“I came back to the apartment to learn the news about Angela was, in fact, true. The family was up there. It was clear to me that not all of them were drastically affected by it, though most were. I could clearly see the great changes in people’s behaviors and moods — it was very somber and heavy in the room. When I was walking down the hall to Room 96, the room my family was crammed in, I could already hear the meltdowns — sobbing, groaning, and fits.”
The days sweep quickly, like the winds tumbling over the calm sea, or the waves swiftly slamming against the rocky shores of the American Pacific Coast.
The next years, that is where I would be going: the Good West, where the Pacific is, where I’d seek my fortune. This land, where I’d finally set all this behind me . . .
Journal entry from the leather-bound journal kept once by Brennan Hester Jr. Journal entry written July 17, 1825 not to be mistaken with Michael Hester’s older brother Brennan Hester III
I came back to the apartment to learn the news about Angela was, in fact, true. The family was up there.
It was clear to me that not all of them were drastically affected by it, though most were. I could clearly see the great changes in people’s behaviors and moods — it was very somber and heavy in the room. When I was walking down the hall to Room 96, the room my family was crammed in, I could already hear the meltdowns — sobbing, groaning, and fits.
When we got to the room, I knocked softly on the door. I heard the loud noise die down followed by footsteps that I recognized as soft boots due to the gentle padding coming towards us. The door cracked open, and I saw who I recognized after adjusting my anxiety. Katherine. She managed a half-smile, though it quickly faded when the groans briskly began again.
She looked back with a quick look and a worried expression. Then she, quicker than I could think, opened the door wide and said something that sounded like an invitation to come in, and she rushed over to tend to a toddler on the other side of the room. The news about Angela was clearly causing strong anxiety and pressure then.
I walked into the room. The first thing I saw was Good Ol’ Pa, guffawing so hard it seemed like he couldn’t breathe, slapping my brother who had his brim hat on and a stiff expression of slight worry, sitting on a rocking chair that I recognized as the rocking chair Brennan said was around since the Civil War. I walked in, not bothering to even think about calming Good Ol’ Pa down like I’d usually do.
I could see the lot of family members. It was loads of relatives, around forty of them crowded in this two-room apartment. I used to live in that apartment for about a month, but I managed to find a good job and to be able to afford my own house.
The first room consisted of a kitchen on the right, with a weak stove, pots and pans, cabinets and drawers, silverware and cooking tools, and other things needed to cook breakfast and dinner (unless it was winter, the Hesters would usually get lunch at a restaurant or one of the occasional markets).
The room to the left consisted of an unpleasant amount of people sleeping that I could easily recall finding uncomfortable to fit them all in. It was overcrowded with weary beds covered in odor and sweat for the old people who were unable to walk, but were respected by the rest of the family who imagined the pain the elders were feeling was due to the many things they saw.
Of course, I did respect the elders and I imagine it wasn’t just me who had some jealousy for the old Hester men and women sleeping in actual beds. The children sometimes got to sleep in a real bed with the elders, though they’d usually be with their parents on a molding mattress that they’d managed to buy, or on the floor with some kind of blanket laid out on the ground or on the cold wooden floor, with only their clothes supporting their warmth, or only their pants in the summer if they felt the sun battering on their skin.
The second room was smaller, like a combination of an attic and basement. A lot of things (even treasures, such as a thousand-year-old diary from this Israelite Catholic whip, which as you may guess, in the family’s desperate state, an anonymous number of the Hesters wanted to sell it at any place that was likely to accept, such as the small museum in town, or maybe the saloonkeeper in town. We knew he was always interested in such artifacts, or so the rumors said.
As I was saying, the room also consisted of some stored things (whether it was dump-material or not) that the family members kept somewhere, though it was an unorganized cluster of things, so there was no organization and no division between the rubbish and the things managed presently.
A few who were uncomfortable enough around the snoring and all slept in some ancient blanket or lay down in a comfy chair still used. A distant brother that I’ve, not counting the times I saw him in the apartment (which was not as often as the others), only seen once, when I was a child and he was taking a bit of a vacation after his stressful veteranship in the Civil War. It was clear that he wasn’t much liked, for that whilst most of our family fought alongside our nation, he ran away for somewhat mysterious reasons and got deployed to the army, ranked Corporal.
