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Monday, September 14, 2020

Running, Installment 5

                                                        12—running lark avenue

Early on a cold December morning, a tall, dark-mustached man emerges from the belly of the large L-shaped stucco building. His breath is visible in clouds which trail behind his loping figure for a bare instant before disappearing. He approaches, and he is in some sort of pain, or is lost in some difficult thought process, or is about to cry. Perhaps all of these are true.

He jogs directly toward us, his face disturbed, his breathing heavy. He runs to us and through us with a little pulling sensation that is oddly familiar.

Early in the cold December morning, the same figure approaches the corner of University Avenue and Blossom Hill Road. He smiles now, his bright blue shoes repeating their strides more easily and more quickly than before. As we watch, his smile turns to a scowl, he casts quick glances about him, and, catching the green walk light he quickens his pace, pulls through us again then sprints across Blossom Hill into Oak Meadow Park.

A fleeting birdlike sensation of passage, over trees, above the lake. We are standing on the overpass of Lark Avenue, above Highway 17. The runner approaches us, up the hill, a panting, plodding figure emerging from thin gray smog. Traces of the earlier scowl remain upon his face like the yellow crust of breakfast’s egg yolk. He looks around as he runs as if he expects to discover someone following him. He does not yet realize that he is not being followed. He is being led. He passes through us for the third and final time this morning, and we turn to regard his receding form. As it disappears. Into the cold December morning.

*****

Will stood in the shower with the palms of his hands pressed flat against the wall beneath the shower head, his feet against the far end of the tub’s floor, and let the near-scalding water wash his flushed body while yielding his calves and heel tendons to the stretch they literally ached for.

He had just endured the smoggiest, most difficult, and most disturbing run of his brief running career. It was the smoggiest because had chosen this morning a new run from his Los Gatos map, gambling that at six-thirty in the morning the freeway overpass could not possibly be too layered with traffic exhaust fumes. Wrong.

It was the most difficult because he had awaked twice the night before with variations upon a nightmare, all underscored by the “three beat theme” with which he had become all too accustomed, visually and almost physically enhanced by licking flames, and partly because he and Sarah had ended their night arguing about the artist versus the cocktail waitress, the artist versus the librarian, the artist versus the world. They had finally achieved a truce, but his spirit today was edged with self-doubt. Maybe he was wasting valuable time under an illusion that he was “taking a break.”

The run was the most disturbing because, for the first time since the weirdness began, not a single alien image had assaulted his solo run consciousness. There had only been the creepy sensation that he was being followed.

He felt almost angry at that, as if the bearer of the unsettling messages were letting him down.

This was getting complicated, he thought, as he straightened up, out from under the shower’s stinging jets. He reached for the shampoo.

That night, after work, he stayed at the library until closing time, nine o’clock. When the lights dimmed at five until nine, he reluctantly rewound the microfilm and tucked it back into its little Dewey-indexed green cardboard box. It was labelled “Los Gatos News, July 1, 1887”—December 30, 1892.” He returned the box to its appointed shelf in the small side typewriter room which doubled as a research area.

He left the library feeling like a child who had been ordered to go to bed before finishing a very challenging jigsaw puzzle.


13—waking nightmare

 

The following Monday Will and Sarah took the Beast up Highway 280 to Los Altos, where Sarah’s dentist hung his proverbial shingle.

Will wore running shorts underneath is baggy jeans and his favorite old baby blue sweatshirt was pulled over his old faithful “Barrow Whalers” tee-shirt. His brilliant blue running shoes snuggled his sweat socked feet.

At the dentist’s office parking lot, he kissed his lovely honey goodbye, pulled off his jeans, and leaned for a minute against the old white Mercedes. Doin’ de Sheehan Stretch. He breathed the cool December air deeply and slowly, intentionally, from the solar plexus, quenching his lungs with its nourishing substance, tagging each fully appreciated bundle of oxygen with a message to his blood: “Sustain me. Sustain me.”

He had been up half the night, awakened repeatedly by the mercilessly hammering footfalls of the One-Ton-Centipede, unsuccessfully trying to sleep, he had finally fallen—or rather crawled—into that shallow sea of half sleep, half dream where neither half owned controlling interest in his body’s corporation.

