Sunday, July 24, 2005

Yahweh Springs

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“This was a really dumb idea,” I said weakly. The abandoned pavilion at the center of the town square cast eerie shadows in the light of the moon. Vines had overgrown the bottom half of the wooden structure, and the elaborate wooden filigree, the “gingerbread” was missing chunks.

“Why do you say that?” asked Stanton, mischievously. In the years since his mom had moved away from Yahweh Springs, the once quaint Victorian spa had turned creepy. Although Yahweh Springs boasted artesian springs that bubbled sulfurous waters as boldly as their sisters to the east, in Eureka Springs and Hot Springs, Arkansas, and to the west, in Sulphur, Oklahoma and the Arbuckle Mountains, the developers who had hoped for a comeback in the early 1980s were sadly disappointed. Vacationers were loath to invest in yet unbuilt timeshares, and when a fringe religious cult calling itself the Yahweh Brethren purchased a couple of sections on the outskirts of town, real estate transactions slowed to a crawl.

“Okay. It didn’t seem like a dumb idea this afternoon,” I admitted. “I mean, your mom lived here while your dad was deployed. This was the last place you guys lived before your mom divorced your dad. The idea that some of his stuff might still be hidden around the place where they lived made sense to me.”

The warm breeze rustled the leaves of the cottonwood, sycamore, and redbud trees that cast rippling shadows in the moonlight. The sweet scent of mimosa blossoms floated like the perfume of a ghostly debutante, and I shivered lightly.

“Now it seems really ludicrous. You don’t even remember where you lived – only that it was somewhere near the center square,” I said.

My voice was thin and tense, as we walked toward the steps of the octagonal pavilion. I could imagine brass bands playing Sousa marches in the early 1900s, and women wearing white dresses, big hats, drinking lemonade and singing about bicycles built for two. I could imagine FDR patronizing this locale as well as Medicine Springs in the Wichita Mountains. Yahweh Springs was established at a time when polio victims would go to hot springs for cures.

All attempts to bottle and sell the spring water had been wildly unsuccessful. The high sulfur content was repellant to most people.

“I thought your theory about ‘kinaesthetic memory’ made a lot of sense,” said Stanton encouragingly. “The conscious mind can’t recall events, but if your body replicates certain motions and feelings, memories will come back. It sounded like the same sort of theory of scent-triggered memories.”

“Thanks,” I said grimly. I leaned on the first step gingerly. As I shifted my weight forward, the step groaned. I jumped back, falling through a spiderweb stretched across the space between to weathered board. I batted imaginary spiders climbing up my neck and arms.

Stanton laughed. “Spider! It’s in your hair!”

“Yick!! Ick! I shook my hair frantically. Stanton laughed even louder. He grabbed me by the waist, pulled me to him and kissed me.

“Do you see the spider?” I asked.

“No. But I think I’ve been bitten by a vampire bat. I must bite you.” He was enjoying this. I was not. My intent was to come here and hope that the environment would trigger kinaesthetic memories, and that he would remember where his family had lived before his mother had divorced her husband and had abandoned the house and any possessions that her husband happened to have there.

It was a desperate gamble, but we hoped it would pay off. If it did, we would finally have answer’s to Stanton’s dad’s ramblings about “God’s Hostage,” and cryptic references to Laotian stupa, temple carvings, and mandala messages.

As far as anyone knew, Col. Harville’s ramblings and behaviors were simply the tragic consequence of 6 years of sorties and rendezvous in Indochina during the height of the Vietnam War.

I had a different theory. No one quite believed me, though. I had done some research, and had found that “God’s Hostage” was a loose translation of the name of a poorly known Buddhist temple located somewhere deep in the Laotian jungles near the Mekong River. Had Col. Harville been systematically smuggling artifacts and antiquities? I was willing to wager he had.

