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I knew it was a dream, and I was tired of it. I wanted to get out because it was upsetting. You know the feeling. The difference between a nightmare and just a bad dream. You are aware the bad dream is just that. I just kept looking at and talking to the big head and it kept talking back to me. Last night’s reality warped inside my subconscious.
I just want to leave.
Give me the passwords.
I just want to leave.
Give me the passwords.
We were down at the sculpture park, near the big head. There was some weird crew skipping and marching in a line. Big unkempt people. Several of the males in the group were wearing kilts – scottish “evocative” ones. Lots of hair and tattoos. The pallor of their skin said they had not been outside much of late. Pale video game junkie hippies? Perhaps they weren’t hippies, more like metalheads.
I like to think of myself as a whatever makes you happy kind of guy. But these folks were surreal and unattractive and unappetizing in a memorable way. They seemed to be on some weird self administered cross-fit ecstatic dancing melange train. The biggest person, a guy, led the line, running hand in hand with a large woman. They were running along, skipping mostly, exercising in worn out doc marten’s. Just looking at them move in them hurt my feet. Tattered. The heels were almost gone, worn and tilted.
Working out in work boots. Skipping in kilts. None of them looked healthy, all of them looked happy. They laughed as they skipped down the path, waving their arms, one of them would shriek, and they all would shriek in answer. Then laugh, stop for a group hug, and move on again at the urging of the big guy.
Strange, but they weren’t bothering anyone. They bothered me though, I was strangely revulsed. And in another layer, I was upset and disturbed again about being so judgmental. And this is what happened before the dream, before the whiskey.
I just want to leave.
The head answered me with my own words. I just want to leave.
This had been near sunset. Down on the bay by the big head. Sitting with two women, one with dyed hair. Couldn’t tell the true color of her hair. She had it bleached white and then it seemed blue/purple dye had been laid on top. Very pretty too, like she had stepped out of an anime or something. Her friend had dreads, tied at the ends with some kind of metal bolts. I thought she was a little old for that look. What were their names? Did Neal tell me?
They were friends of Neal and Roger. After delivering the files to Neal via a usb we had drinks in some hole in the wall near the Magnolia Bridge. Good working with Neal. Interesting, unorthodox, paid well, nothing dangerous, or so I thought. Server management, a data dump. Proxy servers and vpn. Neal was paranoid to a point, and not really up to anything that needed so much security as far as I could tell. He just did not want anybody poking in his business. At the same time it’s not like he tried to pay with bitcoin. Volatile digital currencies are a little out of my league. I am not working on that scale. Roger’s alright too, especially once you get to know him, gruff, but straight up.
He turned his head. It was still dark. Very dark. Just silliness. Nothing to worry about. Everything was alright. Right? Rowdy night. Too much to drink. He was falling back to sleep. Where am I though?
That stupid dream welled back up. One of those anxiety dreams, unconsciously trying to wake yourself up. Or all about frustration. Your phone and keys are gone. You’re about to get laid, but you can’t untie your shoelaces. Or the woman turns into a pelican. That’s when I wanted to bail. I was leaning in to kiss her, and next thing I know there’s this big beak. I’ll remember this dream.
I do not want to copulate with the pelican. Why does this stuff come out of my brain? Why is it in here?
Let me go. I need to escape.
A pelican. Not the pelican. Let go of me.
Not the pelican.
Then I was awake. My head hurt, it was terrible. The strands of a heavy coarse shipping blanket scraped my face, poked through my clothing. A clammy sweat covered me, still in all of my clothes. I could smell stale whiskey seeping from my pores, and as I first tried to roll over I upset a bottle and sent it noisily rolling, over a step or some kind of drop. The crash and the sound of the breaking glass made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
I could make all that noise but I was not free to move. There was a weight on me. So hard to sit up I could hear noise in another room but moving was so difficult. Loud noises and laughter.
Where was I? Did somebody drug me? Was whiskey my only poison from last night?
I heard an old blues tune coming from the other room. A song about women and whiskey. But where was I? Who was playing the music?
My head hurts and all I want to do is brush my teeth and go home. My hand searched for my phone in step with the word “Uber” crossing my mind. This morning I do not care if they are a terrible company. I just want to go home.
My hands find my pockets. No phone, no wallet, no keys. My head seized in pain and the first effect of my new adrenaline rush was an overwhelming wave of nausea.
At least I managed to roll to one side as I retched, avoiding myself in the dark. The sound of my filth splattering on the floor curiously distinct despite my addled state..
A door opened on the other side of the room. The music grew louder, a burly figure clad in a kilt shaped shadow shined a light that crossed two body sized lumps on the floor to nearly blind me in the brightness. A dog ran across the floor to closely examine my leavings. Fortunately it did not pause to taste anything, and it largely ignored me as it examined the rest of the room.
“Hey Fred – hungry? Want another drink?” he laughed. “All I want is the key to unlock one of your phones. That’s all it will take. Fred? What do you say? Come on, let’s take a little walk, just you and me.”
Awake now, I was afraid. Last night was coming back to me.
“Come on, Fred, I insist.”
Tudi has her mid-morning break by herself at the back table of the office break room. She doesn’t feel like making small talk this morning. Hell, she doesn’t want to be at work this morning, but she is.
As she sips her vending-machine drip coffee with extra sugars, she decides it’s a good thing she can’t remember all of what happened to her that night. She knows her status in the office has been forever altered. She just hopes there won’t be any legal consequences.
What she does remember, in a hung over haze, is disjointed, a group of moments. She can’t remember what order in which they occurred, or even whether they all really happened or whether she later dreamed some of them.
What’s easy to remember is how it started.
Oh, she’d always known Mitzi and Magda had their cruel streaks about them. She was always hearing them say awful things about their co-workers, family, and “friends;” she’d long suspected they said things just as bad about her when she wasn’t in the room.
So, as the after-work party for her birthday wrapped up, and they suggested keeping the party going at another bar, she hesitated a bit, no a lot, before she said yes.
She knows the three of them went to another bar. At least three other bars; maybe more. That’s where the details and the timelines get jumbled up.
An early memory involves Mitzi and Magda vetoing Tudi’s drink order. She wanted a “celebration” cocktail, something with fancy flavors and happy colors. They yelled at the barmaid to get them all vodka shots, then Bourbon shots, then tequila shots. No, that might not have been the correct sequence, but it was something like that.
She remembers flagging down a waiter at another bar, trying to order food; only for the other two to get that changed into another round of drinks.
Other things she more or less, sort of, remembers:
- A series of toasts: to her, to them, to the company, to the upcoming retirement of a boss Mitzi and Magda particularly detest; to Magda’s ex moving to the other side of the country next month (at last); to the positive cancer diagnosis of Mitzi’s “wicked stepmother, except she’s my real mom”; to guys who meet what Mitzi calls “the highest ratio” of money spent on women vs. sex demanded from women; and probably others.
- Noticing the taste of the drinks less intensely as she has more of them.
- The three of them standing around in a crowded bar with loud oldies music on the PA. The other two chatting up a succession of men, looking for the one who’d be “the right birthday present for our friend here.”
- Similar scenes to the above, in at least two other bars. Either Mitzi and Magda were picky about potential “presents,’ or they were just joshing, or their attention spans were shrinking fast. She herself feeling relieved whenever she got to stop talking to any particular one of these men.
