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.
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.