Lavender Hill Road

The tires on the car squealed as Darren revved the engine on his new, black, Mustang convertible. He glanced down at his speedometer and realized he was traveling almost twice the legal speed limit.With t a whoop of exhilaration, the young man gunned the engine again. The beautiful sports car was a gift from his parents - sweet sixteen had finally come, and the thrill of driving, the rush of freedom, surged through his veins as the powerful engine whined down the road.

Barely anyone used this highway anymore. The closing of the paper mill had devastated the small community. A few years ago this highway was well maintained and bustling with vehicles, but now the pavement was aging and cracked, and the yellow paint was peeling and faded. The local Police force was drastically cut, as funding vanished; there would be no one to pull him over.

His hair whipped  wildly in the wind., and he let out a whoop of exhilaration. He smiled as he glanced at his reflection in the rear-view mirror. Suddenly, his phone buzzed, jolting him back to reality. He sighed as he realized it was his mother’s ring tone, and instinctively slowed the car down to the speed limit. He reached for the computerized car stereo, and turned the blaring music off. The phone buzzed again. Darren rolled his eyes, and reached for the sleek, fancy, cell phone, muttering, “Ugh! Dammit mom! Hold on!”.

He flipped the phone over in his hand, thumbed the screen, and pressed the phone to his ear. His mom’s voice chirped, “Hello? Are you there?”

Darren swallowed hard, and pasted a smile on his face, “Hi mom!”, his voice cracking slightly, as he feigned excitement.

“Hello sweetie. I just called to say Happy Birthday, one more time, and to ask how you were enjoying your car”, she explained. “I think it’s a very nice car, and your dad seems really proud of it” She giggled a little, “Too fancy for me, but, I’m sure you can figure out how to work all those touch screen things”

“Panels, mom”, Darren rolled his eyes, and shook his head in irritation. He took one hand off the wheel, and mocked her, silently signing with his hand - a gesture of a clucking chicken. He gunned the engine, and popped the clutch.

“You’re not driving while on the phone, are you, Darren?”, she asked. Genuinely concerned she added, “You know that’s dangerous?

“Yes, mom, I know”, he sighed.

“Are you driving right now?

“No, mom”, he lied.

“Good, because your dad and I warned you about using your cell phone and driving. It’s illegal too.”, she warned. “Are you sure you’re not driving, because it sounds like you’re in the car”, she asked.

Darren eased off the gas pedal a bit, and lied again, “No mom. I parked it on the side of the road when I seen you calling me”. He smiled at his own genius as he quipped, “I was just revving the engine a little bit, because this car is so cool, mom! I love you and dad so much!”

“Well, you’re welcome dear. We love you too.” Her voice relaxed a little bit as she asked, “You’ve got your seatbelt on?”

“Yes”.

“No passengers? You only have a learner’s permit, you know”

“Yes, mom, I know”, Darren sighed again. His hand holding the phone moved away from his ear, in annoyance. He glanced down at the speedometer and realized he was over the legal limit by 30 Kilometres. Up ahead, he could see a bright yellow caution sign, warning motorists to slow down for the upcoming tight corner on the road. He downshifted, and revelled in the whine of the engine, and the vibrations the vehicle made, as it hugged the curve.

His mom’s voice floated over the car’s engine, “Darren, are you sure you’re not driving? Because it sounds like you are”.

“No, mom”, Darren again eased his foot off the accelerator. “That was just a truck going by”, he blurted.

“Well, when you get home, I want to talk to you about the dangers of driving while distracted.”. Darren just rolled his eyes, and levelled out the turn.

He whispered to himself, through  his wide smile, “Oh, my God! This car is so smooth”.

His mom asked, “What was that dear? I can barely hear you.”

“Oh!” Darren stiffened slightly, realizing his mom had heard him, and exclaimed, “I was just saying this car is so sweet! “ He was beginning to get bored , and just wanted to get off the phone.

“Well, your father and I are very proud of you, sweetheart. We just wanted you to have a nice car.” his mom purred.

A slight pang of guilt, made Darren wince. He knew he should be nicer to his parents, but they always seemed so stifling, and overbearing. Getting a brand new convertible as a 16 year old, was indeed a luxury, and he knew he didn’t deserve it; not after all the things he did to create drama with them. He sighed, and genuinely declared, “Thanks mom, It’s really great”.