I can hardly remember his name, though when I occasionally think for one moment about him, I can remember the slight resentment that the rest of our family had toward him, though he doesn’t mind it (more specifically he seemed to have enjoyed it). Well anyway, he simply slept on an exceptionally molded mattress, with a desk on the right, in which he wrote non-fiction books (none have been published so far, but a small pamphlet for the Thom County, which hardly anyone paid notice to).
Well, I’ll get back to what was going on. J quickly rushed in a random direction in which I didn’t see. I quickly went up to my brother, and by that I mean I stood for about a minute in shock and confusion. It simply did not make sense, then Good Old Pa wandered away and stared at the kitchen.
I took the steps, and my brother, still with the same old expression, noticed me and said in a normal voice (or at least an attempt), “Angela.”
He suddenly violently choked. He lost eye contact with me, drumming the fingers on his right hand on the armrest. I stood there, a bit worried for a moment, but then he stopped, closed his eyes tight, and breathed regularly, and said with a calm voice, “Go ask — go ask someone else. Kathy’s over there.” Then he stopped talking and seemed like he was trying (I said trying) to look like an old man, then fell asleep on the rocking chair.
Kathy was still tending to the apparent toddler (my nephew Jack, who was the son of my brother). This time, I didn’t even bother to wait. I needed these answers that I could’ve had, but wasted the small precious moments.
“KATHY!” I shouted over all the fuss in the room.
She nearly fell onto Jack, but she managed to get a hold of the ground. She glared at me, then said in a loud and irritated tone, “What, Michelle?!”
I glared at her. I hated that name since when she first said that name back when I attended preschool in London. I liked it for the remainder, for that I thought she made it up, but then people started teasing me with that name, and I learned it was actually a girl’s name.
It didn’t bother me that she would do that sometimes. It’s simply that I hated being treated like a child when nearly thirty. I calmed myself down. I looked at her calmly (though she wasn’t calm) and put my hands in front of me, my palms aiming at Jack, who was at Katherine’s feet.
“Katherine,” I said, and she seemed to be listening. For some reason, I forgot that though she enjoys Brennan calling her that, she hates me calling her that. I guess I must’ve been in a hurry. After staring at her for a moment, I opened my mouth and said, “Mrs. Hester,” — looked at my shoes for a moment and went back to eye contact — “Angela… Hester.”
“Oh,” she looked around the room, as if she was scared there were spies hiding in the walls. And so she began…
“I’m surprised, Michael, by how curious you are. Normally, people like you would’ve just went with it. Even some children.
“Well anyhow, it was simply our normal routine, up until the Argument. We couldn’t hear much. All we could hear from this room — they were arguing in the other room, by the way — were shouts. We all agreed… ” — she panted, then stopped. “Okay, okay, sorry, let me start over. Angela and Brennan were having an argument. All of us were disturbed that night for we couldn’t get any sleep, even the three Noctur — ” She looked around, making sure the Nocturnals didn’t hear this insult. They had the hearing of a bat and they were only so far away. I was the one who made it up when a young adult, and I told Brennan and Katherine about it. Brennan thought it was rude and scolded me, but Katherine loved it. “The three Washington triplets is what I meant, were both annoyed and, like us, worried. What was it about? We wondered.”
“Well, so it was. Angela was the first to come out. We saw her crying, tears slicing down her cheeks and there was a deadened look in her once bright eyes. We wanted to comfort her, but before we could study the situation and stand up, she walked out the room. I’m not done yet.
“Then came Brennan, whom after she left the room for a while, rushed out of the apartment with her, carrying a pack with him, shouting, ‘WAIT! I’M SORRY!’
“Then, to take a look, one of the Washingtons, Stoney Washington, rushed out of the door.
“What happened next? Well, according to what we asked from Stoney. You know how all the Noc — ” She paused, her lips frozen in midair. “Well you know how ‘they’ are most of the time quiet. It seemed like Stoney preferred that, but he said nervously, looking the whole time at Brennan in the corner, that the argument was some ‘ridiculous thing that they disagreed about.’” They forgave each other soon enough. They took a walk, including Stoney.
