A Fortnight, Forgotten – Part One

A Fortnight, Forgotten – The Journal Entries of a Haunted Man, Dated from the Year Two-Thousand Fourteen

Tenth of September, Two-Thousand Fourteen

I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, while simultaneously breathing the warm Oregon air. Following the signs to the terminal, I carried my belongings to the moving walkway inside, where I nearly doubled my speed across the distant stretch of the Portland International Airport. I had just arrived from Cincinnati via a short layover in Seattle, and I was eager to see the city of Portland for the first time.

After my studies at Xavier University, I stayed in the Queen City, working various dead-end jobs in the service industry. An old friend of mine from my days as a Musketeer – a former roommate, more precisely – had moved across the country from the great midwestern state of Ohio to Portland, Oregon for a position marketing various cheeses to grocers. Ian was a wily fellow: as a student, he studied history, only to find work selling used automobiles once out of school. When that didn’t pan out, he decided a change was in order. He had been on the west coast for nearly two years when I made the decision to visit him for fourteen days – a way of “finding myself,” as I described it. If Ian were able to make this great leap, would I not be able to do so in a similar fashion?

I tried it his way, applying for work to a myriad of online postings. Constantly updating resumes and rewording cover letters led me nowhere. After weeks of silence, I decided I would leave the triviality of finding work on the back burner and focus solely on discovering the world itself. My first checkpoint on this path was a visit to Portland to see my friend. After living in Cincinnati the entirety of my life, I was confident in my decision to leave, but I knew I had to leave appropriately. The inner-most yearning for the spark of life in my gut wanted me to leave spontaneously, with no boarding and no work in front of me. This feeling was especially amplified when under the influence of the many beers, wines, and liquors at my disposal in my home. Fortunately, my friends and family members managed to find a moment during my sobriety to convince me against my emotional longings. I would only visit Portland, allowing myself to keep my work and living arrangements in Cincinnati, should I decide to stay.

Ian picked me up as planned, if several minutes late, from the passenger pickup location at the exit of the terminal. He honked playfully and waved as he approached. Opening the doors, I placed my bags in the backseat and jumped into the front before receiving an inviting embrace from Ian. “Welcome to Portland,” he said with a smile. The bright sunlight reflected off his glasses into my eyes, so I shaded the light with my hand as I smiled back at my friend.

“I finally made it,” I responded happily. “I can’t believe I’m actually here.” I was as giddy as a schoolboy, and I was excited for the days to come in the Pacific Northwest.

“Traffic was a nightmare,” he reported. “The people here are quite unskilled at driving.” His midwestern arrogance was a warm hint of nostalgia for the home I left behind, and I knew it would keep me comfortable in this strange new city.

Our first stop was a local eatery named Pine State Biscuits. Walking into the establishment, I looked around at my first stop in a city in which I hoped to one day hoped to reside. With my head bent upward, reading the various signs upon the wall and paying no attention to those around me, I stumbled into someone – a man or woman, I cannot be sure – and apologized immediately. Sensing a mild pain on my forearm, I looked down to see a small scrape upon my skin. I rubbed it gently, and a small drop of blood pooled at the deepest incision, which was still very shallow. I turned to see shadow round the corner of the door and disappear into the streets. I felt horribly about my first encounter with a Portland native, and I hoped this would not come to define my trip. My blood quickly coagulated at the wound, and I proceeded with my friend to the counter.

I ordered the “Reggie”: a chicken biscuit sandwich covered in hot gravy. Although the caloric intake was high, the dish was delightfully tasty. I washed it down with a Tricerahops double India pale ale from the local Ninkasi Brewing Company. Ian ordered the “Wedgie,” a variant of my dish which traded the gravy for a wedge of lettuce. It was a healthier option, but I was content with my decision to splurge on that first day. Being currently on the clock at his work-from-home position, Ian settled for water and dipping the handle of his fork in hot sauce to lick. This was a typical behavior from Ian, and, had it been from anyone else, I may have been worried.

From Pine State Biscuits, we drove to his apartment at Fourteenth and Taylor in the Southwest section of the city, near Goose Hollow. There were five major sections of the city: Southwest, where I stayed with my friend, which contained the downtown region; Northwest, which contained the Pearl District and Chinatown; North, which contains a vibrant mix of residential, commercial, and industrial areas, along with Portland University; Northeast, which is pinched by the Willamette and Columbia rivers and contains much diversity, certainly in the surrounding areas around Martin Luther Kind, Jr. Boulevard; and Southeast, arguably the most eccentric section of town, containing many cultural shops and Reed College.

