Chapter no 7

House of Leaves

But all this-the mysterious, far-reaching hair-line trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all-made no impression on the man. It was not because he was long used to it. He was a newcomer in the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination.

– Jack London

“To Build A Fire”



Holloway Roberts arrives carrying a rifle. In fact in the very first shot we see of him, he emerges from a truck holding a Weatherby .300 magnum.

Even without weapons though, Holloway would still be an intimidating man. He is broad and powerful with a thick beard and deeply creased brow. Dissatisfaction motivates him, and at forty-eight, he still drives himself harder than any man half his age. Consequently, when he steps onto Navidson’s front lawn, arms folded, eyes scrutinizing the house, bees flying near his boots, he looks less like a guest and more like some conquistador landing on new shores, preparing for war.

Born in Menomonie, Wisconsin, Holloway Roberts has made a career as a professional hunter and explorer. As travel writer Aramis Garcia Pineda commented: “He is confident, leads well, and possesses a remarkable amount of brassball courage. Over the past some have resented his strength and drive but most agree the sense of security one feels in his presence-especially in life-threatening situations-makes tolerating the irritating sides of his character well worth it.” [83-See Aramis Garcia Pineda’s “More Than Meets The Eye” in Field and Stream, v. 100, January 1996, p. 39-47.]

When Navidson told Reston how Karen had explicitly asked him not to explore the hallway-and presumably Navidson described the discoveries he made during Exploration A-the first person Reston called was Holloway.

Reston had met Holloway four years earlier at a symposium on arctic gear design held at Northwestern University. Holloway was one of the speakers invited to represent explorers. Not only did he clearly articulate the problems with current equipment, he also focused on what was needed to correct the problems. Though a fairly humorless speech, its conciseness impressed many people there, especially Reston who bought the man a drink. A sort of friendship soon developed. [84-Leeze1 Brant’s “Billy Reston’s Friends For Life” in Backpacker, v. 23, February 1995, p. 7.] “I always thought he was rock solid,” Reston said much later in The Reston Interview. “Just look at his C.V. Never for a moment did I suspect he was capable of that.” [85-See Exhibit Four for the complete transcript of The

Reston Interview.]

As it turned out, as soon as Holloway saw the tape of “The Five and Half Minute Hallway”, which Reston had sent him, he was more than willing to participate in an investigation. [Gabriel Reller in his book Beyond The Grasp of Commercial Media (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press,

1995) suggests that the appearance of the first short entitled “The Five and a Half Minute Hallway” originated here: “Holloway probably copied the tape, gave it to a couple of friends, who in turn passed it along to others. Eventually it found its way to the academic set” (p. 252).] Within a week he had arrived at the house, along with two employees: Jed Leeder and Kirby “Wax” Hook.

As we learn in The Navidson Record, Jed Leeder lives in Seattle, though he was originally from Vineland, New Jersey. He had actually been on his way to becoming a career truck driver when a trans-continental job took him all the way to Washington. It was there that he discovered the great outdoors was not just some myth conjured up in a magazine. He was twenty-seven when he first saw the Cascades. One look was all he needed. Love at first sight. He quit his job on the spot and started selling camping gear. Six years later he is still a long way from Vineland, and as we can see for ourselves, his passion for the Pacific Northwest and the great outdoors only seems to have grown more intense.

Consummately shy, almost to the point of frailty, Jed possesses an uncanny sense of direction and remarkable endurance. Even Holloway concedes that Jed would probably out distance him in a packless climb. When he is not trekking, Jed loves drinking coffee, watching the tide turn, and listening to Lyle Lovett with his fiancée. “She’s from Texas,” he tells us very softly. “I think that’s where we’re going to get married.” [86-See also Susan Wright’s “Leeder of the Pack” in Outdoor Life, v. 195, June 1995, p.


Wax Hook could not be more different. At twenty-six, he is the youngest member of the Holloway team. Born in Aspen, Colorado, he grew up on mountain faces and in cave shafts. Before he could walk he knew where to drive a piton and before he could talk he had a whole vocabulary of knots under his fmgers. If there is such a thing as a climbing prodigy, Wax is it. By the time he dropped out of high school, he had climbed more peaks than most climbers have claimed in a lifetime. In one clip, he tells us how he plans to eventually make a solo ascent of Everest’s North Face:

“And I’ll tell you this, more than a few people are bettin’ I’ll do it.”

When Wax was twenty-three, Holloway hired him as a guide. For the next three years, Wax helped Holloway and Jed lead teams up Mt. McKinley, down into Ellison’s Cave in Georgia, or across some Nepalese cwm. The pay was not much to brag about but the experience was worth plenty.

Wax sometimes gets a little out of hand. He likes to drink, get laid, and most of all boast about how much he drank and how many times he got laid. But he never brags about climbing. Booze and women are one thing but “a rocky face is always better than you and if you make it down alive you’re grateful you had a good trip.” [87-Bentley Harper’s “Hook, Line and Sinker” in Sierra, v. 81, July/August 1996, p. 42.]

“This though has to be the weirdest,” Wax later tells Navidson, right before making his last foray down the hallway. “When Holloway asked me if I wanted to explore a house I thought he was cracked. But whatever Holloway does is interesting to me, so sure I went for it, and sure enough this is the weirdest!”




On the day Holloway and his team arrive at Ash Tree Lane, Navidson and Tom are there to greet them at the door. Karen says a brief hello and leaves to pick the children up from school. Reston makes the necessary introductions and then after everyone has gathered in the living room, Navidson begins to explain what he knows about the hallway.

He shows them a map he drew based on his first visit. Tellingly, this hardly strikes Tom as news. While Navidson does his best to impress upon everyone the dangers posed by the tremendous size of that place as well as the need to record in detail every part of the exploration, Tom passes out xerox copies of his brother’s diagram.

Jed finds it difficult to stop smiling while Wax finds it difficult to stop laughing. Holloway keeps throwing glances at Reston. In spite of the tape he saw, Holloway seems convinced that Navidson has more than a few loose wing nuts jangling around in his cerebral cortex. But when the four dead bolts are at last unlocked and the hallway door drawn open, the icy darkness instantly slaughters every smile and glance.

