Note: This is an all-true ghost story that I disguised as a film review because I had recently re-watched The Last Jedi and wanted to be subversive. Whatever.
“... Every night has its dawn.” - Poison
I recently came across a Post-It note that I had hastily scrawled for a family member, who had been living with me at the time. It said, “Watch Serentity. Thumbs up!” Funnily enough, a few days before, about the Tuesday before last, I came across an online article that listed Serenity as one of the “most disappointing films of the year (so far.)” The writer called the movie “misguided”, “lazy”, “stupid”, and “predictable.” I don't entirely disagree with any of those adjectives, but I do appreciate that this tainted piece of cinema tipped its hand, early on, and then stuck to its guns. That is to say, it did not try to snooker or hoodwink its intended audience. By the 45-minute mark, it's apparent that only one “twist” can explain Serenity's nonsense, and Serenity utterly embraces said twist, without trying to outsmart the viewer. This was a “preposterous mess” of a film (my words, I think), for certain, but it remained true to itself, all the way through, and tried its damnedest to “nail the landing,” as it were. The exposition-heavy B-movie dialogue was atrocious, on the one hand, but in context, and by the time the end credits rolled onscreen, it all made perfect sense. This film will blow nobody's shoes off, but if you're willing to suspend an inordinate amount of disbelief, it could be an excellent way to kill a Sunday afternoon (particularly if the snow is falling, wet and heavy).
So that was my review for a film that no one asked me to review. Still have a lot of space to fill. ...
Lets do questions and answers--
Q. Bill, I have a heart condition. I cannot view human sexuality, thrilling action, weird conspiracies, or supernatural activity. With this in mind, would you recommend Serenity to me? -Bob A. Dear Bob: Sure. Not much of anything happens. I think Matthew McCounggghheeyy swims naked. There is onscreen fishing, mind you.
Q. Bill, I can see that the title of your new essay is “9000 Ghosts.” I am intrigued. WTF is the meaning behind this?-Kalim A. Dear Kalim: It's just a working title. I named the article in order to save it, before typing even a single word.
Q. Bill, can you please just dispense with the Serenity review, and tell your “9000 Ghosts”-story instead? I've been waiting for this. -Tam A. Dear Tam: Yes. That sounds like an excellent idea. (Also, Bob, you are in this story. I hope that your weakened heart can handle revisiting it.)
I write fiction. I also write semi-fiction, sometimes. Sometimes I write pure truth. I'd like to think I will establish a system, one day, that will make it easy to distinguish one from the other. Maybe part of the fun is not really knowing. If my writings survive the coming Singularity, or the zombie apocalypse, and if I live to be a very old man, with a feeble and diseased brain, I may look back upon all this and not know what the fuck was real. Maybe it all was! Maybe none of it was!
There is no fiction in what I will next write. Not one ounce. And this will be the second time I've written it down. The first was a very simple email to famed skeptic James Randi, he of the eponymous foundation (JREF) that challenges psychics and charlatans to prove paranormal phenomena. I was not trying to win the million-dollar prize, as my experience could in no way be proved or replicated in a scientific environment. It was merely a friendly dialogue on the super-nature of things. Mr. Randi did engage, with guarded interest and politesse, but I no longer have that correspondence on file. (It was the friendly version of: “Thank you, Bill, for sharing this nonsense with me. 'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.' Now fuck off and go back to buggering your cousin, you filthy redneck.” But, as I said, friendly.)
The scene is northern Manitoba, all forested, frosty, and lovely, in December 1991. The hunting season for upland game birds was still open. We called them chickens. Properly, they are species of grouse, of the spruce-, sharptail-, and ruffed- varietals. (Though, we don't have the blue- or sage-grouse, up there, goddamnit!) They're small. Once plucked, the meated carcass is roughly the size of a regulation softball. One bird will feed one man, at supper. If you come home with three or four, you've got a nice Sunday Dinner on your hands. (Stuff them with chunks of apples and onions. Wrap in foil and lather with butter and pepper. Bake at whatever. Yum!)
