Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Tower

Wren with her stupid camera. That was always how the trouble got started. She’d take a photo of someone that didn’t want to be photographed and it would start a fight, or she’s want to take pictures of some bank or a hotel and the security would hassle them and then Wren would take out this paper she’d printed from a web site stating her rights and get into an argument with someone with a gun or a night stick. It had even gone wrong in the other direction; a couple of guys at Baker beach and Wren takes their pictures and pretty soon she wants a shot with them and Natasha, and it’s a nude beach, so what the hell, everybody take it off, and a month later Natasha’s looking at this disgusting photo of herself with Sven and Pauly (the guys from the beach) hanging from the wall of some makeshift co-op gallery and it’s made even more painful by the fact that she’d ended up dating Pauly for a week until she discovered that he was unemployed and living with another girlfriend. Wren with her stupid camera. Now here they were, trespassing, way beyond the danger signs posted on the sagging and compromised chain link fence, making their way into the charred out ruins of some weird tower in the middle of nowhere. Their car was a hopeless hike behind them, parked on a turnout along highway one. They had been driving along when Wren said suddenly,
“Look at that weird fence.” And before Natasha could look Wren was already pulling over and climbing out with her Camera. Natasha climbed out to stretch her legs while Wren took a few pictures of the eight foot fence.
“Why is it here, do you think?” Wren was asking. “To keep us out, or to keep something in?”
“Maybe to prevent a landslide.” Natasha suggested studying the tips of her chestnut brown hair. It was time for a trim.
“No, this is like a little ravine, there wouldn’t be a landslide coming from here.”
“Well, like you said, maybe it’s just to keep us out. We should get going, I’m getting hungry.” Natasha released her locks and gave her head a flick to send them back over her shoulders.
“I wonder why.” Wren had said, and that was that. After throwing a stick at it to see if it was an electrified fence, Wren was making her way up and over, and Natasha, looking over her shoulder for angry park rangers or mountain people, had scrambled over behind her, protesting in vain. From there they had followed the babbling brook, Wren snapping away and speculating that the fence was meant to keep deer off the highway. Then it was up an embankment and through some trees and into this clearing where the weird charred out remains of a tower stood shadowed by the nearby ridge of evergreens.
“I just don’t think it looks safe.” Natasha said and planted her hands on her hips.
Wren having already frenzied with the camera on the outside of the tower was pressing on towards the black doorway gaping like an open mouth.
“It’s fine.” Wren said and with a step disappeared beyond the threshold. Natasha crept closer.
“Wren?” she called, but there was no answer. She came to stand right in front of the door and peered into the darkness. “Wren?” she called much louder. For a minute she held still and thought about what she had seen and heard. Wren took a step into the open doorway and vanished. There had been no sound of floorboards cracking and giving out, or of Wren screaming as she fell. Natasha repeated this fact to herself several times to calm herself down. “Wren?” she called again, “Don’t kid around. Are you okay?” But there was no answer and as Natasha studied the darkness beyond the open doorway she felt a cold chill race up her spine. The doorway was simply inky blackness. She stood right in front of it, careful not to cross into the tower. Nothing at all was visible. The darkness that she beheld was more than murk, more than the simple absence of light. It was a nearly tangible substance. Natasha stepped abruptly backward, recoiling from the mass of dark. Her mind was racing. Why hadn’t Wren noticed this oddity? What was it? What was happening. Natasha began to shriek,
“Wren! Wren! Answer me! Wren!.”
She stared up at the three rectangular windows near the broken top of the tower. She willed Wren’s face to appear there, with the camera, taking a photo of hysterical Natasha. But no face emerged in the dark rectangles, and without realizing that she was doing it, Natasha began to run in a wide circle around the tower. She screamed Wren’s name again and again, looking for some other opening, some explanation, some sign of her friend until she arrived once again at that yawning doorway of darkness. Trembling and panting, she picked up a stone and tossed it through the doorway and watched it disappear completely, as though it were being sucked into black velvet jell-o. It made no sound at all.
Natasha sunk down and rested on her heels sobbing. It seemed that she was having a nightmare, beyond a doubt. People don’t vanish like that. She sat and sobbed and waited for Wren to come back, then she waited to wake up, but neither events occurred. Eventually it grew dark and Natasha, doubting what she had perceived with her senses rose suddenly full of the conviction that Wren had fallen through the floor and needed help. With this in mind she raced back into the woods to return to the highway and flag someone down. But it was dark already, and Natasha had never been much good in the woods and was soon hopelessly lost and cold. She tripped and slid down a muddy slope and rolled into a stream. She crawled out unsure of which direction to proceed. The pale face of the moon glittered down from the tree tops and filled the surrounding forest with strange shadows and shapes. Nothing at all looked familiar.

The following morning a patrol man discovered the empty car parked in the turnout. A day later a search was launched at the request of Wren’s parents. Natasha was found with a twisted ankle. She told the story of Wren falling through the floorboards of the burnt out tower, but despite the exhaustive search no such tower could ever be located.

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