The moon has floated up into the night sky like a big silver bubble and cast its sequined black cape down on the bay. Almost always the little town of Pacific Grove is pretty quiet after dark, quiet as The Grave that school kids call it.
A couple of years ago, we would go walking every morning before dawn. The town was still sleeping, mostly. No traffic, no noise; dark, with a hint of dawn coming up. The sidewalks are flat, city blocks are long and straight, and most streets are parallel to one another. You can see a long way down them while you walk along. We'd take a different route every morning and have a look around, peering through the darkness, with only the odd sulfurous orange light from street lamps to prevent us stumbling in the gutters.
Raccoons living in the city's storm drains sometimes shuffled across the street. I'd see them turning to flip us off or drink from a bottle carried in a old brown bag. Like the cops didn't know. Not much else was out moving around, but we liked it like that.
We set out one morning, walking along Junipero Street, keeping a steady pace, heading west, feeling a chill in the air. It was summer, when it's coldest here, and damp fog had drifted in low like a shroud. In the distance, a late-model car crossed the street, going south, and disappeared. We walked on for another few minutes, talking and keeping a good pace, trying to warm up. There it was again. The old sedan crossed the street again in the distance, going north, same speed, and disappeared. Crossing Cedar Street, still on Junipero, we looked south and saw the dark silhouette of the '73 Monte Carlo, over on Granite, parallel to our path. It was low slung, swooping along, a metal haunt, dark and quiet. It disappeared again. The fog was damp on our jackets, like cold sweat.
We turned right after a few blocks and began to head north. The Monte Carlo appeared again, heading south on the street we were walking. It powered directly on for two blocks and then swept quickly past us, then around a corner, careening into its turn with an eerie rush of rubber on asphalt and heavy chassis slung low. The driver's silhouette was barely visible; he wasn't moving - if he was there at all. The car slipped out of sight and then from street to street, taking no predictable turns or course that we could tell, now here, now there, veering, turning, disappearing, reappearing at random intervals on who knows what mission. Then silence.
Seconds after we'd just seen it, the phantom Monte Carlo was far away, crossing the street again the opposite direction, quietly sweeping from left to right, gleaming dully in the sulphur lamplight. Then it was gone.
Something like that wakes you up in the morning quite a bit more than a cup of coffee does. Unsolved mystery in a benign and sedate town like this is far too full of intrigue and import. Here I am still wondering about it to this day. If you see it out there in the dawn, check to see if there really is a driver. I wasn't that sure.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way