It was not a dark (well, maybe it was a little bit dark) and stormy night. But I was accompanied by a Hobgoblin. Now I know there are those of you who think he’s just calling himself a hobgoblin in a nod to a favorite author quote, as well as to a favorite creature, but I’m here to set the story straight: he really is a hobgoblin. Don’t let him fool you with his shy manner and warm smile. Stay on guard.
I’d been lured into an unfamiliar town (okay, so I was the one who suggested our writer’s group meet in this place that seemed a good halfway point for all of us, but he certainly didn’t object). Parking, for someone who doesn’t like to parallel park, can be a challenge in this town. I was not looking forward to the prospect of trying to squeeze my car into something that seems like 3 car lengths from the vantage point of the sidewalk, but which shrinks to half a car length when I’m behind the steering wheel. But luck (or so I thought), was with me that evening. I was just about to turn around and park on the block about half a mile from Border’s (our meeting place) when I discovered a little driveway and decided to turn into it.
It was one of those tiny little alleyways where drug dealers congregate, the sort of place a woman doesn’t want to be alone (all right, all right, not on "the right side of the tracks" on "The Gold Coast” of Connecticut, but it was a tiny little alleyway, hidden between two store fronts). However, I soon discovered it led to a tantalizingly empty parking lot, so was worth the risk, especially since at this hour, it was still light out. I searched for the multiple “Parking for Residents Only. Towing Enforced” signs so common in such places and found none. Parking my car and climbing out, I searched a little on foot to make sure no such signs existed, noticing the freshly-painted white fence that rose up along one side of the lot. I was almost late, so just decided to cross my fingers against the possibility that all signs had been painted over but that towing would still be enforced, and left the car, mentally marking the entrance to the lot by the fact it was next to a frame shop.
Fast forward a few hours to the end of our meeting, where he led me into the far corner of the store and the horror collection (well, yes, it was I who’d suggested we go look for Ramsey Campbell, but he seemed all too willing). Why did I not pay attention to the way he jumped all over the Campbell book we found -- a book that promised to be full of woodsy-type hobgoblins? Why did I think nothing of the fact that it wouldn’t register when the sales clerk tried to scan it, and it took a while to find it in the system? Why didn’t I suspect something when he too eagerly agreed to walk me to my car to make sure it hadn’t been towed?
But then, we started on the eeriest walk of my life (well, no, the streets weren’t dark and empty like they have been on other walks I’ve taken, but I promise you, there was something spine-tingling in the air that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on). We walked along to the spot where the parking lot entrance should have been, and, as all good magicians do, he was distracting me. I didn’t notice whatever it was he did to make it disappear, but it was gone. Poof! Nowhere in sight. Yet again, I saw nothing very odd in this at first. I blamed myself, happy I’m long past first dates at this point in my life, ones on which I might prove myself to be an incredible airhead who didn’t know where she’d parked her car. However, as we walked up and down the street a couple of times, I did begin to think, date or no date, this was really embarrassing. I knew we were on the right street. I knew I hadn’t passed a Starbucks, and yet, there was Starbucks coming up, once again, and no sign of my little alleyway.
“It was near a frame shop,” I finally said, then looked up to find every shop was a frame shop. I must have been so focused on looking for the lot, I had once again missed the little trick he’d performed to accomplish this feat as well.
At this point, I can only surmise he was beginning to get a little tired and had decided it was time to quit for the evening. We walked past two frame shops, and there it was! What a lovely little alleyway, reminiscent of the hills that led the Von Trapp family away from the Nazis and into safety, sporting its bright, fresh, new arrow painted at its entrance to point us in the direction of my car, which sat all by itself, waiting for me. Sure, he pretended all this was as strange as I thought it was, that we couldn’t possibly have missed that entrance, that yes, it was all very Twilight Zone-ish. But hindsight is 20/20, and we all know better now, don’t we?