You are reading Fiddleblack #2
I’ve never really known how to say things too good on account of there are so many words and I know so few of them. All the time things happen and I know that there’s a word for them somewhere in some language, because there has to be, because if there wasn’t a perfect word somewhere for anything then I don’t really know how to say what, but it’s bad. Like when I was a kid I remember standing on the edge of the forest at night and there were parts, like broke open parts of trees and holes in the ground and all this darkness in them but darker than just night darkness. Dark like there was nothing.
But this I can tell you about because I have the words. It was just a burl sasquatch. Burl is that soft, expensive wood that people up here carve with small chainsaws. It’s everywhere on account of no one has anything to do since the logging left, so they grow weed or carve burl for the tourists. A tourist once told me that I must be thankful for living in the redwoods—he called them majestic, which is what anyone who hasn’t lived near them says so they don’t have to say what they really are, which is I don’t know what, but there’s a word for it and it doesn’t mean majestic or awe-inspiring, it means the same as whatever word I’d use to tell you about how some people’s eyes look up here when they smoke too much meth, like the redwoods, like we’re all born crushed under something enormous and we can’t crawl out. But the tourist said I must be thankful and I think that he meant it more as a command than a whatever you’d call it, a speculation.
They sell the burl to the tourists like that. Mostly they carve horses and Indians and lots of bears too. It’s not that sasquatches are uncommon, either, it’s just that Herman carved only sasquatches and all of his were different than anything else. When I got to know him we’d go to the other burl places and we’d joke about carving real things instead of just things that look majestic. Herman would ask the other burlers why they didn’t carve meth heads and pregnant teenagers and drug-blasted college students from the wealthy parts of California who came here to just party Humboldt style before they saw the truth and were trapped forever. I suggested that they could carve pedophiles and middle-aged ladies who work in banks or government offices. But they would say no, none of that is majestic and tourists only want majestic. They’d tell Herman to go back to his sasquatches and he would, because a single one of his sasquatches was better than all their crap put together. Herman’s sasquatches were different than anything else. They made you feel really calm and not at all scared of the kind of thing that you should be scared of. The sasquatches were like uncles, like really cool uncles who would take you to do cool stuff. Uncles that were your mom’s brothers and not your dad’s so they wouldn’t take his side in anything.
I get confused sometimes about where I am in the telling of it, but it’s about the sasquatch, about the first burl sasquatch and about the real one later. Most of the burlers have a special area that they burl in and Herman was in his when I first saw him. From the very beginning I knew the sasquatch that I saw was special, so I wanted to watch him making one. The sawdust cut off of it like embers and some caught to the hair on his arms. I don’t want to sound like a fag talking about how I liked to watch him, because it wasn’t like that. There was something special about the way he made the sasquatches and I was watching for it. He had his flannel tucked into his blue jeans and his hair was puffed out like it had been washed too much, the back of it combed up into a duck tail. He looked like it was the eighties, which is when he went to high school, I found out later. I wish I’d went to high school in the eighties. I could have driven a cool car and tucked my shirts in.
Herman turned the chainsaw off and brushed the bright dust from his arms and hair and then looked at me, straight at me and smiled, but not in a gay way. It was because he knew I knew about the sasquatches. He came up to the chicken-wire wall of the burling area and grabbed into the wire with his hands. “You like sasquatch?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, scratching the edge of the bald spot on the top of my head.
I’d just moved to a little blue house there in Orick to be closer to my job up on the Klamath reservation, where I helped design the roads for the tribe. Herman liked that I made roads and he’d always ask which ones I’d made, but I told him it wasn’t like that, I didn’t make them, exactly, just did the office work and looked at maps all day. But he said it didn’t matter, I built them anyways. We started to hang out at the old biker bar in Orick, where Herman knew everyone from a long time ago, since he’d been a biker until his big wreck. They all talked about how in Eureka, back when they were in high school, you could just have street races every weekend straight down I and H and the cops wouldn’t stop you. Cars, trucks, bikes, anything. And you could take jeeps out on the dunes way up past Manila—thirty foot dunes, like they have in Oregon. But now it was all wildlife sanctuary and no one could drive there.