Will carried with him into that unsettling landscape the conscious intent to dream about Sarah, about lovemaking, about helium balloons and juggling clowns. His attempt to direct his dream live was a last ditch stand in a flagging battle for self-control. He had reluctantly arrived at the understanding that someone, some one, was trying to communicate with him through his dreams and through his very imagination; but he had not been able to lean into the message. Though part of his mind wanted to open up, to accept the cable from the “one,” the majority of his conscious mind steadfastly refused to sign for it.

The perceptual subject line was too disturbing.

Three beats. Click. Click. Click. Or Thump, Thump, Thump. Seemingly infinite variations on that theme. A choking claustrophobia. Aloneness. Not solitude, that peaceful version of being alone, but aloneness, the constriction of isolation and the absolute awareness that one has been forgotten. Not “loneliness,” which implies the possibility of resolution, but aloneness, stark and austere and soul chilling in its essential clarity, its finality. Then fire. Old fashioned wooden structures engulfed in roaring flames. Papers on a desk. Teams of horses galloping. That oddly gentle tug, like something plucked out of his dream body. Circling around, always, like the refrain of a song, the three beats. Clack. Clack. Clack. Pat. Pat. Pat.

Pound Pound Pound. All. Is. Cold. All. Is. Dark. It was very cold and very dark. Heat from flames should stifle. So what is this overwhelming sensation of closed in coldness? Can cold stifle? Smell of peaty earth. Earthworm castings, pervasive. Immobility. Aloneness. Pat. Pat. Pat. Echoing in the external night. The internal, eternal night. Aching. To be. Not alone.

“Help me,” the cold voice whispered.

“Help. Me,” it pled.

“Please, Will, help me,” Will whispered aloud in his sleep, spoke it with an urgency from he knew not where. Sitting. Bolt upright in his bed. Alone. Knowing he had spoken aloud. Certain he had been spoken to. His heart jumped into his throat. His whole flesh crawled with large, tight goosebumps.

*****

Through early morning Lost Altos, Will ran back toward Highway 280 from the dentist’s office.

The novelist Herbert Gold wrote, “Sometimes a person feels blue and running makes him rosy.” Will began to feel rosy hear the end of his first mile. He had seen other runners on his way, out in the morning, and it looked to him as though his own pace were faster. He felt serious about his running. Proud of it. In it.

They all are into their last mile of their morning twenty, he told himself. Keep the ego in check and just reap the rewards this run brings you. Feel how your brain seems to have become such fast friends with your feet. Feel breath finding and dusting out the far corners of your lungs. Feel the unbelievably smooth interface of all your body’s organs and muscles, the strength in its bones, the forwardness of its thrust.

Feel alive.

He did some sprinting in spurts during his second mile, and took it easy and slower for his third, until he found himself approaching the long, low building in which he could imagine Sarah sitting, jaws wide open, teeth being scraped of plaque. Ewwww. He still had a quarter of a mile to go before he completed his four miles for the day, so he turned into the vacant parking lot next the dentist office.

The sign read “St. Paul’s Lutheran Church,” and was a fine parking lot.

A truly wonderful parking lot.

Level and black topped, it was as empty as a parking lot can be. Bright new white lines had been added very recently, obliquely obliging the congregation to pew vehicles in an orderly fashion. Over a row of these lines Will ran. They spread out like chevrons beneath him, in stark white contrast to the black asphalt. Will sprinted up them and down them, and as he did so his conscious mind continued counting.

But as his eyes went just slightly out of focus, those lines that passed rapidly below took on the nature of a wire wheel, upon which he ran, sprinting for dear life, never leaving this cage and never getting any closer to his destination.

“4-5-6-7-400,” he spoke aloud, slowing to a walk, walking one more length of his little course, allowing, for the sake of progress, the thought to finally, truly, take shape in his mind.

Someone was buried where he did not belong.

That some one did not Rest In Peace.

For whatever twisted reason, it was up to Will Gardner to help.

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Please stay tuned. One or two chapters of this 26 chapter novella will be published right here on scottmerrickdotnet every Monday until we're done here. Pop back up to the top of the blog and type your email to subscribe for reminders! Coming up next Monday,--Chapter 14, "a little light history" and 15, "the wall"


Monday, September 07, 2020

Running, Installment 4

                                                              10—los gatos creek trail 


Will ran the Los Gatos Creek Trail for the first time the sixteenth of December. He was alone. 

