Tag Archives: Port Angeles

The Disappeared

Tuesday, March 22

Rathskill found his motorcycle where he had left it five days before, parked illegally under a stairway landing behind the college cafeteria. It was an Indian Chief, a massive V-twin flathead assembled from spare parts after the Indian factory went into receivership. The 1955 Chiefs were considered a myth by many motorcycle experts. Rathskill’s myth required two men to set it upright if it fell over.

He turned the ignition key and the Indian roared to life, startling a gull that was scavenging French fries on the sidewalk.

He drove Highway 101 to the narrow Juan de Fuca Highway, over the Elwha River Bridge and through the countryside scattered with homesteads and pastures carved from the forest. Beyond the patches of cultivated land, the mountains rose steeply, a looming presence shadowed by forest.

He turned off Crescent Beach Road onto a dirt track with the unofficial name of Witts End. A dozen mailboxes marked the intersection. The house on Salt Creek was a rough cottage with sprung boards and peeling paint but a magnificent view of Crescent Bay. Salt Creek meandered across a floodplain in front of the cottage, then broadened into an estuary. He had few neighbors and no guests.

Two turkey vultures sat on the telephone pole in front of his house. They watched him with professional disinterest as he parked the Indian. It was early in the year for vultures but a forecast of things to come.

Rathskill had bought the house for its solitude and the landscape, unaware of the annual drama staged in his front yard. Each spring vultures gathered on their migration north across the Strait to Vancouver Island. They roosted on fence posts or shouldered one another for space on split rails, in dead trees, on ruined barns and water towers and bare rock and the roof of his house, waiting for the sun to warm the earth and the earth to warm the air enough to carry them 2,400 feet aloft.

It was simple geometry. The shortest passage across the Strait was 12 miles from Salt Creek to Beachy Head on Vancouver Island, 12 miles of cold water and sinking air. A turkey vulture lost two feet of altitude for every second of glide. They had evolved to soar, to sail on the wind, but their wings were too weak to beat that distance.

They had to start their glide at 2,400 feet. If they fell short of the far shore, they drowned.

Two vultures were harmless enough but soon there would be dozens, then hundreds, then bird watchers with their cameras and telephoto lenses and life lists. They would soon be so thick you could throw a stone blindfolded and hit a buzzard or a birder.

While they waited for the rising thermals the vultures splattered the landscape with wet shit, Rathskill’s house, his second-hand patio furniture, his plastic flamingos and plaster garden gnome. He’d have to cover the Indian with a tarp. Then, with a few days of warm weather, they would all be gone until the fall.

One of the vultures on the telephone pole squirted a stream of feces that covered its legs like a whitewash. The stomach acid of a vulture could peel the chrome off a bumper. They used it like disinfectant to kill bacteria accumulated while walking on rotting corpses. It also provided evaporative cooling, a self-contained swamp cooler. It was an elegant evolutionary solution to multiple problems but smelled like digested death.

“Nice,” Rathskill said to the vulture. “Your mother teach you that?”

Nelson appeared from the brush behind the house. He covered the ground between them with a rolling gait like a sailor on shore leave. He licked Rathskill’s hand.

“Heh, old dog,” Rathskill said. “With all the neurons in your head dedicated to the sense of smell, one stink is still no worse than another, eh? Give me a few minutes to clean up and I’ll have something on the table for both of us.”

Nelson was a mutt that looked mostly like an embattled Australian cattle dog. His right foreleg and left eye were missing. He wasn’t Rathskill’s dog. He wasn’t anyone’s dog. He wasn’t even named Nelson.

They found each other on the beach. Nelson followed him home at a safe distance. Rathskill left a pork chop on the porch. That defined their relationship. Nelson kept him company on long walks and he fed Nelson leftovers. A week after their introduction he named the dog after the victor of the Battle of Trafalgar, another battered hero.

After dinner, they walked on the beach. The sand stretched from the state park at Tongue Point almost to Port Crescent, a ghost town that once had pretensions of becoming a lumber port. The beach was privately owned, a campground at one end and a resort at the other with nothing between but forest pressing against the shore and a thread of white sand so fine it sifted through his fingers like flour. Rathskill had an arrangement with the owner of the campground that allowed him to freely pass the signs warning against trespassing.