Newt Kuelister suspects the first view of that place irreparably altered something in Holloway: “His face loses color, something even close to panic suffuses his system. Suddenly he sees what fortune has plopped on his plate and how famous and rich it could make him, and he wants it. He wants all of it, immediately, no matter the cost.” [88-See Newt Kuellster’s

“The Five and a Half Minutc Holloway” in The Holloway Quesrion (San

Francisco: Metalambino Inc., 1996), p. 532; as well as Tiffany Baiter’s

“Gone Away” in People, V. 43, May 15, 1995, p. 89.] Studying Holloway’s reaction, it is almost impossible to deny how serious he gets staring down the hallway. “How far back does it go?” he finally asks.

“You’re about to find out,” Navidson replies, sizing up the man, a halfsmile on his lips. “Just be careful of the shifts.”




From the first time they shake hands on the doorstep, it is obvious to us Navidson and Holloway dislike each other. Neither one says anything critical but both men bristle in each other’s presence. Holloway is probably a little unnerved by Navidson’s distinguished career. Navidson, no doubt, is privately incensed that he must ask another man to explore his own house. Holloway does not make this intrusion any easier. He is cocky and following Navidson’s little introduction immediately starts calling the shots.

In earlier years, Navidson would have probably paid little attention to Karen and headed down those corridors by himself-danger be damned. Yet as has already been discussed, the move to Virginia was about repairing their crumbling relationship. Karen would refrain from relying on other men to mollify her insecurities if Navidson curbed his own risk-lust and gave domesticity a real shot. After all, as Karen later intimated, their home was supposed to bring them closer together. [89-See Chapter XIII.] The appearance of the hallway, however, tests those informal vows. Navidson finds himself constantly itching to leave his family for that place just as Karen discovers old patterns surfacing in herself.

Later that evening, Holloway places his hand on Karen’s back and makes her laugh with a line the camera never hears. Navidson immediately bumps Holloway aside with his shoulder, revealing, for one thing, his own easily underestimated strength. Navidson, however, reserves his glare for Karen. She laughs it off but the uneasy energy released recalls Leslie

Buckman and Dale Corrdigan’s accusations. [90-Refer to footnotes 19 and 20 concerning Karen’s infidelities. Perhaps it also should be noted here that for all his wanderings Navidson was pointedly not promiscuous. Good looks, intelligence, and fan did not combine to create an adulterous lifestyle. Jona Panofsky in “Saints, Sinners, and Photojoumalists” Fortune, v. 111, March 18, 1985, p. 20, attributes Navidson’s genius to his “monklike existence.” However, Australian native, Ryan Murray in his book Wilder Ways (Sydney: Outback Works, 1996) calls Navidson’ s monastic habits “a sure sign of unresolved oedipal anxieties, repressed homosexuality, and a disturbed sense of self. Considering the time he spent away from home coupled with the kind of offers he got from the most exotic and tantalizing women (not even including those from his numerous female assistants), his refusal proves a nauseating absence of character. Make no mistake about it: over here his kind enter a bar with a smile and leave with a barstool for a hat.” An odd thing to say considering Navidson drank freely in every Australian bar he ever visited and on the one occasion when he was attacked by two drunks, purportedly angry over all the attention the waitresses were lavishing on him, both inebriates left bruised and bleeding. (The Wall Street Journal, March 29, 1985, p. 31, column 3.)]

Yet even after Navidson’s interjection, Holloway still finds it difficult to keep his eyes off of Karen. Her flirting hardly helps. She is bright, extremely sexual, and just as Navidson has always enjoyed danger, she has always thrived on attention.

Karen brings the men beers and they go outside with her and light her cigarettes. It matters very little what they say, her eyes always flash, she gives them that famous smile, and sure enough soon they are all doting on her.

Navidson confides to his Hi 8,” I can’t tell you how much I’d like to deviate that fucker’s [Holloway’s] septum.” And then later on mutters somewhat enigmatically: “For that I should throw her out.” Still aside from these comments and the strong nudge he gave Holloway, Navidson refrains from openly displaying any other signs of jealousy or rage.

Unfortunately he also refrains from openly considering the significance of these feelings. The closest he comes appears in a Hi 8 journal entry spliced in following his encounter with Holloway. On camera, Navidson treats what he refers to as “his rotten feet.” As we can clearly see, the tops are puffy and in some places as red as clay. Furthermore, all his toe nails are horribly cracked, disfigured, and yellow. “Perpetuated,” Navidson informs us. “By a nasty fungus two decades worth of doctors finally ended up calling S-T-R-E-S-S.” Sitting by himself on the edge of the tub, blood stained socks draped over the edge, he carefully spreads a silky ointment around what he glibly calls his “light fantastic toe.” It is one of the more naked moments of Navidson, and especially considering its placement in the sequence, seems to reveal in a non-verbal way some of the anxiety Karen’s flirtation with Holloway has provoked in him.

All of which becomes pretty irrelevant as Holloway soon spends most of his hours leading his team down that lightless hallway.




Frequently treatment of the first three explorations has concentrated on the physical aspects of the house. Florencia Calzatti, however, has shown in her compelling book The Fraying of the American Family (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1995)-no longer in print-how these invasions begin to strip the Navidsons of any existing cohesion. It is an interesting examination of the complex variables implicit in any intrusion.

Unfortunately understanding Caizatti’s work is not at all easy, as she makes her case using a peculiar idiom no reader will find readily comprehensible (e.g. She never refers to Holloway as anything but “the stranger”; Jed and Wax appear as only “the instruments”; and the house is encoded as “the patient”). No doubt inspired by Caizatti, a small group of other writers, including the poet Elfor O’Halloran, have continued to mull over the dynamics brought on by Holloway’s arrival. [91-Consider Bingham Arzumanian’s “Stranger in a Hall” Journal of Psychoanalysis, v.14 April

12, 1996, p. 142; Yvonne Hunsucker’s “Counseling, Relief, and

Introjection” Medicine, v.2 July 18, 1996, p. 56; Curtis Meichor’s “The

Surgical Hand” Internal Medicine, vR September 30, 1996, p. 93; and Pifor

O’Halloran’s “Invasive Cures” Homeopathic Alternatives, October 31, 1996, p. 28.]

