Hubbardton, Vermont: Zen Mind, First-Generation Mind

April 17, 2021. Hubbardton, Vermont.
Soundtrack:
Druids – Yeyin

“We need to hike,” she told me.

“Yes.”

It was never an argument. As I may have mentioned by now, Vermont is nothing but woods. She alleges that she is a green witch. Woods are green. For my part, I liked the experience of being out in nature before all the eggheads started publishing fringe studies suggesting that a walk in the woods and eating fruit is better for your mental health than blowing rails of Pixie Sticks and watching 10 hours of Netflix alone in your bed.

There was also Beefton to consider. He forgets he’s a lethargic couch ornament when you take him into the woods, and goes caroming through the underbrush, gasping like a sleep apneiac in a doomed effort to catch wildlife. The furry little golem is too slow to catch other dogs, let alone squirrels or rabbits, but we must imagine Sisyphus fulfilling his evolutionary pack-hunting imperative. “Sweet dreams of the chase, and a mouthful of blood,” as Thomas Harris put it.

The Witch and I had both grown increasingly feral over the quarantine, I from my anachronistic training regimen and unyielding dedication to my unga bunga bullshit, and she from her penchant for collecting and cataloguing rocks, a pursuit she regarded as equal parts secular and spiritual. The prowling and hauling had left her long limbs knotted with muscle, and I found her nonchalant ability to move faster than me along hiking trails both impressive and irritating.

So why, then, had we spent so much of our brief time in arboreal oblivion locked in the haunted farmhouse, gnawing steak and charcuterie?

“It’s still raining,” I said.

“Well, we can’t just not hike in Vermont,” she said. “But a lot of the trails are washed out because it’s ‘the muddy season’?”

“The muddy season.”

“Yeah.”

“When you say washed out,” I asked, “do you mean we’re wading upstream? I’ve got the big waterproof boots. I’m good to go. Never had to use them when it’s 40 degrees, but I gotta get out of this room. The chair is whispering again.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Never worry about it. Washed out?”

“A lot of it is hills and canyons,” she explained, gesticulating in a fashion both attention-deficit and highly Italian, “so the trails just… wash away. Wash off the mountain.”

“So it’s like a cliff. Hiking cliffs, like mountain goats.”

“Maybe? Good thing we got Cap stelliums to go around, huh?”

“Athena sends her soggiest battles to her antsiest soldiers. Beefy! We ride!”

Beefton launched from his concrete mattress and stretched into a flawless downward dog pose to evince his readiness.

“It is a good day to die,” Beefy said, though not in so many words.

The rain didn’t stop, but it shuffled its feet and hesitated long enough for us to find the Taconic Mountain Ramble, known and beloved far and wide for its Japanese Zen garden trail.

“Look at all that infrastructure,” I said. “There’s no way this leads to a state park. We’re going to get out of the car, and a cannibal hermit is going to put us on meathooks in his basement.”

“We’ll have to steer clear of basements, then.”

“He’s gonna take our skin, Witch,” I said. “You roll around in cocoa butter all the time, and I subsist on water and fish oil. Finest hides in Vermont right now. You saw the Vermontians at the restaurants. Woeful skin. Like the before pictures on a ProActiv commercial.”

“It’s because they’re always drinking maple syrup, I’ll bet.”

This was true, and disgusting. Maple syrup is to Vermont as ouzo is to Athens, in that no matter where you go, what you order, or what time of day it is, they will give you a little cup of it. I asked for hot sauce for my french fries, they asked “hot sauce or wing sauce?”, and I said hot sauce again. They brought me a little ramiken of wing sauce, and my highly refined palette immediately determined that some rabid anarchist jackal poured maple syrup in it.

“Gross,” she added.

We parked the car and I covered my bases.

“Beefy, there will likely be an abduction attempt. I need you to eat our kidnappers before they eat us. Your bloodline reaches back to the molossus, the great Roman dogs of war. You were bred for this.”

Beefton leaned across the center console and licked my face.

“No, dammit,” I said. “I need your war face. Who wants blood? Huh? Whom wanna drink blood?”

His ears lifted higher onto his head.

“I do,” he said.

“You wanna get a little blood? Huh? Who’s a blood drinking boy?”

“I am! I drink blood!”

I opened the back door and he uncoiled like a spring, bolting out into the forest teeth-first, jowls waving in the cold mist.

“Go get ’em!” I said. “Save yourself! Kill them all!”

