Short Story Series 2: Down by the River – Part 3

[…continued from Part 2]

Later in the day I phoned the high school. Robert Hillsdale, the current principal, happens to be a colleague of mine from college, both of us having majored in history. Bob told me exactly where to find Mr. Kegan who goes by Billy to the staff at the school. He works Monday thru Friday, 6pm to midnight, so I would have no problem finding him. Bob told me to just enter the school through the back door to the gymnasium.

Around 9 pm, after dinner with my wife and son, I headed over to the high school. It wasn’t difficult to find him. The soft swish of the stringy mop against the floor was regularly interrupted by the clatter of the broom against the water bucket. I found him in the western wing inside the science lab. Apparently there was an accident that day of broken beakers and flasks, with spills that needed serious attention.

“Hello! Billy?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“My name is Blake and I’m a friend of Principal Hillsdale. He told me I could find you here tonight. “

“That you did. What can I do for you,” he asked?

“ I know it may be a sensitive topic for you, but I really would like to know the history of the church by the bridge.”

“Sorry. I don’t know anything.”

“Townsfolk say otherwise, Billy. And the stories I’ve heard now have me a little concerned. I used to walk by that church every day as a kid wondering. Now my son walks by it on the way to elementary school and…”

“You’d do best to keep your son away from that church and the river. It’s a dangerous place. I wouldn’t want to see no other kids get hurt.”

“So, kids did get hurt there, Billy?”

He was silent for a minute.

“Billy, if there really is a danger, don’t you think the best way to avoid it is to understand it?”

He was silent again. I began thinking that if there is some truth to the stories that the priests at that church might have threatened him somehow. Was it a physical threat of pain or death? Was it spiritual – that he might go to hell if he believed in a hell? And then he spoke.

“I wouldn’t want to see your son getting hurt. Just keep him away from the church and the river. That’s all. Now, I gotta work. Sloppy kids couldn’t even transfer liquids in chemistry class today. I’ve gotta clean. Good night, Mr. …”

“Call me, Blake.”

“Watch your son, Blake.” He looked at each of the windows in the room before plunging his mop into his bucket making quite a huge splash. He seemed really bothered, but not by me – by something else, someone else.

Not wanting to press him, I nodded a ‘thank you’ and made a quiet exit.

This was turning into a real mystery. Before I go off on too many tangents, it occurred to me that I should just go to the source. I should just approach the church, look for a priest and inquire there. Of course, it was so simple. Why was I getting sucked into intrigue?

The next morning I again walked with my son to school. I told him I needed the exercise and might stop by the church on the way back to talk with a priest about its history. But, just to be cautious – not to heed Billy’s warning in earnest – I told my son not to visit the grounds of the church without me. I told him that not only is it trespassing, but the river itself was dangerous, with white water rapids around the church bend.

“But, I never saw a ‘no trespassing’ sign, Dad.”

“Come to think of it, I never did either. But, son, that doesn’t matter. If a person does not have business visiting a property, one should not just casually trespass. It’s not right. People in a small town need to respect each other’s space. Kind people will make in invitation if you’re welcome. “

“Won’t you be trespassing, Dad?”

“No. My business has purpose – to inquire about the history of the church, a building in this town, my home town. It’s like selling Girl Scout cookies, selling newspapers, or needing to borrow a telephone. There is clear and virtuous intention. Anyway, I’ll try to find out more by talking with the priests, and if we are invited to come back, I’ll bring you. OK, champ?

“Sounds fine, Dad.”

It was a relatively nice day. The river was flowing as usually and the grounds looked quite beautiful. Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone disappear behind the church. I believe there was a vestry entrance in the back. I decided to walk back there and see if I could look inside. There were no windows at the rear of the church, but looking through the stain glass windows on the side I could see two monks in robes and one person I didn’t recognize in plain street clothes. I went to the vestry door and knocked. I waited for a minute and knocked again. There was no answer. I went back to the side windows and the three men I had seen just a few moments prior were now gone. I began to circle the church once looking around the grounds and then realized something for the first time – there were no outbuildings; there was no garage, no cars. In fact, besides a footpath to the front of the church there was no driveway or vehicle access. That perplexed me to no end. I supposed it had always been that way. Well, I decided to go back to the diner and talk to Barbara again. Besides, I was hungry.