Without focusing too closely on the fine filigree of detail presented in these pieces-a book in itself-it is worthwhile, however briefly, to track the narrative events of the three explorations and recite to some degree how they effect the Navidsons.




For Exploration #1, Holloway, Jed and Wax enter the hallway equipped with Hi 8s, down parkas, hats, Gortex gloves, powerful halogen lamps, extra batteries, and a radio to keep in contact with Navidson, Tom and Reston. Navidson ties one end of some fishing line to the hallway door and then hands the spool to Holloway.

“There’s almost two miles of line here,” he tells him. “Don’t let go of it,”

Karen says nothing when she hears Navidson make this comment, though she does get up abruptly to go out to the backyard and smoke a cigarette. It is particularly eerie to watch Holloway and his team disappear down the long hallway, while just outside Karen paces back and forth in the light of a September day, oblivious of the space she repeatedly crosses though for whatever reason cannot penetrate. [92-Jeffrey Neblett’s “The Illusion of Intimacy and Depth” Ladies’ Home Journal, V. 111, January 1994, p. 90-93.]

An hour later, Holloway, Jed, and Wax return. When their Hi 8 tapes are replayed in the living room, we watch along with everyone else how a

series of lefts eventually leads them to the apparently endless corridor which, again to the left, offers entrance into that huge space where Navidson almost got lost. Though Holloway’s ability to shoot this trip hardly compares to the expertise evident in Navidson’s Exploration A, it is still thrilling to follow the trio as they investigate the darkness.

As they quickly discover, the void above them is not infinite. Their flashlights, much more powerful than Navidson’s, illuminate a ceiling at least two hundred feet high. A little later, at least fifteen hundred feet away, they discover an opposing wall. What no one is prepared for, however, is the even larger entrance waiting for them, opening into an even greater void.

Two things keep them from proceeding further. One-Holloway runs out of fishing line. In fact, he briefly considers setting the spool down, when two-he hears the growl Navidson had warned them about. A little rattled by the sound, Holloway decides to turn back in order to better consider their next move. As Navidson foretold, they soon see for themselves how all the walls have shifted (though not as severely as they had for Navidson). Fortunately, the changes have not severed the fishing line and the three men find their way back to the living room with relative ease.




Exploration #2 takes place the following day. This time Holloway carries with him four spools of fishing line, several flares, and some neon markers. He virtually ignores Navidson, putting Wax in charge of a 35mm camera and instructing Jed on how to collect scratchings from all the walls they pass along the way. Reston provides the dozen or so sample jars.

Though Exploration #2 ends up lasting over eight hours, Holloway, Jed, Wax only hear the growl once and the resulting shifts are negligible. The first hallway seems narrower, the ceiling a little lower, and while some of the rooms they pass look larger, for the most part everything has remained the same. It is almost as if continued use deters the growl and preserves the path they walk.

Aside from feeling generally incensed by what he perceives as

Holloway’s postured authority, Navidson almost goes berserk listening to the discoveries on the radio. Reston and Tom try to cheer him up and to Navidson’s credit he tries to act cheerful, but when Jed announces they have crossed what he names the Anteroom and entered what Holloway starts calling the Great Hall, Navidson finds it increasingly more difficult to conjure even a smile.

Radio psychologist Fannie Lamkins believes this is a clear cut example of the classic male struggle for dominance:


It’s bad enough to hear the Great Hall has a ceiling at least five hundred feet high with a span that may approach a mile, but when Holloway radios that they’ve found a staircase in the center which is over two hundred feet in diameter and spirals down into nothing, Navidson has to hand Reston the radio, unable to muster another word of support. He has been deprived of the right to name

what he inherently understands as his own. [93-Fannie Lamkins’ “Eleven Minute Shrink,” KLAT, Buffalo, New York, June 24, 1994.]


Lamkins sees Navidson’s willingness to obey Karen’s injunction as a sacrifice on par with scarification, “though invisible to Karen.” [94-Ibid. Florencia Caizatti also sees Karen’s edict as violent, though she ultimately considers it of great value: “A needed rite to reinvigorate and strengthen the couple’s personal bonds.” The Fraying of the American Family, p. 249.]




After Holloway’s team returns, Jed tries to describe the staircase: “It was enormous. We dropped a few flares down it but never heard them hit bottom. I mean in that place, it being so empty and cold and still and all, you really can hear a pin drop, but the darkness just swallowed the flares right up.” Wax nods, and then adds with a shake of his head: “It’s so deep, man, it’s like it’s almost dream like.”

This last comment is actually not uncommon, especially for individuals who find themselves confronting vast tenebrific spaces. Back in the mid60s, American cavers tackled the Sotano de las Golondrinas, an incredible l,092 ft hole in Mexico’s Sierra Madre Oriental. They used rope, rappel racks, and mechanical ascenders to make the descent. Later on, one of the cavers described his experience: “I was suspended in a giant dome with thousands of birds circling in small groups near the vague blackcloth of the far walls. Moving slowly down the rope, I had the feeling that I was descending into an illusion and would soon become part of it as the distances became unrelatable and entirely unreal.” [95-Planet Earth:

Underground Worlds by Donald Dale Jackson and The Editors of Time-Life

Books (Alexandra, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1982), p. 149.]

When Holloway plays back the Hi 8s for everyone, Navidson’s frustrations get the best of him. He leaves the room. It hardly helps that Karen stays, entirely engrossed in Holloway’s presentation and the ghostly if inadequate images of a banister frozen on the monitor. Tom, actually, pulls her aside and tries to convince her to let Navidson lead the next exploration.

“Tom,” she replies defensively. “Nothing’s stopping Navy. If he wants to go, he can go. But then I go too. That’s our deal. He knows that. You know that.”

Tom seems a little shocked by her anger, until Karen directs his attention to Chad and Daisy, sitting in the kitchen, working hard at not doing their homework.

