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Part 1: All this talk about names.

Chapter 3

I felt a gentle rocking, nothing my mother could have created with a crib. It was very sporadic and yet seemed quite natural. Then the aroma wafted into my memory. The sea.

I began to fall gently back into a recognizable form. I could feel my body reforming. It was laying down, in the sea, rocking back and forth sporadically. I wasn't wet though. Then the boat formed. I felt the aged, hardened wood of a boat. A sense of cool sea air whirled around my body gently. It tickled slightly. Then I felt the sun. It must have peaked through a hole in the clouds. How did I know it was cloudy?

Because I was creating it that way.

Then I felt the sun. It was peaking through a hole in the clouds. I felt its warm rays hugging my skin. It warmed my flannel shirt. It began to tickle the receptors in my eyes and a soft orange and red glow sank into my brain. I let it sit there for a while, trying to remember how to shrink my pupils. Wait, how could I shrink my pupils? Why should I have to remember that? Isn't that supposed to be automatic?

I'm dead. Nothing is automatic right now.

Suddenly the electricity of life surged through my body and all my systems jumped. My heart exploded into a fury of pumps trying to move mountains of blood cells through the canyons of my blood vessels. My lungs weren't sure if they should push or pull. They struggled violently to remember. As soon as they remembered, my muscles awoke in a flash and I jolted to an upright position as my eyelids ripped themselves apart. I fell into the small hull, almost rocking the boat over. I looked around quickly. Where was I?

I am where I created me to be. It is a memory.

I looked around. There was a shore nearby, with rounded, white-ish stones sitting all over each other like the mangled spectators at a sport match of some sort. The waves of the sea thoughtlessly drowned those unlucky enough to have front row seats. Above the stones were snake-like roots crawling through the brownish dirt. They seem to be engulfing the stones at the top of the beach, crawling over them, silently strangling them. The roots exposed to the beach, and the small, pesky waves, seemed desperate trying to keep their trees from falling headlong into the bay, or helplessly onto the beach, though the tide would eventually get them as well, carrying them off along the coast. Behind them were other trees, hundreds of them, thousands of them, millions of them, waiting to be taken as well, but standing tall and proud, unaware of their bitter end.

How pessimistic!

They climbed upon the slopes of mountains that rose right up into the round clouds, which floated around them as easy and as hard as the water did.

I looked around, blinking, unsure of exactly where I was, and, which seemed even more pressing, why I was.

Finish the creation.

Then I remembered. The boat, my little skiff - yes, MY little skiff - floated around a point so I could see the head of the bay. There, slowly falling into the water, was the cannery. It seemed so small, and yet it always did, against the great trees and towering peaks surrounding the bay. The paint had completely peeled off the entire structure, leaving it a weathered, dull grey. Part of it was already lilting into the water. You could see where a section would have been, but it was already gone, swallowed by the sea. A creek toppled out of the forest, quickly rolled across the stones and stealthily disappeared, swallowed by the bay as well.

I looked at the cannery and began to remember all the time I spent there. I knew what had happened there and I made sure I never stayed past sunset. As much as I didn't believe in God, I surely didn't want to find out if I believed in ghosts.

I had first gone to the cannery on a field trip with a history class. The teacher knew the skipper of a boat, which was licensed to carry thirty passengers. We all piled onto the boat, The Rosemary II, at about seven in the morning; some of us falling ungracefully asleep, drooling slightly and tipping towards the seat in front of us; jolting groggily upright, only to drift off again. The boat wandered south through the islets of Sitka Harbor across to Relevance Bay. The bay was about two miles long and ended in a small U-shaped valley carved by some small glacier thousands of years ago. Now the valley was filled with trees and a small river flowed softly past rock faces on the west side of the valley. Each year, hundreds of thousands of salmon churned up the gravel beds of this river to lay eggs. It was these salmon that the cannery processed for almost fifteen years at the turn of the century. Hmm, what century?

The same time.

Anyway, after it closed down, it sat there abandoned until the 1940s when the war started. Aleuts from almost two-thousand miles away were brought to the Southeast, "for their safety and well-being." It seemed that someone forgot to see what those words meant. Two hundred and fifty people were left at the abandoned Relevance Bay Cannery. Food was brought in whenever someone remembered, about every two weeks. However, the major problem was sanitation and the wet climate of the Southeast. Two hundred and fifty people were expected to use two outhouse pits and one hand pump for water. With all the waste, the stream nearby became quickly contaminated. Hepatitis ran through the cannery like wildfire and within two months, half of the Aleuts died, never to see their homes again.

