TWO STICKS’ AUDIO LOG/JOURNAL
7/9 – Red’s Meadow
The rain pummeled the wooden slats of the roof tops, the lightning shook the air above the forest canopy, and the trees swayed as the wind shuttled them in arcs – these, the normal sounds of a stormy night, don’t affect me much. At least out here. They’re as normal as birds chirping at sunrise. No, what scared me most as I approached Red’s Meadow was the place itself. The lights were out, the entire property abandoned. There wasn’t the hum of energy that radiates from a place even at night. When I came close to the main two buildings, instead of the rain and the thunder and the wind and even the quiet whispers I could hear next door, I heard the limited sound of shuffling coming from within the small market.
I peeked inside.
The front door was off its hinges. Broken glass was in the frame. A pile of white resupply buckets spilled over the cash register. All the candy from the front counter had been torn open. The room itself smelled of piss and musk and rotted meat.
And that sound. I would have thought it an old man with a walker but it was dark outside, even darker in here…and that smell. More dank than the campsite. I would have called out, but something told me it was better to remain quiet.
The structure beside the market was boarded shut. The back door was nailed with 2X4’s, the front window was shut with planks of plyboard, spray painted with “CLOSED”. Soft light flickered through the cracks in the plyboard and I could hear low whispers from within.
When I reached for the door handle I heard a whisper.
“She’s back?” Another voice, younger, clearly shaken.
“There’s boards on the window.”
“You can’t see through?”
“THERE’S BOARDS ON THE WINDOW. Quiet. Everyone quiet.”
I tapped on the door with my fingernail, whispered hello. I had to pee. I could feel the darkness behind me. The forest was close. Whenever lightning flashed I’d turn around and expect to see some figure or shape loping out of the woods. But there was nothing.
“He heard us.”
“He just said hello.”
“It’s a boy.”
“I can hear you,” I said, whispering so I wouldn’t alert whatever was shuffling around in the market next door. “The rain. It’s raining. Can you just?”
“We’re closed. Been closed.”
“I don’t need food,” I said. “Not trying to place an order. It’s raining. The store’s been ransacked. There’s some… Can you tell me what’s happening?”
“We’re closed. That’s what’s happening.”
The front door was scratched. The handle looked like someone had tried to tear it off. Not with hands or fingernails. No. These were claw marks.
“There’s boards on the window,” I said. “There’s an animal or something in the store.”
“Animal or something he says. Makes it tough to order doesn’t it?”
I had only heard two voices but there were other murmurs in the background. Lightning flashed again. The thunder followed.
“Is it still raining?” the younger voice asked me.
The older voice said, “No, Marcus. Just water from the sky. Not rain.”
“Shut up, Everett.”
“12 inch voices, Marcus. He knows we’re here. Let’s let him in.”
More murmurs in response to this. Disagreements most likely. A moment passed.
Marcus said, “We’ll have to take the boards off and put them back up.”
Everett, to me, still whispering: “Hey, stranger, can you answer a couple questions?”
“No, dude, not like riddles, like questions. What’s your name, where you coming from, that sort of thing.”
“I can handle that. My name’s – ”
“I don’t need your name.”
“Can you just let me in?” The shuffles from the far end of the shop had grown louder. Whatever made the sound, it was approaching.
“You got a pack of grizzly bears with you?”
I could feel the pee burning a hole in my belly. The wind above was loud but I could hear the footsteps now – they were definitely footsteps – near the front door of the market. “Just a sloth of them.”
“A pack of grizzlies? You got any.”
“…a pack of bears? Please. There’s something coming. Just open. Please.”
Something kicked the buckets near the register. I could hear the crunch of glass.
“I was at the campsite,” I said, spitting out the words. “At the campsite down the road. There’s tents and a couple campers and it looked like bears had gotten in. The bear boxes were clean. The tents ravaged. Looked like bears.”
“But not your bears?”
“Not my bears.” I was leaning against the door, whispering into the wood.
“You come from Mammoth?”
“Thousand Island. JMT. My tenth day. Or ninth. I don’t remember what today is.”
“You sick? Cough. Flu. Throwing up. Any symptoms?”
“My shit’s been as big as a Triceratops for three days. Before that nothing. You gonna judge me for that?”
He laughed and told me to hold on. “Give a quick look around. We’ll try to sneak you in quick.
“It’s dark,” I said.
“Then listen then.”
I could hear him prying the boards off the door from within. I was ten feet from the market door. So dark I could only see the door frame outlining the blackness within. The rain gave out and the wind dampered and everything around me became quiet, except for the low shuffle, each step now like a clap. It was footsteps. Two of them. A dozen yards away at most.
The door swung open. Everett stood there with an axe in his hand. He smiled at me and grabbed my shoulder.
Lightning flashed. The rain fell. The wind returned and blew it into my face. The lightning flash lighted the entrance to the market. A woman stood in the doorway. She was hunched over. Her face was beaten, bloody, her mouth curled up into a snarl. She groaned at me. Half of me wanted to reach out to her, relieved that it wasn’t some monstrous bear/coyote/deer hybrid or whatever else it was I had conjured in my head; but the other half didn’t see her at all.
Everett grabbed my shoulder and slung me inside. Marcus shut the door. The two hammered 2X4’s to the door. The crowd inside the place assessed me. My hair was wet. My pack too. Water had been dripping into my boots so long that my feet and socks were soaked. I didn’t know what to do. I only wanted to know one thing:
Why did nobody care that the woman outside was scratching the door?
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