Chris Till

7. The Eagles

In boulder colorado, cocaine, marijuana, Stoner Noir on April 7, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Throughout 1985, the US expanded its military and financial aid to Arab mercenaries fighting the USSR  in Afghanistan. On July 12, 1985, the US sold shoulder-fired Stinger missiles to Pakistan.[i] Evidently, Pakistan provided some of these Stingers to the Arabs fighting in Afghanistan[ii], which proved to be extremely effective in shooting down Soviet helicopters and led to the Soviet defeat.

Isaiah Falls

      As Isaiah fell over the trip-wire, an unkempt man with no legs below his knees stumped quickly towards him. Then, falling flat on his face, Isaiah’s head smashed bloodily against a strategically-placed rock. His mind went blank.

A Smoky Morning

      Isaiah, scar-faced and skinny, had awoken early that day to begin a new career as breakfast and lunch dishwasher at the Crepe Place. With the apartment reeking thickly of burnt cannabis, pale blue-eyed Rhion sat on the sofa staring obliquely at a hand mirror. Isaiah ignored him and went groggily to the bathroom.

      “You been up all night?” asked Isaiah, after he’d washed his face.

      “Is it morning?” Isaiah asked. “I’m conducting an experiment on mirror magic. At the right angle, I’ve been catching glimpses of the past. I’m trying to solve the Big Sur fire.”

      “Like who started the fire or what?” The previous week, a wildfire had erupted in the dry mountains around Big Sur. With miles and miles of forest burnt, Esalen itself had almost caught fire.

      Rhion nodded strangely and resumed staring obliquely into the mirror. Isaiah felt hungry but figured he could eat at his new job.

      “So, are we set this afternoon?” asked Isaiah. “You’ll take me out to the river bottoms and find the Eagles?”

      “I’ve uncovered some real clues,” said Rhion, glancing at Isaiah with faraway eyes.

      “About Zen?”

      “About the fires. Like 20 miles of the Santa Cruz Mountains burned last week, too.”

      “Yeah, there’s wildfires all over the state. It’s dry as hell this summer. Well, I gotta go to work, but we on for this afternoon?”

      “The river bottoms. The Eagles.”

      “Cool,” said Isaiah, heading out the door. “Let’s meet here at three. I’ll try to bring you some grub from the restaurant.”

Rhion Gazes into his Magic Mirror

      After Isaiah left, Rhion settled into the sofa and stared hard at the mirror. With his eyes narrowed, he didn’t look directly at it, but from the side. According to his understanding of mirror magic, one could glimpse the immediate past or immediate future by gazing with one’s eyes unfocused just above the surface of the magic mirror.

      He felt certain an arsonist must have set fire to the Mountains. The only question was who did it. It must have been a black magician or a Satanist, he figured. A sorcerer allied with the dark forces, perhaps one of the evil extraterrestrials. The magic mirror would help him find the responsible party.

      To his chagrin, he could see nothing besides the reflection of the unfinished ceiling of the basement apartment. Wood rafters and water lines. With his brow furrowed, he concentrated further. Again, nothing.

      Lighting a roach, he lowered his head until it almost touched the mirror and looked at the mirror from an even lower angle. Smoke drifted along his face. A water droplet, perhaps sweat, sat in the middle of mirror. Rhion stared at it exclusively. The mirror under the water filled the water with silver light.

      In his mind, he began to think of the water droplet as a hill. A small round hill, maybe he’d climbed it once in the past. No, it was taller than a hill. It was a mountain.

      The water droplet mountain kept growing higher. Tall spruce trees grew on its sides. Snow covered its very peak. This was no ordinary mountain. It was a holy mountain. His eyes gleamed. Wondrous events occur on holy mountains.

      Finally, he recognized it. It was the one and only Mount Shasta, the holy mountain of Northern California. Revered by the Rosicrucians, none other than Saint Germaine, patron saint of the color purple, took his mystic abode at Mount Shasta.

      The magic mirror had worked. After starting the Big Sur fire, the black magic arsonist must have sought refuge in Mount Shasta. Rhion felt sure of it.

      As quickly as the vision had appeared in the mirror, Mount Shasta began to collapse. The snow on its peak melted. The spruce trees disappeared. The tall slopes leveled. It shrunk and collapsed back into a mere water droplet on a hand mirror in a dirty basement apartment.

