Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Eve, A Literary Fable

The Rainy Day
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

            The rain has been incessant today, and as James Joyce would say, “falling generally all across” the Pacific Northwest.  This dark and dreary weather gives me pause to reconsider the relevance of Longfellow’s line, “Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”

            This story begins when I had just completed my degree in journalism from U. C. Sacramento and was still filled with the zealous ambition to tell the truth as I saw it, and with that truth, change the world.  Needing a place to ply my supposed life’s purpose, I took a job at a relatively young news magazine, The Gate, in San Francisco as a “staff reporter.”  A staff reporter meant I was the low man on the totem pole: no By Lines, no Pulitzers, no fame, only a lowly writer of content fill.  I was told that I needed to “cut my teeth” in the real world of journalism, and that meant surviving at least a full year of local political races, inconsequential city council and school board meetings, and the requisite “pet-saves-the-day” feel good fluff.  I was seriously considering a professional change when I was finally offered what was proposed as a primo assignment.  It would be, as it turned out, my last assignment as a journalist, but the story would challenge me in ways I still do not fully understand, and stick with me through all the frustrating years and rejections of my career as a starving writer.
            It would be those unending, disquieting thoughts that led me to the research of the probabilities of impossibility, Faith as it were.  As to my conclusions and suppositions, I guess you could call me agnostic.  I don’t know what I believe.  I am writing this because it is the logical thing to do.  I know there will be some who will use this as some sort of dissertation on a definitive truth, and others who will laugh at my ludicrous premise and unscholarly connection of seemingly incongruous events.  

            I found Eve amid scores of yellowed missing persons reports in the archives of the Seattle police department.  Her first name was my only “hit” in hundreds of hours of searching.  The police report led me to a few surviving newspaper articles to supplement the scant investigative interviews.  Unfortunately, her few friends have scattered over the years, and her parents are long deceased.  So with the little I had, I began to piece together what I uncovered and compare it to the “facts” I knew, and thus this incredible story was compiled. 
Granted, my conclusions are not without flaws, and wholly dependent on a certain number of leaps-of-faith.  In the end, I still don’t know if I believe what I think, or even think what I believe, but this is my thesis of Faith.
            Eve Sternum was born March 13, 1948, in Wenatchee, Washington.  Her father was an economics professor at Central Washington University and her mother a high school science teacher.  Her Scandinavian heritage blessed her with fine blond hair and (according to reports) striking blue eyes; however, it denied her the stereotypical flawless beauty inherent of the people of that region.  She was, instead, reportedly plain by most accounts, but also known as an intellect without equal.  Eve excelled in her studies and graduated high school in her 16th year.  Due to her youth, her parents kept her home for the first two years of college, studying psychology at Wenatchee Valley College.  As her 18th birthday neared, she applied to, and was accepted at, the University of Washington in Seattle.  Emancipated and on her own, she redoubled her academic prowess, and earned her bachelor’s in less than 10 months.  At that point she switched majors and began to pursue studies in biologic pharmaceuticals for her graduate degree.  She was awarded her Masters of Science almost six months early, on March 13, 1969.  She apparently failed to recognize the significance of the date so carefully orchestrated by her parents.
            Eve was a particularly non-social person.  According to the surviving interviews of her classmates, she was not anti-social, but preferred quiet, uninterrupted study in her dorm over the din of campus life.  Abstaining from the political and social unrest of the era, and refusing to engage in debate or even the expression of opinions on Nixon and the Viet Nam War, she was considered by many to be a collegiate pariah, and shunned as such.  Her recreation was therefore, not found in the company of the co-ed males, nor was it dancing, parties, raucous rallies or partaking in the varied intoxicants prevalent in the mid to late 1960s.  She instead found her recreational pleasures in solo, exploratory hikes and backwoods kayaking in the Cascades Mountains.  It is there where her story begins and ends.
            Her 22nd birthday had passed during a particularly late cold snap.  Eve had spent the winter and early spring working in a post-graduate fellowship on a derivative of a protein found only in the furled frons a rare species of fern.  It was her belief, according to several people who assisted her, that by splitting this protein she had identified, and combining it with an inherent human amino acid, she could produce a biologic receptor that would inhibit the growth of metastatic melanoma.  Her ultimate goal was to find a bridge that would correlate this receptor with other cancers.  She carefully documented her discoveries in copious detail, bound in notebooks that were never found outside her guarded possession.
            By early April, the air had warmed and the snow had receded enough for her to pack a three-day supply of food and water, some necessary sterile vials, her carefully annotated lab notes and a jar of the refined solvent necessary for the protein extraction.  It was a Saturday when she headed into the high bush country in search of the tender spouts that promised a medical breakthrough. 
            But as I said, this is both the beginning and the end of her story.  Eve never returned from her hike.  Air and ground searches continued for three weeks without any positive results.  By the end of the summer of 1970, Eve Sternum and all of her potential, was relegated to the annals of the lost hikers of the Pacific Northwest.

