Hell and the Hudson River
Shadows lay long in this part of the valley even in the bright sunlight. The rolling hills and rich forests, dappled with radiant reds and golds, are carved deep and foul with secrets and grief. But the same can surely be said of all places, if you know where to look. The river is wide, undulating, and perpetual, and it traces the landmarks and tragedies of the place, writing suffering and progress into the bones of the earth. It marches, endless, into the horizon beyond rolling hills and factories, deep woods and meadows, and whispers promises of anabasis, or perhaps oblivion.
Robert sat on the damp overhanging rocks, looking out over the Hudson River, beneath a sky thick with rolling clouds, solemn and umber. He watched a barge slowly motor down the Hudson by Pollepel Island, hazy in the distance, obscured by the air thick with humidity and smog.
“It’s gonna rain again today,” he thought. The path behind him was already marked with deep grooves from days of runoff. Water from previous days’ storms still pooled in the muddy boot prints that covered the trail. He tightened the straps on his backpack and sighed deeply.
He heard footsteps and laughter behind, slowly getting closer as what sounded like a couple of teenage girls crept slowly up the switchbacks that climbed to the precipice of the mountain above him. He was sitting about 20 feet off the trail at the base of a patch of thick barberry, so he doubted they would see him. It sounded like they were in their own world.
He wouldn’t normally be here on the Stillman trail. It was probably the most, or one of the most, popular hiking routes in the area. It ran through a low valley and then slowly carved back and forth up the side of the mountain until it summited Storm King and revealed unparalleled vistas looking up the river towards Newburgh and Beacon. Storm King wasn’t as tall as the less impressively named Butter Hill just behind it, but the views were better, and it was a centerpiece of all the regional guidebooks.
That meant it was touristy, and there wouldn’t be anything to find here. If Alice or, god forbid, her body (he wasn’t ready to admit that possibility yet) were anywhere near here, she would certainly have already been found, even if only by accident. He spent most of his time looking in the deeper woods and less trafficked places, from the Highlands to Black Rock. Who knows how far she might have wandered.
But still, sometimes he climbed Storm King anyway, even if just for the views, and to feel more like part of the world for a little while. But the views weren’t great today. The air was thick with the pending storm and the smoke belching from the factories of Newburgh and New Windsor. The clouds threatened the deluge. The trees swayed in the menacing wind that whistled across water and rocks. It felt like any moment that world might drown, and sometimes he wished it would just get it over with.
The girls behind him felt the blast of cold wind and turned back down the path. He listened to their voices recede.
“Yep, it’s definitely gonna rain.” He gnawed on a piece of beef jerky as he stood and stretched. Then he resumed the hike back to the summit for one last look at the Hudson valley before he descended back into the woods to continue the search for Alice.
The clouds above rolled and surged, solemn and umber.
Jenna pulled a heating pad from the microwave and it smelled like jasmine rice. She loved that smell. She wiped the moisture from the microwave with a rag and hung the rag back up on the handle of the dishwasher. The kitchen was small, but impeccably clean. Jenna made sure of that.
The apartment was one of the few things she could utterly control. She had lost so much, and in the aftermath of the catastrophe, she’d almost lost everything. Her old house was gone, but she didn’t need that much home, not anymore. It was just her now. She’d lost her old job, but she couldn’t afford to give those kinds of hours to work anymore. She had too many other responsibilities now. She’d lost… she shook off the thought. There was no purpose now in dwelling on all that she had lost. That was a luxury. And she didn’t have the time or space for luxuries.
She laid the heating pad on her couch and sank down onto it, feeling the warmth loosen the aches in her lower back, and looked at the clock. It was 8:30pm. Early for some, but she’d had a full day, and would have another tomorrow. She’d started with the Friends of the Library pancake breakfast fundraiser which had gone on a little longer than expected, and followed it up immediately with a board meeting of the local soup kitchen. She always liked to spend the afternoons on the weekends taking food to the homeless downtown if she could, but she wasn’t as young as she used to be, and all that walking tired her out, through bone and soul.
