It was long before the Crisis of the 21st Century, the years of our Lord 2020 and 2021, that my story really began. It was before the Virus and the black bacchanalia, before the election and the protests, before the resistance and the retreat. It was back when I had but a few grey hairs and was not the snow-white wizard you see before you now. My story began when the ancient regime was still seemingly intact, when we had the luxury to think of fleeting and transient things.

It began when I was a private investigator and a functioning alcoholic. I had taken a job regarding a certain firm near San Mateo, the most influential company in Silicon Valley that you’ve never heard of, a company with neither a website nor public listing.

The death of Satoshi Ainu, a naturalized Japanese, came as little surprise to the public. The mathematician-turned-broker had a reputation as a quiet hedonist, a mild-mannered and unassuming personage who would nevertheless frequent the high-end escorts gentlemen’s clubs of Silicon Valley. Rumor also had it that he had also developed a sweet tooth for the little-known synthetic drugs which circulated the Bay Area like a pathogen in a bloodstream. Drugs which, for a price, were custom designed for one’s own unique physiological makeup, a high which only the absurdly wealthy could afford.

The county coroner had quickly determined overdose to be the source of his death and local police seemed uninterested in investigating further. Most of the deceased’s family and friends took a similar approach; accepting the explanation with grief but without question. It was only one of the new hires at his firm, a young man who I’ll refer to as Jesse, who suspected foul play.

Jesse had worked for Mr. Ainu for nearly a year at the time the body was found—face down on the sofa in a Sierra cabin. Unlike most cases in that notorious Missing 411 countryside, Mr. Ainu’s body had been found within 24 hours of him being reported missing. Ainu’s white girlfriend (and, to use her own terminology, baby mama) had reported his disappearance after he failed to return from his mountain retreat after a long weekend. He liked to take solitary trips to the cabin, she explained; it helped him clear his head and lower his blood pressure in spite of his heavy workload. The fact that he was there with at least two prostitutes and copious levels of cocaine is something the police declined to tell her.

For his part, Jesse of course knew of such trips; he had even been invited to join on more than one occasion, but had repeatedly declined due to fidelity to his fiancée (and fear of criminal indictment should Ainu’s fortune ever run out). He also knew that Ainu was nowhere close to the mountains on the day he supposedly died. He had helped his boss prepare for a confidential meeting with “investors” who would soon fly into Sacramento, a meeting that was scheduled for the weekend he supposedly died.

Jesse called our firm, having heard of our work investigating suspicious deaths in the Severn Valley a few years previous, but that is a tale for another occasion. Most of my colleagues considered the endeavor a waste of time, but I found the idea of trampling around the Sierra Mountains to be a welcome change of pace from investigating cases of marital infidelity, university fraud, and similar things. That and frankly, I needed the money. Would to heaven that I hadn’t, for I have been praying for dreamless nights ever since.


Dozens of people disappear every year in the U.S. National Parks. 63 protected areas constituting over 11 million square acres, the American park system is the largest legally protected series of ecosystems on planet Earth. More than 30 million visitors traverse landscapes as diverse as Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and the Smoky Mountains every year. Less well-known is the fact that the U.S. National Park Service is by far the largest armed law enforcement body in North America, with over 12,000 employees. Given these statistics, it should come as little surprise that unexplained disappearances take place every year. It is, of course, the perfect place to hide.

Just as the Coast Guard was used in the Cold War to house naval research programs, so too the national parks provide an ideal cover to hide less-than-wholesome government activity. Or so I initially suspected. Now I know that the truth is rather more sinister. Some things that, if acknowledged to the public, would make the Brookings assessment about UFO disclosure seem tame in comparison.

Federal personnel will not investigate disappearances if, one, there is clear evidence that an individual wanted to disappear, drop out of society, or fall off the grid; two, if there is clear indication of an animal attack; or three, if there are clear signs of traditional criminal activity (this later being the domain of local authorities).

Given how this seemed like a straightforward overdose, there should have been no federal interest shown in this case. You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I learned that two FBI agents had indeed shown up after Ainu’s body was found. Jesse was briefly interviewed by them, for what he thought would be just a formality. But it was the strangely leading questions they asked him that further prompted his suspicions and ultimately convinced him to call us.

“They seemed to have made up their minds that it was a suicide,” Jesse told me. “Everything they asked led to that preconceived conclusion.”

“How long had he shown self-destructive tendencies?”

“Did he sell off any assets, make plans to hand over his business?”

“Why was he on a depressed, imploding spiral?”

None of these questions made any sense. Most people think that they understand law enforcement from the old TV shows, but the second a real uniform starts questioning them, all that goes out the window. I was impressed by his sobriety.