Other times we’d eat at my house or at his, which was nearby. Herman liked to make grilled cheese. I don’t know exactly what he’d do to them, but they always tasted amazing. Like nothing I’d ever eaten. Afterwards, we’d watch all these black-and-white Japanese biker movies that he liked, even though we couldn’t understand the language. I think he liked them better on account of not being able to know what they were saying. He told me how he’d go to Japan someday and buy a small house in the country. He said people believed in ghosts in Japan and everybody cared about everybody else.
Natthip was the old Thai man Herman paid to sweep up the burl and he’d been to Japan. He worked there for five years as an immigrant laborer, welding mostly, and he could speak some Japanese and when Herman said things about Japan Natthip would nod his head, smiling, and he would say “very true.” For Natthip everything was very true, which must be a nice way to think of things. I’m not sure how much Natthip spoke English or how he’d gotten here, but Herman liked him.
“Someday we’ll go back to Japan, Natthip,” Herman would say. “We’ll find peace there.”
Natthip struck the broom across the cement like it was a bundle of knives. “Very true,” he said.
I watched his bones roll underneath his arms and I thought they looked like water snakes, even though I had never seen a water snake in person.
Natthip stopped sweeping. It was sunny out, which was unusual and I think scares people here mostly, since we’re used to being covered up and we’re all afraid of burning in the light. Herman started his saw and began cutting the face into a faceless sasquatch. Natthip took a small plastic bag from his jacket pocket and filled it with ice. The ice glowed in the sun like it wasn’t ice, but maybe it was just the light since I wasn’t used to seeing it. Then he popped the cap off a glass bottle of soda and poured it into the bag and drank it with a straw.
“Natthip,” I said.
“Hello,” he said, smiling. I wasn’t sure about this smile, if it was a secret smile or a real one. I didn’t feel like he was tricking me with it or nothing, just, I don’t know, like it wasn’t a smile you have for being happy but more just the way muscles move during work—something automatic and sort of sad in the sense that it’s a kind of slow dying.
“Do they have sasquatch in Thailand?” I asked.
Natthip smiled. “Yes, Thailand,” he said. “I am Thailand. My family is dead there.” He sucked the soda from the bag with a rattling sound. No one knew how Natthip’s family had died or if they hadn’t actually and he was just using the wrong words.
“No, sasquatch,” I said.
Natthip did not even stop smiling when he drank. He just stuck the straw right between his teeth and pulled the soda through it. “Oh,” he laughed. He put the bag of soda and ice down in such a way that it didn’t spill and he pointed toward one of the finished sasquatches.
“Yeah,” I said. “In Thailand?” I pointed to the same sasquatch. “Thailand.”
He stood and moved toward the sculpture, pressing his finger into the contours of its spiky wooden fur. “Monkey Ghost,” he said, the words all cut-up and sharp from his teeth.
“Monkey Ghost,” I repeated.
“Yes.” He took his finger away. “In Thailand. My family is dead there.” He picked the bag back up and sucked at it until there was nothing but ice.
It was mostly on the hikes that Herman would tell me about sasquatch. Before, to be honest, I had never been one for hikes exactly. I knew that I wasn’t made for certain things in this world. I wasn’t made to play baseball as a kid, no matter which baseball stuff my stepdads would buy me. There’s just certain ways we’re made and we can’t get out of them same as you can’t quite leave Humboldt if you’re born here because that’s the same as you leaving yourself, which you can’t do except through dying. My mom says that when you die you crawl out of the skin glowing, at the shoulder blades first and then everywhere else in order—just made entirely of wings and light, born again and again and again and infinitely beautiful. She says I’ll be better then and I guess that’s true. Things seem so heavy now, anyways.
But what I’m saying is I thought hiking was one of those things I wasn’t built for in this world but Herman showed me. He gave me some old boots and taught me how to tuck my shirts in. He knew all the best places. He showed me where they filmed Jurassic Park 2 in Fern Canyon and how you could even sit on the same fallen tree as the guy fell behind before he got eaten by all the tiny dinosaurs. And then sometimes we’d drive into the Bald Hills or all the way to Trinity and I’d show Herman the roads we made at my job, all the way to Wautec even, where you probably had a fifty-fifty chance of getting stabbed.
“Sasquatch is everywhere out here,” he said, adjusting the distribution of the weight of his pack.
