Sunday, March 20
He stood in the middle of a dirt road surrounded by magnificent trees. He had no memory of how long he stood there or how he arrived. His clothes felt crusty, his pants stained, and there was mud dried on his shoes.
He was staring at his hands. They seemed like a stranger’s hands, like an old man’s hands. When had he become so wrinkled? His skin looked like parchment from the Qumran Caves.
An old van rounded a bend in the road and skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust and blue smoke. A Dodge Tradesman. The bumper was only a few feet away. He didn’t feel startled. He didn’t feel anything.
The driver leaned across the cab androlled down the passenger window manually. His mustache drooped and his lankhair was tied in a ponytail. He waved the dust away from his face. “Need aride?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Where you going?”
It was like reaching for something familiar—a coffee cup he had casually set aside the moment before—but his hand closed on emptiness. “I’m not sure.”
His memories felt like ghosts fleering at the edge of recognition, fading when he turned to look. It was a vaguely familiar feeling. Where had he come from? How had he gotten there? What had happened to him?
“Man, you seem lost. What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere? Never mind. Get in.” He pushed the passenger door open. Rusted hinges screeched. “I’ll drop you off in town. Name’s Sully, Sully Marlybone.”
He climbed into the passenger seat and pulled the door shut. It sounded like tortured cats. Was that a repressed memory? Had he ever heard cats tortured? Had he ever tortured them himself?
“You look like you’ve been gardening in a business suit,” Sully said.
He looked at his hands, at the dirt under his fingernails. He was wearing a tweed sports coat with elbow patches, gray slacks and dress shoes. He fumbled to attach the seat belt until he realized there was no attachment.
“Been meaning to get that fixed. Keeps slipping my mind. What’s your name?”
It was there, just beyond reach, familiar and well-worn like the handle of an old tool, but he couldn’t lay his hand on it. “I don’t know.”
“Man, that’s messed up. Must have been a righteous drunk. Getting drunk on an Indian reservation requires some talent. You still got your wallet? Maybe some ID?”
He reached into his breast pocket. He read from the Washington state driver’s license. “Simon Rathskill.” Of course. He was Simon Rathskill. How could he be otherwise?
“What’s your address?” Sully said.
Rathskill read from his license. “3129 Crescent Beach Road. It’s near Salt Creek.” It was like an early morning fog dissipating. The landscape of his life was there again, emerging into the light, surrounding him with familiar landmarks.
“I know Salt Creek,” Sully said. “It’s on the way. I’m headed for Port Angeles. I’ll drop you off.”
“I teach at Peninsula College,” Rathskill said proudly as if he’d just found an Indian head nickel on the sidewalk. “I have a doctorate. Several.”
“What’s a college professor from Port Angeles doing on a dirt road in Neah Bay in his work clothes? Same clothes you’ve been wearing for some time by the smell. No insult intended.” Sully rolled down the driver’s window.
“I was consulting for the Makah Tribal Police on an anthropological site.” He paused. “I’m an anthropologist.”
“Do the tribal police normally study anthropology? You’d think they would be more interested in crimes.”
“They dig things up, I guess.”
“What kind of things did they dig up that needed an anthropologist?”
“I’m not at liberty to say. I signed a confidentiality agreement,” Rathskill said.
“A gag order? So, if I understand this, you’re an academic hired by the tribal police to consult on a secret dig who finds himself wandering on a forest road with no idea how he got there or why? That sound right?”
“It sounds accurate but maybe not right,” Rathskill said. He looked out the window at the passing trees. The shadows beneath the trees seemed to race beside the van. “What day is it?”
“The month. What day of the month?”
“Seriously? March 20.”
“I’m missing three days.” The fog had lifted but there was still a hole in his memories, in his life. It was darkness made visible, impenetrable however hard he tried to see into its depth.
“And I thought I was fucked up with visions of a dead kid,” Sully said. “At least I remember what happened to me even if that wily old bastard didn’t tell me what was in his tea.”
“A dead child?”
“I was stoned on ayahuasca. I saw a lot of strange shit—a city of dead angels, a snake canoe, a woman made of shadows…,”
“But the child?”
“Yeah, that was weird. I guess weird is relative. A little boy on a stone alter. I don’t know what he had to do with anything. And he was wearing a Sea Hawks Super Bowl t-shirt.”
“Sea Hawks? You’re sure?”
“There’s not a lot of ambiguity about a Sea Hawks Super Bowl t-shirt. I’m sure. What’s the matter? If you’re going to be sick, stick your head out the window. I don’t want you puking in my van.”
“I’m not sick. Just confused,” Rathskill said.