We followed the trail down past an incongruous trailer. The Witch suggested the park rangers probably used it when the trails were open during the non-muddy season, but that first sign suggested that the great state of Vermont wasn’t funnelling too much of that good maple tax lucre into the parks system. Just beyond the trailer was The Spot.

Which, conveniently, faces away from the trailer, keeping you leaned back in the Adirondack, off balance and too distracted by nature’s splendor to notice the chloroform rag until it’s too late.

We wended our way into the Zen garden, which was gorgeous even in shitty weather, and must be incredible when it’s nice out.

There were two huge boulders with chairs at the top, but only one was accessible. The ladders were washed out from the other one. We could have feasibly freeclimbed it in the summer, but with the frozen moss and our wet, clunky hiking boots, we opted to take turns on the first.

Beefton flew into a screaming frenzy when we climbed the ladders, which were arranged in short, tiered platforms, not unlike the level design of the original Donkey Kong. He found his way up one, then panicked and jumped back down, slamming his chest against the earth and using the bounce to propel himself in a noisy, savage loop around the whole little lagoon. Fortunately, he is indestructible, and learned an important lesson about ladders.

We loitered on the rocks, amassing karma until we got hungry enough to go find something else undoubtedly made with maple syrup.

Love,

B.

North Clarendon, Vermont: Whispers in the Dark

April 21, 2021. North Clarendon, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Bad Religion – My Head Is Full of Ghosts

We turned the widening gyre back to the airbnb farmstead. Beefer narrowly evaded Cody’s lascivious onslaught. Cody would not run. It was a plodding, relentless pursuit predation, like if Michael Meyers’s end goal were a poorly understood iteration of humping.

Which would technically describe Austin Powers, but that’s incidental, and the wrong vibe.

In Vermont, steak is dirt cheap. We stocked up on $3/lb porterhouses and stashed them in the fridge for the lean times ahead. We had rented the upper floor of the farmhouse, and had the equivalent square footage of my row home in Philly all to ourselves. It was a slipshod entanglement of rooms and hallways that didn’t lead anywhere. Single steps changed the floor’s height at random, giving the whole complex the sensibility of a McDonald’s Playplace in dark oak.

“I love it!” said the Witch.

This didn’t surprise me. The shelves were full of obscure bronze implements, faded stash boxes, and glazed ceramic mugs, inexpertly crafted and unlikely to function as drinking vessels with any degree of reliability. The Witch wandered around, vaping herbs and cooing at the scavenged Goodwill decor.

There was a daybed off the kitchen, and judging by the damage it did to my coccyx when I sat, it was made of concrete. Beefton didn’t mind. He hopped up and lost consciousness, likely from the blunt force trauma of settling his cannonball head on the “mattress”.

The walls were covered in light switches. Some worked lights in adjacent rooms, which you couldn’t see. Some didn’t seem to do anything. When bedtime rolled around, getting them all shut off was like solving a logic puzzle, and I couldn’t shake the thought that one of them turned on the host’s microwave and catalyzed the immolation of the whole desolate, wooded state.

It was around 3 AM when I woke up and stumbled down the hallway toward the bathroom. I didn’t try to turn on the lights. Why bother? I didn’t want to cause another Fukushima. Up I tottered, stripped to the waist, laboring through the dark like Theseus in the labyrinth.

Then came the whispering.

Probably a ritual. A Witch ritual. A witchual, I decided. Wasn’t 3 AM Shakespeare’s witching hour? When churchyards yawn and Hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world? Did Shakespeare even have 3 AM? How old were clocks?

This was not unusual for me. My stream of consciousness is more a chain of whitewater rapids into a Niagaran fall, and in the daylight hours, I make an effort to reconstruct and articulate whatever splinters survive the drop. At night, no such luck. Monkeys and typewriters, the full span of the synapse.

I turned one of the endless House of Leaves corners and the whispers stopped. Beefton sat bolt upright, his focus concentrated to a near physical force, staring at a wooden chair.

“What the dog doin?” I murmured.

He didn’t look at me.

I drew closer, hesitant, the boards no longer creaking under my feet, the silence whole and encompassing. Darkness swallowed us, and the single rail of moonlight cast a faint circle of illumination around me, my attorney, and the antique chair.

“Beefyboi?”

He jolted upright, whirling, eyes huge and wild.

“Whoa, it’s all right! Shhh. It’s night. You okay?”

His tail wagged once, twice, tentatively. He looked back at the chair. Beefton is an expressive creature, a full suite of emotion made available from his labrador and pitbull heritages, and I could tell a side eye when I saw one.