It was a Friday morning. I couldn't tell you if it was the 6th or the 13th (the Windows desktop calendar is handy as fuck!) but it was one of those dates. Just at the pre-Christmas mark. My apartment was not yet decorated for the season, but my then-wife was already wrapping gifts. I think we had a Fisher-Price McDONALD'S playset for our toddling daughter, but this could be fancy thinking—a memory from a different Noel. (The set, I do recall, featured simple figurines of Ronald, Grimace, and the Hamburglar. Maybe Mayor McCheese. Not certain. The Hamburglar had been de-aged to look like a freckled, mischievous child, rather than the old pervert/jailbird from TV commercials that I'd been accustomed to. Maybe there was a bird, too. Did McDonald's ever have a bird for a mascot? It doesn't sit right with me.)
The city of Discord, which had sprung up practically overnight in the 1960s, in the thick of Canada's sprawling black, boreal woodland, was a mining town. A company out of NYC had purchased the mineral rights to an area the size of Rhode Island, then plopped a tin-roofed settlement in the middle of it. By the 1990s, Discord had six schools, two shopping malls, a fancy sports complex, and a roller-rink that had already gone out of business. The population varied between 14,000 and 20,000, and the mine itself directly employed about 2,000 of those. (These days, mind you, the mine has scaled back its operations, though Discord has rooted itself in various ancillary industries—enough to thrive.)
To a degree, we were all rednecks. The community was isolated, some 500 miles from the nearest urban centre. You have to find something to do with yourself in your downtime, or you'll go mad. That's true no matter where you live. With no group being mutually exclusive, we had anglers, duckhunters, trappers, big game hunters, snowmobilers, trophy hunters, skiiers, sledders, bird hunters, landscape painters, and people who liked to get drunk and burn picnic tables. (I was a member of at least five of those groups.) Everyone owned a BBQ grill. It was all eating, drinking, fucking, and dicking around in the wild. And drinking. Did I say that one? Oh yes, I did. Let's say it again, for emphasis: And drinking.
Without going to far into the socialogical morass of substance abuse, I will state that Discord, as a generalized whole, regarded alcohol consumption as a pasttime. I am not picking out the usual suspects—the work-ragged, the unemployed, the transient, the handicapped, the destitute—though they certainly pulled their fair share of corks. No, I am picking out everyone, at every rung of the social ladder. Managers and company presidents drove around in high-end pick-up trucks whose back-seats were stocked with beer. Building contractors kept booze on the premises. Blue-collars would grab a dozen brews on the way home, after their shifts ended, “just to take the edge of.” (Actual quote.) It was all hard work and isolation, up there on the frontier. I'm not judging it. Fuck, I was 100% complicit in the whole damned thing.
I was a development miner, then. (Later, a stope miner, but that's largely irrelevant.) We worked for an hourly rage, which was substantial, in its time, and also for a monthly bonus, paid on the third Friday of each month. A good miner, on a competent crew—both of those qualifiers matter—could earn 40-65% of his month's wages all over again, but taxed at a high rate. And so, for however the company's nebulous accounting department actually worked, it was common practice for a miner to take a “sick day” during the week prior to the week of the bonus payout. If a man only had 32 hours logged, as opposed to the usual 40, the taxation rate dropped. In this way, he would take home more money on the third Friday than he would have if he'd worked full hours. (And yes, I am saying “he” because, in those days, there were no females working underground. For reasons I won't get into here, I think that was for the best. I'm thinking of the ladies' wellbeing, here. We had some sketchy motherfuckers, underground. Guys I probably wouldn't ride with in a taxi in broad daylight.)
