The recently killed returned to my fuzzy memory and an aching chill washed through my mind as Andy said, “I reckon.”
His fantastic, unbelievable story ended with a type of punctuation I was not comfortable with.
“The thing is, Bob, you are my replacement. I have to get you ready for your inevitable destiny. It has taken 1,300 years to get to this point. About time, eh?”
All I could do was nod. In my hand was a bowl of cold tomato goop.
Without saying anything more, Andy strapped his blade to his belt, slipped his tattered and blood stained coat on and disappeared into the misty night.
I fell into another fitful sleep staggered with bouts of waking up and believing Carrie was there beside me. Of all the hell in this hell, it was the worst kind.
It was still dark when Andy shook me awake. “All right, let’s saddle up.”
“This is January, isn’t it?” I asked stepping uneasily into the deep morning air, letting my body accept the fact there was no cold to be felt — just dampness and foreboding.
Andy said it was.
We filed to the edge of the thin copse ringing the farmhouse and stared across a grey and tan field at another line of trees. Andy pointed at that line as our route to follow and told me to head toward it.
“Keep low and move quick and steady, like a cat,” he said. “I’ll meet you over there. There shouldn’t be any bogies around here because I should have directed them to the southwest.”
It wasn’t easy crossing the kilometre, or so, to the tree line. I battled my balance the entire way and had to stop once to vomit.
Andy covered the distance in a blink, it seemed.
We moved north, slowly and surely. The pace was more agreeable and I found new strength growing within.
We passed by many farms and residences and hours later, with an ache in my belly that was sapping the strength I had regained, we came to a town called Shoshone. We lay on the wet ground, on the shadowy edge of the fence line we’d been following, and surveyed our next route.
After a moment, Andy confidently stated, “There’s nothing there. Let’s go.”
We hopped to and trotted along the fence line to a road, crossed it and made a beeline for the first house, a trailer with plywood hanging askew on the back. From there, Andy surveyed the way ahead and we picked our way through the small town, past the junction of Highways 26, 93, 75 and 24, where Andy noted that our helicopter flying foe can’t be that well staffed, or there would be a strategic post at the junction.
“The helicopter must be out of Boise and they use it to move back and forth between Twin Falls and Boise,” he guessed. “We can start to think about getting a vehicle. Five miles, maybe.”
We angled northeast up Highway 26/93 and took shelter in another trailer home, about eight miles from Richfield.
I was soaked and my brain was like an egg on a pinhead. We couldn’t risk lighting a fire in the woodstove, beside which a neatly stacked pile of dry firewood teased us with its bounding convenience.
The rain continued to fall as I feel into a clammy, desperate sleep.
Andy woke me with an unwelcome toe to my leg. “Let’s go,” he commanded.
I didn’t know where I was at first and stumbled about badly in the blue murk of pre-sunrise light. The concussion was still in complete control.
Andy had been busy. Outside the trailer in the pouring rain, I noticed with renewed shock, was a newer model Isuzu Trooper.
“Found it a several properties over — tucked inside a garage,” he said, smiling.
“How’s the stomach?” I asked.
“Almost better,” he replied. “The walk yesterday did me a world of good.”
“Of course it did,” I grumbled and climbed into the SUV. I would have murdered for a good cup of coffee. A gust of dry, warm air rushed out at me with the most welcome of new car scent gusts. On the dash sat sandwiches. Hot coffee steamed in cup holder. We were ready for a ride to the lake.
“Not bad, eh?” Andy flapped as he thudded into the driver’s seat and slammed the door.
Jutting through the center of the Snake River Plain, the Craters of the Moon are a grand reminder of the enormous tectonic significance of the u-shaped plain that spans 400 miles from Yellowstone to Boise. It is a scar 17 million or so years in the making of the North American Plate as it has been dragged over the supervolcano mantle hot spot that is Yellowstone.
