward as if they’d heard nothing. Mr. Noonan began to feel uneasy again. The eerie silence of both men made him cringe. Lighting struck a brilliant white and blue shock in the graphite sky.
A minute later Paul spoke up, “Mr. Noonan, there are some things you should know about our town if you’ll be stayin’ here.”
“Alright…” Noonan said nodding his head, his face still exhibiting signs of fear.
“People in this neck of the woods are very superstitious of the mountain, especially goin’ up there after sundown. Now, best case scenario your kids are back home, curled up in front of the fireplace waitin’ for you and your wife to return home and this was just a big ol’goose chase. Worst case scenario…” he stopped mid-speech trying carefully to find the right words.
“What… Worst case scenario what?” you could hear the restlessness in Noonan’s voice now, but Paul just sat with his fingers gripping the barrel of his .410 tighter than before. The friction of his skin against the cold, steel barrel sounded a lot like plastic being stretched.
“Mr. Noonan in order for me to tell you what I know. I’ll need to tell you some things that might be hard for you to swallow…” and Noonan was an educated man, educated men were more always challenging to influence. They used statistical or methodical methods to explain anything others may consider to be an “unnatural phenomenon”. They did not give into wild superstitions, they did not believe in things such as Maverick, the blind, driving dog from Guam.
“Just what are these superstitions?” he asked.
Paul inhaled then exhaled, and then he began, “There is a place here in town we don’t care to mention. It’s a bad place, an old train tunnel that runs through the mountain. We call it…the Pit” he spoke as if the words tasted like something bitter on his tongue, “Bad things have happened to people during the tunnels making. My great uncle worked on it himself from 1859 to 1868. By that time he’d just had enough of that God forsaken place…” He grinded his teeth on that last phrase. It was a hateful expression on his face they saw, one filled with much resentment.
“W-what are you saying, Mr. Harrington?” Noonan asked apprehensively.
“There are just some places that are bad luck, Mr. Noonan. And this place is one of ‘em.”
Peter took a sharp left turn off of Church Street onto a gravel up-hill road. The uneven terrain made the vehicle rise and fall; it felt as if they were on a boat in the middle of the ocean during a tempest. Noonan’s eyes widened with a new apprehension when Paul spoke, it was as if a cold chill moved up his spine.
“I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m not one who believes in the boogeyman, sorcery or any other fiddle-faddle of that sort, but I do believe in evil and I believe there are some places in this world that got a small dose of it.”
It dawned on Paul and Peter that Noonan was beginning to see what they were insinuating, the look in his eyes shifted from concern to a look of frozen terror. An outbreak of silence fell over the three men for a few minutes. All that could be heard was the sound of the rainfall hitting the steel frame of the truck.
“Mr. Noonan, this ain’t a joke and we’re not a pair of crackpots; but I need you to understand the risk we’re taking. Once we step inside you’ll do as we say, we stay together, and we won’t go runnin’ off on each other. If we see something, or hear somethin’ we don’t feel comfortable with we’ll turn back and come back again the next morning.”
“Are you insa-”
“A couple of dead men will do your children no good; If it comes to that we’ll come back the next mornin’ with the constable and a search party.”
Noonan looked petrified now, “What do you mean dead men?”
“Understand the risk we’re takin’. No sane man who has lived in these parts long enough knows not to go into the pit after nightfall.” his voice grew restless again, but Noonan just looked at Paul with resentment. Peter put his foot on the breaks; the vehicle moved forward a couple of feet, “Why’d you stop?” Paul asked.
“We go on foot from here.” Peter said looking straight ahead.
The sky, now as black and as evil as a dragon’s egg, broke open and spilled sharp electric-white gouts of yolk. In an instant the dusty air reeked of ozone and oncoming rain. Not two minutes later, shatters of rain rattled down on them with such raw force that the droplets stung the skin and bounced high off the hard earth. The runoff of water from the mountain was beginning to loosen the soil, making the ground thick and soppy.
Paul remembered his grandfather relayed information to him when he was just a boy how seekers must find the old, abandoned passageway into the mountain, “You must descend through the old ravine. Follow the oaks and silver birches along the old trail which will take ye to the bad ‘ills” he pronounced “hills” as if it were some kind of disease.