And so it came to pass that, one Friday in early December, 1991, the 13th, most likely, one week before bonus payday, I called on Bob to go chicken hunting. He was unemployed, at that time, between jobs, and up for any adventure. I was “sick,” obviously, and could not report for my shift. I needed a break from the drudgery of wet muckpiles, and Bob needed some fresh air, for a change. He was broke. At that time, he was driving his brother-in-law's rusty, green 1979 Dodge pickup, and was thankful to have a friend who was willing to fill its gas tank. He brought along a single-shot .22 rifle, for nailing perched grouse, and I brought a 16-ga. Marlin shotgun, for bagging grouse on the wing. These particulars barely matter, since we saw no grouse that day. I also brought along a 26 oz. Bottle of Yukon Jack—an American would call it “a fifth”—which was a tasty blend of whisky (or, “whiskey”) and spice, at 40% alcohol (or, “80 proof”). It's the sort of beverage you might take on an ice-fishing trip—a warm, tasty nip on a cold, cold day. We also brought hot dogs. (Hot dogs and whisky. Yum! Those were the days.) I do not believe we brought drinking water. Not even a thermos of coffee.
The winter days, up there, were short, owing to the tilt of the Earth, and all that shit you were supposed to have learned in school. We were a week out from the solstice, the shortest day of the year. The sun didn't rise until about 8:30 am, and was already moseying off to put itself to bed come 4:00 pm. (If you're still wondering about the overall liquor consumption, up there, just consider the overwhelming winter darkness...) Bob and I pulled out of Discord about 9:00 am, heading up the singular northern highway, which turns to gravel just past the airport turn-off, about six miles out. After that, it was all ice and wilderness. (Thinking on it, I do believe Bob had a .30/30 rifle tucked behind the bench-seat of the Dodge, in the event that we might encounter a moose. We didn't have moose tickets, but Bob was part-Indian, and so he didn't need tickets. But, as with grouse, we saw no moose, nor sign of such.)
We drove about fifty or sixty miles, following the dangerous, rolling road into the northwest. The trip took about ninety minutes, as we were driving thoughtfully, mindful of the glare ice beneath our wheels, and optimistically scanning the treeline for signs of prey. Feathers and scratching on the surface of the snow. Chickens venturing up to the road's edge, searching for gravel, which aids them in their digestion of conifer needles. (Spruce-grouse, which were the predominant variant in the forests north of Discord, were all dark-meat, usually tasting a bit gamey, and of evergreens. Hence the apples and onions, during their preparation.) It's fair to estimate that we arrived where we parked between 10:30 and 11:00 am. This is all just educated guesswork. It was before the age of cell-phones, and neither Bob nor myself ever wore a watch. The console of his Dodge had no digital display. Shit, I don't even believe the dashboard lights worked. The AM radio did. I believe it was tuned to the CBC, which was all staticky newsspeak and piano chamber music. But we parked, as I said, when we spied a stretch of sparse forest that would accomodate hikers. (Much of that forest is dense and barely penetrable, composed of black spruce growing thin and close, making it difficult for even rabbits to navigate.) Bob eased the truck as far to the right as the narrow road would allow, on the crest of a slight hill where other vehicles—if there were any—would see it plainly and in enough time to safely maneuver around it.
This was December, recall, and there was snow. Not so much that a fellow couldn't walk. About a foot, all 'round, and licked by the wind so that it was already crusted, so you could walk on top of it. And, even if you broke through, you didn't sink far. What I'm saying is that you could still walk a trail comfortably, and without the need for snowshoes. It was chilly, about -20 C (or, “-4F”), but would dip closer to -30 C (or, “-22F”) by dark. We were dressed for it. We were hardy, northern individuals, and we already had a bit of Yukon Jack warming us from within our bellies. We went due north. From the highway, such as it was, we discerned a wide berth of pathways that we could follow for miles without getting caught up in or turned back by the tangle of the bush.
Streams, ponds, and muskeg sloughs had long frozen over. It was the sort of trail you wouldn't be able to traverse in the warmer months, owing to the soft, wet, permeable nature of the moss and soil below. The meandering path was natural, not man-made. It wasn't a cut-line, or an access route, nor any of that. Heavy equipment, on this sort of terrain, would likely sink into the summer muskeg and be gone forever. (It's happened in the north country, and much. I almost lost a four-wheeler, once. That's a whole different story—one involving bears.)