Suddenly, flashing red and blue lights appeared in the rear-view mirror. Darren glanced back and seen a rapidly approaching Police vehicle, with its emergency lights on. “Oh, crap!”, Darren blurted.

“What was that?” his mom asked. “What did you say? What’s wrong, Darren?” Her voice had a tone of panic.

“Uuummm, nothing”. Darren’s heart raced, and his mind swam in fear. “Look, mom, I gotta go”

“What do you mean, you have to go?” Her voice was even more desperate now.

“Uumm, I mean, I have to go use the bathroom. Nature calls, you know”, he clucked, as he blatantly lied to his mother. He looked back at the flashing lights, as the siren started to drone.

“Oh, well. I can let you go honey.”, she chirped. “Remember, if you shake it more than twice, you’re playing with it”.

Darren groaned, as his mind reeled from the Police gaining ground behind him, and his mother still chiding him like a child. “Ok. Love you, mom. Bye”, he blurted, and quickly thumbed the touch screen to hang up the call, tossing the expensive phone onto the passenger seat.

He took a deep, nervous sigh. He didn’t know what to do; the chances were that he was seen speeding in a caution zone, talking on a cell phone, while driving with a beginner’s permit! He had no idea of what the consequences would be if he simply pulled over. With his mother’s voice still fresh in his ears, and his conscience screaming at him to slow down, he eased up slightly on the accelerator. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he was tingling, head to toe from the wash of adrenaline coursing through his veins.

“Fuck it”. The belligerent, declaration surprised Darren. Was he really going to try and get away from the Police? He was in enough trouble already, and this was not at all what he had been taught by his parents. Running from the authorities? He would have never dreamed about doing something so foolhardy.

He straightened up in the lush leather seat, and glanced back at the Police cruiser one more time. He took a deep breath, and punched the accelerator, popping the clutch. The car’s tires squawked on the pavement, even though the vehicle was already travelling at over 120 Kilometres per hour! Darren shifted, into a higher gear, gaining speed quickly; 140, then 150. He looked over at the manual clutch and realized that he was only in fourth gear. He recalled a conversation earlier that day, when his father had jokingly claimed the fact that Darren would never have to use the last two gears. He shifted into fifth.

The car exploded down the old highway. The finely tuned, racing engine purred, as the car hugged the road. The scenery flashed by in a blur, and Darren’s heart raced from the speed. He quickly glanced at his rear-view mirror, and couldn’t see the Police vehicle anymore.

“I gotta find somewhere to hide”, he declared aloud to himself. Thinking quickly, he tried hard to figure out where he was. He couldn’t remember being on this particular part of the highway before, so he slowed down. “I just gotta find somewhere to”, his voice trailed off, as he spied a green, road sign ahead. Talking to himself he muttered, “Ah HA! Hill Road”., he announced reading the sign pointing to a dirt road with thick trees growing on either side. He downshifted quickly, and handled the vehicle with the skill of someone twice his age and experience, quickly made the sharp turn onto the old, dirt road.

Darren gunned the engine and sped down the derelict road.  The canopy of vegetation hugged the narrowing road, and the further he drove, the worse the road conditions were; grass was growing in the middle, and quickly became two mere tire tracks , nearly invisible. Darren slowed his car, growing more concerned about the worsening road conditions, than the threat of  the Police. He began to grow frantic, trying to find somewhere to turn around or even stop.

He kept driving, haunted by the threat of a possible Police vehicle behind him, and the unknown threat that loomed before him. The mid-afternoon sun, could barely penetrate the gloom of the thick vegetation. He kept driving, further and further, his car almost at a crawl.

Sunlight poured onto the road as the car broke through the canopy, and into a large, cleared section. Darren sighed in relief as he realized he could finally turn his vehicle around, and he crawled to a stop. He took in his surroundings; the remnants of the road continued through the middle of the very large clearing, heading up a large hill. Tall, wispy grass, choked the landscape. There were no trees growing in the dense carpet of grass, with the exception of a handful of dead ones, rotting at the top of the hill. Nestled between the dead trees, was an old house.

