Monday, April 4, 2011

mud rock

Note: Know how I know this shit you're about to read is insane? It is pretty much the exact plot of a sleep adventure I had last night after taking melatonin, which boasts a side effect of "vivid dreams or nightmares." Seriously -- you gotta try it.
Beneath the town of Easton runs a long, underground tunnel called Mud Rock Run. The name comes from a local legend: The tunnel runs flat and dirty for several miles with a thin, sludge-filled stream cutting through the silt-covered floor, ominously calm, as though stalking invisible prey.

Then the pathway gets narrower – we told Billy that might be a problem for him, being such a fat-ass – and the water starts spewing from above with the strength of ten trains. If you can find your footing on the sharp, slippery rocks and forge upward through the waterfall, you’ll reach a plateau at the top, and there’s the Mud Rock: shimmering, ten feet tall, made of solid gold and balanced on its edge like a ballerina en pointe.   

We would call it a natural wonder, if it weren’t so obviously a mistake.

The tunnel’s entrance is carved out of a limestone wall beside the highway in a ditch surrounded by trees and overgrown grass, and on Sunday when we went to check it out I wore a skirt. This was a bad idea - I ended up with a series of raised, red scrapes standing out like earthworms on my pale, white thighs.

“Shit, you guys, I found it,” Billy shouted, jumping up and down, snapping twigs beneath his feet.

Daniel and I ran over. I could see only a few feet inside the arched hole leading deep into the rock before my vision was snuffed out by thick, velvety darkness. It smelled musty and damp, like the boxes of old papers in Grandma’s attic. The ground was littered with beer bottles and cigarette butts.

“No admittance fee,” Billy said, reading from a painted wooden slab nailed to a post jammed into the ground. “Other than courage and strength in the face of almost certain death.”

Daniel laughed. “Dramatic much?” he said. “It’s just some grownup trying to scare us.”

Beneath the warning sign was a list of names and dates carved into the rock, some with pictures glued alongside. The dates went as far back as 1953, and the most recent was last year, beside a picture of one of Dad’s friends, Rocky Evreux. I remembered my parents whispering about his disappearance when they thought my brother and I weren't listening.

“It’s so strange,” Mom said, “that he would just leave his family. I just think something must have happened.”

“It’s not that strange,” Dad said. “He was deep in debt. He had a gal on the side.”

Dad worked with Rocky's brother-in-law at the meat packing plant, and several months later he mentioned that they were giving up the search.  

“Are we gonna do it?” Billy asked, his round face flushed with excitement.

“I can’t today,” I said.

“You’re scared,” Daniel said. “I knew it was a bad idea to bring a girl.”

“Am not. My grandma’s coming over.” This had become my default excuse. Everyone knew Grandma was sick, probably dying, so no one ever challenged it.

“Fine,” Daniel said, kicking a rock into the cave. “Next week then. Same time.”

“Deal,” Billy said, holding out his hand.

Daniel and I piled our hands on top of his, and we broke with a shout of “explorers!”

Throughout the next week I hardly slept. Every time I did I dreamt of Rocky Evreux’s hands slipping, the jagged rocks slicing open his palms, the water sucking him under and the churning silt grinding his bones to powder. His screams were swallowed by the darkness, forever echoing off the walls, never escaping.

By Sunday I was so exhausted I couldn’t get out of bed. After pressing the back of her hand to my forehead, Mom took my temperature. She shook her head, and those two wrinkles that reminded me of the prongs of a tuning fork deepened between her brows.

“You’re not going anywhere, young lady,” she said.

"You don't understand," I said. “I have to be there today, or they'll never let me explore with them again.”

“It can wait,” she said, and as if by sleight-of-hand she produced a tablespoon of thick, red cough syrup from behind her back. “Come on,” she said, holding the spoon to my lips.

I went back to school the day after my fever broke, and all day I walked around with my head down, not wanting to see Billy and Daniel. But everyone was talking about “those two seventh-graders who saw the Mud Rock.” 

"I heard it changed their lives," one girl said to her rapt friends, clutching their books to their chests, wide-eyed.

"I bet they're still jerks," I muttered under my breath.

When I finally saw Billy and Daniel in gym class, they both looked at least two years older. Crap, I thought, they really had changed. They were beyond me now.

“You shouldn’t have chickened out,” Billy said. “It was even better than everyone said.”

"My mom wouldn't let me," I said. "I was sick."

“You were a girl,” Daniel said, and they laughed.

I thought of the row of pictures beside the tunnel, and in my mind I reserved a spot for each of them. 

Later on I tried to make myself feel bad for thinking that, but I couldn’t.


Anonymous said...

Here's what scary:

After reading this, I'm convinced that Lewis Carroll took melatonin the night before he started writing Alice in Wonderland.

-Denny Matthews

A.M. Lutz said...

You are wise, Denny Matthews. I think I'm going to write a fantasy series based entirely on the plots of my melatonin-induced sleep adventures.
-Billy Butler

wiredwriter said...

I take some occasionally. Took one last night. Holy fuck what a great dream! :D

Anonymous said...

My dearest Mr. Butler:

I have written an epic fantasy series based on my melatonin-based sleep adventures. It is entitled "Lord of the Rings." Hope you enjoy it.

-JRR Tokien