So Bob and I walked, and we looked for signs, and we walked, and we smoked cigarettes, and we crossed frozen ponds, and we sipped at our whisky, and we rubbed at our noses and cheeks to warm them, and we walked, and we talked about pussy, and we smoked, and we walked, and we saw nothing to shoot at. Nothing to kill. Only time. You don't want to go too far, keep in mind. “Only go halfway,” Bob might say, “because for the other half, you still need to return.” And time, as I indicated, was hazy. We cheated a bit—ducked through a few hoary copses whenever it seemed feasible, instead of taking the long way around. Got off trail, then got on-trail again, or found a new trail. And so it went, for hours, in the cold, dead silence of the northern forest, until it was finally time to stop.
We made a fire in a pocket beneath robust, towering balsams. Bob cooked hot dog weiners, on sticks. I removed my socks and dried them out beside the flames. Put my bare feet back in my damp boots and kept those close to the heat. There was a third of a bottle of Yukon Jack left. We finished that. It wasn't a big deal. Bob might tell you I had more than he, but we're talking nickels and dimes. We were both a bit buzzed. Not intoxicated, mind you. We'd consumed the bottle, us two men, each over 200 pounds, over a span of five hours, or more, and while exerting ourselves. I don't know all the science of how alcohol works (though maybe I ought to, by now). Suffice it to say, by the time the bottle was empty, and by the time the fire was spent, and by the time the supply of cigarettes had dwindled to levels of scarcity, the darkness was rolling in. And it was getting colder. What had begun as a bright, crisp day was now clouding over with a grey, inky chill. At that time of day, in the Dwindling, everything looks monochrome, and muted. Washed over.
It was time to leave. It was time to get the fuck out of the forest.
Bob and I were still talking about pussy. And there was a girl, years back, who had come between us in some ridiculous, insignificant way. Maybe the whisky buzz escalated things. We ended up nearly coming to blows over that woman, even though she was long gone, moved-on, and shacked up in a whole new life, completely unaware that two idiots, adrift in the dark of winter, sixty-some miles apart from humanity, were threatening to knock each other's incisors out over her.
“Fuck you! Fuck this! Fuck you!” Bob said, storming off, back the way we came—and barely able to discern footprints in the skin of the snow, for the diminishing light. He left me there. His head was very hot. I don't blame him. If I'd been keener of mind, I'd have abandoned him before he had the opportunity to abandon me. I figured he'd go and have his little tantrum, and we'd each make our own way out, and our paths would cross, and his fat, hot head would have cooled some, and it would all be water under the bridge. Alas, I got myself lost.
If you've not been lost and turned around in a dark forest, you may not believe how easy it is to get lost and turned around in a dark forest. Even as a person to whom this has happened, on a few occasions, I'm still incredulous at how smoothly it happens. Everything is a shadow. The monolithic, upturned spruce root stem that you passed and made note of, earlier, has now become a black swirl among black swirls. And you clomp along what you assume is a portion of the pathway you followed, but you don't recall whether you short-cutted through the thicket, or if you went left or straight, or even if you're on the same path as before. You're a bit fucked.
There was just a sliver of moon visible... maybe a quarter... and even that was obscured by murk.
I think of my Greek mythology... all those Shades groping around in the fog of Hades...
And so I found myself on a frozen pond. It seemed like I had crossed this one, on the way in, but so many of these water-holes looked the same, even in daylight. I could find no tracks, no hint of where Bob had gotten off to. No boot scrape pointing south, no boot scrape pointing north. Nothing at all. Last fall's cat-tails were poking up through the ice, and I decided to sit near them.
It was true dark, now. It's an important detail, because I have little to work with, in terms of time. It was at least 5:30, and perhaps closer to 6:00 PM, and I can only arrive at that time by working backwards from when I arrived home, at about 8:00 PM. (For all the small details that sit crisp in my memory, like the pulpy smell of my damp wool socks hanging beside the fire, I do not have a snapshot of the clock-face in my apartment, when I arrived home, shocked and astounded. I do recall my then-wife, wrapping a Fisher-Price McDONALD's playset (maybe), exclaiming, “Where the fuck were you guys?!” But that's largely extraneous information.)
