When Legend Doesn't Give Us the Whole Story

The family of four doesn’t know why they fall silent on this windy stretch of Highway 26 to Mt. Hood. All they know is they shouldn’t talk until they’ve passed the rocky structure on the side of the road. The mother turns off the radio and one of the children in the back even holds his breath until the rock is behind them.

No one truly knows why Silent Rock on Highway 26 deserves the silence of anyone who passes it. Like most legends, this rock has several stories explaining why it’s called Silent Rock, but none of them have been confirmed as the absolute truth.

One reason to remain silent near the rock is out of respect for the Native Americans who were hurled to their deaths on the other side of it. Legend tells us rocks were forced into their mouths to keep them from screaming as they plummeted to their deaths. Depending on who you’re talking to, however, some may same the settlers were the one who were cast over the rock. Unfortunately these explanations can’t be backed up by historical documents or eye-witnesses.

In more recent decades, tragedies have occurred near Silent Rock, like two semi-trucks bearing train parts spiraling out of control on the road and rolling down the steep barrier. Another story claims a bus full of nuns died near the rock when the driver lost control of the wheel.

While explanations and questions and thrown around, what remains are empty cars as they drive past the rock. If anyone speaks up on this stretch of road, bad fortune may be coming his or her way. No matter the story, they all end with respecting the rock, whether that be respecting those who have lost their lives near it or respecting the rock itself.

_____

 A couple gazes at the only evidence left behind at the deserted Roanoke Colony, “Croatoan.”

A couple gazes at the only evidence left behind at the deserted Roanoke Colony, “Croatoan.”

When concrete answers or a clear storyline isn’t available in folklore or legends, it often leaves us frustrated and confused. When we can’t have all the answers––no matter how hard we try looking for them––that confusion is slowly replaced by excitement and then by fear.

One of the most frustrating yet astounding stories before the founding of the United States is found in the Roanoke Colony. Or better yet, what isn’t found in the Roanoke Colony.

In 1587 English settlers found their new home in what is now Dare County, North Carolina. Imagine families fresh off the dirty ships they had been stuck on for months, awaiting this new, unexplored landscape they expect to have all to themselves. It’s hard to imagine them not feeling somewhat anxious at this new prospect, but even more than that they must have been elated to establish their own colony.

The colony was comprised of 115 people and was lead by John White. Not long after they settled in the area, White decided to go back to England to bring back more supplies for his people. His trip back to England was largely uneventful, perhaps even dreadful, but when he was ready to return to his colony a naval war began between England and Spain. White wasn’t able to return until 1590. The trip across the ocean was torture enough, but White was most anxious to get back to his wife, daughter, and granddaughter, who was the first English settler born in America. He was ready to celebrate their new home together without anymore trips back to England. This was his home now.

When White reached the shores, there was no one to help him unload the ship. He disembarked and made his way to the colony, only to find no one there. The only thing he did find was the word “Croatoan” carved into a wooden post at the settlement.

“Croatoan” was the name of a nearby island inhabited by Native Americans, yet there was no evidence at the settlement of violence. Perhaps the 115 or so people had simply been abducted by the natives with leaving only a cryptic word as evidence. Other theories suggest the colony attempting to sail back to England and may have been lost at sea or captured by Spaniards. Another suggests the colony found a tribe of Native Americans inland that took them in.

Still today we have no concrete answers as to what happened to the Roanoke colony. In 1998 a team of archeologists went to the nearby island and uncovered possible English artifacts like a signet ring and parts from a gun. In 2007 DNA samples were collected by locals in the North Carolina area to see if they may be related to the settlers, but conclusions have been met.

The event may be beyond concrete answers at this point, but instead will forever be lost in legend. Sometimes it’s more interesting when stories are limited in information, because it welcomes speculation and theories. It’s hard to imagine the panic that coursed through John White’s body when he found his colony deserted. It’s easier to imagine him giving way to madness, searching the new land that was supposed to be his new home, where he was supposed to find opportunity, not mystery.

Matrimonial Tragedy

Haunted places love newlyweds…or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe it’s a place where the bride last experienced love. Maybe it’s because that was the last place where she was with her husband.

Hotels are especially riddled with ghosts and disturbed spirits. Usually it's a spooky ghost story that makes a hotel famous. Perhaps the recipe for an exciting, memorable place to stay on vacation includes love, murder, and an attempt to cover it up. 

