Alice Özdemir

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Chapter I.VII

"Sir, are you aware you're heading to Boring?"

Tim was parked on the side of a paved but not particularly maintained woodland road, somewhere up in Oregon. After his trip to the redwoods, forests were particularly appealing to him, and the Pacific North-West of the United States is legendary for its lush and gorgeous forests.

"Yes officer, I am."

Tim really didn't think he was going that fast, but to be fair, he hadn't seen any postings for the speed limit. He figured that he must have just been tired, and half-closed eyes made him look inebriated. The recent divorce had taken a lot out of him, and his sleep schedule was still recovering.

"Any particular reason you're headed there?"

"Going where the road takes me, sir."

He'd seen the sign for the town covered by bushes a half-mile back, looking like it hadn't seen a human hand in centuries. A part of him wondered if the place was a kind of ghost town, but listening to the tone of this highway patrolman made it feel more like some sort of Chernobyl-scale tragedy.

"And you are aware that Boring is a dead end with the only way out being through this here road?"

The officer's pungent breath stung Tim's nostrils, but a polite upbringing kept him from plugging his nose. The patrolman was an average size, all around, but for whatever reason, Tim had a really hard time describing his face. When he looked at it, it wasn't wrong. All the things were in all the right places. When he tried to recall it, the first word that came to mind would be "unremarkable", but that implied a coherency to his recollection that would allow him to come to such a conclusion. In truth, there was no such coherency. Things such as the color of his hair, the thickness of his lips, and the width of his eyes are all nebulous. Yet somehow, in the moment, it didn't seem so bothering.

"Not until now I wasn't."

The man's eyebrows — whatever hue they might have been — raised.

"And you still want to go to Boring?"

"I… yes?"

Remembering his confusion, Tim would shake his head as he retold this story. Right here he'd get a little creeping smile, spreading inch-by-inch across his face, knowing those things that younger Tim knew nothing of.

"I see. Go on ahead then, young man. You have yourself a nice little vacation."

Tim smiled and nodded, more than a little anxious to have this uncomfortable interaction over with. He waited until the officer was a healthy distance away, and then started his car back up. Jeez, what was that guy's issue? As he took the car from park into drive, he peeked in his rear-view mirror, and saw the patrolman talking into his radio. Was this what the Boring Police Department was like? If so, he'd really rather not meet more of them.

He hadn't even gotten a ticket. What was that about?


* * * * *


No offense to anyone, I think that Boring always lived up to its name a little more than everyone else. I think that's because of some false expectations. Tim loves to talk things up — friends he'd made, experiences he'd had, and especially places he'd been. Boring was no exception. When I heard about Boring, Tim talked like it was a little slice of paradise.

In the dreamworld of Tim's perceptions, the trees were as tall as the mountains; the rivers roared and rumbled year-round; the birdsongs were choirs and orchestras; deer glittered in the sun; gentle breezes played with the trees like Mother Nature was dancing and cavorting, her dress twisting at her hips, pollen and the scent of pine drifting down to the dirt and underbrush. There is truth to this, and there isn't truth to this. But it was inevitable that on my first visit, my critical eye spotted the exaggerations first.

By these descriptions, Tim made it sound like the town was wreathed in forest, only but small shafts of sunlight finding their way through the evergreen canopy, a fairyland of wilderness and wonder. When I first visited, I saw things differently. So, now that you know how Tim perceived his surroundings, allow me to color this story with a more accurate depiction of the town here discussed.

When Tim drove in, the trees began to part ways, and he was greeted by a plethora of single-story buildings in the middle of a relatively flat valley (soon to turn into the foothills of the Cascades). While it is circled by trees, the majority of its land is either grassy or rural; much of the population of the unincorporated territory are farmers (as I'm sure you would know). And despite being a very small little place, it is only 15 miles from downtown Portland, so its relative "seclusion" is, well, limited.

But just about none of these things crossed Tim's mind. The words that stuck with him were, "Pacific Northwest". This was exactly where he wanted to be.

So he found a place on the side of the road, parked his truck, and stepped out. He had been in the car for two days straight, punctuated by fast food, bathroom breaks, and one stop into a motel. And now, he was here. Enough distance was between him and San Diego. He felt this could be his first exploration.

The weather was temperate: the hot sun moderated by the cool breeze coming from the west, stirring the sparse foliage in the town center — a couple short trees and one or two garden displays. He breathed in the sweet country fresh air, for a moment willingly forgetting his circumstances, past, or any other details of his character. Here, he was new, because here was new. Tim Wilson? Who's that? Today he was Explorer of the Unknown, Traveler to the North, Searcher of Colder Climates; hiker, climber, woodsman. With this new identity, he opened his eyes, and looked east towards the mountains that were now his close neighbors.