Once again, upon entering I headed straight for a booth. Carla came right over with the coffee pot and before she could ask, I exclaimed, “Yes! Please! Thank you!”

“Menu, Blake?”

“Today, yes, please. Could you send your mom out at her earliest convenience? I need to talk with her.”

“Sure thing.”

Carla walked away and I opened my menu, although I knew what I wanted. I was craving a BLT and pea soup – I’d no reason why. It came to me and sounded necessary. Soon Barbara came out of the kitchen and directly took a seat.

“Hey, Blake. What’s on your mind?”

“Forget about the magic stones and the kids. I won’t bug you more. Tell me what you know about the church and what kind of clergy is affiliated with it. I went there this morning, saw several people inside, but couldn’t get their attention. Two of them in robes were talking with someone in plain clothes. They didn’t answer the door and disappeared right under my nose while I was walking around outside the church.”

“They consider everyone ‘outsiders’, Blake. They talk to people on their own terms.”

“Why aren’t there ‘no trespassing’ signs all over the place?”

“That’s advertisement they don’t need. They did have them once, but it only encouraged visitors and vandals. So, they took them all down.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not very neighborly to exist in a town such as this, so exposed to the community, and refrain from communication with the locals. What about the Sheriff’s Department?”

“She laughed. The Sheriff has been in office for 30 years, Blake. You know he’s always pulled the strings in this town. He gets the mayors and city council elected and, frankly, he’s the only one I’ve seen talk to the clergy. Except…wait a minute! Charlie something or other, the owner of the hardware store across the road from the church – I’ve seen him cross the street and disappear on the church grounds a few times. Maybe he’s had contact. ”

“That’s something. OK, thanks Barbara. You better go. Last time you talked to me, I think you pissed your husband off. “

“He doesn’t want me talking about what happened to those kids – so few people remember anyway. Can I get your order started for you,” she asked.

“Please. BLT and pea soup. Thanks!”

“You got it!”

As she walked away I was already envisioning an encounter with Charlie, the owner of the hardware store. As soon as I finished eating, I was committed to paying him a visit.

An hour later, I found myself walking near the church again it was on the walk home. I stopped to look at the church to see if I could find anyone walking the grounds, but it was peaceful and nobody was around. So, I looked at the hardware store and crossed the street. As I entered, there was a woman at the counter waiting. Seconds later, from an aisle behind the counter, came a man identical to the one I saw talking to the monks. He had dark black, salt & pepper haircut with a beard, and was wearing the same blue plaid, long-sleeved shirt and blue jeans.

“That should be the right fitting this time, Marge. Maybe next time you should leave the plumbing to Howard,” he said.

“If I did that, it would never get done, Charlie. Thanks a bunch!” She left and I was next.

“Hi. You must be Charlie,” I said. “My name is Blake. I used to live in town and just moved back.”

“Yeah, I recognize you. I remember you were in elementary school when I graduated from the high school. I knew your parents; they were friends of my parents.”

“It’s all blank to me, Charlie. So, I was hoping you could help me out a bit. I’m a historian and am trying to find out about the history behind this beautiful sandstone church across the street. Do you know anything about it?”

“Well, I know about as much as anyone else in town. A few hundred years ago, a few monks built it as a cloistered abbey. I think they intended for it to be a monastery or something with several buildings. Something happened with the funding, I believe, or maybe the rector – I forget – and when the church was finished, they stopped building. They had pews put in, but it was never used as far as I know.”

Secretly knowing I had seen him inside, I asked, “Have you ever been inside?”

“No. They don’t care for visitors,” he said. I asked once myself years ago, and a monk outside said they were a very private sect. They kindly asked the Sheriff to see that they weren’t bothered or harassed by visitors. Word traveled throughout the town and people have just left them alone.”

Now I thought I’d try to stir up the hornet’s nest with a potentially controversial inquiry.

“What do you know about the tragic story of those kids about 20 years ago,” I asked?

