The Night Dick Ran For His Life
It was one of those strange nightmares when you know you're dreaming, when your groggy subconscious yell's "Wake up, boy" but you don't. Not for a while at least. Not until you've had the wits scared out of you. It was such a nightmare Dick Chamberlain was having now, the kind he hadn't had since boyhood. Him running, somebody giving chase, the scene vague, dark, new, his legs tiring, turning heavier, the pursuer always a few yards behind, arms outstretched, hands poised ready to grab, ready to destroy him.
With one voice shouting: "Run!" His own voice, in the dream, pleading: "Help me! Help!" and the voice came loud and clear now. And opening his eyes, sitting up and staring around the room, Dick realized that he'd awakened himself. Traditionally, just before the monster grabbed him and gobbled him up. Just before he shivered. He reached for a sheet, which hung limply over one side of the bed and brought it to his face, wiping away the chill-tinged sweat. And then his gaze focused dully on two objects which sat on the night table next to him - the true culprits of the sleepy-time saga: a large bowl which, at approximately midnight, some six hours before, had contained a heaping portion of over-peppered chilli, and a book, a blood-red-jacketed novel, cute little thing about the French Revolution and a gadget called the guillotine and lopped-off heads and the like. Dick stared. Then nodded. Then smiled-relived. "Boy," he whispered, as if to reassure himself with the sound of his own voice, "you've got to cut out the snacks and stick to reading script." Scripts. That word really awakened him. It was only dawn, early for some, but late for him. He had to be at MGM in less than an hour. He jumped out of bed, stripped off his pyjamas and dashed for the shower. Leaving that dumb nightmare behind him. At least, so he thought.
It was a strange day that followed at the studio, on the "Kildare" set - one of those rare off-days when everything seemed to go wrong for all concerned. Actors fluffed lines, grips had trouble with the lights, a prop man turned up on the sound stage bearing what looked like a pair of sheep shears when the scene called for scalpel …that kind of day!
"Spooky," said the director, a New York man, at one point. "Is this what the smog does to you people out here?"
The others laughed - Dick among them. But the laughter was unusually hollow that day. And Dick, looking around at his California colleges, found himself wondering, half-smiling, glibly, "I wonder what they dream?"
The dream, once remembered, was now hard to dismiss. Dumb dream. Why? Chilli and poor Marie Antoinette - remember? Kid stuff. Baby stuff. Tell it to a 10-year-old and he'd razz the daylights out of you. So forget it, will you? Turn if off!
But though the day passed, thoughts of the dream did not. The memory of what scientifically everyone in his right mind knows is nothing more than about twenty seconds of soporific fomenting of the imagination clung to Dick's mind as he left the studio, hopped into his car and drove towards home, back to the Hollywood Hill again.
Through the fog which had begun to blow in, lavishly, densely, suddenly, from the direction of the ocean a few miles away. Fog! This he needed like Raymond Massey needs more talent!
He was glad he had a date that night. The thought hit him suddenly as he drove - but it gladdened him. After all, not only did he like the girl tremendously, but she was the kind you could talk to about anything - and he would tell her about his dream, the effect it had had on him this day, get it off his chest - and then it would all be forgotten, finally. Right? Right!
"Wrong," she said.
He was home now, on the phone - reminding her of their appointment. "I'm sorry, Dick," she was saying, sweetly, but firmly, "this is Wednesday. You specifically phoned about Thursday. I've got to go to classes tonight. Anything else I'd get out of, but not classes."
He hung up after saying something about tomorrow. You're right, 7 o'clock, dinner. He stood there, in the silence, feeling more than a little bit foolish. The thumb of his left hand, you see, was twitching now - and Dick knew, remembered from childhood, that it had only twitched like that when he was afraid of something - and so he felt foolish indeed since he didn't know what in the world he was afraid of. Except for that memory of that dumb dream. That dumb dream.
"Dumb!" he said, aloud now, to no one in particular.
"Dumb!" he repeated, louder, as if to drive the spookiness away by sheer decibels.
But the dream - as if insulted by this scorn - certainly stubborn-refused to budge. And finally Dick realized that there was only one thing to do. "Race it!" the track coach had said to him back in high school. "You got anything bothering you, get out somewhere and run. Not only good for the legs, the calves, but does wonders for the old brain - cleans the bothering webs out just fine."
"Race it!" Dick nodded now, remembering.
"Race it, race it!" he repeated a little while later, decked out in sweat suit and sneakers, jogging steadily, perspiring, along the narrow and desolate road that passes his mountain home. "Race it!" as he peered through the fog, which was growing thicker, as he continued to run, farther and farther away from the house and into territory that even to him being so familiar with the area began to appear vague and dark, and new and mysterious.
