Like a cyclone selectively touching down and reducing a barn of lowlife magicians to a mountain of debris while leaving the puppy orphanage across the way totally intact, the modern revolution all but passed over Wherever Where other cities were populated at their every corner with fast-food chains, and their buildings that invade the skyline, piping plumes of ash, here the atmosphere shines in clear, brilliant radiance Wherever is no hub of activity So, when the odd traveling salesmen, hocking their nostrums and vaccuum cleaners, or backpackers lost on their way to more bustling centers show up now and again, they are invariably the talk of the town In fact, people only ever seem to wind up Wherever by chance, a mistake of the winds of fate I’ve never seen the town on a map It’s a genuine shock then, on the rare occasion when any person of real note should purposely journey here, much less go so far as to send word of the trip in advance Word, that is, via glossy, decoratively calligraphed cards, that gleam when held at certain angles The script is looping and precise and reads, between miniaturized reproductions of posing, alabaster models, “Eno Fogerty, world famed sculptor Fantastically lifelike statues that must be seen to be believed In Wherever, for the Autumnul Equinox.” It made no mention of a location, though if an event of true importance was to be held in our little town, it would be at the Wherever Fairgrounds Home to every talent competition, Little Miss Bovine pageant, and Annual Furniture Burning, the Fairgrounds have a… chameleonic attribute that make them suitable for goings-on of any nature It had not, however, in its history, ever hosted a fair If we’re calling a spade a spade, it’s a cemented lot, dappled with deep cracks like scars that house dandelions and beetle colonies A thinly wooded thicket leading into the Wherever Forest flanks its western border But were a traveling circus ever to plant roots in Wherever, this would certainly be the place for it – Today, on this gateway between seasons, the weather displays appropriate indecision, compounding strong winds that come and go with a persistent, glowering heat: summer’s last vestiges I make it to the Fairgrounds around noon, expecting to have the run of the place, but from the looks of it, the rest of town also spied the advertisements, brazenly tossed on the ground outside Stuff A-Plenty, if not from the glare they reflected then from slipping as the laminated surface contacted pavement Um, that second one definitely didn’t happen to me Harsh light beats down on the acre of gray pitch, insects skitter about their reclaimed portions of the lot, and nothing separates the Fairgrounds from just that, a lot, except for the new addition resting at its upper reaches A pair of short steps that lead up to a sizeable platform, split at its middle by a seam, a hinge; probably for folding and easy transportation during tours Everyone eyes the foot-high makeshift stage, on which rests five, billowing tarps, erect as if suspended by invisible wires, and spread out evenly across its width Some sit along the chipped concrete, most stand, grouped in small, scattered clusters that gossip in a nervous, anticipatory fervor “What are those things on stage?” I hear one young girl ask the adult grasping her tiny hand “Works of art, sweetie,” the woman, her mother, responds, not looking away from the compact clutched in her other hand, in which she inspects a blemish that I can make out from where I’m standing Right now, all these works of art look like people in bad Halloween costumes, the kind where you cut holes in an old sheet and call yourself a ghost I’ve seen real ghosts, and they don’t fancy low thread count bedding And anyway, these tarps don’t have eye holes They simply stand, unmoving, except for the infrequent gust that flutters their edges like a skirt over a steam grate After a while, the buzz of the audience transforms from curiosity to antsy unrest to boredom And then, as the first wave of heads begin to lower and check wristwatches, a scream
rings throughout the crowd Our heads all turn, as a flock of flamingoes to the little girl, the same one from before, and then in the direction of her outstretched arm Toward the stage and the tarps “It moved! I-I saw it move!” Her mother, obviously as startled as the rest of us, attempts to console her, “Oh, that’s just the wind, sweetie.” “No, no, it moved!” But before her mother can gather the words, she is interrupted by an audible rustling, the crinkled shuffling of polyester, nails scratching a vinyl record Quiet befalls the gathering of townsfolk All except the little girl, that is, who says, vindicated, “See?” And the eagle-eyed tyke is right, for the middle tarp is bulging at points Are those handprints? Movement halts and then starts up again, almost angrily; an unseen wrestling match brewing beneath its cover Not a whisper escapes the crowd Shadows stretch and evaporate beneath the tarp as it raises, inch-by-inch and then, like a discarded plastic bag, is launched into the air The shiny, lacquered sheet fans out into a crumpled circle at the back of the stage, and standing in its place is no mere marble recreation of a person, but a woman, in the flesh and blood and dust-covered overalls The audience, after picking up its collective jaw, is a chorus of gasps, ooh, and ahs “Did you see them set this whole thing up?” One onlooker asks “I