Young adult, paranormal/historical
The sign attached to the front of Mr. Lobo’s big old aluminum gate in front of us on that unusually cold and cloudy Florida day said, “No trespassing! Beware of BAD DOGS!” Not a very welcoming entrance, right? Time to go home, I said to myself. Instead of acting on that thought, I studied the beat-up old mailbox behind Carla and wondered what the “R” stood for in the name, “R. Lobo.”
Even though I had ridden past that warning sign a million times on my bike, for some reason on the afternoon of December 27, I had trouble taking my eyes off the words, “BAD DOGS.” The more I looked at those big, bold letters, the more my recurring dream poked its way into my mind. I’m not afraid of dogs, and I’ve been known to ignore no trespassing signs once in a while, but for a few seconds there, I didn’t want to go anywhere near that gate. At the time, I thought lack of sleep caused my reaction. How wrong I was.
The sandy driveway where Carla and I stood went under the gate and then curved back out of sight through a thick stand of bamboo—the skinny kind—about ten, twelve feet tall or so. I already knew the driveway ended on a tree covered peninsula that stuck out into Matanzas Bay. Since Carla lives next door, you can see that point of land from her back yard.
She stared at me with one eyebrow raised. With her, that could mean a lot of different things, but I figured this time she was definitely losing patience with my stalling.
“What?” I asked, trying hard to sound innocent.
“Jeffrey Golden,” she replied with her hands on her hips, “are you going with me to see Lobo or not?”
When Carla uses my full name, I get the message that she’s, well, less than happy. Before I could say anything, her Black Lab, Spock, barked and wagged his tail. The poor dog had been waiting to go for a nice long walk. I guess he thought the time had come.
I sucked in a big breath and let it out slowly. How, I wondered, can I possibly go share something so personal as a really bad dream with a perfect stranger who warns people away from his property with a sign about his vicious dogs? You can see why I hesitated, can’t you? Behind us on Water Street, a tow truck pulling a racecar splashed across puddles left from rain earlier in the day.
“OK, OK, I’m ready,” I finally replied to Carla’s question. “If we’re going to do this, then let’s get on with it.” Was I sure of that decision? No, but my throbbing head told me I had to do something.
“About time,” Carla said. Flashing me one of her brilliant smiles, she pulled her key ring out of her coat pocket with its attached silver oval dangling beneath her fingers and selected one of the keys. In seconds, she had the gate unlocked and open far enough for us to enter the property. To my questioning look, she jangled her keys at me and said, “Lobo’s like family.”
“Um hm,” she replied while stuffing the all silver key ring and oval back into her pocket.
Silver. That girl loves the stuff. No, really. She’s a silver freak if there ever was one. Right then, for example, she wore dangly silver earrings, several silver bracelets and a couple of silver rings. Against her light brown skin though, all that shiny metal looked good. Well, it always does, and so does she.
“What about the ‘BAD DOGS?’ ” I pointed back at the sign after we walked through the gate and Carla had locked it again.
After giving me one of her “you worry too much” looks, she came over, reached up with an “I know something you don’t” grin, and ruffled my hair with her fingers. “What’s the matter Golden Boy, afraid of a few little puppies?”
God, how I hated that nickname in school. Kids started calling me Golden Boy when I was little because of my blond hair and my last name, Golden. When Carla says it though, somehow I don’t really mind very much. Of course, she says it sort of like a compliment, so I really can’t complain.
“Puppies?” I was sure she couldn’t be describing Mr. Lobo’s BAD DOGS.
“Stay close to me and you’ll be OK.” She said that as she flipped her long black hair out of her face and gave me a confident looking wink. “Besides, do you believe everything you read?”
“Of course not but—”
“Just leave those silly critters to me,” she said as if she was bored with any possible danger. “I’ll protect you.” Carla likes to use the word, “critters,” for some reason. “Where’s Jeff the adventurer I used to know who would go anywhere?”
“Oh, so now you’re the great warrior princess, huh?” I rubbed my left temple, trying to massage away that nasty headache without Carla seeing. Even though I really was more worried about talking to this Lobo guy than getting past the dogs, it was good to hear that the “critters” wouldn’t be a problem.
