Will Clingan

Disappeared

The sum­mer of ‘94, when I was twelve, I first saw him. It was 10PM. Under the glow of flu­o­res­cent street lights he rode a red bicy­cle through the night. He had lived in the neigh­bor­hood my whole life. That was the only time I saw him.

The man, named Spook by locals, nev­er talked. Other than stray appear­ances neigh­bors only had hearsay. Rankin, my clos­est friend, had his thoughts: the man was the Zodiac Killer, the Wandering Jew, one of the Anglin broth­ers who escaped from Alcatraz or—I think his old­er broth­er told him—Bas Jan Ader, a Dutch artist lost at sea per­form­ing “In Search of the Miraculous.” Tales went on and became more dec­o­rat­ed like a tree at Christmas.

For the sum­mer of ‘95, Rankin’s belief hinged on Spook being D.B. Cooper—airplane hijack­er who, with $200,000, para­chut­ed into the wilder­ness and van­ished. “I saw him last night,” he told me. “I looked out the win­dow and he left his place. He car­ried a large duf­fel bag that looked like Cooper’s bag.”

Locals talked lat­er that sum­mer that Spook was gone since no one had seen him for months. Even my father, not prone to gos­sip, had an opin­ion.

Lightning bugs roamed the ear­ly August night as I watched Angry Beavers. Rankin called my house; ten-foot cord tan­gled around my moth­er as she hand­ed me the phone. He insist­ed I come over. When my par­ents went to sleep I rode my bicy­cle over. He stood wait­ing for me in the shad­ows of his par­ents’ house.

He spied on Claire, his neigh­bor, who lived beside Spook—her room faced the back­yard and woods. She was eigh­teen and left her blinds open as she changed at night, tried new out­fits. The night before, Rankin saw Spook’s back­door open, and so it had stayed. “If you don’t come, I’m going in by myself. I have to know.”

We wait­ed for lights in the hous­es around to go out. Around mid­night we crept in, and closed the door behind us. “This is so dull,” Rankin said. “I expect­ed Nazi stuff, a snuff film. This is like our hous­es.” We turned on lights through­out and found VHS porn stowed in the office. “He’s got some books,” he told me as we browsed, “I’ll give him that. But, these tapes save some respect from me.”

I stopped. “What was that noise?,” I whis­pered. The back­door closed. “Keith?,” a female voice asked. “I saw a light and used my key.” I mouthed: “We got­ta go.” Rankin nod­ded, hold­ing tapes. A fig­ure stood in the hall­way as we left. It was Claire, top­less. She screamed and ran to the back­door. We ran out the front. When we got to Rankin’s, he still held the tapes.

I dreamt that night. I stood in a field with a full moon and stars. A hole in the ground near the mid­dle of a clear­ing had a box in it. Without acknowl­edg­ing me, Spook walked out of the woods. He walked to the hole, stepped in, laid down and closed the lid of the box. Dirt moved onto the box. Grass grew and, soon, flow­ers came into the reflect­ed light of the moon. I went to the spot, dug the Earth out, found the box and lift­ed the lid. Like Houdini, noth­ing was inside.

Will Clingan lives in Seattle. He writes a col­umn for Culture Counter Magazine and has fic­tion in sev­er­al great locales.