Blind Bear Falls – Anthony Statham

May 2, 1989 somewhere in New Mexico

Lawrence Crowley moved out to a dump of a town in a shithole of a county in a nightmare of a state as a gesture that he could change. Certain criteria had to be met if he ever hoped to see his daughter again, the most important of which was the demand that he get the fuck out of dodge for a while. He knew he was a complete waste and still he clung to his fatherly duty in hopes it wasn’t too late and his daughter might someday forgive and forget, whereas the wife on the other hand could eat shit and die, as his new acquaintance Schepp was want to say.

Now with his borderline worthless job and laughable monthly salary Larry spent his evenings staring at the mail slot in the cardboard door at the front of the cringe worthy trailer he rented in the desert. His only regular companions when he sat in the open door and smoked a cigarette were the dead and dying sagebrush and sinister cacti of the never ending brown and yellow sprawl, cinched off in spots by the mildewed, lifeless hills. Occasionally he saw lizards and big brown spiders, the kind that’s eyes reflected light and glimmered hints of red animosity.

In the desert, mail is delivered at night. Larry asked the Karankawa mailman why when he first set down in the trailer, to which the tall and proud but clearly pist off tribesman said in a blatantly ironic tone, “Because, Kemosabe.” and spat in the sandy dirt.

It had been four months and a week and three days since he visited the library to write his daughter a stolid letter explaining how he felt and what he was doing to change and how much he loved her and so forth. His handwriting was illegible so the library was the logical choice, a place where he could type and print a letter. Not very personal he thought, but the three women he’d bothered and asked to evaluate his handwritten letters were all too kind in not saying that he was basically an illiterate degenerate who deserved to die alone and wished never-ending hatred upon him at the hands and will of the daughter who would surely forget about such a needless bag of bones and blood.

Larry kicked up his resale boots on the Formica counter and sipped on a luke warm diet cola. The trailer smelled like sawdust and mouse shit. He’d gotten used to it for the most part. He sat and waited and stared at the back of the door and as his lids became heavy, the lumpy swells of purple flesh under his eyes no longer wanted to be open and somewhere between dream and reality, the place where part of him clasped his bony hands around his exes throat and squeezed, all the while his daughter stood behind him laughing with black eyes like a frenzied shark – he tipped sideways out of his chair and hit the plywood floor. Dust conveyed about the suffocating air. At the scant angle he found himself he watched a manila envelope screech through the rusted mail slot and flop to the floor on the Peanuts themed welcome mat that came with the trailer.

“Kemosabe, someone remembers you.”Seeing Snoopy and Charlie Brown and the gang down on the decrepit floor made Larry’s heart thump a beat too fast. It was hard to imagine anyone lower than him on life’s food chain let alone a family with a child that might have requested the purchase of the welcome mat. He righted himself and finished the knocked over cola and then picked up the manila envelope. There was no return address, no marks of any kind but for the small and simple scripture that made out the address of his trailer. There wasn’t even a stamp. He ripped it open and dumped the contents in his lap: a cassette tape. Written on the little white sticker in the same hand as the envelope were the words BLIND BEAR FALLS. A violent chill rippled up his spine. He turned it over, suddenly finding an unconsciously delicate approach to his handling. There was nothing written on the other side. He racked his brain to try and recall the handwriting, wondered if he’d seen it somewhere before – and of course came up with nothing. Some kind of sick joke. He ripped open the envelope completely to make sure he hadn’t missed anything – a single scrap of paper, torn as if an afterthought from a college rule notebook drifted onto his faded and grease marked jeans. Larry’s heart skipped a little as he read the four words: play blank side first. And finding fortitude he would never recognize in himself again jumped up to his feet. He recognized the handwriting on the note as his wife’s – ex wife. The tape was from his daughter, he could sense it – feel it in his bones. She finally returned his letters and the extreme bitch of an ex-wife assisted in contacting him? This was a sign from God, had to be.

He turned the trailer upside down in search of a cassette player, with no luck. He picked up the phone to call… Call whom? Schepp down the road was the only person he knew in the whole county.

