The address on the envelope led me to the almost non-existent village of Egegik, Alaska. Tucked at the top of the Alaska Peninsula, the village could barely even be called a town as it had around 100 inhabitants who all pretty much all worked in one fish cannery that sat perched in the middle of a long frigid beach.
Getting to Egegik was literally trains, planes, automobiles, and boats. I had to fly to Anchorage and then to King Salmon, take a train up the coast, hitch a ride in a van to a port, and take a small boat up to the port of Egegik. There wasn’t even anywhere to stay the night in Egegik, so I had to take a water taxi every morning and every night back and forth from a small town called Naknek.
I didn’t have much of a plan when I arrived in Egegik and found myself feeling horribly awkward as I hung around the only two businesses in the entire town – a general store and a liquor store that also served as a bar. I spent most of my time perched at the little bar nursing far too stiff gin and tonics and trying to chat up anyone who walked in.
The address on the envelope did not turn up on any kind of map I could find online and the first handful of villagers I had approached in the bar and the store had either not spoken English or had no idea where the address might be. Many had actually been too drunk to really even communicate thoughts, just feelings, mostly creepy ones.
My salvation came just a handful of minutes before I had to head back to the rickety docks to catch my water taxi back to Naknek. A man of about similar age to myself who was the first non-roughneck-type I had seen all day strolled in sheepishly and grabbed hold of what looked to be the only bottle of wine in the entire liquor store. He paid the cashier/bartender without eye contact and tried to slink back out to the cold, but I stopped him with a flirty flash of the eyes and a stop motion with my hand.
“Hi there,” I started in.
“Uh, hi,” the guy gave me one of those greetings you would get from the awkward boy in sixth grade when you were randomly assigned as his partner for a project.
“Would you mind having a drink with me?” I asked with the biggest smile I had formed in years. “On me.”
The man apprehensively took a seat at one of the three other empty stools at the bar and poured some red wine into a paper cup before I could ask what he wanted.
“Thanks for joining me. No one has been able to help me out, but I was wondering if you would be able to,” I took out the envelope with the address written on it and presented it to the man who gulped down a hearty swallow of merlot. “I’m looking for this address.”
The man’s eyes lit up when he scanned the faded ink. He wiped some droplets of red from his lips.
“Yeah, that’s where I live.”
The man’s name was Marc Pastorus and he lived across the river with his dad on a small farm. Against my better judgment, I agreed to go to the farm with him to see if his dad knew anything about what I was looking for, though I lied about what I was looking for. I said I was a journalist from Anchorage assigned to do an article on the oldest farms in Alaska and had heard about their farm.
Marc finished telling me how the farm had once been a goat farm, but now he and his father just rented its shores out to set net fisherman to make money. He also said they were hoping to actually start their own brewery so they would no longer have to take the skiff we rode in on to get their alcohol. He had invited me to dinner with his father where I would be able to ask him questions about the farm and then he would take me down to Naknek in the skiff after dinner. I knew this was a sketchy move, but I felt that it would probably be my only chance to have a shot at finding anything out about my parents.
I was alarmed, but not surprised when there appeared to be no sign of anything that looked like a farm when we pulled ashore and Marc led me onto dry land. The property appeared to mostly just be cold, dry dirt fields with a few shacks and fences littered about and a central house in the middle which couldn’t have been much bigger 500-square feet. I followed Marc’s dirty boots through a dirt field and up to the house whose windows glowed out into the cloud-dampened late afternoon air.
Marc led me up to the house’s thick wooden door and the hot smell of some kind of roast hit me hard as I followed him into the doorway. I followed the smell and quickly laid eyes on its source – a gray naked man, stirring a pot of stew on an old stove with his rigid back turned to us.
“Jesus dad,” Marc shouted and ran over to the old man.
I tried to look away, but couldn’t as Marc rushed up to the old man and pushed his silver hair-coated skeleton of a body off into an adjacent room. I stood by myself scanning the room and quickly noticed something that made my skin grow even colder than it had been out in the frigid air of the Alaskan spring.
The walls were covered with framed portraits of the deformed like the one I found at the swap meet of my father. I scanned all of them until Marc stumbled back in and examined the hefty pot of stew on the stove.
“Sorry about that. Do you like elk?” Marc asked.
“Me too,” Marc said before stuffing a spoonful of the stew in his mouth. “I guess I’ll eat just about anything with horns,” he said before turning his eyes to me with drops of the thick stew running down his chin.
I was surprised that the elk stew was actually pretty good. I sat at a wooden table with Marc and his father listening to stories from Marc that sounded mostly like bullshit about the history of the farm. He was saying something about radishes, but I wasn’t really paying attention, I was focused on his father, who had been staring at me for all of dinner without saying anything. He would only break his stare every few minutes to take a sloppy slurp of the stew and then went right back to locking eyes with me.
After a good 25 minutes of this, the old man finally broke the silence with a voice so low and raspy it made me jump in my wooden chair.
“I recognize you,” he said while he waved his spoon at me.
I swallowed my breath.
“Oh stop it dad,” Marc yelled before getting interrupted by the front door opening behind me.