Darren squinted in the sunlight and tried to get a better look at the two storied house. From a distance, he could barely make out any detail, except that the roof appeared to have green shingles, and the walls were gray. He glanced behind him, and looked down the narrow path he had driven, as if expecting to see Police suddenly spring out of the grass. He sighed, not knowing what to do. “How long do I have to wait”, he thought out loud. Looking back at the house in the distance, and then the concealed road behind him. He muttered, “Well, I better get off this road, just in case they followed me”.

He put the car in first gear. Slowly, he inched up the hill, towards the old house. The wind was making the long grass roll, like the waves on water. Overhead, he could see a hawk, gliding effortlessly on the summer breeze. The path leading towards the house, was barely visible now.  Darren cautiously drove his new car through the tall grass, having to guess where the tire ruts were. In the back of his mind, he was worried about hitting a hidden obstacle, and he realized that the low-riding vehicle could easily bottom out, as well as, clog the engine with the tall grass he was driving through; only the threat of the Police possibly behind him, forced him forward.

As he continued to carefully navigate, he could begin to make out some detail of the large house. About half-way up the hill, the long grass gave way, to sparse patches of weeds, and wild rose bushes. The grass was spotted with patches of brown, dead portions. He could see a small building behind the house, hidden by the rotting trees. The house was in poor shape; the four columns on the front porch were falling over, and one was missing entirely, causing the porch roof to sag to the side. The roof was actually gray shingles, covered in thick moss. All of the large windows were broken. Every door were open, and falling off the hinges. Darren could see that there was a front entrance, with wide double doors that once sported stained glass. Yellowed curtain on the front windows, billowed slightly in the wind. He stiffened as a wash of cold fear came over him, causing him to shiver slightly.

The path to the house continued around the back, and Darren realized it would be the best place to park his vehicle, and wait for the Police to quit chasing him. Cautiously, he drove around the house. Nestled safely behind the aging building, he stopped the car, and turned off the ignition. He sat there for a couple minutes, his heart still pounding.  He looked around and was surprised to see large patches of wild purple flowers, dotting the hillside. The small building he saw earlier, was nearly collapsed; it used to be a tool shed, with it’s contents spilling from the decaying walls, in a tangle of rust, and rotting wood. With the air conditioner turned off, the interior of the car began to quickly warm up in the summer sun. He began to sweat.

“Ugh! I can’t sit here anymore”, he announced to no one. He cracked open the door, and the cooler air rushed in. He sat there for a couple moments, taking in the fresh air; the door alarm dinging.  Even with the door open, the leather seats were still growing hotter by the minute, while the metal of the engine creaked and popped slightly as it cooled. Darren cleared his throat, and muttered, “May as well go have a look around while I wait”. He picked up his phone to check the time, and realized that he had no phone service. “That’s weird”, he exclaimed. “The cell phone tower should reach here”, he said. The time on the phone read 3:46 pm. He tucked the phone into the glove box, “No use bringing this with me. It doesn’t work”, he told himself.

He stood up, leaning on the open car door, peering around. The smell of moss and decay, was mixed with a sweet flowery scent. An insect started to drone loudly, causing Darren to glance at the dead remnants of the large trees. “Probably just a spruce bug”, he reminded himself. He stepped to the side, and closed the car door, and thumbed the remote lock on his keychain. The car beeped, as it locked, and the anti-theft chirped. “That’s so cool”, Darren grinned. He thought to himself, “It will probably be a few hours before I should get back on the highway. I may as well look around for a bit”.

The dry grass crunched under his feet, as he made his way to the shed. Insects buzzed, and danced in the sun, and in the distance, he could hear a woodpecker drilling into a tree. He realized where the flowery scent was coming from, as soon as he neared one of the patches of flowers. The smell was intoxicating; sweet,  spicy and smelling like camphor, with a hint of pine. The gray-green, pointed leaves were growing  in a bushy, spreading manner; crowned with tall spikes of beautiful pale, violet flowers. He bent over and snapped one of the flowers off, lifted it to his nose, and inhaled deeply. “Oh, my God! That smells so good”, he declared aloud. He tucked the flower behind his ear, and began to make his way to the shed.

