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Fantasy

TRACKS NUMBER SEVEN: TRACKLESS

By Andrew Paul Grell



"Ras, whaddaya mean Bretton Woods is off? So far it's forty kay hauling the equipment around the White Mountains and putting up the crew at in-season rates. People love Bretton Woods, it's where they figured out what money is." Erasmus Foyer could practically hear his agent's already irregular heartbeat shift into free-form jazz rhythm. 

"Bill, we're just moving it up a few miles. I'm telling you, Coös County is perfect for the shoot.  We owned a house here, did you know that? I think we stayed there maybe ten days max. The town is off-the-charts whack-o. My folks gave it to me to make me be a grownup, having to do business stuff. When they dammed the Connecticut River, I don’t know, maybe 60 years ago, and the there was no more work for whitewater men. The Gravel State, Live Free or Else. We tried to unload it but nobody could get a mortgage, so we held paper. One guy negotiated down because the house was haunted; he planned on paying the mortgage by counting cards at blackjack. The next guy said there were snakes. The last guy just wouldn’t pay. We didn’t really care cause we still held title. Then he decided to do a home improvement but didn’t bother to Tyvek the house. The local insurance agent drove by one day and canceled the policy on the spot. Now get this. A man who came from away was prohibited from repairing storm damage to the river along his property line, leading to a long string of denials of permits and assessment adjustments. Eventually he shot the Judge, the editor of the paper, and a couple of other people. There was, get this, a snowmobile chase. Even the Mounties got in on the action. He was finally killed by Vermont Fish and Wildlife. Ready for more? The dead judge was also our lawyer. We had to start from scratch on getting this last moron out. And the guy who finally paid cash was the guy we hired to clean it out the first time we put it on the market.

“You want more? There’s Dixville Notch, were they vote at midnight. And a town named Edward, that has only one resident left, a guy named Edward. Bill, I’m telling you, the snow up here is better than Bretton. How about it, Bill? Coös County? How much did Track Number Six gross? Eight Million? What’s forty thousand when you consider that? Besides, it’s a closer trip if you want the real poutine and get tax-free cigarettes.” Billy Tuesday did not cut any of his math classes and could figure out what 15% of a zillion was.

“Alright, alright already. I hope something special is going to happen on Number Seven. You’re catching up to Jasper Johns, you know. Just pray that the quippies don’t get stuck behind a logging truck on US 3. In three days, you walk, kiddo.” The only problem with that was if he really would be ready to walk. 

The artist was able to use what were left of his parents’ local connections to book five Mohawk Cabins on short notice. Three drone pilots, Laura the field ecologist, The driver, Billy, and himself. Fortunately, some of them were supposedly chummy enough to share the knotty pine faux log cabins with four-poster beds and colonial style quilts, fireplace with wood pile and irons, kitchenette, and a porch with two rocking chairs. With apologies to the Mohawks, there were also indoor facilities, HD TV, and free WiFi. Erasmus called it a good day’s work and headed over to the lodge to see who might get in the way of the project. Colebrook was a little to far from the slopes and you couldn’t ice-fish in the Connecticut River, so that left snow-shoers, snowmobilers, hunters, honeymooners, formally married or not, to each other or not.

“Jameson’s and soda, please, bartender.” The order earned a funny look. Coös County was so far north it was no longer New England, it was the North Country, settled by Quebecoise escaping the tyranny of the British centuries ago. Brandy was the favorite on the inebriation chart around here.

“Here ya go, pal. Relief for that foot pain? I’ve got the same problem. Whiskey helps with the pain but increases the chances of you fallin’ over an’ breakin’ someting…”

 Erasmus took a seat in a club chair near the back and did what an artist’s most important skill was: seeing. It took the time for the gnomon’s shadow to cross three ticks on the courtyard’s sundial for him to be recognized.

“You’re Erasmus Foyer, aren’t you?” He pegged her as a combination snowshoe/assignation, lip service to the environment, ratio of star appreciation to art appreciation about 70%. Good to know; if she likes stars and she assignates.

“Maybe I’m him, Ma’am. Or maybe I’m a third or fourth print from the original negative.” Yet again, a funny look. Erasmus remembered why he ceded his position in New Hampshire without a fight. “Just kidding. It’s me, in the flesh. And if my flesh was wounded, you could feel the wound.”

“Are you saying you’re like Jesus?” Fabulous. A Bible-literate assignator. 

“Depends. Are you like Thomas? Ow! That hurt!” The eco-artist’s fan gave him a level-6 noogie where a spear would have entered if it was aiming for a human heart.

“Let me make it up to you. Buy you a drink? Are you here to do another Tracks shoot?”