Tomorrow she’d promised to help shuttle some women to the clinic on behalf of the battered women’s shelter, and then there was the MADD meeting in the afternoon.
She sighed and sank into the heating pad. And she let herself drift, just for a moment. She let the tension ease and her mind went quiet. But a moment was all she could allow herself. Idle hands… so the saying goes. She knew that if she thought too hard, if she gave herself too much space, the world got brittle. And on that downward slide, that’s when things started to break.
She turned on the TV to the news. The ticker always seemed to be a catalog of human tragedy. She took her sleeping pill. “There’s so much wrong out there, always so many people who need help,” she thought to herself.
The heating pad cooled as she felt sleep overcoming her. “twelve days,” she thought as she drifted off into oblivion, “twelve days, don’t think too hard about it now.”
Eva woke with a mouth full of cotton and the familiar roaring hum in both her ears. She rolled out of bed and barely made it to the bathroom of her studio apartment before vomiting the remnants of last night’s excess into her toilet. She immediately brushed her teeth but tried not to look into the mirror. She didn’t want to see what it had to show her right now.
She walked back out into the apartment’s one room. He wasn’t there, he must have left already. What was his name? Max? No, but something like that.
“Shit, I hope he didn’t rob me,” she thought, but god knows what he would take. She walked around the room taking stock until she got to the end table by the bed and saw what was sitting there.
“Ugh, that’s even worse,” she muttered as she wandered off to make coffee, leaving the $100 in twenties pinned beneath the water glass.
She munched on some toast at the kitchen island while she waited for the room to stop spinning, and managed a small, spiteful, smirk. If only her mom could see her now.
Irving had owned his place on Main Street for thirty years. In some ways it was better now than it used to be. It was safer, and he made far more money than before. He did have to upgrade the bar’s lighting and put some work into a fancy new cocktail list but the newer clientele had deeper pockets to make it worth his while.
He could hardly complain about the receipts, but something about it rubbed him raw deep inside.
A couple sat across the room at one of his new booths prattling on about the ghost tour they were going to take and all the local legends they were reading about. But the history here was deep and real and Irving didn’t like to hear it trivialized.
He remembered that incident with those kids out on the highway in the pass when their car was sideswiped by the trucker who later blew a 1.2. There were ghost stories now about that haunted stretch of road, but Irving had been at that young boy’s christening, and he’d laid flowers on the casket. He didn’t find the ghost stories amusing in the slightest.
The couple laughed and ordered another round, with the love for each other rich in their eyes. Their smiles sparkled as they read about the echoes of a pain that wasn’t theirs to understand.
“It just isn’t right,” Irving thought. He’d been a good kid. “It just isn’t right.”
Robert leaned back up against the stone wall behind him. It was still raining, but the overhang above the ruined wall sheltered him somewhat. He poked at the smoldering mass in front of him with a stick and watched what little flames he could ever get started sputter and die. The whole world was wet to the bone. The trees bowed their heads in the deluge and the horizon bent with the weight of the outpouring. He wondered if anyone would see the flickers of his tiny fire from any of the surrounding peaks and think about him, but it wasn’t likely that anyone could see anything in this weather.
He gazed up at the cracking and dilapidated ramparts behind him.
Bannerman’s Castle was once an arms depot, but was long since abandoned and fallen into disrepair. It was the kind of place Robert, in another life, would have loved to have visited. It was now normally accessible only by guided tours due the danger inherent in the structure and the risk of further collapse.
Of course, no one was there to stop people like Robert from making the crossing, and he didn’t have time for the history lesson now. And he didn’t like old places and ruins like he used to. He found them foreboding.
He had searched the perimeter of the island for any signs. How in God’s name Alice could have made it out to Pollepel Island, he had no idea. But Robert wasn’t anything if not thorough. He had promised he would search every inch of the banks of the Hudson River and he would make good.
He had seen no signs, but it was now too dark to make the crossing back, so here he sat, futilely trying to keep his little fire going in whatever protection the fort offered from the pouring rain.
