A walk into ... adventure, fame, love, heartbreak -- you be the guide. Fiction, posted by Mr. Man, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Dec 15, 2006 at 1:15 pm
This is the beginning of a story, but only the beginning. It is your role, if you choose to accept it, to add a paragraph or three (as a comment at the bottom), then let someone else take a turn and we'll see where it goes.
Another empty log truck swept by in the storm, spraying me and my 50-pound backpack with a dirty rain as I trudged north on the shoulder of U.S. 101, a rural two-lane road in this part of Washington's Olympic Peninsula.
In starting out on a walk across the good old U.S. of A, I had expected the noise of the road, the weariness, the grit on the face, the cold meals, the scurrying footsteps and chomping sounds outside my tent at night, the fretting over whether my slingshot would chase off a bear, the bad dream in which thieves corner me on some forgotten field in Montana and discover the $3,000 hidden inside my money belt.
What did surprise me is how quickly I came to resent the sight of evergreen trees. That and the rumor that I was walking through the territory of a wild bunch of motorcyclists who had just had the crap beat out of them by some loggers and were looking for a way to vent some steam.
Posted by Ralph, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Dec 21, 2006 at 3:50 pm
At about 1:30, after my lunch of Oreos and cheese, I heard a scuffling noise and looked to my right, into the dimness of the deep woods. A movement, the head of something upright, maybe 8 feet tall, ducked behind a tree, then peeked out again.
Posted by Joanne, a resident of the Menlo Park: Fair Oaks neighborhood, on Dec 22, 2006 at 11:31 am
Defying all the common sense, I tossed a cookie into the woods. It bounced off the tree that was hiding the creature. I saw something shaped like an arm reach out from behind the tree, low down. About two seconds later, the cookie came flying back in my general direction with a bite taken out of it.
Posted by Story Teller, a resident of the Menlo Park: University Heights neighborhood, on Dec 26, 2006 at 4:34 pm
Was this a gesture, and if it was, what did it mean? Did the creature not like the Oreo cookie? I could see it. Without milk, Oreos are lacking. Or maybe a tossed bit of food was a flirtation ritual I had stumbled onto. My role, should I wish to pursue it: take a bite and toss it back. But then, what if I didn't? No one, man or beast, likes the put-down. I looked at the cookie.
Posted by Bookworm, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Jan 4, 2007 at 6:33 pm
"Hey, man, do you have anything that's, like, a little more substantial? I've got the munchies like you wouldn't believe. One cookie ain't gonna cut it."
The voice emerged from the clump of trees along with a burly, and extremely hirsute, man of jaw-dropping proportions. As I craned my neck upward, I spied a scrap of bandana disappearing into his matted hair. His beard and his hairline merged seamlessly somewhere in the vicinity of his sloping forehead. He had no shirt, but a pair of well-worn leather chaps creaked and strained at the seams as he shambled toward me.
If there could be such as thing as a primordial biker, that thing stood in front of me now, scratching its belly and looking for all the world like Sasquatch had abandoned the forest primeval and joined the Hell's Angels.
Posted by Reba, a resident of another community, on Jan 6, 2007 at 8:04 pm
He certainly didn't seem like one of the bunch of motorcyclists beat up by the loggers. In fact, he didn't seem to have any steam to vent at all. When I hesitated, he smiled, revealing a flawless set of teeth. Hmm. Maybe not so primordial after all. Just lost in a nether-decade when mutton chops were still cool.
"Hey, no sweat if you don't have anything else to eat. No harm in asking, right?"
I found my voice. "Do you like Fig Newtons? I've got a couple left."
The man roared with delight. A few of the accursed evergreen trees swayed. "Hell, man! Who doesn't like Fig Newtons! Organic?"
We sat for a spell and ate organic Fig Newtons and two grubby-looking but surprisingly sweet tangerines the man pulled out of the bandanna in his hair. We compared slingshots, talked a little Nietzsche, and before we knew it darkness had fallen. The man suddenly looked around nervously.
Posted by Danna, a resident of the Portola Valley: Brookside Park neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2007 at 3:15 pm
I stood uncomfortably for a spell shifting my weight from foot to foot. I was tired. The purpose of my journey an inward reflection, an existential confrontation and I had only been on the road for days. I gazed at Hell's Sasquatch in the twilight and mused..."maybe I should invite him to come along" afterall the image I conjured about his sister left me anxious for this fellow. Maybe he just needs an excuse to run...So I said, Hey if it's that bad why don't you travel along with me for a bit."
