Monday

Iceland as Thing




I’d come to stay on the southern coast of Iceland, near the town of Kirkjub√¶jarklaustur, and after a few days there spent mostly hiding from the wind, I finally set out in my tiny rental car toward Skaftafellsj√∂kull, a nearby glacier, and Skaftafell national park. But this was no better than any previous attempt to leave my room. The further out I went, the harder the winds seemed to blow, until finally, while crossing a flat expanse of volcanic dust at the glacier’s mouth, a sandstorm frightened me enough to give it up and turn back around. Feeling completely defeated – though at the same time more than a little awed by the beauty and force of this natural violence – I headed back toward the guesthouse. As I drove the two lane highway around another out-jut of cliffside, I was struck again by something I’d noticed on the trip in. Beyond the cliff, surrounded by flats of moss-covered lava, stood a large rock, like some kind of weird beacon. I made a mental note to return there later, if the wind ever let up.




It was only the next day that the wind stopped almost completely – after blowing fiercely for the entire week that I’d been in the country so far, no matter where I went. So I got back into the little Yaris and this time crossed the black ash flats that had been so treacherous the day before, but only after passing again this strange, beaming rock that I’d already managed to forget about in the interim. It was visually striking, for certain, but there seemed something more about it than that. There was a kind of magnetism to it. It was as if the thing spoke to me somehow. This time I would for certain stop – the lack of the punishing winds would by now let me – but on my way back. For now I was determined to reach the glacier first.

I was already mourning the damage that my camera had sustained to its sensor the day before – caused less through the extreme weather conditions than by simple, dumb mishandling. This damage had rendered my intention of getting as much useful footage of the landscape as I could moot, but also, in a way, freed me from any sense of obligation to do so. In the time I’d spent in the country – not knowing what exactly I was looking for, but certain all the while that I hadn’t found it, and cursing myself for putting myself into such financial disarray to get this far – I’d grown increasingly depressed and defeated. Naturally. Putting so much importance onto a landscape was no better than putting it onto a person – there is no one and nothing that can satisfy the heart’s longings when you’re a hungry ghost. But with the dying of the winds I’d also relaxed a little. It didn’t matter; nothing did. I was just here. Alone and without purpose, maybe, but here.




I pulled the car over as close to the large, strange rock as I could get and walked back toward a stepladder that crossed over a wire fence. A footpath lead through the moss toward the rock, nearing a slow, quiet stream that ran alongside. Forking and converging, the stream flowed with utterly clear, cold water, winding toward the rock, and beyond it some distance, spilling out into the Atlantic further on. Since arriving in Reykjavik about a week before, I’d scarcely thought about the fae at all, putting all these ideas off to only more groundless and unrealistic longing on my part. But as I walked this short distance, I thought, If these people are anywhere, they’re here. Though, to be honest, I couldn’t take this seriously either. I knew was turning to fantasy to fill in the holes in my heart. This was useless. But the land here was beautiful, and with my sensor-damaged camera, I started clicking off pictures, framing the smaller piles of lava stone against the larger formation behind them, and against the sky.




I began to feel, with an inner, mounting anxiety, the sense that, even with the footpaths and the inviting stepladder over the fence, I was being watched, and for the time being, allowed through this place. This sense of presence wasn’t a voice, not exactly, though my own inner voice began telling me that I would be allowed passage for only a short while. It was necessary to be respectful. This landscape was too important to disturb. The sense of presence, and with it my anxiety, only grew, the closer I came to the stone. After a short distance, I couldn’t take it any more. Clearly, it was time to get out of there. But wasn’t I engaging respectfully? Wasn’t I honoring the spirit in the stone? No… no, I was trespassing now, and it was time to leave. The thought occurred to me that if I allowed myself to get too close to the flowing stream, the fae would push me into it. These critters would be happy to make a fool out of me. I knew also from experience that I could only too easily make a fool out of myself, that I didn’t need any disembodied help to do it. But now that the thought had found expression, I also needed to go nearer to the stream. Didn’t I? Didn’t I? I could get more lovely photos, if I just went closer to the stream. Against my own better judgement, I took a fork in the footpath that led near to the water. I stopped at its edge. I shot a few, uninteresting photos, nervously waiting for a shove from out of nowhere. There. Okay. Leave me alone now, I’m going. I put the cap back onto my camera’s lens.




The cap – like it has never once done before – popped straight off with a ping and dropped into the water.

The perfect, clear water.