- The three of them crowded in the back seat of a Civic being used as a Lyft car; Mitzi whispering racist “jokes” about the driver.
- Going to the women’s room in one bar after Magda had left it; smelling a hint of vomit by the sinks; not asking about it afterwards.
- Being handed a straight Coca-Cola by a male bartender, who’d assumed she was the designated driver just because she was the only sane one in the trio. Her accepting it without complaint.
- Tudi insisting she won’t get into Magda’s car again; Magda insisting she’s just fine, as she almost trips over her own high heels.
- Coming back from the women’s room, overhearing the two saying brutal things (apparently) about her; the two giggling briefly just before they see her. Tudi feeling grateful that Magda’s wearing (at least some) underwear under her little black dress.
- The last (or was it?) place they were at together. A condo building, less than a block from the last bar they’d been at. Tudi herself saying repeatedly she wants to leave. Magda, still boistrous and laughing, saying no no no not yet. Mitzi starting to ramble, albeit incoherently, like a bitter old woman disgusted by her fate in life and by the whole world. Magda saying she knows just what they all need now. Tudi wondering what that could be. Pot? Pills? Blow? Still more booze? Some combo of the above? Now she really wanted out. So what was stopping her? Only her own rising sense of fatigue. That and a sense of “surrender.” Something she hadn’t felt in a long time, if ever. Surrender to the moment; to the mood.
- Awakening, very briefly, in a strange bed in a strange bedroom, vaguely aware of the sound of someone else’s breathing, re-closing her eyes without investigating.
- Awakening again in her own bed, alone, on top of the sheets, her shoes off but otherwise fully dressed, with a hangover headache, and no idea how she’d gotten home.
- Dreaming (or was it?) about being back in the condo, suddenly seeing a man starting to strip out of a fake pizza-delivery uniform, then strutting toward her. Her turning away as Mitzi, Magda, and perhaps several other women screamed “SUCK IT!” repeatedly at her. Her closing her eyes and the sounds almost immediately going away.
- Dreaming (or was it?) about kissing a male stranger, who may or may not have been the stripper. At one point she looks away and sees Mitzi and Magda gawking at them; at another point she looks away again and sees nobody.
- Fantasizing (or was it?) about bopping Mitzi and Magda on the head with a cast iron skillet.
- Fantasizing (or was it?) about suggesting running off with the stripper, only for him to tell her his husband wouldn’t like it.
As Tudi sips and tries to sort out the images in her head, she sees Magda entering the break room, with one of the other people from her division (and with a head looking un-bopped-on). She turns her back to them, hoping not to be noticed. She pulls out her phone, to have something to bury her face in.
As soon as she turns it on and enters her security code, she hears the familiar “new texts” sound. There are three of them: two from an unknown number, and one from Mitzi.
“Congrats. You passed the initiation. You’re one of us now.”
Tudi turns off her phone and buries her face in her hand.
Fire Sign by Dalmatia Flemming
Marty simultaneously ironed his professional looking white shirt while carefully eating his English muffin covered with peanut butter and raisins. Tricky, but he was good at it. The shirt was part of his work “uniform”. But this had not always been his uniform. At one time his uniform was a Firefighter’s suit.
Yes, Marty used to be a Firefighter. It was his dream ever since age 2. And he actually achieved it. It was no easy task to become a Firefighter. Marty was building up to this for years. He worked as an Emergency Medical Technician for a while. After this experience, he was able to become a Paramedic. He also took courses in fire technology and volunteered his time at a burn camp for children. Everything Marty did was to prepare him to get that job, the Firefighter job.
He was so excited when he got the job offer and his parents were very proud of him. It was everything he thought it would be. The job was great for about five years. Then he felt his performance diminishing. And his supervisor noticed as well.
Marty hung up his freshly ironed shirt, put his plate in the sink and headed for the shower. The water was hot, as hot as his skin could stand. The bathroom filled with steamy air. Marty took deep breaths … slowly … in … and … out…. The heat, that’s what he liked best.
Marty thought back to when he was a child. In the days before neighborhood recycling, it was his chore to take the paper garbage to the downstairs rec-room fireplace and burn it. Marty loved this chore. It was his weekly ritual; pick up the large box of stick matches, slide the box open, select a match, close the box, then strike the match. That smell … oh how he loved that smell. We would watch the flame consume and work its way down the match stick. Then at the very last minute, before he burned his fingers, he would place the match in just the right spot. Although Marty had easily mastered the one-match-fire while on camping trips with his family, he would light a few more matches, repeating the process. Marty would watch the fire, mesmerized, until it went out. He never tried to put the fire out early, he always let it burn itself out. That was the most satisfying feeling.
Marty emerged from the shower and proceeded to get ready for work.
He liked his new life, not being a Firefighter. His new work still incorporated his favorite things. He was already in good physical shape from being a Firefighter, so when he decided to take an “Intro to Circus Arts” class, he got a job offer before the class was even over. But he turned that offer down. Because that class was just a prerequisite for the “Fire Arts” class.
Marty did some part-time gig work as a Circus Fire Artist. He found that he liked performing, something that he never realized about himself. It was very satisfying. But not as satisfying as his “day” job.
Marty put on his white shirt and left for “the office”. Actually, the white shirt was just part of his uniform. He only had to wear it in the office area. It was a formal and solemn place and everyone was expected to look and behave in a respectful manner. Marty primarily worked downstairs.
After greeting his fellow co-workers, Marty headed downstairs. He took off his freshly ironed white shirt, carefully hung it up and changed into his overalls.
There was the large furnace. Gazing upon it, Marty was overcome with a sense of calm. Marty went over to the staging area where he found this work orders for the day. “Three women, maybe I’ll get out early today” Marty thought.
The first one had a pace-maker. Marty cut into her chest and removed it. He placed her body in the thin wood container, opened the furnace door and slid her body inside. Marty turned on the furnace. He sat and watched though the viewing window, mesmerized.
“Come on Corny. I just want some company. I’ll make sure it’s worth your time.” He could not decide whether to characterize her hushed cajoling as cooing or purring.
“I don’t know Lulu. I had an appointment to pick up some stuff. It could take a while.”
“What – some Dr. Green?”
“Maybe. I’ve been trying to arrange this meeting for five days. He doesn’t have voicemail, never calls me back, doesn’t show. You know how it goes. I am hopeful he will show tonight.”
“Aww, Corny, I’ll get you high . . . and more.” Definitely cooing. Lulu’s cooing to me. Two weeks, two phone calls. What is it she needs? Am I dreaming? She needs me for something. Again.
“Corny, honey, I need some fun, need some company.”
“That’s what you said last week. And then . . . “
Last week she had woken him from a deep slumber, the slumber that follows days of work, sleeping at the office, endless caffeine and pep pills. His head still hurt. She had told him she wanted to have some fun, lured him over saying she had a couple of friends coming and maybe they could all party, could get down. She actually said that, certainly in a provocative way. He did not think he had misinterpreted that..
Well, the lure of Lulu and some friends of hers getting down had most definitely awakened his imagination. It had set it on fire. Exhausted as he was he found instant energy. Visions of a scandalously gorgeous and delectable evening to come, a fantasy come to life, Lulu and some of her friends, lady friends he had presumed. He was so excited it was hard to stop at the series of red lights he encountered on the way to her place.
