“One problem with revenge is that
Once embarked, you’re your own boss,
you’re on your own time.”
William Dean (“Old Man”) Petersunn
“My Model Life”
Vegemental Press, Seattle WA 1999
He knew not much more than that something extremely important had happened to him and that he could not afford to ignore it. He had never been much of a one for LSD or mescaline in the old days and he’d had mushrooms maybe once (although Beaverteeth University College played Portland State during that adventure and he – evidently, for he didn’t remember – had three catches for a hundred and thirty-nine total yards and a touchdown in a near-victory in which he somehow broke his wrist.) But the effects of those drugs seemed different than what had happened to him this day. Had he been poisoned? Had he been high? He did not know. All he knew was that one minute he was in this world and the next he was standing in Some Other.
Some Other World was not a concept entirely unknown to Chester Honeyacre. He was one of those few souls who are allowed to actually invent other worlds. He had virtually created the Prophet, Chief Smoattle, for instance, and thousands believed in him and that he appeared, channeled through Shirley Anne (formerly) Honeyacre’s overripe body. But still, Chester could never have dreamed up what he had seen today in the forest with Annie Bob, of that he was sure. The whole experience completely defied what his sarcastic imagination could truly envision about much of anything. He was a cynical person. He was a publicist and he did not believe that one should ever actually believe anything. He didn’t believe in Chief Smoattle, for instance, any more than he believed in the Easter Bunny.
The Drifta whipped through a tunnel of overgrown firs, down the hill, out of the tree-tunnel and into the cleared fields, past the Kool Klam Burger stand and the Bizzy Beaver Motel. The thought occurred to Chester Honeyacre that he was quite a large person (not fat, at least not yet, but tall) and perhaps his strange experience had been so overwhelming because he himself was so large. His size, which was closing in on six feet and two or three inches or so, had seemed to him to be, as he had grown older, a distinct disadvantage in life, whereas in his youth it had been a source of pride and achievement and honor. Now, gravity seemed to have a greater pull on him than on the more average-statured person and he could feel himself falling behind men he had once beaten easily on the playing fields of youth. He had more mass, he thought, and was pulled to earth more harshly now. These smaller creatures floated above trouble, they succeeded and they provisioned their families and if they lost one to divorce, they provisioned a second and even a third. He, however, had not; he had tripped and fallen over Shirley Anne (formerly) Honeyacre and he seemed not to be able to rise again. His father, Bud Honeyacre, had turned out to be a consummate floater-above-trouble, and had been – when alive – a very small man. In death he had probably become even smaller, thought Chester with a chill. He realized that he hadn’t really even thought about his father’s recent death, much less the inevitable shrinkage involved. What had the old man said in the vision? It was after the train part and the sex part, he remembered. Ah, yes, his father had but recently been murdered. Now there was something he did not want to think about at all.
Where the road crested Inside-Out Hill, turning back on itself, the comforting glimpse of his little mis-named town was as precious to him as it had been his entire life. It was a wonder, the town of Beaverteeth – except, of course, for its stupid name – the crowning pride of the broad valley of the Squilimuk River. On those rare mornings without rain, when the heavy mist pressed itself down into the hollows and softened the boundaries between earth and sky, the huge hop barns outside of the little town, built of aged and silver cedar, would glow for a moment like pearly shells below the towering icy domes and shattered pinnacles of the Stick Mountain. He could just glimpse its glaciered top through the torn clouds and dusk. The Stick was the second-greatest peak in the Cascades and among the five tallest on the Continent. Tahoma or Shasta or Whitney might be taller, but many more were smaller; Adams or Baker or Lassen or poor stunted St. Helen’s, for example. The Stick Mountain was stacked up some thirteen and more thousand feet above the Sound, crowned with a dazzling cap of snow and ice so thick and so high that it would not melt even if summer were to last the year long. At its feet, catchall of one great flank of the mountain’s glacial melt and rainwater streams, flowed the Squilimuk River in its white-gravel bed. It had carved for itself the Squilimuk Valley, where the giant black cones of the big trees of long ago had been felled to reveal the precious fields, upon which stretched, as a little poem by Chester’s great-grandfather had put it a hundred years before:
“Long, lazy lines
Of berries and vines,
The glorious rush,
The sepulchral hush,
And all around,
The fertile fields abound,
With crocus and daffodil of Spring
With lilacs, bugs and birds on wing.”
