Copyright © 2017 by Joshua Brann Thornbrugh all rights reserved.
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Sometimes you have to find yourself before you can find anyone else. Yeah, it sounded like bullshit to me too before I met Coyote, but before I tell you about that crazy old bastard I probably ought to give you some details, Emily, in case you come across these tapes before I find you.
I'm sitting here in a travel trailer looking up at the bluff that Raven's Ridge Lodge is perched on here in Trapper's Glen, Oregon. It's not the sort of place that makes it on a map, but most people around these parts know the right road to take. It's Saturday, the 29th of August, 1981. There's a full moon tonight. I've been here for a little over a week, at least I think so. Time is a funny thing here. One day goes by in the blink of an eye while the next drags on for ages.
I'm probably not making much sense, that's why I decided to buy this cassette recorder down at Handy's today and start recording my thoughts. If I play them back to myself, perhaps I can pick up something from my subconscious, a bit of the tale I'd missed in the telling.
I've looked for you for so long now Emily that I wonder if I'll ever find you, but for some reason the winds blew me here to Trapper's Glen. So before I get lost in melancholy and despair, let me go back to how I arrived here. It seemed accidental at first, but now I'm not so sure, just a feeling.
Anyway, I was heading west on two-forty-two out of Sisters when the needle on the Duster's temperature gauge started drifting toward the red. According to my road map, there wasn't a place to stop until McKenzie, and that was at least thirty miles away. I slowed down to about thirty-five hoping to cool her down a bit and lumber along until I could find a gas station, but just as soon as I did she started knocking and sputtering. I made it another quarter of a mile before she died. I coasted down a small hill and pulled her onto the shoulder. I'd been hoping to make it to Eugene, or at least McKenzie before stopping for the night. You know how much I hate to drive after dark, and it was already edging toward dusk. Not to mention that two-forty-two is flanked on both sides by the Willamette forest. There's only a narrow patch of sky visible on the roadway, what with all the yellow pines.
So I'm sitting there thinking I'll just let her rest a while, or maybe I'll piss in the radiator or something like you always hear about people doing, when out of nowhere this guy knocks on my window. Just about scares the living daylights outta me, but I crack the window and ask him what he wants.
”You passed me back there when your engine cut out. I saw you coast down the hill here and thought you could use some help.”
He seemed like a friendly enough kind of guy, looked like one of those back packers, the sort you normally see back up north. Come to think of it, his accent even sounded like he was from the north. Boston perhaps. Who knows, anyway, I tell him yeah, I think she over heated. I ask him if he knows of a gas station nearby.
”The nearest one that's open's in McKenzie. 'Bout thirty miles west of here. It'll be dark soon, you'd be wise to take Elks road up to Trapper's Glen and grab a room for the night at the lodge.”
”Trapper's Glen? That's not on my map.”
He laughed a little too loud. "Yeah, it's not on most people's maps, but it's about as far as this car's likely to make it tonight.”
I patted the dashboard and sighed. "I'm not sure she's going to make it anywhere if I've lost all my coolant.”
He tapped the door. "Pop the hood. I'm no mechanic, but I've had a few Dodges in my day.”
I nodded and pulled the hood release. The man lifted the hood and propped it up. I took a knife I had out of the glove box and slipped it in my pocket. He seemed nice enough, but you can never be too sure these days. You know, the stories you hear and such.
Anyway, I got out to take a look, not that I really know what I'm looking at.
He was already taking the cap off the radiator. "Don't see any obvious signs of a leak...hmmm." The man squinted down at the radiator. "It's low all right...must be a slow leak. Here, hold this." He handed me the radiator cap.
He took off his backpack and pulled an army green canteen out.
"Oh hey, I don't want you to use up the last of your water on my car." I said.
He shook his head. "Not a problem, this is my spare. I'm not far from where I'm going, anyway.”
I watched him pour all the water in his canteen into the Duster. I handed him the cap, and he screwed it back on.
”Thanks," I said.
”Not a problem. Now, the thing still isn't full, but it just might be enough to get to Trapper's Glen." He turned and pointed a ways down the road. "Just keep going down two-forty-two until you come across a fence post with a coyote skull on it to your right. That gravel road there's Elks road. It isn't marked.”
”So what's the name of the lodge?”
"Raven's Ridge. You'll see the sign for it. Best you keep your speed down. The road's narrow and windy, and not very well lit. Probably the best thing for your car too. In the morning you can take the car to Sam's there in town. He should be able to get her sorted out.”
I held out my hand, "Thanks, man. I appreciate all the help. I'd probably be hoofin' it if you hadn't come along.”
The guy's hand was cold and clammy, but he smiled and nodded. "Not at all, friend, not at all.”
"Hey, mind if I get my map and ask you about some towns past Eugene?" I opened my door and climbed in the driver's seat. I popped open the glove box to get the map when the hood slammed shut. When I got back out, the guy was nowhere in sight.
I went to the front of the car, he wasn't there. I looked up and down the road, he wasn't there. I peered across the road, but couldn't see any sign of him there either. I even called out and thanked him again. It's like he just vanished into thin air, I mean one second he was there, and the next he was gone. Hell, I even looked under the car.
I decided I shouldn't wait around too long, I mean who knows how slow that radiator leak really was anyway, and the way the guy described the road to Trapper's Glen, I didn't want to be on it after dark.
The Duster started right up. I let it idle for a minute to make sure it wasn't going to overheat again. The needle on the temperature gauge indicated she was still running a little hot, but not so hot that I was worried. I decided to keep an eye on it as I headed toward the lodge.
In less than a mile I spotted the coyote skull the guy mentioned, only he left out that it was painted in blood, or at least paint that looked an awful lot like blood. I turned onto the narrow, rutted, dirt road and flipped on the headlights. It wasn't totally dark yet, but the trees were pretty thick on both sides. I didn't feel comfortable pushing the car anything past forty, in fact most of the time I kept her under thirty-five. That damn road was just too rutted.
The road gained elevation pretty quickly, but it still took me by surprise when I rounded the first bend and the view to my right opened up revealing a sheer drop...maybe fifteen hundred feet or more...and mountains across the way, and more mountains in the background, only those were taller and ice-capped. You know how I hate heights. I gripped the wheel tight. I think if I'd gone off the edge, nobody would have been able to pry my fingers off that wheel. Course, I'm pretty sure my body would've been unrecognizable if I'd fallen.
Tunnel vision is a funny thing. It's like you hear people talk about it, but you always think it's not really a thing, at least until you experience it. I guess it was my way of dealing with the fear. Everything in my peripheral vision darkened. I focused solely on the road directly in front of the headlights. I didn't know exactly how far away the lodge was, but it sure seemed like I was traveling by inches on a journey of a thousand miles, but I didn't dare speed up. I'm not sure how long I continued on like that, but when the damn rabbit appeared I finally noticed the sky was dark.
I'm a sucker for animals. So wouldn't you know when that damn rabbit darted out in front of the car, my gut reaction was to swerve. I hit the brakes hard and jerked the wheel back to the left to keep from going over the edge. And after all that...it was the craziest thing...that rabbit flung itself off the side of the mountain without a second thought.
I just stared out into the darkness not really believing what I'd seen. Not sure how long I sat like that, my hands still wrapped tight around the steering wheel, my heart in my throat. It was the car knocking and sputtering that brought me back to the moment. I pleaded with her not to die, but she did it anyway. I put her in park, set the emergency brake, and rested my forehead on the wheel.
Being alone in the dark in an unfamiliar place has a way of heightening your senses, and now that the car was still, my peripheral vision had returned. I know animals eyes don't really glow...or at least I don't think they do...but these sure did. Yellow...or maybe I should say maize...that's probably what the old man would've said thinking he was funny or profound or genuinely trying to lighten the mood, anyway, whatever color they were, they were there and they glowed.
I scanned the tree line and was relieved to see there was only one pair of eyes. I'd considered getting out of the car when it died, but I certainly wasn't going to do it with a coyote lurking in the trees. Did I mention it was a coyote? Well it was, and he definitely noticed me. He came out of the woods with his eyes locked on me. He kept his head low to the ground. I could see the fur bristling on its back. When he got to the edge of the road, he stopped and pawed at the ground. He sniffed at the air and cocked his head, all the while he kept watching me. The edge of the road was like an invisible barrier that he didn't want to cross...or maybe he wanted to but was unable...I don't know, but that's when the raven landed on the hood of the car. Big and black with obsidian eyes. They were darker than the night, and that damned thing peered right through the windshield at me. I jumped when he cawed and scratched at the glass.