Ian’s apartment was a second floor studio with the only access to the building’s fire escape on that floor. It was an old building: the painted-over wooden doors, frames, and walls dated it several decades, and the plumbing had not been upgraded in nearly as many. Entering apartment number two-hundred four, I was immediately greeted by Woody, the dog Ian had taken in after a tumultuous breakup with a former flame. Woody had lived with us in college for the last few months of our lease, yet I was unsure if he remembered me. He had grown to at least twice the size since I had last seen him, and he nearly knocked me down. His fur coat was just as golden as I had remembered, and the cowlick on the back of his neck was still prominent. After many pets and licks exchanged (I, the petter, and Woody, the licker), I was shocked by the quaint size of the place: it was a studio apartment, in which the kitchen, parlour, and bedroom were all open to each other. The kitchen was rather small, even for the size of the apartment, and contained a small gas stove, a refrigerator, and a basin sink. The counter space was not even worth mentioning.

By then, the Tricerahops had worked its way through my system, and I had the urge to visit the facilities. Ian pointed to a door raised almost a foot above the ground. Curiously, I approached. Opening the door, I found what I later described as a “funhouse bathroom.” Two steps led up to the strange room: immediately in front of me was a small toilet, the bowl lower to the ground than most; adjacent was the sink, whose water came from two separate faucets: one hot and one cold; next was the skinny clawfoot tub, with a slanted base that was difficult to walk upon. Worse, the mirror above the sink was at chest height, and the shower head connected to the tub was at a similar distance from the floor. I wondered what child this bathroom had been built for, completely disregarding any adult that may wish to use it. I put it out of my mind for the moment as I did my business then made my way to the bedroom where Ian had already set up an air mattress for my slumber.

I unpacked a few of my belongings and made myself comfortable on the couch in the parlour. Ian turned on the television, and we rested for an hour watching a series, entitled Dating Naked, which follows contestants of a dating show as they court each other without wearing clothing. It was rather dull with censorship, and Ian noted of the vast improvements possible if the series were relocated from basic to premium cable. I agreed with his logic, and we decided to tour the city.

Ian took me along Burnside Street, which separates the northern and southern sections of the city, and we stopped for coffee at a national chain before heading to Voodoo Doughnut, a local bakery well known for its rich doughnuts and pastries. I ordered two: one maple bacon doughnut and one Voodoo doughnut, which was impaled with a pretzel stick. Packing it in the classic pink box, the cashier took my payment, and we left the establishment. Walking home, we took an alternate route through Chinatown. A homeless man asked if I could spare a doughnut, and I replied that I only ordered the box. I felt low for lying to the poor man, but I wanted to try them myself. We wandered along, and Ian photographed me in front of the famous “Keep Portland Weird” wall art located in an alley behind Dante’s on the corner of Burnside and 3rd Streets. We eventually found ourselves back at Ian’s apartment and set our eyes upon more Dating Naked. Ian left for soccer practice, and we decided we would reevaluate the night upon his return. However, Ian returned home merely two hours later and found me asleep on the air mattress, unconscious from the long day’s journey.

Eleventh of September, Two-Thousand Fourteen

I slept for nearly eleven hours before waking up to the sound of Woody jumping to the floor from the foot of Ian’s bed. A moment later, I heard a chiming in the distance. From my pillow, I looked up through the glass window to the city and saw a church’s bell tower from which the audial sensation came. In total, I heard eight rings of the bell, and I eventually crawled out of bed, well rested, yet feeling as if I could have slept for the rest of my visit. After showering in the funhouse bathroom, I left with my friend and his four-legged companion to purchase our morning breakfast from a local cafe that the sign out front called Crema. The coffee was fine, the egg sandwich exquisite. Ian flirted with the cashier, a beautiful blonde with a few small tattoos across her chest. Woody ate the dog biscuit Ian bought from the cashier in the backseat of the car as we drove home. From there, Ian began his daily work, hosting several conference calls, while I reminisced about the tragedy that had struck our country thirteen years prior and engaged in recreational activities.

We lunched at a small diner that seemed out of place downtown. I ordered the taco salad, which turned about to be just a plate of nachos that, for some unknown reason, contained mushrooms. Never in my life had I seen any nachos, taco salad, or any other Mexican dish that contained mushrooms. I ate my lunch all the same, and Ian enjoyed his reuben (a favorite of our mutual friend, David), and we set off for home again, but not before stopping to purchase some beer from local breweries: an India pale ale from Full Sail Brewery and an apricot ale from Pyramid Brewery. Both were refreshing, although the apricot ale was a bit sweeter than I had anticipated.

Having had a few of these brews, I felt it would be unwise to accompany Ian to the gymnasium for a workout. As an alternative, I walked across the avenue to a pub called the Hob Nob. I sat alone at the bar and asked the barkeep her suggestions. She hesitated for a moment and replied that it was her first day of employment and that she had yet to sample all the taps. I ordered the Gigantic India pale ale, and although the pint was no larger than the usual sixteen ounces, I thoroughly enjoyed it and suggested the barkeep taste it sometime. Having requested my identification to prove my years, she noted the issuing state to be Indiana. We conversed about my origins in Cincinnati and the formality of the Indiana license caused by my parents moving across state lines during my years at university. She introduced herself as Dana, her long blonde hair falling into her eyes as she smiled. I found myself wildly attracted to her, and I wanted nothing more than to speak with her for the remainder of the day. Upon her mentioning the existence of her husband and his roots in Michigan, my heart shattered like china thrown against the wall. How had I not noticed the ring around her finger? The circle underneath the stone had hidden itself from me! I cursed under my breath, but remained pleasant with Dana.