Assholes.

Now what would I do? I could live without a lens cap, but the water… it was pure and perfect. I could hardly just leave the thing there, littered at the bottom of the stream. But wait – it hadn’t gone to the bottom of the stream at all. The current had taken it. But the current hadn’t taken it away. No, the slow, clear current had lifted the lens cap up, had carried it near the clear surface where it twisted, where it turned and tumbled, in seeming slow-motion, waiting where it hung now, just within reach…

Okay, I said, okay. And, You can take your shot at me, I guess. I knelt down at the water’s edge, balanced on the bank, and reached… out… toward the plastic cap, reaching just short of the cuff of my jacket’s woolen arm. The cap spun and tumbled, waiting for me, right there. I clenched my hand and grasped it, pulled it from the water, held it tight.

There. Wasting no time, I quick-stepped back from the water, back up the footpath to the fence, holding the wet lens cap in my dripping hand, avoiding the many piles of dried sheep dung that lay everywhere along the way. And the further from the rock I got, the more my anxiety lessened. I’d escaped my fate in the stream, but I knew, it was only because I’d been allowed to. Perhaps because I’d shown respect; perhaps because it had seemed more amusing if I should stay dry. Obligingly, they’d even handed my cap straight back to me.

The next night, in stillness, and for all the next day, April snows fell and covered everything.



Iceland As Idea



The travel and tourism industry of Iceland is happy to advertise how more than half of its country’s inhabitants carry a sincere belief in elves, faeries, lake monsters, and other mythical, if normally invisible, types of life. I’ve since seen this statistic thrown into question, the chief argument being how the polling was skewed into meaninglessness. But it hasn’t mattered. The idea – though not the only contributing factor – was part of the imaginative web or growing root structure that quickly became my obsession with the region. And I do mean obsession. Granted, it wasn’t the only thing, but it fit somehow so perfectly into this compelling idea of place that I’d come to form. It became part of the silent history of this geography of the imagination.

I think the process got its real start some years ago when a former colleague, a cinematographer, posted some offhand comment on Facebook about traveling to Iceland on a job. I was filled with envy for my acquaintance’s peripatetic lifestyle, more than having any specific ideas yet about the region. When some time later I read in an issue of music magazine The Wire about Australian composer Ben Frost’s having relocated to Reykjavik to help found the Bedroom Community record label there, the place itself became more apparent, and more specific. Apparent, that is, and specific as an idea. I knew nothing at the time of Frost, but his comments during the interview set up a curious resonance with me, and I soon became acquainted with his harsh, post-industrial, post-punk noise and orchestral music, and was deeply affected. But aside from this, it was the fact that he’d chosen Iceland, of all places, to live.

Why Iceland?



While I have no insight into Frost’s reasons for his move, the thought became a seed in my own mind. Soon, I couldn’t stop thinking about the place. People pick up and move – or at least one person moves – to Iceland. There is something there.

I began to think of the movie industry, and again of my cinematographer acquaintance. Iceland is frequently chosen as a prime location for its unique and varied landscape. Batman Begins. Alright. Game of Thrones. Certainly. The recent Aronofsky film Noah. Nice, very.

But none of this adds up to the sheer, obsessive force of what had grown in my imagination. Iceland as a mythic place, Iceland as idea. I knew that I had to go there. I thought about going and never coming back – knowing all the while and full well that an idea about a thing is not the same as the actual thing. I had to go and compare the two and sort it out for myself, if only to dispel this obsession, since it simply wouldn’t leave me alone. It was in the midst of my research that I came across the above-mentioned statistic: more than half of Icelanders quite sincerely believe in faeries. This is often presented, at least in the touristic materials, in an Aren’t we simply so quaint? Don’t you love how silly we can be? sort of tone. But I’d had my own relation to the fae – and while I don’t characterize my relation as belief, exactly, I had given the matter an amount of serious thought. To my reckoning, these critters were delightful, insightful, sometimes helpful (maybe even lifesaving), but just as likely to be capricious, dangerous and downright treacherous. They can turn on you in an eyeblink, and you may not know the reasons why you’ve pissed them off – or if what you’ve done is any part of the equation. They do what they like. They have their reasons. They don’t make sense to us.

Thing or idea? But ideas are things.



