Alison Clement

observations from a novelist who sometimes wants to say something small and see it published immediately

Longer than Jesus

         Somebody bought the mountain above Yachats and cut down all the trees. The mountain is what gave the town its name. Ya-chats, an Indian word. At the the foot of the mountain. Not at the foot of the clearcut. People in the laundramat said it was a producer from Los Angeles who did it. The  producer had a fellow who lived up there on the mountain, the caretaker, a normal-looking man, tall and muscular, with a reasonable face like someone from the Midwest and he had an Asian wife, and he drove a truck, like all of us. I’d see him in the laudramat. He was a quiet fellow. He washed his clothes and went home.

      Next thing you knew, there was a big white cross standing on top of the mountain. You could see it in town. The caretaker was living up there with his wife. There was a dirt road with a chain across it, leading to their house. People said he thought the world was coming to an end.

            Well everybody knows that, someone said.

            He thought Yachats, lying like it did on a basalt slab, would survive and everyone could grant him that, but then he said that Yachats would actually levitate and almost all of us agreed that was going too far.

            Reasonable people started going up there to live, people we had seen every day, the man from the Texaco, a roofer from Florence, the donut shop waitress, the dentist’s wife. They left their jobs and lived up there. The vet was called to go up there once and he reported that they kept two of every kind of animal they would find, a male and female.

            The Asian wife stopped coming to town and pretty soon local women began to dream that she’d died. Hippie women are very impressionable and if one dreams something they all go off and dream it. One woman dreamed he put her in a barrel and dumped her in the ocean. But someone else dreamed he buried her on the beach near Neptune Park. And a tourist from California just heard the stories and went right to her motel, fell asleep, and she dreamed he left her body in the woods. But nobody believed that version. Why would the Asian wife try to send a message to a tourist, they all said.

            People claimed to have seen the ghost of the Asian wife, walking along the beach at night. Every time you went to town, every time you sat at the laundramat or stood in line at the post office, you’d hear someone arguing, well so and so dreamed her body is in a rain barrel but somebody else dreamed her ghost is walking along Highway 101.

            You’d have thought they’d be embarrassed later when the Asian wife was eventually spotted at Clark’s Market, buying produce, but nobody batted an eye. They just stopped talking about that and went on to something else.

            The producer from LA didn’t pay his taxes so after a while, the land was taken back by the government. Everytbody who had been up there moved. The ones from someplace else went away but the ones from town just settled down and went back home.

            In a reasonable place such an event would have been talked about for years and anybody associated with it would be associated with it forever. Anybody  making a wild claim about  the ghost of someone who turns out not to be dead in the first place— why their humiliation would be complete. But it’s like everybody had amnesia. Like they had been hit on the head and were wandering around dazed on the highway. They weren’t embarrassed because they didn’t remember long enough to be embarrassed.

Last night at dinner Mike told us that he had recently gone up there, to that abandoned site. Sasha said there was once an ark on the place, like in the Bible, and we could see it from the road, but no one remembered that. I said I once wrote a little story about the place and Mike wanted to read it, so here it is, Mike. It is only partly true. I am a fiction writer, after all.
Also– this story originally appeared in The Upper Left Edge. Rest in peace, dear Billy Hults.

Categories: belief, Oregon, writing

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