didn’t, but she must have been standing there half the day,” Another responds Similar exclamations of awe are sounded off On stage, following her dramatic reveal, the woman has yet to address her spectators She is tall, made taller still by a thigh-high pair of emerald snake-skin boots Around her head, a checker patterned scarf, flush with yellows and reds and fading indigo She has perceptive eyes, the eyes of a lapidary, always observing and analyzing detail, and her curious eyes roam over the assembled lot That is, the lot of people Not the lot on which they’re standing, though she is sure to take in just how… well-kept of a lot it is For the first time, I also glance about the surrounding faces, recognizing most, though placing very few names, before my gaze rests on a familiar, pudgy one, which shoots me a jovial grin as we lock eyes He is standing nearer to the stage and waves me over, so I needle through the groups of clucking hens and when I’m in arms’ length of my new, round Landlord, he serves up a chesty laugh, a pat on the back, and says, “Funny seeing you here!” “I didn’t peg you for a fan of sculptures,” I say, making small talk, though immediately wondering what sort of vibe a fan of sculptures might give off “Oh, I’m not But Pamplemousse can’t get enough of the stuff.” Just then he turns his right side to me, revealing an orange tote hanging by a white, nylon strap from his shoulder, and in the bag, the nearly translucent, red-eyed reptile who’d quickly become the apartment’s unofficial mascot “Isn’t that right, buddy?” As if recognizing the spotlight is on him, Pamplemousse blinks and flicks his tongue happily “His favorite is Michaelangelo’s David,” the Landlord informs me A sequence of polite golf claps that should have been hard to hear over the clamor successfully incur silence When focus has settled squarely and noiselessly on the stage once more, the artist lowers her hands and begins, in a voice all too gentle to rile yet powerful enough to captivate, “I’m too, too ecstatic to welcome you all, citizens of Wherever, to this, the fourth stop in my Flyover Tour, in which I bestow the alms of my precious gift to oft-overlooked
regions of this vast nation.” “I, Eno Fogerty, have crafted the human truth in mineral, and today, reflect that humanity back to you,” she says, and walks up to each tarp, ripping one after the other from its hidden charge The “ooh-ing” and “ah-ing” kicks up again, this time with a wonderment that can only be encapsulated in one word: “Wowie.” Even I had to let out a wolf whistle The four statues she uncovers glisten, their swirls of whites and pearl grays enhanced in boldness by early autumn glare This sunny sheen is the one factor distinguishing the veins running along the arms and legs of her facsimiles from those coursing with real blood From where the Landlord and I stand, a few feet from the platform, if you lobbed a pebble at one of them, I’d expect it to rub its head and yell, “Hey! What’s the big idea?!” The promotional card did not lie “Grief… joy… abject terror… the bittersweet ale of life as still frames… this is what I’ve brought before you.” As she speaks she circles the stage, bobbing and weaving through the uncanny figures Each subject is male, with builds ranging from broad to lithe, and she wilts into the arms of the largest, a companion in stone “And in two days’ time, I will unveil a fifth of my marble masterpieces, conceived of and created here in your quaint homestead.” At this, the audience roars an approving cheer An approval laced with incredulity if the underlying murmurs are any indication A full sculpture, not just a tawdry bust, with the craftsmanship of those present in just two days? Unheard of! But there isn’t a hint of pretense in Eno’s delivery Her confidence is nearly as staggering as the proposition “Until that date, however, you may approach and behold, though only with your eyes,” and she steps to the back of the stage, her gaze unflinching Consent in hand, the crowd fulfills its namesake, crowding the stage in a swarm not unlike locusts, starving for the scarce crop that is fine artistry The rabble preoccupied, Eno takes another cursory purview of the Fairgrounds, and stops when she looks in my direction, but it isn’t me she’s set her sights on The Landlord and I have just elbowed our way out of the mosh pit of ravenous art connoisseurs when I notice Pamplemousse missing from his satchel A quick look to the stage, however, and I see the tegu perched, it would appear, at its very edge, staring… No, studying the four statues with a one-mindedness usually reserved for dragonflies The surprise of a woman’s voice nearby interrupts this chain of observation as I turn to see the event’s host and honoree in the midst of a conversation with my amiable new Landlord Well, not so new anymore New relative to the old, unhinged scientist Landlord They are having a lively chat from the looks of his face-encompassing smile and the booming guffaw he releases after her every line of subdued response “Me?” I hear him say, and his face is cherry red with amusement When their conversation comes to an end, and the Landlord bounces back over to me, he relays giddily, that Eno, THE Eno Fogerty (that he’d heard of only just today) wants him to act as muse for her latest creation And Could I imagine it? Him? A Model? “Can you imagine it? Me? A Model?” he asks “I won’t need to imagine it! It’s happening!”