And this is the level at which I chose to work – that at which an idea, or an image, or a dream, is a thing. Not a thing like a rock or a landscape, or money (or wait – money actually is an idea, just one that everyone agrees upon), but a thing within its own context of thoughtspace. This is a place where things as ideas can and do have a life of their own. As a novelist, I cultivate this space carefully and work to observe its contents in their development, seeing as how they are both a part of myself and potentially quite something else. Characters take on their own lives. Situations develop spontaneously and surprisingly. Worlds are built, cohere for a time, and then crumble away. Content such as faeries, or UFOs and their attendant intelligence, while perhaps of themselves transcending this realm alone, do inhabit here very well, at least part of the time. The question of the so-called objective reality of these forms is secondary to the work of observation, but the fact that their behavior may oftentimes spill over from one realm to the next, from thoughtspace into objectivity (and back) is, I’ve found, both extraordinary and common; in a word, paradoxical.

As part of this magical spillover of thought and concretized thing, between the mythic and the literal, Iceland – now as faeryland – became a symbol, a constellation of longing. I bought my tickets early, while they were still cheap. I made my plans. I was inwardly terrified, perhaps because I knew that no single place could possibly match up to what my needs were for it, once such longing had crystallized; there is likely nothing that can satisfy that. But I was still going, knowing that on some level the venture would have to be a failure.

Tuesday

Outsiders





It was a few days ago that I was in a session with the counsellor I go to sometimes – another experiencer of transpersonal sorts of phenomena, and open to taking such as what they are (whatever they are) without trying to explain them off – and I was describing the sense I had of being different from the moment I entered kindergarten, even sooner; it was, and is, a familiar thought. Not an original one. One I’ve had before, and I’ve heard expressed from others, and for me, it went like this:

As soon as I was first dropped into the pen with other children, at a very early age, I pretty well knew already I wasn’t like them. They all seemed to understand something I didn’t. They all took to this shared experience or expectation what being human and socialized and otherwise in on the same trip was about, while I was explicitly aware of being outside it. “They all took to the social imprint,” I told Dr. Tom. “They might not have been very good at it, but they got it, while I just never did, and I understood that from day one.” I never took it as a sense of elitism, or puffing myself up to be somehow better than the others. It was just a lonely feeling, a certainty that I did not belong.

The thing about this wasn’t just that I was expressing something that I knew I’d articulated before – and so had others – but that I felt that I was following an established pattern, both in feeling that sense of alienation, and specifically in expressing it. I don’t know if I can explain this. Talking about the feeling, as much as having the feeling, were both expressing some necessity. The pattern seemed, whether innate or externally imposed, something that in a subtle way I’d been rutted into, a fixed groove, though the sentiment now was, as was my early experience of it, entirely genuine.

I often worry that I’m following in stereotypical lines somehow, or just saying the expected thing in a given situation, and so I may have dismissed this thought as maybe trying to conform to some expected pattern, except that the next day, I heard an interview with an experiencer of a mass abduction describe exactly the same feeling on air. It struck me: he also has to talk about this. He had the very same feeling, but he also needs to tell it. He pretty much expressed this straight out of the gate, in the interview.⁠*

What does this mean? Or, what is this juxtaposition saying to me, if anything?

That he and I are alike? Certainly we are, in that we share that same experience. But are we also in other ways alike? “Sam” (the interviewee) professes memories of abduction. I have no such memories, but have contacts of other sort described in detail throughout this site. Among the topics Dr. Tom and I discussed were the possibility of “abduction” or other visitor involvement at an early age. Certain early memories invoke the involvement of uncommon orders of reality, if they don’t present the more typically-reported images of contact. At least they seem as though they might, to me.

I’ve long considered my experiences as a form of “contact lite” – nothing like the sort of heavy involvement that many people speak or write books about. Many of my remembrances are of things half-seen and easily mistaken, things just as likely to be the suppositions of an overactive imagination as anything else. Yet through these self-doubts something remains, a core of knowing, some handful of images that I’ve never had doubt over, though I may have, for a time, dismissed them. I’ve also often wondered if looking for deeper memories of contact would be a useful pursuit, worried that I might invent what I’d hoped to find, seeking some narrative or cause for my seemingly groundless wounded condition.



* Dreamland podcast posted 11/07/14, host Whitley Strieber. I’d downloaded this the same day as my session, and listened to it the next. “Sam” is a contactee who was abducted among others en mass from a resort hotel in Coronado, CA in the summer of 1994. Coincidentally, I paid a brief visit to this same hotel the following summer while staying on the island, though I lived in Washington State at the time, and knew nothing of these abductions.