“Only if it’s coffee, time for me to sober up, I’m going to have some set-up work to do later on.”

“Elizabeth Benson. Investment Bank Senior VP, nature lover. I bought the first Tracks. Then there was the collapse. I sold my Benz but I kept Tracks.” Elizabeth shook the artist’s hand; not at all gingerly since he wasn’t a paintbrush kind of artist. Erasmus looked around to see who which potential co-assignee might have winced when she made physical contact. It was a choice between the Eddie Bauer guy and North Face guy. Fungible, he decided. Men of not much consequence.

“How’s your coffee? Sweet enough for you?” A smile tagged along with the interrogative. “So as long as we’re drinking buddies, are you going to tell me how you came up with the Tracks idea?” Erasmus was always vague about that. There were six or seven origin stories circulating on social media. He was a PETA eco-terrorist. He was a Furry. He was a climate change advocate using his art to make a political and scientific statement.

“Liz, and may I call you Liz? When I’m off duty I go by Ras. A woman who values art over a car deserves an answer to that question.”

“Liz is fine, Ras. And does that mean I’ll be getting that answer before spring break-up?”

“Now is fine. It was totally accidental. I was in Montana, just outside of Kalispell, Flathead National Forest. I rented a cabin as a base to look at the mountain goats. It was for a project about the Scapegoats in Leviticus. I should have gone in rutting season when the billies are on full display. Not much was evident in the winter. So. Anyway. There was a sudden snowstorm overnight and I was out of cigarettes. My local road hadn’t been plowed, so I decided to take a nice walk through the snow. I picked up some extra smokes and supplies and headed back. On the way back I saw my tracks and the tracks of all the animals that crossed my trail. Including those goats. I took some pictures; I guess that would be Tracks 0. It took some time to convince Billy Tuesday, he’s my agent, to back the project. I had to tell him that if he greenlighted Tracks, I would do the project barefoot to show my own animal tracks. Turns out, people appreciate an artist physically suffering for his art as opposed to just suffering emotionally.” Left unsaid was the evolution of the project, collecting scat and urine to put on his feet to attract enough following predators and fleeing prey. That was Laura’s job. She had to keep telling herself it was not like the photographers who use out-of-frame cans of tuna to get all those fabulous seagull pictures. She got paid to get the right piss and shit and maybe the client might actually get something positive done about the environment. What she earned from the last five Tracks shoots was enough to sponsor years of field work.

“One question. How do you get Tuesday as a last name?”

“Probably someone whose name started out Boruch Dinstik…”

Eddie Bauer was the lucky, presumably, co-assignee. Ras was in a dark corner of the lodge, facing a wall but listening behind him. Liz was explaining the Tracks project to Eddie, clearly a Philistine. 

“You’ve seen it when you came to my house when Frank was away. You get a signed print of the overhead Kodachrome drone shot showing all the tracks, it was hanging on the wall, then video with the walk out and the walk back showing the animals that intersected Ras’s trail, and another video explaining what animal each track was. And you have something that an artist risked pneumonia for. Maybe even risked his life.” There was a Frank.

“And how is this different from cat videos on Facebook?” And Frank had an idiot for a rival. Lucky him.

# # #

Billy made as theatrical an entrance as one could in Colebrook, New Hampshire. When he found Erasmus, naturally, he had to lead with a problem he already solved for his client.

“Boychick, you’re gonna thank me for this. Maybe I got the last case of Kodachrome in New England. Wasn’t cheap.” He reached up and pinched his client’s cheek and rendered the required phrasing, “What a punim!” Then he went to work, making sure the drone pilots got what they needed before doing the test runs over the open country the artist would walk. He made sure Laura was nice and bundled up before collecting her excretions and eliminations.

# # #

“You’ve got to make him stop.” The banker had waited for the ecologist to secure her samples and walk to her cabin, then added 15 minutes. Give a girl a chance to pee and fix her makeup, even if she is the enemy.

“Stop what, Liz?” 

“Stop him from doing the walk.  Stop Tracks Number Seven. Stop it in its tracks! Can’t you see you’re killing him?”

“What business is it of yours? This is what he lives for. Thousands of kilohectares of habitat preserved, countless animals that didn’t die. Including my own African Parrot work.”

“It’s my business because I love him.”

“Oh, come on. You just met him the other day. How could you love him?”

“I’ve met him six times before. Once after each Tracks release. Different names, different hair and clothes, different boobs. Glasses or no glasses. Demure or flirty. Different jobs. I got at least to say hello, sometimes an autograph. Once the deluxe set with his hologram narrating, that was Tracks Number Five. And each time I met him I could see how much more difficult it was for him to walk. How much frostbite has he gotten? How much gangrene? How many infections from rubbing poop on his feet? Are you a monster?  I could tell in Tracks Number Six his left pinky toe track was CGI.” That finally got to Laura.