Now, a week ago I would've just said all of this shit was in my head and that everything that happened was pure coincidence, but now...well now it seems more like a series of signs. Whatever it was, I turned the key and wouldn't you know that damn car started. I threw that thing in drive, released the brake and tore out of there, cliffs be damned. Something wild took a hold of me, and I drove that car around tight turns, hugging the mountain side, racing down steep grades entirely too fast. I used the gears to slow her down instead of the brakes. I'm not sure how I managed that since my father hadn't really taught me that sort of thing...I guess he never really taught me much of anything. Did I ever teach you things like that, Emily? Useful things and the like? Maybe I'm just a bastard like my father. Maybe that's why you ran off. I don't know. I hope you'll give me one more chance. I know it's more than I deserve, and much less than you deserve.
I think that raven was worried about me. When I reached the crest of a particularly hairy rise, it swooped down in front of the windshield...I know it sounds crazy, but it's like it was trying to slow me down, keep me from doing something stupid. And I did slow down, and after every turn the raven was there, in a tree, on a rock, flying just above the car and to my right. Something about having it there made me a little less fearful, and before long I felt a bit of tension leave me. I was still more than a little freaked out...I don't know...just for a moment I didn't feel so alone.
The sign for the Raven's Ridge lodge was faded and the wood was splintered. The thing looked like it'd been put up in the fifties and never touched again. According to the sign, I was just a few switchbacks from a good night's sleep in 'rugged luxury', whatever the hell that meant. The raven flew ahead of me, vanishing into the trees and the night sky. I rolled the window down and let the evening breeze flow in, the scent of pine needles reminded me of grandpa Chuck, not sure why, a bit of memory I can't quite grasp. Anyway, it couldn't have been more than sixty-five out. Probably the only reason the car didn't overheat again, but what do I know about cars right?
The Raven's Ridge lodge sat on a plateau at the edge of a cliff. The place looked just like it did on the sign, old and faded. It probably had been pretty luxurious in its day, but now it barely looked serviceable. The heavy timbers that made up the main structure of the first and second floors looked timeless, but the shutters on the windows and the windows themselves were worn from years of use and apparent neglect. Even the metal roof that must have been a later addition was a faded and pitted green.
When I pulled into the gravel lot, I noticed a sign on a post next to the road that said 'No Vacancy, signed Mgmt.' I figured they must have forgotten to take it down because there weren't but two cars and a truck in the lot, and the place looked like it had forty or more rooms.
I went ahead and parked the car next to the truck instead of the drive in front of the entrance. I wasn't entirely sure if the thing would ever start again. Before I killed the lights the raven landed on the hood again. This time its demeanor was calm. Satisfied maybe? It even stayed on the hood when I opened the door and got out. We stared at each other for a minute or more. Have you ever stared into the eyes of a bird, any animal for that matter? I don't care what people say, there's more behind their eyes than hunger and instinct, fear and reaction, want and need. I'd bet they have more soul than most people do.
Now it's not like the raven talked to me per se, but after gazing into its eyes, I felt like maybe Trapper's Glen had at least a few of the answers I was seeking...and maybe a few I wasn't .
Turn Cassette Over==>
You'll have to forgive me, Em, if I skip around. There's a lot I want to put down on tape, and most of it comes at me so fast I'm not certain of the order, or if it's something I've already mentioned. I've taken to making my own coffee here in the trailer. I prefer the stuff you can get down at the Coffee Cup cafe, but I'm still a little too freaked out at the moment to drop in there. See, that's what I mean...I'm getting ahead of myself, I haven't even told you about the cafe yet.
First things first...at least that's the plan. So I got to the lodge that night and did I mention that raven landed on the hood? I'm sure I did...I think I did. Anyway, so when I get my bag out of the backseat, he finally flies away.
There was a dim light coming from under the front door of the lodge. I thought about knocking since it was so late, but I saw that the door was opened...a crack. It was a solid door, the kind like on that church where your cousin Katie got married. What was her husband's name...the kid with the big teeth? Never mind, it doesn't matter.
The only light in the lobby was from a stone fireplace that stood to the right of the front desk and a small oil lamp that sat on the counter. The fireplace and chimney stretched all the way up past the second floor railing and vanished into the timber lined ceiling. It kind of reminded me of how your grandpa used to describe the old hunting lodge he stayed at when he went on those week long trips up in the mountains. There weren't as many animal heads on the walls here though, just a buck over the mantle and a stuffed trout behind the counter.
I almost didn't notice the old man sitting in the high-backed, armchair facing the fire until I heard him snoring. There was a small red book in his hand, not sure what it was, there was an etching of a bear on the cover, maybe one of those pulp stories about taming the west or something like that.
There was a handwritten note on the counter that said to ring the bell for service, so that's what I did. I couldn't hear any signs of life, just the crackling of the fire and the occasional sputter from the old man.
I hit the bell again, a little harder this time. Still nothing. I thought for a moment about stepping behind the counter and finding a key and helping myself to a room. Of course I'd settle up in the morning. I was just so damned tired, exhausted really. That strange drive down Elks road took a lot out of me.
I hit the bell again, hard. I woke the old man up, and he wasn't thrilled about it.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"I'm sorry," I said. I put my bag on the floor. "I was hoping I could get a room for the night."
It looked like it took an act of congress for him to get out of that chair, and when he finally did, he threw his book down and shuffled his way behind the desk, and then he put the bell under the counter. I felt a little bad about waking the old guy when he wadded up the note and threw it in the trash.
"Now what in the hell did you say you wanted?" He ran a shaky hand through a shock of white hair and fiddled with a button on his threadbare sweater.
"I'd like to get a room for the night." I rested an arm on the counter.
He stared at it like I had violated a cardinal rule, so I stepped back and stood up straight. The guy reminded me of my old college biology professor, only this guy seemed to like me even less...never thought that would be possible.
"What's the matter, can't you read?" he asked.
"I don't follow," I said.
"The sign, the one out front, didn't you read the sign?"
I smiled, one of many mistakes, and chuckled, another mistake. "The no vacancy sign? I assumed that you'd forgotten to take it down."
"What would make you think a thing like that? You think I'm losing my mind? Who are you, who've you been talking to?"
I mean the guy was really getting agitated. "I'm sorry, I assumed that since there were only a few cars out front that you still had a few rooms available...I mean this place must have at least forty rooms, right?"
"Thirty-eight, and they're all booked."
He gave me a look that suggested he thought I was a real idiot. "Seriously. Now I suggest you head back to the highway and point your car toward McKenzie. There are at least two motels there, at least two that take your sort."
"My sort, what do you mean...never mind. Look, I don't think my car will make it much further, in fact it broke down on the highway and a guy who stopped to help suggested that I stop here for the night and take the car to Sam's in the morning."
"And then you'll get back on the highway?"
"That's the plan."
He seemed to think about the situation for a minute. Then he turned around and opened a little cabinet on the wall...a cabinet full of keys. "I'll put you in room seven," He looked up at me over the top of his wire-framed glasses. "But just for the night and check out is no later than ten."
"I thought you didn't have any vacancies?"
"I don't have any vacancies after tonight. Got a couple of big groups coming in early tomorrow...I don't want a bunch of stragglers hanging around...it's just me and Eileen here to do all the cleaning and such." He slapped the key down on the counter. "You want the room or not?"
"That'll be twelve dollars."
I rifled through my wallet. "Twelve, you say?"
"Yes. Breakfast's included."
I handed him the cash.
He shoved it in one of his sweater pockets and opened a notebook on the counter. "Name?"
He looked up at me, peering over his glasses again. "How do you spell that?"
"Lee...just put Lee, most people call me that anyway."
He snorted and wrote my name on the first line. For an old guy with such a shaky hand, he had decent penmanship. When he finished, he slid the key toward me and pointed to the staircase just past the fireplace. "Upstairs and down the first hallway. There's fresh towels in the cabinet over the toilet. Remember, check out is at ten...big crowd tomorrow."
That old guy, Herbert I found out later, damn guy's crazy. He knew damn well that Sam was on a fishing trip, but did he bother to mention that...I'm getting ahead of myself again.
The room was a bit stuffy, but the twin bed looked comfortable enough. Everything in the place was made of wood, the hand-hewn type. Had an old-timey feel, but welcoming enough, or maybe I was just real tired.
I went to open the window and let some fresh air in when I noticed the raven. How do I know it was the same raven? Not sure, maybe it wasn't...just a feeling I had. The longer I'm here, the more I believe it was the same raven.
I expected it to fly away when I opened the window, but it didn't. Instead it hopped onto the headboard of the bed and cocked its head. I'm not sure what I was hoping it would say, but like most ravens it didn't say much. I think maybe he was waiting for me to say something. I never know what to say in the moment. I talk when I should listen and vice versa.