Sunday

This Killing Winter: Conclusion



I fully expected to find Pete on the sofa, at the tv, either asleep or just sitting there, as usual, as if nothing had happened. But when I got home a little before ten that night, the place was – or seemed – empty; I couldn’t tell. The television was on, and that was fairly normal. Pete always left the tv on, but the thing was blaring loud. I turned it down, but not off. Pete’s little blue car was parked directly outside in the lot, his keys on the coffee table, his leather jacket draped over the back of a wooden chair. His bedroom door was closed. That struck me as strange. Was he in his room? Pete was never in his room. Unless his ex had come over to care for his emotional wounds, he was always on the couch, day or night. My bedroom door was left open, and that was unusual: I habitually shut it whenever I went out. But then I remembered the police had been called and they’d been through the place – Pete’s wife had told me as much in her frantic voicemail – and no doubt they would’ve checked my room. That didn’t bother me; I saw that nothing had been disturbed.

I was already pretty sure by then he wasn’t coming back, though I didn’t quite believe it. In fact, Pete was dead – as I found out later, he’d walked off into a nearby field and shot himself in the brain that afternoon, while I was at the movies. He’d sent a suicide text to his wife and to a friend, and this was why the police had been called. But I’d not heard any of this yet, and I wouldn’t until I came into work that next morning. And because I’d been through some version of this drama often enough over the past weeks, if only in my own mind – only to find him on the sofa later, as if nothing were going on – I still at the time thought that he might just be sulking in his room, and that I was likely overdramatizing the whole thing.

On the kitchen counter I found an open tub of salsa. He’d come in with bags and bags of tortilla chips bought at Wal-Mart that morning, which had struck me for some vague reason as disturbing. But then everything about him had seemed disturbing over these past few days. I threw the plastic tub and its contents away, aware of some dim sense of insult in doing so. Asshole, I thought, you asshole. You have to go and do this, and it’s the only way I can finally get a night’s peace. It occurred me then that I might never find out what happened. I would leave Utah in a couple of days, and I still might not know if he were dead or not, or just what had happened. With the place for the moment apparently to myself, I tried to wind down as best I could and get ready for bed. There was still work the next day. But, despite the much-needed quiet, I slept little.

Quiet. 

In the morning, everyone in the resort’s kitchen had heard the news, except for me. Word had travelled fast the night before and spread like wildfire through employee housing. I wondered why people, many of whom I only knew casually, were looking at me with such sympathy and concern, although at the same time I really did understand. It was hardly the mystery it may have seemed. It was from my colleague in the bakery, the same woman who’d first suggested my dreams may be from the faeries, that I heard what was by now so widely known. And I found out soon enough that many of those people regarding me so strangely thought I was probably the one who’d found Pete’s body and called it all in. Small wonder they looked at me like that. 

I won’t eulogize Pete because I’m still angry with him. Yes, he was fundamentally a good guy, pulled under by a sickness in his heart. But he took everyone near him prisoner with his unappeasable need, and his death comes – and was meant, at least in part – as a final insult: None of you did enough for me. His suicide note reflects this attitude, I’m told, though I’ve not seen it. “If you care, you’ll find my body…” He required for others to satisfy his core hurt, and of course everyone failed him, no matter how much they tried. The Hungry Ghost cannot, by its nature, be fed. To fail in this regard was not something anyone could ever help but do, and his was a deeply parasitic orientation. And though I do have compassion, of a sort, for how trapped he felt by his pain, I’m also quite sure he could have found his way out of it, eventually, with a small shift of this attitude. I say this, I hope, not with curt flippancy, nor with the arrogant oversimplification that comes all too easily, but from experience: I once felt exactly the way that he did. That was why I could see it. When no one else would or could step forward to make me feel solid enough, when my own terrible neediness drove everyone else off, and after a lot of hard disappointments, I eventually stopped believing that anyone should take care of me; that it was, by default, up to me alone. Resignation, and ultimately, acceptance changed my attitude. I don’t know why I got this and Pete didn’t, but this is why I’m alive now and he is not. 

After everything that led up to this, I may’ve easily felt myself reeling, knocked a bit too hard by the Fates and traumatized for it – but instead I felt only deep, deep calm, and I continued for some weeks to feel that calm. I started out for home late the next day with steady hands on the wheel, and I drove and drove and drove. The wreckage of my ransacked Washington home has since been cleaned up, the things that were stolen are things I can do without, mostly. Insurance will cover some of it. My car runs well and I’m unharmed. I don’t honestly know if I’m really any stronger, or maybe much colder, than I thought, or if I’m simply not facing the requisite pain yet, but it has taken no effort of will to reach this place of detachment. It seems rather I’ve been set up for it. 