Posted by Lida Rose, a resident of the Woodside: Mountain Home Road neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2007 at 12:34 pm
"Oh no, no, I couldn't do that! She's not so bad. And hey, maybe I'll flush out a squirrel on the way back to the lean-to."
My new snacking buddy had already started backing away from me, as if he could be found guilty of familial abandonment merely by hearing my suggestion. I saw his eyes darting around, as if checking for potential witnesses in the underbrush.
Since I'd begun rethinking the wisdom of sharing a tent with a burly ape-man, I hastened to accept his excuse.
"All right then. It was nice to meet you," I said, offering my hand. "Thanks for the tangerine."
He stepped forward and engulfed my hand in his warm, hairy paw, then stepped back. As I shouldered my pack, I realized I'd never asked his name.
"Winston," he said.
"Is that a family name, or was your mom a big fan of Churchill?" I asked.
"Dunno," he said, looking perplexed. "She said she thought of it one day during her cigarette break."
With a final wave, he turned and melted back into the shadowy woods, and I headed back to the road.
Posted by Pete, a resident of the Menlo Park: Belle Haven neighborhood, on Feb 26, 2007 at 6:02 pm
"Rats," I said to the trees and rocks that were now my only apparent company. "If those bikers discover me and Winston isn't around, I could be toast. I should have asked him what he knew."
I heard a loaded log truck coming up behind me, the driver downshifting to take the hill that lay ahead. This was my third day on the road and already I was looking at the trees and wondering when the color green would become unbearable.
It was almost noon. What would the day bring, and where would I find a myself this evening?
Posted by Renata, a resident of another community, on Mar 6, 2007 at 12:58 pm
What had I done? Whom had I disturbed? Should I back out of the clearing and be on my way before ... Too late. A large, dark figure was emerging from the thick, tall brush. And just as I rose from the tree trunk, heart racing, a deer-hide-clad creature leapt forward into the light and bellowed, "Hey, you seen my brother?"
Posted by Erica, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Mar 7, 2007 at 3:05 pm
I paused, then stammered. "Your brother? What does he look like?"
She raised her left hand to her chin -- was that blood on her nails, or Revlon Red? "Hmmm, I guess you could say he's a pretty big guy, and he looks a little scruffy. By the way, my name's Wanda. Where you headed?"
Where was I headed? By then, I really wasn't certain. "To see the world, I guess," I said.
"Mind if I tag along?" Wanda asked, and a hint of jitteriness began to settle across her low brow. "I've always wanted to see the world."
"But what about your brother?" I replied, struggling to find an excuse to walk out of the woods leaving both Winston and Wanda behind.
"I've ... I've got to get away from him ... really, I need to get away to a place he can't find me and hurt me anymore."
"But I thought ..." I began, but stopped. How many times had Sister Mary Magdalena told me that I had to hear BOTH sides of every story before drawing conclusions?
Posted by Mr. Man, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2007 at 6:01 pm
Just where I want to be: in the middle of a he-said-she-said dispute out in the middle of nowhere with a backwoods brother on the one hand who's big enough to tear me limb from limb while eating a doughnut and a backwoods sister on the other reminds me of Annie Oakley, at least in terms of being armed and apparently dangerous.
"Winston seems like the nicest guy," I said to Wanda. "What's your beef with him?"
"He doesn't hunt, he can't catch a fish to save his soul, and when I complain that I'm tired of doing his work and mine, he sulks and goes into his 'Mom always liked you best' routine," Wanda said "And then he starts in again on the tangerines. That's how you know he's sulking, when he's eating a tangerine."
"Hmm. Where does he get them, up here in the back of beyond?" I asked.
"There's a Jamaican guy who lives in Port Washingtonm" Wanda said. "Winston knows where there's a ready supply of ganja, if you know what I mean. It's sweet deal for both of them."
Posted by Zane Blaney, a resident of the Atherton: Lloyden Park neighborhood, on Jun 7, 2007 at 10:48 am
As for what followed, it's probably best left forgotten. When the furor died down, I left an indiscreet Wanda and a bloodied-but-still-amorous T-Bone engaged in the type of wrestling match that should have no witnesses.
Another day of uninterrupted trudging brought me to a broad clearing in the forest. The gutteral rumble of a truck laden with redwood logs sent me scurying into a roadside ditch filled with miner's lettuce.
Posted by Kool, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Jun 11, 2007 at 4:12 pm
Sinking down into the ditch, I wondered if I would ever inspire so much passion in a woman that she'd stage a major vehicle accident just to see me again.
It seemed unlikely. If I'd had anyone willing to track me down and wrestle me into the bushes, I wouldn't be making a lonely trek across the continent. The freedom to wander with a pack on my back now seemed more like a life sentence of solitary confinement.