"Must be the moonlight seeping through the mist." He consoled himself at one point. "Sure! Must be"
What?" - stopping.
Dick looked down.
And the snake looked back up at him.
Dick quickly stepped back a few paces.
"You ever see a snake in these parts," he remembered an old-timer saying once, "consider it an omen." He watched now as the omen, bored with staring, slithered off. And enough being enough, he was just about to turn and head for home, when he saw it, behind him, through the fog, the car approaching, creeping, slithering up the hill. On another night, in another frame of mind, Dick would naturally have thought nothing unusual about a car driving slowly through these hills. But on this night, nothing seemed usual, let alone this particular vehicle. Approaching still, slowly, slowly, its headlights blinking now, on and off, on an off, like the eyes of an ogre, a crawling and mechanical phantom. "Yikes!" Dick muttered, and turned once more and continued running up the hill, faster than before. "Hey!" the voice came now, deep and gravely, obviously that of the phantom's driver. "Stop! Stop there!"
For a moment Dick did stop. Long enough to turn around and see that the car had stopped, that the driver had got out, and was beginning to run now, too. "Stop!" came the command again. On which Dick again muttered something somewhat stronger than "Yikes!" and began running again, calling on all the wind and muscle in him, calling on his last reserves of strength to escape his pursuer. He might have called for help if he'd had enough breath for the effort, but his lungs were already overtaxed and aching. Besides, if he called out, who was there to hear?
The road curved. Dick took the curve. Glancing back fleetingly over his shoulder he could see that - for the moment at least - he'd lost his pursuer. On the other hand, there was no haven ahead, no place to find permanent safety from the danger behind him, whatever the danger might be!
In desperation, Dick plunged behind a bush and crouched there hoping the man would run by without seeing him.
He waited, every muscle in his body tense. Nothing happened. The silence was so intense now that the only thing to be heard, and barely, was the wet whisper of the fog as it's thickening vapours brushed past his face. He waited and waited. And then, blessedly, from the opposite direction, he saw another car approaching, headlights shining brightly. He jumped up from his crouch dashing to the road. He flagged his arms. The car, a jalopy of sorts, filled with young people, stopped.
"Would you troops give me a lift?"
"Sure," the driver said, "Get in."
If the youth at the wheel recognized Dick he gave no sign. In fact, strangely, no one in the car seemed to recognize him. Now ego, let it be noted, has never been one of Dick Chamberlain's problems. But now, right now, he couldn't help wondering - this television, movie and recording star who'd been chased by kids all over the country: "Are they just being polite?"
He was in the midst of his wonderings when the car rolled forward, around the curve, toward the spot where Dick and last seen his pursuer. Nobody, he discovered with relief, was in sight. But then he and his "rescuers" rounded another curve. And there he saw the ominous auto parked, with its lights on, as if still waiting for him. Worse yet, the car in which Dick was riding began to slow to a halt. And the panic which had subsided, rose again and almost choked him.
"Who's this I'm riding with?" he thought. "Are they in this together, these people who picked me up and the guy in the parked car? Why do they want me?"
His terror was illogical, he realized that, but it was real terror nonetheless. For an instant he even contemplated jumping out of the moving jalopy and scrambling his way through the scraggly overgrowth on the hillside. In the darkness, in the fog, he might escape. But before he could make up his mind the jalopy had stopped and the man who had chased him was getting out of the car.
"You found him?" the man asked, squinting into the jalopy.
"Uh" said the kid behind the wheel. "There's not a sign of him up the hill"
"Hmm," said the man. "I thought I saw him. I saw someone running up the road and chased him, but he disappeared. If we don't find him pretty soon, we'd better get more help from somewhere." A girl in the back seat reached forward and tapped Dick's shoulder. A minute earlier, he would have gone through the roof. Now he just sat and listened, interestedly. As the girl said, "In case you're wondering what we're talking about, we're looking for a young man who's lost in these hills. He's about your size. I don't suppose you've seen anybody who looks lost tonight, have you, Mr. Chamberlain?"
Dick shook his head.
"No," he said, "I haven't seen a soul except you good people."
Our story would be ended here except for three loose ends.
1. Dick joined in the hunt for the lost youth, who was found in good shape some twenty minutes later.
2. Dick invited everyone down to his home - rescuers and rescued - for some hot coffee and cake and for some now-humorous philosophising about the folly of unwarranted fear.
3. At about midnight, when the others gone, he turned in and fell asleep promptly and slept like a log - too tied even to dream! Which was a pleasure, needless to say.