Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chapter 2, Post 3: The Man Who Does Not Exist

“Please,” the car rental clerk said, trying again. “The fire department tore out their truck’s oil pan on a low water bridge.”

Elizabeth glowered at him in confusion, wondering if she was the object of some joke. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Took your SUV responding to a brush fire two counties over.” His spheroid belly tugged at his faded red polo shirt, stretching the embroidered Earl’s Rentals logo to twice its normal size. “I’m truly sorry.”

“Earl,” She said, delighting when he drew back, startled that she had somehow intuited his name. “I don’t want sorry. I want the SUV I was promised.”

“The Corolla’s the only car we got.”

“What about that one?” Elizabeth said, pointing to a Jeep Grand Cherokee .

“Oh, I’m sorry, but that’s my personal car.” He said.

Elizabeth didn’t reply, but simply held out her hand for the keys.


Chapter 2, Post 2: The Man Who Does Not Exist

Her trip to Montana was far different. Far more important. It was make or break. Do or die. It would get her back on track to becoming partner at Montrose & Birnbaum, one of the most prestigious corporate law firms in the country, by age thirty. On this point Elizabeth was unwilling to compromise or even consider the possibility of failure.

Despite how all the shit of the past few weeks had upended years of dogged work, Elizabeth knew she could still make partner. She did not extend the same confidence to the vast majority of her colleagues. Trudging up treacherous Mount Montrose, as the junior associates referred to the firm, once was more than most people could handle. Alcoholics, ruined marriages, washouts, nervous breakdowns, and even the rare suicide littered the firm. But Elizabeth knew she had the talent and guts to do it a second time. No matter how hard she had to work, no matter what she had to sacrifice, she would not fail.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Chapter 2, Post 1: The Man Who Does Not Exist

“Not even if you paid me,” Elizabeth Bailey said to the cowed car rental clerk showing her a ding-riddled, 1996 Toyota Corolla. “I reserved a Ford Explorer -- a new one!”

Thirteen hours and a few thousand miles in her past, she had boarded a 747 jet at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. For the trip above the Rockies, she had set down in Denver, trading the jumbo jet for a 20-person propeller plane. In Helena, a biplane buzzed impatiently, waiting for her atop the cracked tarmac. It seated four, including the captain, but she was the only passenger.

The tiny airport in Ephesus, Montana, had no terminal. It made do with a few rusted sheds that served as hangars. Elizabeth could see no billboards. No large buildings obscured the horizon. Instead of honking cabbies and yelling traffic cops, only the occasional bawl from one of the cattle grazing in the fields bordering the runway disturbed the soft thrush of wind. L

ooking around, Elizabeth realized she was farther from her Upper East Side apartment than she’d ever been in her life. She had the strangest idea; that somehow she had slipped out of time.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chapter 1, Post 9: The Man Who Does Not Exist

He hid the journal beneath his torso, brushing away the snow with the delicate touch of a thief removing a magic pendant from the neck of a sleeping beauty. There, beneath the poem, in markings so slight as to be confused with a trick of light, shadow and rill upon the page, waited a postscript. But the fog that had momentarily retreated from his eyes rushed back, taking with it all evidence of his humanity. For this reason, even though they glared back at him in his own accusatory hand, he did not see the words.

They read simply: She will come.


Chapter 1, Post 8: The Man Who Does Not Exist

The wind drove harder, pressing into the man’s skin, the nails of an iron maiden tearing at its victim. His chest caved, as if crushed beneath a great stone. His face devolved from wild to gray to ashen. Bones dissolved. Skin retreated. His features, moments before the grooves of a storm etched in granite, smoothed, leaving only a trail of ghostly white lines. Then...


Only the wind. Calmer now. Whatever had breathed rage into its indifferent course was sated.

The cry of the hawk rang out. One golden leaf from an aspen defied gravity’s pull, bouncing up along the mountain cliff before succumbing to the inevitable. The bugling of the bull elk found its way through branches and between trees, rising over the babble of the brook. The distant shrill of a pika cut the air as it darted into the dark beneath the boulders of its home. Then...


It drifted down, intricately embroidered crystals delighting in their return to earth.

Like clean sheets from a warm bed it coated the remains of the body. Sugar atop a Christmas cookie. Whitewash on a clapboard shack. Fairy dust from a child’s tale. Until finally, the man stirred.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chapter 1, Post 7: The Man Who Does Not Exist

The canyoned, earthen-colored calluses of the man’s fingers began to trudge doggedly beneath each letter. They followed an eroded trench in the document that had been excavated through years of observing this daily ritual.

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
--Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

Cracked lips mouthed the words in time with the progress of his fingers. The effort became laborious. His chest heaved as he grasped for breath so he might complete the trial. One last great gasp propelled him through the final stanza, the final line, and, ultimately, the final word.

His head reeled and his throat constricted. His lungs gulped for sustenance in the evasive mountain air, but found it as empty as a dry stream bed. Lips, full only moments before, became thread-thin lines. Long fingernails yellowed, curled, split, and fell to earth.

Preparing for the fit he knew was coming, he protectively clutched the journal to his chest. Even as he sprawled into the dust, one arm embraced it, while the other dangled over the precipice far above the valley floor.