“Look at them,” she whispers. “Navy’s had a lifetime of wandering and danger. He can let someone else take over now. It won’t kill him, but losing him would kill them. It would kill me too. I want to grow old, Tom. I want to grow old with him. Is that such an awful thing?”

Her words clearly register with Tom, who perhaps also perceives what a great toll his brother’s death would have on him as well. [96-Both Bingham Arzumanian and Curtis Meichor’s pieces have offered valuable insight into the nature of Tom’s alignment with Karen. Also see Chapter


When he sees Navidson next, Tom tells him to go find his son.

Based on what we can tell from The Navidson Record, it appears Chad soon got fed up with his class assignment and took off down the street with Hillary, determined to explore his own dark. Navidson had to look for almost an hour before he finally found him. Chad it turned out was in the park filling a jar full of fireflies. Instead of scolding him, Navidson helped out.

By ten, they had returned home with jars full of light and hands sticky with ice cream.




Exploration #3 ends up lasting almost twenty hours. Relying primarily on the team’s radio transmissions interspersed with a few clips from the Hi 8s, Navidson relates how Holloway, Jed, and Wax take forty- five minutes to reach the Spiral Staircase only to spend the next seven hours walking down it. When they at last stop, a dropped flare still does not illuminate or sound a bottom. Jed notes that the diameter has also increased from two hundred feet to well over five hundred feet. It takes them over eleven hours to return.

Unlike the two previous explorations, this intrusion brings them face to face with the consequences of the immensity of that place. All three men come back cold, depleted, their muscles aching, their enthusiasm gone.

“I got some vertigo,” Jed confesses. “I had to step way back from the edge and sit down. That was a first for me.” Wax is more cavalier, claiming to have felt no fear, though for some reason he is more exhausted than the rest. Holloway remains the most stoic, keeping any doubts to himself, adding only that the experience is beyond the power of any Hi 8 or 35mm camera: “It’s impossible to photograph what we saw.” [97-Marjorie Preece uses this one line to launch into her powerfully observed essay “The

Loss of Authority: Holloway’s Challenge” Kaos Journal, v. 32, September, 1996, p. 44. Preece wonderfully shows how Holloway’s assertion that the camera is impotent within the house “helps establish him-at least for a little while-as the tribe’s head.”]

Even after seeing Navidson’s accomplished shots, it is hard to disagree with Holloway. The darkness recreated in a lab or television set does not begin to tell the true story. Whether chemical clots determining black or video grey approximating absence, the images still remain two dimensional. In order to have a third dimension, depth cues are required, which in the case of the stairway means more light. The flares, however, barely illuminate the size of that bore. In fact they are easily extinguished by the very thing they are supposed to expose. Only knowledge illuminates that bottomless place, disclosing the deep ultimately absent in all the tapes and stills-those strange cartes de visites. It is unfortunate that Holloway’s images cannot even be counted as approximations of that vast abrupt, where as Rilke wrote, “aber da, an diesem schwarzen Fellel wird dein stärkstes

Schauen aufgelost.”


[98-No idea. Actually, Lude had a German friend named Kyrie, a tall blonde haired beauty who spoke Chinese, Japanese and French, drank beer by the quart, trained for triathions when she wasn’t playing competitive squash, made six figures a year as a corporate consultant and loved to fuck. Lude took heed when I told him I needed a German translation and introduced us.

As it turned out, I’d met her before, about five or so months ago. It had actually been a little tricky. I was leering about, pretty obliterated in the arms of drink, hours of drink actually, feeling like days of drink, when this monstrous guy loomed up in front of me, grumbling insensibly about bad behavior, something concerning too much talk with too much gesture, gestures towards her, that much of the grumble, the “her” bit, I understood. He meant Kyrie of course who even back then was a blonde haired beauty, writing my name in Japanese and assigning all sorts of portentous things to it, things I was hoping to lead or was it follow? elsewhere, when this prehistoric shithead, reeking of money and ignorance, interposed himself, cursing, spitting and threatening, in fact so loud & mean Kyrie had to interpose herself, which only made matters worse. He reached over her and hit me in the forehead with the heel of his hand. Not hard, more like a shove, but a strong enough shove to push me back a few feet.

“Well look at that,” I remember hollering. “He has an opposable thumb.”

The monster wasn’t amused. It didn’t matter. The alcohol in me had already quickened and fled. I stood there tingling all over, a dangerous clarity returning to me, ancient bloodlines colluding under what I imagine now must of been the very aegis of Mars, my fingers itching to weld into themselves, while directly beneath my sternum a hammer struck the timeless bell of war, a call to arms, though all of it still held back by what? words I guess, or rather a voice, though whose I have no clue.

He was twice my size, bigger and stronger. That should of mattered. For some reason it didn’t. Odds were he’d rip me to pieces, probably even try to stomp me, and yet part of me still wanted to find out for sure. Luckily, the alcohol returned. I got wobbly and then I got scared.

Lude was yelling at me.

“You got a death wish Truant?” Which was the thing that scared me.

‘Cause maybe I did.

Five months or so later, Lude arranged for me to meet Kyrie at Union. I was late by an hour. I had an excuse. Every time I tried to open my door, my heart started racing for a bypass. I had to sit down and wait for the thumping to calm. This went on for almost fifty minutes, until I finally just gave up, gritted my teeth and charged out into the night.

Of course I recognized Kyrie immediately and she recognized me. She was getting ready to leave when I arrived. I apologized and begged her to stay, making up some lame excuse about police trying to save a guy in my building who’d stuck his head in a microwave. She looked wonderful and her voice was soft and offered me something Thumper had taken away when she hadn’t called me back. She even wrote down on a napkin the glyph she’d created for me half a year ago to reflect my name and nature.

Before I could order a drink, a Jack and Coke, she told me her boyfriend was out of town, working on some construction site in Poland, single handedly dislodging supertankers stuck in dry dock in Gdansk or something. It was a dirty job but someone had to do it, and what’s more he wasn’t going to be back for a few more weeks. Before I even took a sip of my drink, Kyrie was complaining about all the people filtering in around us and then as I finished my drink in one long gulp, she suggested we go for a drive in her new 2 door BMW Coupe.

