During one of my long cycling trips, some locals tell me of a mansion dedicated to the images that haunted its patron. I consider the news fortuitous, as I've been on the road for days and find the part of Kansas in which I'm camping to be desolate in the extreme.
I'm less than thankful, however, when the informative family pack up and split, leaving me as the sole guest of this all-too-quiet state park. For the first time on the road, I'm a little spooked.
Holing up in a tent outside of Nashville during a torrential rainstorm didn't do it. Leaving my bike in a notably rough area of St. Louis was of little concern. But talk of wolves and demons just before settling into a night more alone than any I've experienced did the trick.
I walk around the nearby lake with flashlight in hand until I feel the welcome exhaustion. After repeated checks of my cycle, gear, and surroundings, I collapse into the sack for good.
The isolation pays off in the morning as I bathe in the lake unencumbered. I capture some pics of the barren but now-friendly flatland and get moving.
My destination is Lucas, Kansas, which is another 10 miles north of the interstate from the park. It's out of the way, but I'm starved for sights and have always been a sucker for little-known attractions.
I arrive in the town of no more than a few hundred and am immediately struck by the appearance of what is surely my destination: a large, seemingly wooden house encircled by ornate, concrete columns and statues.
Frankly, it is more disturbing than I imagined. While Adam and Eve greet you, the Devil is never far away, personified above the couple as a snake in an apple tree. Other images are more secular but no less mesmerizing, such as Labor being crucified by Doctor, Preacher, Lawyer and Banker.
I make my way into the house and pay the keeper a small entry fee. Before going down to the Devil's Rope (that's barbed wire to you city folk) collection in the basement, he tells me I'm not allowed to take pictures of the owner's corpse, which is located in a clear mausoleum in the yard. At this point I tell myself - come hell or high water - I'm staying in a room in Denver tonight!
During my walkthough, I get tangled up with a mother-daughter tourist duo. They relay how excited they are by the mansion and explain their intent to capture everything on video, including a visit to the crypt.
The keeper approaches and points us to a nearby room. He laments that it belonged to the owner's son, who passed away in his youth. Like the mausoleum, this is an area not to be photographed.
After he leaves, the tourist mother asks me to take some quick video of the room while she and her daughter chat up the keeper. I initially decline but am swayed by their sweet pleading. When I hear them engage the man some distance away, I make a quick sweep of the room.
If I had any intention of seeing this man's grave, I've lost it now. The boy's room alone is plenty to leave me chilled. His ancient toys and clothes are eerily intact, depicting the longing and pain his father suffered for decades.
It is at this discovery of empathy I hear an alarming sound. It is my own son's voice calling out for me. I sprint out of the room to see him climbing intently through a window and onto a ledge.
I leap and reach him just as he heads over the small ledge. I grab his arm and pull him to me, sobbing loudly and crashing to the floor.
And then I'm awake alone and realizing an old memory had converged with a new fear to reveal what is truly important in life.DISCLAIMER: Although the Garden of Eden does exist in Kansas, no son and no room such as described here is mentioned. If I didn't make it clear, this part of the story was my dream. To find out more about this man's quest, read these reviews: