10—los 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
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 first level 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, . 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, 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 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 “.”
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 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. 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.
. . .
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.
Cold silence, the silence cold now.
Earthen smell. Will struggled to awaken.
Then CLACK 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.
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 “,” 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.
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"