He trudged out into the rapidly chilling night to make the thirty-minute walk to Schepp’s trailer. His mind raced with so many possibilities that it was mostly blank. Years of alcohol abuse, starting mornings with whiskey, had for the most part disabled the grander parts of his psyche and so when big ideas came it was nothing more than bland soupy thought diarrhea churning through the drying lake of his mind, and he took no notice of the stars in the vast sky, as he was a self-admitted simple man and found little to no pleasure in worldly affairs. His daughter had once brightly shown him how to view a solar eclipse, all the other families and couples crowded into the park, their wondrous eyes and learned smiles, while he alone cracked beer after beer in his lonely lawn chair, numb and isolated as he was in his ignorance of all things beyond his understanding – eventually urinating in his jeans and waiting long into the night until everyone was gone so his wife and daughter could walk him home unabashed.

Larry perked his ears toward the ramshackle domicile Schepp called home, all too aware of the dog’s presence in the silent dark somewhere. Larry, an alcoholic and a wild man in his own right had learned the rather hard way to appreciate Schepp’s dog and accomplice in all matters. The dog, friendly in a psychopathic-will-smile-for-food-if-I-know-you sort of way lived the hard yet simple life of a dog, a great beast of a Rottweiler, companion to a full-blown sociopathic alcoholic invalid such as Schepp. His gnawing maw familiarized itself with blood and tendon at a young age and within the last several months had, how you say, scared the holy living fuck out of Larry on several occasions, championing himself proudly in arrogant trots about the small dug in jerry-rigged dog run beside the trailer, wet jaws dripping. After having tasted the moist and salty fear of poor Larry Crowley, a drunken and fully pitiful being by nature, who upon moving into the neighborhood, drank until blinded to his surroundings and then wandered dumbly with a yellow teeth grin into the dog’s domain – where the ultimate questions arose again and again, being which – can you blame the dog? Now, Larry gave wide berth to the dog and from a distance yelled Schepp’s name repeatedly until the incredulous drunk banged open the front door and hollered back in his sickening Arkansas drawl.

“What goddamn it?”The dog began it’s confessional of raspy barks and growls that sounded more like the rustling of dungeon chains. The sound haunted Larry as it reminded him of something being eaten alive and screaming through the ravenous jowls of the creature masticating.

“It’s Larry, Schepp.”“And so fucking what?”

“Can you put your dog inside, I need a favor.”

“Shut the fuck up, mutt!” Schepp stopped to cough. “What do you want?”“Put the dog inside, Schepp. I can’t hear myself think.”

“Goddamnit! Shut the fuck up you stupid giant fucking rat! Hold on, let me put this fucking thing inside.” Schepp waddled out to the dog, back hunched and warped with scoliosis and a bow legged stance that gave the impression he was trying to hide the blatant fact he just shit his pants. He took the dog by the oversized collar and dragged it inside, and then a moment later clattered the door closed behind him. He stood on the tiny grated step on the front of the trailer and squinted out into the dark. “Ok, what?”

“Do you have a cassette player?”

“What the fuck do you need a cassette player for?”

“Come on, Schepp. Do you have one?”

“Don’t think so.” He spat in the dark dirt. He titled a small bottle to his lips and drank. “I was gonna make Whiskey Sours ‘cept I don’t have whiskey or sour mix so I’m drinking mouthwash. Do you know those motherfuckers at the government office up and made it so you can’t buy that shit with welfare? Can you fucking believe those cocksuckers? Motherfuckers. I had to pay for it with real money and I don’t have a lot of that shit, stupid fucking motherfuckers.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m goddamn sure. Cost me $1.59.”“I mean, are you sure you don’t have a cassette player?”

Schepp hacked up a brown clot and spit in to the dark, shook his head.

Larry kicked at the dirt. He felt like a child who wanted something and was now growing petulant when he saw it was going to take time to get the results he craved. Then something caught his eye – Schepp’s Chevy Nova. “Your car, Schepp, ain’t it got a cassette player?”