With her relaxed attitude, I wondered if Carla’s friend had his dogs tied up or maybe they weren’t actually so BAD after all. As I thought about how many times I had ridden past that gate, or looked at Mr. Lobo’s peninsula from Carla’s back yard, I realized I had never actually seen any critters or heard any barking.
The driveway was still a little mushy in places from the rain, so we had to watch where we stepped. My shoes sank into the softness, especially where tires had pushed lots of sand, dirt and leaves into big, wet clumps. Before we walked very far, Carla unhooked Spock’s leash, but he stayed pretty close to her. Again, I wondered about the Mr. Lobo’s dogs—if there really were any and if so, how Spock got along with them. Spock. Oh yeah, that’s quite a name for a dog. No doubt about it. Carla calls him that because, like me, she’s wild about all those old Star Trek programs and movies.
Anyway, Carla’s use of my old nickname, Golden Boy, reminded me that the following week I had to start school. I say, “start school” because after mom and I moved here right before Thanksgiving, I talked her into letting me put off registering for a while. Actually she agreed to let me begin classes after the first of the year if I did all the housework up until then and promised to work hard in my classes. That gave me over a month off school and the house all to myself during the day while Mom got settled into her new job. Not a bad deal, actually.
Why did we move to St. Augustine? Ohhh, it was, ah, mostly because of financial trouble after … after my dad died. My grandfather’s house here in the city had been vacant since his death a couple of years ago, so we just moved in. For Mom it was like starting life over. Me? I hated the idea of moving away from Orlando and my friends, you know? Besides, the thought of having to live in a small town jammed with tons of tourists all the time didn’t exactly make my day. Yeah, we had tourists in Orlando, but at places like Disney World, not right outside our neighborhood like it is here.
“So tell me about this Lobo guy,” I asked while we followed the winding driveway deep into the bamboo forest. What a dark little jungle it looked like on that cloudy day, I swear. It even smelled like it, or at least how I imagine a jungle would smell—wet and moldy.
Carla twisted her face like she wasn’t sure how she wanted to reply to my question about her friend. Finally, she said, “Lobo? Well, he’s a Native American and he ah … is a very … different type of person, I guess you might say.”
Her hesitation and emphasis on the word “type” made me wonder what she was hiding.
“Lobo is probably in his sixties or so. I’ll warn you now, he can be very grumpy.”
I would have never guessed by looking at the warning sign on his gate.
“To make a living, he does wood carvings. His work is quite beautiful really, and it’s for sale in art galleries here in St. Augustine as well as in Savannah.”
“So, he’s an Indian. What tribe?”
“Jeff!” she said in her I can’t believe you’re saying that voice. Carla proceeded to give me some instruction on the proper use of words, and how Indians got that name—something every kid hears in elementary school. She only uses the term Native American and hates the word Indian. Anyway, all that time, I’m thinking, who cares if Columbus got it wrong and named the natives of America after where he thought he was, India, the Indies, or wherever?
“And as for Lobo’s tribe,” she said, responding to my question, “I have no idea. All he says is he no longer has one. I don’t understand exactly what he means by that, but he won’t say anything more.”
At about that time, the driveway turned slightly to the right, and the bamboo ended. From there on, big old oaks trees dripping Spanish Moss lined each side of the mushy road and merged on top, making the whole area in front of us look like a tunnel. Near the end of that tunnel and the peninsula, I saw the back of a two-story house. It looked a lot like other old buildings in St. Augustine’s Historic District where we live, only not very well maintained.
While looking at that place though, I had a strong urge to turn around and run like hell. I mean, it was this almost overpowering need to be anywhere else—sort of an instant flash of panic. Really strange. Never had anything like that happen before in my life. Besides, there was no reason for such a strong, negative feeling like that to suddenly take hold of me. It didn’t make any sense. All I was doing was looking at an old house. Just as quickly as the feeling exploded into my head, it evaporated, leaving me a little spooked, to say the least.
My mind seemed to be running away with itself. When I put that panicky feeling together with my weird obsession with the BAD DOGS sign and my crazy dreams, I knew I had better get some rest and soon. Little did I know that I wouldn’t actually be sleeping until mid morning of the next day.