I say, and he beams “We’re going to discuss more of the particulars,” he says, “But I’ll see you back at the Apartments!” And with that, he jogs off toward the stage, still packed like sardines with audience members, hemming and hawing at the chiseled delights Having seen everything I need to make the right countertop selection for my kitchen island, I make for the Fairgrounds exit Nearing the parted iron gates that act as their entrance, however, a sparkle, a refraction of light meets the corner of my eye and I look to the ground to see – another of Eno’s announcements? No, it’s a round, powder-pink compact, stamped on its lid with a golden star, and laid open, bearing its miniature mirror I pick it up and glance about for the mother and daughter who seem to have already left Inserting it into a jacket pocket to give Beatriz later, I clear the gateway – Before journeying back to the apartments, though, I’ve another destination in mind As blistering midday transitions gradually into a cool evening, and I cross the town on foot, I begin wondering if it’s even worth the trouble But I’ve made a commitment – And so, I suck in a deep breath and shove open the doors to The Snake Boot, to the sound of the long-broken jukebox, warbling out a weary blues tune a key too high The worst (and singular) bar in Wherever has very little in the way of amenities –bad beer, bad music, bad pool table (no matter how many coasters you put under the legs, it’s still lopsided), and bad company, but its trivia night (though still bad) is something every Wherever citizen is obliged to experience at least once As it happens, I’ve been putting it off for five years, and the welcoming committee (a quartet of burly ex-saw millers with penchants for gift basket making) is finally cashing in on its belated initiation ritual –er, bonding exercise I would need the guidance of the spirits (and the guidance of spirits) to ferry me through the night, as well as such trivia topics as: Famous Movie Gophers, How Long Have I Been Dead?, Granaries of the 1850s, and Jeopardy The last topic, as I learned, does not involve questions from the hit television program, Jeopardy, but instead throws the recipient into an instance of mortal danger from which there is only one escape; More beer You chug or your grave gets dug An untraditional gauntlet, but the bar hounds request it weekly To the Snake Boot’s credit, no one’s ever lost – Stumbling home with a slowly fermenting brain is not an advisable course of action That is, of course, unless your heart is swollen with the drunkenness of trivia victory Somehow, our team has emerged superior, and through the fog of genius or the hops that has now replaced my blood, I locate and become one with my bed, and sleep the dream-laden sleep of champions – I’ve just scored a crater-in-one in Lunar Minigolf when a furious rapping at the door startles me awake, still partially in a boozy stupor, and I pull on one leg of a pair of jeans and fumble with the knob The door hasn’t budged a centimeter before a white blur of scales forces it the full way open and scampers past my feet I whirl my head around blearily and spot Pamplemousse, glaring up at me with what must be the reptilian equivalent of distrust and I glare right back with the universal human look for “please stop making loud noises, my head feels like a pinball machine.” “Can I help you?” I say, in my best tegu’log, and he seems just about to snarl when deputy sheriff and my lower neighbor, Beatriz rounds the corner and, eyeing Pamplemousse and I in what surely looks like the intense stare-down before a choreographed dance fight, breathes a sigh of relief “That’s where he’d gotten off to.” She leans against the doorframe, arms folded, “Can’t have this rascal disappearing, too.” Lucidity shines a way light through my mind murk, and I ask, “Disappeared?