He laughed a little. “Oh that exaggerated misunderstood drama! There have been some rumors, but it was nothing more than some kids getting drunk…falling on the rocks…one kid hit his head and another drowned. There’s no story there.”

“What about Billy Kegan,” I asked as his smile disappeared and his face began to redden. “Billy warned me to keep my family away from the church and river. Now, why would he do that, Charlie?”

“Listen,” he said as he found some calm and his smile came back, “that river is mighty dangerous. Just listen to the rapids. You can hear them from in here. And it’s never safe to trespass. Listen! Can I help you with any hardware,” he asked more sternly, “because I have some parts to stock?”

“Not today, Charlie. Thanks for your help.”

He had been helpful although I doubt he knew how. His body language definitely exuded a cover-up here. But, more importantly, he lied about talking to the priests and being inside the church.

That evening at home, I received a phone call from Billy Kegan, who as boy told the tale of what happened only to deny it days later.

“Blake, its Billy Kegan, the janitor at the high school,” he said excitedly.

“Hi Billy, what’s up?”

“Listen, I didn’t tell you everything about the tragedy at the river. They told me never to speak of it and I…I never had evidence until today. Now, I will talk to you. I’ve been spending lots of time over the years studying at the library – studying the history of this town, the geology of the area, and origin of the church which was quite a public affair when it was erected centuries ago. I had to go back to journals and letters of the 19th century because everything afterwards was nonexistent or destroyed.”

“Go on. What did you find,” I asked?

To be continued…

© 2018 Michael Armenia

What I’m reading this week…

Several years ago, a friend of mine asked if I had read the Ringing Cedars Book Series, suggesting that it would resonate with me regarding its spiritual qualities and back-to-nature theme. I had never heard of it let alone read it. Since among my library of reference books there were hundreds of books still awaiting a thorough read, I thought I would probably never get to them. However, when the nine-volume set (there are now ten) appeared before me in the flesh several weeks ago as fodder for an upcoming library book sale, I took it as a sign that I should read it now – and not just read it, contemplate and meditate on its substance. Despite setting aside a dozen non-fiction books which I should read over the summer of 2018 which would foster one my major writing projects, I committed to reading this series by Vladimir Megré first.

In brief, this is a book about nature and spirituality, a philosophy of living, loving and co-creating. It is portrayed by the author, a simple Russian entrepreneur, as his true and faithful experience of meeting a recluse in the Siberian forest. This most beautiful and goddess-like woman whose name is Anastasia is so fully actualized, she exhibits the wisdom of all the ages as well as apparent supernatural abilities, all of which she says is present in every human and actualized once we raise our awareness.

At the rate of reading one book every other day, I’ve just finished the fifth book out of the nine and I cannot wait to document the potentially life-altering material presented so far. I’m not going to review the series which has been published for nearly two decades now, first in its original Russian and then distributed worldwide in other languages including, of course, English. I will not write with respect to what I like about the books – which is most everything – or what I don’t like, only a few criticisms, mainly with regard to language, translation choices. What I mean to express here is why and to what extent this series is important to me.

Much of what she says resonates deeply within me, affirming my heartfelt intuition about so much. Regardless of what happened to the author, he was divinely inspired to share all of this information which I feel is of utmost importance for human beings to ascend spiritually before plundering themselves into material oblivion. Nature provides everything we need while our technocratic endeavors drive us further away from who we are – our true essence.

When I finished the fourth book, I was inspired. That volume had some remarkable revelations for me regarding my magnum opus, a work in progress. It  will be instrumental – inspiring to say the least – for dialog in the first few scenes of my epic historical drama which is under development.  My play which takes place in Renaissance Europe contains the most fascinating blend of historical characters.  The relationships between the characters has been fleshed out, and moreover the connection of their ideologies was firmly cemented in my mind after reading this book. There is amazing synchronicity at play!

Suffice it to say that the series has made such an impression on me that I intend to read this series next year in its original language, Russian. I studied Russian as a senior in high school. Because I’ve I pursued other languages since then, my reading comprehension in foreign tongues has spread quite thin. So, I intend to begin studying Russian online in the fall to establish reading fluency. I’ve the necessary textbooks at home as well. This will be fun to say the least.

