Tag Archives: Whistlepig

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.

Lili Marlene

Sunday,March 20

Dietrich Hoffer was a thin man wearing antique Pince-nez glasses, precisely trimmed Van Dyke, and hand tailored gloves. He looked like an aristocrat from fin-de-siècle Vienna. He was reading documents in a leather-bound binder which he closed with a precise and measured movement when Harry sat down.

“Harry Wry.”

Hoffer declined the offered hand. “You’ll excuse me. A debilitating nerve condition.”

“I’m told you’re in the import business and you’re looking for someone to haul cargo,” Harry said.

“Who told you that, Mr. Wry?” Hoffer removed his glasses and cleaned them meticulously with a linen handkerchief. It was a surprisingly intimidating gesture.

“I’m not sure, exactly. I was drinking. Your number appeared in my notebook.” He passed his notebook to Hoffer. “That is your number, isn’t it?”

Hoffer replaced his glasses before accepting the notebook from Harry. “It was my number. It’s no longer in service.”

“Yeah, I know. So, you hiring?”

“One moment, Mr. Wry.” Hoffer stood, brushed the wrinkles from of his pressed pants, walked to the old Wurlitzer in the corner of the bar and made a selection. By the time he returned to the booth Marlene Dietrich was singing the German lyrics to “Lili Marlene” in a throaty voice.

“What have you to offer, Mr. Wry?”

“I’ve got a schooner at anchor in the bay with a hold big enough to carry a substantial cargo and I’m desperate enough to carry it no questions asked. Almost no questions.”

“What questions do you have, Mr. Wry?”

“What, when, and how much.”

“And why should I do business with you, Mr. Wry? I know nothing about you.”

“You can ask Lidmann. He knows everything about me you need to know.”

“I will make inquiries, Mr. Wry. Do you have a phone number?”

“No. I live onboard.”

“You don’t have a cell phone?”

“No. Electricity is scarce,” Harry said.

Hoffer looked at him sharply.

“And they’re too easy to tap,” Harry added.

“A wise precaution, Mr. Wry. Very well. Return this evening. I’ll inform Lidmann if I’m interested further.” Hoffer opened his leather binder and waited for Harry to remove himself.

“Pleasure talking to you,” Harry said. It wasn’t.

Afterward, Harry couldn’t remember exactly what Dietrich Hoffer looked like besides the black leather gloves and the antique glasses. Almost immediately the man seemed to fade in his memory like an old photo.

He waved to Lidmann on his way out the door, blinked in the bright sunlight, and abruptly ran into a Stetson hat. Beneath the Stetson was a denim shirt, Levi’s and cowboy boots that might have been alligator hide. “Harry Wry?”

Harry lied reflexively. “Name’s Rehnquist, William Rehnquist.”

The man snorted. “A dead Supreme Court judge? Nice touch. Harry Wry, you’ve been served.”

The cowboy hat tucked a folded sheet of paper in Harry’s shirt pocket and pivoted on his cowboy heels.

Gray Marine Engine Works had filed suit for lack of payment. Harry had 30 days to pay the bill or surrender Spike Africa for impoundment.

Before returning to the schooner, Harry made a call from another pay phone in front of the Asian Soho Bistro. Bulldog Purvis answered. Bulldog had crewed for Harry carrying tourists on day trips from different ports around the Salish Sea.

“I may have some work for you if you’re not squeamish,” Harry said.

“It can’t be worse than pumping septic tanks,” Bulldog said.

“That’s what you’ve been doing?”

“It pays the bills. Most months. Like they say, it might be shit to you but it’s my bread and butter.”

“They don’t say that,” Harry said. “If it happens, it will mostly be night work but it pays better than pumping septic tanks. We’ll need a deckhand as well.”

“I’ve got a friend. He knows bow from stern and I trust him.”

“I’ll call you when I know more. There may not be much notice. And Bulldog, don’t tell anyone else about this. Not even your mother or you might not have to worry about where your next meal is coming from. The state will provide it.”