“Where is this tunnel?” Noonan asked.
“Just up ahead.” Peter pointed. The tides of rainwater came running down the hillside with raw force.
“We have to move fast.” said Paul unyieldingly; I feel he was just eager to get this whole mess over with, like ripping off a Band-Aid. The three men moved up the slope and onto the rails. The trees of the forest were bladder-brown. The acrid odor of runoff clung to the air. Their branches lay bare, the mere sight which rapes one’s mind of nightmares. Paul now so stricken with panic that he did not feel the rain snapping against his bare skin or the scraps of wet leaves slapping him across the face and sticking to his skin like a piece of hickey tape.
“How much farther to this tunnel?” Noonan asked.
“Not far,” Peter exclaimed, “just around this bend up ahead.”
The idea was now an irritation in the back of his mind. We’re walkin’ into the lion’s lair, right smack into the Bloody Pit. Paul thought to himself, and he was sure Peter was thinking the same thing right then; but Paul kept his face straightforward to avoid having to see Peter’s face might only cause him to void his bowels.
Two minutes later there it was, the archway opening into the mountain. A gust of wind travelled through the air brushing the nape of their necks. The limbs of large tress clawed at the iron portal.
“What in the hell is that?” Noonan asked as he pointed up ahead to something lying in the middle of the train tracks. To their discovery it was a house cat’s body, but it had been dismembered. Its limbs were strewn around in an unorganized fashion. Its head was missing from its neck. All that remained was a thin layer of skin and bones. From the looks of it the cat had been there quite a while, but the most troubling part about it was not the position or condition it was left in but was the odd markings around the body. Noonan gasped at the sight of the animal, but Paul and Peter looked upon the animal’s remnants with foreseeable expressions, as if they’d predicted to find it there. Animals gone missing happened on a reoccurring basis here in the bad hills (some places more than others especially after dark). Dogs, cats and other house pets were often found around the mouth of the tunnel, not eaten just mutilated. As the Golden agers would say, “All ye who dwell within the shadow of the mountain o’ the pit”
“Mr. Noonan,” Paul said. Noonan looked at him with alarm, “We’re goin’ at this the smart way. It’s like I said before, we’ll go in and if we see something we don’t like we’ll turn back and come again tomorrow, understood?” Noonan did not respond with a yes or a no, but instead he yelled, “What is this? Just what are these superstitions?”
Peter and Paul looked at each other than Paul said, “Something lives in the mountain…”
“WHAT DAMINT, TELL ME WHAT?!”He lunged forward and grabbed Paul by his lapel and shook him back and forth, the cords on his neck standing out with one vein pulsing in the center of his forehead. Peter took Noonan by the wrist and pushed him back.
“Mr. Noonan, the Hoosac tunnel is haunted.” Peter answered.
“What?” Noonan asked now staring at both men with a confounded expression.
“Ghosts, lost souls, those who have died during the tunnels making now belong to the pit…”
“Crazies…” he muttered, “You’re just a couple of wackos.”
“Mr. Noonan, I can assure you we’re not a couple of crazies.”
“Either you’re a couple of loonies or this is some kind of sick game you locals play on newcomers? So which is it, huh?” Noonan voice grew hoarse, but Paul and Peter did not waiver.
“Does it seem like we’re playin’ a ruse?” Paul asked staring directly into Mr. Noonan’s eyes with a sense of stern truthfulness.
“Maybe not, but what should I do now? Bobby’s always been the mischievous one of the two, when his curiosity is aroused it can’t be tamed. If my children are in there how can I be hopeful that they’re still alive, WHAT CHANCE DO THEY HAVE? YOU TELL ME THAT MUCH!”
A long pause besieged them and then Paul replied in the only way he knew possible, “I’m not sure…”
Mr. Noonan stood silently staring back at both men, his feet swallowed by the muddy earth. He turned back towards the mouth of the tunnel then began walking into the blackness.