      With the roach still in his mouth, Isaiah put the mirror down. His eyes glazed with purpose. He had all the information he needed. Shoving his pipe and plastic baggie of cannabis into his pocket, he hustled out the door.

      Heading to the Greyhound station, he planned to catch the bus north to Mount Shasta and find the evil arsonist. What he’d do to him once he caught him, he did not know.

Isaiah Gets Off Work

      After finishing the first day of his Santa Cruz dishwashing career, Isaiah walked quickly home. He felt excited to go down to the river bottoms with Rhion and finally meet the mysterious Eagles. Homeless Vietnam vets, perhaps they could tell him where his beloved fugitive Uncle Zen hid.

      Further down the Pacific Avenue Garden Mall, Naja, the sunshine-tressed girl from the bus, appeared on the sidewalk in front of him. Wearing a white cotton tank top, she looked right at him. As quick as a hand clap, all the other pedestrians disappeared.

      “Hey,” said Isaiah, smiling. “Naja.”

      “Yeah. Isaiah, right?” she said. Her bemused eyes met his and did not move.

      “Yup,” he said, sticking his hands in his pockets. “I was hoping I’d see you again.”

      “Here I am. So, you been having a good time out here?”

      “Yeah, it’s been good. Yeah… What you been up to?”

      “Not much. My mom threw me out of the house again so I’m kind of on the sofa circuit, but… I been having a good summer.” Immediately, Isaiah began calculating his strategy of having Naja stay at his wrecked apartment.

      “Yeah? Huh…” A tall and handsome teenage boy with an aquiline nose came out and stood next to Naja. He looked at Isaiah with contempt.

      “Oh, this is my boyfriend Ari. Isaiah.”

      “Hey man,” said Isaiah in a friendly fashion.

      The tall boy grunted a monosyllable and possessively put his arm around Naja’s waist. As Isaiah’s heart sank, the other pedestrians reappeared. He, Naja, and her boyfriend stood in front of Tampico’s, a Mexican restaurant on Pacific Avenue.

      “Our table’s ready,” the tall boy told Naja.

      “Good to see you, Isaiah,” she said. “Take care.”

      “You too,” he said to her back.

      Arriving back at the apartment at three, Rhion was not home. Isaiah sat on the couch and waited. Picking up the old Rolling Stone, he read the article that Rhion had mentioned. Called “Kids in the Dark,” it told the true-life tale of a teenage boy who had stabbed a friend to death after the friend refused to say he loved Satan. The killer looked like a handsome heavy metal fan; he’d later killed himself in jail. In the magazine photo, the killer wore an AC/DC t-shirt and had a crazy smile. He looked like he was tripping.

      Disappointed that Rhion still hadn’t returned, Isaiah went into the bathroom with one of Rhion’s Penthouse magazines. The February 1985 issue, it featured articles on serial killers and detailed anatomical photographs of 18-year old starlet Christy Canyon. Returning to the living room after several minutes, he felt relieved and decided to look for the Eagles all by himself.

The Eagles

      Where the San Lorenzo River neared the Pacific Ocean, it spread into a wide flood plain. During the dry summer months, the water was low and much of that flood plain was braided with small islands.

      Rhion had told him that the Eagles, a ragtag band of disaffected Vietnam veterans lived out on these river bottom islands in the summer. These Eagles supposedly helped Zen escape Santa Cruz and might know of his current whereabouts.

      Only by wading through several feet of water could the islands be reached. The water felt cold but looked somewhat clear, unlike the muddy Illinois rivers back home. Approaching the islands through the shallow river, Isaiah felt like he had left America and entered a parallel outlaw country. The first island he reached was little more than a narrow sand bar a few inches higher than water level. All the sand was damp and there was no sign of habitation.

      Stepping back into the river, he reached a second island. This island was again a sand bar but had several low bushes growing on it. Like the first island, he couldn’t find any signs of habitation. Towards the ocean, but close to the river bank, he spotted a third island. It looked bigger and had some small trees growing on it.

      To get to the third island, Isaiah made his way back to shore and walked along the river bank. Stepping into the water, he found himself surprised that the water level was less than a foot deep.

      Fishing line laced the outer perimeter of the island. Strung between trees and bushes, someone had attached bells to the fishing line, seemingly to alert the inhabitants if anyone intruded.