Darren inspected the remains of the shed; only three walls remained standing, with the closest one sprawled out in front of him. The roof, had collapsed, and lay broken; flattened from the  loss of a structural wall, it covered most of the floor. The door at the back was missing, with only bare hinges as testimony to its existence. All of the walls, blackened and coated with moss, were draped with a variety of rusting farm implements; two scythes, a collection of saws, knives, an axe, and few other items that Darren couldn’t even identify. He kicked at the pile of debris on the ground and huffed, “Hmmh! Not a damn thing of value.”

A sudden glint of metal, reflecting the sun, caught his eye. Peering into the shadows at the remains of an old work bench, that had been destroyed when the roof caved in, he could make out the tiny flash of something shiny. Carefully, he stepped across the shattered remains of the building, making his way to the work bench mounted on the far wall. Each step he took was tenuous, breaking through the decaying shingles and rotting wood, a few times, scraping his legs in the process. He stopped halfway, wincing from the pain and blood trickling from his shins. “Damn it!”, he said, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth. He sighed. “Come on Darren”, he hissed through clenched teeth, “You can do this”. He opened his eyes.

He stared at the flash of metal, and could make out a small wooden box. The corner was snapped off, and Darren could see some sort of golden metallic object inside. He steadied himself and placed his foot on what he hoped was a wooden stud in the roof. Like a gymnast walking a balance beam, he slowly made his way over to the bench. Once he reached the wall, he grasped the remains of the workbench for support, and carefully bent down to see the small box. It was an old cigar box; the lettering had long ago faded away, and it was covered with dirt, moss and cobwebs. Darren brushed most of the debris off the box, and picked it up. It was heavy! His heart began to pound as Darren peered through the broken corner to see coins; a variety of gold and silver currency clinked, as he nearly dropped it, trying to balance it with one hand. He let go of the bench and caught the box of coins just in time, nearly losing his sense of balance in the process. He stood up straight, and blew off the loose dirt and spider webs.

Gingerly opening the aging, wooden box, he whistled, “These can’t be real!” His heart beat so hard, it felt like his chest would explode. He stared at the coins, and tenderly moved a few around in the box. “These things are older than me”, he bluntly stated. The coins dated early 1900’s, and Darren had no idea what their worth might even be. He picked up a gold coin and hefted it in his hand with amazement, “This is heavy!”, he declared. Placing the coin in his pocket, he closed the lid, and turned around. Steadying himself, he walked back across the support beam in the collapsed roof, and jumped off the other end on solid ground. He looked around quickly as if expecting to see the owner of the cigar box jump out suddenly. He opened the box, and sat down on the remnants of the roof; the old lumber creaked and groaned in protest of the young man’s weight.

Darren opened the box again, and began to sort through the coins. “Twelve gold, and twenty-three silver dollars! Not too bad for a day’s work of running from the PoPo”, he chuckled. “Wait until mom and dad see this!”, he chirped. Suddenly he realized, he had no way of explaining his discovery, without implicating himself. He sat there, stunned. He snorted, “I can just tell them I went for a drive and found this place”. A smile spread across his face, and his eyes twinkled.  “Dad’s going to be so excited!”, he mused.

The droning of the woodpecker snapped him out of his revelry.  Darren squinted in the direction, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bird, but, couldn’t see it. He closed his eyes and sat there with the sun beating down on his face. He felt warm, and was tingling from excitement and adrenaline. Darren deeply inhaled, and sighed happily. He listening to the insects humming, the distant cry of the eagle overhead, and the sound of the wind as it swished through the branches of the dead trees.

A sudden random thought entered his mind, and he bolted upright; blinking several times to adjust his eyes. “Shit! What time is it?”, he muttered. Standing up, he hefted the box of coins in his left hand, and strode towards his car. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his keys, along with the gold dollar coin he had absently put in there a few moments ago. “Oh!”, he chuckled, “make that thirteen gold”, he gloated, as he dropped the coin back in his pocket.

He thumbed the remote on the keychain, and the car’s horn honked once, and the lights flashed, on and off. Darren opened the door, and was hit in the face with a blast of muggy, hot air. He stood there for a few seconds, waiting for it to cool off slightly in the vehicle, then bent over and gingerly tucked the old box under the driver’s seat. Bracing himself, he leaned into the car, and reached over to the glove box, and pulled out his phone. He swiped his thumb across the bottom of the touch screen, and the LCD flickered to life. “6:32?!”, he gasped as he glanced the digital display, “I haven’t been gone that long!”.  He suddenly realized he was late. “Mom and dad are going to kill me”, he groaned, then suddenly shook his head dismissing the notion, “To hell with that!”, he declared., “they’re going to love me when they see what I’ve found”.