So I sat on the edge of the bed next to the night stand and kicked off my shoes. I ran my bare feet over the wool rug on the floor. It felt good to not be behind the wheel...except that I always felt like I was making progress when I was driving...that somehow the driving was more important than the destination. I do my best thinking when I'm driving...or at least that's what I thought then.
That raven hopped down onto the nightstand. He looked at me again and then pecked at the top. I stared at him for a long time before he finally squawked and pecked at the nightstand again.
He flew back out the window when I opened the drawer. Not sure if I scared him, or if he'd accomplished what he'd set out to, and decided the time was right to fly away. That's another of my problems...sometimes I don't know when to fly away.
Trapper's Glen didn't strike me as the kind of place that would have a bus depot, but that's the first thing I found when I opened the drawer, a bus schedule. On closer inspection I noticed it was printed in 1965. Either the buses didn't run anymore, or the schedules never changed...or Herbert just couldn't be bothered to put new ones in the rooms. I thought it was most likely the latter.
I rifled through the drawer and came across an advertisement for theCoffee Cup Cafe on top of a well worn copy of the Gideons bible. It was a one page flyer with the name of the place written in a decidedly 50s style across a blue sky. There was a picture of the cafe below that with a giant coffee cup balanced on top of the place, a 56 Chevy sat out front, and a couple of pine trees hid the side of the building from view.
I chuckled to myself when I read their slogan…if you want to call it that. It announced they had the best food in town, and this is the funny part, they actually said, “Definitely better than the Raven’s Ridge Lodge!”
I wonder if Herbert or Eileen ever bothered to read the ad, or if they even cared.
Under that bold statement the ad featured some of the daily lunch specials and stated that coffee refills were free. I can already tell you that their lemon meringue pie is as good as they say it is.
Now normally I’m not one to crack open a bible, as I’m sure you know, but there was a folded piece of paper stuck in between the pages, so as you can imagine curiosity got the better of me.
The paper marked Psalm 24:1, something about the earth belonging to the lord, and everything and everyone who dwell within it. When I pulled that paper out and happened to read that verse, I really just thought it was coincidence that it was stuck there, but now I have the feeling I was supposed to see that. I’m not having a religious experience or anything, you know I’ve never been much for religion, something about going to a Baptist church every Sunday with your grandparents kind of gives a person their fill of it by the age of twelve. It’s more like a spiritual awakening…that’s not really it either, but I don’t know how else to explain it.
I put the bible back in the drawer and unfolded the little piece of paper. I guess you’d call it a map, but it only had two places on it. One was the Raven’s Ridge Lodge, and the other was a little house labeled simply ‘the cabin.’ There was a squiggly line that connected the two. It crossed what appeared to be a river. I assumed it to be the McKenzie. There was a little smear of dried blood next to the cabin. It seemed such an odd thing to find in a bible, in a lodge, in a forest, in this place. The more I looked at it, the more it struck me how strange it was. I mean what was its purpose? If you didn’t know where the lodge was, you’d never be able to find the cabin, and even if you knew where the lodge was, the squiggly line didn’t seem to be all that helpful. And why this cabin? Surely there were quite a few cabins around.
I laid back on the bed and studied the strange map for a time. Finally the weight of the day was too much. I stuffed the map in my shirt pocket, turned off the lamp, and went to sleep in my clothes…didn’t even pull back the covers.
Now, all that stuff I told you about the lodge, the bible verse, and that weird map isn’t even the strangest part. My dream, that was the strangest thing…at least the dream as I remembered it.
It went something like this, I was driving a car down a twisty highway through the forest. I couldn’t really say if it was my car, or if the forest was the one I find myself in now. That’s just the way dreams are I suppose.
So I was driving down this road, not in a real hurry, but having the feeling I was supposed to be meeting someone. The window’s down, and a cool misty breeze whipped through my hair. I’ve let it grow out a little more like you used to like. It’s kind of like that in the dream.
There’s an old song on the radio…no, not one from my high school days, I’m talking about an old song from your grandpa’s days, big band stuff…maybe Glenn Miller…who knows…your grandpa would’ve liked it. I liked it. So the music was playing, and the breeze was nice, and I even remember smelling the pines, but I still don’t know who I’m meeting at this point.
It’s like everything’s in front of me, right outside the windshield, the entirety of the Earth, the rest of my life, everything. I’m thinking those kinds of things when all of a sudden I’m not in the car anymore. I’m above the car now, gliding above it, watching it snake its way down the road. I could see beyond the forest. There’s a lake to the left, mountains beyond the lake, and a gray sky with thin stringy clouds.
Dreams are funny that way. Recounting it as I am now, it seems so bizarre and jarring, but in the dream it felt natural.
I guess I was the raven.
I flew ahead of the car, and after a time I saw a gravel road that led off of the highway and cut through the forest. It circled its way around a few gently sloping hills before ending at a long driveway beside a house that looked like a telescope…or more like a spyglass. You know, the kind the pirate captains always pulled out revealing three separate cylinders, each one smaller than the first and able to collapse into the largest. That’s the best way I can describe the house. It was three stair-stepped boxes, each smaller than the first with the smallest backing up to the very edge of the lake. The whole place was made of limestone, and the roof was wood shingled. The windows were tall and narrow, with a hint of light glowing toward the front.
In the center of the largest box was a single red door with a brass knob. There was a woman standing by the door. I couldn’t tell if she was you or not. I hoped it was you, but I couldn’t be sure…and the raven’s eyes were most certainly better than my own.
Anyway, I was just about to swoop down and land on the front porch when I caught a glimpse of something moving through the pines below, paralleling the road and pacing the car.
Then it happened again. This time I was low to the ground, hurtling through the forest, skimming the earthen floor, dodging pines and jumping over washes and creeks. I was aware of the damp soil, and something else…a rabbit maybe…its scent came to me, but I knew there was something else I must do. I charged ahead hearing the car on the road and the squawk of the raven above.
I didn't know what that crazy raven was saying, but I knew I wanted to see the woman at the house.
The trees thinned out until at last I stood at the edge of the forest looking into a clearing at a house on a small hill that backed right up to a midnight lake, a lake that I knew was deep and dark. I paced at the edge and pawed at the ground, unable or unwilling to make myself seen.
The car pulled up in the driveway, and I watched myself get out and greet the woman. They were too far away for me to see them or hear what they were saying.
I watched them vanish into the house. I could see their silhouettes faintly through the front glass. Still, I felt compelled to stay within the cover of the forest.
Then the raven landed on the peak of the roof. I swear that raven looked right through the trees, right at me. Then he squawked again, only this time he tilted his head back and squawked the loudest I’ve ever heard a raven squawk.
I heard the others overhead before I saw them, like they sprang up out of the trees and flew over me. Then one by one they landed on the peak of the roof until every inch of every section of that roof was full of birds. I mean you couldn’t even see the roof anymore.
Something made me look up, and that’s when I spotted a hawk spiraling down toward the roof, not in a hurry just making lazy circles until at last he landed on the last open space on the back of the roof.
And this is where the damn dream got really weird. The house creaked, and then I heard a grinding noise like stone on stone. Then one by one starting with the smallest section the house slipped into the lake. The birds took flight at the very last possible moment and returned to the trees, except for the raven. He just sat on the peak of the largest section of the house like a captain going down with the ship. He slipped under the water just as I finally rushed out of the forest and skittered to the edge of the lake. There I saw myself as a coyote, but beyond my reflection I saw the house slipping deeper down in the lake. The light was still on inside, and I swear I could see that woman pounding on the window.
It was creepy as hell, and then I woke up, sweaty with my clothes sticking to me, and the first rays of sun peaking through the window.
Was the woman you, Emily? I don’t know. Probably. I feel like I’ve lost you and that you’re slipping beyond my grasp. Maybe I was just tired. Maybe I was reading too much into it. Hell, I don’t know, but it really creeped me out.
It creeps me out just talking about it. I’m going to stop the tape here. I need to get some sleep. I’ll record some more tomorrow after I’ve taken care of a few things. Love you, Em. Good night.
<==Flip Cassette Back to Side A | Change Cassette==>
My intention had been to get to Sam’s as quick as I could to have the car looked at, but like everything else in Trapper’s Glen, that didn’t exactly go to plan. When I woke up, I was still on top of the covers, and in the previous day’s clothes…which were damp with sweat, making them cling to my shoulders, back and the backs of my thighs. The dream seemed so real. Even now it feels more like a memory than a dream.
I took a quick shower and changed into some fresh clothes. I think I’d been wearing the same thing for several days on the road since I’d mainly been pulling over and sleeping at rest stops. Some of the days had been pretty hot, but with the window down at night, and a light breeze tinged with fresh cut grass, the nights had been pleasant enough…even when I didn’t really sleep. I haven’t been sleeping well. Probably won’t until I find you. Anyway, it felt good to be clean again.