A half mile down the utterly empty beach he sat on a berm at the high-water mark with his toes in the sand. The day was clear, the air crisp as a Washington apple. The clouds in the west were ignited by the setting sun. The long twilight of the northern latitudes settled on the Strait. Only the peaks of Vancouver Island still reflected the sun. Nelson busied himself with a dead gull wrapped in bull kelp.

Nelson lifted his head and looked toward the forest, his mouth full of feathers. His ears pricked and pivoted forward.

“What is it?” Rathskill asked and turned. The old man in the cape stood on the far side of the road in the shadow of the forest, the same old man who had mooned him in class.

“So, I’m not the only one who can see him,” Rathskill said, somewhat reassured until he realized he might be hallucinating the dog’s reaction as well. Once you questioned the reality of one perception, he warned himself, there was no bottom to the rabbit hole.

“Time to go,” he told Nelson, “If we want to get back before dark.”

Nelson bounded ahead or lagged, following his nose, but kept a wary eye on the old shaman.

“What’s your point?” Rathskill finally shouted at the shaman, exasperated. “I know you’re just a projection of my unconscious, some unresolved conflict, but what’s the point if you don’t help me resolve it?”

The irony of a conversation shouted with himself occurred to him. The shaman remained mute.

He lowered his voice. “Of course, I might just be batshit crazy, like Vanoy said. How can a crazy man know he’s crazy? Does the act of questioning your sanity prove you’re sane? Or is it just another layer of madness?” The twisted solipsism made his head hurt.

It didn’t really matter whether he was crazy or sane, he thought, whether the world was real or imagined. You followed your own path because there wasn’t any other. It didn’t matter what other people thought if they were all batshit crazy too but hadn’t realized it yet.

At that moment he recognized his decision was made already. He would follow the trail of Tad Marc’s murder wherever it led, whatever Detective Vanoy or Chief Johnson or Dean Haskell said. Something about the boy’s fate compelled him.

He turned to shout at the old shaman but he wasn’t there.

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Nevermore

Sunday-Monday, March 20-21

Sprout left him at the college. Rathskill was too tired to go home. He cleared the books from a space on his office floor large enough to sleep and rested his head on a copy of Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande by E.E. Evans-Pritchard.

In the morning he woke with a crick in his neck and a fading dream of a cypress swamp. The knees of cypress trees rose from the water like claws. Rafts of water lilies and duckweed floated on the surface. Spanish moss draped from tree limbs and hung in the air like mist. He could taste the humidity and the rot. The air clung to his skin like sweat.

He saw an arm rising from the murky water. Slowly, gracefully, it sank beneath the surface. Compelled, Rathskill stepped closer. His feet sunk in the wet muck. Each step made a sucking sound. At the water’s edge he looked down.

There was a boy beneath the surface. His face, framed by water plants, blanched by death, was still flecked with freckles. It was the boy buried above the Sail River. His expression looked restful, as if asleep.Then his eyes opened and Rathskill woke, gasping.

He showered in the school gym and cleaned his clothes best he could but the stains and the stink remained. In his office he sat staring at the computer. Email had accumulated since Thursday. There was an administrative notice that Parking Lot B would be repaved next month, questions from students, a book review requested by a publisher, newsletters from professional organizations, correspondence from colleagues, and six email from Dean Haskell, each more strident than the last.

Rathskill’s office at Peninsula Community College had once been a broom closet. It had been a generous space for a broom closet, less so for an office. Books were piled on the floor. There was only one other chair in the room, one he bought at a flea market and cut one leg shorter than the others. The chair tottered alarmingly. Students attending his office hours didn’t remain long.

The skeleton of a glaucous gull hung from the ceiling. He named it Nevermore. The bones were artfully strung together. It looked like the skeleton was in flight. The bird’s wings spanned the width of the office wall to wall. He claimed it was his memento mori, a reminder of life’s transience, but he secretly enjoyed the fact that Dean Haskell had to stoop when he entered the office. As a result, Dean Haskell rarely entered.

His office door opened without a knock. Dean Haskell entered and smacked his forehead against the gull’s beak. “Doctor Rathskill, I have asked you before to get rid of that dreadful thing. It is a safety hazard. It could put someone’s eye out.”

Dean Haskell was a precise man. He spoke precisely, dressed precisely, and avoided contractions. He expected events to follow a precise Newtonian trajectory—a predictable effect for every cause.