I must have been an idiot to think adventures and personal growth awaited me. What I'd really signed on for was a trans-continental cruise stuck at a table with my tortured psyche and the unbearable fear that I would spend the rest of my life unloved and alone.
Posted by Ralph, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Jun 11, 2007 at 4:51 pm
If there's one thing I can count on, though, it's a change of mood. I can be down, then I'm up.
Only my head was visible to the passing traffic from the ditch as I paused for a green snack of miner's lettuce -- rinsed, of course, from my water bottle -- and a small piece of cheese.
I felt like a rabbit, sitting down there munching on wild vegetation. When food is scarce, there's a kind of joy that comes in learning to appreciate what you have. A natural kind of quiet settled over me.
I noticed movement among the plants further down the ditch. A rabbit. This was a sacred moment. I congratulated myself. A lesser man would have pulled out his slingshot.
Posted by Sugar, a resident of the Menlo Park: Felton Gables neighborhood, on Jun 21, 2007 at 1:56 pm
As it turned out, a lesser man pulled out his gun. My ears still ringing from the shot, I stood up and gawked at the blood-spattered fur of the former rabbit while making an indignant (and undignified) squeak. The assasin spun around and trained his gun at me.
I was still working my mouth wordlessly when he lowered it and broke into an embarrassed grin.
"Sorry, dude. I didn't see you down there," he said sheepishly.
Posted by Joanne, a resident of the Menlo Park: Fair Oaks neighborhood, on Jun 25, 2007 at 1:45 pm
This was a fine kettle of fish. A trigger-happy bonehead who grins sheepishly after obliterating a rabbit with ammo more appropriate to big game.
Some hunters are artists at what they do and find spiritual wholeness in killing something for sustenance. This guy was, as noted, an assassin and clearly unfamiliar with gentle ways. And he presented a danger to me, given my gentle predelictions and my rising anger over what he just did.
I sat where I was and tried for nonchalance. "Nice shot," I said. "You really nailed it, and with just one shot."
"Yeah," he replied, again with a sheepish grin. "I am pretty good with a nine millimeter, if I do say so myself."
A squirrel chanced on to the road in the woods opposite us. My interlocutor wheeled and fired. BLAM! No more squirrel.
"You know," I said, "you don't really have much left to eat with a weapon like that. Don't you ever want to eat what you kill?"
Posted by Kool, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Jun 29, 2007 at 1:57 pm
I was still snickering and congratulating myself an hour later, when I headed off the road and into a copse of trees to relieve myself.
If I had been less modest, I wouldn't have wandered so far off the road. I would have happily gone on my way and missed the plucked and scarred landscape hiding behind the veil of roadside trees.
After spending so long amid the tall conifers, the scene before me was both alien and heart-breaking. Deep tire tracks rutted the earth, pocked with tree stumps and crushed, dying underbrush. The rustle of leaves and trilling of birds had been replaced by the muffled sound of chain saws and diesel engines.
I hurried back to the road, and my troubled thoughts carried me into Pottersville, an unimpressive assortment of strip malls superimposed on what probably had been a modestly charming downtown. I passed by the Applebee’s and KFC, finally settling on a slightly fusty looking diner with torn vinyl covering its stools and a slatternly waitress with disheveled green hair and a nose ring.
“What do you recommend?” I asked her.
She sighed and tucked an errant lock of mossy green hair behind her ear. “Not letting your high school boyfriend talk you into cutting class all the time, so your C- minus average doesn’t keep you from getting into college and the hell out of this town.”
She glanced up and gave me an assessing look. “The beef stroganoff isn’t awful, it’s filling and it’s cheap. The coffee’s bad, but the refills are free. The day-old pie is half-price; avoid the cherry – the filling is straight out the can.”
I blushed and mumbled my thanks. In the bathroom mirror, I realized that I looked less like an adventurous wanderer and more like a vagrant. I scrubbed myself in the sink, and after five minutes, accepted the fact that the best I could hope for was “not filthy.” Presentable was out of reach, and attractive was no longer taking my phone calls.
Posted by Sugar, a resident of the Menlo Park: Felton Gables neighborhood, on Jul 2, 2007 at 6:31 pm
Maureen-the-green-haired waitress strolled across the empty diner to refill my coffee.
"So what's your story?" she asked.
"I'm not sure I have a story yet," I said. "By the time I reach the East Coast, I hope I'll have a few, but I've just set out a few days ago. I'm walking across the country."
"Wow. Like Forrest Gump, huh?"