I’ve never really been one for breakfast, and the fare they had on offer in the lobby of the Raven’s Lodge didn’t do anything to sway my feelings about eggs and sausage. The two men in trucker hats sitting at one of several tables apparently didn’t share my dislike of the menu. They shoveled down runny eggs, and burnt, shriveled sausages as though they hadn’t eaten in weeks, only their guts told another tale. I’m sure they both had large and shiny belt buckles hidden under there somewhere.
Herbert sat behind the counter punching in some numbers on an adding machine. By the looks of the roll of paper piling up, he’d been doing some intense calculations. The place honestly didn’t look like it did that much business. In fact, I hadn’t really heard anyone else in the night, and besides Herbert and the two truckers, I doubted very much that there was anyone else in the place.
I slid my room key across the desk. “I’m checking out.”
Herbert punched in a few more numbers before he looked up. “Don’t you want some breakfast first? It’s included you know.”
“No, thanks anyway.” I hefted my bag over my shoulder and pointed back toward the door. “Gonna try to get to Sam’s early and see if he can get the car sorted out. So is it just down the road?”
“Raven’s Ridge is a dead end.” He pushed his glasses up with his middle finger, not sure if it was intentional or purely coincidental. “Go back the way you came. You passed Firewatch road last night. Take a left when you get to it…only way to go really, and it’ll be the first thing you see on the north side of the road.”
“Thanks…why do they call it Firewatch road by the way?”
He shot me another look like I was the worst kind of stupid he’d ever encountered in his miserable life. “Because the fire watchtower is at the end of the road. Ranger spends most of his time out there.”
“Ah, makes sense.”
“Yes it does,” he said, and returned to his adding machine.
Strange man. Even stranger now that I know him a bit better.
The Duster just barely started…a harbinger of things to come I suppose. Just as Herbert said, the only way to go on Firewatch road was left from the lodge. The car died as soon as I turned onto the road, and she refused to turn over again. Luckily the road sloped quite a bit, and even more lucky for me, the brakes didn’t fail. The road had to be at least a six percent grade, maybe more. I had to touch the brakes a few times to keep her under sixty-five, and since I was focused on keeping the car on the road, I didn’t get a very good look at the town below. On a bright day you can see all of Trapper’s Glen from the lodge. It’s a picturesque place, kind of place you might see on a postcard from a few decades back. The mountains and pine trees that surround it make it seem smaller than it really is, kind of hemmed in, sealed off maybe. I don’t know. Anyway, as I got closer to the bottom of the mountain, the road finally leveled out. I coasted right into Sam’s lot and parked her in front of the only garage bay at the station.
It was still pretty early, but I would have figured a gas station would have already been open. There were no lights on in the place, and there was a sign on the window.
“Gone fishing up the McKenzie. I left the keys with Herbert and told him to turn the pumps on every day until I get back. Just leave an I.O.U. In the mailbox and pay me the next time you see me. See you soon - Sam.”
If the Duster still ran, I would’ve driven right back to the lodge and punched Herbert in his ugly old face. As it was, I gave serious thought to hiking back up the road, but it was a long walk, and I was actually starting to get a bit hungry.
I decided to see if I could find the Coffee Cup Cafe, and think about what I was going to do over a piece of pie, or maybe a danish…definitely not eggs or burnt sausage. I fished a scrap of paper and a pen out of the glove-box, and wrote a note to Sam explaining what I thought was the problem with the car, and that I’d check back in a day or two or whenever he got back. I folded the note around the car keys and dropped them both in the mailbox.
I hadn’t really managed to get a good look at the town my first time down the hill, but I had caught a glimpse of the large coffee cup sticking up from behind the post office. I hoisted my pack over my shoulder and headed that way.
The cafe looked just as it did in the advertisement, with the exception of the ’56 Chevy. In its place was a dark green Ford Bronco with a U.S. Forest Service shield stenciled in yellow on the door. A baby blue VW sat next to it, and a lime green station wagon with faux wood paneling occupied a spot on the side of the building. The smell of strong, black coffee fought the pines for dominance, and for my money the coffee won.
I kid you not, as I opened the door, a little bell dinged and the song “Mr. Sandman” started to play. It was like I’d walked in on the set of some old B movie, and from the looks of the patrons, I had just ruined the take. The only eyes that were on me that didn’t make me want to turn around and walk out the door were those of the red-haired waitress behind the turquoise and chrome counter, Christine was her name.
“Well look who the cat dragged in,” she smiled and set a fresh cup on the counter. “Have a seat and some coffee, honey.”
I took the seat at the counter, doing my best to ignore the stares I could feel burning into my back. “Thanks, have we met before?”
“Not until now, why?” She filled the white porcelain mug with steaming, dark coffee.
“Well, it’s just the expression you used…the cat dragged in..”
A gruff voice to my left interrupted, “She says that to everyone. Don’t go thinking you’re special.”
He was a big man in khakis and flannel with a heavy gray jacket that matched his hair and five-day beard. The look he gave me suggested he’d seen better in a trash bin.
I offered him my hand. “I’m Lee…”
Before I could say anything else, he got up. “And I’m leaving.” The bell dinged again.
“Don’t mind Gus,” Christine chimed. “He’s just grumpy cause his bus is broken down.”
She wiped idly at an already immaculate counter. “The bus depot across the street. Gus is one of the drivers…well, only driver now. Not many people come to or leave Trapper’s Glen these days.”
“That so?” I had to look back down at the coffee. Now you know I haven’t ever had eyes for anyone but your mother…even now that she’s…well, anyway it was like this waitress had a fascination with me…the hots maybe…I know…gross…not the kind of thing you want to hear from your dad. It just weirded me out a little, not that she wasn’t pretty, she was.
“Can I get you some breakfast?”
I chuckled, half out of nervousness. “Is it better than the Raven’s Ridge Lodge?”
“Most definitely, but that comparison doesn’t really do the food here justice.”
“I’ve never been one for breakfast. What else do you recommend?”
“How about some of my pie?”
I guess the attention made my mind go to strange places because I nearly spit my coffee out. “Pardon me?”
“Everyone says I make the best lemon meringue pie for miles.” She turned her back to me, opened a circular display case on the stainless tabletop facing the kitchen, and removed a perfect slice of pie from the top rack. She set it down in front of me, and dipped down slightly so that our eyes met. She pulled a fork from under the counter and handed it to me. “Try it and tell me if you don’t think so too.”
I don’t know how well you remember your great grandmother’s lemon drop cake, the one where she poked holes in the top…I can still see her using that step stool to get the mixing bowl out of the cupboard when she’d visit for Christmas, used to drive my mother crazy. I guess it was something about surrendering her kitchen to her mother-in-law…or that nobody could make that cake better than that crazy little white-haired lady with the Coke-bottle glasses. Anyway, this lemon meringue pie came close to besting it.
Christine’s smile got even wider, revealing a perfect row of pearly whites. “That look tells me all I need to know. You think you might want a second piece?”
“As delicious as it is, I’d better not. Could use a refill on the coffee though.”
“Sure thing, honey.” She poured more coffee, not even looking at the cup, but never spilled a drop. “So, you’re staying at the lodge?”
“I stayed there last night, but it looks like I’m going to have to find a new place…apparently the place is booked up.”
“That’d be a first, but I’ve got an extra room if you need a place.”
I fumbled with my coffee again. “No, I couldn’t possibly…I’d hate to put you out…besides, I’m just here until I can get my car fixed.”
“Wouldn’t be putting me out, but if you need longer term accommodations, and don’t want to take a girl up on her generous offer, then you can always check with Callie.”
“I really do appreciate it, but…wait…why would you think I need long term accommodations?”
“If you’re getting your car fixed in Trapper’s Glen, you’re getting it fixed at Sam’s, and he just left for a fishing trip.” She topped off my coffee. “And he’ll be gone for at least two weeks.”
“Two weeks? I can’t wait that long.”
“What’s the rush, honey?”
“Well, I’m looking for my daughter, Emily. I only stopped here because of the car.” I fished your picture out of my wallet and handed it to her.
“Pretty girl, has your eyes.” She leaned on the counter. “Runaway? Trouble at home?”
“What? No. Well, yes and no. She ran away…her mother died, and I just…well I haven’t exactly been…”
Christine put her delicate hand on mine. A warmth traveled up my arm. Her voice was just above a whisper. “You poor dear. As much as I hate to say it, maybe you should go see Callie.”
She went back to wiping the counter. “Well, like it or not you’re going to need a place to stay until you can get that car going, plus Callie sees all types come through her camp. If anyone’s seen trace of your girl there, it would be Callie.”
“What makes you think she came this way?”
She laughed. “Well, you came this way honey, and you and your girl look to be two of a kind.”