The tunnels were just as Paul remembered them; he’d only set foot in there once before in his life. Twenty years ago when he was only fourteen years old, one of his old classmates forced him on a dare to go into the tunnels. Paul remembered finding an old article from the North Adams Transcript in his grandfather’s chest. It was dated October 19th, 1868. The heading was written in bold, black font, “Gas explosion consumes 13 miners. All victims belong to the Pit.” Paul knew there were other occurrences, other articles and other victims like this one which followed in the years leading up to the tunnel’s finish, but finding actual proof, actual evidence of one, seeing it for himself haunted him greatly. While he saw no ghosts he had this uncontrollable feeling of something walking beside him the entire way. It felt like the very essence of another person without form, but its aura felt eerie. The temperature fell the further he went in, another sensation dawned on him, and he remembered feeling someone or something’s hand on his shoulder. It was cold and inert but Paul did not sense any sort of hostility emanating from the invisible man beside him. Paul traveled for two thirds of a mile when the sounds started, the sounds that left him many sleepless nights afterwards. It was a distressed cry, the sound like a wounded animal, but the voice sounded human and there was something else subdued beneath it, to this day he is still not entirely certain what it was he heard, but then the wounded cry was accompanied by something else, wild laughter; loud, blood-curdling cackles approaching quickly from up ahead. Once he heard the sounds Paul turned and ran out of that place with his tail tucked between his legs.
The three men entered the tunnel and began meandering down the cavern’s lengthy, narrow passage. The sounds of dripping water cascading down the cavern walls synchronized with the flow of stagnant water on both sides of the train rails. The decaying air and stifling atmosphere provided the perfect abode for those who worshipped the darkness. The walls and the tunnel floor were riddled with bat droppings and cobwebs. Paul found himself inadvertently peering back over his shoulder at the entrance, watching the opening shrink more and more with every passing minute until the shadows of the tunnel joined hands and swallowed up the light of the stormy sky. Day, light, sun, moon or even nighttime holds no sway or connotation in a place where time stands still he thought. Mr. Noonan began calling out for his children, Paul looked up and could see a city of bats roosting from the rough- hewn overheads. They were huge, the size of rooks.
“STANLEY…BOBBY!” Noonan called out but there was no response. Noonan was stricken with fear; his breathing was loud and unbalanced. The three men walked for about a half-mile when Peter said, “Look!” centering the beam from his flashlight ten feet ahead. A skull, green with mold, moss and ivy laughed at them. He shined his light further and could see the ulna, part of a ribcage and part of its left pelvic wing sticking haphazardly out of the ground.
“God…” Noonan said with great unease, “What is this place?”
“Hell, Mr. Noonan.” Paul replied, “This is the gateway to Hell…”
“What’s that?” Peter pointed to a discarded piece of clothing along the tracks. It was a linen, newsboy’s cap; a popular piece of attire for boys and men in the 1920’s and 30’s. Mr. Noonan rushed over and picked it up.
“This is Bobby’s… ” Noonan said, “They’re down here… My boys are down here somewhere in these tunnels.” Noonan began sprinting ahead of them, “STANLEY…BOBBY!”
“Noonan, wait!” But Noonan would not wait, Paul could say more but Noonan’s hearing was shut off.
“What should we do, Paul?” Peter asked.
“Head back to the truck and wait for me there. I’ll go get him. If I’m not back with him in an hour I want you to drive back to town and get the constable.”
“Paul…” Peter now said looking distressed, the expression of fear added ten years onto his smooth boy-like cheeks.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll bring him back; you just worry about yourself for now.”
Paul smiled and winked at Peter as if he were making a promise to him, a promise he would come back safely.
Paul trailed behind the sounds of Noonan’s voice; they passed by numerous side passages, long and dark shafts that lead deeper into the mountain. Then Paul heard something, not words, more like guttural sounds all around him. He began to get that itch in the back of his mind, that itch you could never seem to scratch no matter how hard you try. A sensation one might associate with clairvoyance. He feels the tremors as they dart down his back all of a sudden. Paul hears Noonan’s voice ahead of him calling for his children, “STANLEY…BOBBY, IN THE NAME OF GOD, ANSWER ME!” Noonan put at least fifteen yards between him and Paul and the gap was growing with each passing second. The voices whispered in his ear, they caressed his body like a breeze within that dark sovereignty. The voices whispered this place will be your tomb, Mr. Harrington; all victims o’ the pit.
