Authors: Harrison Geillor
Night Shade Books
The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten
© 2011 by Harrison Geillor
This edition of
The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten
© 2011 by Night Shade Books
Cover art by Scott Altmann
Cover design by Rebecca Silvers
Interior layout and design by Amy Popovich
Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
All rights reserved
Printed in Canada
Night Shade Books
“If there ever had been, or could be, a Tree of Knowledge, instead of God forbidding man to eat thereof, it would be that of which he would order him to eat the most.”
—The Emperor Julian
PRETTY MUCH DUSK,
MORE OR LESS
his document here is mostly the diary of a young woman, not to be confused with
The Diary of a Young Girl
, better known to some as
The Diary of Anne Frank
, though to get technical it’s really called
, which translates as something closer to
The House Behind
The Secret House
or—sorry, got caught up in a digression there, it’s a symptom of my problem, that problem being omnicognizance. When you know everything, it’s hard not to share that knowledge, even though I don’t technically know
I can see everything that’s ever happened, and look into the minds of the people who were there, which gives me a pretty wide view, I admit, but you can’t necessarily trust anybody’s
to be true, and anyway, there are still some pretty unknowable unknowns: whether there’s a God or a Devil or a Higgs boson is just as mysterious to me as it is to you. Plus, I’m limited to knowledge of everything that’s ever been or currently is, which leaves everything that ever will be as big a void for me as it is for everybody else. Which is alternately a terror and a comfort, depending.
But yes, this is mostly the journal of a young woman, or an old girl—someone in that borderline twilight world between being an adolescent and an adult. She didn’t write it like a true journal, though, as things were happening, but as an account of relevant events afterward, which makes it not really a “journal”—the word started out as French,
, for “daily,” so if it’s not daily, it’s maybe not technically even a journal, oops, there I go again—but that’s what Bonnie Grayduck called it, so we’ll go along with her, no reason to make a fuss. But there were things Bonnie didn’t know, or didn’t think were important enough to record, or didn’t want to think about, that have some bearing on the events in her life, which is where I come in, with my aforementioned omnicognizance, you see, to fill in the gaps. Where Bonnie had thoughts on a matter, I’ll let her thoughts stand without outside interpretation or contradiction, even though to call someone like Bonnie merely an unreliable narrator is an insult to good upstanding unreliable people everywhere and also to me, since people mostly call me The Narrator, because I have a habit of narrating everything that’s happening around me in real-time.
I know, it’s pretty strange, not very sociable behavior, and I apologize, but I can’t seem to help myself, I’ve always been that way. There’s a theory about how humans develop their thought processes, you see. At first, children don’t think like we do, in words, because they don’t have words. Then they get words and they go through a period where they talk, and little kids can
, and so they go on and on about everything that happens around them, saying everything that comes into their heads. Then they go to school, and the teachers tell them not to talk so darned much (or if they don’t go to school, annoyed adults passing by tell them the same thing), and the kids start to subvocalize, whispering to themselves about what’s happening around them, and eventually that subvocalization goes absolutely silent, and the insides of their heads start to resemble the insides of most of ours: a string of thoughts, a stream of consciousness, which is largely composed of words.
For whatever reason, I never grew out of the stage where you narrate your whole life. It used to be just what you’d call an eccentricity, but since I started knowing everything it’s become a downright liability, so I’ve turned to the written word to pour some of these words out. Maybe if I let some of that knowledge out here, I can hold it in elsewhere, like when I go to the grocery store or the bait shack. Mostly I’ll try to keep myself out of this story, since I don’t really have too awful much to do with the bulk of the action, though I guess I’ll address the issue of who I am and how I got to be omnicognizant and all that later, if it seems warranted.
But for now, I’ll tell you a little story about a fella in my town—that’s Lake Woebegotten, and I’ll spare you its whole history, though it costs me some effort: enough to say it’s a small town in Central Minnesota and it’s got a good-sized lake and a bunch of townspeople, most fairly good-hearted, with a few exceptions. I’ll tell you about one of those people, Gunther Montcrief, who does have a good heart, even though he’s got a pretty lousy liver. What Gunther saw out in the woods one day is as good a place to start as any, and better than most.
And after Gunther, I’ll let Bonnie have her say. But, really, her journal is nothing at all like
The Diary of Anne Frank
. I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t even brought that up. For one thing, that diary ended after the girl writing it died.
The same can’t be said of the diary you’ll be reading soon…
Gunther Montcrief—who wasn’t technically the town drunk, but only because he didn’t technically live in town—stepped out of his fishing shack down by the marshy shore of Lake Woebegotten and scratched himself in places too indelicate to mention in print. He wore his bright orange long underwear, which made him look like a slightly misshapen traffic cone, because deer hunting season had just opened, and it wouldn’t do to get shot by a hunter as drunk (or drunker) than Gunther was himself. Also because he couldn’t remember where he’d put his pants.
He squinted at the sky, taking a minute to think whether it was dawn or dusk, and finally settled on the latter, since the little bit of light in the sky was in the direction he recollected as west, or at least it had been the last time he checked. Gunther, who wasn’t as old as he looked but was still pretty old, reached both arms above his head and listened to the cracks and creaks of his body and took a little walk around the fishing shack to his favorite pissing tree. He had a pit dug some distance away for when he had to do more involved excretory business, but his steady diet of dried fish, beef jerky, and whiskey made bowel movements a semi-weekly event at best.