            And then came the infamous “Fastiff video.”

            When I was assigned to interview Charlie Fastiff, trust me, I did everything possible to weasel my way out of it.  It may have been offered as a primo assignment, but the topic was not of particular interest to me and I had no desire to indelibly tie my virginal reputation to such a fiasco.  Even in light of the remarkable story that eventually unfolded, this is still a case where I believe the mystery would have been better off left a mystery; my life certainly would have had a different outcome. 
The magazine wanted to cover the popular, quote, Bigfoot phenomenon, end quote, from every conceivable angle.  The magazine wanted interviews from every kook and every official, from witnesses and hoaxers, from biologists and cryptozoologists; my editor wanted every piece of tangible evidence, and of course, he wanted Charlie Fastiff’s video.
            I met Charlie at his house, a tiny ramshackle clapboard trailer surrounded by a yard full of discarded appliances, toilets and rusting car bodies.  He resides just off Highway #7 in British Columbia on the outskirts of Hope.  Oh, I was so tempted to make a joke about his circumstances and the nearby town’s name, but out of social etiquette, I kept quiet.  I guess I’ll leave it to each of you to devise an appropriate punchline for yourself.
            Charlie was not someone I would categorize as a typical North Woods mountain man.  He was short, rotund and had a ruddy complexion betoken of the hypertension that he likely garnered from his poor diet, abusive beer consumption, and evident lack of exercise. 
We met and shook hands at the base of the weather-worn wood steps that led into the trailer.  I asked if he knew who I was, and what I was there for.  He acknowledged the scheduled interview, but demanded his negotiated stipend before he would allow me inside.  I counted the U.S. currency as I laid it out on a rusted washing machine; he refused to help me retrieve my equipment from the car, but did graciously hold the door open as I toted my tripods, recorders and cameras into the mobile home.
Inside, his home was dingy and dark with an odiferous air of mildew, stale beer and urine, but mixed with a sweetness that knew, but failed at first to identify.  I placed a voice recorder atop a stack of moisture stained Field and Stream magazines.  I glanced around hoping to spot one of our titles, but from the age of the periodicals I saw, I doubt my esteemed employer was even being published when Charlie had bought his last subscription.  With the recorder on, I set about placing the video cameras and lights for the main part of the interview.  While I busied myself, I began the “soft stroke” questions designed to promote confidence and ease of conversation.
I learned that Charlie was collecting disability from a short military stint, and made other money trading junk metal and doing odd jobs.  He had been married once and had a child; neither his ex-wife nor his son had spoken to him in over 15 years.  His life, he claimed, was pretty much solitary since his best friend, Steve, had been recently killed in prison.  He boasted that he and Steve used to enjoy bird watching and hiking in the mountains; my cursory inspection of the miniscule hovel proved there wasn’t anything that could possibly substantiate those as active hobbies.  When I asked about the dangers of being alone in the woods, he produced a 44 caliber handgun, saying he was not stupid, no bear or mountain lion was going to get him.  He said, “This here might not kill a bear, but it sure as hell will scare ‘em off.”  I simply smiled as if I agreed.
I rearranged the room so that there were two chairs directly in front of the old Zenith 27” console TV with its RCA VCR on top.  In the corner, I noticed several plastic milk crates full of cassettes.  I commented about the number of movies to which he replied, he didn’t get television out here, it was too expensive, but those, indicating the cache of tapes, were mostly, “You know, adult stuff.  Fuck films.”  His admission made me reconsider sitting on the soiled upholstered chair, but I had made it this far, and I figured, a new pair of jeans would not kill my budget.
I placed his now infamous video into my high speed tape-to-tape duplicator so I would have the negotiated full copy to bring back to San Francisco, and while that spun, I checked the camera angles in order to have face shots of both him and me to edit together.  Plus, the two mic sources would assure the best possible audio recording.
Charlie went to the kitchen and returned with a cold can of Natty; he didn’t offer one to me.  We began the interview talking about why he went up on the mountain alone.  He again offered the same lies about bird watching and hiking; I was not there to judge, so I allowed him to prattle his overly detailed and extensive fabrications without interruption or challenge.  
With the suspect prologue recorded, I asked if we could start the video.  He offered to cue it up to the exciting stuff, but I insisted that I needed to see the entire film.  Almost from the beginning, where there was an obvious edit, I could detect two whispering voices and an occasional shadow that could not have come from Charlie, who was holding the camera. 
I allowed the farce to continue making notes based on the blue timer readout of the VCR.  At 18 minutes 52 seconds, Charlie indicated in a voice that sounded like over-emoted fear, that this is where it happened.  The progress of the “hike” slowed considerably as if Charlie, while shooting the video was either setting something up or awaiting some off-camera cue.
The view on the tape panned around a large boulder where three creatures  jumped to their feet; two very large males, and one significantly smaller and lighter colored female.  This was the image of the supposed Sasquatches I was sent to collect.
Charlie stood and stated, “I don’t want to watch this part.”  He hobbled towards the kitchen with the probable purpose of fetching another Natural Light.
The video image shuttered like the camera was being held in unstable hands.  The motion caused the auto-focus to drift in and out without capturing a clear image of the Bigfoot creatures.  The audio, as I am sure you have seen and heard numerous times, was unblemished by the Blair Witch-type cinematography.  Charlie’s voice is heard stammering, “Oh my God.  Oh, my God!  It’s okay.  It’s okay.  We won’t hurt you.  Really, it’s okay.”
There were guttural grunts and hisses from the two larger “animals,” but the smaller female remained silent, tilting her head like a curious child.  In a very human-like fashion, she took four steps toward the camera, paused, and pointed an index finger at Charlie.  He spoke again, more calmly than I would have expected, “It’s okay; I won’t hurt you.  My name is Charlie.”
The female pointed her finger at her own chest and vocalized some sounds that many proclaim sound like, “Me - Eve - Momma.”
As if by some prearranged cue, the two large males screamed in a high-pitched coyote-like howl and ran in the direction of the camera.  Charlie and his undisclosed companion also screamed, and that is where, as you know, the video ends.
“That’s where I dropped the camera and broke it.”  Charlie was standing behind me, emptying another blue and silver can.  “I went back two days later; they must’ve fucked with it, because it was a good ten yards from where I dropped it.  I’m just glad the tape was still there.”
I shook my head in disbelief.  I smiled, “You have always claimed you were up there alone.  You weren’t.  Who was with you, Charlie?”  The question seemed to catch him off guard.  “Come on, it’s obvious, man, there were two of you there.”
Charlie’s shoulders slunk, “It was Steve.  Me and him were together, but don’t write that, okay?  I ain’t be sharing no money with his damned low-life kids.  I ain’t got nothing, nothing but this tape.  So if you don’t mind, you just say it was only me up there, okay?”
It was about then that my sensory memories kicked in and I finally identified the other odor that hung in the air.  “You had a grove out there, didn’t you?”
“What the fuck do you mean?  A grove?”
“You and Steve were growing pot out there, weren’t you?   You aren’t bird watchers; you don’t take a video camera bird watching.  You aren’t hikers either; look at you, man.  And I can smell the weed, Charlie.  That’s what you were doing, right?”
Charlie looked genuinely nervous, even scared this time.
“Look, Charlie, I’m not the cops; I don’t give a damn about the marijuana.  I am only here about the video and how you came to shoot it.  The rest can stay your dirty little secret, honest.”
Charlie sat defeatedly into his chair.  He dropped his face into his hands and whispered, “Someone was fucking with our plants.  We were going to get them on film; maybe kill ‘em.  I don’t know.  It was all Steve’s idea.”
“Was the whole Bigfoot stunt staged?”
“Hell, no!  Those fucking things scared the shit out of us.”  Charlie stood up and switched the VCR off, killing the static.  “Anyone that goes out there alone is just plain fucking nuts.” 
He sat hard again into the chair.  He appeared lost in thoughts for several minutes, and finally added, “Steve went back up there to harvest the plants.  He’s the one that got the camera.  I ain’t never going back up there.  He got caught coming back down; that’s where they busted him.  The camera was in his PBs at the jail.  I guess he listed me as the emergency contact, ‘cause they gave me all his shit after he got hisself shanked and died.  I did give his watch and money to his kids, but I ain’t never told them about the camera.”