I rubbed the back of my neck. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt to go talk to her. Can you tell me how to get there?”
“Just go past the bus depot, take a left, and then follow the road until you hit Firewatch. You’ll see a gravel road at the intersection. It’s the only road in and out of Callie’s place.”
“How long a walk you figure it is?”
“It’s a good long ways on foot.” She lifted up on her tip toes, still balancing that coffee pot perfectly. “Rick, any chance you could give our new friend Lee here a ride out to Callie’s place? His car is at Sam’s for repairs.”
I turned to see a tall thin man in a dark green uniform getting up out of a booth in the corner. He picked up a wide brimmed Trooper’s hat off the table and perched it perfectly over his dark tightly cropped hair. “Only because it’s you doing the asking, Christine.” He looked me up and down. “You ready, friend. I need to be getting back to the tower…fire season and all.”
I got up in a hurry. “Yes, thanks.” The guy was so intimidating that I almost left without paying. “Oh, sorry…how much do I owe you?”
“First one’s free, honey.” She put a hand on her hip. “You just promise to come back.”
I swallowed hard. “I promise.” This made her smile.
The bell dinged as we left, and I swear that “Moonlight Serenade” started playing.
The inside of Ranger Rick’s Bronco, yes that’s really his name, was as immaculate as he was…almost as squeaky clean as the counter of the Coffee Cup Cafe. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the newest model, but it looked like it had just been driven off the showroom floor.
Rick’s voice was measured, as I gather everything about him was as well. “Going to do some camping at Callie’s?”
“I’m not sure how much camping I’ll be doing, but I definitely need a place to stay for a bit.”
“If you’re staying at Callie’s you’ll be camping.” He turned the Bronco onto the street past the bus depot, keeping just under the limit. “So, do you know about fire safety, Lee?”
I laughed. “Just what I learned as a scout.”
“If you were a scout, Lee, you’d know that fire safety is no laughing matter. Our little town depends on the pines for everything, our well being, our livelihood, our souls.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh…just struck me funny for some reason.” I wiped a bit of sweat from my forehead. “I don’t think I’ll be starting any fires. Probably get all my food from the cafe.”
He nodded. “Very prudent, but let me give you the basics just in case you find yourself in need of a campfire.” I swear he was as serious as a heart attack. “First, make sure your campsite allows campfires…Callie’s does. Second, make sure it’s not too windy…fire and wind are a dangerous combination.”
“Definitely,” I interrupted.
He looked at me for a second before continuing. I closed my mouth like a schoolboy. “Next, dig a pit away from any overhanging branches. Circle the pit with rocks and clear a ten foot area around the pit down to the dirt, and this is important.” He looked at me again until I nodded. “Remove any leaves or debris that could catch fire, that stuff is just like kindling. Stack any extra wood upwind and away from the fire. After lighting the fire, throw the match into the fire.”
He crossed Firewatch road and pulled the Bronco onto a gravel road. There on a fence post at the edge of the road sat a raven…it was the same raven if you ask me. I was still staring at it when Rick tapped me on the shoulder.
“I’m not done, friend.”
“Sorry,” I said.
He navigated up the gravel road like a ship captain coming into his home port. “Never leave a campfire unattended and always keep a bucket of water and shovel close at hand.” He shifted a little closer to me. “Now this is the most important part, when it’s time to put the fire out, dump lots of water on it, stir it with a shovel…not a stick, then dump more water on it. Make sure it’s cold before leaving the campsite.” He waved a long, bony finger at me. “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”
He stared at me for quite some time.
“Good advice,” I offered.
He seemed to agree. “So, can I count on you to do the right thing, Lee?”
He brought the Bronco to a stuttering stop, bits of gravel kicked up and pinged against the underneath of the vehicle.
“What’s the problem? I said you can count on me.”
“Pardon me?” I already had my hand on the door handle, ready to bail out.
“Shh! Look, over there, at the tree line. Does that look like a coyote to you?”
I leaned toward him, squinting against the sun. “I think so, but I’m no expert.”
He took a little notebook down from his visor and scribbled in it with a pencil that was little more than a tip with an eraser. He checked his watch. “We don’t see many of them this close these days.”
“Really, I saw one last night on Elks road.”
Now this is why this place creeps me out so much, it’s not overt, it’s just something underneath the surface. He put the Bronco in park and turned it off.
Then he turns to me…wait…I think I hear something outside…I’m just about out of tape anyway…I’ll tell you the rest tomorrow.
<==Swap with Cassette 1: Side B | Change Cassette==>
Sorry for stopping so abruptly last night, Emily. I guess I’m just not used to being out in nature, especially after dark. The dark and the silence are so complete that even the smallest sound gets my hackles up. I think I heard that coyote before I stopped the tape.
Anyway, back to Ranger Rick. So he shut the Bronco off and turned to me like he was going to let me in on some great conspiracy.
He even lowered his voice. “Did you see his eyes?”
“Whose eyes?” I instinctively backed up against the door.
He squinted for a brief moment. “Well, the coyote’s eyes of course. The one you saw up on Elks Road.”
“Yes, they were yellow... glowed quite brightly if I remember correctly.”
Rick nodded and fired the Bronco back up. “I’m sure you remember correctly.”
We continued up the gravel road for another few minutes before he said anything else.
“You ever hear the story of how Coyote’s eyes turned yellow?”
I let another peal of nervous laughter slip out. “No. No, I’ve never heard that particular story. Do parents tell their kids that one around here?”
Either he missed my sarcasm or chose to ignore it.
“The old man told it to me years ago when I first took the Ranger’s job. I’m sure he’d tell me I left something out, but I’ll tell it to you as best as I remember.” He gave the Bronco a little more gas as it negotiated a steep patch of the road. “One day Coyote was wandering through the forest, as he often did, when he came upon a small bird, a wren maybe, taking its eyes out and throwing them up into the air.”
At this point I decided not to ask any questions. I was hoping the story would be short and that we’d reach Callie’s any minute, so I let my mind drift as his words became a steady drone in the background. The raven flew ahead, and I watched it complete a couple of large arcs in the sky as though it was spelling something out to me in a language I once knew.
“Each time the wren would call out to his eyes, come back to me eyes, come back to me, and then he would hop into the air, tilt his little head up and catch his shiny black eyes. After the wren blinked several times, his eyes were even shinier than before. Coyote was delighted by this, and very much wanted to make his eyes shinier. So he asked the wren to help him.”
We rounded a corner, and an Elk disappeared into the trees, escaping the intrusion of the Bronco.
The Ranger continued. “The wren agrees and takes out Coyote’s eyes and throws them straight up into the air like stones. Coyote tilts his head back and calls out for his eyes to come back to him quickly. When they fall back into his head, they are shinier than ever before. Coyote tells the wren he wants to try again, but the wren is not interested. Coyote is persistent, and reluctantly the wren agrees and takes Coyote’s eyes and throws them high into the air. Once again Coyote tilts his head back and calls out for his eyes to return, but they do not. His eyes just keep rising higher into the sky. The wren tires of Coyote and begins to fly away. Coyote asks the wren to get his eyes back for him, but the wren tells him to go away and find new eyes.”
The Bronco hit a dip in the road, and I hit my head against the glass.
The Ranger’s tone intensified. “Coyote cried out and began to weep. At first the wren was not swayed, but after a time he went to his cousins and asked them if they thought he should help Coyote. One of his cousins said that Coyote is a trickster, and he has played mean tricks on them in the past. Several of the cousins agreed, but one of them said, it is true Coyote is a trickster, but there is also good in him, and he has been known to help many, even at his own peril. Perhaps you should fashion him some new eyes.” The Ranger slowed the Bronco as we came to the crest of the road. “The wren agreed and flew to a piñon tree where he gathered some gum and rolled two new eyes for Coyote. He put the new eyes into Coyotes eye holes and told him, there you have new eyes. The wren told him he could not stay there any longer and that he must go away. Before the wren flew away, he warned Coyote not to stay out in the sun too long, or his eyes would melt. But Coyote being Coyote decided he wanted to be in the sun, so he stayed out all day in the bright sun, and sure enough his eyes began to melt, causing him pain, and leaving the dark marks that run from a coyote’s eyes down to its snout.”
I sat back up in my seat. “So Coyote’s eyes are still somewhere up in the sky?”
“Do you think he wants them back?”
The Ranger shrugged, “I don’t know, maybe.”
“What’s the point of that story?”
The Ranger gave me a curious look. “The point? The point is to tell you how Coyote’s eyes became yellow.”
“So there’s no moral to the story, like careful what you wish for, or don’t piss off a wren?” I let out another bit of laughter, met with similar results.