“You’re preaching to the choir now, brother. Confusion has become my bible, chapter and verse. Has this sort of thing happened to you before?”
“Similar things, not the same. I’ve always known when they were coming. I’ve always remembered afterwards. This was different, like a curtain fall. One moment I was live onstage,” he said, rubbing his eyes, “the next, I wasn’t.”
“You sure you weren’t stoned? Maybe someone slipped it in your tea? You know an old guy named Winsome Clapanhoo?”
“The last thing I remember was going to sleep at the Apocalyto Motel,” Rathskill said. “Then, standing in the road.”
“The Apocalypto Motel? That’s a real place?”
“You think I’m making this up? Google it.”
“Don’t get defensive, dude. I’m not accusing you of anything. Just seems this day couldn’t get any weirder, and then it does. I know someone who might be able to help with your memory. She’s a neighbor. You want me to ask her?”
“Sure. Anything. The next people who want to help are probably going to lock me up for observation.”
“Alright, then. We’re off to see the wizard,” Sully said, wearing a crooked smile.
They drove to Port Angeles and parked near the base of Ediz Hook, near the old Nippon Papermill. As they walked across the foreshore, Rathskill recognized the yellow tape surrounding holes in the ground. “I know this place,” he said. “It’s Tse-whit-zen.”
“You’re not telling me anything new,” Sully said. “That’s were this all started. I’m the night watchman.”
Rathskill almost asked what started but was distracted by a man in a
Sully led him down the gangplank to a side dock that wobbled underfoot. He stopped at a houseboat made largely of glass. A dwarf in a kimono answered the door.
“What are you doing here?” the dwarf said. “I told you, she’s still pissed about the crow.”
“And I told you, I didn’t have anything to do with that,” Sully said.
“And it told you, it doesn’t matter.”
“I come bearing gifts,” Sully said. He stepped aside. “Dr. Simon Rathskill. He’s an anthropologist.”
“I don’t care if he’s the Dali Lama. You’ll catch hell if she finds you on her doorstep.”
“He needs her help, Sprout. I found him wandering in the woods at Cape Flattery. He can’t remember anything since Thursday night.”
Sprout. Rathskill thought it a ridiculous name for a dwarf. Like the Green Giant’s sidekick.
“I’m sorry about your condition, Mr. Rathskill,” Sprout said, “but you need to go before she finds out.”
“Doctor,” Sully said.
“It’s Doctor Rathskill.”
“Are you trying my patience intentionally?”
“Sprout, who’s at the door?” A woman’s voice floated down from the second floor.
“No one. A Kirby salesman,” Sprout said over his shoulder.
Rathskill could hear footsteps on the circular stairway.
“Did someone say Simon Rathskill?”
A woman in a simple shift descended the stairway. Rathskill saw her long legs first and then her stunning face framed by tightly curled hair. She looked like a Pre-Raphaelite painting.
“Doctor Simon Rathskill?” she said.
“Shit,” Sprout said, sotto voce. “Yeah, it’s Sully…and guest.”
She brushed past Sprout and Sully with her hand extended. “Doctor Rathskill. I’m a fan of your work. You look exactly like the photo on your book covers. Forgive me. I’m Henrietta Blavatsky. Everyone calls me HP.”
“HP, he needs your help,” Sully said. “He’s lost three days. Can’t remember a thing.”
She looked at Sully briefly, as if someone had left a paper bag burning on her doorstep. When she spoke, it was to Rathskill. “This happened on the Makah reservation if I heard correctly? Were you doing field work?”
Sully answered. “He was consulting for the tribal police.”
Blavatsky turned to Sully. “Did he lose his voice as well as his memory?”
“I can still speak,” Rathskill said. “I was asked by the tribal police to look at some…artifacts. We spent Thursday night on the reservation. That was the last I remember until Sully found me on the road today. I don’t remember how I got there. I don’t remember anything in between.”
“You said we. Who was with you?” she asked.
“Peter Vanoy. He’s a detective with the Port Angeles Police Department.”
“Have you asked the detective what happened to you?”
“No, not yet. I want to understand why my memories are missing before I approach him.”
She looked at him for a moment silently, speculatively, Rathskill thought. It made him uncomfortable, as if she could see things about himself he couldn’t. That was the point, he reminded himself.
“You want me to remember what you can’t?” she said.
“Yes, I suppose so. Is that possible?”
“Maybe. Please, come inside, Doctor.” She looked back over her shoulder at Sully. “Thank you for bringing him to me.”
Behind him, he heard Sprout say to Sully, “You just played your ‘get out of jail free’ card. Don’t push your luck.”
The door closed.
In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.
@ 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.