Not for a reason.
Not with a purpose.
They just happen.
This river for example.
In 1932 there was a group that had come 100 miles for a mass baptism. They’d heard the tales of the women around here, the stories of six sisters who were powerful and old and who took water from this place. Some say these people were Christians, Baptists with people from the south. They weren’t. Neither I nor anyone else knows what or who they were, but they weren’t here to visit with Christ. They came for the power.
And the power came for them.
73 people were in this river, flooding it with flesh, if you will, when a freak lightning storm broke out. A bolt or two struck the water and killed 64 of those people in the river. The bodies floated down to and past the nearby town and were never seen again. The survivors, those in the river and the twenty on the land, disappeared too. A handful turned up in the papers, to tell their story, but within a week, the people were gone. Vanished.
What did it all mean? – people wondered.
It meant nothing.
It just was.
Same as the mother who took her three children into the woods here, hoping to find her lost husband, a man who claimed to hear voices calling him into the thick woodland. They found five pairs of shoes, all lined up neat as can be, near a clearing that no one remembered seeing before. And at the center of that clearing?
Five new trees.
What does it mean?
Just as it meant nothing when my mother left my father, or my aunt shot her husband, or like it does when it rains in Japan. Yes, there are reasons for things happening, but things just happen. There need be no grand explanation for everything.
I remember being a kid and hearing my mother and father fighting, well before they split, and I was so scared, and so upset they’d break up for good. I went to my sister and asked her what was happening, why they were arguing, and you know what she told me?
Sometimes it just happens.
You can ascribe weird reasons for any and every damned thing that exists. You can create a god, a devil, a demon, an angel, an alien for anything.
The truth is what you choose to believe it to be.
Absolute truth stands in the shadows where few of us are willing to look.
But I will look.
And in those shadows I see happenstance. I see chance. I see that there is no great deity at all but a butterfly beating its wings on Day One and today we are still feeling its effects.
Once upon a time a man and woman came here to birth their baby in this river. They believed the stories about the river being a place of power and healing. They believed the story of the man, a tramp with no home, who had slept by this very river in 1923 and had awakened twenty years younger and with an idea that became changed how we manufacture a certain thing in this country.
The world shook.
The heavens fell.
Life was changed.
So they say.
So this couple, poor and living in a rented trailer just outside of town, in the borderlands where the refuse, human and otherwise, was relegated, came to this place to change their future. To give a future to their baby.
They came to this place, the place where three tribes had tried to settle but where all three had vanished. A place where two women, lovers, came to commit suicide, yet left these woods strangers, never speaking again for as long as they lived, the only hint of their affair being a forgotten note that had been left pinned to a tree.
They came here, and they had their child.
They had me.
And what am I?
I am a man.
I had a job, I had a girlfriend, I had a kid, and once upon a time we shared a small apartment.
I am neither great nor infamous.
I just am.
I have known love, loss, pain, and joy.
I was told the story of my birth, and of how the woods became still as the water ran red and my mother had me, never once screaming, the cold river serving as a sort of anesthesia. Told me of how there was the sound of something moving in the deep parts of the woods, something large and slow that never drew near but circled near them. They told me of how dad went into the woods after I was born. Walking as if in a trance, and leaving my mother there, holding me close, the cord still linking us, and he was gone for two hours, and the woods were still. When he returned he didn’t remember where he’d been or why he’d left. He just remembered six trees.
The next day he got a job at the local mill and was foreman in two months. My mother opened a beauty salon in town by the end of the year and a year to the day I was born my sister was born, though she was born in a hospital.
And now, and now, and now.
Now I am old.
My skin is soft, my hands untouched by hard labor, and my back is straight.
I am a child of modern medicine and have outlived even my own love and child.
I am an old man, Noah with no ark.
Methuselah with no savior.
So I come here, day after day after day to these woods and this river, a place with so many stories and so much lore that it’s become almost as storied as the woods that surround its waters. Just last week they found the body of a boy who’d gone missing in Kansas but wound up here, dead in this river. No one knows how he got here, or why.
Things just happen.
They happen and I hate it.
I hate the dark shadows of truth that lead me to this place, like Lucifer with his lies. I believed, for as long as I lived, almost I think to defy my father, that there was no magic in a world long past dead. A planet and its people waiting to die.
I was wrong.
I was wrong and I know that now.
Know that as I see my face in the waters and see a man of thirty who is dancing into seventy-five.
I know this as I hear the voices now, louder than they were at ten, at twenty, at thirty, louder than they have ever been and calling me. Calling me here, to this place. Now even I hear the sounds of the things in the woods, and the singing of the sisters. And I wonder what terrible price my father paid with my birth. My mother bearing myself and my sister after being told she could bear my seed to fruition, and my father a man with no healthy seed to give.
Yet here they came to create me, one moonlit night I found out on the deathbed of my father, as he screamed that the woods were coming closer, and now I wonder if we didn’t live amidst them all along.
My daughter and lover dead, killed in a car crash among these trees. My sister disappeared when she was twenty-one. Depressed and mad and gone one night that was like the night I was conceived. My life better than it should have been, my parents turning from paupers to lords of this small town in a matter of a year. The world changed with my birth, and I don’t quite know why. But I am a man born with a borrowed future and a bloody past and no understanding of my here.
And now, and now I happen to be here.
And I don’t believe anymore in happenstance.
All I hope, is that, if I walk a little way into this river, if these rocks in my pockets keep me low, and I can stay down and dream for a bit, then maybe this curse will die with me.
The trees tell me different though.
And I happen to believe them.