The Ranger stopped the Bronco at the gate to Callie’s Campground, and without looking at me said, “We’re here. I can’t go any further. I need to be getting back to the watchtower.” He pointed toward a line of small travel trailers. “Callie’s trailer is the red one on the end. Better check in with her and see if she’s got anything available.”
I nodded, grabbed my pack, and got out of the Bronco. “Thanks for the ride… and the stories.”
“Just remember what I told you about fire safety.”
I gave him a salute and straightened my posture. “Yes, sir.”
He didn’t return my salute. Instead, he backed the Bronco up and turned it back the way we had come. I watched him disappear in a cloud of gravel before heading toward Callie’s trailer. I can tell you I was a little leery of meeting another one of Trapper Glen’s locals, but I knew I didn’t have much of a choice.
I pushed open a hinged gate that had a faded red sign on it with a picture of a tee-pee and the words Callie’s Campground written in rope script. It very much reminded me of the kind of places your grandpa used to take me camping. There wasn’t much sign of activity, but nearly every space seemed to be occupied with a tent or a trailer. I imagined most people were out enjoying the day either hiking or fishing or floating the river. That’s what I would’ve been doing had I not had more pressing matters to attend to.
Callie's trailer was a red Shasta, mid fifties model I'd guess, complete with the trademark chrome lightning bolt that separated the top half from the bottom half. If I remember right, most models were usually white on top and either red, yellow or turquoise on the bottom with matching rims on the wheels. This one was solid red, only more of a glossy candy apple kind of red than the standard red. The back end had a chrome wing on each side, almost like fins on a Caddy, only these looked like something you'd see on Mercury's helmet. She was a real beauty, almost as well built as the woman next to it chopping firewood with what looked like a fireman's axe.
I watched her for a moment, not in a pervy way, more out of awe and admiration. She used that axe like a pro, bringing it down with just the right amount of force and at exactly the right spot to split the logs cleanly down the middle. As soon as she finished one, she'd set up another and let the axe fall. She was even wearing the stereotypical lumberjack outfit, only her's fit a bit better, the jeans hugged her hips, and her red flannel shirt was tucked neatly into the waistline. Her ink black hair was pulled back in a ponytail that swayed in time to her well choreographed movements.
I was about to call out to her when she stopped mid swing and looked back over her shoulder at me. My voice caught in my throat, I swear the woman's your mother's doppelgänger. I mean her hair is different, but her eyes, those eyes... just like your mother's... a blue like the ocean with the depth to match. For a second I almost felt like she recognized me.
She leaned the axe against the trailer and shielded her eyes from the sun with her left hand. "Can I help you?" Even the tone of her voice reminded me of your mother, soft and melodic with a hint of forcefulness.
I shook myself out of my stupor and stepped closer to her. "Hi, my name's Lee." I hoisted a thumb back toward the road. "The Ranger brought me up here to see if you had a place I could rent for a few nights."
She looked past me to the road and smirked. "Rick didn't stay to introduce you himself?" She put her hands on her hips and looked me up and down.
"No, said he had to get back to the tower."
"Figures. I don't know what that man does up there all day. Haven't had a fire around here in twenty years."
"Must be doing his job then," I said.
She let me dangle in the air for a minute before she flashed that disarming smile and offered me her hand. "I'm Callie, and this is my place. Need a place to stay for a few nights you say?"
Her hand was warm, and still a little damp with sweat. I could feel her pulse, or maybe it was mine. "Yes. My car's down at Sam's for repairs." I barely got the words out before she started laughing.
"Then you'll be needing a place to stay for a little longer than a few days." She studied me again. "Doesn't look like you have much stuff, but I'm guessing you haven't been camping since you were a kid. Am I right?"
I rubbed the back of my neck. "Well, not much... a few times with my daughter--"
"Relax, I didn't mean anything by it, just that you'd be better suited to one of my campers than a tent." She pointed to a white and yellow camper at the opposite end of the row. "I've only got one available, and I haven't had time to clean it up yet. The last guy stiffed me on the rent." She put her hands on her hips again. 'Tell you what, if you don't mind cleaning it up yourself, I'll give you the first night for free, and you can even keep anything that bastard left behind."
"You've got yourself a deal."
"So what brings you to Trapper's Glen, besides car trouble?"
"Well, I was on my way to McKenzie looking for my daughter... maybe you've seen her." I fished your picture out of my wallet and handed it to her. "She ran away from home a while ago. She's always wanted to head out west."
Callie took your picture, and I'd swear there was a brief look of recognition before she shook her head. "Pretty girl, but I haven't seen her."
"Are you sure? Does she look familiar to you?”
A little of the color seemed to go out of her. "Nope." She turned back to her camper. "Let me get you the keys." She disappeared inside, shutting the door behind her.
I was beginning to think she wasn't going to come back out when the door finally opened. "Here are the keys, and a trash bag, and some clean blankets and towels. You look like an honest kind of guy, just settle up when you're ready to check out." She handed me the keys, and the rolled up blankets and towels and a trash bag. "I need to get back to splitting this wood. You're welcome to grab a few pieces later tonight if you'd like."
She nodded and picked up the axe. I left her to her work. I'm telling you there's just something off about everyone I've met in this town.
I walked the short distance from Callie's trailer to mine, still thinking about how she'd reacted to your picture. I wanted to press her on it, but I hardly knew her. I decided that I'd play it cool and see if I could get more out of her later.
A gentle breeze came down from the mountains bringing with it pine and a hint of fermentation, the kind you often smell in the forest... preceding life and death alike. One dies and another is born and on and on and on.
I could see the lodge from my trailer. It looked down on the campground like a watchful mother bear, letting her cubs gain a little independence and venture out on their own, but not so far as to be completely away from her formidable influence.
I jiggled the key in the door and twisted the knob. I had to push on the door with my shoulder to get it to open. The place smelled like it had been shut up for more than a few days. Despite the pleasant temperature outside, the inside of the trailer was warm, a little warmer than I like, and the air was thick and still. I opened the window above the sink in the kitchenette, and after a bit of effort managed to pry open the window over the sea foam Formica dining table. I dropped my pack on a sun yellow Naugahyde bench and opened the fridge. I quickly wished I hadn't. There was something growing in a baggie, and a half eaten piece of cherry pie on a paper plate. There was a solitary light beer toward the back, but the odor wafting out of the fridge made me leave it there. I snapped the trash bag open and threw out the baggie and the pie. Then I moved on to picking up the other bits of trash strewn around the place, mainly crumpled cigarette packs and gum wrappers. I put a coffee stained mug in the sink and ran a little water. Something on the sofa bed reflected the early afternoon sun.
I sat on the unmade bed and picked up the gleaming object. It was a gold badge with a blue enamel inset and a gold eagle on the top. The words Drug Enforcement Administration were written in raised letters in an arc with the words Special Agent at the bottom. It felt weighty, solid, the kind of weight that gave a thing authenticity. It certainly looked legitimate... not that I've ever seen one in real life. I was pretty certain this wasn't the sort of thing someone would leave behind on purpose. Part of me wanted to show it to Callie or Ranger Rick, but something about the odd behavior of everyone I'd encountered so far told me to hold on to it and see what I could learn on my own. I hoped it didn't have anything to do with you, Emily, but I knew I couldn't leave any stone unturned. I slipped it into my pocket and rifled through the bedding.
I found a torn piece of yellow paper with a handwritten note on it: Tallup at Midnight, three trees pass.
I hadn't really had a drink in quite a while, at least quite a while for me, so I grabbed the one out of the fridge, and sat at the dinette. I took the badge out of my pocket and placed it on the table next to the yellow slip of paper. Something in the back of my mind made me think about the strange little map I'd found in the bible at the lodge. I fished it out of my bag and spread it out next to the note.
I popped open the beer, it didn't sound that fresh, but at that point it sounded like about the best thing in the world. It was.
I looked back and forth between each of the items on the table, studying them intently, hoping something would click. The old and reliable five w's and an h from my journalism days came back to me... who, what, why, when, where and how. Who did the badge belong to? What did the note mean, and why had it been left in the trailer with the badge? When was the meeting? Was it midnight a few nights ago, tomorrow, or even tonight? Where was the little cabin marked on the map? How did all of these things connect? Did they all connect? I wanted to know what my part was in all of it... what your part was, Emily. Then it hit me... a small connection, very small, but a start none the less.
The map and the note were created by the same hand. It was the strange way the i's were dotted, like little half moons. Cabin on the map and midnight on the note, all three the same.
I'm getting close to the end of this tape. I'll tell you about my chat with Callie by the fire after I make another pot of coffee.
<== Swap with Cassette 2: Side A | Change Cassette==>
There's something about a campfire at dusk that reminds me of the magic in this world. There's definitely something magic about Trapper's Glen...some of it dark, but without it I wonder...would we appreciate the light? I know now that I didn't appreciate what I had until it was gone...your mother, now you. Sorry, I still tear up thinking about the day she died. I made so many promises to her that I never kept...promises to you too.
