Stranger than Fiction
The very first thing a person might remark at upon entering the town of Aberdeen, Washington is a forest green sign just off the right side of the highway. The sign states simply “Come as you are” without further elaboration or source. And while this might simply strike one as a moral tenet for living one’s day to day life, albeit a strange one to put on the side of the road, it is in fact a reference to the fact that Aberdeen, for all of its small town anonymity, was in fact the hometown of musical legend Kurt Cobain.
In my twenty-two years of experience in Aberdeen, I have been approached by no less than seven grunge-inspired “wanderers” asking direction to the bridge that their musical idol supposedly slept underneath. I inevitably direct them to Young Street, and inform them that the myth is only that. Having walked and driven over the bridge on the way to my house somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand times, I can testify most heartily that unless Mr. Cobain could swim in his sleep the story is sadly nothing more than a bit of fiction. I tend not to tell these people that my brother used to be his grandfather’s paper boy. I certainly never tell them that I was in the same second grade class as his younger step-sister, and that that was the year he took his own life. As the saying goes “truth is stranger than fiction.” No place, is this more true than in Aberdeen, Washington.
Of all the grunge inspired drifters I have met, about half will be motivated enough to ask me where the high school is. But none of them,absolutely none of them, ask if there’s anything else to see. And for that, I suppose I am grateful, because you see, the entire town of Aberdeen, Washington is cursed. And like all citizens of cursed towns, I am reluctant to divest its secret horrors.
To the best of my knowledge Aberdeen is not now, nor has it ever been, an Indian burial ground. No spells have been cast upon it by covens of Gypsy witches. No strange crafts have fallen out of the sky and lodged themselves in its soil. Yet still, the town is cursed. It is a wrongness one can only begin to understand after spending several years reading the works of Stephen King and HP Lovecraft. For there is no logic to this place, the way there is logic to a place that is haunted by ghosts or terrorized by demons. There are no words of magic that can lift the dark spell that has been cast over these lands. There are no prayers to gods that can cast back the darkness. There is nothing at all that can be done, except to watch in mute horror as insanity usurps sanity. As Darkness eats the light. In Aberdeen, reality has run thin, worn itself out like a fabric washed against river-stone.
The first inclination I had that the town was cursed came in the fourth grade. Just before it was time to line up for physical education, my teacher put on his coat, went to the front of the class, announced, “Okay guys, it’s time for gy-” and promptly dropped dead. Believing that my teacher had simply changed his mind about gym, I continued to read a book entitled “The Heart of Valor,” and was unaware of my instructor’s departure from the land of the living for a period of perhaps five minutes. And while this was certainly tragic, I did not connect it to anything else, until at lunch in high school some years later when some friends and I realized that ever since then, either a teacher or a student throughout our educational careers had died prematurely every single year. Every. Single. Year.
While I will not go into great detail about the deaths, as I’m close to several people who are related to the unfortunate victims, suffice it to say the modes of the macabre range from outright murder to cancer. Yet even this, I could shake. Accidents happen, and statistical anomalies are bound to occur. Yet still… there is the fundamental fate twisting that nothing can account for.
One day, as I was driving a person from out of town over the Wishkah River bridge they began to scream, in between choked gasps. Caught unaware I asked them what was the matter. “Holy crap! It’s the ship from ‘Pirates of the Carribean!’ The Interceptor! What’s it doing here?”
“That’s here all the time. It’s called the Lady Washington.”
“You mean to say that one of the ships from a big budget movie just docks here and you didn’t mention it.”
“I guess I just didn’t think about it.”
And so I continued to drive over the bridge, and leave aside the fact that there is a ship docked in my town that was part of a multi-million dollar film franchise. Things got worse when we arrived at the mall.
There is a certain paradigm in the Universe that compels the attraction of like bodies. Or at least I feel that must be true, because I can’t think of any other reason that Tom Cruise would just randomly show up in my town in May of 2006. My friends are always a bit taken aback when they see the shrine wall erected to Tom Cruise right next to the mall Subway. They are even further taken aback when they realize that May 9th, the day written upon it, is actually a recurring town holiday. “Tom Cruise Day.”
Of course the papers said that some person working in the local Wal-Mart had won a promotional contest for “Mission Impossible: III.” But I knew that wasn’t true… or at least not the whole truth. In the summer of that dreadful year Tom Cruise had begun to amass a certain level of craziness, and when that madness reached its zenith he was forced by a natural law older than the universe and stronger than gravitation, to go to the place that is the Mecca of Madness. And so he went forth to Aberdeen, knowing that it can curse as well as bless, touched its evil soils, and the public shaming he’d been subjected to since his couch jump on the Oprah Winfrey show suddenly evaporated.