Chapter 1, Post 6: The Man Who Does Not Exist

It was only as he neared the end that a look of cognition flickered across his face, and he became someone else entirely. He turned the final page with the ache of an old man cupping the last crumbling photo of his departed wife in the bowl of his palms.

Pressed into the book was an orphan page. Its ragged edge and permanent creases testified to an act of violence it had been unable to withstand. The words, spun shadows impressed upon the parchment's fiber, started and stopped at random, surrendering to the snow-covered field of paper unmarred by print.

A closer look revealed, of all things, Wordsworth. The love, blood and tragedy of the poet’s pen, so long associated with the pomp and finery of tufted leather chairs, mahogany wainscoting, and overstuffed tweed-shrouded professors, that it took a moment to realize the verse had been born in wilderness, and in wilderness returned home.

Chapter 1, Post 5: The Man Who Does Not Exist

Tearing his eyes away, his hard and muscled paw reached beneath the aged buckskin that clung to him like a second skin, and removed a worn leather journal. When new, the journal’s cover had been the lively red of raspberries boiled down into jam, but it had paled, bleached by time to a dishwater sunset. The patina of faded color, grooved and bare where the leather had flaked away, gave it an appearance so ancient it looked as if God Himself had handed it down from the mountain.

He perched on the flat of a nearby rock and secured the pages against the wind’s growing wails. All this he did automatically, the movements as rehearsed as a trick roper in a Wild West carnival.

He turned page after page, passing a menagerie of emotional bric-a-brac: Dog-eared notes scribbled in margins and corners. Frayed newspaper clippings the color of clotted buttermilk and tattooed by cheap typeset. A Bible verse prescribing death and damnation scrawled in such poor hand that it seemed only fear of Satan himself could instill such haste. A pressed blossom, as likely a red rose as a white daisy, so decayed it was little more than dust motes clinging together to form the memory of a flower. It was a lifetime of memories. It was far more. And yet, if the man noticed any of it, he made no sign.

Chapter 1, Post 4: The Man Who Does Not Exist

He watched the rippling feathers of a red-tail hawk as it played on the currents of the coming storm. A grove of white aspens fought against the wind only to surrender another handful of the golden leaves they prized above all else. Elk cut through the tall Indian grass, already turned from summer’s soft blue to amber in polite anticipation of fall’s arrival. And far in the distance, a pika zigzagged its way across the boulder field at the base of the remote peaks.

A brook frothed over a natural cairn before it merged with another rivulet, then vanished into a deep crevasse. Far below, a pristine lake fed by a hundred such runnels sat placid except for the leap of the silver, green and red of a single rainbow trout.

His eyes followed the lake until it spilled over a congregation of leaves, fallen trees, rocks, and grass, and departed the valley forever. Whatever prey he sought, it wasn’t down there.

Towering over the lake were the great mountains that ringed his world. His gaze fixed somewhere beyond, and as if bitten, he crouched, stepped back, and bared his teeth. A low growl rumbled up from his chest. Fear filled him. Only pain and evil resided in that world. They must never come here. Never find him. He did not know what he would do if they did. He did not want to kill. Not again. There were already so many.

Chapter 1, Post 3: The Man Who Does Not Exist

He crested the path even as the still-hidden sun sent its rays bending around the curve of the earth, splicing for a moment dark earth from lightless sky. Just as quickly, the light succumbed to the gathering clouds. Only the gray on gray of daylight without sun remained. It would do.

Sniffing the air again, beyond the snow he scented something far more elusive. Searching always searching, his sad, black eyes devoured the miles of valley that stretched far below, but like the dog who waits at the door for his master dead years on, his actions were guided more by habit than memory. He suspected that at one time he had known what he sought, but that, along with so much else, had been forsaken to the snarled vines of the wild.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Chapter 1, Post 2: The Man Who Does Not Exist

Sniffing the air, cold pierced his nostrils, and he found the scent of snow lingering behind the clouds. If he had ever known the names of the months, they no longer held any meaning, but by his reckoning, the time for berry picking was past. Pumpkins, he thought, could still be found growing in far away fields waiting for the first frost. And yet, here, in his mountains, the first of the winter storms was nearly upon him.

It was no early season, here-today, gone-tomorrow dusting. He knew the signs. Grizzlies gathered trout and stayed longer at the streams to pack on fat. The elk herds had moved to the warmth and grass of the lower valley. The mournful bleat of harlequined Canadians floated down as they sailed south under cover of darkness. Even the coats of the wooly worms were plumped to ward off the chill.
Nature always knew.

How something as mindless as a worm could prognosticate months in advance the intensity of winter baffled. Nature liked its mysteries, revealing them in its own time.

Chapter 1, Post 1: The Man Who Does Not Exist

The blackness of the predawn night sat on the roof of the mountain, a leaden cloak undisturbed by earth or man or unholy beast. The dark made it impossible to see the slender gray of the mountain path, but the man, if man he was, navigated every upturned rock and cut in the earth with the knowledge of an aged husband caressing the curves of his wife deep beneath the covers.

How many times had he walked this trail? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Every day at sunrise, for at least a decade, he thought. Then wondered, could it have been longer? Perhaps he could have done the sums, but there was no point in the effort. He and the creaks of time were fast friends; it would do no good to analyze the relationship.