Cornelius remembered thinking the early fall night was uncommonly beautiful. Warm September night, all still, perfect. He was young, soon to be rich (if his options and the eventual IPO were to be believed), and going to make it with a most unusual and cool woman and some of her friends. Yes, he had said to himself “make it.” He managed to avoid a speeding ticket as he headed south on Aurora.
Then, when he get over there, he finds Lulu hanging out with two guys. Boys really, looked like maybe they had never shaved. Real pale clear skin. The two of them were dressed all in blue denim. I was understandably surprised to find out they were the friends Lulu had mentioned.
“A misunderstanding baby. I thought you would enjoy playing with those boys and me.”
“When you said we could get down, me and your friends, I took you to mean women and not guys, boys. You got me over there on false pretences, and ones that kind of shook me up. You really think that’s my kind of scene?”
“Girls or boys. Whatever Corny, fun is fun. I thought you were more open minded. I’m sure you would have sparkled. Perhaps some performance anxiety?”
“Oh please Lulu.”
Their names were Peter and Paul for fuck’s sake. He liked to think of himself as open, but this was beyond bounds. He had a hard time thinking about sex for days. Am I uptight? It is not like I threw a fit. He hung around for some exceedingly uncomfortable portions of an hour. Then she kissed him, and he looked up at the boys and their denim and their dilated eyes, blank stares – even when they looked at Lulu, and everything in him just shriveled up. Definitely turned off.
“Aw Corny. I’ll make it up to you. I promise. Just me over here tonight. I want to have some fun. Something a little more hushed. Plus, I have something to show you.”
“Corny, dear. No one else is here. I promise. No surprises, or, well, none involving gorgeous skinny young men. Just you and me.”
He sighed. “I’ll be right over.” He put the phone on the hook, grabbed his keys and headed out the door.
Lulu sighed in disappointment.
“It wasn’t you dear. I had just been hoping for something, bigger.” She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “Not that you aren’t big enough, she patted him on the knee. But I was hoping for something out of this world, transcendent, wider, explosive.”
He had gathered that from the arrangement of green stones on the floor of her studio. They had performed their tableau in the center of it all. An inverted pentagram would not have slowed him down once he got there and determined that Lulu was indeed without further male accompaniment. The arrangement on the floor amounted to a convoluted circle, candles to the outside for lighting.
“We’ll have to try again, soon. Maybe a different arrangement, or outside, or just more directly on the ground. I don’t know.”
“It didn’t work with Peter and Paul?”
“Oh Corny, they had something, materially, you don’t have. And I traded with them some things both far greater in value and of much less import to you.
He found, not too surprisingly, that he was quite content, even if she was disappointed. It had been a great night. He had not let her down. If she wanted to try again, soon, well, he’d definitely be down for giving it a try.
“Maybe we need to do it in the road?” He looked at her, smiled, reached for her.
“Sorry honey. Our research for this cycle is complete. Let’s go – I’ll buy you a juice, or some coffee, or something. I’m thirsty.”
Meanwhile, about 150 miles as a crow might fly – if a crow flew in a straight line over the Cascade crest from Seattle to Winthrop, or about 240 miles as a road wanders, Lucille and Fred and Lage were driving east into Winthrop looking for a cop or a phone.
After getting out of the rain and deciding to head to Mazama or Winthrop to get help for their hypothermic hitch-hiker they had been accosted by two large women driving Fred’s truck so shamelessly that the the alarm was still going, even after the truck had chased, then eventually forced, their car to the side of the road.
One of the truck’s passengers casually hopped out, all dressed in camouflage hunting gear, a head topped with a big mop of curly hair that was barely contained by her orange ball cap.
“Sorry to bother you folks – and yes, sir, this is your truck. We have no issue with you, no issues at all. We are looking for that fellow you have sitting there in the back seat. Paul honey, is that you? Time for us to take you home.”
Fred started to say something. The woman shushed him. Then thought better of it: “can you turn off this alarm? All this noise is really starting to ruin the taste of my donuts.”
Fred turned to Lucille, with a look of great disbelief, anger, and fear, then walked to his truck and disarmed the alarm. The shrill beeping came to a halt.
All stood still for a moment, the slushy rain snow mix falling silently, a breeze finally stirred them.
It was Paul who spoke first, “where’s Pete?”
“He’s back in town. We’ll take you to meet him. Get you some dry clothes. You look so thin, especially naked and all. I bet that blanket is kind of scratchy.”
Fred, recovering some of his bearing, started to speak, but the other creature – the driver of his truck, appeared next to him.
“Don’t worry at all,” Doreen said, “here – have a donut. We know you are both from Seattle, at least if the registrations you have in your vehicles are up to date. We will return the truck to you tomorrow with a full tank of gas and a repaired steering column.”
Now it was Lucille’s turn to try and speak, and to be hushed, and to quietly accept a rapidly cooling and wilting apple fritter.
“Yes ma’am, that is right. We looked through both cars. There’s no way Doreen and I would fit in your car. Plus, all that thing has is a shitty little lawn mower engine. It would have been much harder to track Paulie here down in that contraption.”
“Yeah,” Doreen added, “plus there’s a hole in the floor. How does anyone stay dry or warm in that thing?”
“Anyway,” said Millicent, chunkily through the morass of coffee and donut in her still very full mouth, “c’mon Paulie, we need to go.”
“And no, Fred, we will not be offering any more of an explanation. And yes, you will have to take our word for the return of the truck. We have your extra key, your home address, the weed you had hidden in with the spare. Sorry this has been difficult, but all we really want is Paulie, and you will only make things worse by foolishly attempting to slow us down.”
“So,” said Millicent, “have we got a deal?”
Even the dog, Lage, seemed awestruck by the strangeness of the scene, the assumed authority of these two big donut chewing women. Only Paul seemed unfazed by what he was hearing. And the words he had spoken to the two women from the truck were the only ones he had said since they found him.
“Paul, where are your clothes?” asked Doreen, the acquiescence of the others assumed.
Paul went and fished them out of Lucille’s subaru. He turned and nodded at Lucille and Fred, handed the blanket to Lucille and turned, naked and immodest, barefoot in the cold and wet, walked over and climbed into the truck.
“Don’t waste your time trying to follow us. That shitty little Subaru will never keep up with the truck. And, let’s just say we will not be nearly as courteous if we happen to run into each other again.”
“Plus, what would you do if you caught us?” said Millicent.
Doreen and Millicent laughed heartily at this. Doreen almost choked on her donut, Millicent pounded her on the back as they turned and walked to the truck.
With that, they hopped into Fred’s truck and drove off. By now Lucille and Fred and the dog were colder, wetter, and even more tired, and in some kind of shock.
“Is this really happening?” Lucille asked.
An hour later they pulled into Winthrop. While Fred called the police from the gas station, and they waited, Lucille climbed in the car and looked in the back seat where Paul had been sitting. Nothing obvious. She pulled up the seat, thinking the last thing she needed was the guy – Paul – dumping some kind of stash he was trying to keep from his pursuers (Millicent? really?) and then having to explain it to the cops if they decided to hassle her and Fred.
Nothing much there, except some shiny green rocks. Nothing dazzling. They might have been there prior to all of this madness. Nevertheless, she picked them up and put them in her pocket, returned to the front seat idly rolling them over in her hand as she sat there, rejoined by Fred and Lage, and waited for the State Patrol.