And still the strangeness goes on. Because eventually, on this imaginary little tour of ours, as I recall all these bizarre stories to you, we might become hungry. We might even, while driving down Market street, spot a sign marked “Billy’s” and decide to grab a burger for lunch. Sitting down in one of the booths one might happen to flip the menu over and learn that the restaurant is named after historical Aberdeen figure “Billy Gohl.” One might even ask me, if one were one this hypothetical tour of mine, if I knew anything about Billy Gohl. And if it were possible, I would draw the shades of the all the windows, so that we could not be seen. Then, I would produce a lantern -not because I have to of course, but simply because stories are best related in certain kinds of light- and set the flame to a low, dull burn. I would then lean over the table, and whisper conspiratorially with you as I recounted the nightmarish story that comprises the life of Billy Ghoul. Having done my end of the year research project on the man for Pacific Northwest History, I know all too much about the sinister Mr. Ghoul.
“He showed up out of nowhere, like a lot of people did in those days. No past, no family, no friends. Nothing to say he was who he claimed he was, except the words coming out of his mouth. It was the early nineteen hundreds. Aberdeen was nothing but a collection of whorehouses and taverns. Hell it was even until 1957 that the township got up enough gumption to get rid of the whorehouses.
“We cut lumber then, just like we cut lumber now, and our mills used up men like a fire uses coal. We brought in men from every corner of the land, from over the mountains, and across the oceans. And it was the ocean men that Billy cared for. One could say, that other than the sport he took in killing them, the ocean men were Billy’s line of work.
“He became wealthy here. He ran a business keeping money locked up for sailors just coming into town who were afraid of getting robbed. Back then Aberdeen was known by two names: “The Hellhole of the Pacific” and the “Port of Missing Men.” Everyone was warned about muggings before they stepped foot on the dock. They were warned about being ShangHai’ed. They were warned about a lot of things… but no one warned them about Billy.
“It was all those bodies that started washing ashore that tipped folks off. There got to be so damn many people took to calling them ‘The Floater Fleet.’ Hundreds of men murdered and decayed beyond recognition were carried up by the waves, their bodies crashing against the rocky shores. No one could tie them to anything or anyone, because Aberdeen was shifty back then and nobody knew who anyone was, other than as a vague recollection of a face that stood still just long enough to stand out. A smart sheriff finally figured it out.
“It turned out that when the sailors came back to his business to pick up their money, Billy just saw fit to shoot them and drop them from a little trap door in his office right into the Harbor. A Swedish fellow who worked with Billy identified a couple of the bodies by looking at their tattoos. Billy was tried and convicted for two murders. .He was tried for two murders, and that’s what the history books say, but I know better. The man killed damn near four hundred people and got away with it. That makes him the most prolific serial killer in American History, and right now you’re sitting in a restaurant named after him.” And it only gets better.
Some several hundred thousand years ago man gained dominion over fire. As he sat before it, and was heated by its glow, he watched its flickering tendrils without fear, for he knew that he was its master and that it was his servant. Not so in Aberdeen.
When the tallest building in the town burned to the ground, I thought, “Accidents happen.” The Finch building was old, a mere five stories, and no one had used it for decades. It had been an eye-sore and I was glad to see it gone. My feelings changed my sophomore year of high school, when I looked out my bedroom window and saw an orange glow on the horizon. I looked over at the clock, saw that it should have been dark long since, and decided to investigate the cause of the blaze. Imagine my shock, when I walked three blocks and found that the high school was on fire.
Some young creature (not so high on the evolutionary scale as to warrant giving him the appellation of man) had tried to burn several of his academic records so a judge wouldn’t rule his current nurturing situation inadequate and make him live with his other parent. Not understanding that fire spreads, the young creature accidentally burned down the high school. However, the young creature was not entirely out of luck. The judge, even when he saw an electronic back up of the file the young male tried to destroy, was gracious and ruled that the young creature didn’t have to go live with his other parent. The young creature got to go to prison instead. Oh but wait.