I attempt to be as conservative as possible with my estimations. After a 60-mile drive, Bob and I set out into the forest at about noon. The night came creeping in while we were enjoying our campfire, before the fighting commenced. It seems reasonable to conjecture that our hike in took four hours, at minimum, at a constant but easy pace. I get tripped up at this part, because it implies that the journey out, including the drive back to Discord, took less than two hours. Factor in a bunch of panicked, random flailing about in the dar, and the numbers do not add together. But I will get to that shortly.
Bill Czolgosz, the character that is Me in this True Story, sat down upon a frozen pond, one frigid evening in December. We can allow that he was partially inebriated. He was certainly not operating at maximum efficiency. (“Firing on all cylinders,” if you prefer a truck analogy.) But he certainly wasn't what you would call drunk, not nearly enough to hallucinate, and this was a half-decade before the physical toil of mining for a living would add pharmaceuticals to his diet and metabolism. I suppose I am stressing that this was a vibrant, if foolish, young man who could consume 375 ml of liquor over a five- to six-hour period without becoming shit-faced. Bob, too. These guys were still virile young bucks.
The passage of time distorts memories, taints them. I know this.
Still, there are sections of this story that are like 35mm photgraphs...
I said, “Well, fuck you, Bob,” muttering after no one at all, and laid down upon the ice. I recall the dance of my own frozen breath as I eased into the position. There were stars above, a few, and that small slice of moon, straining through the gauze of night. I closed my eyes. I repeated my mantra in my brain. “Fuck you, Bob.” And I went to sleep, hands crossed over my chest, just like a corpse in a casket—albeit one wrapped in insulating layers. Laid one ankle over the other. I suppose I do that, sometimes.
Where was Bob in all of this? Who can say? Fuelled onward by the propect of getting lost and freezing to death in the forest, he kept pressing madly toward... wherever. Blind and crazed, one might say. Like those foxes who will chew through their own limbs in order to escape from a leg-trap. In hindsight, and knowing Bob's side of the story, I can assert that he would gladly have chewed through a limb if he thought, even for a moment, it would bring him to the highway. As no one else was traversing the road, there weren't even headlights to glimpse, in the distance, or even the tiny rumble of an engine, carried on the breeze. Bob was hopelessly lost. I was, too, but I was too asleep to know it. Fresh air can knock you right out, sometimes. Trust me on this one.
Then, there were more hands on my chest. Not my own. Others. You know what it's like when someone gently pushes on you, trying to rile you out of slumber. That calm yet adamant vibe of, “Hey, buddy. Come on, buddy. Get up, buddy. Time to wake up, buddy.” (Exact words? I couldn't tell you. But the feeling of those words is spot-on. Someone who considered me a “buddy” was shaking me awake. And so I woke. And I stood up.
One of the reasons I've never attempted to detail this story in writing, before today, is because it's hard to convey the atmosphere I awoke into. If I compare it to a dream, for instance, it would come across as foggy and undefined. Dreams are fleeting and abstract. I have heard of people who experience lucid dreaming, and it's allegedly much more defined and life-like, but I've not experienced it for myself, so I don't know how it compares. It would be simplest, I think, to say that the world I woke into was still hard, and crisp, and real, and tangible, (and, yes, lucid), but my central processor unit was scrambled, and so the foreign nature of what came next—the absurdity of it all—seemed tranquil, and safe, and ordinary. I recently read about a man who was axed in the face, while he slept, and the blade had severed the jaw from the skull, and had sliced deep into his brain, destroying integral circuits. This man survived the ordeal, in the short term, and managed to rise in time for work. He fixed the sandwiches for his lunch, checked for the paper, and commenced with his morning routine, oblivious to the fact that his face was destroyed and was slopping blood everywhere. He tumbled over and died before breakfast was done, and probably without pain, mercifully. The point being, the parts of his brain that would normally communicate logic and distress were not able to communicate with the part of his brain that governed routine and base functions. He was, in a sense, his usual self, but completely disconnected from the weirdness of the situation.