"Hello, mountains! Hello, forest!" he called.

He stretched out his arms, like he was a plant trying to photosynthesize most efficiently, and then let them fall to his sides, his hands sliding into the pockets of his thin jacket.

"Hello, Oregon." he said, quieter.

And then he crossed the street, and entered the closest building: the local library. Once inside, he approached the counter, where a young lady sat behind the desk, reading Dune by Frank Herbert. He leaned onto the desk and decided to wait for her to notice him. There was no rush after all. In the time it took, he studied the appearance of the Oregonian woman.

She had a pointed chin and a poof of brown hair done up in a bun, making her whole head shaped roughly like an acorn. Her nose was round in shape but flat against her face, which was peppered with freckles. She wore a long white dress with a minimalist orange flower design to break it up. Her glasses were stocky, lime green things, and behind them were gorgeous, forest-green eyes.

"I haven't seen you around, before."

Her nasal alto voice reminded Tim that if he was staring into her eyes, she'd looked up from her book and noticed him. How long that eye contact was, Tim could not know.

"Um, no!" He tried to find something else in the room to stare at. "I'm a tourist. And —"

"A tourist!"

"Yes, yes, a tourist! I'm —"

"From where?"

"California. San Diego."

"That's pretty far."

"It is, and I noticed —"

"What brings you up here?"

"Uh, exploring! Which —"

"Ooo."

"Which is why —"

"Exploring what exactly?"

Tim chose not to respond, and instead used silence to invite the librarian to reflect on the conversation so far. Reading his expression, the librarian put a hand to her mouth, and looked more than a little embarrassed. "Sorry. I've lived here my whole life. People come from Portland all the time, but anyone else is a little exciting."

"It's okay."

The library entered its first characteristic silence.

"So," Tim began, when the librarian's cooperation became clear, "I'm in the library, because this town doesn't look to have a gift shop, and I figured here would be the second best place to go for information! Specifically, um, I'm looking for some wildlife books. Stuff that lives in the area, that I could go searching for. Got anything like that? Uhh, bird books, birding? 'Oregon Wildlife' or something similar?"

"Mhmm," returned the librarian. "We have a small section just over here. Includes some maps of hiking trails, too."

"Perfect," Tim purred as the librarian came from behind the desk to show him towards the section.

While Tim perused the aisle, the librarian stayed close by. He wasn't sure what to say to her, but he figured that it was an innocent gesture. He became more okay with it as he found it reaffirmed his idea of "new". People even recognized that he was new. That felt good. That felt invigorating. He pulled out a book of Oregon birds, a guide containing hiking trails around Clackamas County, and a compendium of the foliage in the area.

He pressed the books onto the counter, which the librarian — freshly back at her post — cataloged in her list of books being checked out, stamped a time to have them returned into, and then handed back to Tim. He was still recovering from the hassle of first interacting with her, the momentary relapse into his teenage misanthropy, but flipping through the birding guide and smelling its pages raised his spirits.

So he started again.

"So what places would you suggest to an outsider such as myself?"

"Oh, sure!" She pulled the hiker's guide from his hands without warning and without asking for it, and proceeded to flip to a topographical map of the area. She pointed to the local creeks, suggested her favorite swimming spots, outlined a collection of trailheads he wouldn't find on the map, where they went — she particularly talked up one that went to the peak of one of the pre-mountain ridges.

"Beautiful up there," she toted. "Catch it at sunset and you won't regret it. Though you might have a doozy of a time getting back down!"

She chuckled, then resumed. Tim was enthralled; her finger passed over the map with such confidence and precision. She traced the valleys, the hills, the ridges, the canyons, all the little trees like she'd walked them all before. Tim experimented with her, querying on the best views along a certain road. She pressed her hand to her lips, eyes passing over the map in confusion. Briefly. And then she had oriented herself with other landmarks she knew by heart, and seamlessly strung together a series of suggestions.

"There's a waterfall here; a turnout here with one of the biggest trees in the county; if you go down this highway at night you're likely to see a lot of bats, they live in a cave right around here…"

So this is what it's like growing up in a small town, Tim thought. By god if I could be born again.

"Do you believe in the occult?"

"Huh?" Tim was struck out of his daze by the non-sequitur.

"It's just that, we don't get many tourists, but a lot of the ones we do believe in wicca."

"Wicca? I don't even know what that is."