I’ve got scars now, of a sort, it’s true: I’m less trusting of the people around me on this formerly safe and peaceful-seeming island where I live; I’m hyperaware of the sudden violence that can happen at any time on the highway; and I carry a residue of that dismal apartment – too much of what I see and think refers back to that place as ground zero, and to Pete also, and the unbearable pressure that was there. But at the same time I find – and this mystifies me – that the long-ingrained tendency to feel sorry for myself, to be anxious for the future, and hurt over this or that disappointment, either current or past, seems for the moment to be gone. I simply do not feel it, as if it has been blown away by the same bullet that blew Pete’s head to pulp. Maybe it’ll be back – maybe it’s coming back now – but for the time being, none of that is in the picture. 

If any of this hard, murderous winter was orchestrated by faeries, I can’t say for sure. I don’t really believe that to be the case. Of course it strikes me as kind of stupid to say as much, but that’s because I don’t know what faeries, or elementals, really are. Something sent me warnings in the form of vivid half-dreams, and something seemed to guide me toward a specific place where this would happen; something sent blow after blow and shocked me awake enough to withstand what was coming, and now that part of it is over. I can’t help but sense an architecture to this, one drawn up somewhere, one that must seem sinister, or at least very hard. But it is, I think, ultimately beneficial. I only hope I can pick up what I need to, and survive whatever comes next. It might even kind of fun now, or at any rate easier. In any event, I’m still here.


Saturday

This Killing Winter: Part Four



What followed next was a series of shocks.

Towards the end of March, I found three messages on my phone one night, just before going to bed – one from my nephew, one from my sister, and one from my mother. They all said the same thing: my house had been broken into and ransacked. Thieves had smashed through the glass of the back door and stolen everything they thought worth carrying away. My nephew, who’d discovered the break-in, even had video of the wreckage. Superstitious as it may have been, I thought of the fae – or whoever these elemental critters were I’d been trying to talk to. Hadn’t they been guarding the house? (This was what the psychic had specifically told me, unbidden.) Hadn’t they, or someone, been sending me these significant “dreams” – messages which, albeit, had only seemed to bode of invasion, in one form or another. Had I somehow pissed them off? Because they did seem, after all, a bit touchy… After more than twenty years without a burglary in my very safe neighborhood, it was as if they’d painted a big target on the place, out of spite. 

Were they angry that I’d not come home to them when they’d called? Was that it? 

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in Pete’s apartment where I now was living was as thick as ever. His ex-wife was often over, and I was thankful for that. When she came, the two of them made their own world together and I felt that I could get on with my own. I kept to my books, I put my headphones on, I wrote in my journal, I went to the gym. In short, I dug in and tried to wait this whole thing out. Whatever may happen, the season would not last for much longer. About a week after the news of the break-in, I was in a wreck on my way to work. It all happened so very fast, but with utter clarity. I saw brake lights flash on the cars and trucks ahead of me as they all started fishtailing wildly. I tried to slow also and started drifting out of control. I saw I was heading for the concrete siding of the bridge and there was nothing I could do to stop or avoid it. When I hit, my Jeep spun violently around on the shoulder until it eventually stopped. I was giddy with the shock. My hands shook as I fumbled for my phone, not at all clear on who I was supposed to call. So many times I’d driven this mountain grade, oftentimes in white-out conditions, often with a white-knuckle grip on the wheel but never with any real problem, and now in the clear and relative warmth of early spring… The same thing had happened to a forest ranger ahead of me, and though she’d spun out up the hill a bit, beyond the bridge’s railings, she’d almost gone down an embankment and into a river, stopping just at the edge of the precipice. We got out and looked across the distance at each other as the rest of the gathering traffic rushed past. Neither of us was hurt, but my car would need repairs to be drivable again, and I was starting to feel like I might be cursed. Paying heed to my dreams, and following the indicated, significant paths as had opened – at least so far as I could see – everything was going entirely wrong. 