“NOONAN!” Paul called out his name, but Noonan did not respond. His mind was swimming with fear and anxiety. He finally managed to catch up to Noonan; he stopped, his body shuddering uncontrollably.
“Noonan, Please…” Paul said almost pleading, “Your sons are-”
“DON’T SAY THAT!” he was now yelling, “They’re alive! I know it, they’re not-”
But he could not finish his sentence, as he could not find the willpower inside of him to proclaim such things.
“Noonan, we have to go now!”
Then there was something else, the same sound Paul remembered from years before; that same distressed sound which left him many sleepless nights over the years.
“It’s them… ”
“No Noonan, please it’s not them.”
Noonan’s last words were, “You go to Hell!” In a moment of either great courage or great stupidity (the line between the two is often very fine) Noonan threw his elbow into Paul’s chest and started off; he began floundering out in the direction of the voices.
Against his greater will Paul followed Noonan further into the pit. The distance between him and Noonan grew again. The light bulb on Noonan’s flashlight was failing fast now. He was unaware of this, he hadn’t the slightest clue he was practically walking in pitch-black now. He heard Noonan stop, then he heard him say, “Stan…Bobby…is that you boys? Who’s there?” the nature of his voice changed from distress to fear for his own safety. Then he heard it, he heard what sounded inhuman, a sound he had not heard when he last walked these tunnels. A wailing scream, a horrible shriek, almost like hearing a banshee cry; some inhuman thing was down there in the tunnel with Noonan. Then he heard another sound; the sound of Noonan’s vanishing scream as it disappeared into the pit. His scream carried down the tunnel faster than a jack rabbit in front of a prairie fire. A single thought grazed Paul’s mind that moment; it was a swift thought and one he would not grieve on till later. That’s the last anyone will see of Mathew Noonan he thought.
His hands trembled, he almost lost control of the .410 in his right hand; he felt a wad of spit lodge itself in his throat. The tunnel grew quiet. Maybe it was full for now, maybe the Noonan family slaked its hunger for the time being. I ate them the pit might say; I ate them, belt buckle and all. Soon I will eat you, Mr. Harrington. I will eat you just as I ate them. A cynical voice in his head spoke. Perhaps the pit took pity on him and would allow him to escape once more. The light bulb of his flashlight was beginning to flicker just as Noonan’s did. The tunnel was stealing the light; Paul gave the light a slap on its side. It flickered a few more times than salvaged its full luminosity. When he looked back in the direction where he’d last heard Noonan, he felt an eclipse steal across his heart in that moment. It made him wish for death. It looked like a man in overalls, a hard shell hat and a set of steel-toed rubber boots. His clothes were worn and tattered, covered with dust and grease. Its arctic white blanched skin looked as pallid as any vampires. Its mangled skin hung from its face and its arms. It looked like a man but at the same time it did not, the being appeared almost translucent. Paul was spellbound and paralyzed with fear. The pit was not done with him just yet; his flashlight flickered once more than twice more. In a split second four more dark figures appeared, all of them with the same grotesque features as the first one.
Paul reached for the bible in his back trouser pocket; his fingers stumbled through the pages, he staggered back away from the monstrous figures, then he began reciting,
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written,
Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve.” But they were not swayed by his faith. They began to move toward Paul, he staggered back away from them. He continued flipping through pages as he moved back. He nearly lost his balance over one of the rail tracks wooden beams. Had he’d fallen he was not sure if he would be able to get back up.
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand!”