"I think he was running, not walking. I'm going for more of a Jack Kerouac 'On the Road' type thing," I said.
"I didn't see that movie," she said, fidgeting with the nametag on her rusty orange polyester uniform.
I didn't have the gumption to correct her, so I let it slide.
"Thanks for your advice on what to order. It's nice to have a hot meal," I said. "Do you have any advice on where I could pitch my tent for the night?"
"There aren't any campgrounds around here, and you don't want to stay in the park unless you want to share your sleeping bag with Crazy Larry," said Maureen, who had stopped fidgeting with her uniform and once again fixed me with her assessing gaze. I made my best attempt to appear sane and non-threatening.
"Tell you what, if my dog likes you, you can crash on my sofa, tonight only. Brucie's a good judge of character," she said. "If he doesn't like you, you sleep in the yard and clear out by daybreak, before I let him out. Once Brucie decides he doesn't like a person, he's not too friendly."
Posted by Zane Blaney, a resident of the Atherton: Lloyden Park neighborhood, on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:13 am
I solemnly promised I would be on my way at daybreak whether Brucie liked me or not.
Brucie liked me.
True to my word, I departed Maureen's sofa at dawn the next day, but only made it as far as her bedroom, where I took up residence in her rickety bed for the next two weeks. My wanderlust had been temporarily replaced by another, baser kind of lust.
Posted by Kool, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Jul 11, 2007 at 11:14 am
I might have stayed there for months, maybe forever. I'd become known around town as Maureen's deadbeat live-in boyfriend, spending my days hanging out with the dog and my evenings listening to Maureen complain about what lousy, butt-pinching jerks those loggers were while eating leftovers she'd cadged from the diner.
But on the fourteenth day, I woke up humming the lyrics to Freebird and realized that it was time to be on my way.
Posted by Zane Blaney, a resident of the Atherton: Lloyden Park neighborhood, on Jan 10, 2008 at 4:50 pm
As I headed down the road, I wondered if Maureen would feel sorrow or relief when she found my awkwardly written goodbye-note taped to the bathroom mirror. I wondered if Brucie would miss me, and then I wondered what the hell I'd done with my map.
Posted by Kool, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Jul 9, 2008 at 2:44 pm
By the time I'd shouldered my pack and resumed walking, the sun was setting. As my long shadow stretched out in front of me, I felt oddly content, albeit slightly sticky from tangerine juice. I didn't feel at all guilty for having whiled away the day chatting with Dexter, the wild-haired Jamaican.
He'd given me his map, a slightly dog-eared and dated freebie from AAA, but it wasn't as detailed as the one I'd left behind.
When twilight approached, I headed off the road and unrolled my sleeping bag on a patch of grassy weeds near a grove of trees. I slept more soundly than I had in weeks.
When I dragged open an eyelid the next morning, I found myself looking down the barrel of a shotgun.
Posted by Joe, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Jan 26, 2009 at 4:53 pm
"Good morning to you, too," I replied, yawning and stretching. No point in letting on what I was really feeling. "Would you be interested in a tangerine? I know I'd like one, but I don't want to reach for it at gunpoint. Would you please put that thing away so we can talk?"
My casual charm took her by surprise. As she removed her hand from the trigger to brush back a stray tress from her dark and bountiful mane, I grabbed the barrel, wrenched it free of her grip and shook out the shells onto the ground.
Posted by Joe, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2009 at 4:27 pm
"That's not very neighborly, pointing a gun at someone," I said, then, before she had a chance to reload, I caught her in a scissors kick that sent the gun flying and her to the ground.
I wrestled her to a position of restraint. I wasn't going to allow any second acts after that hay-maker, from which I was still smarting.
"What exactly is your problem with a guy setting up a neat, organized camp on a couple of square yards of weeds next to the road?," I asked. "You could have asked me what my plans were. Jeez. Give a guy a chance, will ya."
I was hoping she'd cooperate. I had a dry dusty taste in my mouth and it probably reflected badly on my image, given that we were almost within kissing distance.
Posted by Joe, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Mar 30, 2009 at 1:40 pm
I was allowed one phone call. I got through to Leon, who placed a call to the District Attorney, who sent word to the sheriff for my immediate release and the dropping of all charges.
Friends in high places. I recommend it.
I picked up my gear and headed back to the highway. I wanted to prosecute young Ms. what's-her-name for that bump on my head, having been fairly gentlemanly under the circumstances. I didn't hurt her and she had confronted me with eternal darkness, or whatever it is that's next after this go-round, but then why push my luck.
I'm free thanks to friends, and there are more friends on the road ahead. Why waste time on her?
