cloudland cover image cloudland
72 pages

atlanta, ga - los angeles, ca


the chocolate-covered hut is the only item which shows any promise of being interesting, so it is the only place that i consider visiting. when i get close enough for deeper inspection, though, i find that the place is locked up tighter than the vault at tucamcari. as usual, the only thing to read is one of the poisonous snake and beneficial flower promotional posters which are plastered to every wall in the park.

i forget about rereading the posters, though, when i am presented with a new object with which i can play; a metal pipe, capped with an oddly shaped spigot, protrudes from the ground near the signs. i manipulate the handle, with half of my expectations relying on the idea that the water service is closed for the season; i am surprised when i see water gushing out of the faucet and splattering into the dirt. i open and close the valve repeatedly, marveling every time at the appearance and disappearance of the stream of water. i finally shut off the water, then reach into my bag for my plastic measuring cup. i am not really thirsty - even if i were, i have a canteen full of water of my own - but this new choice is too alluring to refuse. like a kid who is content with an apple yet suddenly refuses to eat anything but an orange, only because he saw that his sister has one, and he finds it a travesty that he should miss something, i hold my cup to the faucet and fill. i raise the cup so that i can inspect it for infectious impurities, since goodness only knows through what and for how long this water had to travel to get to the summit of this mountain. anything in the water that would truly cause me pain will be too small for my insignificantly-aided eyes to detect, so i pour out the water, just to be safe; i proceed to refill the cup and drink it to the bottom.

while i am letting the water make its way to my stomach, at which point i will learn its beneficial or detrimental effects on my systems, i stand proudly and gaze at the mountaintop. during this moment of truth, i notice for the first time that there is a car parking in the lot, occupying a space which is pretty close to the exit. i did not see it drive into the area, and i am almost sure that i would have looked right at it when i entered the lot, so i am curious about how it managed to elude my awareness. i look through the area, but i do not see any other people who would be responsible for getting it up here. i do not believe that there are any trails leading away from the lot, so the car owners must be somewhere around me. i definitely do not see them, though; i begin to suspect that they are still in the car.

i grab another cup of water, and i move in the direction of the exit with the intention of finding exactly what type of perpetration these people are attempting on my mountaintop. as i pass the midpoint of the cracked and blistered tennis courts, i discern that there is indeed someone sitting in the car. it strikes me as odd, though, when i realize that the person is sitting in the passenger side; i am wondering about where the driver could have gone when a salacious thought enters my mind. what could, say, two people be doing in a car in an isolated area upon a secluded mountaintop? the answer reeks of debauchery. the floodgates of my memory are thrown open, and, amid the torrent, images of richie cunningham climbing inspiration point and the sounds of fats domino finding his thrill drift through my mind. the sight of the single passenger recalls an episode in the city in which a prostitute climbed the car into the front of mine; at the next stoplight, though, only one person, the driver, could be seen. the prostitute had no way to get out of the car without being spotted, so she was certainly still in the car, hidden somewhere; one can easily imagine what kind of sordid business was taking place. i imagine now the same sort of business is taking place in the car beside which i will be walking in the two minutes which it will take me to traverse the lot.

the trick is that i must refrain from getting to close to the car, lest they should become alarmed and cease their lascivious behavior before i get a visual confirmation on it, yet not walk so far from the car that i do not get a view that is clear enough for me to be sure that something juicy is happening. i am playing it cool as i enter the danger zone, but i make out some details which force a development of uncertainty with regards to my suspicions of depravity; the passenger, whom i presumed to be involved in an activity most lewd, seems to be slumped forward, immobile in the seat. the position does not strike me as very comfortable or conducive to sleep, and it seems far too placid for anything of a carnal nature. this new revelation opens up scenarios that are even more perplexing than the previous possibilities.