I was about 35 when I realized that Yellowstone could be ground zero of an extinction level event. I was down inside the Yellowstone Caldera, along with many thousands of other tourists, one sunny and awe-filled July day in 1998. I read that one of the three the Yellowstone Calderas had been created from an eruption that occurred 640,000 years ago, called the Lava Creek Eruption.
The blast pumped 240 cubic miles (1,000 km) of pyroclastic materials, rock and oxygen-requiring species exterminating ash.
That blast, it is reckoned by volcano geeks, was 1,000 times greater than Mount St. Helens. Half of a mountain was blown apart and the resulting blast wave from the 1980 eruption scarred the surrounding countryside in the way a nuclear blast would.
But the supervolcano eruption 640,000 years ago was a baby burp compared to one 2.1 million years ago. That was a projectile vomit following a night of excessive tequila drinking and water pipe smoking, causing the consumption of eight MacDonalds hamburgers and, for Christ only knows why, a chocolate milkshake with tequila poured into it.
Volcano geeks say 588 cubic miles (2,450 km) of volcanic material was woofed up at Yellowstone. They also note that the resulting fallout would have choked the world and cloaked it in a darkness that would have sent the glaciers a-scampering.
Mother Earth 1 – Many Global Species 0.
Add in that scientists believe there have been at least a dozen massive eruptions that helped form the Snake River Plain and it makes you truly realize, as you see geysers and burping pats of mud all around Yellowstone, that she really does seem to be due for a wee release. A weekend furlough at the least.
While we marveled at the natural wonders, Andy talked about what lay ahead, including Yellowstone. Once again peering into the crystal ball that was a map of Idaho, he noted that Idaho Falls and Pocatello would have to be avoided. We didn’t know about the war between the Idaho Falls/Pocatello Militia and Boise Militia but any larger center posed a threat.
For some extremely strong reason Andy still wanted to get to Yellowstone. It seemed like a fine idea. There’d be no one around that place, with an average elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level. Too much snow and winter and I could handle that. As long as it meant no more hiding like a cockroach under a stove or being nearly blown to bits by rockets.
“There are four ways into Yellowstone,” Andy said. “There is West Yellowstone, which is the closest entry from where we are. But that’s high elevation. I think we’re best off going at it from Jackson, which is the south entrance. There is also Gardiner, from Montana and the Cody side entrance, way over on the eastern side of the park.”
I told Andy that I knew all that. “Been to Yellowstone a few times,” I said. “Old Faithful goes off every 80 minutes or something like that.”
“Every 91 minutes,” Andy said. “Like clockwork — poof – goosh. Amazing.”
I told him the story about the first time I saw Old Faithful. I was traveling back to B.C. after returning my daughter home to her mother in Iowa. I parked at the back end of the sprawling parking lot and walked toward where it looked like the action was taking place. Thousands of people milled about like ants on a dropped pat of butter. I passed by an information kiosk and down a wide walkway that branched off to an old timber hotel and to a thick ring of people straight ahead. A few were running.
POOF. Old Faithful went off faithfully. I came, I saw, I left.
The thought of seeing it again — in January — now… left my battered head boggling and stuttering. I thought of the awesome photos I could take and then let that thought pass because, really, what was the point?
Andy politely listened to my story and then informed me that we would pass by Idaho Falls to the north — “here, at Rexburg and we’ll take this Highway 33 and this Highway 22 down to Jackson. If we can, at any rate.”
I knew the route to Jackson he suggested and offered, “Don’t think we can. That is some high country with some steep sections of highway. No offence to this nice set of wheels you’ve procured us, but I can’t see the roads into Yellowstone being in any way shape or form passable right now.”
Andy said he was aware of that. “We’ll need snowmobiles. Jackson will do for that,” he said with a tone that should have been punctuated with a concluding ‘duh.’
“But first things first,” he said. “Let’s get past the interstate and past the city that is beyond it.”