"Oh. Well. Witchcraft. But, it's been modernized. Not a lot of sacrificing little animals, a lot more laying herbs in a circle and lighting candles. Somehow some people have got it in their heads that Boring is a great place to do rituals. I was asking, because I can point you to some little clearings in the woods where people go. To do that kind of thing."

Tim blinked a few times. "Do you believe in witchcraft?"

"I don't believe it does anything. But… how long are you planning on staying?"

"Um…"

"In Boring?"

He paused.

"I don't know. Honestly, I'm figuring all this out as I go. But with this map, it looks like I'll be touring the county more than this small town. Probably stay the night here, hit the trails tomorrow morning, see where I end up. Why?"

"Tourists don't usually come back."

That gave him pause. "That's an odd observation, how many tourists do you expect to recognize on return trips? Tourists are generally transient residents anyhow."

"It's just something you notice when you live one place your whole life. Never seen a tourist's face twice."

Tim's cheeks wrinkled into a smile. "So, you think that after I leave this library, you're likely to never see me, not ever again?"

"If the pattern holds true, definitely not."

Tim put his hand down flat against the counter. "It's a challenge, then. I swear to you I'll come back."

"You swear?"

"I swear."

The librarian leaned back, head tilted upwards just slightly, still maintaining eye contact.

"I would like it if you did."

"I will!"

Tim picked up the hiking book, and stuffed the two others under his arm, turning to head out the door.

"What time?" She called after him.

"I don't know, whenever I wake up!"

And with that he pushed the library doors opened, stepped out into the town, and disappeared across the street.


* * * * *


The very next day, when she came to open her library, he was already there. It looked like he had fallen asleep, a sun hat pulled down over his eyes to keep him shielded from the sunrise, leaning against the doors. He wore a dirt-brown shirt, khaki pants, and hiking boots. He was brown, head to toe, from his hair to his shoelaces. His pudgy belly plus slim, fit legs made him look like a sort of root vegetable, just pulled out of the ground. The observation made him chuckle. And, noticing that she hadn't caught his name, she tagged him in her mind as Mr. Rutabaga.

Mr. Rutabaga had to move so she could get to her job. So she tapped his shoulder with a stick.

"Mmm," he said, flinching at the pokes, "five more minutes."

The librarian chuckled at him, and he chuckled back, lifting his sun hat.

"I'm back."

"You are. I need to get past you."

"No conversation?"

"I need to open shop."

"Ah. I'll go back to sleep then."

"Just as long as you're not falling asleep on the door."

Tim just smiled at her, and then sat back down, leaning against the floor-to-ceiling window just next to the door. She fiddled her keys out of her pocket, opened the door, went inside, and locked it behind her. Tim pulled his hat over his eyes again, and waited. An intermittent wind flapped a flag across the street, a car would go by every minute or two, and birds could be heard chirping to welcome in the new day. To these sounds, Tim nearly nodded off, enjoying the serenity that city life had lacked for 25 years of his life.

Then, he heard the library doors open again.

"Are you just going to sit out there? You look like the wind's gonna give you pneumonia."

Tim leaned his head back to see from under the brim of his hat. "I've never really minded the cold."

"Why're you still here anyways? You beat me, you're back."

"Well you said you'd like it if I came back, thought there'd be a bigger moment!"

"What bigger moment would there be? You proved me wrong."

"Well," Tim scooted so he would be sitting more upright, "would you like to see me again? Make it a thing. Me seeing you, you seeing me."

The librarian's expression remained static, her pose almost describable as terse — abrupt and short of words. Tim thought it was funny that she was telling him about catching pneumonia from the cold; she looked stick-thin herself.

"What's your name?"

"Alice Özdemir."

"Hi, Alice. I'm Tim Wilson. And I need a hiking buddy." Tim waited for a response. When none came: "See, you talking about this 'not coming back' thing has me all superstitious, makes me think that if I decide to go out and explore all the trails, I might not be able to find this place again. Like you're some sorta dream town. And I got —"

"Four o'clock."

"Huh?"

"The library closes at three thirty, I got to go home and get some things. Meet by the Not So Boring Bar & Grill. At four."

She went inside, closed the door, and locked it to finish readying the store. Tim just smiled, wider and wider. Flapping flag, running cars, chirping birds. He pulled the hat over his eyes again, wind whistling in his ears, and caught up on a few missing hours of sleep.


* * * * *


Tim got in the passenger seat of the bright red truck, and Alice shoved a poofy brown coat into his arms.

"Wear this, you looked frigid this morning."

He obliged, and pushed his arms through the smooth plastic arms.

"Also, thought it fit with your outfit."

Tim nodded in approval. "Thanks, it has been pretty windy today."

"Mhmm."