When I got back to San Francisco, I ran another copy of the tape to keep as a souvenir.   With that done, I gathered the interview tapes and the magazine’s equipment and headed downtown to meet with my editor.  The meeting didn’t go as well as I might have expected.  He was seriously agog over the video, ranting about it being the first definitive evidence that Sasquatches exist.  I attempted to get him to listen to the “other” facts, but he wasn’t interested in Charlie’s confessions.  I argued that the truth behind the Bigfoot encounter was nothing more than a preposterous hoax perpetrated by a couple of marijuana growers to deter people from hiking near their crops.  I beseeched him that the video could injure the magazine’s reputation if we were to propound it as anything other than just another fraud.  In the end, I was politely, yet sternly, admonished that as long as I worked for The Gate, I would have no say and offer no opinion as to what the magazine would or wouldn’t do with its content; furthermore, it was his job, not mine, to decide what was truth and what was farce. 
Truth, as it turns out, whether it is broadcast as news, printed in books and magazines, preached from a pulpit, or posted on the Internet, is nothing more than an editorial decision.  No definitive paradigm exists.  To paraphrase an old saying, one man’s truth is another man’s folly.  I sadly discovered that journalism is a sham unless you are willing to accept the truth as it is interpreted by the powers that be. 
  I did agree with him about my obligations as a magazine employee.  But I was tired, I was disheartened, and I was disappointed by the realities of my chosen profession.  I quit.
Later that evening, alone in my darkened apartment, I contemplated this new and unplanned slant on my future.  My copy of the Fastiff video lay on the counter where I had left it; I decided to watch it again.  I hoped to reassure myself as to the conclusions that ended my short and quite un-illustrious journalism career.  But as the video ended, I was left as empty as I was at the beginning.  I stared, mesmerized at the static and snow of the empty tape, wishing I could find some small solace for my actions.  Life changing events are rarely fraught with joy and confidence; this was no exception. 
Depression sat heavy on my chest, and I decided to self-medicate the pain and lubricate the “I quit” words still lodged in my throat.  Pouring a straight four fingers of Kentucky Gentleman, I started towards to the TV to quiet the white noise when at 28 minutes, 51 seconds, I heard something else.
I rewound and listened, and rewound and listened, over and over until I was certain that there was something more than just blank tape noise.
For more than a week, my mind twisted in turmoil as I considered the possible consequences of this discovery.  I vacillated between going public and the destruction of the evidence.  Truth had again morphed in my conceptual mind.  If what I had heard turns out to be “true,” it could, in fact, change the world.  Now I was the editor.
I set about recruiting help.  I would need substantive and verifiable tests done by reliable and creditable authorities.  And all of this needed to be accomplished with a bank account that held little promise of a replenishing paycheck in any foreseeable future.  I cashed in every favor I ever amassed until at last, one of my professors from the University called with a possible lead.  She had an associate who was currently engaged in audio reconstruction and analysis for the government.  Apparently he and she once had something more than a casual friendship, and she thought she could entice him to study the tape without charge. 
For security purposes, I was not allowed to enter the secretive lab, but after four days, he called late at night and asked for a meeting.  The next morning at a downtown coffee shop, he presented me with a filtered version of my tape where he had segregated the subject noises from the background interference.  His linguist had agreed to analyze the sounds and had concluded that it was, indeed, some sort of vocalized communication.  To his surprise, although the source was undoubtedly animal in origin, there were syllables that appeared to be constructed in English. 
He provided a short transcript for me to compare to the sounds on the filtered tape.