Our worry was founded but the foe ahead was too busy with the Boise Militia, which thought it had broken up an incursion into its territory when the MH-6 Little Bird helicopter, flown by Major James Paul Duperow, formerly based with the Idaho Air National Guard’s 266th Range Squadron out of Mountain Home, spotted us moving north of Twin Falls.
One of the leaders of the Boise Militia, Duperow and his crew came upon our two vehicles and reacted according to the aggressions occurring. Since then, the Boise Militia had begun a new offensive and a pitched battle was taking place at Heyburn. Men on both side had to be pulled from the battle because of reports of a force from the Mormon Army of the Great Salt Lake moving through the Sawtooth National Forest to the south.
The Mormons had been dipping their toes deeper into the waters of Idaho, as well as into Wyoming, where they encountered a rag tag but committed Wyoming Militia, based out of Casper.
They had thus far been untouched due to their location — just far enough from all growing bands of armed monsters.
A perfect storm was brewing in southeastern Idaho as we neared the I-15 at Hamer and crossed under it undetected.
The Mormon Army took no sides when it reached the I-84, near Heyburn. It fired on men on both sides and they fired back, creating a triangle of aggressions hitherto unknown to civilized men. It was a form of violence currently being played out around the world. The good old norm of a war consisting of two warring sides popped after the disappearance.
It was now a dog-eat-dog world.
This was good for Andy and I as we dodged a lightly armed checkpoint in Rexburg by simply driving around it. They must have assumed that we were part of their crew.
After two solid days of rain, much of that gathered on the ground at West Yellowstone as gone. Rivers and creeks everywhere we gorged and were beginning to flood.
Kenneth had become a pacing wreck and he had begun to talk about returning to Yellowstone to look for Serena again. Ridley agreed with him, which made Carrie nervous. She embraced the rain for its oddness. She felt it was a sign that their ordeal may be coming to an end.
“We can’t do anything until this rain stops,” Ridley said. Kenneth nodded in agreement.
Meanwhile, on a small boat being battered by big waves on the Sulu Sea, close to the Philippine province of Zamboanga del Norte, Abdul Rahman Yasin, the notorious terrorist and salad dressing magnate, vomited heavily.
He had fled Indonesia a week earlier, along with three of his currently closest associates, a triumvirate of yowling felines. He narrowly escaped when a throng of Christian zealots found him living in an ocean front grass hut. Unfortunately for Abdul, he hadn’t shaved in months and looked very much like himself. The Christians set on him with fists and feet flying, and he took a few good whacks from a putter being wielded by a cross-eyed leper who, after being terribly poisoned by incorrect doses of enormously powerful pharmaceuticals, he murdered and ate a kindly missionary from South Korea. Shortly after that large meal, he began to experience visions that told him to establish an army of Christian warriors to purge Indonesia of Muslims and that lot.
A mere few months later the disappearance took place and sure enough, his vision came true. He was, as Metallica and its legion of fans, many of them evil, would so appreciate, the leper messiah.
Sadly for him, Abdul was able to wrench the putter from his hands, removing part of an index finger in the process, and beaned him a good one upside his bandage wrapped face. The other Christian warriors, mostly frightened, lost Igors seeking a main man monster to support, scattered when the thick American-Iraqi began to swing the putter.
He was able to scoop three of his many feline friends and launched the small boat he had moored offshore.
The remaining Christian warriors rounded up the rest of Abdul’s cats and enjoyed a delicious stringy meat dinner that night, while the Leper Messiah groaned, leaning against a coconut tree. The final act of his depraved descent from being a poor, tortured soul who went wacky due to bad drugs being produced and distributed by worse humans, was that it was the time of year when coconuts willingly broke free from the lofty perches and crashed to the ground. In this case, on the top of the Leper Messiah’s skull, killing him instantly.
Abdul’s cats meowed incessantly. Never one for the waves, he clung to the side of his lolling boat and wailed for help from his God.
Perhaps it was his wailing, or it was the slick of barfy chum trailing his boat’s wake, that brought the sharks to him.