I was in the same reflective mood that evening when I walked down to Callie's trailer. Maybe that's why the sight of her by the fire, her eyes reflecting the flames, her dark hair now unrestrained and resting against her shoulders, caught me off guard.
"Hi, Lee. Care for a beer?" Her tone was softer now, almost apologetic. Maybe I could get more information about you out of her. I didn't want to push it, but her mood seemed lighter, as though she'd let something go...or could have just been the end of a long day.
I sat down in the camp chair next to her. Had she been expecting someone? "Thanks, that would be nice."
She passed me a beer from a little red cooler that sat between us. "Here, let me open it." She popped the top off. I could even hear it hiss over the crackling of the fire. It was better than the one left in my trailer by a mile. "Nice night...nice fire."
She smiled, again it reminded me of your mother. Sorry, I probably shouldn't keep saying that...it's just so uncanny the resemblance. "The evenings are getting cooler. Pretty soon I'll need more than the fire to keep me warm."
All I could manage was a chuckle and a nervous smile. "Yep." I took a long swig of my beer.
Callie gestured back toward a pile of wood near the front of her trailer. "Would you like a few logs to take back to your camp?"
I shook my head. "No, thanks. Ranger Rick kind of scared me off the whole idea." I laughed at the sound of it.
"Ah, don't let that fuddy-duddy spoil your fun. I don't think the man knows how to have fun, so he makes it his life's mission to ruin everyone else's."
"Oh, I don't know, seemed like a nice enough guy...tells some interesting stories, that's for sure."
She shrugged. "I guess. I'm sure none of the stories are his."
"Speaking of stories, what's the story on the guy who had the trailer before me?" I hoped she thought the question sounded less obvious than I did.
"Not much to tell really. Said he was a surveyor from Oklahoma up here on a job." She took a long slow drag on her beer, and then leaned forward, closer to the fire. "It's funny, surveyors are generally hard working honest types that tend to pay their debts."
"Yeah, shame he stiffed you on the bill and all."
She furrowed her brow. "Now that I think about it, he didn't really act like most of the surveyors I've met."
"Well, for starters, he drove a Ford LTD. I would've expected a truck or a Jeep or something, especially if he was working on a job around here." She twirled the ends of her hair. "And another thing, he even asked me if I had a map of the area...like a topographic map." She leaned in closer to me, almost conspiratorially. "Wouldn't you figure a surveyor would've already had a map of the area?"
"That is kind of strange." I agreed.
"Guess I should've listened to my gut and charged him up front."
I nodded. "So your gut tells you I'm ok?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Well, I wouldn't say that exactly, but since your car is out of service I don't think you'll be skipping out on the bill."
I had to laugh at that one, and a few seconds later she did too. I felt like we were at ease with each other. It was like I'd known her for ages...like an old friend you fall out of touch with, but when you see them again it's just like old times.
"So did the surveyor give you a name?"
"Fred Fickle. Sounds like a bullshit name now that I hear myself say it." She shook her head like she was disappointed in herself.
"Maybe, maybe not. He was definitely a slob. Left a lot of trash in the trailer." I took the little slip of paper out of my pocket and handed it to her. "You ever hear of anyone named Tallup?"
She took the paper and studied it. "Maybe old man Tallup, but I haven't seen him since I was a girl. Used to live up in the woods, way up in the woods."
I pointed to the note. "At three trees pass?"
She shrugged. "Not sure, I've never heard of the place."
I decided to show her the strange map I'd found in the lodge. "Was it a cabin in the woods? The place that old man Tallup lived?"
"Yes." She angled the map so that she could see it by the light of the fire. "I guess this could be a map to his place." She handed the map back to me. "Like I said, I haven't seen him in years."
"You notice anything about those two...the map and the note?"
"They appear to be done by the same person...Mr. Fickle perhaps?"
She set her beer down next to her chair. "Makes sense, seeing how you found them in the camper."
"I found the note in the trailer, but I found the map in the drawer of my room at the Raven's Ridge Lodge."
She nodded. "That still makes sense, although it sounds like a bit of a coincidence."
"He told me he stayed a few nights at the lodge, but was looking to get a better deal on a weekly rate." She chuckled. "I guess he definitely got a better rate. Can't beat free."
"Maybe. Or maybe something happened to him."
"I don't think so."
"What makes you say that?"
She avoided my eyes and picked her beer back up. "Just a feeling that's all." She said a little too quickly, "Maybe something did happen to him."
I decided not to press her. "I might want to go talk to this Tallup fellow."
She sat up in her chair. "Why would you want to do that?"
"I don't know. I'm kind of stuck here, so I thought I should use the time wisely, ask him if he's seen my daughter." I started to take your picture out again. "So, you sure you've never seen her around here...maybe even from a distance?”
Her voice rose slightly in volume, and she gripped the edge of her chair with her left hand. "I told you already that I haven't seen her. Are you calling me a liar?"
I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. "No. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply...I just thought maybe you could be mistaken...it's just I'm looking for any trace I can find...no matter how small."
She sighed, letting a little of the rigidness leave her. "No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. I probably know better than anyone how you feel." She looked into the fire. "My sister was a runaway, we were close, but she didn't even tell me what she was planning. Then they found her..." She looked back at me, her eyes wide and brimming with tears. "Oh god, I shouldn't have brought it up."
I put my hand on hers. "That's ok. Please tell me, what happened...you said they found her?"
She slipped her hand slowly out from underneath mine. "They found her body, naked, twenty miles north of here by the river."
Now I could feel the blood leaving my cheeks. I sat back in the chair and let the beer slip between my fingers to the ground.
This time Callie put her hand on mine. "But that was a long, long time ago. I'm sure nothing like that has happened to your daughter...like I said, I haven't even seen her around here."
I nodded and tried to get my composure back. "Yeah, I'm sure she passed right on by this place...all the same, I think I'd still like to talk to Tallup."
She nodded. "It's at least a half day's hike. You're gonna need some supplies." She looked at my shoes. "You should probably get some hiking boots too. You got a canteen or a compass?"
"No. I've got some jeans and a flannel shirt though."
"The flannel shirt’s a good start, but you should be prepared for anything if you're going that deep into the woods." She nodded toward the end of the trailer. "You can take my Moped down to Handy's in the morning and pick up a few things. The basket on the front should hold what you need."
"Thanks, I appreciate that."
"It's not rugged enough to go through the woods, so you'll have to go in on foot. Most of the trails aren't even good enough for walking, let alone riding." She stood up and brushed a bit of ash off her pant legs. "When you come by and get the Moped, I'll have some sandwiches wrapped in a bag for you."
I stood up and moved my chair back to its original position. "Thanks again...and thanks for the beer...and the company."
She gave me a two second smile. "Take a few back with you if you want."
"Maybe just one, wanna stay clear so I can get up early."
"Good plan. Night, Lee."
When I woke up the next morning, I could've sworn you were standing over me, but as soon as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, your image was replaced with the raven. I didn't remember leaving the window open, but there it was staring at me from the kitchen counter, its head tilted as though it was trying to determine what manner of beast I was.
The morning sun filtered through the trees and the windows, tricking me into thinking it was warmer than it really was. I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders and got out of bed. My neck was stiff and there was a slight twinge in my shoulder.
"Looking for breakfast?" I asked the raven.
It hopped a little closer and looked up at me. I scanned the counter. There really wasn't much in the way of food, but I did spot a red tin. I opened it to find a few saltine crackers. I took a bite of one...not exactly stale...not exactly fresh either. I broke a piece off and set it in front of the raven. The raven took it and flew back out the open window.
I decided not to waste any time. There wasn't much of anything in the camper, and I definitely needed some supplies if I was going to hike out to old man Tallup's place. I ran my fingers through my hair and brushed my teeth with some water from the sink, making a note to pick up some toothpaste.
The DEA badge reflected a bit of the morning sun. I slid it into the pocket of my jeans, not really sure why. I took all the clothes out of my pack except for an old sweater and a change of socks. I wanted to carry most of the supplies I bought on my back. It'd been a long time since I'd attempted a hike that strenuous, and I had been much younger at the time.
Callie wasn't there when I picked up the Moped. She left me a note along with the sandwiches telling me that the keys were in the ignition. She also asked if I could fill it up at Sam's before I brought it back.
The Moped was bird shit yellow, and sounded like a lawn mower on its last legs when I turned it over. Still, it was better than walking, not much faster, but easier on the feet.
When I do finally find you, Emily, I'd like to bring you back here. The town is more than a little strange, but the land surrounding it is so beautiful that it hurts. It hurts to be separated from it...like how it hurts to be separated from you.