“Sure” I said, feeling vaguely uneasy about wandering too far from where I lived, which I realized, as I took a second to think that out, was absolutely absurd. What the fuck was happening to me? My apartment’s a dump. There’s nothing there for me. Not even sleep. Cat naps are fine but for some reason deep REM is getting more and more difficult to achieve.

Definitely not a good thing.

Fortunately, I was falling under the spell of Kyrie’s blue eyes, like sea ice, almost inhuman, reminding me again-as she herself had already pointed out-that she was alone, Gdansk Man more than half a world spinning world away.

In the parking lot, we slipped into her bucket seats and quickly swallowed two tabs of Ecstasy.

Kyrie took over from there.

At nearly ninety miles per hour, she zipped us up to that windy edge known to some as Mulholland, a sinuous road running the ridge of the Santa Monica mountains, where she then proceeded to pump her vehicle in and out of turns, sometimes dropping down to fifty miles per hour only to immediately gun it back up to ninety again, fast, slow, fast- fast, slow, sometimes a wide turn, sometimes a quick one. She preferred the tighter ones, the sharp controlled jerks, swinging left to right, before driving back to the right, only so she could do it all over again, until after enough speed and enough wind and more distance than I’d been prepared to expect, taking me to parts of this city I rarely think of and never visit, she dipped down into some slower offshoot, a lane of lightless coves, not stopping there either, but pushing further on until she finally found the secluded spot she’d been heading for all along, overlooking the city, far from anyone, pedestrian or home, and yet directly beneath a street lamp, which as far as I could tell, was the only Street lamp around for miles.

Seems all that twittering light flooding down through the sunroof really turned her on.

I can’t remember the inane things I started babbling about then. I know it didn’t really matter. She wasn’t listening. She just yanked up on the emergency brake, dropped her seat back and told me to lie on top of her, on top of those leather pants of hers, extremely expensive leather pants mind you, her hands immediately guiding mine over those soft slightly oily folds, positioning my fingers on the shiny metal tab, small and round like a tear, then murmuring a murmur so inaudible that even though I could feel her lips tremble against my ear, she seemed far, far away-“pinch it” she’d said, which I did, lightly, until she also said “pull it” which I also did, gently, parting the teeth, one at a time, down, under and beneath, the longest unzipping of my life, all the way from right beneath her perfectly oval navel to the tiny tattoo, a Japanese sign, the meaning of which I never guessed, marking her lower back, and not a stitch of underwear to get in the way, the rest very guessable though don’t underestimate the danger which I guess really wasn’t so dangerous after all.

We never even kissed or looked into each other’s eyes. Our lips just trespassed on those inner labyrinths hidden deep within our ears, filled them with the private music of wicked words, hers in many languages, mine in the off color of my only tongue, until as our tones shifted, and our consonants spun and squealed, rattled faster, hesitated, raced harder, syllables soon melting with groans, or moans finding purchase in new words, or old words, or made-up words, until we gathered up our heat and refused to release it, enjoying too much the dark language we had suddenly stumbled upon, craved to, carved to, not a communication really but a channeling of our rumored desires, hers for all I know gone to Black Forests and wolves, mine banging back to a familiar form, that great revenant mystery I still could only hear the shape of, which in spite of our separate lusts and individual cries still continued to drive us deeper into stranger tones, our mutual desire to keep gripping the burn fueled by sound, hers screeching, mine-I didn’t hear mine-only hers, probably counter- pointing mine, a high-pitched cry, then a whisper dropping unexpectedly to practically a bark, a grunt, whatever, no sense any more, and suddenly no more curves either, just the straight away, some line crossed, where every fractured sound already spoken finally compacts into one long agonizing word, easily exceeding a hundred letters, even thunder, anticipating the inevitable letting go, when the heat is ultimately too much to bear, threatening to burn, scar, tear it all apart, yet tempting enough to hold onto for even one second more, to extend it all, if we can, as if by getting that much closer to the heat, that much more enveloped, would prove . . .- which when we did clutch, hold, postpone, did in fact prove too much after all, seconds too much, and impossible to refuse, so blowing all of everything apart, shivers and shakes and deep in her throat a thousand letters crashing in a long unmodulated fall, resonating deep within my cochlea and down the cochlear nerve, a last fit of fury describing in lasting detail the shape of things already come.

Too bad dark languages rarely survive.

As quickly as they’re invented, they die, unable to penetrate much, explore anything or even connect. Terribly beautiful but more often than not inadequate. So I guess it’s no surprise that what I recall now with the most clarity is actually pretty odd.

When Kyrie dropped me off, she burped.

At the time I thought it was kind of cute but I guess “man eater” did cross my mind. Then as I opened the door, she burst into tears. All she was in that $85,000 car could not exclude the little girl. She said something about Gdansk Man’s disinterest in her, in fucking her, in even touching her, running away to Poland, and then she apologized, blamed the drugs still roaming around in her veins and told me to get out.

She was still crying when she drove off.

In the end, the whole thing had been so frantic and fast and strange and even sad in some ways, I completely forgot to ask her about the German phrase. [99-“But here within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze will be absorbed and utterly disappear.” As translated by Stephen Mitchell. – Ed.] I suppose I could call her (Lude has her number) but for some reason these days dialing seven let alone eleven numbers feels like an infinite stretch. The phone’s right in front of me but it’s out of reach. When it rings at four AM I don’t answer it. All I have to do is extend my hand but I can’t run that far. Sleep never really arrives. Not even rest. There’s no satisfaction anymore. Morning shrinks space but leaves no message.




Resistance to representation, however, is not the only difficulty posed by those replicating chambers and corridors. As Karen discovers, the whole house defies any normal means of determining direction.