He wasn’t the first evil soul to learn that it wasn’t just cats and ravens/crows left after the disappearance. But that didn’t matter to Abdul. All that mattered to him at that point was why his God would allow a tiger shark to lunge from the waves of the Sulu Sea and grab hold of his yellowing face.
In one starving scissor snip, the shark tore the front half of Abdul’s skull away and his brain slopped into the rolling waters. Another shark swooped in and gulped it in short order. Abdul’s body snapped back into the boat. In seconds, his cats were sniffing and lapping and before you can say ‘look out it’s a pygmy stampede,’ the starving beasts began to feast on their master.
The rain had cleared the way for us. We were easily able to cross into Wyoming and down to Jackson before dark. We pulled into Jackson Hole and made ourselves gloriously comfortable in a lavish ski chalet and flaunted our luxury with a roaring fire.
We had no idea if anyone was around. We didn’t care. A mixture of our fatigue and injuries created a daring-do that if left unchecked would be the end of us.
Andy was like the cat that had eaten the canary and his élan gushed into me as if from a catheter. For the first time in days, I dared to suck back a whack of booze and fell into a deep liver flexing swoon.
A couple of miles away, Serena and Madeline dined, watching the rain pour down from their comfy nest.
Serena was having difficulty swallowing. She’d been on edge for an hour or more. It was if someone was watching them. She was managing, at most, two hours of sleep at a time, before she’d be up pacing and keeping watch.
Madeline fed off her anxiety and little was said, as words started to grow heated quickly.
We spent several days in our lavish condo. By the end of the fourth day, all the snow had completely disappeared — washed away by the rains. The parking lot where our SUV sat was flooded and the conditions screamed ‘lay low.’ So we did.
The rain stopped three days later — a full week after we arrived at Jackson Hole. We hadn’t strayed more than 300 yards from the condo.
Even Andy remained still — chuffed and still.
We wiled away the time with me pestering Andy for more tales of past lives.
Now and then he’d reward my persistence, with tidbits of reincarnated food for thought.
One of his stories was Windex on my fuzzy memory.
“The hardest part wasn’t finding you, reborn to another place and time. The hardest part was keeping you alive long enough for me to get done what I needed to get done. You reckless soul,” he said.
I asked how he managed to find me.
“I just follow my urges. Isn’t that what evil is really all about? Give into urges and to hell with focus and discipline. Anyway, it’s always been as it just was — when you found me in Oregon. Not always me finding you; sometimes you finding me.
“I was back in the British Isles because I had a hankering to see what kind of a mess the Romans and Normans had made. I was thinking of heading over to Ireland and was traveling northwest, along the Welsh coastline, when I came to Conwy, a strategic point for the English as they struggled to keep the wilds of Wales away. And there you were. I paid for passage across the river away from the castle and who took my fare and welcomed me aboard his rowboat?”
I pointed at myself. Andy nodded.
“A few days before I got to Conwy, I began to become more and more agitated. When that happened, I tended to give off a terrible vibe that scared the screaming crap out of people — except you. When I got to Conwy, the English soldiers literally parted for me as I passed. No words exchanged; nothing done. Just let him pass. I still love that,” he said.
“So along from the castle I walked down the stairs to the small dock where you sat in your rowboat. You were about 20 and were in fine shape. I knew right away it was you. I was also quite surprised you were holding down such a job. Cut to the chase, it turns out you were trying to get as close to the English as you could because you were a passionate Welsh independence freedom fighter, of all fucking things.
“Once we crossed the river I decided to not bother with all that ‘spare the poor fuzzy memory of the shocked monkey stuff’ and just spelled it all out to you. Well, apparently such a story didn’t work well for the average working stiff in 1234 A.D. Britain. You swore at me and told me to take my crazy stories on the road with me. So I punched you in the face, threw you over my shoulder and carted you away. When you came to down the road, you tried to stab me with a blade you had hidden in your backside and in a fit of reaction I slung you forward, right on top of a narrow stump protruding from the ground beside the trail. It plunged through your mid-section, pretty much killing you instantly. Fuck sakes. I was despondent for decades and in fact did not find you again until 1444 A.D., when you were a middle aged fat merchant living in Persia.”