Female voice:  (unintelligible) No (unintelligible) Momma
First male voice:  (unintelligible)
Second male voice:  (unintelligible)
Female voice:  Together -- Eve (unintelligible)
Second male voice:  (unintelligible)
Female voice:  No hurt (unintelligible)
First male voice:  (loud, but unintelligible)
Female voice:  No - Please (unintelligible)
Then the female voice is then heard crying and fading away from the damaged microphone.

Could this all be part of the same hoax?  Yes, sure it could.  But then why doesn’t Charlie make everyone listen to that part of the tape too?  Like I said, I’m agnostic; I don’t know what I believe, I don’t even know what I think.  My guess is that this is where Faith has to enter the picture.
I once heard it argued that George Lucas successfully suggested the existence of God by writing the prequel to the Star Wars Trilogy twenty-five years after the original movie’s premier.  The argument goes that an omnipotent God who presents Himself in Faith, and then challenges mortals to maintain that Faith in the face of free-will and cold reason, could, and in fact, would write the known geologic, paleontologic and archeologic evidence as tests of our Faith.  And therein lies the conundrum of vindication.  It was proffered that should one man trust his Faith over reason, and Faith is never vindicated, the consequences are minimal; however, should another man choose empirical evidence over Faith, and Faith is vindicated, the consequences are beyond comprehension.  Logic defies logic.
There are many who have a faith that Bigfoot exists, but their faith is not as yet provable.  Is Faith truth?  Is truth Faith?  Or are Faith and truth irreconcilable?
No one has ever found a Sasquatch body, nor has anyone captured a live specimen.  And as many as there are, every picture of the beasts is either grainy or out of focus.  Does this lack of evidence prove they do not exist?  I really don’t know; I have no truth other than Eve.  She is not much of a truth other than my aforementioned ludicrous premise and unscholarly connection of seemingly incongruous events, but there also is the Fastiff video and the noises at the end.  I keep telling myself that only a fool would believe.  This is where unvindicated Faith and undiscovered evidence must be reconciled.  I still attempt to say I am agnostic, that I don’t believe what I think, or think what I believe, but then I did hear that voice, and I felt the Spirit.
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining…


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