Darren took one last look around at the old house and the landscape. “You know, there might be more stuff in that house”, he mused. Shaking his head, as if to dismiss the thought, he announced to himself, “I gotta get home. I can always come back tomorrow”. He nodded, with his assessment, and climbed into the car.

Carefully, he made his way back to the highway, taking his time, both for safety reasons, and because he wanted to give the Police a little more time to forget about him. “They couldn’t have seen my license plate”, he assured himself. “There’s no way they could have”, he chuckled, “I was going too fast”. He soon found himself at the paved intersection, and stopped cautiously. Darren reached over to the button that operated the convertible roof, and pressed it; with a soft snick, the roof pulled away from the housing, and quietly swished and creaked, as the car’s roof folded into the rear of the vehicle. Looking in both directions, he nervously climbed onto the highway.

As he drove further down the road, he began to calm down. He turned on the stereo and sat back in his seat, his left arm resting on the car door. The wind whistled past his ears, and he began to sing along to the music, drumming along with his free hand. His mind swam as he contemplated his choices. He sighed heabily, “If I tell mom and dad about the coins, they may not let me come back.” He chewed on his bottom lip, out of childhood habit, as he thought about his parent’s reaction, to his discovery. “They might even make me give them back”, he said with started realization.

Soon, Darren found himself pulling into the driveway. Sure enough, there was his mom and dad waiting for him; his mom with a worried look on her face, while his dad looked extremely upset. He parked the car, and climbed out of the vehicle.

“Where the hell were you”, his father demanded, his hands on his hips.. “Your mother and I have been worried sick about you!”

Darren swallowed hard, as he realized he might be in serious trouble. He thought fast, and pulled out the single gold coin in his pocket, and displayed it to his parents. “I went for a drive up to the beach, and I lost track of time”, he lied. “I was walking along the shore, and I found this”, Darren chided. He plunked the gold coin into the outstretched hand of his father.

“Son, do you know what this is?”, his father asked is quiet amazement. Without waiting for an answer, he explained, “This is a Double Eagle Gold Liberty Head Coin ”. He whistled, “This thing is worth over a thousand dollars”.

“So I did good, right”, Darren queried. He couldn’t believe how easy it was to lie to his parents like that. He looked at his father, hopefully.

“Well, I would say this is one hell of a birthday present, that’s for sure”, his father admonished. “Here”, he said, holding out the coin, ginning widely. “You keep it. Happy birthday, Darren”, he smiled.

Darren was stunned. Not only had he got away with lying, but now, he was able to keep the coin. His dad chimed, “What’s that old phrase? Finders keepers”.

“And losers weepers”, Darren muttered softly, running his fingers over the soft metal of the coin.

His mother sang, “Well honey, it sounds like you’ve had a wonderful day. I just wish you would have phoned and let us know you were going to be late”.

“You mother has a point young man. You’re getting older, and you need to learn responsibility”, his father joined in. “Now that you have a car, you should start looking for a job”, he scolded.

Darren groaned, “Ugh. Can I just go eat something?“ He whined, I’m starved, mom”. He pouted and struck the look that had melted his mother’s heart, all his life.

“Oh, alright, sweetheart”, his mom said, practically shooing him in the house. “We can talk about this later”
_____________________________

Darren didn’t sleep very that night, He tossed and turned in his bed, flopping on his stomach in exasperation and exhaustion. He even punched his pillow a few times in irritation. The visions of the house and the wild Police chase kept echoing in his mind. When he did sleep, his dreams were filled with images of  the old house.

The sun couldn’t come up fast enough. When it did, he dressed quickly, ate breakfast, and quietly excused himself. He went back up to his room, and waited for his parents to leave the house, then stole back downstairs to the kitchen, and put together a small lunch; a couple sandwiches, an apple and a banana. As an afterthought he tossed a few cans of pop, and a bottle of water into the plastic bag.

It wasn’t long before he found himself staring at the old house again.

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