Tag Archives: Washington

Saint Peters

They have been collecting the dead here for almost 270 years, before the colonies became a country, before the country was shattered by war. The dead in St. Peter’s graveyard were safeguarded even as civil war raged above them, as artillery riddled houses, cavalry charged through the streets, and the church burned down to the ground to meet them.

St. Peter’s has been holding the dead for a long time. There are three Revolutionary soldiers, 17 Confederate dead, and far too many children.

A lamb decorates a child's headstone, St Peter's graveyard, Washington, NC.
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Massive trees have grown to shadow the graves — magnolia, oak, cypress, dogwood, birch, even a Ginkgo. Palmetto palms surround the graves like bayonets planted in the ground. And sunlight flows like water, ebbing and flooding among the headstones.

In the shadow of a massive magnolia tree lies the grave of Colonel James Bonner. He named the town Washington after his friend and fellow soldier, George Washington. Beneath a cypress tree, Thankful O’Cain and her babies are buried. Nearby the relatives of film director Cecil B. DeMille are encrypted, waiting for the resurrection that was promised.

The grave of Mary Ellison, consort of James Ellison, St Peter's graveyard, Washington, NC.
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In 1890 they stopped burying the dead in St. Peter’s. Townsfolk were concerned the dead would contaminate their well water.

Early morning light, St Peter's graveyard, Washington, NC.
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Fog of Time

Castle Island is only a stone’s throw from the Washington waterfront. It’s a few acres of sand in the middle of the Pamlico River named for the crenelated chimneys of lime kilns that once occupied the island. The chimneys resembled medieval towers. The kilns rendered lime from oyster shells to make cement.

History is piled on Castle Island like oyster shells. There was a shipyard once and a sawmill, Union troops and an artillery battery. Much later there was a whorehouse.

Through the years old boats were left to rot on the shore or burnt to the waterline for their metal fittings. The hulls settled into the mud like time. They piled up like cordwood upstream of the island, a ship’s graveyard. The bones of an oyster shell barge jostled a sharpie schooner, a motorized fishing boat from the early 20th Century, a bugeye schooner, and a barge or ferry boat. In all, 11 vessels were researched by the Eastern Carolina University’s Maritime Studies staff in 1998 and 1999.

Castle Island, Pamlico River in the fog. Boats moored up-current are near the location of the ship's graveyard.
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Castle Island, Pamlico River in the fog. Boats moored up-current are near the location of the ship’s graveyard.

Then Hurricane Floyd struck in 2000. The Pamlico River rose 24-feet above flood stage. Houses, buildings, farms, even small towns were swept away. The river spilled onto the 500-year floodplain. And the current scoured the ship’s graveyard.

The remnants of vessels up current of the island are gone now. They may have been carried downstream or broken up and shot downriver by the force of the flood. Whatever more we may have learned from them is lost.

Sloop Rebecca aground on the banks of the Pamlico River opposite Washington, NC after Hurricane Dorian.
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Boats are still being lost to hurricanes. The sloop Rebecca aground after Hurricane Dorian.

Vanishing

The Norfolk-Southern Railroad bridge spans the Pamlico River at Washington, NC. One end vanishes in the fog, the other ends abruptly at the draw span.

The fog has leeched the color from the photo except for the red light of a single channel marker.

As an old man Bill Seller remembered when he was young, staying at his grandparent’s house in Washington beside the Pamlico River, windows open in the sultry heat, listening to the freight trains slowly cross the bridge in the middle of the night, restricted to 10 miles per hour over the wooden trestles, counting the cars as their wheels clattered across the open joint at the end of the draw span.

The bridge remains; the memories are fading.

Norfolk-Southern Railroad bridge, Pamlico River, Washington, NC
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After The Storm

After Hurricane Dorian, boats were sunk or cast on beaches across Pamlico Sound. The sloop Rebecca came ashore on the Pamlico River opposite Washington, North Carolina.

In the early morning fog, the boat lays abandoned, isolated from the world. I imagine the dreams of distance that came to rest so far from the sea.

After the storm
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Grandpap Island

Grandpap is an island sunk in the Pamlico River downstream of Washington, NC. The island has been eroded by storms. It’s only a name on the charts now, a shoal patch, and the bones of some cypress trees rooted in the water.

The trees stand isolated in the fog. A few sodden cormorants dry themselves on leafless limbs. The river flows past sluggishly on its way to the Pamlico Sound.

Dead trees are the island’s headstones.

Cormorants and sunken island
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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.