While he was unloading a goodly portion of the day’s liquor onto his chosen tree—the bark was all discolored, and moss didn’t grow on this side anymore, terrible thing, probably had to do with global warming—he heard a deer scream.
People tended to think of deer as quiet things, and they were, if you happened to glimpse one at a distance, bowing its head to a stream in particularly picturesque fashion, or freezing with its head cocked because you snapped a twig while you were sneaking up on one, but they could be noisy, too. Mostly they snorted or grunted or made a kinda sheep-like bleating sound, but twice before in his life he’d heard deer scream, both when they were injured badly but still some distance from death. A screaming deer sounded a lot like a screaming woman, or more accurately a screaming deranged female clown with the hiccups.
He might have thought it was a woman (or even a clown, stranger things had happened) except he saw the deer come bounding out of the trees, not straight toward him but at an angle toward the lake. The sun was getting on toward all the way down, so it was hard for him to make out what exactly came racing out of the woods after the deer, but it wasn’t a dog, not even one of them hairless ones, and it couldn’t possibly be a man, not with all the leaping and snarling and bounding sideways off of trees it was doing. Seemed like a pale spider the size of a man, more than anything, and Gunther looked down at his hands—one still occupied in aiming his pee at the tree, though the stream had dried up—to check if they were shaking, because he always got the shakes real bad if the delirium tremens hit him. But now that he thought about it he had better than two pints of whiskey inside his belly, so he probably wasn’t hallucinating, at least not due to alcohol
. He couldn’t recall ever seeing things while drunk before, as he was more of a “black out” than a “see pink elephants” type of drinker, but he knew there was a first time for everything and nothing new under the sun so he didn’t rule it out.
The spider-thing—which more and more looked like a man who
like a spider—sprang into the air about six or eight feet high and came down on the deer, which screamed again, but altogether more briefly. The hunter snarled and bit and slurped at the dead deer for a while, and Gunther took a moment to tuck his personal privates back into his long underwear. Suddenly wearing bright orange didn’t seem like such a good idea, so he sort of scooted back toward his shack, hoping to slip inside unnoticed, and maybe just coincidentally lay hands on his .22 target pistol, which was the only one of his many guns he hadn’t sold off over the years.
Before he made it to the shack, though, the deer-eating man snapped his head up and looked straight at Gunther. The fella had a snow-pale face, apart from all the smeared-on deer blood, and dark hair, and he was dressed in a faded denim shirt and blue jeans and muddy boots, pretty normal stuff, which made it all even weirder, in a way. Gunther and the deer hunter weren’t more than thirty-five yards apart, close enough that Gunther could have probably hit him with a football, not that hitting him with a football would’ve helped matters much, and not that he had a football anyway. Having seen the way the man moved before, flying through the trees, Gunther didn’t even bother to run. He fell back on a lifetime of experience at polite conversation, because if he was going to be disemboweled by a fella who ate raw deer, he wasn’t going to have his last words be something rude. “Hey there. Some weather we’re having. Looks like it might turn cold soon. Good day for hunting though.”
The man looked at him for a moment, then turned and raced off into the woods.
“Well now. That’s different.” Gunther scratched himself and went over to the deer, just a little buck, which was awful dead, and had such nasty neck wounds that it had been beheaded, more or less. Shame to let that much venison go to waste. Gunther thought about whether it was a bad idea to eat a deer that some weird fella had been gnawing on, what with diseases and such, but he figured if he cut away the chewed-on part, it might be okay, and anyway, he’d have a lot of whiskey when he ate it, and what with alcohol being a pretty good disinfectant, there shouldn’t be any problems.
He considered maybe mentioning the deer hunter to the police chief, Harry, next time he saw him down at the Backtrack Bar, but decided maybe he’d better not. Deer season was open, after all, and if you could hunt with a bow or a gun, why not with your bare hands? In a way, that was even more sporting. Where was the crime?
Even half drunk he could butcher a deer—he’d been doing it since he was a boy—so Gunther got his ropes and winch out and hoisted up the deer and hung it by its back legs from a tree branch so he could skin it. Normally he would’ve bled the deer first, but its throat was pretty well cut already. Even so, he was surprised at how bloodless the thing was when he started cutting it up. The hunter hadn’t eaten much of the deer’s flesh at all—and how could he, when he’d been focusing on the neck, which was just a mess of veins and tendons?—but he’d sure drunk enough of the blood.
Gunther had tasted a bit of deer blood himself when he was a boy, the first time he went out hunting successfully. Lots of hunters had that tradition, to taste the blood of your first kill, and it hadn’t been so terrible, but it also hadn’t been so tasty he’d be tempted to make a meal of it. Oh well. None of his business. Be a boring old world if we were all the same. Still, it was a hell of a thing, and the story might be worth a drink or two at the Backtrack Bar. Then again, perhaps silence was best. He’d hate for folks around town to think he was crazy when they already thought he was a shiftless drunk. A man had his pride, after all.
FROM THE JOURNAL OF BONNIE GRAYDUCK
f anyone ever finds this, they’ll assume it’s fiction, which is funny, since I don’t even read fiction really, let alone write it. But it’s filled with enough impossible things that it will never hold up in a court of law as evidence to convict me of anything (as if there’s a cop in the world who could bring me in): clearly it’s all just a lot of nonsense, product of an overactive imagination. But it’s
, and I know in a few hundred years my memory will fade and I won’t remember how I got to the place I’ve reached at last, so I thought I’d better write it down, and that requires imagining someone besides me will read it someday, so: hello, dear reader, and this is the story of the best of my life.