I turned around in my seat to see a tall alarming figure walk through the door. Looking to be near seven-feet tall with a grotesque head of balding, thin hair, the giant of a man had eyes that appeared to be permanently closed eyes perched in a sunken skull that rested on top of a long skinny body. All limbs and only a little torso, the man almost looked like a daddy long legs spider.
He appeared to know Marc. The two exchanged a nod and the giant walked over to the table and took a seat in the open chair between Marc and I.
I didn’t even have time to ask about the giant because Marc’s father leaned over to me and whispered into my ear.
“You know why I recognize you? Because I had your folks on a string for me for 20 years until I buried them up on that hill over there under a fucking tree.”
My first instinct was to get up and run, but my senses were overwhelmed by the sudden cutting out of the lights which plunged the room into complete darkness. I immediately felt a cold hand upon the back of my neck and dove out of my seat onto the floor.
I started crawling on the dirty, wood floor sensing my dinner companions all around me. I heard the scratch of a knife upon the floor. Just a few second later, I felt the knife plunge down and brush my ankle before it stabbed into the floor. I fought back the urge to scream and thought of a plan that might give me some hope to escape.
I scrambled across the floor over to the stove where the pot of stew was still heating on the stove top. I stood up, grabbed the pot and flung its boiling-hot contents in the direction of where I could hear my dinner partners scrambling around.
I could hear their screams as I located a roll of paper towels and placed the whole thing on the roaring burner that had heated the stew. The roll quickly caught fire and I used the little bit of light it created to locate the front door and get a grasp on where the three men were.
They all still appeared to be on the floor with the two younger men attending to the old man.
I didn’t waste any more time and tore out the door. I remembered seeing a plastic gas container resting by the front door when I came in and made the fastest move of my life to grab the thing. I twisted off the cap of the nearly-full container as I opened the door back up, tossed the container in and immediately felt a hot blast of fire shoot back at me. I ducked back out and shut the door behind me with my back pressed hard against it.
I felt the heat through the door and it was soon joined by feeble pounding and the sounds of screams. I pushed hard against the door until the heat was too much and took off running towards the shore and the safety of the skiff. I made it to the skiff in just a few seconds and turned back around to see the little house ablaze.
The safety of getting in the skiff and speeding away called to me, but not more than turning and watching the house get devoured by flames. I stood on that beach for what had to be close to an hour, watching the wood be morphed into ash until I was content no man could still live in the thing.
But that wasn’t the only thing I had left to do on the farm. I stomped back towards the heart of the property with my eyes locked on a rusty shovel I saw propped up against a soggy fence.
I wondered if the old man had lied until I laid eyes on the hideous leafless tree that sat atop a hill up the property. A dried-out, tangle of ashy branches bearing no fruit or foliage, the tree looked like the kind of thing you would bury bodies of those who you thought deserved a stomach-turning headstone under. I stabbed the shovel into the cold, hard dirt below it as the ash from the burning house began to rain down upon me.
It took almost an hour and my arms sizzled with fatigue, but I eventually felt my shovel stutter against something solid in the thick dirt. The contact was enough for my body to find the fuel to amp up my digging and swiftly uncover what looked to be a large, wooden coffin.
I was soon staring at the crusty lid of the coffin completely uncovered, biting my lip, nervous about unearthing its contents, but I eventually took the plunge, dove down on top of the thing and pried the top off with my hands.
My excavation sent a brief storm of dust and dirt up into the air. I stood back with the gritty mist flying into my eyes for a few moments before I could see anything.
My jaw started to wobble as soon as I laid eyes on what rested in the casket.
Two small skeletons rested on their backs, mouths open to the sky, hands joined in a tight clasp at the hip, the smaller of the two skeletons head rested on the shoulder of the other. It would be those skulls that would confirm who I was looking at. Poking out of the foreheads of both skeletons were horns a few inches long.
I lived the next few days in a motel/tavern called The Red Dog that was every bit as salty as its name suggested. The fact all of this went down in a tiny town with just one sheriff had been much to my advantage. The sheriff had heard about Cecil, the freak farm, and the horrible treatment of the performers like my parents and didn’t question my story in the least. He wrote the incident on the farm up as an accident so no further authorities would ask me any questions and so I could go back to Portland in peace.
I stayed in town the extra few days to iron out things with the sheriff, but to also make sure I could get my parents’ bodies, and a huge collection of other bodies found in the ground on the farm, excavated and properly buried. I used what little savings I had to get my parents send to Portland where I would put them in a cemetery I could visit regularly.
I had discovered so much over the past few weeks it was almost too overwhelming to go back to my regular life in the city. I spent most days pacing around my drafty little hotel room wondering if I should just stay up there for good and escape the trials of society.
But whether or not to return wasn’t my only dilemma. In the frenzy and haste of my trip up to Alaska, I had forgotten all of my medication, including the pills that prevented me from growing my horns. Just the handful of days I had spent without the medication had led to little hints of bone jutting out from the skin of my forehead and I spent much of my days in the motel looking at myself appearing in the way that I knew my parents had been forced to for all of their much too short lives and I keep thinking…
Should I go back to the pills and hide the horns, or should I keep them?