Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Eve in The Twilight Zone

As we walked through the door into the vestibule and took off our coats, soaked from the rain that had been steadily falling for hours, we could hear and smell that the kitchen was alive with activity.

The house lay deep in the woods, wilderness as far as we were concerned. Having traveled for miles on unlit back roads, merely a few houses, set far back from where we drove, offered but the faintest sign that there was life present here. Cell service had never appeared on these roads. It felt much more like the 19th century than the 21st as we made our way to our destination.

The fog had mocked us, darting in and out, treating the brights on our car as more hindrance than guide. There was a terrible loneliness driving to our friends for New Year's Eve. Deserted roads, no moon to serve as reassurance, a feeling that if you lost your way here, it could be a very long time before you would be noticed or retrieved. 

The first New Year's Eve we made this journey, four years ago, had been the worst. Our friends had moved into their new home only several months before. And though we had visited on a few occasions, I could not recall ever having done so at night. There was nothing familiar on this journey, no sense that I would have known there was a sharp turn just around the bend. My mind was of no assistance. I drove mentally completely blind..

And that first night the fog clung to these roads with a grip so tight it seemed it could never be broken. No stretch where it disappeared or even dissipated. Just a constant unwanted companion making it nearly impossible to navigate. My wife and I had repeated thoughts of turning back, trying to extricate ourselves from the abyss. We spoke of nothing but where the road next seemed to head. Only a foot or two of sight and then the world evaporated. We could call no one, as alone and isolated as the imagination could suggest.

But being supremely stupid and not wanting to disappoint, we did not turn back. Our trek went on, seemingly for hours. And then, as if it were surreal, we came upon the dirt road, meandering up and then down a deeply pitted surface that led us eventually, finally to the foot of the long, circuitous driveway which delivered us to the residence at the top of the hill. 

Tonight, as I hung our coats and walked but a few steps to the next level, I could see that the hor d'oeuvres were prepared and sitting on the long wooden island in the kitchen. For the two other couples with whom we shared this night every year, food was a central, essential part of their experience. One of our friends, a guest in the house, was in charge of the main course, as he was the last day of each December. He was in his element in the kitchen, his most natural habitat and was supremely busy. He was preparing a bouillabaisse, shrimp, clams, cod, mussels, scallops and other assorted formerly living creatures all joining forces in a broth in a celebration worthy of welcoming the end of a frightening 2018.

I took my seat on the wooden bench and table, the glasses of water filled, the salad in the large bowl, the bread neatly cut into small pieces perfectly sized to sop up the leftover base after the bowl containing the seafood extravaganza had been fully dispensed. The champagne was poured and the serious eating commenced.

All the while, the rain outside kept up it's relentless drumbeat. It seemed like this particular day, in this particular spot, was destined to repeat the doom and gloom forever, on endless loop, an event trapped in perpetuity. Lost in a kind of time warp. New Year's Eve in a house connected to nowhere.

When dinner was concluded, each of us surrendering after the pecan and apple pies had been sampled, the table was cleared. And the other annual tradition took center stage.The Twilight Zone marathon commenced.

Rod Serling was a genius, able to twist reality into a frightening possibility of horrors. My friend, the chef, had once met Mr. Serling almost a half century past. And had coaxed him into giving a promo for my friend's radio show using a Twilight Zone like introduction. Some kind of cosmic connection between these two equally strange, equally fascinating souls.

This evening began with an episode starring a very young William Shatner. It seemed that Mr. Shatner had suffered a nervous breakdown on a plane some six months earlier. Now, he was heading home on another flight, unsteady in his recovery, but with his wife by his side. My friend said we were watching the most famous of all of the episodes. I felt a sense of foreboding from the opening moments, knowing that when you enter the Twilight Zone, something terrifying is not even a full breath away. As Mr. Shatner opened the curtain next to his window seat, to survey the raging storm outside, I understood this was not going to end well.

While we three men settled in, our wives headed to a smaller den, uninterested in spending yet another New Year's Eve with Mr. Serling. Instead, they decided on what some might consider his worthy successor, the Coen brothers. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a bizarre series of tales, pieced together as a movie, was their selection. Almost as counterpoint to what was happening in the other room. The Twilight Zone abandoned for a world into which one entered with virtually equal trepidation.

After Mr. Shatner was taken away, by gurney, to another institution, our host silently left the room. And did not return, having apparently fled into the waiting arms of the Coen brothers. One down, and but two little Indians remained.

Soon Burgess Meredith appeared on our screen. This, my Serling aficionado advised, was actually a more famous episode than the one we just finished. It involved a very, very near sighted Mr. Meredith, an obsession with reading and a final scene, if I recall, with the central character alone in the universe, surrounded by books, his glasses somehow shattered, his ability to do the one thing he lived for, now forever gone. 

I say "if I recall" because I had seen this show in New Year's Eves past, and I thus decided to join my host and our wives with the Coens. But not before my friend said "Where do you think you are going? Don't you try to escape The Twilight Zone. Once you are in, you can never leave."