The Golden North Hotel in Skagway, Alaska tells of an engaged couple seeking fortune during the Yukon Gold Rush. This gold rush experienced around 100,000 prospectors to Alaska and Canada from 1896 to 1899. The idea––like everyone else––was to move here, make a lot of money, and live happily ever after. 

The woman’s fiancee was nicknamed “Klondike Ike.” Her name was Mary. While he went in search for gold, she remained in their hotel room, waiting for his fortuitous return. One wonders what she did in the room as she waited. In the late 19th century there wasn’t much if you were in a hotel room all day. She likely read or enjoyed one of her favorite hobbies while she waited.

But Mary couldn’t wait forever.

There’s a point in waiting when a feeling of dread pokes into one’s heart. That dread says, “He’s not coming back. Something’s happened to him and he’s not coming back.” Klondike Ike hadn’t returned, and eventually she could only hope for the worst.

Mary locked herself in the hotel room, refusing to come out for days. At some point someone who worked at the hotel went to the room to check on her. He gingerly knocked on the door, asking in a slightly raised voice if she was all right. Mary didn’t reply. He knocked harder, speaking louder, still hearing nothing on the other side of the door. He broke into the room, fearing she might be in trouble. Whatever trouble Mary suffered had already passed, however. He found her dead in the room, wearing her wedding dress.

Those who have stayed at the hotel since, even up until today, recount sightings of a ghostly woman wearing a wedding dress, peering out from a window. Cold pockets of air in the hotel are passed off as Mary moving by the person. There have even been reports of visitors waking up in the middle of the night at the sight of a woman in a wedding gown staring down at them, making sure Klondike Ike isn’t in bed with another woman. 

It seems as though by locking herself in her hotel room, she has locked herself inside the hotel for eternity, waiting for a fiancee to come back who never will.

_____

 An old postcard of Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park.

An old postcard of Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872 and Old Faithful Inn was built in 1904. Surrounded by the beautiful and natural wonders of the park, countless visitors have lodged in the  beautiful inn. 

In 1915, one newlywed couple honeymooned there all the way from New York. The trip couldn’t have been quick or easy to get to Yellowstone. When in love, though, the obstacles seem less menacing. 

However, the bride’s family didn’t see this marriage built on the foundation of love. The bride’s father owned a successful shipping company, allowing him to provide abundantly for his family and for generations to come. He even arranged a marriage for his daughter to a man of similar backgrounds. He wanted the best for her, to make sure she would be taken care of by her husband.

Unfortunately, his daughter did not hold the same ideals. She had fallen in love with a servant of their family. The man was considerably older than her, and her family were suspicious of the man’s intent. They told her he was after her fortune. She told them they were in love. There must have been several arguments about this, many of them heated and others ending in cold silences. In the end, her father simply wanted the best for his daughter. So, he allowed the marriage, writing them a sizable check with the stipulation that they would move away from New York and could not inherit the fortune or business at any point. If the marriage was only about their love, that should be enough.

The newlyweds took the money and the demands and left the state, nervous and excited––at least the bride must have been. A month into their vacation, the husband had already spent most of the money on gambling, resulting in raucous fights people could hear in their hotel room at Old Faithful Inn. The couple asked for more money from the bride’s parents, but the only reply they received was a one way ticket home for the bride.

Perhaps their marriage wasn’t rooted in love. Perhaps the bride’s naiveté got the better of her. 

After a particularly harsh fight in their room, the husband stormed out, leaving her alone inside. The man was never seen again. 

Others at the hotel gave the bride her privacy, but when days passed and no one had seen her leave the room, questions circulated throughout the hotel.

A housekeeper let herself inside to check on the situation, most likely expecting to find no one but a disheveled room to clean up. She did find a whirlwind of a mess: sheets ripped from the bed, clothes strewn on the floor, personal items in every corner of the room. The housekeeper might have called out for the bride, or she might have gone straight to the bathroom to check out the mess there. What she found was beyond what her already wandering mind was capable of.

The bride was in the bathroom, or at least her body was there. Half bent over the bathtub, blood filled the basin like a dark red pond. The reason for all the blood: the bride’s head was missing.

No one knew where the husband went, nor was anyone ever able to find him. We can only hope fate made him serve for the crime he committed, if he was the one who committed it. 

The bride’s body was shipped home and buried headless. For an extended period of time no one knew where her head might be. Thrown out the window and lost in the forest? It’s possible, but none of the windows were open when the housekeeper let herself in and there were no reports of any heads found outside. 