Soon after, Ian appeared by my side, perspiring from his workout. We ordered another round, along with some fried pickles and chicken wings, and made our way across the bar to the ping pong table. Ian offered a handicap, as he was an experienced player and I was quite the opposite. I declined for the sake of my pride, and he handedly defeated me, a whopping twenty-one points to my four. I accepted the handicap on the next round, set at fifteen points, and still managed to lose. On the third game, the handicap was set at eighteen points, and I pulled off a sloppy victory after an intense back and forth duel that led to a final score of twenty-five points to twenty-three points. Content with my mediocrity, I left with Ian, and we returned to his apartment.

That night, we indulged in our preferred alcohols: I had the ales purchased earlier in the day, and Ian had Captain Morgan brand rum, neat. Having lost our sobriety and gained a heavy buzz, we headed off into the night. We walked several blocks through the city and found ourselves in an establishment known as Doug Fir Lounge. Naturally, the interior extruded the sensation of finding oneself in a forest. The bar was adorned in a pattern of cut tree rings, which were in turn bathed in a soft crimson light. The stage at the other end of the room was set for a band to perform, but neither the musicians nor the audience had shown their faces yet. We sat on a red sofa and exchanged pleasantries with a fellow that called himself Sean. I excused myself to the water closet, and upon my return, I found that the band and audience had appeared as if by some devilish trickery. “The place has filled itself like a natural spring, hasn’t it?” I queried. Ian nodded in agreement and handed me a beer, this one a lager, although I am currently unable to recall the name upon the label.

The drinks, the sights, the music, and the women put me in a terrific mood. We watched the band perform and the audience dance, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the vibrations in my ears. The lead singer, a lovely young blonde woman mesmerized me. The moody melodies and dark lyrics left me yearning for more. After their performance ended, I found an employee stationed at a merchandise window and asked about the nature of the performers. “They’re called Thanks,” she stated, pointing to their album, Blood Sounds, for sale in front of me. For ten dollars, I purchased the compact disc and stuck it in my back pocket. I would certainly listen to it after sunrise. Just then, the beautiful singer appeared at my side and spoke to the merchandising employee. As she walked away, I verbally noted the fact that she had just been on stage to the employee, and she nodded in agreement. Reading the album notes later in the evening, I found that she called herself Jimi Hendrix. Although physically dissimilar, she had the astonishing effect on me that she was almost as talented as the deceased guitarist. We left the Doug Fir Lounge and took a taxi back to Fourteenth and Taylor.

Twelfth of September, Two-Thousand Fourteen

I woke up several hours later, having no recollection of the taxi ride home. According to Ian, it was fairly inexpensive, even though I footed the bill, and it only occurred after we stopped for a slice of pizza from a diner called Sizzle Pie. I had no recollection of the pizza either, and Ian showed me a motion picture on his mobile telephone of me shaking Parmesan cheese onto my meal, only to have the lid fall off, dumping the grated dairy product all over my plate. Ian had pranked me, and he had pranked me well. Luckily, I my memory served me well by forgetting it. Otherwise, I may have had words with my friend.

Ian told me of an electronic message sent to him the night before stating that he would be involved in a four hour conferenced telephone call in the morning. This call threw off our plans to travel north to Seattle, Washington to visit our mutual friend Thom, who was attending graduate studies at the University of Washington. Our trip would be moved to the following week, and we stayed at Fourteenth and Taylor for the remainder of the morning.

While recovering from the previous night’s debauchery, there was an unexpected rap at the door. Without hesitation, a striking young brunette walked in the door, whistling pleasantries. “Hello?” she called out.

Ian turned around to greet her, eyes lighting up. “Salutations,” he replied. “Was a neighbor charming enough to allow you entrance to the domicile?”

“Why, yes. He held the door in my honor.”

“Well, chivalry isn’t dead, then.” A subtle grin formed on Ian’s face. From the other side of the room, I could conclude satisfactorily that his feelings for her were profound. Her feelings for my friend, however, had yet to reveal their faces. “Joe, this is Melissa, my… lady-friend,” said Ian, introducing us.

“Lovely to meet you,” said Melissa, waving at me through the archway separating the parlour and the bedroom.

“The pleasure is all mine,” I replied. I waved in return, and she sat down on the sofa.

Ian harassed me with his typical tomfoolery, pointing out that I was lying in bed on my vacation across three time zones. Melissa played along, laughing both with me and at me. Ian leapt back to his conferenced telephone call, and Melissa and I went to the local Trader Joe’s location to purchase our lunch. I quipped about the present being my first venture into a Trader Joe’s location, which was ironic considering my own moniker. She laughed, if only out of pity.