For all its horror, I think that story best sums up my own state of mind. I was there, yes, and I was present, but I was not able to grasp how truly fucking unusual it was.
It was not my friend Bob who woke me.
These were two young adults, late teenagers, hard to say for sure. She could have been 14-19 years old. He could have been 16-22. They were brother and sister, it was obvious. They could even have been twins. Their faces were very similar, very nondescript and European. Attractive, bland, average, nonthreatening. Caucasian. They looked like any number of caucasians who may have sat behind you in biology class. Yellow-blonde hair on both of them, and naturally curled. He was about 5-foot-9. She may have been six inches shorter. Both kids we thin, slightly built, but by no means scrawny. And, at temperatures nearing -30 C, I will here note that they were clad only in blue jeans and t-shirts. (Couldn't tell you what they had on their feet. Didn't notice. If I had to guess, I'd say running shoes. All the kids wore running shoes, in those days.)
They were telling me, “Come on, Bill. You can't stay here. You've got to get going.” (And when I say “they were saying,” that's precisely what I mean. I don't know which words came out of the boy's mouth, and which came out of the girl's mouth. “They” is very much the only pronoun that works here. I'm not saying they were speaking in unison, but their voices were very similar—lively, but unperturbed—and they mostly repeated the same sentiment: “You got to get up, get moving, Bill. You can't stay here. You've got to get gome.” Looking back, I would say these are the exact young adults you'd want as baristas, next time you order a latte. Animated and gung-ho, but not dramatic or pushy. (“Please, I will have a grande Flat White, double the espresso, and very light steam. Child's temperature, else I will scald myself. Thank you.”)
The t-shirts, it should be noted, were of a very specific quality—they were light blue material, but with navy trim at the collar. Both shirts were emblazoned with decals. Remember that very specific decal design from the 1970s? Cartoonish letters and characters, blocky and misshapen, iron-on transfer, and flecked with glitter? Everyone over a certain age had a shirt like that. You would go down to the shoppe, pick out a design from the wall or flip-book, and then the clerk would steam-press it onto the garment of your choosing.
I don't recall what these kids' decals said. I don't know if they were identical. I think I'd be safe in speculating that they bought their shirts in the same store and at the same time, though they likely picked out their own design.
“You've got to go, Bill. You can't sleep here.”
And I was seeing them in the light. Not daylight, no, and not any artificial source that I could sense. The area was just brighter, somehow. Maybe the quarter-moon, above, was suddenly raging and full. Maybe the frozen pond we stood upon was magick with phorphorescence and radiation. And that bit of extra light existed only within the triangle we made. Beyond that, at the edges of the pond, and in the trees beyond, it was all hard blackness.
“Got to get moving, Bill...”
There were more of them, hidden in the dark forest beyond. More twins, or just more kids in t-shirts, I don't know. The forest was full of them. I sensed them. Maybe I heard them. Dozens more. Or scores, or hundreds. Maybe there were 9000 of them. I have no idea. And the boy caught me looking over there, at the trees, trying to get a sense of their number. He said, “Don't worry about them, Bill. We have to get you out of here.”
For a split second, my screen goes black, and my CPU blips.
I find myself gliding down through the darkness. A weird, angular trajectory, as though slingshotted from the top of the tallest tree in the forest, miles back, and now alighting upon a dim, snowy trail. Tree branches were slapping away from my face, like I was bursting through brushes where rabbits don't even go, and I came to a mildly bumpy halt behind Bob. He was attempting to flee from this ruckus that had exploded onto the scene at his heels. I could see him, as if by flashlight, as if by pond radiation. He cussed in terror as he looked back at me. He tripped and stumbled in the shadows, then composed himself.
“Where the fuck were you?” he hollered at me.
Here, that faint, magick light was dimming, and we were once again two blackening shadows arguing against a swirling backdrop of deepest grey.
“We have to go home!” Bob said. “You scared the shit out of me! Fuck you! Let's get out of here.”