The whole trip back into town I kept feeling like I was being watched, but every time I looked over my shoulder all I could see was the raven.
The town opened up like a book as I came down the hill. I stopped at the intersection and just took it all in. From my vantage point I could see Sam's and Handy's and even the coffee cup on top of the cafe. For the first time I noticed there was a bit of steam drifting up from the cup. Clever, they must have routed the kitchen vent to come out of the cup to make it look like a steaming hot cup of coffee. Even the thought of it now makes me smile.
I pulled up to Handy's and parked the Moped next to the Ranger's Bronco. I couldn't see him through the large plate glass windows of the store because of all the sale advertisements papered at odd angles...fishing rods fifty percent off, last season's flannel shirts buy one get the second half off, and all tent purchases come with a free all weather tarp.
A little bell above the door announced my entry. The man behind the counter, Handy, looked up from his register and smiled a wide toothy smile. He looked to be about my age, maybe a couple of years older...it was a little hard to tell because he was balding. He had a shock of orange hair protruding from either side of his head, like a retired clown...or maybe a reformed one depending upon your feelings on clowns. He wore a neat plaid vest over an almost too bright white button up long sleeved shirt.
The tone of his voice and the inflection sounded like he was rehearsing for a commercial. "Hello, friend, welcome to Handy's" He leaned forward on the counter. "Anything I can help you find? Fishing rods and tackle are fifty percent off this week. Best deal in town...well, only deal in town...but it's still a good one." He chuckled at his own joke.
I couldn't help but smile. Handy's manner was infectious. "I'm planning on doing some hiking and maybe a little camping." I patted my pack. "All I have right now is this pack and a change of clothes, so I'm thinking I'm going to need a sleeping bag and a few supplies."
Handy's eyes lit up. He stepped out from behind the counter. "Then you came to the right place..." He paused.
"Oh, Lee." I offered him my hand which he accepted and shook firmly and vigorously.
"Nice to meet you, Lee. I'm Handy, of course. Follow me, and I'll show you our camping gear. I've got some great new double insulated sleeping bags that I can offer to you at twenty percent off." He glanced back at me over his shoulder. "Since you're a new customer and all."
I nodded. "Thanks, that'd be great."
He picked up a canteen as we walked down an orderly black and white tiled aisle. "You'll be needing one of these if you're going to be out for any length of time." He tugged on the strap. "This one's about a dollar more than the others, but the strap's better quality and the cap threads on and off easier."
"Sounds good," I said.
He stopped in front of a display of lanterns and flashlights. "Now normally I'd suggest a heavy duty lantern for camping anywhere around the Glen, but since you seem to be packing light, you might be better served by one of these new beauties." He picked up an army green flashlight and shook it. The beam flickered for a moment before steadying out. "This one doesn't need batteries, it uses a magnet and some kind of capacitor or something like that. Just shake it and voila, instant light. It's a little more than the others, but you'll quickly recoup that cost in the money you save on batteries. How about it?"
"How could I go wrong?"
He smiled again, even wider than before which I didn't think was physically possible. "Indeed, my friend, indeed." He tucked the flashlight under his arm and continued down the aisle until we reached the back wall.
The size of the storefront belied the staggering amount of camping gear on display. I didn't even know they made so many different kinds of tents...one man, pup, two, three, four and five man, mountain tents, dome tents, canvas, nylon with aluminum poles. Your grandpa probably would've fainted at the overwhelming selection. And next to the tents were roll after roll of sleeping bags in all sorts of colors and styles.
Handy put a hand on his chin and tapped his upper lip with his forefinger. "Let me see here." He scanned the wall, offering a few hmm's and mmhmm's. "Ah, this one should do nicely." He pulled a neatly rolled red sleeping bag from a stack and pulled back a corner to reveal the lining. "This one's got a thick insulated interior with flannel lining that should go a long way at keeping you warm on the cold nights we get around here." He unzipped it a bit and then zipped it back up. "See that? An easy glide zipper...really nice, just--"
"A few dollars more," I interjected.
He smiled again. "Yes, and worth every penny. How about it?"
"Worth every penny you say?"
"In that case, I'll take it."
He handed me the canteen, slipped the flashlight into the center of the rolled up sleeping bag, and tucked it under his right arm. "Will you be wanting a tent? Maybe a pup or a small dome?"
I shook my head. "No. I'm only going to sleep outside if I can't make it back in time."
He nodded. "Well, you never know. Where are you hiking to?"
"I'm going to hike from Callie's to old man Tallup's cabin."
He raised his eyebrows. "That's quite a trek from what they tell me, are you sure you don't want a tent?"
"Alright then." He clapped me on the shoulder. "Tell you what, since you're a new customer and you're buying some quality items, I'll throw in a free tarp and a length of rope so you can put up a makeshift shelter should the need arise."
"Thanks. I appreciate that."
"No problem, friend, now I expect you'll be wanting some matches and a few rations."
I nodded. "You sell food here too?"
"Just camping rations. If you need anything more substantial than beef jerky and dried fruit, you'll need to stop by Kregger's market."
"I think jerky and dried fruit should suffice for this trip."
His eyes lit up again. "I think I have another item you might be interested." He took off toward the next aisle. "Just the thing for a light packer." He stopped in front of the fishing rods.
"I'm not really planning on doing any fishing on this hike."
"Well, you just never know. If you get stuck out there longer than you planned on...well, something like this little beauty might help you catch your next meal." He thrust a little green handled stubby fishing rod, minus the rod, toward me. "It's a pocket fisherman. Perfect size to fit in that pack of yours and easy to cast."
I actually laughed out loud. "Well, since you've been so helpful, I'll go ahead and take it."
"You won't regret it, my friend, this little gizmo might just save your life." He tapped the side of the rod. "Yep, you just never know." He turned quickly, gesturing for me to follow him. "Now let's get you some matches and rations so you can be on your way."
We turned down the next aisle and nearly ran over Ranger Rick.
Handy almost dropped the pocket fishing rod. "Sorry about that, Ranger. We're just going to grab some of those matches there in front of you.”
The Ranger leaned back and looked at me. "What are you needing matches for? You remember what I told you about fire safety?”
I felt like a scolded school kid. I could even feel my cheeks warm. "If things work out they way I plan on my hike, I won't even be needing them. They're just in case...you know." He didn't look like he knew.
Rick made a little clicking noise and pushed the brim of his hat up. "Where are you hiking to?"
"I'm going out to old man Tallup's cabin, you know the place?"
I swear I saw his pupils get bigger and then contract again in the span of a second.
"That's quite a hike." He looked me up and down. "Especially for an inexperienced hiker. "He know you're coming?"
"No...I don't really know him...I was just talking to Callie earlier..." He raised an eyebrow. "And I showed her this little map I found in my room up at the lodge." I fished your picture out of my wallet along with the now crinkled map. "She thought it looked like it could be a map to Tallup's place." I handed Rick the map and your picture. "I'm hoping that he might know something about my daughter. You haven't seen her around here, have you?"
Rick glanced at your picture. Did his eyes do that thing again? I couldn't be sure. He took the map and studied it for a few seconds before handing it back to me. "You know, Tallup isn't the sort of man you just drop in on."
I rubbed the back of my neck. "Does he have a phone...maybe I could give him a call first."
Both Handy and Rick chuckled. "Heavens no," said Rick.
"Then how does one get a hold of him?"
"It's usually the other way round. Tallup will get a hold of you when the time is right...at least right for him."
"All the same, I think I'll hike out there anyway. Not much else to do while I'm waiting for Sam to get back."
"You're waiting on Sam?" Handy asked.
I nodded. "Yep, my car is sitting in front of his garage. Dang thing died on me."
"Well then you will have plenty of time on your hands. Can I interest you in a canoe or a kayak? Nothing like a little boating on the river to pass the time."
"No thanks. Just going to do a little sight seeing."
He nodded. "Okay, but you know where to come if you change your mind...I'll give you a nice discount on one...even throw in the oars for free." He nudged my shoulder. "That's a joke of course, the oars are included."
I smiled. Like I said, his manner was infectious. Ranger Rick's on the other hand was downright dour.
"Can you put this extinguisher on the Forestry account?" He pointed to the tiny red cylinder he was holding. The thing didn't look like it could put out a cigarette, let alone a real fire.
"Sure thing, Ranger.”
I chuckled a little.
"What's so funny?" asked Rick.
"I don't know, it just doesn't look like that thing would pack enough punch."
He pulled the brim of his hat back down. "If you catch a fire just as it starts, you don't need much more than this. Now, if you'll excuse me." He pushed past us and walked briskly to the door, the little bell announced his exit stage left.
<==Swap with Cassette 2: Side B | Change Cassette==>