“Check this out! It’s still here!”
“OK. OK. Gimme a minute.”
Jim and I had been stumbling up and down these soggy Vermont ridges for more than two hours. Maybe longer. My watch was back in the glove-box. I was tired. My feet were getting soaked. I thought he was crazy to bring me all the way out here, for what? To smoke a joint and stumble back?
I heard him crashing through the brush. He must have been pretty excited to come and get me. I zipped my fly and followed the noise.“You gotta see this! It’s exactly the way it was then. Nobody ever found it!”
We slogged back up the ridge to what looked like an abandoned logging road. The swamp maples had taken it over years before. We’d found it back when we were teenagers, out in the woods to shoot varmints and drink a six-pack. As I remembered, no varmints were shot, but that six-pack served us pretty well.
Winding through the stiff little trees, I finally saw the end of it -- our destination. It poked out of the brush, a few yards ahead. It was a dark green, 1960s-something Ford Econoline Van.
Much rustier than the last time we stumbled upon it, the van was now almost completely hidden by the brush and small trees that had grown up nearby. One dull red taillight and the edge of a lichen-riddled fender was actually into the trail, the rest hidden. Safe. We moved around it, taking in the full extent of what we had found. Jim was rubbing his hands together, he was so full of the joy of rediscovery. Same old van. All the windows were still unbroken, even the windshield, despite several broken branches lying across the short hood, caught in the wipers. The door handles’ chrome was now almost completely rusted away and the tires were still flat. Weeds grew out of one. One of the big side mirrors lay crumpled against the passenger door. The limb that struck it down, rotted into oblivion on the ground below it, a few mirror slivers still clinging to its bent frame.
Here and there, scattered in the dry leaves and moss, little brown glass shards reminded me of how we drank ‘em down, sitting on a nearby rock, then set ‘em up and shot ‘em. One by one. We stumbled back along the old road after finding the doors locked. Jim said he’d get a pry-bar and we’d come back to check it out. It took us twenty years.
Jim made another circuit around the van, trying every door and peering through the glass. “The bedspread’s still hanging, remember it?”
“Yeah. I’m still a little worried, too.”
The Indian print bedspread hung behind the seats, blocking any view of what lay inside. A swirl of dull red and orange paisley on cheap tan cotton. Floral symbols still stood guard, and from the condition of the van, had done a pretty good job, too. The back windows were blacked out, probably painted inside. Whatever lay beyond those doors had been there a long, long time and the odds said we were the only ones who knew the van was there. It was a mystery that haunted us for years. It could be anything. A few of the possibilities, hidden here in these deep Montpelier woods, made me glad the doors were locked.
“It’s drugs, and they’re probably watching us right now.”
“Naaah. You’re full of it. It’s just somebody’s old van. They drove it up here to get rid of it.”
“Yeah, right. And they took the plates off. There’s gotta be something inside they wanted to hide up here.”
“Maybe it’s got a … dead body in the back, or somebody all tied up or some shit like that.”
“You’d smell it outside, even with the widows rolled up.”
The arguments went on and on for several years. Once, Jim really wanted to break out the drivers’ window with a big rock, but I convinced him that whoever left it up that road would be back for it and wouldn’t appreciate our letting all the rats and raccoons and rain and snow into his driver’s seat. Another time, he found a Slim-Jim and wanted to ease it down the driver side glass under the rubber and pull up sharply, just like he’d seen on TV.
That one never happened either, we always had some plan conflicting and the weeks became months and then years. Our lives got crazier. We got jobs, we got wives, we got kids and dogs, the whole ball of wax. I didn’t even live here anymore. There was just no time to go tromping around in the woods looking for an unmarked logging road and an old abandoned van that was probably gone anyway.
Jim walked around to the back doors, tapping the crowbar’s forked tip against the sole of his boot as he stared at the black glass. The rubber gaskets that held it in place were all cracked, but held the glass so tight he couldn’t push it out. For some reason, he’d carried this big crowbar all the way up here. There were rocks everywhere we could use to smash the door windows open, but Jim told me he’d grown to feel almost reverent towards the old hulk. He wanted to pop the back doors. OK, no problem for me. I didn’t even want to come up here. He had insisted.
“We’ve gotta put this mystery behind us, so that those times can sort themselves out.”
I always thought mine were sorted, but Jim’s weren’t, I guessed. “Ok, so do the honors, pop it open.”
Jim grinned and jammed the crowbar point into the seam between the doors, below the handle and lock. He pushed hard, then started whacking it with a rock to drive it in deeper. The metal groaned and bent, sending down a rain of paint chips. He stopped, gave a furious backwards tug with all his weight behind it and the doors moaned then screeched as the old lock lever inside gave way.
A smell of old dust and mildew rushed out. I felt glad it wasn’t worse. An old Indian bedspread hung inside the narrow opening.
“Look at that. Another shitty bedspread.” I nodded. “Well,” Jim said, “don’t just stand there. Gimme a hand. We’ll let the ghosts out!”
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