I filled my jug at the kitchen sink. In the rushing static of the water, I could hear the whispers again, almost voices, almost comprehensible, some impetus bleeding through the dissonance.

I turned back toward the hall. Beefy was sitting again, staring again, ramrod straight and still as a gargoyle.

“The hell are you looking at?” I asked. I squatted down next to him to follow his line of sight.

The old Victorian chair had a demon’s mask carved into the backrest, a leering, manic snarl that seemed to jump and dance in the shadows cast by the weak white light of the moon. The pupils rolled up toward the top of the eyes like the face was in some ecstatic state, a debaucherous midpoint between orgasm and death, lips pulled back to expose a toothed beak, flanked by curling ram’s horns.

Staring into the carving, I heard the whisper again, bright and pure as a bell.

“Kill them,” it said. Not from the chair, but from inside my own head. “Kill them all.”

I looked to Beefton, but he couldn’t see me. His eyes had rolled back to show red blood vessels and white sclera, mirroring the face in the wood.

“No,” I said. “The Witch is gonna do half the drive home. And I paid $300 for this dog.”

The chair didn’t answer. I decided it could spend the rest of the night on the balcony, if it wanted to be so chatty. I opened the door to put it out and a wolf howled in the chill night air.

“I get it,” I said. I tipped over the chair for good measure.

Beefton’s trance was broken and when I came back inside, he wanted to wrassle. I told him there was no wrassling at 3 AM and he followed me back into the bedroom, where he climbed his 85 lb bulk on top of the Witch and immediately fell asleep. She made a sound like being punched in the gut, but didn’t stir.

I spent the night in swirling, torrential dreams of black mazes, faint whispers, and switches that didn’t do anything.

When I woke the next morning, the chair was back in the kitchen, next to the concrete bed. Of course it was. The face was still in the daylight, but the leer remained, and the suggestion of knowledge and premeditation behind it.

I crouched next to the haunted chair, gave it my own manic leer.

“Here’s to life,” I whispered.

Then I grilled up a couple of truly formidible breakfast steaks.

Love,

B.

Proctor, Vermont: Flooded Quarries and Forbidden Castles

April 16, 2021. Proctor, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Wind Rose – Diggy Diggy Hole

Vermont is peopled, not with people, but with quarries. You can’t spit without hitting one, and the rare few that are not still in operation because they, what, ran out of rocks? – have gone on to be repurposed into subterranean ice skating rinks and swimming holes, the use of which are deeply, deeply illegal.

Fortunately, the police are (arguably) people, and you can’t be arrested if there’s no one around to arrest you. Which, there isn’t. The entire state is an arboreal wasteland.

“Beefton!” I said. “Do not leap into the quarry!”

“I tire of this life!” Beefton called back over his rippling, comically oversized deltoid. “The time has come for the next great adventure!

We were shouting because there was some kind of bird going absolutely bananas up along the wall in what had to be the most obnoxious, least effective mating display I’d ever seen. And I spent a good deal of time at the West Chester Landmark.

If anyone knows what this loser bird is, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail. It haunts me to this day.

My attorney approached the ledge again, heaved in a breath, steadied his nerves.

“Farewell, Bastard. Witch. I’ll never forget all you’ve taught me.”

It was at that point he recognized that the quarry was full of water, and he resolved to live another day. Beefton is highly avoidant of swimming, and if a light drizzle wets his fur he goes frothing mad and barrels through the house as fast as his densely packed, efficient little body will go, smashing into every available surface.

There are times I’m thankful he’s more pitbull than labrador, and most of those times are when we’re near a body of water in 40 degree weather. Do you think purebred a chocolate lab would hesitate, for even an instant? There might be ducks in there.

We loaded back into the wagon and resumed our traversal of the woodland wasteland, hoping to find somewhere to eat. In our travels, the universe provided me with a gift to ensure that my conduct was right and in accordance with my destiny.

Astoundingly, the giant gorilla dumbbell shoulder pressing a car was not on Atlas Obscura, but Wilson’s Castle was. Wilson’s Castle was also closed off to the public under penalty of law.

Not very defensible,I decided. Minimal ramparts, no murder holes to speak of. There’s tactical value in the elevation, but you just couldn’t muster a sufficient force of archers on that balcony to deter an invading force. Especially with the ground-level windows!

Disgusted at the misleading designation of this large, butt-ugly house, as well as at the Orwellian hellworld we occupy that forbade me from getting closer to pass still more cutting judgment on its strategic worthlessness, we wheeled the wagon around, returned my legal representation to the humper haunted airbnb, and drifted into Rutland proper, whereupon I learned what risotto is.