He looked back at the structure behind him.
Holes in the face of the castle yawned deep and black. Surely there would be shelter in there, but Robert was repulsed. He knew somehow, though he couldn’t say how, what lay in the depths of that place, old and stagnant.
There stood, against the wreckage, old rooms and causeways, shadowed with history. Robert feared them. Charred fireboxes anchored strong chimneys over which howled the foul winds. And a black mold crept along roofs and walls like grasping lichen. He imagined it twisting and writhing there in the dark places. He heard the voices there too, calling from deeper pits, where living men weren’t meant to hear, saying things living men were not built to understand or endure. The walls themselves whispered scorn and judgment. The place had eyes and they saw everything.
Somehow he knew of the darker things that lay hidden on this island, that tourists never got to see.
Robert shivered. Better to suffer the wind in the clean air. Tomorrow he would head back to the mainland. There wasn’t anything here. There was never anything here. But there were so many places left to search. These hills were awash in secrets.
The man next to Eva at the bar ordered them another round and kept telling his story about some dumb bullshit she couldn’t care less about. His hungry eyes were on her all night. She’d take his drinks, but there was no chance she was going home with this scumbag. She could see the tan line where his wedding ring usually sat. She knew this kind of man.
After her sister had died, her mom had spiraled into a deep well of grief and despair. Eva would have expected to be left more to her own devices, but the reality had been somehow worse. She was expected to be perfect, all on her own.
She kept up with her recitals and with her classes, but now with no room for error. “Just don’t add anything else to your mom’s plate,” was her dad’s running refrain, “she doesn’t need this right now.” That was Eva’s life. Don’t make waves. Don’t ever be a burden. Her mom was grieving and needed space, and no additional worries. But that went on for years.
Her dad gave them plenty of space, though. He spent lots of late nights at work. And Eva still remembers the day her mom dragged her out to find her dad in the seedy motel room with the waitress from TGI Friday’s. So much for “don’t ever be a burden.”
She had no idea where her dad was now, but her mom had poured all that anxiety and desperation onto her as well. Eva left at sixteen.
The thing about Indianapolis was that it was big enough to get lost in, it had no expectations, and it was very far from home. “Aren’t we all just so perfect now,” she thought as she sipped her margarita, and the drunk businessman watched her with leering eyes.
Robert had left Pollepel Island that morning and was snaking his way through the rain along the base of Storm King.
Suddenly, he realized he couldn’t remember the last day it didn’t rain. The clouds continued to pour their weight down on the world and it made Robert more and more uneasy as he threaded his way back through the park.
He passed a couple of hikers who had to be crazy to be out in this weather. They said nothing. After he passed one of them turned and looked back towards him in silence, then continued on.
Up above the Stillman trail merged with other paths and curved towards the trailheads up by route 9W. The world seemed darker and heavier than it should be. Roots grabbed at his boots and the mud tried to suck him down into the earth. But he had to keep going. He could never stop with the job unfinished.
But the rain… would the rain ever stop? The savage weight pressed down harder and harder upon him.
Jenna had kept her days busy, as she always did, with the fundraisers, the board meetings, and the volunteer cleanups. But time had wound down and the day was upon her. She could never avoid its inexorable march, no matter how much she fragmented her mind to deal with other people’s problems.
That’s how years work after all. It always comes back around.
She drove slowly, probably too slowly, up 9W. She knew where she had to go, but didn’t want to be there. She knew what crippled her inside, but never wanted to face it, so she did everything else she possibly could. If things were quiet, then you were alone with your thoughts, and that’s something that Jenna never permitted herself, except for one day a year.
So she drove slowly.
Dan stood at the floor to ceiling windows and watched the rain dance off the panes, blurring the city lights around him. A woman slept on the bed in the room behind him. Not a wife, he would never allow that, he’d hurt too many people, but he didn’t want to be alone.