Someone’s disappeared?” And Pamplemousse’s skittish ferocity melts into soft whimpers He throws me a pitiful look and sulks on past Beatriz, out of the room “Pamplemousse came back last night, the clever thing already knows his way around Wherever, but I’ve seen hair nor hide of his owner all day.” “The Landlord just… hasn’t come back?” “Not from what I can see, no Poor thing’s worried to death.” Pamplemousse and I had last run into each other at Eno Fogerty’s gallery of masterfully rendered statues, and I guess I was the last recognizable person he’d seen with his owner Explains the suspicion “Are you going to put out an APB?” I ask, wide-eyed She chuckles, and shakes her head, “It’s a little early to file a missing persons’, and with such a small town, there aren’t many places he could be, but we’ll be keeping an eye out.” She assures me that Pamplemousse is stocked up on food for a week, at least, and the doggy door (lizard door?) the Landlord recently had installed gives him easy access to and from their room But material sustenance alone cannot heal the pain of a missing compadre – It is already afternoon by the time Pamplemousse rouses me, a testament to Wherever’s local brewery, and at the sky’s extremities, burnt oranges taper off into the darkening blue of a day retiring Cicadas screech out a swan song for summer The landlord’s disappearance shakes me, admittedly Seeing him yesterday was basically my last fully formed memory, so I go for a walk, partially to clear my head, but mostly to gain a short reprieve from Pamplemousse’s lonesome whines – My path leads, almost instinctively, in the exact opposite direction as the Snake Boot A half hour of thought-filled meandering later, and I’m, once again, nearing the dilapidated Fairgrounds On a quarter mile past the lot, which, as I can just make out, still holds the fold-up stage, though now sans sculptures, and my forehead comes mere dust motes from colliding with the large, wooden welcome sign for the “Wherever Dream Living Community.” This collection of luxury log cabins, splayed seemingly randomly along the forest’s edge, was built at a time when the production of the saw mill looked to make Wherever a prosperous little hamlet, and plans were underway to make the whole of the town a wealthy tourists’ outdoor fantasy, but as the price of lumber fell through the floor, so too did Wherever’s chances at pulpy esteem The only remnants of what might have been are the half-dozen or so beautifully crafted and furnished homes that now go for rent during the vacation season and act as a hotel of sorts for more monied travelers Subconsciously, I’ve wandered into The Famous Zone, an accidental paparazzo without his camera But I’m not star struck While I’m in the neighborhood, I figure it couldn’t hurt to ask Ms. Fogerty if she recalls the Landlord acting at all strange during their modeling session Of the six, oak abodes, just one shows signs of inhabitance, a glow pouring out from its pair of front-facing windows into the calm of approaching dark Each house is equipped with a manual garage, also made of hardy tree trunk, and it is under the door of the garage attached to the lit home that I notice a bunching of fabric caught between the ground and the bezel Reaching down and taking a handful, I rub the material between my fingers It’s one of the sculptor’s tarps No sooner do I make this realization than does a soft “Tsk tsk tsk” pull me from my concentration There, looming behind me, a giantess from my kneeling position, is Eno Fogerty, looking down not with the irritation of a celebrity disturbed, but something more akin to inquisitiveness “What do we have here? A fan of my work, perhaps? Did you come for an autograph? A souvenir?” She gestures to the bit of tarp, still in my clutch “Uh, actually, I came to ask if you’ve seen my landlord since last night?
I know he modeled for you, but as far as we can tell, he never came back afterward.” “Oh, no! That’s just terrible I’m sorry to hear your friend is missing.” “Well, he’s more of an acquaintance, really.” “I’m sorry to hear your acquaintance is missing, but I’m afraid I won’t be of any help in your search He left here shortly after taking a few reference pictures Oh, I do hope he hasn’t been harmed He promised to attend the unveiling tomorrow!” “So do I.” I stuff my hands into my jean pockets, “Do you mind if I take a look at those pictures?” “Why ever for?” she says, smiling “No particular reason But maybe it’ll jog my brain into thinking of other places he might have wandered off to.” “… No problem Let me go and retrieve those I was having tea, would you care for a spot while you wait?” “Ten sugars, if it’s no trouble If there aren’t undissolved granules floating on top, you haven’t added enough.” “I’ll be right back.” And she leaves me alone, in the dark, outside of the garage I mean, she seriously didn’t even invite me inside? Hospitality really is dead A duet of coyote yowls bounds the forest canopies, owls rustle the first yellowing leaves as they glide from branch to branch, and I’ve passed the time on one knee, and playing with the exposed strip of tarp, suddenly keen to how much fun hiding beneath one of these things and frightening the molasses out of a few rubes could be – Apparently I don’t know my own strength, though, because one enthusiastic tug too many unsticks its hold on the garage door, which, in incremental movements, lifts and swivels upward into its housing The door may be manual, but the lights aren’t and they blink on, drowning the modest garage in yellow-white fluorescence It is too pristine for any lived-in garage, the shelves that penetrate the wall opposite me barren and waiting eternally for a leaf blower or row of obsessively obtained tchotchkes To the left is a door presumably to the rest of