It’s this.

Outside the restaurant, I found an excellent mural of a peregrine falcon. Since a fungal encounter with a falcon in the dead of winter in my picaresque early twenties, I take raptors as universal signposts from Athena assuring me that I’m on the right track.

“Okay,” I told her. “I’ll learn a risotto recipe.”

Love,

B.

Middlebury, Vermont: Good Night Sweet Prince

Friday, April 16, 2021. Middlebury, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Here Come the Mummies – Ra Ra Ra

We touched down on an active farm deep in the heart of Clarendon, where we would be staying for the weekend while she conducted whatever dark and uncatholic dealings she had lined up. The nearest neighbor was a mile away, so no one could hear screaming, should there have been any screaming. I wasn’t afraid. Remember in the third Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where the actor who played Kenan’s dad just boots Leatherface square in the gut, side-kick style? I knew karate once. I’d go high, Beefy’d go low, the witch could nuke from the backline.

Assuming Leatherface was the concern, of course, and I didn’t get turned into a donkey and ridden all over the countryside like in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. That series gave me a powerful childhood fear of agriculture. I maintain the fear, but now it’s because of comparative studies of hunter gatherer societies, and knowledge of what grain does to the human body.

The farm itself was populated by aloof female farm dogs, and a single male Australian Shepherd named Cody with a mutation that caused his right pupil to split, like the eye of a goat. He would not stop humping my attorney.

Beefton is a gentleman of culture and refinement. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and he doesn’t want to kill the vibe, so he never fights other dogs unless it’s clear that they’re just wrasslin’. He kept running away. Cody was single-minded, obsessive, and not actually too into it, since he was whining on the approach every time. I figured he was trying to assert his dominance over the larger, younger male dog invading his territory, but halfheartedly. Beefton had no idea what was going on and just kept fleeing.

“You’re gonna have to flip him,” I told him. “You’ve got to set boundaries.”

Beefton gazed at me with his doofy Baby Yoda face, awaiting intervention as Cody set up to sort of hump at his left hip. I imagined Cody didn’t get off the farm much.

“It’s a microcosm of life,” I said. “You’ve got to stand up for yourself. They’ll try to fuck you if you let them. Or… do whatever that is.”

“Cody!” yelled the farmers. “Get off him!”

Cody would not be dissuaded. Beefton looked at my beseechingly. I shrugged.

“You outweigh him by like 30 pounds. Put him on his ass and this will never happen again.”

“I am a man of peace,” Beefton told me. “We’re better than this.”

“Just throw one of the left hooks you use to flip the scrappy little German Shepherd madchens at the dog park.”

“But that’s for funsies and this feels like it’s for serious,” he said, apprehensively. Beefy took a few steps away from Cody, glancing back over his own rippling, overdeveloped deltoids. Undeterred, Cody wandered over to get back to what he perceived as his task.

“It might be funsies, but they respect your torque! An armed society is a polite society, lil mans.”

“Cody!” the farmers were still yelling. “What the hell’s the matter with you? Leave him alone!”

Beefton nodded, considering my words. He turned toward Cody, who was crookedly humping the air in the vicinity of Beefton’s side. They made eye contact. Beefy growled a little, then let loose one of his bassy sonic boom barks that have proven so effective at scaring teens off my front stoop back in Philly.

Cody dismounted and drifted away.

For the time being.

We loaded back up into the wagon and made our way across the state so the witch could scout locations for a thaumaturgist’s hut. Beefton and I secured the perimeter, burning the pent up anxiety from his protracted assault by lunging at squirrels and peeing on everything. He did most of the lunging and peeing.

And once in Middlebury, we stopped in to pay our respects to the late Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef.

You’re gonna love this one.

In the late 1800s, deep in the social oasis of Middlebury (relative to the utter backwoods desolation that is the rest of Vermont), there lived a collector of expensive, weird things by the name of Henry Sheldon.

He looks around his curio collection and decides, “You know what this could really use? A mummy.” So he puts in an order for a mummified Egyptian prince, a two-year-old called Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef. This was before Craigslist, so there were really no pictures of the mummy available. Caveat emptor and all that.

The mummy arrives, and Sheldon is inconsolable. It was apparently “in such a degraded condition that Sheldon never put it out on display”.

“This mummy sucks!” Sheldon probably said, jabbing a finger at the withered corpse of Egyptian royalty dating back to 2000 BC. “This mummy is bullshit!”

Disgraced and ashamed, Sheldon stashed the little body up in his attic, where it remained until decades after Sheldon himself died.

