6/11 Idaho Magazine Features - "The Demons of Boulder Lake" (non-fiction)

Daniel Claar - Idaho's Premier Backcountry Writer

Winner - Idaho Magazine Publisher's Choice Award 2010
"The Proper Filter"

Winner - Idaho Magazine Judge's Choice Award 2011
"Where the River Leads"

"Hot Spring Break "

"Stampede! "

"Seeing Things"
Winner - Idaho Magazine Second Place 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Projector

          The plunk of a small stone hitting the pond is all it takes to attract an emerald-headed drake and his dainty, tan hen. Like synchronized swimmers, the two ducks slice across the murky brown water and into the concentric circles of expanding ripples. Both birds swivel and bob their heads in a frantic, fruitless search. Timberline’s waterfowl had long grown accustomed to being fed by townies. So certain of receiving handouts, a growing population of mallards never even bothered to migrate. The second delicate splash brings them closer to a darkly dressed man seated on a rusted park bench. His lips twist into a terse smile.

          “Stupid ducks,” Tyler mutters while flinging a final stone. He flinches involuntarily, taking a quick intake of breath as the rock leaves his hand with more velocity than intended. The projectile splits the couple, barely missing both birds, and splashes them with shimmering droplets of water.

          “Sorry,” Tyler offers as the ducks, somewhere between flying and running, splash across the pond’s surface towards the opposite bank. Their strong wings slapping the water feels like a noisy intrusion in the otherwise calm, warm air of late summer. Again displaying their harmonious instincts, the birds touch down at the exact same moment and settle in at the pond’s far edge.

          “Where is she?” he wonders aloud, experiencing a momentary envious pang for the mallard’s natural ability to find a lasting partner. “Bet you never have to put up with this crap.”

          Renae is supposed to be meeting him for lunch. Hell, it was her idea. Tyler checks his watch for the third time in the last two minutes. Seven minutes late. Scratching his patchy blond facial hair, Tyler’s eyes narrow. “It’s just rude,” he mumbles. “I don’t make other people wait for me like I’m some goddamned king.”

          Their last phone conversation had been thick with tension. Ever since she spent Labor Day weekend with an old sorority sister in Seattle, Tyler had felt a growing chasm in their relationship. He hadn’t been happy about not being invited, and suspected something was amiss when she didn’t respond to his messages until the night she returned. When Renae had finally touched base, she seemed distant. In the back of his mind Tyler wondered if she had met someone, or even rekindled some old college flame.

          Tyler’s attention is drawn from his spiraling thoughts as the ducks suddenly dart across the pond towards another rusty bench. A frail, hunchbacked man appears from an overgrown, tree lined path and gingerly pulls up a seat. He looks to Tyler like a sack of bones held upright by faded jeans and a torn flannel shirt. In his gnarled hand is a plastic bread bag. Expressionless, the ivory-bearded skeleton scatters white chunks across the water and the mallards gobble up every morsel before the bread can sink.

          Things could be worse, Tyler thinks. At least I’m not that guy. The thought escapes his mind before he can channel it through any kind of politically correct filter. Tyler feels guilty for thinking that way but can’t help acknowledging the brunt assessment. Stealing sideways glances at the depressing scene, Tyler feels like he should try to be a little more patient with Renae. The younger man wonders if the elderly gentleman ever blew his chances with a possible soul mate, or if he’d ever experienced a genuine connection with another. Maybe the old man once found the love of his life and she had died leaving him in this wretched state. Who knows? Tyler looks away, unable to bear the thought of feeling so miserable. So all alone.

          Tyler checks his watch again. Nine minutes late. Surely, anything over ten begins to push the threshold of understanding. It’s not like she could blame traffic, not in the tiny mountain town of Timberline. A bear attack would come off as a more believable excuse. Maybe her battered Datsun had finally given up the ghost. The oxidizing piece of purple shit had been running ragged for months. Still, her cabin was a half mile from the park; she could have walked by now.