We returned to Fourteenth and Taylor having acquired salads, sandwich wraps, tortilla chips, salsa, bananas, and trail mix, along with a better appreciation of each other, I imagine, and lunched upon the salads, saving the rest for a later time. Ian extended me an invitation the the University of Oregon men’s gridiron football game in Eugene with Melissa and him the next day. I accepted, naturally, and looked forward to being in present company again. Melissa left for work at the Nike, Incorporated headquarters in nearby Washington County, and Ian and I stayed in the apartment, procrastinating moving on with the day ahead. After a while, Ian recommended we hike the gorge a short drive away. I approved of his idea, and we changed our outfits to something more athletic. “It would be wise to borrow a sweater from my wardrobe,” he suggested. The shade along the hiking path would be far cooler than the sunlit air downtown. I grabbed a burgundy zip-up off a hanger, which clashed with my mint green khaki shorts, and we headed outside to the Ford Focus parked safely in the parking garage a few blocks away.

As we neared the expressway, Ian noted of its high level of traffic. He made an impromptu decision to take us to Sauvie Island instead, and I discovered a wonderful beach along the Sturgeon Lake within the island. Sauvie Island itself, located betwixt the Columbia River and Multnomah Channel, was twenty-six thousand acres of beaches, farmland, markets, and trails. We arrived at the beach, and Ian cursed himself for not bringing Woody along. He had no way of knowing when we left that we would end up on the island, and yet he still blamed himself. We walked along the beach, our shoes in hand, and witnessed the diverse people enjoying the area: children and families; lovers and friends; the homeless and needy; me and my friend. We walked back along the beach, hopping over the chilly ripples along the shore, and tiptoed our way across the rocky pavement to the vehicle. We drove further and discovered a hidden beach, shielded by the common conifer trees on the island. The wooden sign at the head of the trail read, “Collin’s Beach: Clothing Optional Area.” We delighted at the thought of seeing such a spectacle, but a few rather burly fellows walked up the trail from the beach, and we decided to find another adventure.

Nearing the edge of the island and the bridge that would ultimately lead us home, we stopped at a farmer’s market and purchased five locally grown apples: three gala and two honeycrisp. We indulged on the honeycrisps on the drive home, unable to help ourselves from tasting the sweet juices of the fruit.

Arriving home, we contemplated our options for the upcoming evening and the encounters we would make after sundown. After several episodes of the Travel Channel series Man v. Food, starring famed celebrity Adam Richman, and just as many drinks, if not more, we decided it may be best to stay in the apartment for the remainder of the evening. We had an early morning on the horizon, and an even longer day of athletics awaited us in Eugene. I had the uneasy sense that great dread awaited us.

Thirteenth of September, Two-Thousand Fourteen

With only five and one half hours having passed in the day, I was awoken by the sound of Ian conversing with Melissa on his mobile telephone. “We shall arrive at your residence in approximately sixty minutes,” he reported, adding “Tally-ho! The game is afoot!” to me as he ended the call. We both cleansed ourselves in the shower, separately, of course, and decorated ourselves in green clothing to support the Ducks we would soon see on the sporting field.

Arriving at Melissa’s residence at the corner of Rosemarie and Debok in nearby West Linn (just across the Willamette from Oregon City), we joined forces, as they say, and settled in for the ride southbound on Interstate-Five. Along the way, we listened to a radio program by one Mr. Howard Stern. While his interviews were filled with comedy, they were also filled with a fair range of expletives and unruly behavior; we laughed all the same.

Our first destination in Eugene allowed for us to fuel ourselves with some much needed breakfast at Brail’s Restaurant. After much deliberation, Melissa and I both ordered omelets: hers the spinach, and mine the Brail’s special, which contained a mix of meats and cheeses. Ian weighed his options considerably, even allowing input from the waitress as to her favorite dishes, until he finally decided on his first option, the chicken and waffles. We also indulged on our first alcoholic beverages: Ian ordered a Bloody Mary (far from the best, according to his opinion), and I ordered the Screwdriver, which was not only low in taste, but high in price. Perhaps it was the unnatural combination of the early hours of the day and the vodka, but my experience at Brail’s Restaurant left me stumbling out blindly into the street.

As we walked through Eugene and entered the campus of the University of Oregon, Melissa pointed out several landmarks, notably some as seen in the classic film, John Landis’ Animal House. Nearing Autzen Stadium, we passed along an extended pedestrian bridge that crossed over the Willamette. The sight was astonishing. Never in my life had I seen such a wonder held within a university campus. During my own studies at Xavier University, the highest quality spectacle I encountered was the Cintas Center, a bland, dreary, and graying block of a building that housed the basketball arena. Here, deep within the heart of the University of Oregon, lay the soft rapids of the Willamette, running through the greenery of the surrounding forest. If it had not been for the masses behind me, constantly pushing me forward across the bridge, I may very well have stayed in that spot until dusk.