Andy stopped and said, “There, I felt it again.”
I asked what he was feeling and, ignoring me, he quickly walked outside.
I moved to follow but he was gone by the time I got my boots on.
Down in the town, Serena and Madeline experienced a brief flood, with water pouring through the lower streets, washing everything clean before staining it with a turkey gravy coloured slick as the waters receded.
The entire time, Serena felt ill and she’d become increasingly testy, often growling at Madeline, who had never seen her like that.
She thought it might have been the rain, but a day after it had stopped she remained sullen and jumpy.
The eighth day after we arrived in Jackson Hole, we decided to roll down to the town to check it out.
Andy was like a child heading to Disney Land when we sloshed across the soaked parking lot to the SUV.
“You sure have been in a good mood lately,” I said lightly.
“Sure am,” Andy said. “We’re nearly at our journey’s end, Rob.”
Knowing Yellowstone was only 60 or so miles north, I understood that, but his abnormally light mood did not jive with the person I had gotten to know the past two months. A friendship evolves into a much deeper connection when people are stuck together, whatever the reasons may be.
“You drive,” he chirped and lobbed the keys at me.
We wound down to Jackson and picked our way through the empty town, with all the expected chaos of stillness. I harkened back to driving through it one busy July long weekend a number of years earlier. The eeriness of an empty town continued to affect me — even though this was the umpteenth one I’d entered since the disappearance.
“I think it was this congested and difficult to drive through back then,” I muttered as I zigzagged around vehicles.
Andy’s head was on a swivel — a smiling swivel. He whistled a vaguely recognizable tune as I steered down street after street and stopped in front of sundry businesses.
We gathered supplies and marveled about how many provisions we were finding.
Several blocks away, Madeline was terrified.
Serena had her watching out a window, while she kept watch out of another.
They saw us drive down the main road, past their cul de sac, half an hour earlier.
Serena kept repeating, “This isn’t good” and her tone and words were scaring Madeline silly.
After touring around and loading up on food and finding a couple of rifles and a few handguns, as well as ammo, in a small outdoors store, we returned to our ski hill luxury, where deck time awaited.
For the first time since being nailed by the helicopter, we toasted and saluted our fallen comrades.
“May they rot in hell,” Andy said, tossing back a triple shot of tequila. “They were dregs and weaklings and spiritually itinerant, at best. But like the sorry demons in every army I commanded, they were useful, goddamn it.”
He held the shot glass to the light and twirled it in his long, knobby fingers.
We proceeded to get as pissed as rats in a toxic sludge pile. I’d never seen Andy drink before and the next morning I declared that I would never drink with him again. Of course.
I spent that day in front of a big screen television, staring at the blank screen when I took breaks from reading. I hadn’t read this much since I was a kid. It’s incredible, the overpowering impact television had on literacy and how it mutated learning to another level. Still, finding truly literate types seemed to be growing more difficult when the flags hit the pavement. The odds had become far greater since the disappearance. Many of the people I had come across were literate — freakishly so, in some cases.
Some Jeffrey Archer paperback flopped down in my hand and the big screen filled my vision.
The windows were open and a mild breeze blew over me. I was barefoot, in jeans and a t-shirt. It was Jan. 22 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and it had to be 60º F. For the first time in weeks, the sun was shining.
Great day for a barbecue. Beers and roasted animal flesh of some fashion. That’s the ticket.
That was the cycle for weeks on end. That and more tales from Andy and with them came more understanding for me. Strangely, I also now believed that I would see my Carrie again and it felt like it would be soon.
Ian Cobb/e-KNOWTags: 11:11Ian Cobb
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