“Of course, Dean.I’ll see to it.” Rathskill had no compunction about lying to authority.

Dean Haskell removed the books and sat in the only other chair beside Rathskill’s. He leaned back. The chair wobbled precipitously. He gripped the arms of the chair with both hands. “And this chair…” he began but left the sentence incomplete.

“I came to talk about your cavalier attitude to your class schedule. We have a responsibility to our students, a sacred responsibility, to provide them with the best education possible. We can hardly educate them if we do not show up for class. Your continued absence…” He paused and wrinkled his nose. “What is that awful smell?”

“That would be me.” Rathskill looked down at his stained pants. “I haven’t been home yet to change.” He didn’t say how long he hadn’t been home.

Dean Haskell removed a pocket handkerchief and held it to his nose. “Yes. I received your voicemail. About the matter of your consult with the police. Your extra-curricular activities cannot interfere with the orderly conduct of your classes. It is intolerable. You are expected to teach class on time and, frankly, not smelling like a vagrant. You are skating on thin ice, Dr. Rathskill. Another such grievous violation of our academic code of conduct and you will be dismissed despite your reputation. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

 It was obvious the Dean didn’t expect an answer. Any answer would only superfluous, an additional irritant. “I get your drift,” Rathskill said.

The Dean stood and edged toward the door, his body stooped to avoid the gull’s beak, his voice muffled by the handkerchief. “One last thing. We have an alumni event in two weeks. Your attendance is mandatory. It is being billed as a hootenanny. Dress appropriately. And Doctor Rathskill, I expect your best behavior.”

He wondered how good his best behavior might be in two weeks.

The meds helped make his behavior more socially acceptable. They also made him less himself. He had stopped taking them sometime earlier. He couldn’t remember when exactly.

Dean Haskell slammed the door behind him. The glaucous gull swayed with the remembrance of flight. Rathskill picked up the phone.

His experience with Blavatsky had been interesting but unhelpful. He still didn’t know what had happened to him those three days. His only other option was as distasteful as card reading. He called the number on Detective Vanoy’s business card.

There was no answer. He was shunted to voicemail. “This is Rathskill. Call me. It’s urgent.”

A few minutes later his phone rang. Vanoy didn’t wait for Rathskill to speak. “What the hell happened to you?” It sounded like he was covering the phone with his hand to avoid being overheard. “I waited for you Friday morning. I even had the owner unlock your room. You were nowhere. Pissed me off. I waited two hours before coming home. If you got lucky with some chick you could’ve let me know. Common courtesy.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Rathskill said. “I don’t really know what it was like. The last thing I remember was laying on the bed still wearing my clothes. The next thing I was wandering down a dirt road on the reservation three days later.”

“You go on a bender, Doc?”

“How is that even possible? Like Chief Johnson said, the reservation is dry.”

“What’s left? A psychotic break?”

Rathskill said nothing. Vanoy couldn’t see him shrug. It had happened before.

 “What do you want me to do about it?” Vanoy said.

“Maybe you could ask a few discreet questions. See if anyoneon the reservation saw me this weekend.”

“And have Chief Johnson learn the expert I recommended is batshit crazy? I don’t think that would improve our credibility, Doc.”

“About Chief Johnson. You really think he’ll investigate the boy’s murder?”

“What are you talking about? Of course he will.”

“And possibly expose the tribe to the charge of necromancy? The press will crucify them. The public won’t forgive them. Maybe only one man’s guilty but the whole tribe will stand accused.”

“I’ve known Chief Johnson for years. He’s a good man. He’ll do what’s right.”

“Right for whom? The boy? The Makah?”

“Let it go, Doc. We’re no longer part of the investigation. It’s out of our hands now.”

“I can’t let it go. I still see that boy’s face when I close my eyes. I dreamed about him. Who was he, Detective? Where did he come from? What was his name?”

“His name was Tad Marc. He was abducted from Forks a week ago. Chief Johnson expects your full report by Wednesday. I suggest you focus on that.”

“Something happened to me on the reservation, Detective, something I can’t remember, but I know it was connected with the boy’s murder.” Rathskill hesitated, for the first time giving a name to the dead boy’s face. “Tad Marc’s murder. I can’t let it go.”

“You need professional help, Doc,” Vanoy said. “Don’t wait until it’s too late.”

It was probably too late already.

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.