We were at a high point in the Trinity Alps and far down in all the folding greens and rock-colors I could see where they’d cut the highway that led to Willow Creek. I looked at all the adjacent peaks and imagined a sasquatch at every one of them. I didn’t know what a sasquatch might do there, but I thought they roared maybe. Like, they hit their chests and tore at their fur and made loud, enraged noises with their throats and their teeth—this was the way they could say all the things I couldn’t say but knew anyways, like when I’d wake up in Orick and think that everything altogether had drawn me here, to nothing and if you added up my whole life that’s what you’d get, nothing, because the things I’d really loved, you know, really loved and wasn’t obliged to love like my mom or country or all that, but things I’d loved just to love them had all fallen away until I’d never had any of them and couldn’t even speak them right to other people, because I guess when I think of it I don’t have no language, on account of everything I say is just a different way of saying failure. But the sasquatches could say that all better, all true because they don’t need words—just roaring, like the blood roaring and pure rage at the whole of everything—at all of it crushing me always and there being no escape. The secret is that I don’t know that I believe what mom says about dying into light and wings. Maybe we just die into dead things. Maybe afterwards we’re just more weight to crush others. But I believed in the sasquatch, at least.
“How many are there?” I asked Herman.
He hoisted his pants with a rough motion of the shoulders. “Just one.”
“One.” A wind moved across us and pulled the green of the trees back and then pulled them forward. “Sasquatch is perfect. Perfect. So there’s just one sasquatch which is all sasquatch anywhere.”
“Oh,” I said.
Half the time in Trinity we also had to stop at his farm. Natthip was there usually, taking care of the plants. There were others too, people I didn’t know at first and who didn’t trust me because I made roads for the government and they didn’t want roads or government but Herman said it was okay, I was cool. Herman owned it all, though I didn’t know how he got the money. He managed everything and when he was off talking with the others Natthip liked to take me around and show me the plants that he had bred special. He tried to tell me about them but it didn’t really work.
“This one,” he moved his leathered finger along the serrated edges of the leaf. “Very true. Special seed, you see?”
“Okay,” I said. “Did you bring the seed from home?”
“Home.” Natthip smiled. I wasn’t sure if it was a question. He spread open the smallest leaves and checked them for bugs.
“Thailand.” I scratched my bald spot. “Is the seed from Thailand?”
Natthip looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun. “In Thailand, my father dead. My mother dead.” He snapped his fingers and scraped one palm roughly across the other each time he said dead, like he was squishing bugs he had found on the leaf. “My brother dead. My wife dead.” The plants shivered in the wind and the sunlight. I was sweating. “My sons dead. My daughters dead.” He cupped dirt into his hands and showed it to me, still smiling, his eyes wet and open like baby leaves. “Dead. Big, big death.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“Very true.” He dropped the dirt like it was nothing and went back to his plants.
In the bar back in Orick Herman drank beer and showed some traveling bikers his scars. They looked over at me like I wasn’t supposed to be there but Herman said I was cool, that I was from here and knew what was up. I wasn’t paying much attention, though. I think I was trying to figure out some problem from work, like I had messed up on something and had to tell someone, but I can’t remember. I just remember thinking that if I didn’t fix it the road would be built broken. Broken from the start.
Herman traced a scar from behind his ear all the way along his jawbone and then down his neck. “That was my big wreck,” he said. “Out on the ninety-six. You ridden it? The Bigfoot scenic highway along the Klamath—that’s a holy river and I fell a hundred feet down into it. God damn it was cold. Maybe I don’t remember, though. You know how it is when you try to remember a wreck. You can tell how things looked but not exactly the feeling of them because that went too damn fast and hardly touched you—just something bigger and invisible brushing up against me in the darkness, I don’t know its name or nothing, but just that touch and all the pieces it left burned into me. I guess I just knew I fell a hundred feet into the water and the bike after me, all burnt up from when it struck a rock and the tank blew just all black metal raining and I do remember the hissing sound as the pieces hit—I remember thinking about snakes, like I was in a fever and having snake dreams, which are portentous. I was all broken inside but I guess I grabbed at rocks or got lodged in some at least, a place where the water eddied so it was deep and slow and cold. It was cold, I do remember. It was cold.” He took his hand away from the scar.
The bikers finished their glasses and said something to him but I didn’t hear it. I needed to call my mom and tell her to stop sending me money, because I was independent now. I helped build roads for the tribe.