But the creatures continued moving forward, still not swayed by Paul’s sermon. You’d best start runnin’, Paul. He said to himself. Without a second thought Paul abandoned his bible and began running for the exit. Paul ran with all his might, he heard the pitter-patter of his pursuer’s footsteps from behind him. Not running, but sprinting behind him. Paul turned halfway and fired two rounds from his .410 into the darkness without allowing himself time to think, stitching the shadows of the tunnel with red and white punctures of light, sending needles of stinging pain into his eyes. The whispers and cries intensified around him. The screams of creatures tailed behind him, it was done with Noonan, now it wanted Paul. The tunnel dwellers closing in quickly, he could almost feel their breath on the nape of his neck. No he said to himself I won’t die here. Not before I’ve had the chance to hold my child. I won’t let this place become my tomb. He stopped in his tracks and withdrew the clear vile from his back trouser pocket. He unscrewed the cap then sprinkled the vile of shrubs over the train tracks. To his amazement as the petals of mountain ash fell onto the floor a faint glow like burning embers appeared. The tunnel dwellers then all stopped suddenly. He noticed they began retreating away; it was as if there was some kind of barrier between them, one in which they could not cross over. He took the crucifix from around his neck and held it out in front of him. With a loud and passionate pitch he chanted, “OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN, HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME, THY KINGDOM COME, YOUR WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN! GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBATORS, AS WE ALSO HAVE FORGIVEN OUR DEBATORS!”
The tunnel dwellers were beginning to withdraw farther and farther away, in the shallow light of the tunnel’s opening he saw them. Those pallid faces and those blackened eyes made his hair turn white. The sounds and the voices of the tunnel began again, only this time they were the sounds of sheer pain and suffering accompanied by an even greater sound, not thunder, a continuous roar, growing in volume, like a score of passing trains. Then the sound intensified even more as it sounded like all the trains in the world converging on a single intersection passing through the mountain.
“AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIEVER US FROM THE EVIL ONE! FOR THINE IS THY KINGDOM, THY POWER, AND THY GLORY OF YOURS, FOR EVER AND EVER. AMEN!”
The hordes of Hell howled then all at once they vanished. Disappearing back into the mountain where they would spend all of eternity, quietly and patiently waiting. Paul stood frozen to the railroad tracks as if his feet were sunken into the hollow ground beneath him. He stared down into the tunnel’s black abyss, no sound, no movement. There was only him, the bats, the insects and the thin tunnel air.
“Joan…” he said softly, “Thank you…thank you my dear, Jo.”
It’s been nearly seventy years since that day. The following spring, my grandparents moved away to Pittsfield. My grandfather felt unsafe about living there any longer. Perhaps he was afraid the ghost of Mr. Noonan or his children would come after him on some dark and stormy night, and I’m not the man to say they might not have. Twelve years ago, my grandfather passed away from what the doctors call a, “cerebral hemorrhage”. Grandma Joe said one morning he just started cussing down at his shoes, then he just sat down in his rocking chair, the top half of his body slumped forward, chin on chest. She said he looked like a man considering his options, and very carefully. Just like that he was gone. I grew up hearing this story from my grandmother as my grandfather could not bring himself to relive the tragedy of that night ever again. Then four years after, Grandma Joe passed away in her sleep in St. Andrews nursing home. One of the nurses came into her room to check on her around 3 AM (which some poet or some other rightly dubbed the Hour of the Wolf). She just said her chest was still and her eyes were slightly parted, but that she looked so peaceful.
While I’ve never once gone into the tunnels which lead under the Hoosac Mountain, some days I’ll stand at the entrance and stick out one ear just to listen. Sometimes I’ll spend all evening listening, waiting for some sound until I feel the tracks begin to vibrate from any oncoming train. I can’t be too sure of what it was I heard but a few summers back I stood at the mouth of the tunnel near dusk. The sky was a dyed pomegranate pink, with the fiery orange ball of red midway over the Appalachian trails. I stuck out one ear and listened. For a little while all I could hear was the sound of the wind traveling down the side of the mountain or the occasional hoot of a Barn owl but nothing else. Just as I was about to turn back I heard a faint sound, it was a long ways down, but it was as clear as the autumn atmosphere. It sounded distressed, a wounded voice crying out in pain. It beckoned for me to enter that place where things go and are never seen again. Then there was a second sound that followed behind it; a screeching howl, followed by wailing laughter that made me breakout in gooseflesh. It occurred to me that something still lived there; something was still living down there in the darkness, whatever it was it belonged to the pit.
Should you find yourself passing through North Adams stop by the High Horse tavern for a glass Hennessy or a pint of Ale and listen as the Golden Ager’s gather around the fire hearth to recount their stories of the lost miners and the grave howls and moans of the Bloody Pit.
CREDIT TO : Connor Scott