You need to remember, this was before the events we used to refer to as a pandemic, before out-in-the-open schizophrenia was the norm. Most of you are too young to remember, but there was a time when people were, at least of the surface, more stable. They wouldn’t do a complete emotional 180 at the slightest trigger; most of the time, anyway. True, the widespread use of pharmaceutical antidepressants tapered a lot of the early effects of society-wide split personalities, but this would only be apparent with time.


I arrived at Ainu’s cabin at about 8:00 AM the morning after my meeting with Jesse. By that point it was no longer under investigation, so I was able to access it without much trouble after a brief call to the rental agency. The space had been cleaned thoroughly and stunk of chemical cleaners. Management was clearly desperate to get anyone to rent it after such a tragic occasion. The cabin was a simple, one-story structure, consisting of a living room when you first entered, a bathroom on the left, a kitchenette on the right, and a bedroom on the far side of the space.

It was clear after a few minutes that there was nothing of interest for me there, so I exited and began to circle the woods around the cabin. It was a quiet morning, though with the normal bird and animal sounds one would expect in the Sierras. The air was fresh, with early-morning mist still lingering in the air, acting as a thin veil between our world and the wilderness beyond.

“They say this place is haunted,” a voice from my right suddenly said.

I turned quickly and saw a stocky, rustic looking man, with pepper-gray hair and a striking gaze. He was perhaps five foot nine or five foot ten and seemed athletic despite a wide girth. Despite the suddenness of his appearance, I didn’t feel an immediate threat, but rather a sense of general caution. He stood about ten feet from me.

“Beg your pardon?” I asked with, to my surprise, a steady voice.

“They say this place is haunted,” he repeated. “Lots of rumors and ghost stories about these particular hills, most of them unpleasant.” The man’s accent didn’t betray any particular region, though something about his demeanor suggested that he was a NorCal local.

Again, I have to remind you that our language was once far more standardized. Mass media and instant communication led to a great degree of linguistic homogeny, despite ever-shifting demographic changes. Accents, slang, and dialects were far less extreme then. You could guess someone’s native region, though you weren’t always right about it.

“Are you with property management?” I asked.

“In a manner of speaking, though I tend to work alone these days. I heard someone was stomping around down here and wanted to make sure there was no trouble. After the recent disappearances, folks tend to be nervous of strangers.”

“Haven’t heard of any disappearances,” I replied, “just the murder we were called to investigate.” I went on to explain that I was a private investigator and presented my credentials. The stranger seemed satisfied with this, though he clearly held back about himself and his intent.

“Damn shame it is,” he said. “These woods used to be so beautiful, were quiet for a long time, now these strangers show up and invoke trouble.”

“Are you from around here?” I asked.

“Born and raised, though it was quite different then. I don’t think you’ll find anything meaningful for your client; dozens of folks disappear in these parks every year, most of them completely unexplained.”

“Still gotta try though…” I started.

“For the sake of the loved ones,” he interjected. “I know, I know. Well, mister, I best be going now, got some crossing to do, just wanted to make sure you weren’t trouble. Matter a fact…”

My memory is a little fuzzy after this, but I remember that my head began to pound aggressively, and I began to feel disoriented. I could clearly hear that the stranger was still talking, though his words no longer seemed intelligible. It was as though he was no longer speaking words, but rather emanating vibrations—if that makes any sense? After a few moments, it became obvious that the entire woods had gone silent and that the stranger was gone. Then there was a soft buzzing.


I woke up stoned. More specifically, I woke up on a flat boulder with pebbles seemingly arranged over my body. I don’t know how long I had lied there, but I felt stiff. Sitting up slowly, I was able to look around as pebbles dropped from my forehead, chest, arms, and legs. It’s hard to describe exactly what happened next, but it was as though I could hear doors closing all around me, despite the fact that nothing of the kind was visible. Then it was quiet.

I was somewhere out in the woods, with redwoods and other colossae towering over me. Looking up at them, it was as though I was in a shallow pit, staring at giants from Greek myth or the book of Samuel. I felt like I had just slept well into the afternoon the day after a whiskey binge.

I was in the woods, but somehow, I could tell they just weren’t the same woods. No matter where I looked, nothing was recognizable. I stood up, still dizzy and disoriented, but was relieved that I could still stand on my own two feet.

I heard singing.

And then I was back at the cabin.

“…savage and formidable Potencies lurk behind the souls of men, not evil perhaps in themselves, yet instinctively hostile to humanity as it exists.” — Algernon Blackwood, The Wendigo


For all installments of “Megaron,” click here.