Aberdeen has the longest running high school football rivalry west of the Mississippi River. Every year the Aberdeen Bobcats meet to do battle with the Hoquiam Grizzlies. Every year, before that football games takes place, Aberdeen high school creates a facsimile of a Hoquiam Grizzly named “Johnny Hoquiam” and burns him in effigy. The students then continue on to vandalize the town of Hoquiam for the rest of the night. This has been happening for well over a hundred years.
My junior year of high school two twenty-one year old seniors, who had names with structures similar to Don Donson and John Johnson, were placed in charge of burning the effigy. After getting kerosene all over one another, and letting the pyre fume in an enclosed place, they finally went in with a match to begin the festivities. I am told the resultant fireball was quite extraordinary. After several minutes of fierce battle, both the boys managed to smother the flames.
You will be happy to know that after lighting themselves on fire, and putting themselves out, they were described as heroes in the local paper, and were finally passed in all of their classes on account of what I would term their stupidity and what my instructors termed their courage.
Yet one would wonder how it’s possible to light anything on fire in Aberdeen, because not only do we hold the world’s number one slot for alcoholism per capita, we also receive the most rainfall anywhere in the world outside of the tropics. Anywhere. In. The. World. Annually we receive an average of 120″ of liquid sunshine, and once went on record as having a three solid months of rainfall before realizing “holy crap, that’s a lot of rain… I want to kill myself so I can see light again.”
Interlude: The Storm
Dear Reader, imagine my amazement when, as I was writing this story, the power suddenly went out, denying me access to the internet on which I save these sacred texts. I felt for a moment, and perhaps rightly so, that the very spirit of Aberdeen was trying to protect itself from exposure. Trying to hide itself from the scorching light of civilization that I was trying to cast upon it. The wind boomed like a bellows, and a black sky shook with hunger, ready to swallow up all the land below. I am told the winds reached speeds in excess of a hundred miles an hour. I do not disbelieve that they could have been faster. Accepting that the power was going to be off for some time, I put my computer away, and went downstairs.
I stood in the living room with my brother Bryan when we heard the first crash. A four foot thick cedar tree snapped right at it’s base and came within inches of destroying the dining room. We scrambled to find a flash light, eager to see what was going on outside. When we finally cast our beams of light into the darkness from off our deck, it appeared as though the foliage so near our house had begun to creep across the lawn and toward the house. We could barely hear each other speak over the gales. Outside the house was a perfect darkness, cast all of a piece over the whole of a county, uninterrupted by the trickeries of man.
While some people may have become intimidated by this, my brother and I surveyed the desolation, and gave each other a resounding high five. We’ve been wanting something exciting to do together for a long time, and we both long ago reached the conclusion that there’s nothing as exciting as surviving an Apocalypse.
“I’m going to go get an all leather outfit, drive a motorcycle around town, and hunt for gas. If anyone gets in my way, I’m just going to blast them away with a sawed off shotgun. There’s only one law now: the law of the jungle.” I rambled thusly for most of an hour, as other cracks and thuds interrupted the night… as trees fell and brought down power lines and blocked roads.
My brother mostly ignored me, choosing instead to take videos with his phone, and mutter “this is glorious” to himself every few minutes. We did broach the topic of learning to fight with swords in case mankind suddenly forgot how to make gun-power, and we had to rely on fencing to survive. I informed him that as I was sword-cursed, he could become a knight and I would become his wizard. We both agreed that this was a healthy compromise.
Rachel came downstairs, looked outside, decided to completely panic in front of Natasha and then calmed down when she realized the storm might be a very good reason not to go to work. She spent several minutes creating excuses to tell her boss, and nodded at each one in succession. When I realized that Natasha was genuinely terrified, I lit some candles, stopped talking about how cool the Apocalypse was going to be, and took her into the back room to sing songs. We were interrupted several minutes later when my father came downstairs, and stood in front of the dining room window, willing with all of his might for a tree to fall onto the deck so that he could replace it with the insurance money. It was the exact same posture he uses at the bowling alley when he wills the ball to strike the center pin.
The storm raged until five the following evening. By that time our backyard looked like a jungle, and a tree broke itself above the attic roof, and punched two holes clear through to several boxes of books I keep up there for want of space. Conversely, our pet pygmy goat was not perturbed in the least, unfortunately. I was hoping she might succumb to the elements as ever since I stood vigil over her labor I have somehow become her sole caretaker.
For six days, while we waited for the power to come on, we lived on mandarin oranges and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Rachel left her room as seldom as possible. Natasha divided her time between spending time with me and Bryan, and my father partook of his favorite past time: yelling at me for things that Rachel has done that bother him.