On the cusp of gridiron action, we entered into an auxiliary compound, a tented construction of brick and mortar that housed the only alcoholic beverages in the area. The vast opening was filled with tables, chairs, television sets, and foaming beer taps. We ordered the local Mirror Pond ale and sat ourselves in the middle of the action. As the indoor scoreboard counted down the passing minutes until kickoff, we finished our drinks and walked up the ramp into Autzen Stadium.

Just prior to the start of the game, the famed duck mascot Puddles, who was based on the even more famed Disney character Donald F. Duck, waddled to the back of a man on a gasoline-powered motorbike and hopped up behind him. They roared off through a tunnel of spectators holding flags and cameras as the fifty-four thousand fans at the sold-out game surrounding them cheered.

The visiting team was the Wyoming Cowboys, and despite the distance, a fair section of fans wore their vomit-inducing brown and yellow colors. The Cowboys managed to score the first touchdown, adding six points to the board, followed by a seventh “extra point,” which was achieved by kicking the pigskin-covered football through the goal posts. The Ducks came back almost immediately, scoring two six-point touchdowns, but only successfully making one extra point kick. The score was 13 points to seven, and I was on the edge of my wooden bleacher seat in excitement. It was my first college football game, and I was enjoying the sites, sounds, and somehow, even the olfactory sensations, until an obnoxious punk of a teenager sat next to me. His dirty mop of a haircut covered his ears and neck in disgusting chunks, and his acne-ridden face kept screaming obscenities and clapping in my ear. I cursed this man-child under my breath and asked my friend to move further down the bleacher. He complied, and I enjoyed the game at the same pace as before this creature reared its ugly head. I overheard a colleague of the creature refer to him by the name Nick, and I felt it was an apt description, assuming he had somehow nicked off the only redeeming qualities of his life and left them by the roadside.

It was at that moment that my mind focused on my friend’s four-legged companion. We had not scratched the surface of this all-day event, and I worried for Woody’s well-being. Ian assured me all was well, as his former roommates and de facto aunt and uncle to Woody would be stopping by to check on him. Relieved, I returned my attention to the game. At half-time, Ian suggested we return to the alcohol house for a rousing round of drinks. I seconded this proposal, and we headed off to indulge ourselves. With not one, but two beers in hand, Ian, Melissa, and I sat at a table with Melissa’s colleagues from her work at The Nyekey Corporation, a international athletic clothing and wig company that was based here in Oregon. Their logo, two pointed acute triangles aiming downward like inverted mountains, was well-known in the zeitgeist of the day.

The three men and two women were all similar in physicality. Tall, thin-faced, and pale, their eyes shown like lights in the night sky. They seemed abnormally fit, considering these features, and their muscles bulged like ferocious beasts. They drank their beer in silence, mostly, unless spoken too by Melissa. Their knowing glances to each other seemed like some subtle communication that neither my friend, nor I could pick up on. I wondered how Melissa fit into this group. She was quite unlike the rest of the Nyekey Corporation employees. By the time we finished our round, the fourth and final quarter of the game had begun, and we decided to stay at the table instead of returning to the stadium. I thought it was a splendid idea, as the air was growing warmer and drier with every passing minute.

After the end of the game, which was single-handedly won by my impressing Ducks forty-eight points to fourteen, we were asked to leave by the staff labeled as “alcohol monitors.” Melissa suggested we all regroup at a local establishment known as the Bier Stein, a German-American food and beverage dispensary not far from campus. The Nyekey Corporation employees hesitated in their response, glancing at each other. One of them, who went by Chad, spoke:

“We will have to discuss our agenda for the remainder of the… day,” he hissed. “Our car is this way.” He pointed in the opposite direction of our vehicle, and the group walked off without us.

The three of us shrugged our shoulders and left the building. As soon as we exited the doors, the alcohol monitors shut us out, locking the doors behind us, their pasty faces sweating from the daylight seeping in through the doors as they did. We walked the mile stretch back to our car and drove to the Bier Stein, not knowing if the others would join us. Walking in, I asked the barkeep his recommendations, and he pointed me to an India pale ale known as the Pallet Jack. I ordered his recommendation, along with a chicken sandwich labeled the Spitfire, which was topped with jalapeño peppers, pepper jack cheese, and a spicy mustard sauce. Ian and Melissa also ordered sandwiches, and Melissa a grapefruit ale, but Ian did not indulge in any more alcohol so that he might drive us home to Portland safely.

Home. It was a funny word, one that I had never been able to define in my own life. Cincinnati was surely not my “home,” but could Portland be? Or another city, whose dirt had yet to be disturbed by my footstep? I hoped I would one day find out.

