The Castle Danger Story (Part 19)

“So, to finish?”


“That group kept the items, kept good track of them, poked around some more in the Two Harbors area and the place where Tom grounded the Castle.  As a matter of fact, they were up in that area, asking around and telling what parts of the story they knew when three men, Norwegian fishermen, decided to set up a small settlement on that land, the land Tom must have seen from his boat that morning.  They had set up for themselves in a small round hut built down close to the water.  The crew that scuttled the Castle had set up a warning marker on the sandbar, and those fishermen asked two men from the Old Settlers Association if they knew anything about it.  Of course they did, and that’s how the place got its name.”

shed castle danger courtesy jimmy magouirk 5-17

shed castle danger courtesy jimmy magouirk 5-17

I realized that the late hour and the cold had not completely dampened Vann’s efforts to test my patience.  I tried to wait him out but I was really tired.

“The name, what’s the name of the place?”

“Castle Danger.”

I was not sure if that was anti-climatic or amazing, so I just sat there thinking back over the entire story I had heard.  I had these amazing images in my head, all of the troubles Tom had been through, the railroad thugs, the murders, his strange pit and the unexplained disappearance after the boat grounded.  In some ways I felt as though I had been transported back to that time, gained some of the pioneer spirit Tom must have possessed, tasted the combination of the fresh wilderness air mixed with the creeping grimy intrusion of railroad smoke and coal dust.  I wanted to march back into his story and ask the questions that should have been asked, watch the moments that had not been observed for history, grab some part of Tom’s collection and hold onto it to be examined with today’s technology.  I suddenly felt even colder and realized that I had stretched out on the cold cement pad, laying back with my hands behind my head.  I rolled over on one side and saw Vann had adopted a similar position although he was still awake.

“Do you really think Tom died?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure he did.  They looked, the historian and those folks from the settlers association, but no real info ever turned up, none that was reliable anyway, which would indicate he survived.  I figure he swam for it and drown, body carried away before that first boat came by Castle.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense.  No Elvis sightings then?”

Vann chuckled and then yawned.  “No, nothing like that.”

I yawned back, cracking my neck as I did so and realized that for now, we really were at the end.  “Thanks for the story.  It was pretty interesting.”

“Think nothing of it,” he replied with a poorly executed British accent.

I could feel sleep coming on quickly and realized I needed to get up and go to my truck before I passed out on the cement.  I was still thinking about it when I asked Vann another question.

“So, in the morning you just…wander on?”

“Yeah, I need to get moving.”

“Chandler or Oro Valley way?”

“No man, moving on…it’s been a year.”

But I hardly heard him as I was slipping off to sleep, trying to leave my headache behind.

When I awoke in the morning Vann was gone, although he had covered me at some point with his Army jacket.  I rolled over, painfully cramped, bitterly cold and still with a pounding headache.  My mouth tasted like sand and backwash although I quickly realized I still had those two pieces of gum, very stale now, in my mouth.  How I had managed not to swallow, or choke, on that during the night I never will figure out.  I also realized that as cold as I was, and had been, sleeping under that Army jacket, Vann must be far worse off than me without it.  I felt pretty badly about that as I stumbled over to my truck, managing to arrive only a few minutes before a county sheriff cruised by on the road.  I gave a half wave and hoped to look as though I had just stopped to check something out on my truck.  He drove on and I climbed in, wearily settling into the nicely padded seats.  I drove the short distance to a gas station, purchasing an absurd amount of food and water, some of which I wolfed down in my truck while writing down everything I could remember of Vann’s story.  I checked my phone, almost afraid that those pictures of the journal hadn’t saved, or that they would look terrible in the light of day.  They were not great, but they would do.  As I finished up writing and prepared to drive on and find a place to take a day long nap, I realized that questions remained, questions that had nothing to do with the story of Tom Sexton.

Who was Vann?  And how did he know so much about this story?

photo credit matt conwell

photo credit matt conwell

Author’s note:  There may be more of this story to tell, although for now I have to step away from Vann, Tom Sexton and all of the questions about Two Harbors and Castle Danger.  Other stories are calling.  Please check back next week for a preview of the upcoming “Spiritual Destruction of Anna Marie”

The Castle Danger Story (Part 13)

“Do you suppose he meant anything by that?  Was it a symbol of something?”

Vann had  a faraway look in his eyes, reliving his research I supposed.  “You know, I thought about that too, a lot really.  At the time, I guess I was trying to derive some bigger meaning from it.  Did he see himself as part of a game?  Was there some kind of meaning to him about his relative power in the area?”


“It’s a chess piece value thing.  You know, how folks that play rate the value of one piece against another?”  Vann’s hands were waving in front of his crossed legs, moving invisible chess pieces around in the air.  Although I knew how to play, or supposed I did, I had no idea what he was talking about.

“This get complicated, huh?”

“A bit, not too much, but you probably don’t want to hear a gaming lecture from me.”  His eyes twinkled a bit at that, and I took it that he would have been happy to give me one.