It has been the most inspiring journey so far. Changes are afoot and welcomed. I am immersing myself in nature again and for all my family has been going through lately, I needed this spiritual grounding, a serendipitous and relevant follow-up to the last book I read, Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi.

So, if you are curious, pick up the first book titled Anastasia and absorb it cover to cover, for it is a very easy read. What you get out of it depends on how open your mind and heart are. Your potential is truly infinite!

Official Web Site for the Ringing Cedars Book Series

Open Letter Emailed to Oprah Winfrey on June 13th, 2018

Dear Ms. Winfrey:

Welcome to Orcas Island!

My family moved to Orcas Island in 2010 for a simpler life. After camping on the island for the previous two summers, I knew then that this island was spiritually calling me home. And so, now at age 52, I often tell people that I have come to Orcas Island to die, mind you not for 40 more years! If, as a chiromancer once told me, I should live to be 92 then this will be my physical habitat where I will, in the words of Thoreau, “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

What belongings my wife (Mariah), son (Thian) and I had were stored courtesy of family until we got settled. We had little money and no work lined up. That was actually the plan. For three months we lived in a tent on property courtesy of an islander. Our son entered the public school in 2nd grade. My wife and I each sought employment and gradually moved into an apartment and finally a rental house in 2012.

After living for six years in one rental house – the longest duration that either my wife or I lived at a single address – we were required to vacate. Because of financial reasons the owners had to sell and we were not in a position to purchase the home. This could not have arrived at a worse time for us financially or emotionally.

My wife has stable employment and I am a freelance writer and a stay-at-home dad (although our son is almost 15 years old now and quite a capable young man). We have operated with a fixed income and have been spared the gouges of rental rate hikes over the years. Now, despite the fact that we have a modest rent budget of $1200/month, there is no suitable housing on our island for that rate. In fact, there have been only three or four, 3-bedroom houses advertised in the last six months. Astonishingly, even studio, one and two-bedroom housing is equally rare.

The housing crisis on Orcas is driving low-income employees off the island ironically resulting in job opportunities for those seeking to fill those vacancies. As long as we’ve been here, it seems “the Orcas way” is for an islander to have three jobs and it is quite often talked about humorously. People do what they need to survive here. However, the culture is changing. In addition to a large number of summer homes that lie vacant most of the year, Airbnb is reducing long-term, year-long rentals even more on our small humble island. Fewer places available for permanent residents lead to an economic problem that affects everyone from local business owners to tourists.

Madrona Tree, LLC, a company you are associated with has recently acquired a private residence and, in addition, an associate of yours, Bob Greene is apparently invested in some commercial properties on the island (see attached news article). While this seems to have caused some gossip in the community, the feelings are not necessarily good. As it is, each year brings a seemingly increasing number of tourist footprints and traffic. And while I personally welcome a regular periodic stream of visitors, most of us do not wish to see so much commercial growth that nature here gets uprooted for the West Coast’s version of Martha’s Vineyard.

There is, as always, another perspective. What seems to be a problem can be an opportunity for someone with your compassion and business acumen. This island needs low-to-medium income housing and, with the right investor at the helm, Orcas Island could thrive instead of struggle. Think of 10 or 20 acre parcels with affordable “tiny homes” that people can actually own or rent-to-own. This is community building at a fundamental level.

Ms. Winfrey, I want Orcas Island to thrive, yet, remain the peaceful “Walden” we islanders consider home. Will you help us?

Michael Armenia

Physical Address: the guest room in the basement of a kind friend’s home until we find housing

Mailing Address:
PO Box 323
Eastsound WA 98245

Who Am I? (A Knot On The Great Thread)

I am first and foremost a philosopher. Literally, I am a lover of wisdom (from Greek, philos means loving and sophia means wisdom.) I have at my core a primal need to know everything, like an omniscient divine being who has lost himself, and so I pursue knowledge. But, knowledge is not equivalent to wisdom. I think of wisdom as applied knowledge. Anyone can obtain information, but information alone is impotent. What one does with it, can be insipid or magically transformative in one’s own life and/or the lives of other people. The acquisition of knowledge begins when one picks up a book (of course, not merely a common and profane book, but one of considerable virtue. And the book is only one means, a symbol, of education.). But, wisdom doesn’t come until after one puts that book down and, having acquired new intelligence, moves forward productively, or perhaps in more modern vernacular, pays it forward. This is, to me, what it means to live a productive life.