When Harry returned to the Spike Africa, he deliberately rowed around her. She had a year’s worth of marine growth on her bottom. It would take a knot off her best speed but there wasn’t time or money to haul and scrape her. The old girl’s fate wouldn’t depend upon speed, anyway. On a beam reach with a stiff breeze she might make eight, maybe nine knots, not enough to outrun anything chasing her. Her only hope was slipping between ports unnoticed.

On deck, she looked like a horse that had been ridden hard and put away wet. The white paint on her deckhouse was peeling, her teak decks were grey with dirt, and the brass ventilator cowls that passed fresh air below were green with verdigris. The varnish on her spars had bubbled and flaked, exposing bare wood to the weather. The wheel was unmounted from the steering gear and leaned against the deckhouse. Her running rigging was spliced a dozen times over but it would do. It would have to.

Harry sat in the cockpit and admired the graceful sheer of the schooner’s deck. He stroked the teak cockpit coaming. “I don’t see any other way out of this,” he said to the schooner. “We’ve got our backs against the wall and they’re loading the guns.”

That evening he returned to Fiddler’s Green. Lidmann was polishing a pickle jar full of cloudy liquid. He claimed it was the same pickle jar that Gallus Meg once kept the ears she bit off boisterous sailors in her bar on the New York waterfront during the boisterous Age of Sail.

“Lidmann.”

“Harry.”

“Any word from our mutual friend?” Harry jerked his thumb in the direction of Dietrich Hoffer’s booth.

Lidmann sat the pickle jar on the bar. “It’s a dangerous game, Harry. Think twice about making deals with the devil.”

“I don’t have much choice. I got served with papers. The old girls will be arrested if I don’t pay. Once the marshals have her, I’ll never get her back.”

“He wants to talk to you,” Lidmann said. “But Harry, watch your back. The man is a pit viper.”

“Even vipers predictably serve their own interests,” Harry said and hoped it was true.

Harry stood beside Hoffer’s booth waiting for the man to look up from his journal.

“Mr. Wry.” Hoffer was still wearing the black gloves. They looked supple enough to have been made from the skin of young goats—kid gloves. He gestured for Harry to sit.

“Do we have business to conduct?” Harry asked.

“One moment.” Hoffer walked to the Wurlitzer, selected “Lili Marlene,” and returned to the table. “Indeed, we do.”

“My references were acceptable?”

“You qualify as a desperate man, Mr. Wry. When can you sail?”

“The sooner the better. Tonight, if need be.”

“I will let you know in a few days. I’ll leave word with Lidmann. You know Whiffin Spit on Sooke Inlet?” Harry nodded. Sooke Inlet was on Vancouver Island, almost directly across the Strait from Port Angeles. “How long will it take you to cross the Strait?”

“Four, five hours, depending on the breeze and the current.”

“I’ll make the arrangements. I’ll require you to load and depart the same night. Return by a more circuitous route and unload the next night.”

“Where do we offload?” Harry asked.

“Freshwater Bay, near Observatory Point.”

Harry bit his lip.

“Is that a problem, Mr. Wry?”

“Freshwater Bay is an open roadstead. If there’s any sea running it will be difficult to land a loaded boat. It’s also an old log dump. There are a lot of snags close inshore.”

“Do you have an alternative?”

“I do. We could land on the beach at Tse-whit-zen.”

“The site of the graving dock?”

Harry thought Hoffer coughed. Later he recognized it was Hoffer’s dry, humorless laughter.

“Why not? It’s not visible from the street. No one goes there after dark. I know the night watchman. We could land your cargo safely and unobserved.”

“Amusing,” Hoffer said. He removed his Pince-nez glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. ”At the doorstep of the U.S. Coast Guard. Agreed then. I’ll accept delivery at Tse-whit-zen.”