Alice's figure looked tiny when put into the driver's seat of the truck; her legs barely reached the gas and brakes, and her head didn't touch the headrest. She wasn't much shorter than Tim, but the truck was huge.

"Why'd you get a truck that's so…"

"Big?"

"Yeah."

"It was my dad's truck."

"Oh."

She manhandled the stick-shift, which looked like it fought her at every moment, and got the car onto the nearly empty road.

"So where are we going?"

Alice smiled and glanced at him, but didn't say anything.

"Oh, huh. We're gonna play it like that, then."

Once again Alice refused to respond, checking over her shoulder before making a left-hand turn instead. Though farmland made up most of the town, it took mere moments before they were under the thick covering of leaves.

"Hey, isn't there only one way in and out of this town?"

"What?"

"When I came through, there was a patrolman who stopped me, said there was only one way in and out."

"Well that's a lie. Clackamas Highway goes straight through the middle of town. That's at least two ways out. Then we got the rural roads. Did you even look at the map while I pointed out landmarks to you?"

Tim felt a fog dissipate in his head, and suddenly he could visualize the map clearly, something he hadn't even noticed he was unable to do the day before.

"Huh," he said, and left it at that.

During the truck drive, Alice finally pushed Tim into divulging on his life before. Though Tim didn't want to discuss it, he enjoyed someone being interested in him, and Alice enjoyed learning firsthand about life outside the little town.

"Don't get me wrong, I love it here", she'd said, "but it would be nice to leave someday."

Tim, of course, tried to warn her against it. He spouted all the things he found better about life in small towns, out in the wilderness. The access to nature, hiking trails, creeks, secluded swimming spots, how you could know everyone you interact with, community, the sights and the sounds, the local businesses, the notable presence of stars, and all the rest of it. His exuberance took up a good half of the car ride, during which Alice intently listened. Whenever he'd say something that made very little sense to her, she'd remind him that he's a "stranger", and make some comment about how she shouldn't even be talking to him.

They suddenly pulled off to the side of the road in the middle of what Tim thought might be rightly considered "nowhere" — which was exactly where he liked to be, as it so happened. Alice parted a small row of bushes to reveal the beginnings of an unmarked trail that snaked through layers of dead pine needles, dirt, and small scraggly shrubs. She had donned a rather large looking backpack, and trudged down the path without saying a thing.

"Wait, what's in the pack?" Tim asked.

But Alice just gave him that smile she gave him earlier and kept walking. Tim accepted that it was part of the surprise, and started walking after her.

The trees grew thicker, the space between them thinner, and all the while they trekked downhill. Several times Tim had to stop to catch his breath, unable to keep up with the deceptively speedy young woman. After the third time, he felt it prudent to mention to her his heart, and after that she started to walk a little bit slower.

"Are you even going to be able to make it back up?"

Tim chuckled, and then let out a long sigh. "Yes, but it's going to suck."

And in another fifteen minutes of hiking, Alice started almost vibrating. She skipped forward, passing through two trees, and disappearing behind another.

"Hey, wait up, where are you goi—?"

And as Tim passed right where she had just been, he stepped into a tiny clearing, nearly perfectly circular, where the trees decided they had ought not to grow. The land was flat and without foliage, like a camping spot. Alice stood in the center, and stared at him with a mischievous grin.

"So, we're… camping?"

"No. Better."

She took her backpack off, pressed it onto the ground in front of her, kneeled down to rummage through, and pulled out a book, which she then handed to Tim. It was purple, green, and square. Its cover read…

"'Nature Spells: Wicca for the Trail'. That seems… oddly specific."

"Is it? I am finding use for it."

"Use? I thought you didn't believe in this stuff."

"I don't believe it does anything, is what I said. Do I believe it is a fun, silly thing to do, out in the middle of the woods at night? Absolutely."

"At night? How long are we staying out here?"

"It's about six, sun dips down at maybe seven, seven-thirty, and making the circle, setting up the candles, and familiarizing ourselves with the spell should take roughly an hour. What do you say? I even brought…"

She plunged her hands into her pack again, pulling them back out to reveal rolls of some silky black material.

"…robes!"

"Robes!?"

"Robes," she spat.

Tim looked nearly appalled, but Alice motioned to hand him the robes anyways, and raised her eyebrows at him. Tim glanced down at the robe, then at her, then at the robe, then at her again, then at the robe one last time…

"Fine," he picked it up between his thumb and forefinger as if it was a soiled rag, "but I'll let you know that this is just because you've been a great help to me."

"Works for me!"

