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.
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.
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.
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"