Lil Amum is then happened upon by the curator of the Henry Sheldon museum, a good-hearted fella called George Mead. Mead recognizes that this isn’t what this two-year-old Egyptian prince would have wanted, to be so far from home, from the land of his forefathers, boxed up in some Vermontian attic because he’s too ugly to be displayed, like a leisure suit or home movies on VHS.

Mead sets things right by having the mummy cremated and buried in a Judeo-Christian cemetery across the street from the Middlebury Art College.

I like to think Amum was just booling out in the Egyptian afterlife with all his slaves and gold, all the things that mummification was required to insure, and then abruptly vaporizes a la “I don’t feel so good Mr. Stark” and reappears in the middle of Sunday mass in Heaven, seated in the pew and looking up at the actual, actively writhing body of Jesus, since you’ve got to assume in Heaven they don’t need to do carved representations.

Probably frigged up his whole day.

“Rest in power, little king,” I said to Amum.

At that moment, probably coincidentally, the sky opened up and it started pouring. We ran back to the car where Beefy was waiting to make sure the campus police didn’t ticket us.

Love,

BT

Vermont: A Travelogue Prologue

Thursday, April 15, 2021. Clarendon, Vermont.
Soundtrack: The Sword – Tres Brujas

I’d been chewing holes in the walls since quarantine was first announced, and by the second year of the two-week curve flattening, my increasingly feral mindstate had only marginally improved. The plague still sweeps through our land, slipping through cracks and into our homes in the dead of night, blighting our crops and killing our fats and olds, both of which are cornerstones of this great nation. Bill Gates is filling our blood with liquid 5G, offering a stay of execution and increasing our personal bandwidth so long as we upload our RNA straight into the Bing Matrix.

For a year I’ve been crouched in the blasted ruins of The City of Brotherly Crackheads Screaming at 3 AM, shooting arrows in the basement and slowly trading away all my worldly possessions for mid-range guitars and houseplants.

This is no way for a bastard to live.

Luckily, a witch offered me reprieve from the monotony of the broken glass pile that is Philadelphia.

“I’ve got to go to Vermont,” she said. “Come with?”

I’ve had many, many what you would call encounters with witches over the years, and they often end in hexing. That’s just the dice you throw. When the only tool you have is True Polymorph, everything looks like a newt.

You can imagine my leeriness, especially having waited out the statute of limitations on curses so many times before. There was even one who would convince her thralls (we call these simps now) to do “blood pacts”, and cut their hands, then reopen the same wound in her finger to blend their blood.

Imagine playing it that fast and loose with your essence. That’s unrepentant necromancy. She never got my blood. To this day, I won’t even touch a goddamned crystal.

But this witch, the witch offering me an out of the city, she maintains that she is of a different stripe. She says she’s a green witch. I’m a simple man, and a melee build, so I don’t know all the subclassifications, but I imagine they all have access to the same skill tree. But I am eco-friendly, and I did miss silence.

“Let’s go,” says I.

And so I loaded the same pack that got me across Yurp with the same essentials – a few changes of clothes and a glowing rectangle with a library in it – then clambered up into her broom-drawn carriage. We were joined by my attorney, Beefton Duke.

He’s very good.

It barely occured to me to ask why Vermont, bit-champing as I was to get free of the 215. The 5-hour haul allowed plenty of time to correct that.

“Why Vermont?”

“Matters to attend to,” she said cryptically. “Business.”

Components, I reckoned. Bones and rocks and herbs and whatnot. Something big brewing. Big and allegedly green. That’s okay. I would be looking down the right side of the barrel this time.

We screeched past a collection of cop cars, all with their flashers on, but only flashing in blue.

“Looks like trouble,” Beefton whispered to me.

“I know you can’t tell, but it’s all just one color,” I told him.

“What?” the witch asked.

“The flashers. They’re only one color.”

“I can tell!” she said.

“Maybe it’s not a stop, then,” I suggested. “Maybe it’s a sale. Blue Light Special.”

“What the hell is blue?” Beefton asked. “Ridiculous. You can’t afford the heat right now.”

“I don’t think we have to be worried about it.”

“As your legal counsel,” he continued, “here’s my suggestion. Pull off up ahead in this next plaza with all the wooden sasquatch lawn ornaments. Go into that grocery store. Buy a whole big bag of pepperoni.”

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

“The big bag. Economy pack. None of that 2 oz shit.”

And so began the Dream-Quest of Unknown Clarendon, into the most desolate reaches of New England.

Love,

BT