It seems like we’ve been driving forever, but it’s only been an hour and 45 minutes on the minivan’s dash clock. I’m still weezy from whatever knockout drug the girl had slipped me. Would she like it if some guy did that to her? (Maybe, with what little she’s told me about her own life, some guy had. She sure seems to have had a rough life in any event.)
And what’s her interest in keeping me in the custody of these people anyway? And what do they want with me to begin with? She’s been silent about that in the back seat of this minivan during this drive.
In the front seat, the woman the girl calls “Pseudo Mom” is at the wheel. The man the girl calls Pseudo Mom’s business partner is riding shotgun. Pseudo Mom is also mostly silent, except when she occasionally feels the need to stop the man beside her from starting or resuming grumbling arguments with the man in the middle seat. He’s the man I’d originally delivered the other car to, a little over 24 hours ago that seems like a million years. He’s wearing a different slightly oversized suit jacket with matching slacks, and a different loose fitting shirt. He’s got about as little beard stubble as I’ve got; but the chin and cheekbones it’s on look, in profile, narrow, even slightly dainty. He and the man in the front seat sure seem to have a lot of past history with each other. Off and on all along this drive, they’ve been grumbling to each other about past events and present character flaws. The man in the middle seat says at one point that becoming who he is (whatever that means) had nothing directly to do with getting away from the man in the front seat; it’s just that he’d really needed to do both.
At least two or three times this trip, the woman beside this man in the middle seat (the same woman who’d been with him when I first met him) nudged him with her right elbow. On one of those occasions, she quietly but sternly reprimanded him for his attitude. She “reminded” him that theirs was supposed to be a spiritual journey, one of unity and positivity. He simply grumbled some inarticulate-to-me cuss words.
I’d long since given up any hope or illusion that these people would get me home, or in the direction of home, or that they even wanted to. They seem to have an agenda for me. Even if they won’t tell me what it is, beyond code words about “the induction” and “the great ascending.”
Even now that we’ve gotten here. Wherever “here” is.
The minivan didn’t have its GPS unit on, if it had one. We’d stayed away from any freeways, going down a succession of wide and narrow county roads. The window on my side kept getting steamed up, no matter how many times I tried to wipe it off with my hands and sleeves. Even when I could see outside, from that window or from the front, I didn’t see much that would say where we were at. An endless stream of roads, trees, wheat and corn fields, houses, gas stations, mini marts, ugly modern grade schools, roadside burger joints and wine bars, main streets of small towns I’d never heard of with signs promoting the local Rotary Club, rustic old churches that reminded me of my church back home, signs for a corn maze and U-pick pumpkins, few other cars, fewer other people.
The minivan’s audio system played a CD of New Age instrumentals that were, I guess, supposed to be “chill out” material. When that ended, Pseudo Mom stuck in some generic drum n’ bass, which the girl beside me visibly preferred. She boogied in her seat belt the rest of the way to here.
“Here” is a large, more or less circular, clearing with trees on all sides, at the end of another gravel road. Other vehicles had been parked here before we arrived, and more have arrived since.
The driving machines here include generic late-model sedans and pickups; one beater VW bus with a “burning man” logo decal; a couple of luxury cars with rainbow-flag bumper stickers; an old beater Volvo; a few Priuses (“Pri-i”?); and one short, converted, and repainted former school bus.
The people from some of these vehicles have built “tailgate party”-like food and drink setups. Some of them are relatively elaborate, with gas BBQ grills cooking chicken and hot dogs (some of them “veggie dogs”) under awnings on tent poles in case of rain (which has been off and on all day), with camper coolers full of beer and soft drink cans on ice. Others simply serve coffee from big cardboard dispenser boxes and bags of Doritos from the backs of station wagons. I’ve taken advantage of these people’s hospitality, drinking a lot of coffee (with a lot of sugar) and eating just about anything I can. (My mother always said I was a typical teenage boy with “a bottomless stomach.” I devoured big dinner portions, while she was on one fad diet after another and my big sister was on one “socially conscious” eating regimen after another.)
Around some of the other vehicles people seem to be having shots of liquor or pre-mixed cocktails, popping who knows what kinds of pills, smoking cannabis joints, doing simple exercises and yoga poses, greeting one another with hugs and kisses and (in a couple of cases) serious making out.
There are about 40 or 50 people here now. They look like a cross section of everyone my former pastor said would be going to Hell, and then some. There are 70-year-old hippies with long gray hair. Middle aged punks and “burners.” Young ravers and (white and Asian) hip hoppers. Gays, lesbians, and who-knows-whats. A few “normal looking” people, who seem to be the biggest joint smokers. Very few children, mostly under-fives. There’s even one Black couple here, looking way overdressed. I think I see some of the people I’d seen in that alley the second night of this misadventure. But since it was so dark there back then, I’m not sure.
One to four at a time, they’re closing down whatever they’ve been doing at their own or other people’s vehicles. They walk up another gravel road at the back end of this clearing. This particular place seems to be just a parking lot for whatever’s back there, hidden by the trees and the late-afternoon fog.
Soon enough, the two women from the minivan announce it’s time for us to head in and get ready (for what?). The two men follow them. The girl does likewise, physically pushing me from the back to walk off with them.
I don’t have to walk far before we turn a curve in the path and I see where we’re going. It’s a large tent, like the ones my old pastor used to hold revival meetings in. Some people are carrying benches and outdoor propane heaters into it.
Beside the front of the tent, a woman in a multi-colored robe (a “coat of many colors”, as it were) waves to our group. She looks familiar somehow.
Wait: I know.
No. It can’t be.
No. It is.
What is SHE doing here? And for that matter, what am I doing here?—Clark Humphrey
Outside the tent, the sky’s changing quickly from overcast to just dark.
Here inside the tent, what light we’ve been getting from the outside is fading, leaving candles and generator-powered lamps.
This is all going way too quickly, too intensely.
It’s amazingly loud in here.
Even more amazingly, what had been a cacophony of disparate noises is meshing in my brain into a single, somehow harmonious, blend, like some avant garde symphony.
It gets more intense every minute.
At its base line, there’s a sampled track of “chillout” electronic music, with a steady thumping beat, coming from a portable sound system.
In the aisles, women in clothing ranging from flowing white robes to almost nothing are rolling and writhing, screaming and moaning.
In the back of the tent, various people are dancing, swaying, and kissing. Some of them might even be having sex back there, but I can’t see that far in the increasing dark.
On the benches, people are standing or lying down. Almost nobody’s sitting except some of the 70-year-old hippies. They’re howling and chanting and “om”-ing.
I’m trying my hardest to stay attentive, alert, sane, untaken by this. Almost everything my church upbringing taught me to hate is here before my unbelieving eyes.
Just in front of me, at the front of the little stage platform, the leader of this “induction service” shouts and sings her “sermon” points.
She talks about “the great contradiction that isn’t really a contradiction. We heighten the sensory feelings in our bodies, so we can escape this bodily realm. To some, that would seem wrong. Many people have been programmed to believe the body is the evil opposite of the spirit and of the mind. But really, the more we use our bodies to resonate, to vibrate, at the higher frequencies of pure ecstasy, the closer we get to the next level of reality, where we depart this dying world, these frail bodies. Becoming beings of pure vibration, pure sensation. That’s how the Mayans, the Toltecs, the Atlantians, and so many other past civilizations rose from this realm of existence. They re-tuned themselves to a higher frequency. Like them, we will shed this world of oppression and disease.