As we left the Bier Stein, a small group of Oregon Duck fans, covered from head to toe in green, ran passed us, clearly upset by something dire. I turned in observation, but I could see no such direness. We got into my friend’s Ford Focus, and backing out, gently bumped into an obstruction in the lot. Looking back, I saw a blur of darkness pass by the trunk of the vehicle and disappear as if by teleportation. Ian got out and saw no obstruction either in the lot or under the Ford. He hopped back in the driver seat, saying as much, but also noted a small dent in the bumper. Where had it come from? Although neither my friend or Melissa had seen anything, I swore that I saw a phantom collide with us.

The drive home was slowed by the mass migration of Duck fans traveling northward on Interstate-Five, along with several nasty spots of construction and abandoned vehicles on the side of the road. This had been a most peculiar day, and when we had finally arrived at Fourteenth and Taylor almost twelve hours after departing Portland that morning, I lay in bed, trying to wrap my head around everything I had experienced. The strange Nyekey Corporation employees, the agitated alcohol monitors, the collision with the phantom, and the abandoned cars all swirled in my head, and I collapsed on the air mattress, sleeping for the next ten hours.

Fourteenth of September, Two-Thousand Fourteen

I awoke from my slumber with the memory of a vivid dream. I had been walking down an abandoned, almost apocalyptic version of Interstate-Five, zigging and zagging through a mess of vehicles that had been left vacant by their owners. I had the greatest sensation of desolation when a pack of wild dogs appeared from over the median separating opposing lanes of traffic. They howled at me, as if trying to communicate a dire warning. The ran off in the direction they came and stopped after several meters, turning around to see if I had followed. I hesitated, and began to follow their paw prints on the dusty pavement. They led me down a steep, rocky hillside, and I wondered if my decision to follow these possibly rabid animals had been a wise one. They entered a large opening – a gateway to the sewage pipes flowing underneath us, perhaps. Inside the gateway was darkness. No hope or light escaped. I could hear the echo of their dirty paws trotting down, down into this pit of unknown. I took one last look at the sun behind me and stepped into the darkness. A shrieking howl pierced the air around me, and I awoke bathed in a cold sweat on the air mattress, sheets thrown in a chaotic sprawl. I could make out Woody lying next to Ian on his bed, his ears perking up at my midnight movement. Ian turned in his sleep but did not seem to notice me.

I slept on and off for the remainder of the early morning, and I slowly made my way to my feet when the church bell struck nine times. My friend and I had a lazy Sunday, staying inside the apartment until lunchtime. He checked his electronic mail, responding here and disregarding there, and we spontaneously decided to visit a local waterfall, Multnomah Falls, which boasts the record for the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon. Woody tagged along, leashed to Ian’s fatherly hand, and we took the scenic drive out. Woody, being afraid of the splashing falls, forced my friend to stay back. I traversed the path to the falls alone, and I photographed the beautiful natural wonder using the camera on my mobile telephone. A beautiful Asian woman in the mid-to-late years of her third decade approached me, asking to photograph her with the falls. Naturally, I accepted her request and took the photograph using her mobile telephone. She was very grateful and offered to do the same for me. Shyly, I declined but appreciated the gesture of kindness. I looked up at the pouring waters again, and when I returned my eyesight to my immediate surroundings, the woman had disappeared. I cursed myself for not accepting her offer, and I regretfully returned to my friend and his four-legged companion.

Ian asked if I was ready to return to the vehicle and continue to the Columbia River Gorge. I hesitated before saying, “Yes. Yes, let us proceed to the next destination.” I looked up at Multnomah Falls once more, and that was when I saw it again. It swept pass the crest of the waterfall above us and the numerous tourists. I was alone in noticing it, but I knew my sight to be trustworthy.

“Ian. Ian, my friend, did you see that?”

“See what? The falls?” he asked nonchalantly. “I’ve been here many times.”

“No, no!” I exclaimed. “Something moved. Near the top, something moved rather quickly across the stream. Observe the branches of the surrounding trees as they move. Something ran through them!”

Ian was skeptical. “The movement was most likely the cause of a gust of wind, my good fellow,” he replied. “Can you not feel it?”

I could feel it, but it was not the wind that sent shivers down my spine. The phantom – that shadow of a man – had followed us out of the city. How could it have done so? Did it know our intentions? Did it hitch a ride in our subconscious? Or perhaps, even more terrifying, were there multiple phantoms, spreading like a plague across the Pacific Northwest? I knew not how this phantom operated, although I knew I was quite frightened of it.

We drove west toward the city and stopped at a viewing area to view the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. We pulled to the curb, and, leaving the combustible engine running, we exited the vehicle and approached the guardrail separating us from the river. It truly was breathtaking, and I captured a panoramic photograph of the entirety of our view of the gorge on my mobile telephone. Technology certainly was wonderful, yet I appreciated the nature in front of me with far greater vigor. As we pulled off, I noticed a man dressed in unusually thick clothing for this season stepping out of a crimson sedan. A hooded jacket concealed his head and face, and he wore leather gloves to protect his hands from a cold that was not there. He watched us as we drove away and returned to Interstate-Eighty-Four. I maintained contact with the space where I believed his eyes to be, shrouded under the darkness of his hood, until we rounded the bend of the entrance ramp and left him behind.