The first floor walls of Mr. R. Lobo’s house might have been white at some time, but the two I could see looked more like a dirty grey color. Streaks of mold and stains dripped downward as if the place cried from lack of care. I don’t think paint had ever touched the wooden upper story. A huge pile of firewood sat near the back door. To be perfectly honest, the condition of the place reminded me of where I live.
Carla stopped before we actually passed the last of the bamboo, pointed at the house and said, “There’s where we’re going. Isn’t it gorgeous?”
“Gorgeous? You’ve gotta be kidding.” I had to laugh, but I should have known better. Me and my big mouth. The look on Carla’s face told me I was in for it.
“Haven’t any of my explanations about the architecture in this city gotten through to you?” I knew she didn’t really want me to answer her question. Instead, it sounded like I was in for one more of her St. Augustine lectures. You see, that girl loves history, St. Augustine and archaeology—bad combination, because she can go on and on, forever. Her parents had been archaeology professors so I guess she comes by it naturally.
“You’ve got to look beyond the dirt, grime, and needed repairs,” she said in a very exasperated voice. “That house is one of the oldest still standing in St. Augustine. Parts of the bottom floor date from the first Spanish period, probably 1745 or so. Underneath the messy looking plaster are thick blocks of coquina. The top floor was added during the short time the English controlled Florida.”
Oh, here we go, I said to myself. She loves the history of the city so much she even likes to see tourists flood our town—Americas’ oldest city and all, founded in 1565, etc., etc. “Yeah,” I told her once, laughing, “what do they do, your tourists? They come here and spend good money on things like those stupid ghost tours we have all over the place.” She got real quiet after that so I figured I had gone too far.
Anyway, with my head aching the way it was, I had no patience to listen to another one of her history lessons right at that moment. I had to do something. Even though we’d only known each other about a month, experience had taught me to try and short-circuit her train of thought at times like those.
“The walls are made of coquina, huh?” I said, doing my best to grab hold of the conversation and divert it at least in a direction of something interesting. “What is it anyway? A coral rock of some kind?”
Carla rolled her eyes as if every six-year-old should know the answer, and said, “It’s like limestone, in a way, made up mostly of small seashells compressed over time. The Spanish used to mine it over on Anastasia Island and bring it here to the mainland by boat so they could build the Castillo.” She pointed to our right in the direction of the old Spanish fort not far from our neighborhood. While she spoke, I gave Mr. Lobo’s property a quick scan.
Just beyond the house and to the left about fifty feet, sat a smaller, one-story wooden building—unpainted. It had large windows across the front, right next to a door. Parked between the house and the smaller building, a battered old pickup truck seemed to stand guard over the whole area. From that distance, I couldn’t tell where the red color left off and the rust began.
Beyond the trees, buildings, and truck, a small dock jutted out towards grass covered islands in the dull gray water of Matanzas Bay. Next to the dock sat a blue canoe, bottom up, resting on one side. As I looked at the bay, just for a second, it turned hazy. Then it wasn’t. Weird. I blinked my eyes several times, but then everything looked normal. Once more, that need to turn and run away slid through my mind and quickly out again. “By boat?’’ I asked, taking a step forward. Instead of thinking about my warped vision and that strange feeling, I chose to refocus on Spanish coquina transportation.
Before Carla could answer, a deep growl came from somewhere to our left. In seconds, the growl built into vicious, rapid barking, and it was coming our way. You know how a big dog sounds when he’s angry and doesn’t like you messing with his territory? That was exactly what I heard.
Oh crap! My stomach did a flip-flop as the words BAD DOGS flashed into my mind. Once more, I felt a panicky urge to run away but with good reason this time.
Carla stared at me with a startled and scared look. I barely had enough time to wonder what happened to her promise of, “Oh, leave those silly critters to me,” when the sound of other dogs back in the bamboo on our right joined the original dog noises to our left in an explosion of snarling, growling, and yapping.
I couldn’t see them yet, but the sounds were rapidly growing louder. I knew they would be on us any second.
For a brief description of The St. Augustine Trilogy, click here.
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© 2011 by Doug Dillon. All rights reserved.