“Oh, the remaining inhabitants of the Earth will look for us. But all they’ll find are our discarded clothes, our wigs, our false teeth, our pacemakers, our artificial knees, our breast implants, and our jewelry. Our bodies will be gone, to another frequency of existence, where they will be perfected.
“Some of the remaining inhabitants of the Earth will ask why we ‘were taken’ instead of them. They’d been obedient rote followers of an authoritarian religion, an authoritarian politics. They’d repressed themselves and oppressed others. They’d enslaved themselves to the almighty dollar, while they ruined the planet, the source of all material wealth. Their reward will be to inhabit this world as it becomes ever more uninhabitable.
But we—the freaks, the queers, the woke, the enlightened, the sensuous, the untamed women, the caring men, the non-binaries, the true artists, the lovers, the righteous rebels, the people who give a shit about one another—we are, all of us, whether we all know it yet or not, taking a journey to the next level.
“And that journey, my beloveds, starts tonight.”
The DJ running the electronic-music feed presses a key on his keyboard, and a sound of a dozen bells pealing comes out of the sound system. Some of the people in the tent raise their voices to cheer; others keep doing the different things they’re doing with an extra burst of passion.
I get a sense that a few of these people are looking at me. I’m seated on a bench at the back of the stage. I’ve been dressed in a bright flowing robe that’s tied up in the back. Even weirder, the girl who’s come here with me is dressed the same. I still haven’t been told what I’m expected to do.
The woman at the front of the stage starts talking again.
“To achieve the final jump, we need to add more people resonating the new frequencies from out of different old frequencies, different patterns. More nationalities. More races. More subcultures.More genders. More sexualities. As different and disparate as Humanity herself!” More pre-recorded bells. More cheers.
“Within this quest, I offer to you: our new inductee. Someone who may be different from any of you. A person of youth, of limited experience in life. A straight, cis, white male; but not a co-conspirator in the culture of oppression. A person of empathy and compassion. A person of curiosity, of moral purity, if a little timid.”
My growing suspicions are confirmed when this woman walks back to take my hand and lead me forward. She reaches in back of me, makes a slight adjustment to the back of my robe, and lets it fall to the stage floor. I hurriedly cover myself with my hands. The people at the benches, women and men alike, cheer and applaud.
I’m so self conscious, it takes almost a minute before I notice the girl is now standing beside me, now also undressed. I try not to look at her body, which (except for one strange looking tattoo below one breast) is extremely attractive. I also try not to look at her face, which is rapt in some (drug induced?) daze; she’s got a glassy-eyed stare and a dangerous looking smile.
The strangely harmonious blend of noises fades into the background of my mind, affecting me subliminally in some way.
My self-consciousness soon changes to other feelings. I try to think of anything but where I am now. I try to think of stupid, nonsensical, obsessive things to stop the weird emotions and sensations that are taking me over.
Was I drugged again, when I ate from the tailgate picnics outside here? Maybe in the “sugar” I’d put into my coffee?
If I was, It’s pretty obvious what one of the drugs was. My hands can no longer hide its effect. I turn my back to the other participants.
But as I do this, the girl catches my eye.
I find I can’t look away from her.
My mind becomes a distant spectator, as my body acts on its own.
It reaches a hand out to the girl. It embraces her, then caresses, then gropes her all over. It then fondles her breasts with one hand and her lower spot with the other.
My powerless mind wonders: So now I know why I’ve been brought here, why I’ve been put through everything that’s happened in these short few days. But for what purpose? Is my public mating with the girl really supposed to bring about some sort of alternative Rapture? But that can’t possibly happen. But if I believe, or at least used to believe, in the regular Evangelical notion of the Rapture, what’s really so different about this version?
But do I want to help bring the end of the world? No, I don’t. But what can I do about it? I can’t even control my own body now.
She’s fondling and groping me now. Her left hand caresses my lower back, while her right hand caresses my lower front.
My eyes stare into hers, relentlessly.
So relentlessly, I believe I briefly see her slipping me a secret wink.
Suddenly, she pulls her hands away from my lower body and grabs my right hand.
She pulls me behind her as she runs out of the tent.
The people in the tent don’t seem to be paying any attention as we flee, both of us still undressed.
She leads me down a curving trail in back of the tent, toward another clearing in these woods.
I see rustic but permanent wood buildings. Long, one-story cabins. A chapel. Another parking lot, with a couple of yellow buses parked.
We run past a carved, painted wood sign, like the ones in national forests.
I’ve arrived at the place my mom thinks I’ve already been at.
“Fifteen, do I hear 15 … this is your LAST CHANCE to have YOUR pet on the February calendar for the 2017 Animal Society Foundation’s calendar. All other months have been sold … this is your LAST CHANCE … 15 going once … 15 going twice … SOLD for $1,400.00 to number 270!
Hannah could not believe she could be so impulsive.
The auctioneer approached Hannah and shoved a mic in her face, “And who is the lucky pet” he ask.”
“Alex, the tuxedo cat.”
“Well, congratulations Alex!”
The big photo shoot day had arrived. The day before, Hannah gave Alex a good brushing. He was looking good, but then Alex always looked good.
The photo shoot was a breeze. Alex was his usual charming and easy-going self. The photographer got some great photos of him: Alex in front of the bookcases – he seemed to instinctively know how to look like a Professor, some against a greenish-yellow wall – he rolled around like he was high on cat nip and a member of Andy Warhol’s factory, and some by the window with a city view behind him – now looking like Alex the World Traveler. The photographer said she had never worked with a pet as mutable as Alex and thought he had real star quality. Hannah ordered calendars for everyone she knew as a Holiday present.
Ellen’s raucous party was winding down. Jeff, her co-worker brought his girlfriend Sienna who was now three-quarters smashed. Struggling to put on her coat while coincidentally standing face to face with the calendar on the wall, she said “look at this cat, who is he!? … Oh wait … it’s a calendar … like you’re going to know who the cat is.”
“Well, actually I do. It’s my friend’s cat.”
“I’ll email you on Monday. You know, I’m a Specialty Modeling Agent. I think I have work for this cat.”
“Ok, I’ll look for it.” Like that’s ever going to happen, Ellen silently mused. She’s too drunk to remember.
Sure enough, on Monday morning, Ellen sees and email from Sienna. And it’s quite intelligible. Ellen forwards it to her friend Hannah.
Hannah reads the email and thinks back to what the photographer had said the day of the photo shoot, that Alex had real star quality. She remembered how fun that day was …wouldn’t it be a hoot to retire and act as Alex’s agent? Hannah fired off an email to Sienna as Alex lounged in the window, unaware of what might lie ahead ….
Warning Signs, Pt. 2
Bangor Naval Base Kitsap is the third-largest Navy base in the U.S. It features one of the U.S. Navy’s four nuclear shipyards, one of two strategic nuclear weapons facilities, the only West Coast dry dock capable of handling a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and the Navy’s largest fuel depot.
