If I needed to pick one word to describe that year, it would be lethargy. The term most likely derives from the Greek “Lethe,” the river in Hades that, once crossed, led one to forget one’s previous life. Few can doubt that 2020 was the Rubicon that 2012 never was. Few can doubt that, by artificial contrivance or genuine panic, society had been shattered more deeply and in new ways that most simply didn’t anticipate. No amount of experimental gene therapy or collective cognitive dissonance would bring us back to the same soy-fed, distracted, and consumerist world we lived in before. Now, all would be accelerated.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Have you ever noticed how certain patches of woods seem to linger? How, in particular places, no development will touch them, despite the all-conquering spread of suburban sprawl elsewhere? Some seeming anomalies can be explained away in terms of urban planning, others in terms of terrain features which render land ill-suited for construction, but others…

In Iceland, roads are literally traced around mounds believed to be inhabited by alfar, the folk known in English countries as elves. In Ireland, infrastructure has avoided dolmans and formations associated with the Tuatha de Danann since pre-Roman times. The ancient Near East gave certain mountains a wide berth, unless one deliberately sought them out for malicious purposes. And in ancient America, certain places have been avoided for so long that no one even recognizes them as artificial.

Take a moment to consider, for example, what would happen if one of the great earthen mounds of the Ohio River Valley was to be completely abandoned centuries before European settlement. In all likelihood, nature would quickly work to reclaim the space, re-wilding and re-foresting the site until it was indistinguishable from a natural hill. Later passers-by, either Indian or American, would never look twice at yet another incline in the Appalachian, Adirondack, or Rocky Mountain foothills. Who’s to say hundreds of such places don’t yet haunt our landscape? How would anyone know to look?

These things were all far from my mind as I woke up in that Sierra cabin, yet they have never ceased to haunt my mind since. I must have been out for some time, as my body ached all over and I saw that it was already well into the night. Last thing I remembered I had been walking around the property once rented by Mr. Ainu, but I must have decided to go back inside and somehow fell asleep on the couch. My memory, mercifully, would decline to recall the brief exchange I had with the stranger and my subsequent experience with the stones for quite some time. Truth be told, it was only when I was asked to recall this account that I began to recollect all of it clearly.

Ignoring my body’s old man noises as I sat up, I managed to slowly emerge from what was probably the very couch on which Mr. Ainu’s body had been found a few weeks prior. I suddenly no longer had any interest in the case, being overcome with an all-encompassing sense of sloth and fatigue. Nevertheless, I somehow managed to lace up my boots, prepare a mediocre brew from the Mr. Coffee, and set out on the trail toward my car just as the sun was rising.

I called my office from the road and told them I wasn’t going to be in that day, that no, I hadn’t found anything worthwhile while investigating the case they already considered to be a waste of time, but that I had over-exerted myself and needed a rest. It takes a good three hours, with no traffic, to make it from the Sierra foothills to the East Bay area and I figured it would take me much longer than that.

I had no intention of stopping at that vista point off the main route (memory and the subsequent removal of road signs lead me forget which one it was), but I was somehow compelled to do so. I slowed down as I approached along the narrow mountain road, twisting and turning like a snake descending maliciously to its lair. Parking the car near the granite boulders piled haphazardly near the small parking lot, I set off toward the overlook advertised merely as “scenic.”

It must have been a sheer, 2,000 foot drop to the green reservoir below, picturesque in its own way, though for some reason my mind was instantly filled with terrible possibilities. Images of Aztecs throwing sacrifices to their demon gods filled my mind, but the scene was somehow different from the Mel Gibson film I saw all those years ago. It was as though the landscape itself felt hungry and demanded that sustenance, fleshly or energetic, would be brought to it, thrown downward toward its gaping, watery jaws. It was only with great difficulty that I looked away, and suddenly noticed that I was quite alone.

When I had parked not two minutes before, there must have been seven or eight tourists nearby. There was the teenage couple clearly eager for alone time, the young parents holding their children’s hands with an iron grip as they walked the trail, and two older men I took to be retirees. I had registered plenty of conversation in the background, though nothing was interesting enough to be retained in my thoughts. Now, there was no one.

The strangers’ cars were still there, though I somehow knew they would feel cold to the touch. The sun was suddenly high in the heavens above me, though it couldn’t have been much later that 8:30 or 9:00 when I parked here. California winters being as strange as they are, I doubted that weather could play this big a trick on my senses unless it was playing a deliberate jest.

The sound of silence was gradually disrupted by a faint humming. I could almost take it for an old-fashioned tune, like you may hear in old Western movies, but something was somehow not quite right. Turning, I could clearly tell that it was coming from the area of the rocks and felt a level of trepidation, and excitement, that I have never felt before or since. I took a few steps in their direction, but somehow my instincts for self-preservation must have taken over, for I stopped just short of what I can only describe as the veil.

I must choose my words very deliberately now. What I saw was a thin, almost completely transparent, film-like substance. If you can imagine a transparent shower curtain, thin to a degree that it barely retains physical substance, you may have a good idea of what I saw. I suddenly had no doubt whatsoever that, were I to step forward, that I would easily pass through the film and be subsumed into God-only-knows where. For the briefest moment, I felt that I could see faces looking at me from the other side of the screen, but then all is blank.

Next thing I knew, I was running, running at full speed down the road like a lunatic. All thought was gone now, and I was animated solely be the desire to get away. I was nearly struck by several cars as I progressed down the mountainside, but somehow managed to make it to the nearest town, drenched in sweat, mud, and my own vomit, by nightfall. I must have seemed like a violent and deranged vagrant, for I was soon detained and taken to spend a night in the drunk tank. I have never slept so well in my life.

I never returned for that rental car and was greatly relieved to hear that it had been impounded and taken to the Hertz I had borrowed it from. Considerable fees notwithstanding, I considered myself very fortunate.

You ask me why we never approach that part of the mountains? Well, now you know. I was lucky enough to escape with my life and, whatever this term means in the post-desolation world, my sanity. Countless others were not shown the same mercy. The wendigo, the fae, the good-folk, them ones—something is still out there, and it has a much better claim to those woods than we do. Man may have been given stewardship over the Earth, but something there has been twisted beyond our power to repair. If you don’t believe me you are free to consult the nonfiction 411 books we still have. If I were you, I wouldn’t just take an old man’s word for it, either.


For all installments of “Megaron,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1