      Bells ringing, Isaiah stepped over and through the fishing line. In some spots, it was just a single line. In other spots, several lines criss- crossed. If anyone still lived on the island, they likely already knew of Isaiah’s presence as he walked toward the higher land in the middle of the island. Reeds and small bushes grew all over the island. Isaiah could distinctly smell barbecue.

      “Hello?” he called. “Anybody home?”

      With his next step, he tripped over the hidden ankle-high trip-wire and hit his head on the strategically-placed rock. As he fell, he saw an unkempt man with no legs below his knees stump rapidly towards him. Wearing an old Army jacket, the shaggy-haired man could really move along forcefully on his stubs.

      Isaiah didn’t know if he had gone unconscious, but when he next opened his eyes, his face lay in the sand next to the rock. The rock had wet blood on it. Isaiah lay sprawled on his stomach. His head hurt.

      “What you doin’ on mah island?” said a low southern voice to his side.

      “I didn’t know it was your island,” Isaiah said, still not moving. “Sorry.”

      “I’ll ask you one more time. What you doin’ on mah island?” Isaiah felt a sharp point in the back of his neck. He couldn’t see it, but sensed that the man held a knife to the back of his neck.

      “I’m looking for the Eagles,” Isaiah said, spitting some sand out of his mouth and feeling along his teeth with his tongue for missing teeth.

      “Boy, don’t nobody go lookin’ for the Eagles. The Eagles look for you.”

The man smelled like smoke and sweat.

      “Sorry. I’m friends with Rhion and Zen and they said, well, Rhion said, well, Zen, too, kinda said that, well, you could help me find Zen.” The front of Isaiah’s tooth had been chipped on that strategically-place rock. He spit it out. His mouth tasted like sand and blood.

      “Me? They said ah’d help you?”

      “Well, they said the Eagles would or might help. Maybe.”

      “Boy, I don’t know who you talkin’ bout,” the man said, still hidden on Isaiah’s side. “But this here’s mah island. I’m the law here. The judge and the jury. See?”

      “Man, I’m really sorry. I just… Zen’s my uncle and I haven’t seen him in a long time. I come all the way out here from Illinois right before he got busted.”

      “Zen’s yer uncle? Prove it.” The man pushed the knife point into Isaiah’s neck, but probably hadn’t broken skin. With his face still pressed in the sand, Isaiah could see his blood on the rock slowly drip off. The sun shone starkly in his left eye.

      “Man. I don’t mean you any harm. If you’re not the Eagles, I apologize and won’t come back.”

      “Eagles ain’t here no more, boy. They flew away, right? Couple weeks ago, pigs came through, rousted all the brothers out. ‘Cept me, see, cause ah’m clever. You like the feeling of that knife on yer neck?”

      “No, I sure don’t.”

      “No, sir! I’m an officer. Lieutenant. Got that?”

      “Yes sir, Lieutenant. I think I’m bleeding.”

      “Course you’re bleeding, grunt. I know that Rhion yer talkin’ about and let me tell you something. That LSD acid will turn your mind into strawberry shortcake. There ain’t no shortcut to inner knowledge. Got that?”

      “Yes sir.” The man patted Isaiah’s back pocket for his wallet.

      “You support military veterans, grunt?”

      “I guess… Sir.”

      “When’s the last time?”

      “The last time, what? Sir.”

      “Don’t play dumb, boy,” the man said, again poking Isaiah’s neck with the knife blade. “When’s the last time you supported yer military veterans?”

      “Man, Sir, look, I got my wallet in my back pocket. Go ahead…”

      “You think ah’m here to rob you? You crazy, boy. I spent two years in the jungle for this country. Lemme ask you something. And if you give me the right answer, ah’ll let you right on up. How many Vietnam vets do it take to screw in a light bulb?”

      Isaiah’s hands sprawled on his sides by his waist. When he’d fallen, he hadn’t even the time to raise them. One hand found a fist-sized rock, which he clutched.

      “Man, I really don’t know. Sir.”

      “That right! You don’t know! ‘Cause you weren’t there!” The man started laughed maniacally. “That’s a joke. You can laugh.”

      Isaiah tried to force a laugh, but his mouth felt dry and now tasted like copper. Isaiah lifted himself up on his hands and knees. The man pushed the knife tip into the back of his neck threateningly.

      “Go ahead, man, I don’t care.”