When Kat first showed the shelter to Charlie he was amazed. It was a lead lined, concrete tube, hand dug into the side of the hill. Kat’s grandfather made it big enough for his family of 4 to live comfortably. It was a product of fear: the family’s farm was within 10 miles of Bangor Naval Base, one of the largest nuclear submarine bases in the U.S.. During the 1960s nuclear arms race Kat’s engineer grandfather saw a bleak future and began digging.
Schematics for the mechanical systems were still hanging with yellowing tape to the mint green walls. The red strawberries she and her grandmother had stenciled on the walls during Kat’s childhood summer visits were still visible.
“Look at these diagrams!” Charlie had exclaimed as he scrutinized the highly detailed and illustrated manuals.
Meticulous, step-by-step instructions explained to shelter evacuees how to operate the electrical system, the heating, the generator and the well.
“And then after my grandpa died, and grandma moved to Hawaii, my uncle Rick took over the farm,” She’d explained to Charlie, “And he went a little nuts with the Y2K stuff.” She gestured to a composting toilet and shrugged. “There’s a whole store room of dehydrated food, canned meat and powdered milk and eggs. It’s gross.”
“Kat, do you understand this is our ticket to survival? If the whole thing ever goes, this is where we need to be.” Charlie hugged her.
She’d glowed with pride that she had something to do with a survival plan, a plan that involved only the two of them. That night 3 years ago they’d spent their first full night together in the shelter, bedsprings squeaking. This was before A.’s diagnosis and Charlie could still get away. Other than their time on Rainier, it had been the only time they’d spent a full night together.
Kat pulled the car up alongside the dilapidated farmhouse. She looked out from the hill that overlooked Puget Sound and saw Mt. Rainier in the distance. It all still looked calm and peaceful. As the moon rose over the mountain, she thought about the last time she was out during a hunter’s moon, the time here with Charlie. She grabbed her phone from the seat and checked for messages. None. It was 4am.
Stepping out of the car, Kat felt the earth move. She’d been in her car and on the boat for the majority of the earthquakes and this was the first time she actually could feel it shake. It jolted her out of her reverie and got her running.
“I’ll be back for you in a minute,” She told the cat who still hid under the front passenger seat. She grabbed the survival bag and her laptop from the car and slammed the car door after her.
She ran down the backside of the house to the opening of the shelter. A rusted metal gate was padlocked over the shelter opening. It looked like the entrance to a mine. The black and yellow fallout shelter sign still hung by rusted bolts to the concrete face of the entrance. After scratching at the lock the gate finally screeched open reveling the lead door inset with a thick red glass panel at eye level. She fumbled with her keys to find the right one. Once inside she flicked on the light switch, almost expecting in not to work. A florescent light flickered to life above.
“O.K.,” Kat said to reassure herself. She dumped the bag and set her computer on the desk that still had a rotary black phone sitting on it. She wanted to pick up the phone just to hear the dial tone. The room smelled musty and stale. But there was no time to air it out. “Cat!” She reminded herself. She ran back out to the to the car. The ground began to shake again, this time more violently as she was trying to reach under the seat to grab Heph.
“Damnit!” She yelled as her head smacked into the glove box. The cat was not having any of it. He hissed at her as she put her hand around his neck and pulled him out from under the seat. His claws dug into her arms but she held him tight.
“You’re all I’ve got!” She tried to explain to the growling cat. As they came up over the hill towards the fallout shelter, the ground seemed to fall away from beneath her feet, knocking Kat to her knees. She looked across the water and saw the steam, ash and smoke begin to shoot out of the top of Mt. Rainier. The plume seemed to unfurl in slow motion, although Kat knew the rate of the ejecta was faster than any manmade vehicle had ever travelled. Kat saw small jets of brown and black ash, along with white steam plumes suggesting phreatomagmatic activity (i.e. interaction of water with magma). Her scientific mind marveled at what she was witnessing. Red glowing lava began to light up the underside of the blooming mushroom cloud of ash and steam.
Still clinging to the cat she stumbled towards the shelter opening. The sonic blast of the eruption stopped her in her tracks. The rumble started as a low frequency sound, almost more felt than heard, but grew louder until it was like a jet engine accelerating in the atmosphere directly overhead. The windows of her car blew out and the car alarm began to sound. Kat instinctively tried to cover her ears from the deafening roar of the eruption. Heph dropped from her hands and sped away into the darkness.
Kat couldn’t hear herself yelling but she felt the air sucked out of her lungs. She lunged for the gate of the shelter and dragged herself in. The lead door swung closed silently behind her. She turned the crank to the air seal and sank down with her back to the door. In the silence of the shelter all she could hear was the ringing of her blown eardrums. All else was quiet.
It was over just like that. The color left his face, the light left his eyes. His body crumpled to the ground, quieter than a cone falling from a tree. They paused, smiled, shared a high five. Then, with a sigh, they got to work.
The two of them carried his body up the hill for half an hour, walking, crawling, ducking trees. Doreen had a little digital watch on her wrist. When it started chiming they stopped. They used no words. An observer might wonder if the beeps were an marker or a command.
They stripped the body and took the only thing he had – a few rocks – from his pockets. They examined his naked body. One of them half chuckled. She toed him with her boot and rolled him on into a hollow beneath a tree.
“So long Petey, you dumb fucker.”
“I hope the birds and the critters find you palatable.”
With that, they turned their backs on Petey’s remains and began the downhill trek back to the Early Winters parking lot.
They were not concerned at all about leaving a trail. The trip down was over far more quickly than the trip up, encumbered as they were only with Pete’s wet denim, and his rocks. Not even undergarments or shoes to carry. They also yearned for the bounty they had left in the truck.
The rain was constant and was showing more and more bits of snow as the afternoon progressed and chilled.
They found the truck there, running. Loud music playing within and a car alarm continually blaring, a louder version of the sound on Doreen’s watch. This sound they did not seem to notice at all as they sang along to Roy Orbison. The falsetto and incongruity fueled their giddy mood.
”I wish this thing had a good fucking stereo. Something louder than this little yellow plastic Panasonic.”
“Whatever, it’s fine.”
Millicent rooted through a rucksack she pulled from the backseat. From it she pulled a blue bag with a white drawstring, Crown Royal printed on the side. She placed Pete’s rocks in there. They were not lonely.
“We’ve got a nice little bag going now. Hopefully it helps.”
“It would be nice to get out of this place, but there are some aspects of our job that I love.”
Rocks stored, Doreen passed Millicent her first portion of their shared bounty: an apple fritter and a cup of coffee.
“I do like the apple fritters best,” Millicent opined. Her lips smacked as she greedily finished her first..
“For me, the pink frosting – with chocolate sprinkles – are divine,” said Doreen.
“Divine!” they said in unison, and started giggling.
They had a box of donuts between them on the front seat. They ate their donuts and heartily sipped their venti drips. Half and half for Doreen, black for Millicent. They turned the music down just a bit. The alarm in the truck was still going off, still they did not seem to notice.
“Now back to my question from this morning: have you seen the crows fucking?”
Doreen laughed, some crumbs flying from her mouth. She wiped her face with the back of her sleeve, crumbs lingering on the light brown camo. She removed her orange ballcap and tousled her hair. “No, ridiculous. What was he babbling about? It was like he didn’t understand until the last moment what was going on. Going on about the crows copulating.”
“Copulating. Silly word play,” said Millicent.