Not heeding this warning, I removed myself to the strange land inhabited by Buster Scruggs, a Wild West gunslinger who sang and danced as he killed seemingly every evil creature in his path. And who ended up gunned down and winging towards heaven while crooning a duet with his own killer. This was followed by an equally wild, Wild West story in which an inept bank robber avoids one hangman's noose only to stumble into the next one. The house was now fully and completely inhabited by dueling insanities, one television broadcasting a universe of horror seemingly matched only by what was transpiring on the other screen. We were deeply and irrevocably residing in a place where nothing, absolutely nothing, was as it first appeared.

The rain came down in torrents for a while, pounding on the outside of the house, causing us to raise the volume on the television merely to hear over the attack occurring on the roof. After finishing the second of the Coen brothers pieces, the deluge seemed to lessen. Even though it was but 10:30, my wife and I decided that the best course of action was to make an immediate exit. And so, before the next installment of Buster Scruggs drew us in, and without my heading back to Mr. Serling, we bid an early farewell to our friends and to 2018.  My Twilight Zone companion, left alone to his viewing and his thoughts for some time, gave me a half wave, transfixed and clearly residing in an alternate universe. It was as if I was almost not visible to him, not there at all.

Once outside, both my wife and I were suddenly aware of just how dark was the world we were now entering. Even with the lights from the house, it was hard to make our way down the driveway, the possibility of disaster evident even in the first few seconds. But the rain was lessening, the fog had not descended and we slowly began to retrace our steps back home. Since we started this trek at an odd hour, at least for this evening, the road was empty. As in no signs of another vehicle behind us or coming towards us. For miles. It was as if we had entered our own planet, separated somehow from the rest of humanity. A parallel universe.. We were its sole occupants.

I knew I was travelling ahead, but my rate of speed was far less than what my mind was suggesting. And as the minutes passed, the worst of the weather seemed to be inching ever closer, ever closer. Until, in what seemed but an instant, the world around us was no more. I could not see beyond the front windshield. The wind had increased, the rain meeting us with great intensity. And the blanket of fog was all that my wife and I could decipher. The road, and everything else we thought we knew was suddenly no more.

Panic immediately set in as we had no concept of left or right, behind or ahead. We sat there, the car and us absolutely motionless. The only evidence of existence the storm which pelted down mercilessly. There were no phones, no lights, no hint of anything beyond this. We have all been in situations that seemed almost an impossibility, as if they did not fit either into time or space as we have defined it. But this was worse than the worst of all dreams, the mother of all nightmares. This could not be happening for it had none of the signposts of reality. 

And then, as quickly as it began, it receded. The storm's intensity waned, the fog began to dissipate, still enshrouding us, but not truly enveloping and devouring us. It's grip loosened, we were now able to survey our whereabouts. Or as much as is possible on an unlit road in the middle of nowhere. And it was clear we were now lost, on a stretch of terrain even more unfamiliar to us than any we had encountered before. Somehow, in the midst of all that had frightened us so, we had been thrown off course.

Where to head was a question without answer. But, then we noticed a faint light, piercing through the fog, seeming to beckon us onward. And, almost by it's sheer force, we moved in that direction, hesitating but still progressing. The road we were on appeared to be a relatively straight two lanes, surrounded on both sides by nothing but a dense forest that cast only darkness in response to our gaze. There was something strange in the light as we approached. It appeared to be from another car, but it was not moving towards us. It was as still as the air which now was as dead and stagnant as the deepest tomb.

And one other thing that seemed not to fit the moment. The light was not cast on the road, but almost exclusively into the woods. If this was a vehicle we were approaching, it was not aimed at the road.

Ever so cautiously we began our approach. 200 yards, 150, 100 and then no more than 50. It was a car, and it was on its side. It had gone off the road and there was no sign of movement from inside. One additional item was more than worthy of attention. It appeared to be the same make, model and color as our car. And, as far as we could determine, the same year. 

At about 20 yards away, my wife and I exited our car and I began to shout "Is anybody there? Are you ok? Is anybody there?" Silence greeted the night air in reply.

"Be careful", my wife said, "I do not like what is happening. Be careful."

Only 5 yards from the car I stopped, frozen. I then frantically waved for my wife to come near. She approached, and I pointed to the front license plate, now visible to both of us. "That's our car's license", I whispered, fully without capacity to comprehend the reality of what that meant. My wife was unable to move, unable to speak, and she dropped to her knees, screaming but no noise could be heard.

I forced myself to walk up to the car and peered in. There, lying motionless, were myself and my wife.

Once you enter the Twilight Zone there is no escape.


Anonymous said...

So are you going back next year?


Anonymous said...

No! This sounds like the worst night of your life! Stop watching the Twilight Zone before you enter that terrifying dimension, or have you already?


Anonymous said...

Bob Serling!!


Anonymous said...

Love it!!


Anonymous said...

Great story Rod Nussbaum !!!! Reminded me of Beetlejuice


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

And all you had to do was celebrate with us


Anonymous said...

Glad the other you was not really you


Anonymous said...

I'd skip next year if I were you! It was not worth the bouillabaisse you were served! Very disturbing.


Anonymous said...

You have been watching too many episodes!!!