For example, when I spent twenty dollars of my money on a flashlight, my father asked me why I was going around blowing my savings for. This was after Rachel had bought a hundred dollars worth of cookies and chips at the grocery store. As Rachel’s only true talent in life is arguing with my father, he tends to simply bottle his rage and unleash it on less skilled targets, like myself. However, not wanting to argue I simply admitted that having a quality flashlight during a blackout that was going to last anywhere from five to eight days was a complete waste of money, and that it could never possibly come in handy. Not content with this, my father spent the next few days accusing me of such crimes as moseying (after Rachel did something particularly lazy), and loudly berated me for making lunch for everyone and not putting it on a plate after Rachel had flat out refused to look after anyone but herself. I quickly ceded these arguments as well. Having spent the last few days pooping by candle light and had more important than my emotional problems with my father.
When we finally got enough fuel to fill up a chainsaw, my father decided to give me a lecture on the danger of chainsaws before he would allow me to do any actual work. And despite all that I had put up with in the past few days, I decided I had had enough.
“Dad, I’ve worked with equipment ten times more dangerous than a chainsaw. Just shut the fuck up and let me work.”
“Oh you think you have, have you?”
“I worked on an oil rig for three months. A guy once hit me with a pip that weighs three thousand pounds. So yes, I have.”
“You don’t know fucking shit.”
“Dad, just give me the fucking chainsaw.”
“This isn’t one of your jokes, BC.”
“I’m going to go read a Stephen King novel now.” Rule one of the Apocalypse: thou shalt read Stephen King novels and prepare for any eventuality described therein.
About half an hour later, my uncle came over from next door with about twenty logger friends, so I was shamed into coming back downstairs and pitching in. One of the good things I can say about this town, is that the people here aren’t pussies. Just about everyone knows how to operate a chainsaw, and just about everyone isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
After about four hours, our twenty man crew managed to do about a third of the work necessary to clean up the yard. Then everyone went home to down a few beers. In the mean time, our adorable eleven year old neighbor girl came over to visit. I shall call her Trashmouth, for reasons that will soon become obvious. Trashmouth has an enormous crush on my brother Bryan, and in order to impress Bryan loves nothing more than denigrate me.
As I chopped wood with a splitting maul, Trashmouth informed me that I was a failure at life. Then she looked over at her mother, chopping wood across the street and asked, “How come my mom is so much better at chopping wood than you are? I bet my Grandma could split better than you.” As there is no real way to argue with an eleven year old girl, I continued splitting wood, pausing only to laugh when Trashmouth said something particularly hilarious.
When Trashmouth found a whistle in the lawn, and picked it up to blow it, I paused to say “You shouldn’t do that, that’s kind of disgusting.”
Trashmouth cheerily replied, “Your face is kind of disgusting” and whistled loudly.
In way of appeasement I offered to teach Trashmouth the sign language alphabet, at which point Trashmouth informed me that she already knew a sign and proceeded to flip me off. I decided to call it a day and went inside.
I quickly found a Mexican “Ball in a Cup,” and found my boredom to be so complete I actually played with it for several hours. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a Ball in a Cup is the most worthless toy ever invented. It consists of a cup, with a ball attached to it by a string. You swing the ball up in the air and try to get it to land in a cup. It is perhaps the most worthless object ever contributed to modern society by any culture. Yet such was the state of affairs that it was the most technologically advanced piece of functioning equipment in the entire household. You will be happy to know that once the power came back on, I immediately disposed of the object, and now consider it to be a symbol of disgusting, desolate societies.
I spent the rest of the week doing construction work, and pouring concrete to save up money for a new lap top to replace the one my father trashed when he was playing with the circuits and accidentally shorted it out. I arrived in the morning to find piles of sawdust frozen like pieces of baked cake mix, and left each night only when it became dark. As the job site is located in farm country, I also spent a good deal of time chasing off a herd of thirty peacocks who wanted nothing more in the world than to step into the freshly laid concrete. After a while they figured out not to be afraid of me, and I had to incorporate an owl hoot into my chasing routine to get them to back off. Fucking multi-colored assholes.
The internet came back on just yesterday, and I spent all the time from then till now writing this summary of events. It does not now seem logical to continue on with my account of Aberdeen’s many strange magics. I think instead, that I will save the rest of the list for another dark and stormy night and see what else this town has to throw at me.