They each donned the ceremonial attire, and got to work laying candles; building a fire (ashes on the ground marked where this had clearly been done before); dropping sprigs of various herbs (sage, rosemary, mandrake) in very specific spots; traced a pentagram; spread salt; and, lastly, sat down together to read the actual ritual with the aid of a headlamp, as the sun had sunk beneath the pines of the trees.

"It's a welcoming spell."

"A welcoming spell?"

"Yes," she poked her finger down onto the page. "It's about asking the local spirits and powers-that-be for safe passage. Praying to be welcomed as a stranger in a strange land, swearing you will do no harm here. That's what it's about. I chose it for you, 'cause you're new here. I thought it would be a great first thing to do."

"Well it's too late for that, I did two hikes between you opening the library and meeting me by the bar and grill."

"Shhh. It's symbolic."

"Alright, alright."

And so, once the first stars began to peek through the great black veil above, Tim and Alice lit the candles, and the fire, and recited the possibly-gibberish contained in the little purple-green book. Many an outrageous arm motion were had, much more volume than required was spoken with, and the spirits and powers-that-be were invoked!

"Spirits!!" Alice cried. "Let this strange man from San Diego stay here in Oregon unmolested by your wrath, may his soul and the soil become as one, may he not be foreign but instead a new addition to the body of these woods, a feature as fixed as the plains, as iconic as the mountains. If he migrates, let him do so as a bird, returning to find that he is still welcome, a home from here on. Spirits, hear me, and be at peace."

The forest was silent except for the crackle of the fire, motionless except for the flickering orange light from the candles. Alice put her hands at her side, once more at ease, and pulled the hood of her robe off.

"Wow," Tim said. "I think you went off-script."

"And so what if I did? I want you to be welcome here. It's just a spell about having the spirits listen to you, I should be able to say what I want."

Tim pulled his hood off as well, making eye contact with Alice.

"Do you think it worked?"

They each stood in silence, scanning the environment, listening for any new sounds. Not a single candle had flickered out, there was no new gust of wind. The stars did not shine brighter, or disappear from sight. Nothing stirred.

"Probably not," Alice shrugged. "But I've always wanted to do that."

"Have you?"

"Yes." Alice began blowing out candles and picking them up.

"Why?" Tim followed suit.

Alice shrugged again. "You'd be surprised how many people come into the library to get wicca books. I've just always wanted to know what it was all about. Have the experience. Plus, you're a tourist, and it's a tourist thing to do." She saw doubt in his eyes. "Trust me."

Tim yielded, putting his hands in front of himself up for a brief moment.

Tim asked if they had any easy way to put the fire out. Alice said they could smother it with dirt, or they could just wait. Tim offered his opinion by taking a seat near the fire, and Alice followed suit. They took the robes off, packed everything back up and then sat there, staring deeply into the fire's red-orange core, its licks shooting into the air like fish from a pond.

"And my mom was into it."

"Was?"

Alice just looked at him.

"Oh," Tim whispered. "Sorry."

The fire popped, flickered, and twisted. Occasionally, owls would hoot, and Alice pointed out when she thought she heard a coyote howl, but Tim didn't catch it. Eventually, the plasma died down, and all that was left were embers. Alice got up and scooped handfuls of dirt onto the fire until the darkness of night surrounded them, and they had only her headlamp to go by.

"Alright Tim, I think we'd better get going. I have to open the library tomorrow, just like every day."

Tim started to stand, dreading the long walk back up the hill.

"Where are you staying, anyhow? We don't have a motel, or hotel, due to, you know, no one stopping by."

"Oh. I just slept in my truck."

"In your truck!?"

"Yeah."

"You're not doing that tonight."

"Who are you to tell me what I am or am not doing?"

"I have a guest room, do you want it or not?"

Tim's eyes widened. "Well, thank you! That's very kind!"

Their conversation continued in this way, all the way up the hill, however slowly they went. Or so was supposed, by the creatures of the night, the insects and arachnids on the trees in the clearing they left. Without their presence, and the absence of the fire crackling, the woods were quieter than ever. A half-moon lit everything in dark blue light, as if the world were underwater. But soon, there was a noise. Cracking twigs from behind the treeline.

Something great, furred, and heavy stepped into the clearing recently vacated, and gazed up the path the humans had just walked. Its hooves disturbed the ashes of their campfire, its short tail twitched. And then, just like that, its antlers flared to life, orange and red and yellow, hot and glowing, radiant. The flames coiled around its horns like snakes on branches, contained but restless, pushing against the boundaries of their home. The deer only stared on and up the path. An ear twitched, a nose sniffed. And then it jolted into the woods, away from the clearing, between the trees.

And the woods were silent once more.




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