“It’s the price of making art. How many painters and sculptors died prematurely from materials they thought were safe? They were doing what they loved. But that doesn’t matter. The art doesn’t matter, the ecosystem doesn’t matter, the money doesn’t matter. I saw him first, saw what he was capable of, sister. He’s mine.”

“There’s no way you’re with him in that way. I could tell. Just like his toe.”

“No, I’m not with him in that way. But I still have dibbs on him. And you’re a psychopath stalker. Even if he wasn’t mine already, in any sense, it would be my duty to protect him from a nutcase like you. You want him to stop? As long as you’re delusional, why don’t you just wish for him to stop?” That got the tears flowing for Elizabeth Benson, or whatever her born name was.

“Hey. Hey, Liz! Cut it out. End of the day, he’s just a guy. C’mere.” Laura grabbed a sterile sample pad and wiped the other woman’s tears.

 “Thanks.” Liz was shifting the smile gear from second to fifth, hoping she wasn’t approaching a sharp turn. “I guess you’re right. I better get back to my cabin.”

 “And aren’t you here with a guy? Ras was telling me about it, one guy in Eddie Bauer, one in North Face. He thought both were wastes of ski wax.”

“I’m here alone. I let Eddie Bauer chat me up a little to see Erasmus’s reaction. My cabin is mine alone, unless, well, you know. Good chat, I guess. I should get some sleep.” Liz held her head as high as she could until she attained the privacy of her cabin. Whereupon she reached back to the first few years after she learned how to drive in Manhattan.

They needed a ride, it was complicated, a ride here, then there, then somewhere else, maybe it was medical. I had a perfect alternate side of the street parking spot, because of a holiday, it was good for four days.  Then my friend needed me for a mission of mercy. We did accomplish what was needed and we got back to Washington heights in one piece, but without a parking spot. My friend, maybe Heather, gave me the name of the Parking Space Angel. She said I could only use it for dire emergencies. Just say it three times, like Beetlejuice the movie, not the star, not the movie star, the star in the sky star. I remember saying the name three times. One in the morning, we circled the block three times, and a spot—presumably miraculously—opened up. Heather put such restrictions on using it that I waited nine months before I deemed  an emergency sufficiently dire to invoke the Name. And then there was such a gap between less than dire emergencies that I forgot the name. And now I need it. Walking and driving, difference in kind or difference in magnitude? It began with a Mister. Was there an ancient deity involved? Moloch? No. That was the one you had to burn children for. Close. Nalach. Mister Nalach. 

The drones and their pilots had engaged, the other guests of Mohawk Cabins cheered as Erasmus Foyer stepped off the porch and onto the new snow and set off for the seventh installment. Liz was still on the porch, silently repeating “Mister Nalach” over and over again. When the suffering artist got about a football field and a half along the journey, for some reason, he turned around and looked back; he had never done that before on any of the Tracks. He shook his head and continued on until he could no longer be seen from the porch. Three rabbits intersected Ras’s line of march, tracks clearly visible in the snow, but the human footprints were nowhere to be seen. Liz stopped invoking the parking space angel and cheered; the only one who did so. Laura was glaring at her and started moving towards the psychopath.

“What did you do?”

“I did what you told me to do. I wished that he would stop the project. Without his tracks as reference, the piece falls apart. He’ll have to do something a little easier on his feet, don’t you think?”

Three phones. Billy Tuesday had three phones, all on hold with lawyers’ offices, trying to figure out who he could sue. Did the state tourism department make representations about their snow on any of their “Visit New Hampshire” commercials? The drone pilots in turn were trying to call Billy to get their pay. Laura, an actual scientist, was out sampling the snow. And Liz found Ras in the same dark corner of the lodge bar she found him on day one. She sat down next to him, elbows on the table, and gave him a long, hard stare.

“So, Mr. Foyer. What do you think about a new project with those Scapegoats?”    


January 06, 2020 22:49

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3 comments

Natalie Schlegel
19:39 Jan 23, 2020

Hi there. I get emails from Reedsy about their critique circle and yours was one of the stories I was recommended last week. I just got around to reading your story and I really enjoyed it. I really liked how detailed it was. The setting and characters were also great and also the tracks interested me also. Overall, well done.

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Andrew Grell
03:34 Feb 06, 2020

Glad you liked it! It's detailed because most of my stories are set in places I've been. New Hampshire was quite a doozy, let me tell you!

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Chris Dulatre
08:19 Apr 18, 2020

I like how detailed the scenes are. It really traverses the emotion of the story

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