“Well, Brennan by himself rushed to Stoney with a worried manner. He said ‘I don’t know what happened! It was simply — I — I left her on the stone, having her wait because I needed to get something back at the apartment!’
“And so it was. Angela disappeared just like that. Like smoke.”
This story, though not so detailed and which felt too quick for reality, changed my life.
This panicked the entire town, afraid there might be wild animals or even tramps. After about a month, the case was given up. I had given up along with the police.
Well, since then, my family got richer. At least rich enough to afford their own apartments. Now, only about three immediate families lived in Room 96. I stopped visiting the apartments and focused on my own life.
I heard about the places I’d been missing in the west. I heard that there was a rush for gold in the place they called California, and how the rush was only about thirty years ago. There were many living there.
I discussed these thoughts with J, who in the nine years that passed, was now a grown man. He told me of, after his studies on the Hesters, that not one person set foot on the land. Well, as I said, in between those nine years, we pretty much forgot about Angela. I was one of the few that still felt like it was only a few weeks ago that I’d been delivered the news by J: “Angela has disappeared.”
To these very days, those words echo in my head. I, a long time ago, realized I needed to look to the present and future rather than the once-present.
And so, me and J (I now called him by his actual name, Josef Hester) began to tell others this idea. Most of the Hesters thought it was a good idea to fully restore our family, though we needed to prepare.
We began the journey as we began our preparation.
So now, I must get on to my journey to California. A long trail, being on a slow wagon. It is miles and miles of hardship, but the flesh of the hardship is the most horrific event. It is something that gives me the chills every time I think of the West. Now, I’ll get on with the story.
I was in the same pub I was in nine years ago. I wasn’t sipping ale. I found myself telling a drunk couple made up of a woman Josef recently married named Mary and Josef himself about the trip. Josef already knew, but he’d usually forget things commonly when drunk.
Nowadays, the inn was quiet. Not many people came to the inn. There were rumors the Baby Heifer Inn pub was going out of business and it was becoming a simple motel. I wasn’t so sure about the rumors, but I liked going to the inn anyway, though it wasn’t as big of a symbol as it used to be about two years ago, when, as I’ve already said, the Hesters were able to get their own apartments or even a house like I.
Well anyway, we were the only ones in the pub except for the short, fat bartender and two men, calmly talking to each other.
As I said, I was talking jollilly about our plan.
“… And me and Josef believe that we should depart this town in a few months and catch the next train. By train, I mean the group of wagons travelling together, not those newfangled machines. Well, we’re going to make our family rich! Ain’t we, Josef?” I looked toward Josef, who was staring at me in a pose and had a smile that made it seem like he was flirting with me, though I could tell, due to the fact that his eyes were twitching and looking around, that he wasn’t. When I finished, his eyes shot to me.
“Oh!” he got out of that pose and he almost fell over as he rolled back. Then he grunted and sat up and pointed an index finger at the ceiling. “Indeed!”
Mary laughed so hard at Josef. I laughed a little as well. I didn’t bang my fist on the table though, unlike Mary. It caused Josef’s ale to fly up and spill all over him. The laughing stopped. I saw everybody in the tavern turned to us, looking at the mess. Josef was covered with fizzing, brownish liquid.
For a moment there was silence, then embarrassment, for that the bartender, his head poking over the table and the two men, were laughing hard at us, their heads turned toward us.
I stood up, and in order to not draw attention to myself, I instinctively pretended to check my watch. I looked over at the two men, still wheezing and looking like any moment they could get a heart attack from what I felt was superfluous laughter. I raised my other hand in a silence gesture and then gestured Mary and Josef to follow.
They both stood up almost extraordinarily at the same time and, with a little bit of pushing each other, walked out and behind. I was trying my best to ignore the laughter, thinking of yelling and bruising up the three of those men. I might’ve if I drank when I was talking, but I wasn’t. I still wore that half-embarrassed, half-enraged expression, still having a small feeling to antagonize the men.
“Come out here,” I whispered loudly, pointing to the cracked door. I walked towards the door and they quickly followed. I opened the door and caught the winds scented like the spring pines that are scattered across the forest. I smiled and looked around the town and looked at the setting sun. They were standing there, looking around at the sky. I sighed at the town.