He’d moved halfway around the world to hide from his problems and his failings, but the problem with running is that you take yourself with you, and if you’re the cause of your own grief, there’s nowhere you can run.
He took a sip of his whiskey and stared down at his phone in his hand. It was the anniversary of his daughter’s death, and he thought he should call someone. He did this dance every year. He could never call his ex-wife. He’d hurt her too badly with his betrayal, and she was now married to her own grief and pain and wouldn’t want to hear from him in any case. He’d tried that one year, in a drunken stupor, and she’d hung up as soon as she heard his voice.
He sometimes wished he could call Eva, but he didn’t even know how. He knew she’d left home, but she left no trace. He thought of her, and hoped she’d found some happiness. And he thought of Alice, bleeding to death in the rain at the bottom of that ditch, alone and scared.
He wished that he had stayed, but he couldn’t endure that place any longer, and he knew that made him weak. But there was something dark in those woods. It haunted him when he heard the whispers in the trees at night.
“Maybe we’re all alone in the end after all,” he thought, and took another sip.
Robert rejoined the proper trail, something he rarely did. He knew there was nothing to find on trails, but the weight pressed down so hard he could barely see, and the rain thickened. The trees bent and swayed and Robert pushed forward toward what felt like the end of grief and epiphany.
Jenna parked her car at the parking area at the trailhead that led out to Butter Hill. She took her time. It was sunny today, but cold. Not like that night when they’d had the storm.
She got out of the car and surveyed the hills surrounding the crest. They were ancient and timeless. She found some comfort in that. Things were here before that day and they endured after. They would endure after she and everyone she knew slept in their graves. At least something would.
She brushed some gravel with her foot and looked at the road and the parking area. The tire skids from the truck were long gone. So was the broken glass and the blood splatter. She remembered what they looked like though. She projected her memory onto the world around her. She could almost hear the sirens and smell the smoldering rubber. She walked to the ridge at the edge of the parking lot and looked down.
There was a protective barrier there. It had been there that day too, but it hadn’t been strong enough. She saw the wreckage, what was left of it, at the base of the hill. It hadn’t been worth it to bring it all up. It was now old and rusted with age.
Her son had been parked next to the ridge with his girlfriend in the passenger seat. She knew some of the kids drove up here to make out, and she pretended she didn’t know what he was doing. He said she was the one, but young lovers always think that.
It had been raining that day, and the trucker had been drinking. When he skidded out on the turn, he hit the back of the station wagon and the car punched through the barrier and plummeted into the ravine below. They said her son died instantly on impact. But she still thought about that poor girl dying in the rain at the base of the hill, and she began to cry. She wept for the lost lives, and all the time she lost with her son. She wept for the way the cracks spread throughout her town. She wept for the trucker, even though he didn’t deserve it. She leaned over the barricade and cried with deep, heaving sobs. She only allowed herself that one day a year, so she needed to get the most of it.
Robert emerged from the darkness at the base of the trailheads and felt a chill cut through him to the bone. The rain poured down.
Above he saw the barrier that stood between the park and the highway above. Leaning over it he saw a woman crying, and for a moment, he thought he knew her, so he called out. Her head lifted for a moment and she looked around, but she probably couldn’t hear him in this rain. But then he saw the car, and that pushed all other thoughts from his mind.
The station wagon lay burning in the rain at the base of the hill, and Robert could hear the roaring sounds of twisting metal and smashing glass. The air smelled like burning diesel and ozone. There was a broken and plaintive cry coming from the car and he sprinted as fast as he could through the rain and mud to the passenger door, and there he saw her.
Alice lay in the twisted wreckage. Her right arm was broken and pinned beneath the collapsed driver’s side of the car. Her legs were crushed where the rear seats had folded over. Blood dripped out of the corner of her mouth as she screamed in the darkness, until she saw his face.
He couldn’t speak and felt frozen in place. All this time he’d spent looking, and all he could do was stare in misery and terror at his beloved Alice. They had planned to spend eternity together.