Having stopped at a local branch of the fast-food chain Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, we returned to the apartment at Fourteenth and Taylor, and took part in various recreational activities until the next round of digestion was to take place. We rendezvoused with Melissa in the vestibule of the apartment complex and walked to a local establishment named Henry’s Tavern.

Once inside, I attempted to order an India pale ale from a local brewery, only to be told by the attractive blonde waitress, whose name tag told me went by Dana, that the inventory of that particular brand had been emptied. I asked for another brand of India pale ale and was again told of its absence from the premises. Dana smiled and told me that they were currently out of stock of five brands. Having guessed two successively, she wagered that I could not guess all five, which – I give you my word – was a feat I was somehow able to perform. Each of the five beers I ordered were out of stock. I was in udder shock. How could this be? It was as if some curse had been cast upon me. Dana, along with my friend and his girl, giggled at the coincidence. They were just as surprised as I had been, but they did not feel the sting of that particular poisoned dart, as it had solely pierced my dignity. Regrettably, I asked Dana what she did have to offer me, and I ordered a San Diegan India pale ale called Green Flash. It was high in both its hoppiness and alcohol-by-volume, which delighted me thoroughly.

Although I was a guest of Ian, and I was obviously more than welcome, I had the feeling that I was a spare part in a tool box – a third wheel on a bicycle, to put it another way. My friend and Melissa were having a splendid time together, and though I was sitting across the high-top table from them, I felt a million miles away.

We returned home, and it became obvious that Melissa intended to stay the night with my friend. Out of earshot from his girl, I offered to my friend that I might walk the streets for an hour so that they could have some time alone. Ian, ever the gentlemen, insisted that no further romance would take place that night and that my offer was quite unnecessary. We walked up to the apartment, and, to give the two a moment of solitude, I climbed through the window and sat on the fire escape with my tobacco pipe. Blowing smoke rings into the night, I listened to music via the speaker on my mobile telephone and let the wind caress my soul.

At one point, I closed my eyes and was close to drifting off to sleep when the ladder descending from the fire escape rattled violently, awaking me with a start. I looked down and saw a dark figure – no doubt the phantom that had been haunting my trip out west – quickly climbing the rungs two at a time. Desperate for assistance, I screamed for my friend as I fell backward to all fours. The phantom grew closer, and as its head came into view above the landing, I saw his dark red eyes staring straight at me. It let out a wicked hiss of a scream, and I kicked it square in the nose. The red eyes blinked to darkness as the phantom shrieked and fell two stories to the street below. Ian appeared at the window, Melissa just behind him.

“What the devil is going on here?” he demanded. The look in his eyes was one cultivated from annoyance and patronization.

I stumbled over my words, trying to describe what had just happened. “It – it attacked me, it tried to attack me, Ian!” I spat out. I forced my way through the window and fell to my knees. Hesitantly, I protruded my head from the window and looked down, seeing that the phantom had miraculously vanished. Woody began to bark, and as I came in through the window, he jumped out to the fire escape, his front paw slipping through the metal grates.

“Woody!” called Ian as he reached out for his collar and pulled him inside. I shut the window and locked it.

My friend looked from me to Melissa. “What happened out there?”

“A phantom… A phantom in the night climbed the fire escape,” I pleaded. “It was trying to cause me harm!” Ian only shook his head.

“There’s nothing out there. I think you’ve had too much to drink, my friend.”

I tried to explain, but he had me lie down on the air mattress and attempt to fall asleep. After a moment I stood up.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Using the facilities, that’s all.”

I walked to the water closet and closed the door behind me. Upon returning to bed, I made certain that the front entryway was securely locked. It was, however I did not trust the aging wooden door and shoddy locking mechanism. I returned to the air mattress and closed my eyes. Ian and Melissa were already asleep adjacent to me. Woody stared out the window. I did not sleep.

Fifteenth of September, Two-Thousand Fourteen

Halfway between the church bell ringing seven times and eight times, my eyes softly flittered wide as the alarm on Melissa’s mobile telephone sounded. I observed her rise from the bed and groggily make her way to her feet. Ian stirred and sat up. “It is off to work at the Nyekey Corporation for me,” she said quietly. She leaned down and kissed my friend before exiting number two-hundred four, leaving me alone with Ian and his four-legged companion.

Ian noticed me turn over on the air mattress and sit up. “Did you not slumber?” he asked.

I gave my friend a stern look. “No, I did not.”

Eventually, I found my way out of bed, sleep deprived, but not inefficient. Ian told me he had to perform a store visit in nearby Woodburn, and he invited me along. I decided the trip out of town would be worthwhile, and we two friends shoved off, southbound on Interstate-Five.