Then, finally, in the crow’s nest––where bands played music in the hotel––a sickening smell cascaded down and permeated about the building. Up there was her head. 

While the bride’s body was shipped back home, her head was not. Perhaps that’s why she’s been seen wearing her wedding dress, walking around with her head tucked under one arm.

In the decades to come, the public would find out that the hotel manager in the 1990s made the story up. Yet, he does confirm in the hotel’s records that a murder had been committed at the hotel, and it involved a new bride being found decapitated in the bathroom of her room, and the husband was never reported as being found after the murder. The details have been embellished over the years, but the fact remains that many visitors have seen a headless woman wandering the hotel, probably searching for her murderous husband.

The Existentialist

Not long before Felix ceases to exist he asks a fatal question:

Can stories kill you?

He asks it just as he finishes his second reading of Lord of the Flies. Similar to his first reading, his heart takes a few minutes to slow down after he closes the book. He leans his head against a wall of books and sighs. The images of deserted boys, the pig’s head speared on a stick––blood dripping down the splintered wood and flies buzzing around the snout––as well as the island turn to hazy memories that fade once Felix returns the book back to the wall he uses as support.

Lord of the Flies killed Piggy,” he says to himself. He wonders if stories can kill those who aren’t held within the cheap ink and pages held together by glue. Lord of the Rings killed a lot of people, he thinks. Speaker for the Dead, too.

In the afternoon heat of the attic, he sweats lightly under his thin cotton shirt and denim shorts. He brushes wet strands of ash brown hair from his forehead and looks out the open window of the attic.

In the backyard next door to his house, Marissa Arquette and her twin sister Angel play a game they call “Princess and Dragon.” Today it appears Angel is the dragon, which means Marissa’s fate is most likely unfortunate. Felix watches for several minutes, breathing in the fresh summer air and welcoming a warm yet refreshing breeze inside the stale attic.

One house down from the Arquette girls, Mr. Frosh watches No Country for Old Men. Unlike the last four viewings where he fell asleep within the first thirty minutes, this time he sits on the edge of his seat and bites his lower lip in anticipation. At sixty-two it’s hard not to fall asleep during any movie, and this one isn’t easy to watch. But something about this viewing has nostalgia exploding from the TV and into the living room. 

Felix sighs again while watching the girls’ game. 

Stories are what make life worth living, he concludes simply and naively.

“Felix, lunch!” his mother calls from the opening in the attic’s door. The Arquette girls run inside their own home as their mother beckons them for lunch too. Felix closes the attic’s one window and meets his mother in the kitchen.

He plops in his usual spot at the kitchen table by the toaster where his mother sets his lunch. He hides a grimace. “Ham and cheese,” he says. “How did I know?”

“Because the world that’s been constructed for you is predictable, sweetheart,” his mother replies.

“Huh?”

She sits down to her own ham and cheese sandwich and opens a new bag of potato chips. 

“What did you just say, mom?”

“I said eat, sweetheart.” She smiles and takes a hearty bite of her sandwich. Crumbs of sourdough bread stick to her dry lips. She tries licking them away but somehow only manages to run them from one end of her lips to the other.

Felix eats half of his sandwich before reaching into the bag of potato chips. His mother watches him with mild interest.

“Is something bothering you?” she asks.

The salt from the chips burns a scrape in the corner of his mouth. He shakes his head. 

“You look troubled.”

He takes one more bite of his sandwich and quits eating altogether. Lunch is over for him. Suddenly he feels sick. He asks, “Mom, have stories ever hurt anyone?”

“Sure they have,” she answers with food in her mouth. “I like to call them rumors.”

“No, I don’t mean hurt someone’s feelings. I mean hurt someone for real.”

She sets her sandwich down on her plate and wipes her hands. “I’m not sure I understand, sweetheart.”

“It’s okay.” He shakes his head again. “Forget it.”

“Stories hurt the people who are in them, if the writer decides to do it. Are you hurt, Felix?”

“No.”

She smiles, breadcrumbs still all over her lips. “Then I’m sure you’ll be okay.”

After lunch he goes back up to the attic to start a new book. His mother watches him ascend the wooden ladder anxiously. 