Apparently while Karen had been struggling with the explorers’ invasion of her home, her mother had managed to acquire the number of a Feng Shui master in Manhattan. After a long conversation with this expert, Karen is relieved to learn she has been putting all the ceramic animals, crystals, and plants in the wrong places. She is still told to use the Pau Kua table, I Ching, and the Lo Shu magic square, but to do so with the assistance of a compass. Since much of Feng Shui, especially in the Compass School, relies on auspicious and inauspicious directions, it is crucial to get an accurate reading on how the house sits in relationship to points north, south, east, and west.

Karen immediately goes out and buys a compass-this while the men are in the midst of Exploration #2. Upon returning home, however, she is astonished to find the compass refuses to settle on any one direction inside the house. Assuming it must be broken, she drives back to town and exchanges it for a new one. Apparently this time she tests it in the store. Satisfied, she returns to the house only to discover that once again the compass is useless. [100-Rosemary Park considers Karen’s dilemma highly emblematic of the absence of cultural polarities: “In this case, Karen’s inability to determine a direction is not a fault but a challenge, requiring tools more capable than compasses and reference points more accurate than magnetic fields.” See “Impossible Directions” in Inside Out

(San Francisco: Urban B-light, 1995), P. 91.]

No matter what room she stands in, whether in the back or the front, upstairs or downstairs, the needle never stays still. North it seems has no authority there. Tom confirms the strange phenomenon, and during Exploration #3 Holloway, who up till then has relied solely on neon arrows and fishing line to mark their path, demonstrates how the same holds true for a compass read within those ash-like halls.

“I’ll be damned,” Holloway grunts as he stares at the twitching needle. [101-David Lettau wrote an amusing if ultimately pointless essay on the compass’ behavior. He asserted that the minute fluctuations of the needle proved the house was nothing less than a vestibule for pure energy which if harnessed correctly could supply the world with unlimited power. See The Faraday Conclusion (Boston: Maxwell Press, 1996). Rosie O’Donnell, however, offered a different perspective when she wryly remarked on Entertainment Tonight: “The fact that Holloway waited that long to use a compass only goes to show how men – even explorers – still refuse to ask for directions.”]

“I guess all we’ve got now is your sense of direction,” Wax jokingly tells Jed, which as Luther Shepard wrote: “Only helps to emphasize how real the threat was of getting lost in there.” [102-See Luther Shepard’s chapter entitled ‘The Compass School” in The Complete Feng Shui Guide for The Navidson Record (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996), p. 387.]

In light of this new development and in preparation for Exploration #4, Tom makes several trips into town to purchase more fishing line, neon markers, and anything else that might serve to mark the team’s path. Since Holloway’s plan is to spend at least five nights inside, Tom also picks up extra food and water. On one of these excursions, he even takes Daisy and Chad along. No Hi 8 records their trip but the way Chad and Daisy relate to their mother the details of their shopping spree reveals how fond they have become of their uncle.

Unfortunately, Tom also has to buy a ticket back to Massachusetts. With the exception of a few weeks in July, he has not worked in over three months. As Tom explains to Karen and Navidson, “the time’s come for me to put ass in gear and get on with my life.” He also tells them the time has come for them to contact the media and find a new house.

Originally Tom had intended to leave right after Exploration #3 but when Navidson begs him to stay through Exploration #4, he agrees.

Reston also sticks around. He had briefly considered taking a leave of absence from the university but managed instead to somehow arrange for a week off, despite the fact that it is late September and the fall semester has already begun. He and Tom both live at the house, Tom in the study, [103- Neekisha Dedic’s “The Study: Tom’s Place” Diss. Boston University, 1996, examines the meaning of “study” when juxtaposed with the ritual of territory, sleep, and memory.] Reston crashing on the pull-out in the living room, while Holloway, Jed, and Wax-at least up until Exploration #4- stay at a local motel.




From all the clips leading up to Exploration #4, we can see how both Navidson and Holloway expect to gain a great deal of fame and fortune. Even if Holloway’s team does not reach the bottom of the staircase, both men agree their story will guarantee them national attention as well as research grants and speaking opportunities. Holloway’s company will more than likely thrive, to say nothing of the reputations of all those involved. This kind of talk, on the day before Exploration #4 is scheduled to start, actually manages to bring Navidson and Holloway a little closer together. There is still a good deal of unspecified tension between them but Holloway warms to discussions of success, especially to the idea of, to use Navidson’s words, “going down in history.” Perhaps Holloway imagines himself joining Navidson’s world, what he perceives as a place for the esteemed, secure, and remembered. Nevertheless, what these short clips do not show is the paranoia growing within him. As we are well aware, future events will ultimately reveal how much Holloway feared Navidson would get rid of him and thus deprive him of the recognition he had a spent a lifetime trying to obtain, the recognition the house seemed to promise.

Of course, Karen will have nothing to do with such talk. Upon hearing what the men are discussing, she angrily withdraws to the periphery of the house. She clearly despises anything that might suggest a longer, more protracted relationship with the oddities of their home. Daisy, on the other hand, keeps close to Navidson, picking at tiny scabs on her wrists, always sitting on her father’s shoulders or when that proves impossible on Tom’s. Chad turns out to be the most problematic. He spends more and more time outside by himself, and that afternoon returns home from school with a bruised eye and swollen nose.

Navidson breaks off his conversation with Holloway to find out what happened. Chad, however, refuses to speak.

[104-Which is not really a good response. And you know changing the details or changing the subject can be just the same as refusing to speak. I guess I’ve been guilty of those two things for a long time now, especially the first one, always shifting and re-shifting details, smoothing out the edges, removing the corners, colorizing the whole thing or if need be decolorizing, sometimes even flying in a whole chorus of cartoon characters, complete with slapstick Biff I Blam! Pow! antics,-this time leave in the blam-which may have some appeal, can’t underrate the amusement factor there, even though it’s so far from the truth it might as well be a cartoon because it certainly isn’t what happened, no Bugs Bunny there, no Thumper, no Biff I Blami Powl either, no nothing of the kind. And fuck, now I know exactly where I’m going, a place I’ve already managed to avoid twice, the first time with a fictive tooth improv, the second time with that quick dart north to Santa Cruz and the troubles of a girl I barely know, though here I am again, right at this moment too, again heading straight for it, which I suppose I could still resist. I am resisting. Maybe not. I mean I could always just stop, do something else, light up a joint, get swollen on booze. In fact doing virtually anything at all, aside from this, would keep me from relating the real story behind my broken tooth, though I don’t know if I want to, not relate that story I mean, not anymore. I actually think it would do me some good to tell it, put it down here, at least some of it, so I can see the truth of it, see the details, revisit that taste, that time, and maybe re-evaluate or re-understand or re- I don’t know.