Herman sawed into the fists of a giant sasquatch. Natthip stood at a distance in the sunlight, sweeping slowly at discarded, hot-looking fragments of metal and wood. The sasquatch was only half-made but Herman was doing the fists already, even though its head was still just a block of gnarled wood. Natthip’s broom made a dry sound and the pieces of wire and nail rattled together underneath. The sasquatch had one arm outstretched like it was blessing me, its head enormous and unfinished, like it didn’t even need a head to bless me. I thought of the pope. Last year when my mom and I went to Italy for vacation we saw the pope and he blessed us, though not us especially, just one big blessing for everyone, including those that didn’t speak Italian except maybe not us, now that I think about it, because we never were Catholic. I don’t think anyone in my family was Catholic, so maybe it didn’t count. Mom liked it though. She put her hand on her chest like it meant something. I thought maybe she’d faint, but she didn’t. I guess I did the same thing, though—pretended like it meant something—because I thought that’s what she wanted. The whole trip was like that, kind of. We went to see old things and to touch them whenever we could because there used to be a time when there was meaning in stuff, I guess, and my mom wanted that. She pretended like she believed it but she doesn’t. None of us do. Never did, not even the pope or the Romans or all those people that died in the coliseum or the ones buried in the catacombs whose names no one knows.
Anyways, I especially don’t believe in it now. I only saw the pope from a distance. He looked white and all crushed apart like his bones were broken, sticking out of the skin maybe and children sucking at them already for the marrow before he was dead. No one could understand what he said, not even the translator and not just because it was in Latin or whatever but because his throat was rotting right there in his neck. I just believe in sasquatch, because that is real—because sasquatch makes no promises and can’t even say words so he doesn’t pretend but only growls or roars and tears at his own fur like it’s something that doesn’t belong to him. I see him and his eyes are like the way you see rain in distant storms. He tells me things anyways, without words. He tells me that I don’t have a soul, which I guess is true. He doesn’t have a soul either and he never dies. That’s the secret I kept from the pope—when he blessed me he blessed my soul and I don’t have one so it didn’t mean a thing, since you can’t bless an open cavity. But there in the sun with the metal rattling under the broom and the saw-sounds and pieces flying off the wood like fire—sasquatch blessed me there without even a head. Because his blessing isn’t words dropped into darkness. It’s your skull pressed into dirt and your lungs breathing the dirt and that life in the dirt which is just full of it, full of force, plain and simple. I believe in sasquatch.
Natthip repeated some words in Japanese but neither of us understood them. It was night now and we were all in Herman’s trailer watching Japanese biker movies. This one was about how two Japanese guys both liked a girl but the girl died near the beginning by accident and then the two guys—they wore leather jackets and greased their hair back and they smoked everywhere, even in gas stations where you’re not supposed to—they just raced each other. They never stopped racing. Even though everybody else in the races died they didn’t and they just raced straight through the corpses. There were shots of them head-on with those moving backgrounds you see in old movies. The police tried to stop them but the police died. Their friends and families tried to stop them but their friends died on motorcycles and then their families died in a big fire started by all the other bikers—and then the other bikers died in the race and it was just the two of them at the end riding on those ocean cliffs where the girl they both loved died by accident in the beginning. You could hardly see the ocean like it was an ocean because of the old black and white film. It was just more like a grinding blackness and a crushing sound. They didn’t die then or anything. They just kept racing each other alone forever.
I remember the fire, which I guess doesn’t need to be described because if there’s one thing we all know it’s fire and if there’s one thing we can say about fire it’s that no one ever feels like they can tell anyone quite what fire is. I like to think that you can’t understand fire for us ever until you see it hit someone’s eyes and flash there. I remember that, I guess. The fire hitting Herman’s eyes as he talked. That morning we’d driven through Happy Camp and stopped to look at the giant metal sasquatch someone had welded together and I can say that it was the only time I ever saw a sasquatch approximating Herman’s. Herman had always liked it. He said he’d passed it right before his big wreck and after the wreck was when he started making the sasquatches because he couldn’t get this one out of his mind at first. He told me how in the cold water all broken and caught on the rocks he only ever thought of sasquatch. I asked if he had hoped sasquatch might save him but he said no, sasquatch saves nobody. He had just thought of this big metal sasquatch made burning hot by the sun.