After being up-rooted from their ancestral islands overnight and herded into the cold, damp and drafty canneries, they died of painful illnesses like Hepatitis, Tuberculosis and food poisoning, thousands of miles from anywhere their spirits could have imagined. It seemed as no-one payed much mind, since by the end of the war, ninety percent of the Aleut population, the entire population, was dead, far, far from home.

The teacher had passed this information on to us in a very gentle fashion, but instilled in us the passion to remember all those people on this earth who had lost their lives in seemingly needless ways.

Years later, when my dad let me take the skiff out on my own, I would go there and explore. I got to know the valley quite well. Everyone always warned me of bears and such, but I was never bothered, and wasn't particularly afraid. But when I started spending more time at the cannery, that's when I began to be afraid. I imagined what it must have been like. And usually I couldn't imagine it. When I reached that point, I would climb down into my skiff and leave the bay as quickly as the twenty-five horsepower motor would take me. I would watch the cannery the whole way, until it disappeared behind the trees, afraid that I might see someone there, waving at me, wanting me to take them away from there, help them try to get home, thousands of miles away.

I never saw anyone there. In fact, I had never heard of anyone going there. The history teacher had moved to Seattle two years after I was in her class, so no more students ventured to Relevance Bay early on foggy, spring mornings. Other than myself, I knew of no-one who went there. The old Relevance Bay Cannery was simply fading into the past, becoming irrelevant.

I watched as it emerged from behind the tall Sitka-spruce and Douglas-fir forest. It was still grey, and still falling apart. So small. Then my head cocked instinctively to the left and my eyes narrowed. I blinked and my heart sped up, my breath stuttering. I was seeing smoke, as in smoke-from-a-campfire kind of smoke.

Suddenly, I didn't want to be where I was. I went to start the boat motor, but there was no gas. The oars had gone and though I tried desperately to paddle the boat with my hands, I drifted steadily towards the head of the bay. The tide must have been going in or something.

I will be OK.

Somehow, I managed to stifle some of the fear and the feeling turned into more of a caution. I noticed an alertness to my surroundings. I began to notice things I hadn't noticed before. I began to see the life of the place. I saw a sea otter, bobbing about and playing with the wind and waves. Two deer wandered along the beach. A raven swooped about the valley quietly.

Somehow the boat floated right to the haphazardly assembled dock. I could hear the fire crackling softly. After about a minute of sitting in the boat, which seemed stuck to the dock, I crawled out and made my way slowly up the ladder.

I walked along the deck to where the door entered what was left of the cannery's main floor. There in the middle, where there was a hole in the roof, was a fire, right on the floor, right on the wooden floor.

I lunged forward instinctively, though I wasn't sure what I would do. Stomp on the fire, tell it to go out; perhaps I would scare it and it would blow itself out with fright. I frankly didn't know what I would do.

That's when I notice them. Two people, one on each side of the fire, sitting on the floor as well. I swore they weren't there when I first came into the room. But now, there they were, plain as day, or night, or anything else plain you could have chosen.

They sat looking wisely into the fire, as if it were giving them more than just warmth. They looked really quite old, perhaps even in there nineties. The look of life was in them somehow. I couldn't quite describe it. Even though they looked old, I guessed, they certainly seemed far from death.

In their wise eyes was happiness. Their eyes smiled, while their mouths seemed rather indifferent. They were both wrapped in olive green blanket. The blankets seemed of wool and I immediately recognized them as U.S. Army issue.

I stopped directly. I'm not sure if I yelled out or not. But I most certainly froze in my tracks. In fact, I could have frozen in mid-air and I probably would not have noticed. Everything inside me tensed up and I had no clue what to do but stand there frozen, like a deer.

There was a short pause, which probably only took a second, but seemed to lag on forever. Then slowly, as in a dream, or a movie, the two ancient heads began to turn towards me. They both seemed to blink simultaneously in slow motion. Their eyes languorously opened as their heads found my direction. I felt their pupils dialate and contract as the muscles in their eyes squeezed and pulled me into focus.

Another dose of forever lingered as they eyed me curiously. The smiles of their eyes crawled steadily into their lips, for they seemed to recognize me. And then I saw them for the first time, an old man and an old woman. And as they recognized me, I somehow recognized them back, quite to my surprise. I was alarmed by the knowing look in their eyes, which wasn't helping when I heard their voice and didn't see any lips move.

"Your creation of me is beautiful. You have done very well. Please let me know if my form is understandable to you."

"Wuhuh!" This inexplicable sound escaped my throat.

Concern reached their eyes. "I do not understand. Why are you frightened by me?"

With that, I began to fall. I remember seeing the floor race towards me, but I never seemed to reach it. Then everything went black again.

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