Now for a cold tangerine. (The local grocer to let me steep my tangerines in his wine-cooling bath.)
Posted by Sugar, a resident of the Menlo Park: Felton Gables neighborhood, on Mar 30, 2009 at 2:25 pm
"The charges have been dropped. You're being released."
I snapped out of my reverie and blinked at the middle-aged deputy standing outside the holding cell. A smudge of powdered sugar coated the ends of his bushy red mustache, and a matching blot daubed his chin.
I'd been charged with assault, trespassing and a third thing that I might have remembered if my head hadn't been throbbing so badly. Maybe I did have friends in high places. That blow to the head had been hard enough to make me see Jesus.
As I stepped out of the cell, the deputy said, "You're lucky. Anyone who crosses Delores usually ends up in the hospital, or worse."
Posted by Zane Blaney, a resident of the Atherton: Lloyden Park neighborhood, on Jun 18, 2009 at 3:06 pm
A brief sojourn to the emergency room didn't sound to bad, actually. My stomach growled, my head throbbed, and I'd be willing to donate my bruised chin to science if they promised to remove it from my premises immediately.
I blearily surveyed the road ahead of me, swaying slightly under the weight of my pack before slowly putting one foot in front of the other.
A couple of hours later, as I mentally kicked myself for not stopping for breakfast, I came to lemonade stand. Lord, I was thirsty enough to drink Koolaid at this point.
"Mom!" shouted one of the small tow-headed proprietors. "Mom, come quick!"
I put up my hands and backed away slowly. I had no desire to spend any more time in jail. A heavy-set woman shot out the front door, wiping her hands on a dish towel and approached me rapidly. "What would you say to a hot meal and maybe a warm bath?" she asked me.
"Huh?" I said, baffled.
A sweet smile dimpled her ample cheeks. "Won't you please come in?" she asked. "My boys are home-schooled and today's lesson is on the Good Samaritan. They've been on the look-out for a traveler in need all morning."
Posted by Joe, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Jun 18, 2009 at 4:59 pm
"Thanks, kid," I said to the little guy who had called his mom.
I laid down my backpack and took the offered chair at the kitchen table, and let go with a deep sigh. The ordeal with the sheriff and that heartless, wrong-headed female with the martial arts thing, the darned injustice of it all, had left me seeking somebody, anybody, with a trace of human kindness, and it seemed I'd found what I was looking for.
"Would you like some coffee," the good woman asked.
"Why, yes, ma'am, I would," I said. "Those are just about the nicest words headed in my direction I've heard for days."
Posted by Zane Blaney, a resident of the Atherton: Lloyden Park neighborhood, on Jul 10, 2009 at 11:43 am
Things were going swimmingly until my hostess asked me if I had accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. I was warm, clean and confortably full of coffee and apple brown betty when the question came.
"Nope," I said.
I listened to her earnest pitch out of politeness, wondering what would have happened if I'd just lied and said yes. I'd probably be tucking into a third helping of dessert right now.
When she finally paused to take a breath, I said, "Ma'am, you make an excellent case. I'll give it serious consideration on my journey, but it's getting late and I should get going."
I thanked her for her kindness and hit the road with a pamphlet featuring a smiling cartoon Jesus tucked into my pocket.
Posted by Joe, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Jul 30, 2009 at 1:42 pm
Someday, kid, you'll discover the truth about Jesus. He's never around when you need him; if he's listening, he never lets on; and he hasn't shown a bit of interest in being my personal savior. He may, as you say, love me. That and 50 cents will get me a tangerine, when they're in season.
Now to be honest, I haven't considered Jesus for a role as personal savior and I don't plan to, so it might be a mutual disregard thing we have going. I'm hoping the ghost of Mark Twain will take a shine to me.
Where was I? Oh yeah, on the road again, my pack on my back, a canteen on my belt, and the winding highway beneath me. There are pine trees in front of me, pine trees behind me, pine trees to either side of me. It's a piney woods. Get me the heck out of these piney woods.
About two miles down the road, I heard a familiar exhaust note from the distant past. No way! Rounding the bend behind me, a red 67 GTO with a black vinyl top, its rear end jacked a bit, rumbled into view. Wisps of long brown hair fluttered at the driver's side window. Get out there, thumb! Get me offa this road, away from these piney woods, and into that car!
She stopped. "Where you headed, man?," she asked, her hand resting on the shift lever, the big V-8 idling and sending shudders up my hand and all the way through me.
"Down the road," I said, taking her cue and opening the door. Hanging from her rear view mirror was a pine tree air freshener. Well, you can't have everything, I remarked to myself.