Earlier we had picked up a hitchhiker who needed a ride to Happy Camp to refill his propane tank. He was an old guy who said he’d been working on a friend’s property cleaning up the trash—he said he didn’t have a problem with Indians in general and he liked the traditionals but there were some that had no hope left and just lived like everything was dead. He said it was them mostly that had put the trash there. They just dump it off the roadside or throw it in the river. “That’s a holy river,” Herman had said and the old man agreed. He had the propane tank on his lap like he was cradling a giant egg, his white beard draped over it for warmth. Herman told him about his big wreck and the old man nodded sadly.
“I’ve lost a lot of friends to this river,” he said.
But now it was late and Herman and I had hiked up behind Happy Camp and were sitting at the fire, sitting too close to it I guess, cause it all seemed too dark out there where there wasn’t fire. I remember looking at the fire and then out into the darkness and thinking if sasquatch was out in that dark alone or if he was in the fire maybe, deep down in it like atoms are deep down in things and always burning. I was listening to Herman.
“Do you know what the Eternal Now is?” he asked me.
“Umm, I guess.”
“You have linear time, which is like history and progress and all that, then you have cyclical time, where everything comes back to itself and you have lived this same life again and again with the same mistakes always and then there is the Eternal Now, which maybe isn’t time at all so much as it is just a singular infinity. It is how every moment is infinite in extension and divisibility. I think the only one who really knows the Eternal Now is sasquatch.”
I looked into the fire and its heat on my eyes felt different than its heat on any other part of my body. “So he is infinite?”
“He is us,” Herman said. He shoved a broken-up branch into the fire and I heard it cracking apart. “Sasquatch is all of humanity once we reach the ultimate enlightenment and enter the Eternal Now.”
“But how is he here, then, in our time?” A wind crashed through the forest like an animal and I turned to try to look at it but couldn’t see anything because it was wind only and darkness.
Herman didn’t look at anything but the fire, doubled in his eyes. “It’s not like that. Once you reach the Eternal Now you are in all time at once and all of humanity is gathered together into the perfect form and we need no language because we are one body at last.”
“Sasquatch,” I said.
I always figured some eyes saw more or saw maybe everything like seeing fire—and I think this is what’s special about people’s eyes up here. You want to think it’s the meth and mushrooms that does it but I think they’re just, what do you call it—symptomatic. Gnawing eyes is the way to say it. My cousin had them. Like they’re holes augured in the bone but not just bone—like the bone is also the bone of the world or knowledge of it and the eyes just pits punched through that knowledge, howling like sometimes they make space howl in old movies when space was just stars painted on a torn screen. Up here we all have cousins like that, unless we are the cousins. My mom called me to tell me when he died and it was hard for me to pretend to be sad, because I hardly knew him. She told me how the car came down the cliff and how it folded together as wreckage, stabbing the broke-through doorframe straight into the center of his chest—into the part that feels most solid but is really the dangerous, fragile matrix of our life which can just as simply shatter into slivers of bone, lung-puncturing, heart-flooding bone. I didn’t know what to say to her.
“What is he made of?” I asked Herman.
“Hmm,” he grunted, though I wasn’t sure if he’d made the sound or if it was the fire. The wind cut through it and its edges whipped up in circular patterns. He broke another branch in half but did not throw it on the fire. Instead he just held the terminal end up in the light, studying its fresh, green bud which would never flower. After a while, he answered, “You know how when you get rocks buried deep, deep down in so much pressure they can’t neither break nor melt exactly but they change solid—make new rocks unlike anything just heat or time could make?”
“Okay,” I said. I dug my feet into the hot, sandy dirt around the fire.
“He’s made like that,” Herman threw the doomed bud into the fire, which popped it apart like a joint coming undone behind your kneecap. “Except it’s not rocks but all matter that was ever human or touched humans, all of it, down even to them electrons crashing out of distant stars what only two or three astronomers ever even seen—even them is gathered with the rest, us and remnants of us—pressed together to make something singular and new. At the ending of time then cast through it so we see him now just like we see the deep stones cast up and can read in them omens of crushing.”
The fire caught the innards of the bud and unfurled it once at least before it was dust.