“Exactly,” said Doreen, “as if he thought he could confuse us. If you are talking about fucking, might as well just say it.”
“So, which way do you think Paulie went?”
“Petey and Paulie. So foolish. My guess is that Paul went up toward the pass.”
“Yeah. That’s my thought too. Not sure he would have had more success heading to Winthrop. But if he is going to make things easier for us I’m not going to complain.”
Doreen nosed the truck back out onto route twenty and headed west, lights off, in the middle of the road.
“Come on Doreen, turn on the lights and stay on your side of the road.”
“Nobody is out here,” she protested.
“If there is someone, I think it likely we will want to talk to them. Best to to be as unobtrusive as possible. I’ll bet he looks for the next parking lot with a car. Sorry to be such a bummer. What is it I’ve heard about hunting deer – you want to shoot them while they are relaxed. The meat tastes better then.”
“Sure, but I doubt he’s going to be relaxed.”
“Relaxed or no, we’ll find him. I hope he doesn’t go cross country, it could take a while to find him if he does.”
“Alright. Though I just hope he freezes out here. Then we can find him in the morning.”
“But if a lot of snow falls, we’re fucked.”
“We’ll do what we can. What else can George expect?”
“Plus, we’ve got a pretty good haul.”
They thought about the stash in the Crown Royal bag and their potentially hard to find quarry and grew silent. They checked the next two pullouts and found no one. They kept moving and pulled onto a road, just past a sign for Cutthroat Pass trailhead. They ate the rest of the donuts and finished their coffee, comfortable in the extended silence. People could say what they wanted about Doreen and Millicent, but one thing they were sure of was their patience. And their hunger.
Just as twilight was surrendering to night they saw an old subaru rolling down the hill as if it had no concerns at all besides getting out of the rain.
Doreen smiled. She grabbed the gear shift.
“Wait,” said Millicent. “Let’s count to twenty three.”
“Prime,” Doreen smiled again.
They counted silently, and at twenty three Doreen put the engine in gear and turned on the headlights.
As she eased the truck back onto twenty, Millicent turned to her and said, “ you know honey, right now there have to be a couple of crows are out there . . . “
“Getting it on.” They both laughed, the truck headed east, the taillights of the subaru weaving in and out of sight as it followed the curves of the road.
I briefly come to. It’s still dark.
I sense that I’m cold, and that something’s either wrong or merely weird about my condition. But I’m too weary to amass the thinking power to sort it out any further.
And how could I have gotten so tired from a day and night of sitting in car seats, interspersed with standing around and watching other people doing things?
I don’t think very hard about that, either, before I go “under” again.
When I awaken for good, it’s the daytime, such as it is on an overcast mid-January day. I slowly open my eyes.
There’s a thin, scruffy-feeling blanket on top of me. I feel its slight itch from my chest to my toes.
Wait a minute.
My clothes: where are they?
I’m pretty sure I was wearing them when I dozed off on this stinky old sofa.
No, I KNOW I was wearing them then.
I can’t run out of here in the rain, barefoot, wearing only a blanket, now can I? (Though that would make it more probable that I’d attract the local police, who could help me to get home from all this.)
The living room of this abandoned house, in the light, looks just as decrepit as it felt when I first got here in the middle of the wee hours. There’s peeling wallpaper on the walls, in some sickly looking ornate floral pattern. There’s flaky white paint (probably lead-based) on the window sills. The small front windows lie behind busted blinds. There’s a bare wooden floor with one dirty oval rug on it. There’s no art on the walls, though there is a rectangular light spot along a wall where something might have been.
I wrap the blanket around me as I stand up. I approach one of the windows and look beneath the broken slats of the shades. Yep, it’s still raining out, but not as heavily as earlier in the night.
There seem to be stains along this floor. Don’t know what they’re from.
I walk to the door and open it. I look around. No visible marks of human activity except the gravel driveway that disappears into the trees. I turn to look at the front of the house. It’s covered in a hideous brown fake-brick pattern (made of what—tar?), that’s flaking away around the edges.
I take one step onto the creaky small wooden porch. My bare foot immediately recoils from the wet cold.
I turn back inside. Still no electricity. Can’t recharge my phone here. If I can even find my phone.
I rummage through the mostly empty kitchen. Is there any food in this abandoned claptrap? Just half a box of stale crackers, a can of tuna fish (without a can opener), and one wrinkled old potato.
The (cold only) running water still works, like it did last night. I drink up straight from the tap.
There’s a battery-operated clock in the kitchen I hadn’t noticed last night. If it’s correct (and there’s no reason to believe it either is or isn’t), it’s nearly noon. There’s only eight and a half hours of daylight this time of year, and I’ve missed almost half of it. I’ve got to find my way out of wherever this nowhere is, preferably before dark. But now I’ll also need to find shoes, and my phone. Oh, and my pants. And my shirt and jacket, if I don’t want to get pneumonia.
In the bathroom, with the leaky ceiling whose sound I’ve somehow sent back into the background of my brain, the toilet works. I use it. I wash my hands and face again. I put the blanket back around me before I leave the room. I suppose I could walk around in here without it. Nobody else is here, right?
Wait, wasn’t somebody else here last night?
Yes. There was the girl. I keep calling her that in my head, even though she’s at least two or three years older than me, and from some angles looks even older than that. Why do I think of her as a girl? I guess it’s just that she acts like a teenager so much. Spoiled, then pouty, then petulant, then overemotional. Everything (well, some of the things) I’ve tried to not be, sometimes more successfully than other times.
So. The girl: where is she?
There’s not many other places in this house for either her or my stuff to be.
I go to the parts of the house I hadn’t gone to last night. Basically just a hallway, a closet, a small bedroom, and a smaller bedroom. There’s nothing in any of them but a small wooden chair and one half-unmade bed. So that’s where the blanket came from. I decide to use the white bedsheet (which, like the blanket, has seen better days) as my next makeshift robe.
I untie the blanket. The exact moment it drops to the floor is the moment the girl walks into the room. She snickers at me. Would she like it if some guy did that to her? I bet not, I almost tell her but don’t.
Before I can snap at her, she tells me to hurry up and follow her out in back of the house.
I tie up the bedsheet and dart out. I let each bare foot stay on the cold wet ground for as few fractions of a second as is physically possible.
She leads me into a little garage in back of the house. (When did anybody ever build one-car garages when they had room to build bigger ones?) She’s still dressed as she was last night: tight designer jeans with a knee patch, generic sneakers, a black and white sweater with the slogan OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE (the latter word in baseball-jersey script), a short fake-leather jacket, short-cropped black hair.
The concrete floor here in the garage isn’t much warmer than the ground between here and the house. Thankfully, she soon shows me to a spot in here where she’d hid my clothes. She makes no attempt to turn away as I clumsily put my underwear and pants on under the bedsheet. I undo, then step onto, the sheet. I put on my shirt, windbreaker jacket, socks, and shoes.
Everything that had been in my pockets is still in them.
She asks me to forgive her for taking my clothes. She says she was afraid I’d try to leave without her (which, indeed, I would have). She says again that I need her, and I’m supposed to know it. There seems to be a lot she thinks I’m supposed to know.
I’d been brought up to never talk rude to a woman. But now, I do. I look her in the eye. I tell her to stop talking in riddles already and tell me exactly, plainly, what she said she knows about why I’m here.
“But you KNOW why,” she insists.