He opens the one window to let in the warm breeze then finds a book not in the wall where he usually finds them. He finds this one in a suitcase that must have been his father’s. Inside are old clothes and a picture of a young woman he doesn’t recognize as his mother. The book he finds in there is The Gunslinger by Stephen King. Sitting in his customary spot at the foot of the wall of books, he cracks open the book with the cover of a cowboy saving a boy from a black, creature-filled abyss.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”

Immediately he’s engrossed in the story, hardly blinking in between sentences. People die in this book too, and if he read anymore Stephen King books, he’d find that a lot of people die in his books. Outside the Arquette girls resume their game of Princess and Dragon, and one house down from them Mr. Frosh finishes No Country for Old Men with a childish grin and a flutter in his heart. Felix doesn’t put The Gunslinger down until his mother calls him down for supper.

“Coming!” he calls as he finishes a chapter. The story of the gunslinger fresh in his mind, he forgets to close the window before he leaves. He takes the book downstairs with him and into the kitchen. 

As his mother sets down a meatloaf and steamed corn, she asks, “What’s that one you’re reading now?”

The Gunslinger,” Felix says. “I found it in a suitcase. I think it was dad’s.”

“Your father read nothing but cheap stories about violence and sex. Let me see that.”

She picks up the book and reads the back cover, her nose wrinkled in pre-meditated disgust. Felix is afraid she’ll throw it in the trash or hide it wherever she hides all his other toys she’s confiscated from him. He taps his feet nervously on the linoleum as she studies the front cover. 

“I don’t understand why you like to read so much,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense when you’re in a story already. A boy reading stories in a story. How boring is that?”

“What?”

“There’s no conflict or real issue, unless you want to include your missing father. But then again, he’s not really missing.” She regards Felix with a grim expression. “You asked me if stories can kill you, Felix? Well, they can. And this one will probably kill you.”

He stands up from the table and backs away from his mother. “What are you talking about?”

“Look at what’s for dinner.” She gestures at the meatloaf and corn. “I make meatloaf every night. Over and over and over again. This story is a bad rerun but worse because it’s not even on TV.”

“Mom, you’re not making any sense.”

“Whoever is orchestrating this just hasn’t made up his mind yet on what to do. But he’s got you questioning the very meaning of existence itself, so hopefully it leads somewhere interesting. Here.” 

She shovels a thick slab of the meatloaf and two spoonfuls of corn onto Felix’s plate.

“I’m not hungry,” he tells her.

She smiles, her dry lips cracking. “But you love my meatloaf, sweetheart. You eat it every night.”

He gets up from his seat by the toaster. “No. No, I don’t want any.” 

Bolting for the attic, his mother follows close behind with his plate of food held out in front of her. Corn falls to the floor like tiny pieces of gold. She screams, “Eat your dinner, Felix! Eat your dinner before it gets cold!

He climbs the rickety ladder and pulls it up behind him, snatching the white string that lets it down from the outside so his mother can’t pull on it. His chest puffs up and down as he catches his breath. As he moves to the wall of books he realizes he left The Gunslinger in the kitchen. He regrets not grabbing it but doesn’t know how he could have in this state of panic.

“Forget about the book, Felix!” The words are spoken in unison. Following the far off voices, Felix finds himself looking out the attic’s window he left open before going down to dinner.

“Forget about the book, Felix!” the voices shout again, echoing faintly in the dusk of the dead afternoon and the young evening.

The Arquette twins are in their backyard, looking right up at the open window Felix peers through. The air outside is still hot despite the plummeting sun. A fly whizzes in and out of the attic. Felix is too fixated on the twin sisters to notice the fly lands on his head 

“What did you say?” he calls down to them. 

The dragon mask and crown they use to play their game are at their feet. They’re not holding hands as they look up at him, but they’re close enough they’re shoulders are almost touching. They shout together: “Forget about the book! Your story is about to end, anyway!”

“What––?” 

The attic’s door shakes and falls open. Seconds later steam rises through the opening. Felix smells steamed corn and meatloaf. 

“M–M–Mom?” his voice shakes and barely raises above a whisper. It sounds more like a whimper.

She utters one word with each step she takes up the ladder. “Eat…Your…Dinner…Sweetheart!” 

She’s halfway up the ladder, but Felix has already crawled out the window. The Arquette girls watch him tiptoe across the roof and jump from the second story to the first story, slipping on loose shingles as he lands. He looks back and sees his mother hanging out of the window with the plate of food. Her cracked lips peel away and her eyes are black. The defining features that made her Felix’s mother are no longer present, as if she’s losing details. The more skin that falls off her face the bigger the hole for her mouth gets, like an animatronic human built to perform one simple task: making sure Felix eats his dinner.

“That’s not my mom,” Felix says to himself as he climbs down the vine-ridden terrace on the side of the house. “I don’t know who that is, but that’s not my mom.”