The morning was unusually warm, even for Los Gatos, this December sixteen. Nine o’clock in the morning he had to be at work; so, as usual, he was up and out by six-thirty. The smog was fairly dispersed this morning. The Santa Cruz Mountains looked close enough to reach out and touch, and the blue sky enhanced vividly their dark greenness as he ran down University towards them. 

He had walked by the trail entrance dozens of times. A hurricane fence with a chained and padlocked gate supported the carved wooden sign whose green painted letters proclaimed: 

LOS GATOS CREEK TRAIL 

PEDESTRIAN-EQUESTRIAN-BICYCLES-NO OTHERS 

TRAIL HOURS---DAYLIGHT TO DARK 

 

Beside the impregnable gate, the gap between two steel poles allowed a hiker, jogger, or bicyclist to hoist himself and/or his bike over two fat logs mounted knee high and horizontal. Spoilers. Enforcers of the posted rules.  

NO MOTORCYCLES OR MOTORIZED VEHICLES.” 

Will climbed over the logs, cutting off his stopwatch, and walked down the deep decline marking the trailhead (taking it easy in deference to his weak left knee, which he always taped to avoid further injury). At the firslevel ground he punched the watch’s button again and ran, easily at first, testing the dirt and gravel terrain, carefully avoiding gulley drainage cuts and larger stones whilst counting in his head. 

His counting was, by now, fairly automatic. He used his right footfall out of habit, counting 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-1-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-2-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-3 and he fully realized that sixteen hundred steps may not actually have constituted precisely a mile, but at this early stage of his training he figured that it was good for his psyche to give himself a long average stride and thereby possibly award himself better looking times. He was the only one who saw them, and in any case his legs were longer than average. That “100” was his signal to hit his lap button to freeze the elapsed time on his watch’s screen so that he could at his leisure glance at his time enough to memorize it for notation after the run. Meanwhile, the watch was still working on his mile number two, and he was still counting in his head. 

The trail, while a bit uneven, was pleasant to run. It meandered lazily along between Highway 17 and the Los Gatos Creek, the highway for the most part above the trail and the creek below.  

 At spots along the trail, a steep wall of dense scrub brush choked the highway view trailside while a nearly vertical concrete trough/wall invited the careless to a quick careen and a cold bath. Will was reminded of the time he had walked right into a bunch of parked shopping carts outside the Safeway. He’d only owned his new digital watch a day or two, and he was on his way into the store after a run, messing with the watch, not looking where he was going. It was a good thing he had made an ass of himself there, he now thought, than to have made a cripple of himself in a place like this. 

Patches of cool shade and shadow gave way to bright sunshine and the rich, humus smells of autumn. Five more days and it would be winter, officially, and here was the kid, breaking his second sweat of the day, wearing nylon running shorts and a light sweatshirt over his “Barrow Whalers” sleeveless basketball shirt. 

He thought of Barrow, back in March. It had been sixty degrees below zero, the sun barely having encroached upon the white and blue crystalline world, becoming a red red sunset before it had really finished rising. He wondered what it would be like to be there now, just days before the Winter Solstice, the longest night. Little did Will know that one day far into the future, the citizens of Barrow would successfully vote to revert its name to “Utqiagvik.”  

He thanked God, whoever that was, for the warm sunshine he was running through and that he was wondering about Barrow and not experiencing it. 

Smiling now, Will approached what might be the end of the trail, but he discovered instead a duplicate “NO MOTORCYCLES...” sign and a that the trail continued on up a sixty-plus degree hill. He leaned into it, shortened his stride, more by decree of the incline than of his own volition. He pressed on. 

At the hilltop the trail levelled off once again, veered off to the left to avoid crossing Highway 17, and aimed itself across an open field toward Lexington Lake. Will did the same. Through the pass lay the prize that was Los Gatos and beyond, the belly, San Jose. Dense layers of dark smog lay upon her upper belly and torso, but her thighs lay open to sunshine and clear blue sky. 

My god, he thought, I will be back to this place. Maybe on a mutual day off he and Sarah could pack a picnic and run out, lunch, and walk leisurely back in. 