      “Yeah? That’s the attitude I like, boy. Life and death, it’s all the same game.” The man took the knife away. Isaiah raised himself up to his knees. Blood flowed from his nose into his mouth. He looked over at the man. With Isaiah on his knees, they stood the same height. The man’s bloodshot eyes looked like a caged animal’s. Staph infection covered the man’s face and his shoulder length brown hair grew in a thick mat.

Rhion at the Bus Station

      The northbound bus did not leave until noon, but Rhion had decided to wait in the Greyhound station. With his mind’s eye focused on the magic mirror’s revelation of Mount Shasta, he settled into a hard plastic chair. A Spanish-speaking family sat across from him arguing. The grandmother sat with her arms crossed, glaring at Rhion with foul intent. He noticed the bus station lockers: a good place to hide something someday.

      Crossing his arms over his chest, he reclined in the uncomfortable chair. As he hadn’t slept that night, he closed his eyes to meditate. Colorful electric imagery played across the insides of his eyelids: green lines, orange lines, and dull yellow points.

      “Last call for the northbound bus to San Francisco, Eugene, and Seattle,” sounded the voice from the loud speakers. Startled, Rhion awoke from his rough slumber. The Spanish-speaking family had left. He hadn’t bought his ticket yet: $38.20.

      Awaking, the magic mirror’s revelation of Mount Shasta seemed a world away. Mount Shasta itself seemed a world away. And a bus ticket for $38.20? He didn’t even have ten bucks on him.

      Looking around, he got up and ambled out of the bus station. The noon sun felt oppressive and he headed for the shade across the street. Time for a siesta in the park, he figured.

The Lieutenant

      “Me, ah liked the jungle. Felt like a god over there. You want a nip?”

Isaiah and the Lieutenant sat in old lawn chairs in the Lieutenant’s camp on the island. So he could sit easily, the chairs had been modified so they didn’t really have any legs. Isaiah declined the Jameson’s bottle.

      “Life and death. Right there, in my hands. What’s not to like?” A camouflaged tent was set up. A grill from a house oven was set up on the rocks ringing a fire pit. On the grill, an indeterminate meat roasted in a cast iron skillet. Garbage littered the camp site: at least seven Jameson’s whiskey bottles, Taco Bell bags, and Albertson’s donut boxes.

      Isaiah’s head still hurt from hitting the rock. He wanted to leave but felt weak.

      “Back in ‘Nam, you could get you a blowjob and a haircut from a cute Vietnamese girl for a dollar. Can’t beat that, huh? Yup, we was gods over there. Kids following you around everywhere, begging for pennies.” The Lieutenant looked off dreamily then spat.

      “Yes sir,” said Isaiah.

      “Over there, we had to take care of ourselves. Sometimes we’d get these green-horn gung ho officer-types, don’t you know. All rarin’ for glory, ready to lead us into a slaughter. That ain’t was gonna happen. Some of the boys’d take care o’ that problem real quick. Frag him, you know. Bullet in the back. End of problem.”

      “End of problem,” repeated Isaiah weakly.

      “You stoned? You got to stay away from them drugs, boy,” the Lieutenant said. “Turn your head into mashed potaters.”

      Isaiah didn’t respond, but watched him drink from the Jameson’s bottle.

      “So the Eagles, or whatever you wanna call them, are all gone?” asked Isaiah, rubbing the sides of his head with both hands.

      “Like ah said before, maybe you wasn’t paying attention, but the Eagles done flew away. Or got busted. Pigs charged in here like Viet Cong at dawn. Hauled a bunch of the boys away. Me, ah hid. Cain’t tell you where.”

      “Sure sure sure. All right. Look, man, Lieutenant, sir, I’m sorry I like bothered you or whatever. I’m gonna…”
      “Tain’t no trouble,” the Lieutenant interrupted. “It’s good to have company to discuss things with now and again. If’n you want, tell you what, you could set up your own camp out here. There’s some good flat spots back behind them little willer trees. A man can live free out here, I tells you.”

      “Yeah? Hey, thanks for the offer, uh, Lieutenant. I reckon I’m gonna take off, but, hey, maybe we’ll see ya ’round.”

      “Why doncha stay for lunch? That steak’s gonna be good ‘n’ done pretty soon here. Nuff for two.”