          In the corner of his eye, Tyler detects movement on the same path from which the old man recently emerged. His slumped posture straightens and Tyler feels the swirling doubts creeping back into the corner of his mind. He begins to stand and instinctually brush the hair from his face when the figure comes into view. The new arrival is a woman, but certainly not Ranae. This lady is hunched over and supporting her slow, shuffling steps with a cane. Her wild mop of curly hair is even whiter than the man’s beard.

          As the old man notices the woman’s arrival, Tyler folds his arms and sits back on the bench with his shaking head cocked sideways. Slowly, the brittle fossil twists in his seat, and by placing one hand on the backrest while the other pulls against the arm support, manages to drag himself to his feet. Despite the effort it takes to stand, Tyler sees the worn countenance transformed. The old man’s weary, blank expression has been replaced with a broad grin. He bows slightly and offers his forearm to the woman. Returning his smile, the old lady accepts his gesture and allows herself to be seated at the bench. Her partner hands over the plastic bag and then rests his palm on her thigh as she begins to feed the impatiently circling mallards.

          Tyler turns away so that he no longer has to witness the ancient couple’s public display of affection. Or the pitifully domesticated ducks. He checks his watch once again. Eleven minutes… almost twelve. “Seriously,” he hisses. “What the hell is the wrong with people?”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Divine Grifter

I dare you to exist
And put right
Your miscalculations
I dare you to gaze upon
The blossoming stains
And tell me
You wouldn’t have stopped
Eden’s destruction
When you still had a chance

I dare you to strike
Me down
For suggesting you couldn’t
Have left your house
In the hands
Of a worse caretaker

Who could have foreseen
The end results
If not you
But I suppose
If you are the mold
From which
We sprung forth
I can take some comfort
In the fact
We were fucked
From the get go

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gray's Catacomb

          Abandoned Silver Streak mine served as Allan Gray’s private escape from the alcohol fueled madness of his childhood home. By age ten, the gaunt, dark haired boy could smell the sickness and defeat seeping from his parents. Their sweat reeked of vodka, and they sat, day after day, in the mounting squalor of their den sharing spiteful barbs as their skin turned to leather from chain smoking. In the hazy, fetid air of their nearly windowless cabin, Allan could almost taste the metastasizing tumors that would eventually claim their lives.

          Left unsupervised from an early age, Allan made it a point to keep his distance from home. Rather than check in after a day of the torturously self-conscience nightmare known as school, Allan would vanish into the dense forest surrounding his mountain town, fishing streams, climbing trees, spying on strangers, and slaying squirrels with his wrist rocket. His parents never questioned his absence, not even when he began to stay out overnight, alone in his pitch black maze of tunnels.

          Allan found Silver Streak after following an overgrown jeep trail deeper into the mountains north of Timberline than he’d ever ventured. What a first appeared to be a small avalanche where the road came to a dead end against the mountain side turned out to be the collapsed entrance. Splintered support beams jabbed out of the pile of boulders and dirt like lopsided grave markers. Someone must have used dynamite to collapse the main shaft. After poking around, Allan realized the rockslide had covered the opening except for a narrow gap between two wedged railroad ties. A cool wind blasted from the crack indicating that somewhere, another opening to the outside world had to exist. Allan decided his mission was to return the next day with a flashlight, squeeze through the hole, and locate the other entrance from within the mine.

          Allan came back the following afternoon with a battery powered lantern quietly removed from his dad’s truck. His parents wouldn’t care about the condemned mine, but Allan would be severely punished for touching his father’s tools. Not that his old man needed any of the equipment. While most of the former loggers in Timberline had long since packed up and moved on, Allan’s dad hadn’t done anything but sit in a creaky old recliner splitting his wrath between family and television news since the sawmill closed.

