New Halem Tales Secrets: 13 Stories from 5 NW Authors
A Collection of Stories
New Halem Tales Secrets
13 Stories from 5 NW Authors
The Parking Lot Prophet, pirates and pants that drop out of the sky. UFOs and serpent handlers, a panty bandit, lovers and liars and more. In a collection of stories set in a mysterious Oregon village.
Excerpt from New Halem Tales Secrets: 13 Stories from 5 NW Authors. by Catherine Kigerl
Humming to himself, the Parking Lot Prophet pulled his truck and camper off the beach into the lot of the Nelson City Park. It was exactly 7:30am on a Wednesday morning and, as was his customary routine, he was exactly on time. His residence on the park beach at night was an important example for his beach campaign. His campaign was also a perfect supplement to his underlying mission in life, which few, if any, were truly privy to. It all worked out in his favor. There were always early walkers and runners who would greet him each morning; there would usually be at least one whom he would reach in some way. It was all a matter of ears. Ears meant a potential opportunity to clear the logged tunnel to a ripening soul. He never knew who it would be on any given morning. He laughed to himself about the divine providence of it. The Parking Lot Prophet, known as the PLP to most locals, peered out, gazed up at a foggy sky, and then looked down at his shoes. They were white canvas cloth and, despite his beach haven at night, he was pleased to see, on yet another fine morning of clarity, they did not have a smudge of dirt on them. A vessel of truth was not to be smattered with dirt. Above them he wore white pants, freshly pressed, and a white business shirt also pressed and spotless. The white business shirt was all that remained of the necessary figure he’d cut when he worked on Wall Street and before that on the Prague Stock Exchange. It was, in fact, on Wall Street that the guru’s call came loud and clear. At precisely 10am on a busy morning three years ago that very day a vision of a vast beach appeared in place of the exchange board. Instead of numbers, a single trail of footsteps wandered into the distance in the sand. Then a voice said, “Stop!” in English, Czech, Latin and a host of other languages he could not identify. A universal spiritual message followed. Since it was ineffable he interpreted it as, “You mean nothing! The Path is everything!” The PLP stood transfixed. He knew in that instant the multi-purpose of his multi-doctrinal work: to help others remove the roadblocks barring their way to a greater sense of peace. He walked off the floor to the shock of his colleagues and in one day donated his business suits and his car to the Brooklyn, New York Saint Vincent de Paul, purchased his truck and camper, carefully packed a small suitcase leaving the rest for his landlady, and drove to Albany, New York where his cousin Marcus lived. Marcus, an Anglican priest, was the ‘white sheep’ of the family and the only person in the United States who would understand his career change and his need for temporary parking. A link of beach stops around the world followed, which eventually led the PLP back to his truck and camper in the United States and to New Halem, Oregon.
In my story, "Those Demon Denims", Loc Pham is especially disturbed by what he believes is a ghost haunting Linny Jones’ farm. Vietnamese belief in ghosts is very real, even though attempts by government have tried to suppress it. Traditionally, in Vietnamese culture, to die far from home means to die a “bad death” compared with dying a “good death” in or near home. If a person dies far from home they are called wandering ghosts for they find themselves in a type of limbo between this life and a next. They are believed to wander aimlessly without a clear idea of how to return home. They can also become fearful demons. Families will go to great lengths to bring a family member’s remains home for a proper burial.
It is not surprising to know that the Vietnam War created many wandering ghosts as thousands of Vietnamese soldiers died far from home (Mirsky). Many were buried in unmarked graves and Vietnamese people continue to actively search for lost family members who died in the war so they may finally be brought to rest.
Buddhism—the primary religion in Vietnam—acknowledges what are called hungry ghosts. The hungry ghost realm is one of the Six Realms of Samsara into which a being can be reborn. Those who have died violent or untimely deaths, including suicides, are considered hungry ghosts. It is understood that such people, unable to go through preparatory stages prior to death, carry unresolved emotional and physical needs. People with addictions, excessive greed or obsessions can also become hungry ghosts upon death.
When Buddhism was brought to China from India, belief in ghosts and ancestor worship was already engrained in traditional Chinese culture. Neighboring Asian countries—where Buddhism traveled next, such as Vietnam and Japan—also had ghost/ancestor traditions. These cultures were thus compatible with the Buddhist recognition of the hungry ghost realm.
Hungry Ghost Festivals continue to take place in Buddhist temples around the world every year (usually in autumn). In this ceremony, hungry ghosts are made offerings of food, and other items to metaphorically draw them to the temple for a ritual blessing.
This explains why Loc Pham is adamant about wanting to settle Miss Linny’s denim-clad ghost!
II. The Marrow of the Inlands Klamath River, California, 2009
The marrow of the inlands quintessential life beat at the heart of a rim-rock—curved like the spine of a dinosaur’s back-- summoning, guarding the river from within as it dances delicately sweeping its dress around cliff’s edges like a bride.
Sage-blessed, pumping silently inside a mineral throne, in a millenniums-long kingdom, generously receiving the summer rains, capturing the water, depositing it for late season feed, offering a slow drink to flora and fauna not bred to survive famine. Benevolent is this marrow, dutiful, carefully disguised by inland bones. (Are they fossilized?) Knowing life nourishes life under the veiled soil.
Travel has inspired many authors over the centuries from W. Somerset Maugham to Bruce Chatwin. I haven’t traveled on the grand scale of Maugham or Chatwin, but I've toted a suitcase enough times to inspire a story and a poem or two. An example is my novella, On the Far Bluff, which is based upon a journey I made to Australia in 1993. That journey was pretty remarkable in many ways but most significantly for taking me to a remote town called Laura, and the Ang-gnarra aboriginal community in North Queensland. There I worked as a volunteer, first in the Ang-gnarra community office and then as part of their aboriginal festival that took place every two years in July. The United Nations had declared that year as the Year of Indigenous Peoples, so visitors from around the world traversed the rugged, outback roads or flew in on the mail plane to attend.
Even though I took many photos and kept a journal, my experiences there were so vivid it wasn't hard to recall them in rough draft form when I returned to the United States. But like many writing inspirations, experience interpretations can evolve as the author evolves. Some experiences do not ripen until we get older and we ripen a bit more ourselves. We can then look back on an experience or source of inspiration from a different vantage point.
It took a few more drafts and several years before I finished On the Far Bluff. But the crocodiles, wombats, billabongs, bluff spirits and the ancient messages are still there as seen through the eyes of Anna Doucette, my main character. Like Maugham’s India of the 1930’s and Chatwin’s Patagonia of the 1970’s the beauty and mystery of North Queensland, Australia, as it existed in 1993, does live on.
Catherine Kigerl is a college instructor in the Humanities and resides with her husband in Washington State.