The thick evergreen forest covered the thousands of acres of the flanks of the mountain, but down in the valley much of it was gone, especially the Old Forest, with its eagles and scraggle-flagged dead poles and immense heights and girths of fir and cedar. The only real old stands lay up on the mountain, protected by a Federal Government still looked upon with some suspicion in the Squilimuk Valley because of its historically slow and typically penurious response to the occasional disastrous floods of the river over the years. Now there was this mudflow, this threat of the whole mountain blowing sky-high, although Chester didn’t for a moment think it could really happen. It was a little steam vent, a little lower down than usual. Everyone knew that the Stick was a volcano, but it had never erupted in living memory and he could never believe that it would. These days, however, with everyone so worried about everything, the threat lent a certain charm and danger to living in the valley, and he liked that. A hero should live in a place whose nature is dramatic, he thought, but certainly not in a place with a funny name.
The Drifta practically drove itself down through a thin, dark, winding canyon whose sides were trees and whose top was the sky. Amazingly, he thought, the forest was still here. Logged once and then again by ancestors with bigger arms and saws and donkey engines than any of us can now imagine, blown down by storms and burned by fires, asphyxiated with mud as it was, still the downslope forest lived, its dougfir trees and hemlocks and cedars – as well as its attendant deciduous forest of alder and madrona and maple – fringed the bulb farms and lined the streets of the town and threatened to overgrow any patch of land left untended. Berries were everywhere, the land was moist and fertile. Prosperous yet modest, fed by over sixty inches of rain a year, both town and valley typified the successes of those adventuring Sons of the North, the children of both Luther and Loki, those Scandinavians who had wandered to the forested northwestern corner of the American Wilderness within the memories of two old men named Peterson, however you spelled it. By contrast with the Pacific Northwest, the seemingly ancient cultures of Massachusetts and Virginia and Pennsylvania had produced Washingtons and Franklins and Jeffersons by the time the Northwest’s first Caucasian settlers were only engaged in the felling of trees as large around as New York City blocks. Historically, while still complete with its native population – the soon-to-be-overwhelmed Squilimuk People – Chester Honeyacre’s valley was a fertile plain, biblical in promise, the river stuffed full of trout and salmon, the wild berries profuse; its beaches – where the river emptied into the mighty Sound – a living floor of clams and oysters and crabs and mussels, creatures large and small, edible one and all. It was a valley waiting to be spoiled.
It lacked only Lutherans, had said Chester’s Uncle Al sarcastically. Uncle Al was not one, although he was certainly a Reverend. The old man had also said, in Chester’s hearing, that only the strong can maintain their will against so much lush ease as the native landscape presents. He had said this in the late nineteen-fifties, on a warm spring Sunday, upon the voluptuous passage – across the Founder’s Church doorway – of a young tourist woman in a halter top and brief shorts and the kind of high spike heels favored by women in the murky little sex movies that fluttered behind the eyepieces of the chromed, robot-like viewing machines down at the Beaverteeth Greyhound Bus Terminal; but young Chester and the entire congregation – when their assembled heads swiveled back around – had understood that Uncle Al mostly meant to point out the ability of the land and weather to conjure up thick and verdant forest at literally a moment’s notice. It was positively sexual.
For some reason, Chester thought of that woman in those heels as the Drifta sped past a figure emerging from the woods. It was as if someone had just walked out of a wall of dark green. He saw instantly it was a woman, a tall woman, wet and somewhat stained. She was carrying bags and baskets. He thought that she had one hell of a figure because that was the way he thought about women. He wondered where her car was. He even thought he recognized her in some way, but it might have been that she was a woods woman, some part of the woods themselves. His and her eyes even met for a moment and he thought she thought that she recognized him. That’s how quickly we read each other, even at high speeds in idiotic little foreign cars in a twisting chute in the packed forest after a monumental and mysterious happening.
She was gone from his view. He slowed through the great tunnel of aspens as they overarched the road that led down to the railroad yards.