“How much does the job pay? I have my crew to consider, and whatever Sully needs to look the other way, and…”

Hoffer wrote a figure on a napkin and slid it across the table. Harry turned it over. “Damn. Who knew smuggling was so profitable? I guess everybody but me. What is it we’re carrying?”

“I pay you not to ask questions, Mr. Wry. You will deliver my cargo without looking in the crates. If you accept my money, you accept my terms. The consequences for violating those terms are, shall we say, prohibitive. You’ll receive one third now and the balance on delivery. Are we agreed?”

“Agreed.” Harry didn’t hesitate. Later, he wondered why he hadn’t.

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.

Fiddler’s Green

Saturday, March 19

Two days before he met Sully Marlybone at the Eagle Café, Harry Wry was startled by the sound of a gunshot. He sat upright like a released spring, struck his head on the bunk above and pitched onto the deck, stunned. He remained on hands and knees as the drunken stupor cleared from his brain and the pain flooded his head like a spring tide.

Pistol shrimp. Damned pistol shrimp. Little shrimp with a cartoon claw. They banged their over-sized claw closed so hard it created a jet of water traveling 100 kilometers per hour. Little water cannons that stunned or killed their prey. A low-pressure bubble formed in the wake of the jet. The bubble collapsed with a sound like a pistol shot. The sound passed effortlessly through water and the wooden hull beside Harry’s bunk.

His detailed knowledge of the natural history of pistol shrimp was one of the benefits of a degree in marine biology. That and three bucks could buy him an espresso.

Harry was kneeling in an inch of standing water. Saltwater. The seams of the wooden schooner wept like an old lady. There was no money to haul the boat and caulk her. Until there was he simply pumped the bilge more often. Except when he was hungover and forgot.

The pistol shrimp were banging away in the shallow water of Slee’s Bay. It sounded like a pitched battle. “Dear God, make it stop,” he whispered. It was a rhetorical prayer. Harry didn’t believe in a God who intervened with pistol shrimp but wasn’t above pleading with a fictional deity when he hurt this bad.

He was as unsteady on his feet as if the old schooner was pitching in a seaway but found his way on deck, moving one handhold to the next, and fitted the long handle to the manual bilge pump. Each stroke was like a blow to his head. He grit his teeth and kept pumping until the bilge was dry and an oily sheen surrounded the boat. He kept a bottle of dishwashing liquid beside the pump. With a backhand gesture, he broadcast drops of soap across the water. Each drop devoured the oil in an expanding circle like a petroleum-eating Pacman. It wasn’t ethical, it wasn’t even legal, but avoided a fine Harry couldn’t afford to pay.

It wasn’t the only thing he couldn’t afford. Spike Africa’s sails were so often patched they looked like quilts from the Women’s Missionary Society. She needed new standing rigging and her engine was hardly better than ballast. Everything he had was sunk into the old schooner and she was about to sink beneath him.

In the galley, he pumped pressure into the kerosene stove and boiled water for coffee. He washed down a handful of aspirin with water that smelled of rotting eggs. He pulled a notepad from his pocket and made a note to add more bleach to the water tank. The previous note was a phone number Lidmann gave him the night before. Some guy interested in importing from Canada without the hassle of customs. Lidmann didn’t say what he wanted imported.

He drank his coffee in the cockpit. The breeze had already risen on the Strait. Whitecaps were forming where the ebb ran strongly against the prevailing westerly. He heard the surf beating against the outside of Ediz Hook. Clouds of gulls followed a fishing boat returning to harbor. The gulls were squabbling over the bycatch the fishermen threw overboard.

Despite his abject poverty and punishing headache, he couldn’t imagine a better way to live. He didn’t want it to end.

Lidmann had mentioned the importer after Harry’s fourth or fifth glass of rum. He was drinking the cheaper stuff that tasted like molasses and wood alcohol.

“If I don’t find some way to make money,” Harry complained to Lidmann, “the old girl is going to sink or be arrested by Federal marshals.”