She turned to look at him as she bled out, and gave the slightest of smiles. She reached up with her one good arm and brushed his cheek with her fingertips, and then the light left her eyes.
Robert jumped to his feet and stumbled backwards into the woods. The rain and darkness swirled around him while he gasped for air, but he found only emptiness. He tried to cry out, but was greeted with nothing but silence. He slipped over a small hill behind him and hit his head on the way down into the pit.
Jenna had composed herself by the time she got home. A shadow had passed over while she wept above the car, and for a moment she thought she heard her Robert. It wasn’t the first time, and maybe that was why on this day she always came back. It offered the potential for the slightest connection, or a hint at what was lost.
But only once a year, that’s all she could abide. It was 365 days now, and there was so much to do. She heated up a heating pad and the apartment smelled of jasmine rice. She sat on her couch and turned on the news ticker. There were so many people that needed help. She didn’t have the luxury of prolonged grief.
Tomorrow she was helping out the girl scouts with a cookie sale. She popped her sleeping pill. She would need her rest.
Eva went home alone that night, but still plenty drunk.
She sat by the small window in her kitchen with a glass of gin and looked out on the city. It was cold and anonymous. Just like she liked it. It had no expectations. She could be sad whenever and wherever she wanted, and that was a sick sort of liberation.
She looked down at her phone. No missed calls, though she didn’t expect any. Still, the anniversary was always hard. Sometimes she wished someone would call, but what would she say? She missed Alice so deeply. And sometimes she even missed her mom and her dad. But the rot had set in too deeply there, and there was no coming back.
Robert woke up in a small depression not far from the trailheads and set to making camp coffee. He didn’t remember going to bed here, but sometimes everything in the woods started to look the same.
The sun was bright today, but he noticed that the shadows still lay long in the valley, and the clouds were starting to gather on the horizon. “It’s probably gonna rain later today,” he thought. But that was okay, he could handle a little rain.
He knew Alice was somewhere in these woods, and he would find her. They were destined to be together, they had made a promise. They had promised eternity.
He knew she was somewhere in these woods and he would search every inch of the Hudson River until he found her.
He would take all the time he needed.
Life with conditions
Life can change so fast in a blink of an eye. I love this man so much for what's it worth he is the only man I've lived with. I met him when he was 17 and we would play together all the time.
We go on walks from noon to 2 until day I tried to fight another at the park, they got to close and I'm a very jealous. He yelled at me and it made me upset so I hid for hours until he apologized, he's always been a sucker for my sad eyes.
He graduated high school recently I've never been more proud. I was there for the ceremony, but I had to wait in the car; I kissed him when he came out all dressed up in his gown.
We moved into a new apartment, and he gave me a room that I could put my things. I love this new house there is room to run, we like to chase each other as a past time activity. We have so much fun together and that's why I love him he makes me so happy.
He works all the time and I never get to see him as much, but we still sleep together here and there. I see him more then he sees me. He makes sure I have food in the house and something to drink which is so sweet. I have my own spot on the couch. He laid a blanket there for me to let me know it was mine, that's what makes him so great.
Last Christmas we visited family and friends, they all were excited to see us. He bought me so many gifts. I got a new necklace, a new plate, and various other things, he knows me so well I wish I could have got him something in return so I give him lots of kisses to show my gratitude.
It's been 8 years since we moved into this apartment, and I have lost my youthful energy and I tend to just lay around and sleep, but when he wants to run around and chase each other I still try to give it my best because I'll do anything for this man.
Someone tried to break in one night and I had to protect him he was asleep, they came through the window, so I had to defend him he never even knew this had happened.
It's been 4 days and I haven't seen him, his family has shown up and started to move his stuff out of the apartment. I can hear them talk about him something or another about he was in a car wreck and how he was in the hospital. They told me I would go live with them because he was in a better place. They chained me up in the backyard of their house. I miss him so much that the only thing that will listen to me is the gaint light in the night sky. I haven't eaten since he left I'm just not that hungry maybe he will show up and tell me I need to eat and I will do it when he does.