Tensions at home were only getting worse. Pete wasn’t talking to me, and frankly, I didn’t want him to. I just wanted to find some space to myself. His wife complained to me that he’d become so needy, she couldn’t take any more of him. She’d wanted to remain his friend, but this sort of smothering need was what had driven her off in the first place. Since we all three worked in the same place, there was a sense of community, but also a lot of talk and few secrets. My colleagues often asked me what was going on, and I felt like the worst sort of gossip if I told them any of it, but damned to a personal hell if I couldn’t say anything. I tried to be judicious in what I did say, but I couldn’t keep my anxiety to myself.

I came home to Pete – always there, as ever, the blaring television as well, always on – arguing over the telephone with someone. I knew it could only be her, his wife. I felt badly for her, but I’d stopped feeling sorry for Pete. If he could simply let go of all this, he’d be fine and so would everyone else. Desperate and depressed as he may be, he was making his problems for himself. After hanging up, he curled up on the couch and fell fast asleep, though it was barely seven in the evening yet. His telephone rang and rang, but he would not respond. 

At work the next day his wife told me she’d been asking around the kitchen for my phone number that evening before; she’d wanted me to check on Pete and see if he was okay. I gave it to her then, a little late to do much good, but told her to call me any time. And when I got home again, Pete, wired on energy drinks, started grilling me the moment I walked through the door: “Did my wife ask for your number? Why would she do that? Did she say she was worried about me? I don’t want her to talk to other people about me. It’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating…” I was starting to feel genuinely frightened, both for his wife and myself. I resented his intrusive questions, and he’d crossed a line. Pete could go to hell for all I cared – I needed to take care of myself.

With less than a week left on the schedule, I had a day off. This was a Tuesday. Out running errands in the morning, I thought to go back home for a rest, but as I drove up to the turn-off, I saw an image of the apartment in my mind’s eye – of my room, of those four walls and the furniture inside them – and neutral as it may have been in itself, the feeling-tone was so oppressive and intolerable, this was the last place I wanted to be. It was vivid and intense. A shudder went through me like some kind of allergic reaction, and I knew I had to avoid home at all costs. I ran more errands, I went to a movie, I walked around the grounds of a shopping mall just to kill the time. In the evening I went to a company party at my boss’s house. He, aware of my situation, offered me a spare room to stay in, if I needed it. He also told me that my last two days on the schedule they could manage without me, if I had to get out of town. I told him I would take him up on both accounts. Pete’s wife had left me a frantic message, which I’d gotten only after the movie. Something was wrong, she said, the police had gone to the apartment and couldn’t find him. The details were murky, but clearly things had escalated again. She’d left no number – my phone had been turned off at the time – and I couldn’t return her call. But I would need to go back that place, if only to pack my things and get out again.

And I had to admit I felt a detached, maybe sick, curiosity – I needed to find out what had happened.

[To be continued.]

Friday

This Killing Winter: Part Three


The next day was miserable. My home was open to any random asshole the company assigned me, and though this was normal enough and, I supposed, my lot as a low-paid kitchen worker in need of cheap, temporary housing, I also knew it wasn’t something I could live with. Whoever this new roommate was, it was clear he had no idea what basic consideration of others amounted to. I was ready to walk off the job, if this was what I had to look forward to. 

I thought often and puzzled over these two “dreams” that I’d had, and what they might indicate. I’d entertained any number of theories, one being that something – these elemental spirits? – had been trying to protect my sovereign space. It seemed childish, perhaps; especially now in light of the fact that my home was anything but protected. Maybe these were warnings, delivered in a neutral tone: they were showing me what would happen, and that was as much intervention as they could or cared to manage. But whatever the motivation, I couldn’t help but feel that something was communicating with me, something outside of myself, delivering messages of import. 

This was in February, but let me back up a little. 

At Christmas time, the resort’s kitchen was shocked by the rumors that Pete, the sous chef of daytime operations, had attempted suicide. This was one of many factors that left many of us thinking that this was turning out to be a particularly hard winter. I’d already had one friend back in Seattle – another cook (an executive chef, in fact) – die suddenly for unknown reasons. The news about Pete travelled fast through the kitchen, and people had a hard time accepting it. I’d known Pete since my first season at the resort, and had at first been able to talk with him, though as the seasons rolled past, he became more and more distant, and we interacted less – finally, hardly at all. The suicide attempt had been unsuccessful, but it was serious. This was no mere cry for attention. What seemed in some ways even more shocking was that within a couple of weeks, Pete was back at work, carrying on as if nothing had happened, and if one could tell from his demeanor, expecting others to do the same. Unable to simply ask him about it, the rest of us were baffled. Had the rumors been exaggerated? Finally, I figured, what else was he supposed to do? He needed to work, right? Things carried on, though I often wondered if there was something that I could or should do to reach out to him, as if I had some responsibility. We’d sort of, at least some time ago, been friends. One day, meeting up with him on the loading dock where people went to smoke, I asked him about martial arts, something I knew he’d taught once and was passionate about. We made tentative arrangements for me to take instruction with him; it was something I’d often, in earlier times, thought about doing anyhow. He seemed genuinely interested. 