“How much do you owe?” Lidmann asked.

“More than I can pay.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Ten thousand to Haven Boatworks. And another five to Hasse’s sail loft. I can’t see a way out. Hauling tourists was a bust. It cost more money than I earned.”

“Do you have qualms about how you make your money?”

“Qualms?”

Lidmann had a subtle accent. The accent sounded vaguely European; no one could place it. He was a man of indeterminate age and indefinite history. He owned Fiddler’s Green, a waterfront bar on the wharf near Slee’s Bay. The bar was favored by locals. The few tourists who strayed far enough from safety and basic hygiene to reach the front door were dissuaded by the smell of stale beer and despair. Despite the regular customers, there was no sense of community. Men drank alone in dark corners and shaded booths, solitary men silently staring into their whiskey and beer or arguing violently with their memories. It was Harry’s kind of bar.

“It’s a perfectly good word,” Lidmann said. “And the question remains.”

“No, I can’t afford any qualms. Or reservations or inhibitions or morals. If they take my boat I’ll end up serving burgers at McDonald’s.” He rubbed the gray stubble on his head with his knuckles. It was the same gray stubble on his chin. “Can you imagine me wearing a hair net?”

Lidmann gave him the number. “Write it down. You’ll forget your mother’s name in the morning.”

It was true. In the morning he couldn’t remember if he ever had a mother. He finished his coffee and added the cup to the sink of dirty dishes. He decided to call Lidmann’s contact but needed a phone. In a cellular age, pay phones were rare. The nearest one was at the Eagle Café.

Harry hauled the long boat alongside and managed to get in without falling overboard. Coordinating two oars was difficult when he thought about it so he didn’t think. His body remembered the rhythm of the oars—stroke, feather, and return. He tied up to a float attached to the wharf and climbed the ladder. It was low tide and a long climb. The lower rungs were slick with marine growth. He missed his footing and almost fell, hanging from the ladder by one hand like a baboon, cursing.

The Eagle Café served a big breakfast for a reasonable price. The booths were crowded with men with scarred hands and women whose voices were rough from cigarettes. Hattie Malept served him a cup of black coffee.

Harry left his coffee on the counter and called the number Lidmann had given him. The phone rang twice before a woman’s recorded voice said, “The number you dialed has been disconnected. There is no new number.” His quarter fell into the change return slot. He tried again with the same result.

He waited until the afternoon to revisit Fiddler’s Green. The bar seemed always open but he needed time to recover from the partial blindness that struck him leaving the Eagle. He spent 30 minutes rowing around the anchorage looking for the Spike Africa. It was embarrassing to misplace a 70-foot schooner in an anchorage as small as Slee’s Bay. “I’m getting too old for this kind of shit,” he said when he finally found her.

“You look like a dog’s breakfast,” Lidmann said when Harry settled onto the bar stool.

Lidmann made Harry his hangover cure, raw egg in tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt, black pepper, and Tabasco.

“I called the number you gave me last night. It was disconnected.”

“What number?”

“For the importer.”

“I didn’t give you any number, Harry.”

“Hoffer, Dietrich Hoffer. You said he was looking for someone to haul cargo from Canada, no questions asked.”

“Harry, I never talked to you about Dietrich Hoffer, last night or any night.”

“You didn’t give me this number?” Harry showed him the entry in this notebook. Lidmann shook his head. “Damn. That was my last wild-ass hope.”

“He’s here if you want to talk to him.”

“Who?”

“Dietrich Hoffer.”

“Here? Now? I thought you said you didn’t know him.”

“I said I didn’t give you his number. He uses this place like his office,” Lidmann tipped his head toward the booth in the most remote corner of the bar, “but he pays his tab on time.”

“So, you don’t know anything about his business?”

“I know more than I should about his business. I just didn’t discuss it with you.”

“Is he a smuggler?”

Lidmann shrugged. “Ask him yourself but be careful. He’s a dangerous man.”


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.

