Thursday, October 31, 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
Smoke plumed up from the eastern horizon as we drove north along Goose Lake's western shores. Josiah fretted upon seeing it, sticking his head clean out the window and screaming back at me over the roaring wind as we clipped along, yelling whether the town had gone up. I told him to tuck his damn fool head back in the car and stop his worrying. From the angle, the smoke originated from somewhere deep over the hills and into the brush flats that rolled out into far eastern Oregon.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"Damn sure I'm sure. Now get back in here and sit tight," I said.
The dirt roads up from the lake wound through the countryside. Not once did we see another living soul, neither driving along nor toiling in the fields along farms that were either abandoned or whose owners cowered out of sight. I had never seen anything like it before and neither had Josiah, because when I glanced over his head was back out of the window, whipping front to back, staring as long as he could at the driveways and small tracks between fields to prove to himself that things had truly gone quiet.
When we left the farmland and hit Highway 140 it only got worse. Road was never exceptionally busy, but you could expect a steady trickle since it was the main line through the woods between Lakeview and Klamath Falls. But empty? I flipped on the radio and turned through, but was met by silence across the dial. I cranked the volume until the car's stereo hummed and popped with static, but there was still nothing so I switched it off.
"Ain't no one here," Josiah muttered.
"I'm starting to see that," I said.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
I rode my bicycle up the hill in a low gear, hauling my life in the attached carrier behind me. The journey was all the more arduous through the carpet of leaves, a crimson and bright yellow blur that obscured the road's cracking concrete and lined the entire way into Sengokuhara. Rain began to fall as I hit a small flat, and I stripped off my shirt and pushed on, enjoying the cool drops on my back and the slight autumn breeze that shook the trees and brought even more leaves to the ground.
By the time I crested the final rise and came into town my lungs burned and head swam. I walked my bike the first few blocks past rusted tour buses and cars abandoned this same season ten years before, when the leaves fell, people came to watch, and the world ended. Abandoned storefronts lined with shattered windows were long picked-over, and I didn't even bother stopping to wade through overturned shelves in the rotting carcass of what once was.
About a mile into town I crossed a bride over a small creek, only to stop short when I reached the other side. Behind me, leaves spread wildly and swirled in the wind. Ahead, they formed orderly piles along the road's edge. Not far ahead, a frail, hunched woman holding a long push-broom beckoned to me.
"Did you do all this?" I asked.
"It wasn't so hard," she said in slow, halting English. "Little bit every day. Keeps up the strength."
She held out her and I took it. Her skin was thin like paper, but the strength of her grip startled me as she squeezed my hand. I squeezed back.
"Come with me," she said, letting go of my hand. "You must be tired."
I pulled my shirt back on and we walked along the road. Decaying houses collapsing under trees and seasons of neglect rose high into the hills to our left. Opposite, streets still covered with leaves led the way to massive temples of stone that gave way to rolling hills that led to the base of Mt. Fuji.
"Stopped at the bridge, but I still have a ways to go to get to the cemetery and my family's shrine," she said.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
We loaded up our gear and cut out from the Big Sage in the Taurus, driving north from the reservoir on the rocky dirt roads in the pre-dawn light until we couldn't go no more and then east over till we came down off the plateau and hit old Goose Lake. Pushing on, we soon were upon the green sign signaling the California border.
"Think they're really gonna be there?" Josiah asked.
"One way or another," I said.
"What's you meaning by that?"
I looked at Josiah and shook my head. Out the window to his right low scrub trees passed in a blur and the sun climbed up over Goose Lake and reflected off the exposed white rock where the water receded in the summertime. Josiah grunted and turned away from me.
"Oh come on now don't be that way," I said.
"I ain't being any way," he said in a pout.
I pulled off the road just short of a driveway leading up to a farmhouse and barn.
"Get out," I said.
"What you gonna leave me now after all this?" There was genuine concern in his voice. I laughed.
"Of course not you damned fool." I hopped out and banged on the roof. "Come on now."
He followed me along the road and up the driveway. The farmhouse looked abandoned, with the front door open wide and a small pile of discarded clothes and broken-looking camping supplies next to the ruts in the road where a car used to sit. We went around the house and walked between two dried-up and browning alfalfa fields, where I stopped and swung my arms wide.
"Where are all the people," I said.
"I dunno," Josiah said. "Aren't you worried about the car?"
"Nope. Think about it. No one came to the Big Sage. Empty roads coming down. No one here tending crops."
Josiah kicked dirt and looked back at the farm. He scrunched his face together and bit his lip like was fighting tears.
"Hey, that ain't important man. We're going into Lakeview looking for the girls like I promised, but you need to keep it together. We could find them holed up just fine," I said.
He nodded and I clapped him on the shoulder and squeezed. "Then again we might not, and you need to be ready for that."
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Down the red rock road at the Big Sage the huge and hot sun cooked our skin and pulled the spit out of our mouths until we were dry and desperate for the soupy, swampy water down in the reservoir. We built a fire and drank boiled, still-hot water and white lightning and watched the sun set through big dust kicked up on the distant road by the cattle that passed on the reservoir's other side.
We kept the fire low and huddled close for warmth against the beating wind that ripped across the plateau and watched for the headlights of any approaching cars in case we needed to douse things with a bucket full of sand. Although the last signs of life passed us by nearly a week ago.
I added another juniper branch and a handful of twigs and needles to the fire and it roared back from coals.
"Careful now," Josiah said.
"Careful nothing," I said and drank a big pull of the clear whiskey from my metal cup and felt a powerful tingling shoot from my throat to my stomach and out to my fingertips. "I'm fucking freezing."
"Ain't no one coming tonight, are they?" Josiah pondered the whiskey that sloshed around in his cup.
The old Taurus struggled and wheezed mightily out of Alturas, up the steep grades from the valley floor to the Big Sage when we first came. But we made it, and we set up on the sloping banks near the reservoir, tents and fishing gear and a little steel picnic table where we played cards and drank.
"What about Kristy and the girls?" Josiah asked. We'd waited just as said in the note we left for them on the doors of each of our trailers, hoping they'd return from Kristy's folks' place in Lakeview on time and join us at the Big Sage.
I didn't respond, instead drinking my cup dry and refilling it from the bottle that sat between us. Josiah wore a sour and uncertain frown.
"I don't know man. I wish I did. Just don't."