“We can't leave yet,” I told him.
“We have to wait.”
“Wait for what?”
“We have to wait for them. For the others. Back there. All of them.”
At this, Bob told me later, his flesh turned all to gooebumps—electrical discharges of fear through his entire body. And I was able to experience same, at the same instant, because the lucid, dreamy air of acceptance that had hung like a warm quilt over my encounter with the blonde-haired twins was now dissipating quickly. Threads unravelling. Dark, frosted reality whoosing in. And the purest sobriety I can think of.
Bob said, “Who is them? What others?”
My stomach was aready knotting up. “All the people,” I said weakly, as cognizance folded over me, and shyly pointing back the way we'd come from.
“Bill, you and me are the ONLY people out here!”
If I wrote here that both Bob and I were both now soiling our pants in abject terror, I'm not convinced it would be hyperbole. Grim facts were showing themselves, raw and hard. It was dark, it was cold, and we were lost. We were sober. We were frightened. I was already frantically sorting through my brain's Rolodex, wondering if I'd left word of where this doomed adventure was to take place. Had I even said in which direction we were thinking of going? I didn't believe I had. (If my father and brother—hardy outdoorsmen themselves—had decided to search for me, based on our familial hunting grounds, there was a less-than-10% chance they'd come out this way.) And Bob, due to his somewhat vagabond lifestyle, hadn't told anyone what he was up to today. For all his family knew, he was out looking for a job, or getting stoned, or playing Donkey Kong in someone's basement suite.
He went on to say, “If we don't find the truck, and soon, we're going to die.” (More of that existential terror gurgling around in our bellies.)
I have endeavored to stay true to my recollection of these events. I don't want to pollute my own memories with guesssed-at details. I didn't say what kind of coat Bob was wearing, because I'm not certain of it. (Typically, he would wear black leather over red flannel.) I didn't say which boots I was wearing. (They may have been my white Sorels, but there's a chance I was wearing the expensive grey ones I purchased around this time, rated for -65 C conditions.) I didn't say what brand of cigarettes we were smoking (could have been Players filter, or Du Maurier king size). I can't even recall whether the wieners we cooked were of the fat or skinny variety. I don't want to discolor this narrative of mine. The space of time, and the very act of recalling, will color things enough. But this part is absolute fact: Bob and I held our firearms above our heads, the way infantrymen in basic training might, and, hollering like absolute imbeciles, we went charging through the branches, blindly and randomly, burning with fear of Death (and, maybe, ghosts).
When we tuckered out... when we rested in a clearing... when the gasping finally abated... the night was as quiet as the whole day had been. No rumbling engines in the distance. Not even the light whoosh of a smaller car gliding by. No sign, no sounds, not an owl, not a squirrel.
I said, stupidly, “I don't know which way to go.” I don't recall Bob responding. We lit cigarettes. I think we had one left, collectively, after these. When Bob pulled on his smoke, those were the only times I could make out his face. And vice versa.
And, before either of us could utter another stupid word, we caught sight of a small, orange light, glowing, through the trees.
“That's a vehicle!” Bob exclaimed. “The highway is straight over there!”
A beautiful, warm, tiny orb, motionless, and calling softly to us.
And we ran toward it, guns raised, as before, but with less idiotic yelling.
We emerged from the treeline in a windswept ditch, about 100 yards from the old, green Dodge. It was exactly as we'd left it. The head-lamps were still on, battery nearly dead. The vinyl seats were as cold as a witch's tit. The vehicle had been sitting in freezing temperatures for six or seven hours, and the battery was running out. Fuck it, though. We were alive! That's the thing. We laughed like maniacs. Bob turned the key and the engine cranked. There was, I will admit, the briefest instant where I thought all was lost, but then the engine grumbled and roared to life, and Bob and I laughed some more. Gradually, the cold air blowing on us from the dash began to warm, and the warmth became heat, and all of our appendages began to ache back to life, reminding us I think, that we were fairly oblivious to how dangerously close to the abyss we'd tread...