When, a week later, I was in my throes over my housing situation and complained to a friend that I was ready to quit because of it, Pete was in earshot and asked me if I’d like to move in with him. He worked year-round at the resort and had his own apartment, not far from where I’d been living. Since his wife had recently left him, and her eldest son moved out as well, he had a spare bedroom and would charge the same rent as what I now paid – way below fair share of the apartment’s cost. He just wanted somebody around, he said. Although I knew this was an unstable environment, I couldn’t help but feel that I was being led toward something. This might allow me to keep with my job, and maybe I could provide some modicum of support to someone who really needed it. I’m no crisis counsellor – I had no illusions about that – but if Pete just needed someone friendly around, I could at least, or so I thought, manage that. 

Pete was a burly guy, covered with Japanese-influenced tattoos, and as a former professional cage-fighter, no doubt something of a badass, but underneath that a basically gentle soul in a great deal of pain. Moving into his apartment, I didn’t know what to expect at first, but it seemed, on the surface, a great improvement. He could at the very least respect the fact that another person lived under the same roof. We were, in the beginning, able to compare our strange experiences: he was, for instance, a witness to the Phoenix lights of 1997, and this was something I never would have guessed. He’d had many other encounters as well, and we could swap stories about things of this nature: UFOs, the shamanic, the paranormal. It seemed he was an old hand, and had, like me, long felt something calling him that marked him and left him feeling slightly outside the scope of mainstream human affairs. 

But the severity of his depression was hardly a thing of the past and over with. He drank heavily, nearly constantly, sometimes on the job, and when at home, he seldom left the couch. Since the sofa was right beside my bedroom door, night after night of his passing out in front of the tv began to make me a little squirrelly; he was always just right there. What’s more, his over-large personality seemed to take up all the air in the room, whether I had my door shut or not. Living at the apartment, I began to feel like a piece of set-dressing, another prop or background actor in someone else’s movie. This was a familiar feeling to me, something I’m entirely too sensitive to perhaps, and one of the reasons I value solitude so highly. 

Also, I worried about the real likelihood of coming home to a dead body. 

In time, I found navigating around the atmosphere of the apartment to be more exhausting than working on my feet all day. For what little he told me about what was going on with him, it was clear there was a great deal more that he wasn’t saying. If I was there to be of any support, it wasn’t working, and I could only resent the pressure that I felt I was under. Still, the sense that I’d been navigated into this position by something beyond myself persisted. It seemed even unavoidable; the events that had brought me here were like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, all fitting too neatly together. There was a sense that I had a job I needed to do; I just couldn’t see what that job was, or that I was doing it. But the winter ski season is, thankfully, a finite thing, and its close in mid-April was drawing nearer. I had only to hang on for a few weeks more, and then move on back to Washington, but I had no idea how difficult that would prove to be.

[To be continued.]

Saturday

This Killing Winter: Part Two


[Continued from the previous post.]

The transient housing for employees at the ski resort where I work each winter is, at its best, occasionally adequate. Moldy dorm rooms with two or three to a person house most in town, while some ways out of Park City, a fishing camp at the base of the reservoir dam, complete with little two-room cottages, affords at least the possibility of a room to oneself in which to take refuge. This is where I have stayed. My first cabin mate of this latest winter season was a considerate, if usually drunken man about my same age named Don. Things with him were going well enough until he drank himself into a tequila rage one night, then was inexplicably gone the next day, his room cleared out, himself no longer employed at the resort. But some one or two weeks before this happened, I woke up from a dream that did not seem to be a dream at all, yet in retrospect it seemed predictive.