          The young boy's heart thundered in his chest when he first squeezed through the narrow opening and showers of dirt rained down on him from above. Fearing a collapse, he had launched himself through the opening after getting halfway inside and slid down an embankment of gravel to the passage floor. A dust filled cone of light shone through the gap and Allan could make out rusted ore cart rails leading straight down a rocky tunnel seemingly carved through black granite. His lantern’s feeble glow revealed the passage ahead at least partially buried underwater. The air smelled musty despite the breeze and the temperature was noticeably cooler. Allan had pulled his light jacket tight around his neck as he first made his way into the unknown.

          The water on floor of the cavern was barely tolerable but after long stretches of freezing agony, the ground would emerge and he could walk on wooden ties between the cart tracks while his toes came back to life. In places, he could balance on the rusted rails and keep his soles just above the waterline. The damp walls of the mine possessed sporadic deposits of some milk white mineral; a kind of shimmering albino coral staining the otherwise black stone. To Allan it looked like walls of pearl set off with sparkling diamond flakes.

          During his initial expedition, the young boy was intrigued by the nearly translucent bodies of baby mice and leathery bats bobbing in the slow, frigid flow. He lifted one of the soggy rodents by its long limp tail, held the corpse in front of his face, and tried to imagine what it had been like to drown. The frail creature’s eyes had yet to fully develop, dark blobs behind a pink veil mercifully blind to the ugliness of the world. He pictured the thrashing of the damned gradually giving away to hypothermic resignation, water filled lungs, and ultimately, a sense of peace. Something about the idea made him happy.

          After passing the third intersection of branching tunnels, Allan had returned home knowing he’d need chalk if he hoped to find the other entrance without getting lost. After a month of nearly daily visits, he had mapped out a considerable portion of the tunnels by leaving notes and directional arrows on the mine walls. There were even numbers accompanying the various signs indicating approximately how many steps he could expect before the next branching passage.

          In spite of his mapping techniques, and venturing deeper and deeper into the elaborate labyrinth, Allan had yet to find the other entrance. Some tunnels eventually reached a gradually narrowing end, others seemed to branch forever, and the young boy quickly realized there were passages he couldn’t reach. In several places, the tunnels shot straight up into the mountain overhead where Allan could see even more passageways branching off.

          The corroded remnants of wooden ladders to the upper levels were still bolted to the walls, and the skeleton thin boy had tried climbing the sturdiest of the bunch, but the first damp rung crumbled in his grip before holding half his weight. One day, Allan thought, he’d be strong and brave enough to scale the sheer rock walls, reach the higher tunnels, and no doubt, the other opening.

          Despite the elusive nature of the second entrance, Silver Streak quickly became the only place Allan felt comfortable in his pale and dirty flesh. The anxiety of being in his parent’s presence, and the discomforting scrutiny he felt so intensely at school, all but vanished in those dark passages. Within the mine, he became a cave troll hunting heroic adventurers, a mad scientist living beneath an active volcano attempting to trigger an eruption, a deformed outcast, exiled from the village below and lurking at its fringes while plotting his revenge.

          Allan’s imagination ran wild, spurred on by a growing collection of graphic novels purchased from the spinning comic book rack in Ray Lynn’s convenience store. He had moved the hidden stash from his bedroom to a central chamber of intersecting tunnels nearly a mile into the mountain. The spacious cavern had become his central base within the mine. Despite rarely eating a home cooked meal, Allan never spent his lunch money at the school cafeteria. Instead, every penny went towards another gruesomely illustrated tale, flashlight battery, or slow burning candle.

          Unlike the other boys, Allan didn’t gravitate towards super hero comics; he had no interest in square chiseled jawlines, sculpted muscles, or goody two-shoes in ridiculous spandex saving the world. Allan preferred tales of horror and supernatural happenings. Zombies and ancient curses. He loved the idea of evil ghosts and salivating monsters most of all. The thought of being stalked by blood-dripping fangs, or glowing red eyes, especially while alone in his dark mine, was an adrenaline rush of pure terror he could endure and overcome. Hell, he could fall into an untroubled sleep afterwards. He laughed out loud when imagining the older kids at school attempting such a thing.