He runs out to the street without knowing where he’s going. Once he gets there, he notices the darkening sky is getting brighter. 

No, it’s getting whiter, Felix thinks.

He recalls every horror, every thriller, every science fiction book he’s ever read. Anyone where someone dies in it but how they could have gotten away. But could the character have gotten away if the writer intended for him to die?

Perhaps his reality isn’t what he always thought it is. Maybe it’s more like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, or something more dystopian like The Hunger Games. But when he really thinks about these stories, he can’t remember ever actually reading them. 

What if he’s dreaming? Dreaming this whole experience, including having read so many books they accumulate to an entire wall in his attic? What if the world he really lives in is a dying one like The Road or a predetermined one like Brave New World

What if he’s stranded on an island? What if he’s one of those British schoolboys marooned on that island where Piggy is killed and a pig head is worshipped?

What if he’s in a story?

With the whitening sky halfway to the horizon, Felix runs up to Mr. Frosh’s house and pounds on the front door. After knocking over a dozen times, Mr. Frosh swings the heavy oak door open. 

“I said I was coming,” he barks. “Now, what do you want, Felix?”

Mr. Frosh has given Felix a few of books over his lifetime, beginning with Goodnight Moon. The most recent one he gave Felix was Lord of the Flies.

“Mr. Frosh, am I in a story? Is this––” he waves his hands in the open air as if that’s a good enough illustration “––all a story?”

Mr. Frosh sighs. “Yes, Felix, now would you just leave me alone? I’m watching a movie.”

“I can’t go home, Mr. Frosh. My mom…My mom isn’t my mom anymore. She’s just some person trying to force feed me my dinner. I can’t go home. I won’t––”

“All right, calm down. You can come in, but don’t expect me to feed you anything.”

Felix looks behind him and up at the whitening sky. It’s nearly the color of an eggshell and growing whiter still. He follows Mr. Frosh into his living room where No Country for Old Men plays. 

“Now, I don’t want to hear anymore about living in a story or being a story or nothing,” Mr. Frosh says with a dismissive wave of the hand. “Don’t interrupt me anymore while I’m watching this.”

It’s the last scene. Ed Tom Bell and his wife sit in their kitchen. Ed Tom looks disturbed. His wife drinks a cup of coffee and watches him. “How’d you sleep?” she asks him. 

“I don’t know,” Ed Tom says. “I had dreams.”

Felix looks out Mr. Frosh’s window at the ever whitening sky. The cherry trees in the backyard obstruct most of the view, but Felix thinks the sky is blending in with the horizon now.

“They always is to the party concerned,” Ed Tom says to his wife. Felix turns his attention to the screen.

His wife sets down her coffee. “Ed Tom, I’ll be polite.”

Felix stands beside Mr. Frosh, who’s sitting on the edge of his recliner, biting his lower lip. 

“Two of them,” Ed Tom sighs. “Both had my father in them. It was peculiar. I’m older now than he ever was by twenty years, so in a sense I’m lookin back at a younger man.”

Felix remembers Ed Tom’s words in the book. Maybe he has read every book in that wall up in the attic. He even remembers the words. They stuck with him for no reason he can really explain, except that he didn’t really understand them when he read them, and he still doesn’t really understand them now.

“About the color of the moon,” Felix remembers. “And in the dream I knew he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up.”

Felix opens his mouth to ask Mr. Frosh what that means, but Mr. Frosh isn’t there anymore. The TV isn’t there anymore. In fact, Mr. Frosh’s whole house isn’t there anymore. Felix finds himself floating––not up or down or left or right, just floating––in a landscape of white. 

In every direction he looks he sees only the white. His heart races and tears stream down his face, floating with his body once they fall off his chin. He spins around and around and never becomes dizzy. He screams in the white, but his voice doesn’t carry because there’s nothing around to carry it. It dies as soon as he closes his mouth.

I’m sorry, Felix. The words appear from left to right in the void before him in large Times New Roman letters. But it’s time for your story to end.

“This is a story?” he asks the words, whoever is writing them. “I’m in a story?”

The words fade away, and a black vertical bar blinks in the white.

“What happens when the story ends?” he asks. Tears still spill from his eyes. His heart still races, as if he can feel the imminent erasure of his existence. 

I’m also sorry to say, Felix, that there will be no sequel. 

Then everything is white as the page goes blank. Everything, except for that black vertical bar, blinking.