Herman had a bag of silver. We had to stop by one of his farms on the way back so he could pay everyone there and he only paid in silver—special Mattole silver coins pressed in Petrolia with a pot leaf on one side and a salmon jumping on the other. Herman was convinced that when the banks failed this would be the only real money, aside from water, so he kept safes full of it in basements on the farm next to pallets stacked with water jugs. The bag was heavy and the sun was on it and the silver sweated inside. I saw Herman walk toward the pitched-over awning of one of the farm buildings and there was a tall man there with uneven eyes smiling like he was dizzy in the heat. I didn’t watch anymore.
When I found Natthip I could barely see him because the plants were so tall, their buds swollen out like anthills and the rich stink of them sweating sour-sweet under the heat of the sun. Fat black wasps hung in the air like drops of syrup. Natthip was sitting cross-legged in the shade of the plants, a bright bud held in the palm of his hand like a jewel. The bud was limned with ruddy hairs which bent the dappled light into a hazy near-blue glow.
“My friend,” Natthip said.
I sat across from him, cross-legged also even though I never regularly sat cross-legged—it was like hiking, something which I thought I wasn’t built for but really I just needed to be shown how. The wasps droned in the air above us.
“Your plants look beautiful,” I said.
Natthp smiled. A light wind kicked through the crop, speckling the leaf-light against our skin and rolling the bud over in Natthip’s palm. He held it up to his eyes and studied its minutia. “Very true,” he said.
“Your plants are like, I don’t know how to say it,” I paused and the sweat climbed out of my pores and laid on my skin and dried, “just like the heavy parts of being something alive—like if you took the sum of this forest and put it in one symbol, especially the lust of it, I mean, the blood and the whatever-you-call it—the transmission of blood. That’s what they are, just spilling out in big green stinking pyramids and the stems hardly even strong enough to hold them.”
Natthip kept smiling. For some reason the wasps’ droning seemed to get louder, growing into a distinct, oscillating hum. “Very true,” he repeated. He offered me the bud and I took it, balancing it the same way as he had, in the center of the valley of my palm. I studied it but I didn’t know exactly what he’d been looking at. I just saw a bright ball of tangling light, a hungry, half-burst thing wanting nothing more than to rub its broken body against the world and be scraped apart into smoke and shards and thereby seed all skin and soil with its cataclysmic germ.
“You out there?” Natthip pointed toward the distant mountains. A wasp landed on one of the buds, bowing it ever so slightly.
I looked away from the bud in my palm to where he was pointing. “Oh,” I said. “Yeah. Camping.”
“To sleep?” He smiled.
“Um, okay. To sleep.”
Another wind rolled through the plants, bouncing them back and forth on their fruit-strained stems. “To sleep in the sweet dead arms of the world,” he said.
“Where did you hear that?” I asked. My palm had begun to sweat where the bud was sitting. One of the wasps flew over it lazily.
He shook his head. “You see Monkey Ghost?” he asked, fixing his eyes on me.
I closed my fingers over the bud and brought it to my nose and smelled it. The wasps now seemed unnaturally loud. I wasn’t sure if I was hearing them right or if maybe I was dizzy from the heat. My mind was sinking somewhere else that wasn’t here and I couldn’t hold onto it in the same way that I have never been able to hold onto things and there are special moments in which I feel the slipping, like I have a brother and we are fighting a war together but when he gets shot I can’t hold him up because the mud on his body is too slick and he falls no matter what I do he just slides down the hillside with a dead gracelessness into a pile of corpses skewed across tangling brush—all the people that I have let fall away. “No,” I said finally, leaning my head back into the sun. A dark shadow cut across the sky.
“My friend.” Natthip was standing now, still smiling but his eyes wide and urgent. His hand was outstretched.
“Oh,” I said. I wasn’t thinking. I handed him the bud and he put it in his pocket but shook his head. He reached down and grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet. I was trying to figure out the words to apologize to all the corpses. I thought maybe I could write them on a scrap of paper and roll it up in a bullet casing and let it slide down into the pile—but I knew this wouldn’t work because the dead cannot read and in this world there is no forgiveness anyways. Instead, I would just stand on the hill and watch my brother—I never had a brother—strike into the corpses and the brambles, bullets crashing past me like wasps and all I want is for one to hit me, to kill me and let me at last find that grim equality in death down there with the others. A second helicopter cut overhead, this time shaking the crop and casting the outermost plants over on broken stems. I realized what was happening in a way, but I didn’t let myself think it. Natthip crouched and I crouched. He ran and I ran after him, both of us concealed by the plants.