“No I DON’T,” I insist right back.
She takes a step back, leaning against a wall. She lights up a (tobacco) cigarette, from a pack she’d fished out from a pocket in her jacket. It’s the same brand my mother used to smoke, the one that was supposed to be made by Native Americans but really wasn’t, and was supposed to be “good for you” but really wasn’t.
“Where do I (F-word) start?”
“How about at the beginning?”
She proceeds to start from the beginning, or at least from A beginning.
The story she tells is a really confusing one. It includes a lot of F-words in weird parts of her sentences. She talks about the “woke people,” the “freaks,” the “awakened ones,” the nonconformists, the ones who reject this world’s limits on who they can be. She talks about energy healing, vibrational frequencies, and the ancient Aztecs.
She asks me if I’ve heard of the “holy rollers.”
Of course, I tell her. The Pentecostals, the churches where people “speak in tongues.” My own church had apparently been one of those once, before my now ex-pastor took it in a more conservative direction.
No, she says. The original “holy rollers” were a group that had started in a town about eighty miles south of here about a hundred years ago, or so she says. They were called the “holy rollers” because they spent a lot of time rolling around on the floor in some sort of religious orgasm. And they were mostly women, she adds, some of them married women.
But that group’s preacher got into big trouble because, as she puts it, “he couldn’t keep his (F-word) (D-word) in his pants.” The husbands and brothers of his female worshippers got him jailed for adultery, which was something you could do then. After he got out, one of those guys shot him. Then one of the women later shot the guy who’d shot him.
I tell her I’m sure that’s a great story, but what does it have to do with me?
She starts to say something about people these days who’ve looked into these old stories, “not just because they’re great (F-word) true stories but because they think those old people were onto something.”
Before she can say much more, I hear a car approaching on the gravel driveway. From in here I can’t see it, but it sounds like it might be a different car from the one that had brought me here. Car doors open and close. Two or more sets of footsteps approach.
Before an eruption, magma moves into the area beneath the volcano and collects in a magma chamber, or reservoir. As it comes closer to the surface, the magma releases gases. These events can offer valuable clues about the likelihood of an eruption. For example, the movement of magma produces small earthquakes and vibrations (seismicity). Magma gathering in a chamber causes slight swelling of the volcano’s slopes. Gases released near the volcano can be measured for changes in quantity and makeup.
When her buzzing phone woke her up at 1:47am, Katla knew exactly who was calling. She saw all 3 of her computer monitors lit up in the corner of her apartment. The seismic alert had triggered her sensors as well.
“Kat, it’s happening.” Dr. Charles Giddens voice sounded preternaturally calm, but then again it could just be the British accent that made him sound so composed.
“Are we going to meet on the ferry?” she asked in a panicked voice.
“I’m still at the lab. There’s no time for me to make it downtown from campus. You go. And I will try to meet you at the shelter before the blast.” His voice sounded more strained.
“But if you miss the 2:10 there wont be another boat until morning…” she began to argue, knowing full well that there probably would not be another boat. Ever.
“Kat…you must go. Now!”
“Wear the mask after the blast even if you don’t detect any particles. And don’t forget the sat phone and the friction charger. The solar charger will be worthless if there is a volcanic ash veil. I left everything in the bag. Hurry!”
Kat heard the cold digital beep as he ended the call. She hadn’t even told him she loved him. And now the world might be ending.
She looked at the time on her phone: 1:50. That meant she had 20 minutes to get from West Seattle to the ferry dock downtown. In test runs she’d made it in 12 minutes. But she still raced to grab the pre-packed survival bag. A large sleek black cat was curled on top of the bag.
“Oh Heph!” she cried scooping him up. “What am I going to do with you?” She held his warm purring body and decided that she didn’t care if he wasn’t part of their plan, she’d bring him anyway. She stuffed a nearly full bag of dry cat-food into the survival bag. With the cat in one arm and the large duffel bag slung over her shoulder, Kat grabbed her laptop, trailing its cord behind her as she raced out of her apartment to her car.
She pulled up to the ferry ticket booth just as the ticket seller was putting on her coat to leave. The clock in the window read 2:08. The woman looked irritated as she slid the window open.
“Bainbridge.” Kat held a $20 out, her hand shaking slightly. She’d never run so many red lights in her life and the adrenaline was just kicking in. The cat, who had been curled up on her lap, suddenly sat up and stared with emerald green eyes at the woman in the booth. The woman raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. Kat held Heph’s collar so he couldn’t escape out the car’s open window.
“Lane 1,” the woman said tiredly as she handed Kat her change. There was a dog biscuit on top of the bills that she handed to Kat.
Kat thought for a second of warning the woman. But she knew she would just sound like some deranged cat woman who had gone off her meds if she began yelling about the impending eruption. So she simply smiled, took the change and the dog cookie and drove as fast as seemed acceptable onto the awaiting ferry. She saw the dockworker slowly lower the red and white arms in her rear-view mirror. Everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion. She wanted to honk the horn and yell, “Hurry the fuck up!” but again, crazy cat lady behavior would not help the situation.
As the boat left the dock Kat sent a text to Charlie.
Made the 2:10. Where u @?
Her phone buzzed seconds later. At first she felt relief he was responding so quickly, but then she read his text.
Lab offering us to shelter in place. I’m on my way to get A. Check the report I emailed you about blst radius and prjcted gas emissions. Check filter status…may need to chnge carbon more frequently than we est.
Kat felt a new kind of dread welling up inside her. Not because the sensors that she and Charlie, (aka Dr. Giddens, her volcanologist graduate school professor) had installed last summer on Mt. Rainier were predicting a catastrophic mass eruption (the eruption of all Cascade volcanoes simultaneously) but because of A.
“A” was Annalise, also known as Dr. A. Giddens, a seismologist, aka Charlie’s wife, who had been diagnosed 3 years ago with early onset dementia at the age of 45. She was the specter hanging over their whole relationship. And he was her primary care-giver. And he had chosen saving her, over being with Kat.
Kat quickly keyed a reply that said more by saying less.
Kat stood at the back of the boat watching the receding downtown Seattle skyline. It filled her with sadness. All those shining, twinkling city lights would be extinguished when the power grid went down. All the people extinguished as well by the gases and ash that would blanket the entire city when the mountains erupted.
The boat chugged across the Sound and Kat watched the city grow smaller. Rounding Alki Point the view suddenly opened up to reveal Mt. Rainier to the south. A full moon illuminated the volcano. Kat thought she could detect a faint orange haze above the mountain. They had installed correlation spectrometers (COSPECS) on Rainier to measure sulfur dioxide–a telltale gas that is released in increasing quantities before an eruption. Were gases already releasing from the swelling magma chamber? Kat asked herself, or could that be a lenticular cloud lit up by the moon? Charlie would know the answers. But he wasn’t here with her.
She felt her phone buzz in her pocket. It was like he knew she had been thinking about him.
USGS going to issue the Emergency notice. Evac to start immediately. Go directly to the shelter.
She returned to the car and pulled the door closed behind her sitting in the silence for a moment before replying.
U and A back at the lab?
His reply said everything in a single letter.
They wouldn’t make it back to the lab once the evacuation alert was sounded. The streets and highways would be jammed with hysterical masses with nowhere to run. She was alone. There was only one option. Survivial.