I felt Stanton’s thick, broad hand on the small of my back as he guided me to him, pushing me close against his hard, flat stomach. My hand reached down reflexively to his hips where I held on, just as I did when riding behind him on the Kawasaki motorcycle he drove too fast on the nights when his own war dreams intruded his sleep and he could only purge the images with adrenaline and the turbulent flow of air on his arms and chest.

In the light of the full moon, Stanton’s broad shoulders and thick, muscled arms could have seemed menacing. I wondered if I seemed absurdly gothic at his side, clad in unrelieved black, my black knit long-sleeve shirt, black pants, black short boots, punctuated only by a strand of fresh water pearls culled from clams in the Caspian Sea, and my makeup that was always a shade or two too light, my lipstick always a shade or two too dark.

An owl could be heard, as well as the quiet rustle of grass badly in need of mowing. He moved my unruly hair from my face and kissed my cheek.

“Don’t worry. In theory it was a good idea. Maybe it will work,” he said.

“Are you remembering anything yet?” I asked.

“Well, I do remember this pavilion. Maybe if we stand on it, I’ll have an idea of which direction we should go.”

We stepped onto the pavilion and I felt the wood give way.

“Be careful, Stanton. Termite damage, I suspect. My exterminator told me that termite “queens” are as big as poodles in this part of the country,” I said.

He froze. A cloud passed across the face of the moon, and we were plunged in shadow. When the light returned, Stanton breathed deeply, loudly.

“Crazy as it seems, your theory is working. I remember this place. I remember it. We lived over there.” He pointed across the plaza to a tangling dark shadow next to what appeared to be a small row of brick businesses.

We walked quickly across the square and followed the cracked sidewalk. Small bushes pushed up through the cracks of the sidewalk, and the uncut grass smelled like fresh alfalfa. It was almost cloyingly sweet. Stanton stopped in his tracks.

“It’s gone,” said Stanton. His face was dark, harsh.

“What? What do you mean?” I asked.

“Look. Fire. Or something. Burned to the ground.” His voice was hushed. He was right. There was nothing there – just a bare concrete pad, and small piles of bricks.

I was transfixed. It was such an expected outcome that I did not know how to react.

The sound of distant singing carried itself in on the night winds.

“Do you hear that, Stanton?” I asked. “Am I going insane? Do you hear it? Do you recognize the song?”

He turned toward and gestured toward a small rock building down the street. Lights blazed in the windows. “I think it’s coming from there. In fact, I can almost make out the words.”

The Yahweh Brethren had a small chapel on the corner, and they were having some sort of ceremony, and were singing a hymn.

“Oh my God, Stanton. We’ve mixed up ourselves with a cult that believes in human sacrifice. Just listen.”

We could make out the words: There is power, power, power in the blood …

Stanton laughed. “Come on. That’s a standard hymn. We used to sing it all the time at the Assembly of God church I used to go to.”

“This is really making me nervous. Let’s go, Stanton,” I said, trying not to sound too desperate. He looked at me and put his arm around me. His eye were dark and unreadable.

“I love you dearly, Ophelia,” he said.

We made our way back to the truck quickly and without incident. The simple, spartan Budgetel where we had rented a room for night seemed, upon approach, to be an oasis of light and well-scrubbed, disinfected cheer. I knew I would sleep like the dead tonight.

Tomorrow would be another day. The light would reveal the narrative that had been left unspoken for so many years.


Anonymous said...

Loved both of the new installments! There seems to be this mystery bubbling just under the surface, and the tension is almost palpable as you're led through these haunted towns, full of fleeting, equally haunting memories. Perhaps unintentionally, you get the feeling that somehow the characters are being watched by unseen forces, lurking in the shadows.. maybe it's just me, but you almost get a suspenseful feeling, like something big is going to happen but you have no idea when. And then you start second guessing yourself, wondering if perhaps the characters are simply trying to make more of Stanton's dad than there really is. It definitely makes a great read, can't wait for the next installment!

Anonymous said...

I like the playful love expressions of Stanton and Ophelia while they try to solve the mystery of "God's Hostage". I am waiting for more of these. =) -ARR