“Fast, my friend,” Natthip called back. “They come with guns.”
The plants brushed against me, rubbing off their stink. I knew what this was but I couldn’t think it because my mind wasn’t here. I was arguing with my mother about something, I’m not sure what but it hardly matters because every time it’s the same. I wanted to find the words which would just make her shut up already, which would show her the truth and make her leave me alone. I build roads for the tribe, I said. I make something important for people to use and I never needed your help to do it. I owe you nothing.
We were on the edge of the field now and through the last plants I could see one of the helicopters hovering and men dropping from it on black lines.
We paused there at the end of the crop and I tried not to cough even though it felt like my lungs were filled with fluid. Natthip pointed to an old oak surrounded by a patch of brush in the distance. There was a gunshot, followed by another. The sky was swarmed with birds fleeing the sound of the helicopters. Before I had caught my breath we were running. I don’t need any money from you, mom. I’m independent now. I didn’t even feel like I was running anymore. I just saw everything melt together and I felt the nettles stinging my ankles and the cool motion of the air against the bald spot on my head. I knew she would do one of those things where she gets sad and maybe cries and says her son is abandoning her. But I tell her that I can hike now. I can tuck in my shirts. I was never built one way and couldn’t be different. We were on our knees now, crunched against the brush, just crawling and Natthip saying something in a language I didn’t understand—there were roots and darkness and the rank body-smell of open earth. There is no light or wings unfolding from the shoulderblades. There is no escape. I remembered that we still had the bud, which I imagined was like having a tracking device. They had machines and specially trained dogs. They would find us. I tried to yell to Natthip to get rid of it, but he didn’t hear me. We were squirming through wet dirt. There were more gunshots.
Finally Natthip stopped. I nearly ran into him, but I didn’t. He had turned around somehow in the cramped space and I saw him still smiling. I wheezed and finally let myself cough, drooling spittle out into the mud. I tried to turn around, hitting my head on roots and rocks. We were under the tree, I realized. There was a light in the distance and we could just barely see the pitched-over awning of the farmhouse. Herman was standing on the porch, unarmed save for his bag of silver, which he swung at the soldiers surrounding him. I wanted to go out there with my arms raised—I would tell the soldiers that it’s okay, I work for the government building roads and these are good people. One neared enough and was struck on the skull by the silver. He fell backward, dropping his gun and clutching onto the sides of his head. I heard bugs moving around in the darkness. We can just stay here, I would tell them. It’s beautiful here in the mountains with the plants and we never need to leave and no one needs to know this happened. I work for the government, too. We all work for the government. Two other soldiers rushed in from behind, one cracking the butt of his rifle against Herman’s neck. Herman dropped to his knees, the back of his shirt untucked and the silver spilling out onto the steps and shining there like the sun-heated fur of the great metal sasquatch.
“My friend,” Natthip whispered. “We are safe. Death is come.”
I breathed in the soil-wet darkness, compressing my body farther down into the hole until I felt invisible, until I could see nothing but the dim, snake-bodied roots and the splinter of light and deep in its distance the shining silver with the bodies of salmon etched into it, Herman handcuffed and his body dragged away. I thought of nothing, then I thought of the mountains. I thought of sasquatch there, utterly alone and screaming into the wind-swollen air and the fierce hot metal-scorching sun and into the rivers especially, filled with cold, rolled stones—screaming into darkness because all of it was darkness, crushing, loud and bone-heavy and us all in it prostrate, yielded-up like food—all except sasquatch, who alone stood in fierce solitude, rage limitless, the metal statue and in Herman’s own woodcarvings howling, tearing at his fur.
Laying flat in the darkness I lift my head into the roots and rock to see sasquatch but I can’t see him. I don’t know what I say to him, exactly, but it is something for all of us crushed there. I want to speak for everyone and for once to say a word not synonymous with failure. “Free us,” I say to sasquatch in the darkness.
But sasquatch says no. Sasquatch says: “Free yourself.”
Phillip Neel is writer from Northern California. He received his BA in Writing from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin and afterward spent time working and tutoring English on an organic farm in Bang Phra, Thailand. He has fiction published in A Cappella Zoo and Monday Night.