Scout’s Honor

Monday, March 21

Monday morning Sully woke with a migraine. His mouth tasted like bilge water. His sight was clouded by blood in his eyes. He made a note to avoid returning to the Strict Particular Baptist Church of Elwha, then forgot where he put the note.

He walked to the pay phone at the Eagle Café to call his boss at Port Angeles Parks and Recreation. He felt like a Sherpa humping a pack up the Himalayas, gasping for air. He listened to a five-minute lecture before learning he still had a job. Apparently, guarding a centuries-old graveyard where the dead were piled like cordwood didn’t appeal to many people even in the depressed economy of Port Angeles.

Hattie Malept served him his usual breakfast of poached eggs and dry toast.

“You look rough today,” she said.

“I feel like roadkill.”

“Too much fun on the weekend?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t describe it as fun,” Sully said. “More like perdition.” He opened the newspaper he had bought from the vending machine on the wharf.

Harry Wry sat down opposite Sully.

“Coffee?” Hattie asked.

Harry nodded and rubbed the gray stubble on his chin with his knuckles. “Looking for a job?” he asked Sully.

Sully nodded, swallowing.

“Don’t,” Harry said. He waited until Hattie was beyond earshot. “I got a job hauling cargo from Canada, no customs and no questions asked. I need a place to land it. Someplace quiet with no one looking late at night. Someplace like Tse-whit-zen,” he said, pronouncing each syllable like a separate word, drumming the Formica tabletop with a scarred forefinger. Tse. Whit. Zen.

Harry owned an aging schooner at anchor in the bay. He spent most of his time trying to keep her afloat. He was also Sully’s only friend.

Harry stole a piece of toast from Sully’s plate, took a bite, grimaced, and returned it to the plate. “I don’t know how you can eat burnt bread without butter. Tastes like a roof shingle.”

Sully took his fork and pushed the piece of toast off his plate and onto the table. He leaned forward and spoke in a hushed voice. “I’ve seen things. Things that couldn’t possibly be. At Tse-whit-zen. And something like a black hole. It knew my name, Harry.” He shook his head. “I’ve got to find another gig.”

He didn’t mention his ayahuasca vision. It would only mislead Harry into suspecting his experience at Tse-whit-zen was drug induced. Harry went there anyway.

“I’ve seen plenty of things like that, kid,” Harry said. “You just need to dry out for a while.”

“I wasn’t drinking. Not until after I saw it. I don’t think I can keep working there. Damn place is haunted.”

“Well, yeah, it’s a graveyard,” Harry said. “Every graveyard is haunted. Comes with the territory. Makes no difference. Ghosts can’t hurt you. Rattle a few chains, moan in the night. Child’s play.”

Harry had no appreciation for the more arcane aspects of existence.

“I didn’t think your boat would float, much less haul cargo,” Sully said. “What kind of cargo needs to be landed in the middle of the night?”

“The kind that pays well with no questions asked,” Harry said.

“How well?”

Harry wrote something on a paper napkin, turned it over, and slid it across the table to Sully.

“A bit dramatic,” Sully said before he read the napkin. “Holy shit!”

“Keep your voice down. We don’t want to draw attention.”

They had already drawn Hattie’s attention. She came with a coffee pot. “You sound excited,” she said to Sully. “Find a job?”

“What do I have to do?” Sully asked Harry when Hattie returned to her other customers.

“Something you’re very good at,” Harry said. “Nothing. Just look the other way. You can do it in your sleep. Mostly what you do anyway.”

Sully looked again at the underside of the napkin. “If you’re paying this much, it can’t be legal. What happens if we get caught?”

“What do you think? We go to jail. Look, we make a few runs, make a boatload of money, then sail away before anyone’s the wiser. We refit the old girl and sail someplace where we can live like kings the rest of our lives. I know places that aren’t even on the charts.”

“Hard time,” Sully said, frowning. “The big house. Plastic sporks. Institutional rape. It’s a big risk.”