“Look,” I said solemnly, spreading my hands at all directions of the town. They looked around, focusing their eyes.
No one was on the streets, except for a woman silently holding an ass by the reigns. That was it. I could see the lights were still on in people’s homes, but all the other buildings besides the Inn didn’t have any candles lit or so on.
“What? The buildings?” asked Mary after many long moments of silence. I looked toward her, grinning and shaking my head.
“This town, of course!” I exclaimed. “If the family cooperates with me and Josef, we could leave this town of silence. We’d be on the other side of the country, under the sun, getting tubes of chits after chits!” I paused for a moment, my hands raised in the air, then I put them down and continued. “Think about it! We’d be doing what the Hesters been missing out on! We’d go to what they call the Golden State!”
My words echoed there for a moment through the whole town. Through the alleyways, in the pub, to the ass driver, to the children on the other side of town. Then Josef grinned, seeming to recall this was partially credited to him. He pointed his index finger to the sky and leaned over.
“INDEED!” he exclaimed.
Mary looked around, no longer drunk. She said in her stern Southern accented voice, “Well, I’d like to hear a bit more. You must’ve thought it through.
“My,” she looked off to the distance, and nodded. “Two years. You must’ve planned out every detail. Whether we should live in San Francisco, or off in the countryside. Whether we should buy a house or build our own. Never mind, I’ll leave you boys up to it.” She looked back at us. “So, what’s your plan?” I looked at Josef in the eye, his hair got a bit dustier and grayer and sharp blue eyes dulled over the years of growth.
We smiled and we turned to her, and we said in unison in a jolly way, “We did indeed.” I sighed, still smiling. Josef’s smile faded and he turned toward me.
“I’d like to be the one to talk even further into our plans,” he said, then right after turning toward Mary. I nodded at him. He couldn’t see it, but I could tell he somehow sensed my nod. He walked over to Mary, took her hand and walked her into the inn.
I didn’t mind it at all. Despite the fact of being so far the one who mostly wanted to go to California. Even Josef didn’t seem as animated as I was to go to the very town we were planning.
I heard as they (Josef and Mary) walked through the door, Josef started talking fast and saying, “So, there’s this outpost we’d rest at on the first day of travel called Ben’s Goods of the Wild and then we’d travel through some… ” He became too far away.
I relaxed as I sat down, exhaling. I looked at the town in front of me. It was the town of Clauyer, Tennessee. As I’ve said before, I’d be missing this town. I could see all the buildings in front of me. People’s houses. The small fire station. Fancy restaurants open, with couples pecking each other. Part of me thought for some reason, “I’m finally going to leave this town” and another “I’ll miss it though.”
I smiled, relaxing my somewhat tense stomach. I realized I’d actually said those words. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the woman with the ass’s face. She was somewhat the average height for a woman. She was draped in a black cloak and a hood, so I couldn’t see her face completely, but I could see her lower face and her hair, so I could tell she was a woman. But she was walking toward me, with her feet out in in front of her, step by step.
She was walking toward me. My eyes widened. I had this odd feeling in my gut. I assumed I might’ve attracted attention by saying it. She’s just going into the inn, I told myself, but I could see her approaching.
I fidgeted my hand, and looked away from her. She’s just going to the inn, the Baby Heifer Inn. I get that most go to the Gray Chameleon, but not everybody does. I whispered to myself these very words over and over again till I finally convinced myself it was true.
Then suddenly, she stopped. She stood right there. I waited for her to come closer, but she didn’t. I stood up, confused and very unnerved and walked inside the Heifer. In there, things were slightly more filled with pleasantness than I remember. A pleasantness that I personally had a hard time finding pleasant. The room was filled with twelve more people, though they, rather than ten years ago, acted like they were at some family restaurant rather than a pub. They were just sitting, occasionally getting up if they needed to leak or something, and chatting and sometimes laughing.
How I remember it ten years ago is it was a pub filled with laughter. Like the few people, I called the inn this pub once was the Retreat House. People laughed and cried. The Retreat House was a place of warmth, where only there came to be total chaos (such as a man getting drunk and insane enough to kill someone) would there people be uncomfortable in it. Memories started flowing through my brain, from deepest memories from my childhood, to the present. The present.