with sex and sleep ruled out of the equation, the only other possibility which comes to mind is that the passenger is dead. the question now is whether the death came at her - the long hair means, of course, that the passenger is a woman - own hands or at those of another. i could go both ways on the subject. it seems right that a person would journey to a place as relatively peaceful as this one before capping herself; it certainly would not be my first choice, but for a person whose issues stem more from sadness than from anger, it seems like it would be okay. on the other hand, i can also see a situation in which someone drove the passenger, possibly in her own car all the way to the northwest corner of georgia before capping her.

it is a tough decision, since both choices are such realistic scenarios; each also has a problem, though, which reveals a trace of doubt. if she came up here to cap herself, then why did she climb into the passenger seat? if she was already going to cap herself, and she was already here at the canyon, it would be much more poetic to drive the car off the edge of the cliff; why would she so quietly cap herself when such a vibrant method was available to her? if she was capped by someone else, where did the murderer go? surely, a murderer would not go through the trouble of jacking someone and making them take him or her all the way up a mountain just to cap the car owner and walk back down the mountain without the stolen car.

since i know that the woman is just pretending to be asleep, waiting until i have walked by the car before recommencing the coitus interruptus, i do not bother to see if any help is needed. instead, i thread the corkscrew around the mountain until i end up at the head of the trail to my campsite. i look in every direction that possibly could lead to the bridge girl, but she does not appear anywhere before me. the coffin is nailed; the ship has sailed; there is no way that i am ever going to see her again.

i slump through the woods until i reach my campsite. upon arrival, i throw my pack onto the table in disgust. i kick my way around the campsite, hoping to find some source of motivation hidden beneath the sticks and stones that litter the forest floor. i curse and swear and take every sort of oath. i take up a position above the creek; gazing into the water, i wait for an answer to come to me. when one fails to come, i maneuver to the other side of the campsite and stare at the pieces of sky which try to escape my wrath by hiding behind the trees; no answer lies up there, either.

powered by instinct, like a drone, almost with my eyes closed, i go through the routine of cooking. thoughtlessly, i boil the water and throw in a handful of cous cous and stir it and seal the lid and stop the flame and wait the necessary amount of time. i carelessly remove the lid and wait of the steam to clear. of course, the cous cous is phenomenally fabulous, but it brings me no joy. it only makes me wonder how i can do something so right and something else so wrong.

i crawl onto the top of the table and lay down to read proust. i shove my dishes and other stuff out of the way, so that i can stretch to my full length, but i have to leave my legs to dangle from the end of the table. i try to read, but only a few seconds pass before i find that the letters and words and phrases have become blurred and blended together as my mind leaves the story to wander and wonder about the events of the day.

when i am able to focus back to the novel, it is with disgust and contempt that i read about swann's foolish behavior. how can a man of his character and caliber wander about the countryside, hoping for a chance to stage and accidental encounter with odette, who is nothing but a fashionable whore who can not understand or appreciate the devotion which swann bestows upon her. while he could be dining with the prince of wales or completing his treatise on vermeer, he instead wastes his time waiting for a scrap of recognition from a woman who has no concern for him at all. i am ashamed to admit that i ever had any respect for swann as a gentleman, now that he refuses to pull himself from the dirt through which he scrounges for a morsel of attention, a morsel which is empty of all beneficial value, since the one who dropped it to the earth took no pains to ensure that the one who discovers and devours it is receiving all the sustenance that he deserves. what i find most distasteful, though, is the familiarity of the story.

exasperated, i roll onto my back and lay the book on my chest. i squirm about the table, trying to fit myself on the small amount of flat surface that remains. no matter how i maneuver my body, though, i can not find comfort. i give up my peaceful tactics and kick my pack onto the ground; with the extra space, i can bring my legs up on the table and stretch my way into sleep.

sleep is being impossible. i lie down with my head on the wooden planks and stare at the tiny pieces of sky that blink into view as the leaves above me are pushed against and apart from each other by the wind. the static noise from the creek below me is ceaselessly droning and invading my concentration. i do not know what i am looking for, but my eyes and ears search the trees and hills for anything that can take my thoughts away from the day. the dark green air becomes more frigid and less welcoming as the sights and sounds become weaker and weaker and weaker until they die out.

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published by the angry red planet, 1998