“What do you have to lose?” Harry said, eyeing Sully’s eggs. “You live in a chicken coop floating in a cesspool. You spend your nights guarding a bunch of bones. And you’ve got the social life of a leper.”

“My freedom?” Sully said.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

“Don’t you dare break into song,” Sully threatened the back of Harry’s hand with his fork. “I swear, I’ll gig you like a toad.”

“Take a breath, man. Like I said, we do a few jobs, then get out. What could go wrong?”

“This is the part in cheap horror movies where the ditzy blond opens the door to the basement and the soundtrack turns ominous and everyone in the audience thinks ‘Don’t do it,’” Sully said.

“The blond always goes into the basement,” Harry said.

“Yeah. It’s in the script.”

“So you’re in?” Harry said.

“Sure,” Sully said.

“A few jobs and we’re gone,” Harry said. “Scout’s honor.”

Sully doubted Harry Wry was ever a Boy Scout.

On the way home, Sully saw Sprout ushering people into Riddlepit. It seemed an unlikely amount of activity for Shantytown before noon. He investigated.

“You having a wake?” he asked Sprout.

“A war council,” Sprout said. “The city council is making a move.”

“They’ve made moves before and nothing ever comes of it,” Sully said.

“It’s different this time,” Sprout said.

“Different? How?” Sully said.

“Rezoning,” Sprout said.

“Rezoning? What the hell does that have to do with anything? I thought we were outside the city’s jurisdiction. Harbor of refuge and all that.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Sprout said. “Something to do with our connection to the shore. From what I’ve heard, they claim anything that floats but can’t move on its own power is landfill, and landfill is under the city council’s jurisdiction.”

“Floating landfill?” Sully said. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

“They don’t elect city council members for their language skills,” Sprout said. “Or their reasoning.”

Sully changed the subject. “What happened with Dr. Rathskill?”

Sprout shook his head. “The usual. HP read his cards, then rolled her eyes. I didn’t understand a word of it. I drove him home and a bunch of dead birds fell on my car.”

“Birds?”

“Purple Martins. That’s what Rathskill said. I don’t know birds from tree toads.”

“They just fell out of the sky? Dead?”

“Dead as doornails,” Sprout said. “Bounced when they hit the ground. And they crunched when I drove over them.”

There was a rumbling sound in the distance. The sound registered subconsciously on Sully. He cocked his head without knowing he was trying to triangulate a sound he wasn’t even aware of. The sound grew in volume as the distance diminished. It rose above his horizon of consciousness.

A truck. It sounded like a truck. It took several more microseconds to recognize the incongruity of a truck in Shantytown.

Qwackers rumbled into view, a boatload of tourists with duck bodies. Sandy Crab was broadcasting on the PA system. “…a lumbermill.” His voice drifted away and returned. “…lucky you came in time…all be gone soon. Oh, look. It’s the dwarf I told you about.”

Sprout raised a single finger salute.

“Randy little bugger,” Sandy broadcast.

“I’ll show you randy,” Sprout muttered. He turned his back on the tourists, dropped his trousers, and bent over.

There were several audible gasps from the tourists and a few expletives. Sully saw one mother cover the eyes of her child.

Sandy Crab’s voice boomed across the water. “Howdy Doody, folks. You don’t see that every day.”

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.

Table of Contents

In mythology, the hero descends into the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends?

Whistlepig, a serialized fiction.

Preface
Blood dappling the dust, old bones dancing in the dark.

Chapter 1: Whakapohne
A hallucination audits an introductory class in Cultural Anthropology.

Chapter 2: The Skeleton Forest
Necromancy in the forest of the Makah.

Chapter 3: Schrödinger’s Rat
Quantum rat hunting is inherently paradoxical. 

Chapter 4: Darkness Rising
Shamans don’t advertise in the Peninsula Daily News.

Chapter 5: The Vine of Souls
Ayahuasca is also called the vine of the dead but that sounds unnecessarily ominous.