“Shit, it does. I have a Fleetwood Mac tape in there too. Got it at a gas station in California.”The mention of that name gave Larry another rippling shudder of déjà vu infested fright, but he couldn’t show it, not to an old asshole like Schepp. “Great, Schepp. But listen-“

“Now you listen up, asshole – Stevie Nicks is a national fucking treasure, you dumb motherfucker. Tusk is excellent fucking shit.”

“I need to borrow your car, Schepp. Can I take it home and bring it back in the morning?” He turned out his pockets. “I’ll give you three dollars when I come back.”

Under normal circumstances Schepp would go into a long and psychotic tirade of swears and insults, but mouthwash has a unique effect on one hundred pound invalids, “Keys are in the ignition.” And just like that Schepp was gone, slammed the flimsy door behind him and the night returned to its quiet desert way.

Larry didn’t notice but a shooting star blazed across the sky overhead, and for some people a shooting star is a sign of coming good fortune. He opened the car door and climbed in. The car stunk. It was obvious countless bottles of alcohol had been spilt inside. He felt the key in the ignition and went to turn it when the front door slammed open again and Schepp appeared between the doorjamb as a stooped silhouette, a living nightmare Rumplestiltskin.

“Larry, pick me up something to drink wherever you’re going. No beer though. No piss fucking beer. Thanks.” He turned to go inside and stopped, “And listen to that tape. You come back and tell me you don’t fucking dig it I’ll suck your dick. That’s a fucking motherfucking guarantee.” He pulled the dentures from his mouth and puckered his toothless gums. “No teeth, you’ll fucking love it you motherfucker.” And now for the final time Schepp turned around hackling like an old witch and closed himself inside his trailer where presumable he held an empty bottle of mouthwash upside down over his mouth with tears in his eyes as he begged the lord for one more drink before bed.

*

The car boomed to life, a great wheezing thunder of engine noise. Larry checked the gas gauge and saw Schepp had actually fed the car recently. He reached into his pocket for the cassette tape and came up empty handed. “Shit.” He forgot it on the floor of the trailer. He jammed the car into gear and revved it out of the lumpy pothole filled area Schepp called a yard and drove back to his trailer. The door was open when he pulled up and the lights inside were aglow. He got out of the car and cocked his head at the odd sight. A slender shadow crossed the kitchen window and disappeared. He recognized it as his daughter and ran inside calling her name but lost his footing on the steps and banged his shin hard on the exterior of the trailer. He winced and climbed inside.

“Shelly? Honey, come here! Shelly, please!”

The lights fizzled and popped and burnt out to a return of darkness.

“Shelly honey?”

He stepped over all the clutter he’d made looking for a cassette player, yelled his daughter’s name. The trailer spoke nothing, only the silent expanse of the desert. “Shelly!” His foot caught the leg of a chair pitching him forward and he felt a distinct crunch under his sprawled hands. The cassette – he smashed it. As quickly as he could he clasped it in his hands, the spool of tape spilling like guts. Delicately he tried to reel everything back to its normal place, working like a surgeon might to preserve the life of a fragile bird. Fear consumed him. His head was lowered in shame when he heard the grinding crunch of tires. The Nova collided with the trailer causing it to bounce ruefully, dust spilling and swirling. He went to the door and saw the car was partly lodged under the trailer. Schepp would go ballistic, that was for sure. He hopped down to the sandy ground and felt a shockwave of pain ride up his shin. The headlights flickered once and then again and then were full-fledged beams making hideous shadows under the trailer. Larry scratched his head and went to try and back the car out. He assumed he must have forgot to engage the e-brake. He rounded to the driver side door.

“Daddy.”His head whipped toward the open trailer door. There was no mistaking it – he’d heard Shelly. “Shelly?” Larry’s voice was no more than a whimper. He watched the open door expecting to see his daughter. The contrast of the headlight beams under the trailer diminished the light of all the rest of the world. The trailer was dark and now some unseen force gave it a menacing edge Larry had only now noticed. “Shelly honey?”

From somewhere in the dark, “Daddy, don’t you want a drink? Come have a drink, daddy.”