He took in the lake. Lexington Lake, which did double duty as a reservoir for this part of the South Bay area and a recreation destination, was very low for this time of the year due to lack of rain. So this is why everyone is complaining, thought Will; and justifiably—a water shortage brings great concern to a town and surrounding area so densely populated. He ’mused for a moment, feeling the sun’s warmth washing over him. Before he knew what hit him, he sank into a waking dream of long ago. 

ClickickClickickClickick. 

That same sun shone hotly. The town’s dirt streets crisscrossed below as he (flying? Gliding?) approached the Main Street Bridge. It was constructed of unstripped cedar logs. The steep grades at either end of it led up to East and West Main Streets. 

He glided up this grade. Floated. Or walked. Or both.  

Before him was a wooden town, and he moved down the dirt road that was East Main. People ambled about, dressed in period clothing, like they were extras in an old Western movie. Horses stood at hitching posts, patient like plastic toys. A buggy raced toward. In silence, complete and smothering silence, the buggy, drawn by two galloping dark horses, approached, out of control. 

As Will froze, oddly without emotion, the beasts connected with his body. A sharp tug, then they had passed behind him. 

Now it was nighttime. He walked. Moving through this silent world, now shimmering strangely all about him. 

Enmeshed in that solid cushion of silence, he turned and entered a building over which hung an imposing wooden sign. The letters made no sense to him. One long string of bit indecipherable block letters, an & symbol, and another, still longer batch of unreadable letters. 

He was inside a small office that was filled with the pungent odor of leather, oak, and something else. Leather, wood, and something more bitter. The odor of silence? 

Piles of paper crowded the surface of the ancient desk. Some of the visible papers were maps. Some were charts. Some were lists of names and numbers. He moved closer to the list of names and a hand, an old, black-sleeved hand reached out as if it were his, and it pointed. 

It pointed to a name. As with the sign, the name made no sense to him, but he could see the format—last name first, comma, first name, middle name, all garbled letters, up there near the top of the page of paper. A number beside it. 

Clump. Clump. Clump. 

Darkness. 

Cold silence, the silence cold now. 

Earthen smell. Will struggled to awaken. 

Darkness. 

Silence. 

Then CLACK CLACK CLACK click click click and a cascade of clitters and clatters and thuds, all in sets of three of a kind and Will struggled with all his might to awaken.  

Silence. Darkness. Then BAM, BAM, BAM! 

Ears still ringing, Will wrenched open his eyes and burst out of the dream. 

He was still sitting against the boulder. A single cloud hid the sun. 

He checked his watch. Hardly any time had passed, although he felt he had been asleep and dreaming for hours. He stretched. 

For most of the run home and for most of the rest of the day, Will spent time wondering if those last three BAMs he had heard were part of the disturbing dream, or if they had been sounds in the real world. Never, never was he to figure that out. He would come to believe that it didn’t matter. He had experienced them, so they were real.

 

11—decision 

 

On that December sixteen, after his run, he was at work. He spent the better part of his lunch break at the library’s card catalog. In between checking out books, during brief respites when no one needed librarianlike assistance, and in the quiet solitude of the workroom while his hands were busy fitting new books with crisp clear plastic jackets, he had concluded his logical journey. 

Something was going on. Something substantial. Something meaningful. 

There was a mystery here, something that had God knows what to do with him, but some unreal thing that had some connection with reality. 

Too many of his nightly dreams, too many of his waking visions, too many of his growing inventory of memories from these were recurring with too much consistency and regularity. Was he going batshit nuts?  

He had, damn it all, begun to look at the world around him, his world, at least in part through the experiences of someone, yes of “some one,” whose identity was unknown to him. At least consciously unknown. 

He was going to do some research into the history of this town. He was going to find out who or what was responsible for the ongoing obscene and frightening violations of his mind. 

And, by God, whoever that was, he was going to make them stop.

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Please stay tuned. One or two chapters of this 26 chapter novella will be published right here on scottmerrickdotnet every Monday until we're done here. Pop back up to the top of the blog and type your email to subscribe for reminders! Coming up next Monday, Chapter 12, "running lark avenue" and 13, "waking nightmare"

Running, Installment 5

                                                         12—running lark avenue Early on a cold December morning, a tall, dark-mustached m...