Chapter 6: Resurrection
A door answered by a dwarf in a kimono.

Chapter 7: The Hanged Man
Purple Martins rain from the sky.

Chapter 8: Nevermore
Rathskill had no compunction about lying to authority.

Chapter 9: Signs and Portents
Behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is

Chapter 10: Scout’s Honor
The blond always goes into the basement. It’s in the script.

Chapter 11: Fiddler’s Green
Pistol shrimp with a cartoon claw.

Chapter 12: Lili Marlene
A sufficiently desperate man.

Chapter 13: The Disappeared
Does the act of questioning your sanity prove you’re sane?

Chapter 14: Hallelujah Bill
Those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives…

Chapter 15: The Green Man
Sometimes myths becomes real.

Chapter 16: Weebles Wobble
The mountain speaks but what does it say?

Chapter 17: Smuggler’s Blues
You don’t mess with the dead without consequences.

Chapter 18: RAT
Kill them all. Let God sort them out.

Chapter 19: Street Fighting Man
You must be the dangerous dwarf.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

Chapter 20: Sturm und Drang
Photos—$5, autographs—$3, punch your lights out—free with release form.

Signs & Portents

Sunday, March 20

Sully returned home, stinging from Blavatsky’s cavalier dismissal. “Dr. Rathskill, I’m such a fan,” he mimicked. Sent packing like he was some delivery boy. Who was she, queen of Shantytown? It wasn’t his fault someone stuck a crow on her roof. Heknew exactly where he’d like to stick that crow.

He pulled a cracked coffee cup from the dirty dishes in the sink and filled it with cheap rum. He wasn’t a happy drunk. With each cupful, he dove deeper into resentment until there was no more rum and nothing left todo but go to church.

Sully had a complicated relationship with religion. He was fluid in his faith. His belief was genuine while it lasted but it didn’t last very long. He had attended services at almost every church in Port Angeles and devoutly believed in each congregation’s cockamamie theology for the length of the service, then gutted their beliefs on the church steps.

Sully’s father had been pastor at the Church of God with Signs Following, Tellico Plains, Tennessee. He died when a big timber rattler bit his hand during Sunday service. His older brother, Jerimiah, followed their father into the snake-handling ministry. Like their father, he was bitten several times before a copperhead killed him. Like their father, he refused medical treatment. Both believed the proof of their salvation was their ability to handle poisonous snakes without harm.

Sully never had the opportunity to ask his father whether death proved his lack of faith. His brother explained their father wasn’t fully possessed by the spirit when he picked up his last snake. It wasn’t the fault of his salvation, just his timing. Presumably, the same sort of circuitous logic applied to Jeremiah’s death. Their reasoning was as twisted as a snake devouring its own tail.

Attending church made him feel less lonely, less alone, at least for the length of the service, but he had to be careful which service he attended. He was banned from several Pentecostal churches. They had pinned photocopied pictures of him on bulletin boards for quick identification.

He settled on the strict Particular Baptist Church of Elwha. It was on Highway 101, far enough out of town he probably hadn’t been there before. Since he usually attended church drunk, he couldn’t be sure.

The Strict Particular Baptist Church of Elwha was an austere, whitewashed building as angular as a pitchfork. A few dozen rusted pickups and aging sedans were parked in the dirt lot beside the church. Sully parked facing the highway for a quick exit if needed. 

The service had already begun. Sully slipped unobtrusively into a back pew beside a dour woman with a young boy whose face was still flush from scrubbing.

“Brothers and sisters,” the preacher intoned from behind the pulpit, “we live in periloustimes, ungodly times. Mark my words, there is evil afoot.”

The preacher was a small, round man. He was sweating heavily as if he felt the fires of hell already near.

“We are the chosen of God, his elect, and the last. Make no mistake, brothers and sisters, the end times are upon us.” There was a rumbling assent among the 30 congregants. 