      “I appreciate that, but…” Isaiah stood up and started walking backwards.

      “Sure. Well, c’mon back sometime,” the Lieutenant said.

      “Sure thing, dude.” Isaiah turned around and walked away, disappointed, angry, and hurting.

Holding

      With his shoes soggy and pants wet up to their knees, Isaiah climbed out of the river. Feeling that Rhion had once again led him on a wild-goose chase, he felt forlorn and angry. As he climbed up the river bank, a Santa Cruz police officer climbed down the river bank.

      “Afternoon, young man,” the Officer said. He looked about 50 and had a regulation police mustache.

      “Officer.”

      “Wading out into the river?”

      “Yes sir.”

      “Why? Looking for something?”

      “No, not really.”

      “Not really, you say. You’re on drugs, aren’t you?”

      “No sir.”

      “You know it’s a crime to lie to a police officer. What’s that blood on your face?”
      “I fell and hit a rock.”

      “You got delirious because you were intoxicated on drugs? Is that correct?”

      “No sir.”

      “I can tell that you are lying. What’s that lump in your front left pocket?” Isaiah though of making a crude joke, but resisted. Instead, he said nothing.

      “I’ll tell you what it is. It’s drugs. Looks like a clear sandwich baggie of, let me guess, about a eighth of cannabis. Indica, probably, locally grown by Hells Angels up in the Mountains. And a Bic lighter. Is that correct?” Again, Isaiah remained silent.

      “Look, it’s been a real bad afternoon for me, Officer.”

      “And it’s getting worse for you. Perhaps you didn’t know, but cannabis is illegal in the United States. ID, please.” Isaiah submissively fished his Illinois drivers license out of his wallet. The cop radioed in his identity and waited for a response.

      “Son, why don’t you pull that bag of drugs out of your pocket and make it a bit easier on yourself,” said the cop. Isaiah obeyed and handed the cop his bag of weed.

      “Indica indeed,” said the cop, opening the baggie and sniffing it. “You know you are helping to finance a violent criminal gang when you buy this stuff? Hells Angels are not good guys.”

      As Isaiah stood with his hands handcuffed behind his back, the cop received information on Isaiah from his radio. Isaiah was not wanted.

      “No warrants,” said the cop. “Good for you. At your age, you should be going to college, not looking for drugs down by the river.”

      “Yes, sir.”

      “I could arrest you, son. But I’m just going to write you a ticket. You know it’s not too late for you to make something of yourself. You should think about going to a Narcotics Anonymous group or some kind of rehab.”
      “Yes, sir.” The cop wrote out a $125 ticket for possession of cannabis. The mandatory court date was three weeks away.

      “Good luck to you, son. Think about what I said.”

Rhion and the Clouds

      A white cow floated across the sky. It had no legs. Perhaps it was actually a white buffalo, the mystic white buffalo prophesied by the native people to restore America to purity.

      Rhion lay on his back with his hands under his head, watching the clouds. With a carefree and wandering melody in his head, he pursed his lips to whistle but made not a sound.

      Returning from the river bottoms, Isaiah stopped at the payphone booth in front of the Taco Bell. Dispirited, lip swollen and top front tooth chipped, he dropped a quarter into the slot and dialed Maureen’s phone number back home.

      The phone rang. And rang some more. As a vintage Valiant full of cackling punk rockers drove by, the answering machine picked up. He hung up without leaving a message.

      Running his tongue over his newly chipped tooth, Isaiah walked back towards his apartment. Whatever great thing that had ended when he first came out west in May had been thoroughly lost and forgotten. He kicked a piece of gravel on the sidewalk and slunk home.


[i] Bernard Gwertzman, “U.S. Rushing Missiles to Pakistan; Cites Air Raids from Afghanistan,” New York Times, July 12, 1985.

[ii] Tim Sullivan, Matt Singer and Jessica Rawson, “What were policymakers’ and intelligence services’ respective roles in the decision to deploy Stinger Missiles to the anticommunist Afghan mujahedin during the rebels’ struggle with the Soviet Union?” Mentis Vita: The Georgetown Undergraduate Journal of Scholarship, Spring 2007.

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  1. An Enjoyable story. Thanks for sharing Chris.

  2. Thanks man. I’ll have another one up next week. For me, it’s been fun making up an alternative 1985, especially ’cause I get to pick how it’s gonna end this time.

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