Besides, I can always burn it when I’m done.




After my father died I was shipped around to a number of foster homes.

I was trouble wherever I went. No one knew what to do with me. Eventually-though it did take awhile-I ended up with Raymond and his family. He was a former marine with, as I’ve already described, a beard rougher than horse hide and hands harder than horn. He was also a total control freak. No matter the means, no matter the cost, he was going to be in control. And everyone knew if push came to shove he was as likely to die for it as he was to kill for it.

I was twelve years old.

What did I know?

I pushed.

I pushed all the time.

Then one night, late at night, much closer to dawn than dusk, while ice still gathered outside along the window frames and tessellated walks, I woke up to find Raymond squatting on my bed, wearing his black dirtcovered boots, chewing on a big chunk of beef jerky, jabbing me in the face with his fingers, murdering all remnants of sterno or park dreams.

“Beast,” he said when he was satisfied sleep was completely dead. “Let’s get an understanding going. You’re not really in this family but you’re living with this family, been living’n us for near a year, so what does that make you?”

I didn’t answer. The smart move.

“That makes you a guest, and being a guest means you act like a guest. Not like some kind of barnyard animal. If that doesn’t suit you, then I’ll treat you like an animal which’ll have to suit you. And what I’m saying ’bout your behavior don’t just go for here either. It goes for that school too.

I don’t want no more problems. You clear?” Again I didn’t say anything.

He leaned closer, forcing on me that rank smell of meat clinging to his teeth. “If you understand that, then you and I aren’t going to cross no more.” Which was all he said, though he squatted there on my bed for a while longer.

The next day I fought in the schoolyard until my knuckles were bloody. And then I fought the following day and the day after that. A whole week, fifteen faceless assailants racing after me right when school rang out, mostly eighth graders but a few ninth graders too, always bigger than me, telling me no seventh grade newcomer ever gets a say back, but I always said back, I bounced all of it right back, back- off whenever they gave me even the slightest bit of shit, and they finally hurt me for doing it, hurt me enough to make me give up and die, just curl up and cry, kicking the ground, my face all puffy, balls bashed and ribs battered, though something would always just pick me up from that fetal hold, maybe in the end it was all the nothing I had to hold, and it would throw me again after whoever was winning or just wanted to go next.

After the tenth fight, something really poisonous got inside me and turned off all the pain. I didn’t even register a hit or cut anymore. I heard the blow but it never made it far enough along my nerves for me to even feel. As if all the feel-meters had blown. So I just kept hacking back, spending everything I was against what I still didn’t know.

This one kid, he must have been fourteen too, hit me twice and figured I was down for good. I clawed up his face pretty bad then, enough for the blood to get in his eyes, and I don’t think he expected it was ever going to get to that. I mean there were rivulets on his parka and on alot of the snow and he kind of froze up, frightened I guess, I don’t know, but I apparently fractured his jaw and loosened a couple of his teeth then, split three of my knuckles too. Gloves were not an option in this kind of fighting.

Anyway, he’s the kid that got me expelled, but since the fight had taken place after school, it took all the next day for the administrators to put the pieces together. In the meantime, I fought three more times. Right at noon recess. Friends of the ninth grader came after me. I couldn’t punch too well with my broken knuckles and they kept pushing me down and kicking me. Some teachers finally pulled them off, but not before I got my thumb in one of the kid’s eyes. I heard he had blood in it for weeks.

When I got home Raymond was waiting for me. His wife had called him at the site and told him what had happened. Over the last week, Raymond had seen the bruises and cuts on my hands but since the school hadn’t called and I wasn’t saying anything, he didn’t say anything either.

No one asked me what happened. Raymond just told me to get in the truck. I asked him where we were going. Even a question from me made him mad. He yelled at his daughters to go to their room.

“I’m taking you to the hospital,” he finally whispered.

But we didn’t go directly to the hospital.

Raymond took me somewhere else first, where I lost half my tooth, and alot more too I guess, on the outskirts, in an ice covered place, surrounded by barbed wire and willows, where monuments of rust, seldom touched, lie frozen alongside fence posts and no one ever comes near enough to hear the hawks cry.]


Holloway, for his part, does not permit these domestic tensions and concomitant stresses to distract him from his preparations. The ever oblique Leon Robbins in attempting to adequately evaluate these efforts has gone so far as to suggest that “Operation” would in fact be a far more appropriate word than “Exploration”:


Holloway in many ways resembles a conscientious medical practitioner in pre-op. Take for example how meticulously he reviews his team’s supplies the evening before-what I like to call-” Operation #4.” He makes sure flashlights are all securely mounted on helmets and Hi 8s properly attached to chest harnesses. He personally checks, re-checks, packs, and re-packs all the tents, sleeping bags, thermal blankets, chemical heat packs, food, water, and First-Aid kits. Most of all, he confinns that they have ample amounts of neon markers, lightsticks (12 hours), ultra high intensity lightsticks (5 minutes), spools of 4 lb testl 3,100 yard monofilament fishing line, flares, extra flash lights, including a pumper light (hand generator), extra batteries, extra parts for the radios, and one altimeter (which like the compass will fail to function). [105-Leon Robbins’ Operation #4: The Art of Internal Medicine (Philadelphia:

University of Pennsylvania, 1996), p. 479.]


Robbins’ medical analogy may be a little misguided, but his emphasis on Holloway’s deliberate and careful planning reminds one of the technical demands required in this journey-whether an “Operation” or


After all, spending a night in an enclosed lightless place is very uncommon, even in the world of caving. The Lechugilla Crystal Cavern in New Mexico is one exception. Typically Lech visits last twenty-four to thirty-six hours. [106-See “The Crystal Cavern” chapter in Michael Ray Taylor’s Cave Passages (New York: Scribner, 1996).] Holloway, however, expects to take at least four, possibly five nights exploring the Spiral Staircase.