Larry took slow steps toward the trailer. “Shelly, let me see you.” His hands shook now like all those times he’d been too hung-over to function. His lips felt dry and cracked and a drink did sound really good. He thought he could smell the sweet and inviting scent of whiskey in the air.

The car horn expelled a single note, and Larry almost jumped out of his skin. The passenger door, the door closest to him clicked and fell open about an inch. The engine rumbled to life with several loud snorts and then purred gently.

“Daddy, you need a drink. You don’t seem like yourself.”

Larry stood in place, his feet stuck in the sand. His head rotated slowly between the car and the darkened front door. “Shelly, honey. Please.”

“Daddy, drink!” A dark shape flew out through the front door and landed with a thud in the dirt near Larry’s feet. He choked on a scream. As his heart settled he saw the object was a dark bottle of whiskey and it was full, the seal unbroken. The passenger door creaked open further and now the clear defined sound of a whirring tape deck came to life.

“You’ve always been a good for nothing,” His ex-wife’s voice. Larry took a step toward the car. He could hear her clearly. “Take a drink, Larry. You’re not good for anything else. My momma warned me, said ‘Marrying that man is the stupidest thing you’ll ever do, it’s gonna kill you,’ and I should have listened. You’re never gonna see Shelly again, okay? Can you wrap that around your thick head? It will never happen. You gotta live with that. Take a drink, Larry. Drink and forget us.” Larry crumbled to his knees. Each syllable of his ex-wife’s voice was like a sledgehammer blow. On his knees he crawled and retrieved the whiskey bottle. Without a second thought he opened it and guzzled. It dripped down his chin, exploded white-hot heat in his chest. “Larry – Hey, Larry? Listen up. Shelly is bugging me, says she left you a tape. Do you wanna listen to it? Shelly says it’s a new band she likes and thinks you’ll like ‘em too. I didn’t bother tellin’ her you know the band. So act surprised.” Larry took another pull from the whiskey and in his mind he said he’d accidentally destroyed the tape and that he hoped Shelly could forgive him. “That’s fine, idiot. Take another drink, Larry.” His ex-wife said, then a new heat was in her voice and she spoke again, “You’re a worthless sack of shit, Larry, and honestly I don’t give a damn what happens to you. But, your daughter-“ Click click click click click click.

The fog of whiskey settled on his mind for a long time as the tape clicked away. His thoughts drifted from the ether and he heard the sound indicating the tape needed to be flipped over. He climbed into the Nova and melted drunkenly into the seat. Inside the car the clicking was much louder. He pressed the eject button. The tape spat out. It was the same tape he’d received in the mail. The side playing was blank so he turned it over and read BLIND BEAR FALLS in the perfect little script. His hands shook as he inserted the tape into the deck and unconsciously closed the passenger door. Music began, Fleetwood Mac – ‘I Wanna Be With You Everywhere,’ and Larry knew the song all too well. He’d danced to it with his ex-wife at their wedding rehearsal. He was too drunk to repeat the dance at the real wedding reception. Larry finished off the whiskey in one final and magnificent pull, fought back the need to vomit and curled himself into the passenger seat and fell asleep.

*

Larry opened his eyes sometime in the darkened hours of night. The song continued to reel round and round, playing itself into the fabric of his conscience. He felt the throbbing beat of the whiskey behind his eyes, pulsing aggressively in his temples. The song played on. He grunted and punched the tape deck. The song continued unabated. He lashed out like an animal and clawed and smashed until the tape stopped. And then silence consumed him, from the crown of his skull to the soles of his feet a deafening silence crushed down upon him. Larry reached for the whiskey and drank until there was none left to drink. He sat and listened to the engine as it idled, a metaphor for his existence, a thing refusing to quit but doing little. He climbed out of the car and fell to the ground, drunk beyond comprehension. As he climbed to his feet the tape deck began again, the song playing its mocking melody. He thrust his torso through the open door and yanked the tape from the deck. He smashed it in his hands and then threw it at the ground like something he hated with all his heart and stomped and stomped, pulverizing the plastic and magnetic tape.