the cabin, and to my right, lined up just as I’d seen them a day prior, the concealed statues, draped to their bases with the plastic, navy blue sheets Except, in this confined room, they’re bunched shoulder-to-shoulder, like too many siblings cramped in a backseat As in the beginning of yesterday’s display, there are once again five erect tarps Though, in stark contrast to yesterday, I’m sure there is no famed artist beneath the fifth In part because she’s only a few rooms away, and also because this new addition boasts a frame mightier than any of her previous works No doubt making the quarters even closer, the hunk of rock rests as the centerpiece of its brethren Here I am, in the middle of Eno Fogerty’s temporary storage room I’d be in Regret City if I didn’t indulge in a little sneak peek before tomorrow’s show Curiosity takes precedent over manners and I take the tarp in both hands, raising it from the bottom and then folding it back over the head, giving the statue a polyester veil and cloak The astonishment that washed over the crowd just a day ago is rekindling here, now… as I look up at the stunningly accurate recreation of my Landlord, and if I’m not mistaken, that same sense of astonishment is reflected in his eyes, marble though they may be As in a trance, my index finger is moments away from poking the sculpture’s incredibly pinchable-looking cheeks when… A thunderous crash and the distinct sound of porcelain smashing against hardwood fill my ears I whip around to face the source of the calamity, looking down to the metal tray and china shards and spilled liquid mingling together, and then up, slowly, to face Eno, standing frozen
in the garage doorway, her arms still extended, absent of the fallen tray She is expressionless, the polite smile from earlier extinct There is a vacancy behind the eyes, but no neon sign Lowering her arms like slot machine cranks to her side, she begins to step closer, never once breaking eye contact Bits of shattered tea cups crunch against and slice into her feet as she crosses the wreckage, trailing a brown and bright red watercolor mixture of tea and blood in her wake When she is a foot away, she halts her processional advance, and sporting that same blank stare, says, “Oh, I wish you hadn’t seen that.” “Why?” I implore “It’s so good! And even more realistic up close! I can’t believe you managed to get it done so quickly They really were right about you Eccentric, sure, but a real talent…” As I heap praise upon her, a little distracted by the impossible detail of the landlord’s worried brow, the varicose veins beneath his cargo shorts, even his tote sans tegu, I’m completely oblivious to the hand Eno reaches up, up to her headwrap I glance her way for a second during a pause in my stream of compliments, and notice something amiss about her face Somewhere between meeting Eno tonight and the ongoing scenario, she’d transferred a bit of her rose red lipstick to her cupid’s bow Remembering the lost compact from the Fairgrounds, I remove it from my pocket to let Eno have a look “Hey, you’ve got a little something…” In tandem, I flip open the little mirror, and Eno, in one deft motion, tears away her long, patterned scarf I’d ignored it earlier, attributed it to the buzzing of cicadas echoing from deeper in the forest, but now, unabated by layers of wound fabric, the actual sound becomes clear: It’s hissing Not just the hissing of one creature, but several in close proximity, just in fang’s reach if my estimation is correct I catch only small glimpses of the slithering mass, obfuscated at one instant by the of Eno’s scarf and at the next by a gray rigidity spreading from follicle to serpent’s head Fogerty sends up a shriek, that is swiftly muted as stone entombs her larynx, seeps through skin, creeps like moss over her throat and wrists and the tattered soles of her feet Eno Fogerty, renowned sculptor stands before me, crafted in human truth, albeit with very little human or true about her And then, Eno Fogerty, renowned paperweight, begins to tip backwards Motor reflex activates with more expedience than thought and before I know it, I’ve flung out my arms and caught the marble Eno around the small of its marble back Until, that is, a tap at my shoulder sends my hands skyward in a start, and sends marble Eno slipping from my grasp and into that now stained hardwood, where she explodes into marble chunks and marble clouds “Oopsie,” says a voice from behind me The Landlord, now very much a meat man, sidesteps the pieces of sculptor, the porcelain fragments, the puddles of muddy liquid, and looks about the garage as if for the first time “Oopsie, indeed,” I say – It takes a while, but one-by-one the statues regain consciousness and, like the Landlord, retain virtually no memory of the ordeal,
each just a little bewildered as to how he ended up so far from his respective normal, little town I blame the Wherever beer, jokingly, but they all pretty much accept it as explanation The Fairgrounds are a somber affair the following afternoon, with no attraction and no sign of its creator Heads nod gravely, though smugly with “I told you so’s” and “Can’t trust those creative types as far as you can throw them!” I think they’d find throwing Eno quite an easy task in her current state Pamplemousse, for his part, no longer enjoys sculpting, and has instead taken up an interest in abstract modern art All in all, not the weirdest Rock Show I’ve ever been to But what’s one to expect when the tickets are free and admission is open to anyone willing to spend the rest of their days as cold, unfeeling earth? A fair trade-off, I’d say Good art is so hard to come by these days! Ah, but what am I telling you for? I’m sure you’ve met artists in towns just like this one It’s all the same here, there,… Wherever