Jack Avani- we've now officially scraped barrel bottom. Little Jackie once bought a tugboat and now he thinks he's Captain Ahab. Well, it'll take more than peg-legs, birds, and eye-patches to learn that lesson that you'll be swashbuckling with the best of them. We will no longer weep over spilled milk or wet crayons, but, fascism notwithstanding, we will whittle a lie longer than your most walked meridian.
ALONG THE VANISHING COAST
It must have been around four when the man lurched awake, unsure which side of the slurry between sleeping and waking the explosion came from. Whether the night-tearing screaming from his dream culminated in such a violent impact that he awoke, or that the shaking of his house was preceded by some kind of missile that shred into his dreaming. Either way, by the time he reached the quarry at the back end of the property boundary, the sun had begun to disperse the thick oceanic fog that was characteristic of the late summer mornings. A fog which left the house without power before he had set out to find the cause of the still steaming, cannonball-sized hole in the side of the recliner and the blackened streak across the concrete floor, trying to keep Fang, his white shepherd from stepping on any of the broken glass strewn about the unlikely scene.
After grabbing some bread and what strips of pork he still had refrigerated, and heating up day-old coffee on the stove, the man grabbed his bow and arrow, his coat, and walked outside into the cold, wet air, Fang in tow. They crossed the grass lawn which gave way to gravel in a jagged border of unlandscaped right angles, heading for the garage. The man decided to take the land cruiser out to the quarry—propelled by too eager a curiosity to walk. It took twenty or so minutes of rounding up the various containers, the last remnants of gasoline strewn about the garage. He tried not to think of the potential consequences of using up the last of the fuel. The 1962 Toyota Land Cruiser was typically reserved to ferry the man between the property’s mulched dirt roads and the chevy parked on the side of the highway a few miles west of the house. A necessary go-between to surrounding towns when he needed supplies.
Fang hopped in the passenger seat as the man sat behind the wheel. He punched the clutch a few times, letting the nearly ancient vehicle warm up before reversing out the garage door. It still opened automatically.
Butterflies danced across the hood of the beast as it bounced and rolled across the rutted dirt road. The grill of the cruiser pushed down the long dried and yellowed grass in the middle of the lane, down from the house’s low-sloped hilltop perch to the flat bottom of the valley towards the ridgeline of his destination. The vehicle bounced along smoothly, kicking up dirt clouds behind, dry dust mixing with the wet morning mists. He passed one of the nearby hunting cabins of boarded up windows, dilapidated and demure, front door slack-jawed, roof slumped, deflated.
Condensation gathered in the man’s beard and on his face. There was no windshield to deflect the wet air. Yep, this thing’s been rolled no less than three times, s’a miracle she still runs so well. He wasn’t thinking of much as he drove, rocking on the cruiser’s squeaking suspension, still somewhat rousing himself out of sleepiness. But as he passed the sepulchral chimney column that stood within a square of crooked fencing, he found himself thinking of his first tour of the property. Him in the passenger seat, Matt driving and telling him about a family dispute that led to this house being burned down, them fleeing in the night, never to be heard of again.
They, the man and his dog, passed a fork to the left which went on for about twenty feet before disappearing into a slough of blackberry bush that used to connect the two adjacent valleys under the Madras-Trask title. That road’s neat, and uh course by neat I mean if it had steel tracks, it’d be considered a rollercoaster in some states. Yeah, well if it was considered a difficult pass back then….
The cruiser pulled to a stop, Fang lifting his head from his paws. The man yanked a lever in the center of the dashboard, putting the beast into a lower gear before the steep ascent over the ridge to the backside of the property. Fang sounded a loose gurgle of a growl, and the man looked over into the canine’s line of sight. He reached slowly for his bow on the passenger side, simultaneously drawing an arrow from his back. By this point they were watching, two looking at two: man and dog with austere and near-sordid intent; blank and black eyes above muzzles paused mid-mastication. As the arrowhead cleared the quiver, he pulled it forward and set the bow in front of him, and all in one smoothly controlled motion, gathered the string into the nock and rested the carved wood on his finger along his eyesight. But, just as he began to pull the string back, muscles taughtening under the full draw weight of sixty pounds, they fled, bounding into the forest. Fang lurched to go after them, but the man grabbed the dog by the flank. Together they watched them bound away. Lady, he said, a habit he picked up from Mark, a sign of respect. He punched the clutch and made to drive off. Used to be that taking down a flat-top was not only illegal, but dishonorable to the hunt. But it seemed to him that if the eschaton of man would have him kill out of desperation rather than sport…well more than just some rules, codes, would have to be abandoned.
As he ascended the ridge, fighting with the manual steering over the ragged terrain, hints of sunlight began to filter through the fog, creating an orange glow and casting uneasy shadows in the spaces between trees, shortly manifested whispers beckoning before disappearing into the parallax.
Manzanita bushes lined the road’s steep edge, their red roots holding the gravel path back from sliding down. This precarious stretch of road always reminded him that the First Cruiser lay somewhere down at the bottom of the steep side of the ridge. He had never gone to look for himself. Supposedly a body was never recovered from the wreck.
At the bottom of the valley’s steep road, he veered right along the property’s edge, regarding the pond he’d damned up and stocked with fish from a neighboring property years ago. It was at the lowest point of the year. From the road he could see the dithering fish and even bushels of eggs, their sky bearing down on them, bringing closer whatever void they might imagine exists above the water-line. He jerked his attention back to the road as a good portion of it had slid out toward the pond and he fought to keep the cruiser sinking down into it.
Rounding the back edge of the property now, he came upon the quarry and the backside of the ridge between him and the house. This place doesn’t exist. There was a time when, to dig, even if on your own property, and to use the gravel, you needed a mineral license from the State of California. Out here, things like that really weren’t taken so seriously, the intensely sloped terrain of the valleys making this place as remote an area as any, a natural deterrent to governing bodies.
He parked the jeep in the quarry and began to hike up the river of stones that gradually grew and led up to the rock face on the south side of the ridge. As he pushed himself up the steep incline, the fog began to dissipate and the sun came down in its full August force. He was soon sweating and breathing heavily. Fang loped up the hill behind him, an old man in his own right, each jump made in methodic succession, panting harder than his master. The man used the surrounding Madrones to pull himself upward, his gnarled, rugged hands gripping the trees and pushing off the few papery flakes that remained on their smooth red skin.
Before long, there were no more trees along the rocky slope. The man nearly had to crawl up the hillside, the sun pouring right down onto his head and back. With each step rocks and dry detritus slipped out from beneath him, making for slow progress.
As he got further up the hill, the rocks grew in size, making for easier foot- and hand-holds. He noticed that they also seemed to get warmer, some hot to the touch. He cleared the last slope, the rock face composing the top of the valley’s ridge coming into full view. The massive wall of rock was pulverized, sunk in to itself like some great withered mouth-piece of the world.
The man stopped and looked up at the concavity of rubble seeping steam into the morning air. Fang came up beside him as he leaned against a large boulder. In between bouts of panting, the dog whimpered. Taciturn, the man continued up, climbing up and toward it, his nose and mouth filling with the acrid allure of an alien thing.