And we went home. Bob came up to my apartment to get some of my then-wife's cigarettes. She said, “Where the fuck were you guys?!” (I already related this part.) She was a bit pissy, but not exceptionally so. I got into a lot of adventures, in those days. Me coming home by 8:00 PM on a Friday night was hardly the sort of situation to get her panties twisted about. So, Bob and I told a fractured, laughter-inducing tale of nearly freezing to death in the bush, of me talking to phantoms and flying through the trees, and of head-lamps that were still glowing after seven hours of sitting in the cold.
“A thankful light in the darkness,” Bob said.
“Do you think the ghosts turned those lights on for you? To help you find your way,” then-wife wondered, aloud.
“I didn't specifically say they were ghosts,” I said, deflecting a little. Maybe, in all the excitement, I had called them that. Hard to know. Anything's possible. Bob and I were both jacked up to 11, by this time, euphoric on life and warmth, babbling, and utterly exhausted. I slept for twelve or fourteen hours, that night. Our shitty double-sized bed never felt so comfortable. We fucked, too, then-wife and I, when the dawn came, when I was back to peak performance. It was fine.
And the world kept turning.
We grew apart for a spell, Bob and I, as people do, but we caught up again, on the eve of Y2K, at a bar party. And, sure, we had said our Hellos in the meanwhile, but hadn't actually gotten to sit down over drinks. He had a heart condition, by this time, and wasn't smoking anymore, and was mostly sticking to ginger ale (arguably worse for his heart than beer or whisky, in my estimation. Don't drink soda pop! It's liquid sugar!) Bob went straight back to that frosty December night, nine years previous. That tremendous bust of a hunting trip that nearly ended our days. He recounted, “It was like you were flying at me, down out of the trees. I thought my heart was going to stop! And then, you said you'd been talking to other people, and I had to grab you by the collar and tell you that there was no one else in the forest but us!” And we laughed. And we laughed.
Bad shit's fairly amusing when you survive it.
He did not meet the twins himself, recall. I mentioned them on the ride home, that night, but we were too invested in warming our bones to get very deep into hard paranormal conversation. We sucked up that Dodge's heat, smoked that one last cigarette right down to the filter, and counted our lucky stars. Mostly in silence, and with CBC radio playing chamber music. (To be fair, after being lost in the wild, even the very worst of tunes can make you feel like you're back among the living.) I did then, and I do not now have any solid theories about those t-shirted siblings. My then-wife suggested the three obvious ones, having put Ghosts forward, and later adding Angels, or Aliens. I don't have much of a leaning, myself. They didn't really seem like any of those things. They seemed fairly human, fairly tangible, fairly alive—their apparent disdain for cold weather parkas, notwithstanding.
Bob and I knocked our heads together to try and make the times work. Seems like it took us seven hours to get from Discord, driving, to the spot where we made campfire, walking. Then, about an hour or so of dicking around, fighting, and getting lost. And then just two hours to find our way out of the bush and drive all the way home again. At Y2K, Bob threw his hands up and conceded that we'd never get to know the answers, because we weren't even certain of the questions, “and why don't we all just have a Happy fucking New Year?”
Somebody else, later, told me, “Well, if some higher beings decided to save you, that night, there ought to be a reason for it. Maybe you were saved for a purpose.”
I don't know about that, either. It sounds a bit like horseshit. I don't think I'm on the verge of curing cancer, and World Peace seems like a lost cause. I don't believe many of my activities on this blue world, in the years since, have benefitted humankind in any meaningful way. I cuss and I smoke. I download films illegally, on occasion. Much of the time, I don't even sort my trash from my recyclables properly. I may even be part of the reason China keeps sending boatloads of plastic garbage back to Canada. Who can say? And why would Angels intervene to save two dick-heads from an ill-advised forest romp, but then go and let 5,000 other people perish in a terrorist attack?
I've got no inkling. Nothing. I sure do don't.
However, my second child, my son, was born almost ten months later., at the end of summer, in 1992.
I'd like to think there's something in that.
(c) 2019 by W Bill Czolgosz firstname.lastname@example.org