He read from an open Bible carried in one hand. “The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”

He looked accusingly at the congregation over the top of his reading glasses. “Names written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. You can’t earn your salvation with good works. You can’t beg for forgiveness. You can’t cajole a righteous God. Weeping and gnashing of teeth won’t avail you. From the beginning of the world, your salvation or damnation was already determined. Nothing you can do about it.”

There were scattered amen and a hallelujah. The members of the Strict Particular Baptist Church of Elwha were pretty sure their names were written in the book.

“We chosen few, we band of brothers, stand at the end of the world and face the rising beast,” the preacher said.

Sully was pretty sure the quotation was wrong.

“Make no mistake,” the preacher’s voice was rising, “we stand alone. And the darkness is coming.”

“Yes, Lord,” the woman beside him sang, her arms raised. “Sweet Jesus,” someone else cried.

Sully felt himself caught up in the rising emotion of the crowd. He felt himself swaying, his arms wrapped around himself like an autistic child. His head was spinning from the rum. He didn’t dare close his eyes.

“Signs and portents,” the preacher thundered. “Signs and portents. You’ve seen them, each of you. Things in the forest. Things that shouldn’t be there. Impossiblethings. Devilish things.”

The believers muttered assent and nodded their heads.

 “You,” the preacher pointed toward the other side of the church, “Jake Spinner. Tell us what you saw.”

Jake Spinner was thin and rough as a split-rail fence. “I don’t know,” he hesitated. “I’m not sure.”

“Tell us, Jake,” the preacher demanded.

“Go on, Jake. Tell us,” the congregation encouraged.

“I thought it was a man. Then I got a closer look and thought it was a horse. I saw it and then I didn’t. It was there and then it wasn’t. And then it was. Just like the bible verse.”

“The beast that was, and is not, and yet is,” the preacher confirmed. “Mary Ellen, tell us what you saw in your corn crib.”

Mary Ellen was less hesitant than Jake Spinner. She stood defiantly, arms akimbo. “One of my chickens laid an egg in the crib. It was all misshapen and piebald. I figured it was dead and was going to throw it out but when I went to pick it up, it started shaking and shivering. And then it cracked. And this thing crawled out. It looked like a snake but it had a face, like an old man’s face or a newborn,all wrinkled. It looked at me.”

The crowd gasped.

“I swear on the good book,” Mary Ellen continued, “it was…”

“Signs and portents,” the preacher thundered, wrenching back the congregation’s attention.“Mary Thatcher, tell us about your sister.”

The woman sitting beside Sully stood up tentatively. “She was a good woman but misled,” Mary began. People turned in their pews to look. “She died in Colorado.” She seemed to gain confidence and speed. “Her boyfriend drove her body halfway across the country in a cardboard box in the bed of a pickup truck. We buried her in the family plot by the south pasture. That was three years ago. I saw her yesterday dancing in the pasture, naked as the day she was born.”

There was a sharp breath drawn by the congregation. One old lady crossed herself, apparently confused.

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,” the preacher said, quoting from memory, “some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” He held his bible over his heart like a shield. “There are devils dancing in our fields,” he thundered.

The congregation responded on cue, swaying on their feet, arms raised. “Jesus, protect us. Come to us, Lord. Hallelujah!”

“My sister wasn’t a devil,” Mary Thatcher said but only Sully and her child could hear her.

The preacher was now dancing across the stage, carrying his Bible aloft, lifting his knees high, sweating like a stoker. “Brothers and sisters, the day of judgement is upon us, the day of everlasting life or everlasting contempt, the day that was written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. The horsemen are loosed,” he shouted.

The crowd looked to Sully like a meadow of swaying salt grass. It was hard to focus. He found himself on his feet, hands aloft.

“Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears,” the preacher harangued. “The day of the Lord is at hand.”

“Sweet Fucking Jesus,” Sully shouted, gagged, then projectile vomited on the three rows in front of him.

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.