          His mother so despised the grotesque, bloody artwork she had gleefully burned his collection the previous summer after a report card showed him barely graduating fifth grade. However, with his stories of macabre safe in his mine, Allan no longer worried about his parents. They still flew off the handle every time the wind shifted, slapped and berated him at every opportunity, but he no longer kept anything within their reach that he was afraid to lose. He owned his own home now, and he kept his possessions in a cleaner, more organized manner than anything his folks had managed in years.

          One autumn afternoon, indistinguishable from any other day below the earth, Allan was making his way from the mine to find something to eat when a familiar sound caused him to freeze in his tracks. Standing in ice cold water, Allan could hear voices just outside Silver Streak’s collapsed entrance. What was worse, Allan recognized the young men gathered outside. Despite his eternal efforts to maintain an aura of invisibility at school, the three Steele brothers always whispered and snickered as Allan slunk by, burning cheeks concealed inside his hooded sweatshirt.

          Allan was awarded ample time to think about his reaction, his instantaneous decision, and never came to a definitive conclusion as to whether he would have handled it any different if given another chance. For the first time in his life, Allan truly felt alive in his fortress of darkness, and it was a sensation he had to preserve. The mine was his and his alone. Best case scenarios still involved the young men claiming the mine for their own and looting it of all his treasures. He refused to think about worst case scenarios that would, no doubt, come naturally to these hateful savages. If they couldn’t control their naturally vicious tendencies within the “safe” environment of school, Allan could only imagine what humiliation he would be forced to endure in the sanctity of his own house.

          Just as a pair of hands thrust inside to pull a scoopful of dirt away from the opening, Allan reached the sideways support beam, precariously lodged above the remnants of shaft entrance. The young boy had noticed the shifty looking wedge upon his first departure from Silver Streak and always gave it a wide berth. Even gently sliding through the gap on his belly caused slight tremors and sprinkles of dirt from the loose wedge above.

          As the noise and dust settled, Allan breathlessly wondered if anyone might have seen his lantern light before the tunnel collapsed. He imagined his parents being informed of his whereabouts and heard their smoke ravaged voices seeping through the wall of rock, promising punishments for such a pathetic attention grab. Allan smiled in the dim light of his familiar stone hallway. Nobody was going to violate his castle. If his dead-eyed father had imparted any wisdom from the collapsed springs of his moth eaten throne, it was that men had to defend their freedom. They had to be willing to sacrifice. Once again, Allan could see and hear nothing of the outside world. He was alone with the patiently waiting darkness. And something about that idea made him happy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dancing Over Graves

Know now
What it means when
Lavender salamanders
Milky earthworms
And whiskered moles
Push their snouts
Through the earth
To tickle and
Massage these toes

Grass blades sprout
From a field
Of abandoned follicles
Bugs and grubs
Feast and fornicate
In the bone meal
While a deflated heart
Sparks wild nests
Of black rose

To no end
And for too long
Sought a rebirth
Divine revival
Or common reincarnation
Without the solace
Of first dying

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Boy Who Cried Godzilla

The snort of a great beast
Casts its churning tide
Of obliterated occupation
Over a subjugated landscape
Freeing one coast
From manicured shackles
And goldfish gardens

Another warning
Riding waves
Of things to come
As the monster
Inches ever closer
To a fattening feast
On every shore

Plugged into
Warm power lines of
Apathetic destiny
Eyes glow nuclear
Burning scales
From fallout cancer
A hideous
Breathing aberration
Stomping through the city
Coming for us all
While we sit transfixed
Sleep deprived
Collectively doped
And in denial
That something
May have gone wrong
With our best laid plan
Along the way

Friday, March 4, 2011

Another Grave

The ghost cat
Is dead
Always certain
Decades removed
From the last sight
Made it official
One of our
Native icons
East of the

Like this country
These lands
And those remaining
I get by
With half a heart
Still tapping
One lung collapsed
The third eye lost
Another closed
The last thread
And somebody
Finally cares
About it being
Too late