Somewhere in the distance a coyote howled.

Larry looked through the dark at the door of his trailer and there, no longer a surprise, sat a fresh bottle of whiskey. The Nova’s engine coughed. He stumbled through the dark to the bottle and retrieved it, opened and swallowed malicious swallow after swallow of the brown and burning liquid. He finished and dropped the bottle at his feet, stood on hollow legs and asked the sky several illogical and unrepeatable questions. The song began again and the passenger door of the car fell open until it hinged back and forth loosely at gravity’s whim.

The drunken man, no longer aware of his own existence took slow deliberate steps, one after the other, and slammed the car door closed. The music stopped.

“Time to sleep, Larry. Go to bed.” The trunk of the Nova popped and swung upward revealing to Larry’s inebriated mind something like a coffin, a plush and simple place to lie down and rest until the dawn brought a new day where hopes could be refreshed and maybe, just maybe, life could start anew.

Larry climbed in, now so tired he couldn’t place reality from fantasy, and laid himself in a fetal position inside the gassy smelling trunk space. An old jack jimmied into his side and he cared not a bit.

“Go to bed, baby Larry. Sleep. It’s time to sleep.” His ex-wife’s voice whispered from within and without his mind.

Larry reached up with an exhausted arm and snatched the trunk shut. It slammed with a metallic clang, and then the song began again. Stevie Nick’s taunted him as if her voice was space and he was a simmering star, wrapped in its cocoon of timelessness. “I wanna be with you every where…”

*

Schepp was hung-over when he woke up. Nothing unusual. He kicked open the door to his trailer and went outside to take a leak. He liked to piss in the outdoors. He scratched his head and wondered what was different. Oh yeah, he leant his car to that alcoholic fuckhead down the way. What the fuck was he thinking? He leashed his dog and decided to go down to the guy’s trailer and yell at him for making him come all this way to get his own car back. The dog peed on three cactuses on the walk and almost yanked Schepp’s arm from its socket when he tried to pursue a conniving jackrabbit. Schepp lit a cigarette as he rounded the final hill to the Larry guys trailer and stopped dead in his tracks, coughing on his first drag. His precious Chevrolet Nova was jammed under the fuckhead’s trailer and the goddamn place had just about collapsed all around it. Schepp and the dog picked up their pace to go find out the extent of the damage, the dog pulled too rough, so Schepp freed it from its leash. It barked like mad and bolted for the wreckage.

*

The police arrived forty minutes later, which isn’t such bad time for these parts. The first officer to show up found the newspaper article in the front seat. From May 2, the year prior – a woman and young girl found dead inside their car. Deemed an accident, as the emergency brake was not fully engaged, the car drifted backward and over the edge of a ravine near Blind Bear Falls, Wyoming. The two passengers burned alive, presumably, after the 70-foot free fall. Survived by Larry Crowley, who had fallen asleep in the restroom facilities after a fight with his ex-wife. He was visibly drunk when authorities arrived and after an investigation was never implicated in any wrongdoing.

*

Larry Crowley’s body was found inside the trunk of the car under the trailer, where there was clear evidence of a struggle. The interior of the trunk was lined with scratch marks, the material matching what was found under Mr. Crowley’s fingernail. Inside the car were two empty bottles of no-name-brand whiskey and an empty bottle of Xanax and a destroyed cassette tape.

*

Mr. Crowley had no living relatives and was cremated on May 6, 1989 after an autopsy revealed he died from carbon monoxide poisoning, though his liver and kidneys were quite damaged from years of alcohol abuse. His ashes were lost by a young medical intern and never found again.

*

Schepp had three pending lawsuits with the state of New Mexico and wanted “A motherfucking new fucking Chevy Nova.” But all for naught as his dog outlived him when it escaped through a hole in the floor after Schepp died in his sleep and did indeed shit his pants on August 19, 1990. The dog was never seen again but legend tells of a Rottweiler living a glorious life of blood and savagery with a pack of coyotes that claim the foothills of the desolate and less-than-memorable New Mexico town.

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