I am a material manifestation of spirit. There is a unique quality that makes me an individual among other manifestations, and I often use the word, soul, to communicate this aspect. Yet, I do not consider my soul as a separate entity from all other souls, other manifestations of spirit. If the cosmic spirit/material manifold were a thread – what I call The Great Thread in my meanderings – a thread that is infinitesimally thin and infinitely long with no beginning and no end, as a circle with an infinite radius, my soul is merely a knot along its path. Every form in the cosmos is a knot on this thread, some more complex than others; animals are more complicated than vegetables which are in turn more complicated than minerals, elements, and atoms.

I have been graced with this opportunity, of living as a human, to experience what life is like when perception is limited to four dimensions (three perceived as physical and one temporal). And I believe that the purpose of my existence is to process my experience of reality and transform it into something that can exist in form outside of my soul’s consciousness. To live and express outwardly is to love and to share. This brings me to the next sense of who I am to be in this incarnation – an artist.

I am an artist. My path to becoming an artist has, however, been quite protracted and my biography to this point is not the subject of this essay on which I consider to be my place and purpose on Earth in the 21st century. One thing that has been consistent from my birth is that I am (my soul is) fed by the process of creation. The process is my sustenance, not the byproduct, the journey, not the destination. However, the byproduct is my contribution to humanity. It is, therefore, essential that in sharing my life’s experience (as a knot) with others (the Great Thread), I must never veer too far away from my artistic endeavors, lest my soul should whither and this form of me should die.

When I say that I am an artist, I am most commonly asked about my medium. I would never limit myself to a single medium or, for that matter, any particular form of art. As a visual artist, everything that can be seen is my media. In the performing arts, the stage is my canvas for drama. As a composer, whatever can issue sound is an instrument. As a writer I have previously considered only non-fiction as productive for me and I have published (albeit in small quantities) essays, reviews, poems, and a non-fiction book. I’ve recently awakened to the notion that fiction can be a formidable art form as a vessel for wisdom as it has been with classical literature since the times of Ancient Greece and Rome. Besides the story itself, there can be any number of layers of subtexts woven into intricate tapestries conveying anything the imagination can conjure.

In fact, I have recently come to the conclusion that to be a fully actualized human, one must be a wholehearted and steadfast artist. And to be a great artist, one must be a skilled alchemist. One may have the common misconception that art is limited to contrivances like paintings, sculptures and other works that have aesthetic appeal. But, true art is merely finding and expressing form and inciting thought or emotion by the transformation of one or more substances, often but not always offering a fresh perspective. Repeatedly providing a gastronomic delight to diners in a restaurant can makes a chef quite the culinary artist. Indubitably you have heard of the ‘culinary arts’. Well, I assure you than anyone has the potential to be a great artist – a hair stylist, an auto mechanic, a clerk or a dishwasher. Success is simply an alchemical mix of substantial input, process quality and the legacy you leave for The Great Thread.

Finally, I come to who I am now – a writer.

My creative life, my being, was transformed during 2012 with the production of Bertolt Brecht’s play, “The Life of Galileo.” I’ve been working on my magnum opus for over four years now and it remains in its infancy. With an epic historical drama of love intrigue, religion, and philosophy in Renaissance Europe at the crux, it has become a much larger work that includes the visual and performing arts. The first limited edition tome will include the play I’ve been writing, essays, a musical orchestration, set design, graphics and more. Once done, it will be my source for a film treatment of a series I would like to produce (for the likes of Netflix et al). At the moment, I am cathartically processing some of my life’s hardships this year by writing a children’s story book which I will self-publish hopefully before Thanksgiving and a biography that will likely take longer.

This is who I am. This is who I must be now. If I am to give anything to humanity in this incarnation, it will be done so by means of paying forward what I have gathered while existing as this knot in The Great Thread.