In this “dream” I’d only just started to drop off into sleep, just past that twilight state in which things and voices and entire scenes may intrude as prelude to sleep and proper dream. While hovering in this state I heard a shout – it seemed to be Don’s voice – and this rattled me back awake, unsure if I’d really heard or not heard it. There was no further sound to follow this, but I realized in short order that I smelled a heady scent of shit; my entire room smelled of the stuff, and it was revolting. It didn’t seem to be coming from me, so far as I could tell, but it seemed inescapable. I tried to simply lay there for a short while, hoping to get back to sleep despite this, but in time, realized that I would at least need to go to the bathroom myself if I was to relax at all again. And as soon as I picked my head up off the pillow, the reek was gone. It had entirely dissipated in that instant, as though it had never been there. There was suddenly no more trace of it at all.

This perplexed me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the whole thing that next morning: an agonized shout, the smell of dung. Although it could be explained away, no doubt, any number of ways, I had the troubling sense that something had been trying to send me a message. At work in the bakery that morning, I mentioned it to my coworker, a very feet-on-the-ground type of woman, one I truly liked, though one not willing to entertain much of this etheric sort of thing, who said, “Maybe it’s your faeries talking.” There was at least a hint of mocking in her tone. But still it got me to thinking.

Within two weeks of this, Don had drunk himself into a blind rage and then he was gone, like a ghost. Something of his own dark side had caught up with him. I’d had to endure a night of his agonized shouts and him pounding against the walls (while not exactly willing, myself, to confront a tequila-fueled monster ape who was clearly suffering, and ask him to stop). I later thought often of the dream, or hallucination, or whatever it was. Perhaps it was that Don had only shouted in his sleep, agonized by some nightmare. But there was also the suffocating smell of shit in the air, gone the moment I’d moved at all… and that was peculiar, and it seemed to signify something. I felt that the whole thing, whether I was reaching or not, could be read symbolically, just like a dream, whether it had been mine or my roommate’s, or not a dream at all. Don had choked on his own crap.

The next “dream” came a couple of weeks after this had happened. With Don now out of the picture, but the resort still hiring (and therefore housing) people beyond its capacity, I knew it was only a matter of time before the next roommate moved in. I was told to expect one shortly by the housing manager. I only hoped this guy might be as agreeable as the last. Yet as the days past, and then became some weeks, I spent spent the time in the cabin to myself and loving it. I am, after all, a very private person. I like the quiet. I thrive on solitude, yet I knew it couldn’t last. One particular night – or rather, one early morning – I was awoken by the sound of people, two or three of them, suddenly throwing open the door to the cabin and tromping loudly in. They chatted amongst themselves as if it were mid-day and there was no one else about, certainly no one trying to sleep in the dark and small hours in the occupied room. One of them seemed to express some annoyance at the signs of someone already living in the place – that would be me – and the whole group in time trotted back outside into the snow, leaving the front door wide open, as if they were in the midst of moving in. Are these my new roommates? I thought, and, What complete assholes! My heart was racing. I was furious. What’s more, they’d left the front door open, and the heat was escaping. I could already feel the temperature start to drop.

So I got up out of bed to at least shut the door, and when I stepped out from my bedroom into the darkened kitchen, found the front door already well-shut. There was nobody there, and as far as I could tell, there had never been anybody there. But here was another intrusive “dream”, from somewhere outside the cusp of normal sleep. This had felt nothing like the sort of dream I might normally wake from, shake off, and realize had been just that. This was something altogether different. This was all but physical, and as it turned out, altogether predictive as well.

It was maybe two weeks later that somebody did finally show up, and this in the middle of the night, just like I’d “dreamed” it. I woke up around one a.m. to the sound of somebody opening the front door, walking through the kitchen, closing themselves up in the empty, bare room and flushing the toilet. It was clear that there was somebody actually there. I had no idea who. Anxiously, in time, I was able to get back to sleep, until in the morning the sound of them now leaving woke me up once more. I stretched and looked out through the slats of my window’s blinds to see a pair of feet walking heavily off through the snow. Okay, I thought, that was just odd. And disturbing. I learned the next day, when the housing manager again came by, that this was in fact my new roommate. Great. I groaned inwardly, but knew that it had been coming. I heard or saw nothing more of this mystery person for several more nights until again, in the middle of the night, I woke up from the sound of the door thrown open, and all the lights were turned on, and two pairs of feet walked heavily back and forth through the kitchen. Voices talked – at full volume – and something was set down into the empty room. A box? The two left again, only to return again, repeat the noisy intrusion, leave again, return again, then leave. It was like a Chinese water torture. My blood was boiling.

I again remembered my “dream”. It had been exactly this.

[To be continued.]