A warm hand fell across my shoulder. An actual hand. It was from the door, right behind me. I didn’t bother to take it off. It sent waves of comfort through me. I had a sudden memory of me visiting the apartment that almost my entire family was once crammed into. I smiled, and laughed in my head at that memory. Even the rest of the family enjoyed some of the funny memories, despite the discomfort in Room 96. I was talking to Katherine, Brennan, Angela, Good Ol Pa (back when he was more sane, though he muttered some random old folk nonsense under his breath occasionally), the three Nocturnals, and a few others.
I loved ‘em all. Angela! I thought that name.
I’ve never thought about her so clearly and so much in only a bit of a slight lesser of a decade. I could then recall her beautiful face, my mind racing. It wasn’t as if I loved her, but for a long time, I started to think about Angela as if I just visited the apartment, asking Kate about how she disappeared, finally adjusting to her disappearance.
I felt like the hand was that of my imagination for warmth as my mind raced. Then suddenly, my memories all of the sudden halted and I looked at the hand in alert. The engagement ring and the wedding ring, the tenderness of the hand itself, it was so familiar!
In alarm, I turned around, surprised the hand still was on my shoulder. I saw the person’s face. It was the ass woman. Her face was soft and beautiful, with rosy cheeks, and had something that made my jaw drop: brown, sparkling eyes. It was Angela! It was beyond any shock I could’ve ever imagine I’d experience in my life.
I started speaking gibberish, though she was standing as still as a statue, only breathing. I turned around, about to tell the news, but then I heard a cry in the place of Angela. It sounded like that of an old lady. I turned around, and sure enough, there was a woman that looked like she was in her mid-fifties in the place of Angela. She was looking around, perplexed. She had the same robes and the same rings on her finger.
She stared down at the ass next to her, looking with her eyes opened. I approached, saying things like “Who are you? Why — ”
She turned to me with a glare and bellowed, “I DON’T KNOW, YOU — YOU!” I nearly fell over, but then I saw her breathing, pausing from her bellowing. She looked at her shoes, looking terrified. Her hands were pale and she was trembling. She looked at the ass after a while and said “Shoo!” and finished with a gesture as if she were swatting a bug.
The ass nickered and trotted away. I noticed tears started sliding down her eyes. She ran out of the tavern, screaming. I was chilled. No, no, I was scared. Very scared. It was a simple vision. A vision. This thought wasn’t reassuring, but I walked over to the table, knees trembling.
I waited for one of them to notice me and give me permission to sit down, but they were lost in a chat, and it was something horribly unrelated to me and Josef’s plans. I looked at the mugs of ale that were on the table in front of them. It was clear they were drinking again.
“Hey?” I heard the bartender call, directing toward our table. It was either that Josef and Mary were ignoring this while continuing to talk about the subject of “Indian racism,” or they could hardly notice one bit of their surroundings except for the side of the table they were on and themselves. I looked over and saw the bartender was standing on a stool, looking at me.
“What’s the matter? Look’s like you saw a ghost!” he yelled over.
I thought about this. Just a vision. Again! Just a vision… I thought about the vision for at least ten minutes, and, through thoroughly thinking about it, I convinced myself this. The bartender seemed patient for my answer.
“Now that’s the hearty smile I want in the Baby Heifer Inn!” he called over, with me realizing I accidentally smiled. I started to chuckle and the bartender chuckled back.
“It was absolutely nothing!” I said, not in a lying tone, but it really sounded the way I thought of it. I approached the bartender and put my arm on the table, in the sort of position as a vaquero (cowboy) talking to an old friend.
“I’d like one pound of whiskey,” I said jollily. I don’t know why I did at that time. I rarely drink whiskey due to how my family has a history of getting addiction to whiskey. The bartender smiled. He crouched down where I couldn’t see him, despite how short he was. I heard him shuffle around in some cabinet or drawer, I heard him pour something into a cup or mug and then finally, he placed a large mug of whiskey on the counter in front of me.
For the rest of the night, me and the bartender chatted about politics and life. I forgot all about my vision that night, though I couldn’t prepare myself for what was to come.