Despite the detailed preparations and Holloway’s infectious determination, everyone is still a little nervous. Five nights is a long time to remain in freezing temperatures and complete darkness. No one knows what to expect.

Though Wax puts his faith in Jed’s unerring sense of direction, Jed admits to some pre-exploration apprehensions: “How can I know where to go when I don’t know where we are? I mean, really, where is that place in relation to here, to us, to everything? Where?”

Holloway tries to make sure everyone stays as busy as bees, and in an effort to keep them focused, creates a simple set of priorities: “We’re taking pictures. We’re collecting samples. We’re trying to reach the bottom of the stairs. Who knows, if we do that then maybe we’ll even discover something before Navidson starts all the hoopla involved with raising money and organizing large scale explorations.” Jed and Wax both nod, unaware of the darker implications inherent in what Holloway has just uttered.

As Gavin Young later writes: “Who could have predicted that those two words ‘discover something’ would prove the seeds to such unfortunate destruction? The problem, of course, was that the certain ‘something’ Holloway so adamantly sought to locate never existed per se in that place to begin with. [107-Gavin Young, Shots In The Dark (Stanford: University of California Press, 1995), p. 151.]




Unlike Explorations #1 thru #3, for Exploration #4 Holloway decides to take along his rifle. When Navidson asks him “what the hell” he plans to shoot, Holloway replies: “Just in case.”

By this point, Navidson has settled on the belief that the persistent growl is probably just a sound generated when the house alters its internal layout. Holloway, however, is not at all in accordance with this assessment. Furthermore, as he pointedly reminds Navidson, he is the team captain and the one responsible for everyone’s safety: “With all due respect, since I’m also the one actually going in there, your notions don’t really hold much water with me.” Wax and Jed do not object. They are accustomed to Holloway carrying some sort of firearm. The inclusion of the Weatherby hardly causes them any concern.

Jed just shrugs.

Wax though proves a little more fractious.

“I mean what if you’re wrong?” he asks Navidson. “What if that sound’s not from the wall’s shifting but coming from something else, some

kind of thing? You wanna leave us defenseless?” Navidson drops the subject.




The question of weapons aside, another big point of concern that comes up is communication. During Exploration #3 the team discovered just how quickly all their transmissions deteriorated. Without a cost effective way of rectifying the problem-obviously buying thousands of feet of audio cable would be impossible-Holloway settled the issue by simply announcing that they should just plan on losing radio contact by the first night. “After that, it’ll be four to five days on our own. Not ideal but we’ll manage.”




That evening, Holloway, Jed, and Wax move from their motel and camp out in the living room with Reston. Navidson briefs Holloway for the last time on the most efficacious way to handle the cameras. Jed makes a brief call to his fiancée in Seattle and then helps Reston organize the sample jars.

Tom in an effort to cheer up a bruised and unnaturally quiet Chad winds up reading both him and Daisy a long bedtime story.

Somehow Wax ends up alone with Karen. [108-Again Florencia

Caizatti’s The Fraying of the American Family proves full of valuable insight. In particular see “Chapter Seven: The Last Straw” where she decries the absolute absurdity of end-series items: “There is no such thing as the last straw. There is only hay.”]




If Holloway’s hand on Karen had upset Navidson, it is hard to imagine what his reaction would have been had he walked in on this particular moment. However when he finally did see the tape so much had happened, Navidson, by his own admission, felt nothing. “I’m surprised, I guess” he says in The Last Interview. “But there’s no rage. Just regret. I actually laughed a little. I’d been watching Holloway all the time, feeling insecure by this guy’s strength and courage and all that, and I never even thought about the kid. (He shakes his head.) Anyway, I betrayed her when I went in there the first time and so she betrayed me. People always say how two people were meant for each other. Well we weren’t but somehow we ended up together anyway and had two incredible children. It’s too bad. I love her. I wish it didn’t have to turn out like this.” [109-See Exhibit Four for the complete transcript of The Last Interview.]

The clip of Karen and Wax did not appear in the first release print of The Navidson Record but apparently was edited in a few months later. Miramax never commented on the inclusion nor did anyone else. It is a little strange Karen did not erase the tape in the wall mounted camcorder. Perhaps she forgot it was there or planned to destroy it later. Then again perhaps she wanted Navidson to see it.

Regardless of her intentions, the shot catches Karen and Wax alone in the kitchen. She picks at a bowl of popcorn, he helps himself to another beer. Their conversation circles tediously around Wax’s girlfriends, intermittently returning to his desire to get married someday. Karen keeps telling him that he is young, he should have fun, keep living, stop worrying about settling down. For some reason both of them speak very softly.

On the counter, someone has left a copy of the map Navidson drew following Exploration A. Karen occasionally glances over at it.

“Did you do that?” she finally asks.

“Nah, I can’t draw.”

“Oh,” she says, letting the syllable hang in the air like a question.

Wax shrugs.

“I actually don’t know who made it. I thought your old Navy man did.”

Based on the film, it is impossible for us to tell if Holloway, Jed, or Wax were ever explicitly told not to mention to Karen Navidson’s illegal excursion. Wax, however, does not seem to recognize any trespass in his admission.

Karen does not look at the map again. She just smiles and takes a sip of Wax’s beer. They continue talking, more about Wax’s girl troubles, another round of “don’t worry, keep living, you’re young” and then out of nowhere Wax leans over and kisses Karen on the lips. It lasts less than a second and clearly shocks her, but when he leans over and kisses her again she does not resist. In fact the kiss turns into something more than a kiss, Karen’s hunger almost exceeding Wax’s. But when he knocks over his beer in an effort to get still closer, Karen pulls away, glances once at the liquid spilling onto the floor and quickly walks out of the room. Wax starts to follow her but realizes before he takes a second step that the game is already over. He cleans up the mess instead.

A few months later Navidson saw the kiss.

By that time Karen was gone along with everyone else.

Nothing mattered.

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