Thirty minutes later we arrived at a strip mall containing an international chain known as Samuel Walton’s Marketplace. Having acquired nearly five-hundred billion dollars in revenue this year alone, the retail corporation was in nearly every town in these United States of America. Although somewhat controversial for their treatment of employees and business practices (which I will not elaborate on, as you most assuredly are well acquainted with these allegations), they offer many low-priced goods that are sometimes too economically feasible to pass over.

We found the marketplace’s selection of reusable portable water carriers, and my friend took several photographs of them. He scribbled a few notes in his notepad, which he would later transcribe to the local telegrapher to be sent to his company’s headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. After this simple job, we shopped for one dollar Lunchables brand snacks – quite a bargain if you were to ask me about the subject.

We left Samuel Walton’s Marketplace and headed just down the road to the local Nyekey Corporation retail store and consumed one of our Lunchables in the vehicle. Entering the Nyekey Corporation, we scoured he store for Melissa, however we could not locate her. Asking the manager on duty of her whereabouts, he hesitated and looked about the room before stating that she was away on lunch. He looked familiar, and Ian and I shared a glance confirming our shared theory that he was one of Melissa’s colleagues whom we were acquainted with at the Oregon Ducks football game. His pale skin was almost blinding, and his eyes were shaded by the Nyekey baseball cap her wore upon his head. My friend attempted to call her on his mobile telephone, but there was no answer, and the call was directed to her voice mailing system.

Confused, Ian and I left the store, the manager watching us as we made our way through the door. We returned to the Ford Focus in the lot, and driving home, we each consumed another Lunchables snack. We took the steps up to number two-hundred four, and my friend said he would be off for the gymnasium to work up a sweat. I was inclined to join him this time, and we changed into more proper clothing.

Arriving at the gymnasium, Ian entered the passcode to open the door to the exercise equipment, and we both climbed upon an elliptical machine to stretch out legs. My friend ran for approximately twenty minutes, and I continued on for another ten while he stretched upon a workout mat. It felt refreshing to work my muscles, as it was not something I practiced often. It made me realize how much healthier and optimistic I could be if I included this small routine into my life. I made a mental note to look for a local gymnasium when I returned to Cincinnati.

We returned to Fourteenth and Taylor and decided we would go to the local cinema to watch a motion picture. We browsed our options and came upon the local Living Room Theaters, which was showing an independent picture entitled Frank. We walked the half-mile distance from the apartment to the cinema, ordered a beer at the bar, and made our way to the auditorium. The film starred German actor Michael Fassbender in the titular role of Frank, a man who wears a fake, oversized head over his own and leads an experimental musical group. It was quite the show, filled with eccentric characters and plotlines, and I found myself enjoying it thoroughly. Calling it a night, we made our way back to the apartment. Rounding Thirteenth Avenue, I heard a startling noise from behind us, and I turned to see a blur fly behind the corner building.

“Ian, run!” I yelled. I took off, and Ian looked around, confused. “Ian, quickly!” My friend stared at me, somewhat dazed-looking, and was about to speak when the phantom crawled out of the shadows and attacked him from behind.

It knocked his legs out from under him, forcing him to the ground. I ran back, arriving in time to tackle the creature to the ground. Blasting it in its shadowed face with my fists, it shrieked and attempted to sink its sharp teeth into my palm. I felt a jabbing pain and witness blood flow from the puncture mark. Suddenly, Ian stood above me and stomped on the phantom’s cranium. I heard the crunch of bone as he repeated to action several times. It lie still, and I stood up, shaking from head to toe. “Ian…” I muttered.

“What is this monster?” he demanded.

“I tried to warn you, my friend. I tried to warn you. It is the phantom, here to destroy us.”

Ian looked down at the phantom and pointed to a flow of a blue ooze leaking from its shrouded head. He bent down and removed the hood, revealing a gray, wrinkled face – what was left of it, anyway – that was full of darkness and evil. Its red eyes stared blankly into the night.

A vehicle drove toward us, bathing us in its headlights, but passed by, seeming not to notice the scene. I suddenly felt the sharp pain in my palm again, and I opened the creature’s mouth to reveal two rows of elongated, sharpened teeth. They were chipped and broken from Ian’s blows, but what was left of them were strikingly yellow, and the lateral incisors were coated in my blood.

In the distance we heard several shrieking howls, just like the ones this phantom had made. My suspicions had been confirmed: there were more of these creatures… many more.

“Ian, we must hurry. Time is of the essence.”

“What must be done, good fellow? We were fortunate to survive one of these fowl beasts. A horde of them will devour us!” Ian’s face had turned green, nauseous from the events that had just occurred.

“We must get out of town this instant. Portland is not safe. Who knows the quantity of these phantoms? It may be overrun by sunrise!”

We made our way up the few remaining blocks to the apartment complex at Fourteenth and Taylor. Nearing the entrance, I heard a loud thud from behind me and turned to see my friend unconscious on the sidewalk. An instant later, I felt a thundering pain on the back of my head, and I fell into darkness.

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