“Not really.  Let’s just leave it at my understanding that people have values attached to them.”

“Ok then.”  He sighed and reluctantly continued.  “So, maybe it was a value thing, or any of another whole mess of potential analogies relating to even more obscure chess information.  The history of the pieces and such.  A person could get, did get in my case, lost in that for a bit.”

More details I was ignorant of no doubt.  “You researched the history of chess pieces?”

shatranj pieces and modern chess pieces courtesy - the rukh is third from left

shatranj pieces and modern chess pieces courtesy – the rukh is third from left

“Yes, kind of fascinating actually.  You know, in ancient versions that piece, the one we call a rook, was actually a chariot.  Or in some other cases berserker warriors.  Plenty of room there to put meaning into the name of Tom’s boat, but in the end I just decided he liked playing chess.”

I was quiet for a moment and Vann seemed content to take a break from the story.  It did not seem logical to me that this piece of information meant so little.  After all, Tom had not named his boat in the usual way but had instead chosen to put a picture of a chess piece as a nameplate.

“That seems like one hell of a loose end you left there, I mean there has to be more to that than the fact that he liked to play chess.  Did he really actually play?”

My question snapped Vann out of what, from his facial contortions anyway, seemed to have been a troubled reverie.

“Ah, yes, at least it seems so.  It’s mentioned quite a few times in his journals and a set was recovered from the boat.”

“Why did you decide to leave that one alone?”  My query sounded harsher than I meant it to.  Perhaps the night air was adding malice to my words.

“Leave what?”  He replied quickly but with an undertone of understanding.

“Leave this idea of what or how he named that boat with such a lame explanation.  You dug up plenty of other information and certainly drew plenty of critical conclusions, but then you leave this with your, ‘liked to play,’ chess solution?”

Vann was still sitting cross-legged and now propped his chin up on his hand, elbow resting on his right knee, the thinker pose I thought.

“Well, somethings aren’t for me to figure out I guess.”  Several seconds of silence and then he began again.

“Tom left and cruised off into the fading light.  His journal mentions that he didn’t think anyone would follow him into the darkness, giving him at least a little bit of a lead on his likely pursuers.”

two harbors area nautical map courtesy

two harbors area nautical map courtesy

“I’m no sailor but isn’t travel on the water fairly dangerous at night?”

“Of course it is, but Tom knew that area really well and figured he could disappear safely.  Although this boat was new to him, he had spent plenty of time on that water in others ones.”

“Did he have a plan, some place that he was going?”

“He definitely planned to go north, although how far initially is hard to say.  Me myself, I probably would have given some consideration to the group of islands that is across the bay from where Tom left, might have been a good place to disappear.  Not Tom though, his journal states, ‘need to head away from Duluth, up toward the more empty parts of this great wilderness.’  He had enough supplies, like I said before the boat was well provisioned, enough to survive for a good amount of time on his own.  I think maybe he just planned to head north and see what happened, maybe find another place like what Agate Bay had been when he first arrived.  Pristine and empty, ya know?”

I nodded and shook my head, wishing that I had some water as the after effects of the Thunderbird were starting to hit me, leaving me with a rapidly approaching headache and a tacky feeling in my mouth.  I looked at Vann’s bag, hoping this somehow alerted him to my condition, however he was still just starting at me after his last sentence.  I decided it was not that important.

“Yeah, I guess he liked places like that.  So he headed north.  How far did he get?”

“Not far actually, although he certainly wanted to.  After about thirty minutes on the lake he started to notice that the boat was taking on some water, not quickly but steadily, enough that he decided he did not want to be any further off shore than he was.  He had turned north almost right after leaving and was out of sight of his cabin, so I figure he took some small comfort from that anyway.  It was not dark when he discovered this problem so he spent some anxious hours, bailing, trying to stem the flow of water and waiting for the light to fade.  A few times he thought he had it fixed up, however within a few minutes the water would start to accumulate again.  Once night fell, he kept bailing and hoped he would be able to fix the problem once the sun came back up.”

“That couldn’t have been a fun night.”

“I doubt it was, however the situation did not require him to work constantly.  He did have time to write his final journal entry.”

“And that’s the last thing we know about him?”

“It is certainly the last bit of information that he provided.  Everything else is speculation.”

I could not take it any longer.

“Do you have any water in there?” I said, pointing at Vann’s bag.

He grinned back.  “No way.  But I have this,” and he reached into a pocket of his jacket and pulled out a pack of gum.  That was going to have to do at this point.  I took it gratefully and popped it into my mouth, tossing aside the wrapper which Vann reached over and picked up, giving me a look of admonishment.  I waved an apology and asked a question.

“Is this journal in the archive up there?  Is it something a person could go look at and read?”

“Interested, huh?”

“Well, it’s a long way to Minnesota from here but who knows…and yes, it’s interesting. Do you know what else it said?”

“Of course I do.”

“So,” and I made the come-on motion, feeling as though I were dragging information out of an uncooperative prisoner.

“Calm down. It’s easier to just read it.”

“I will, hopefully I guess, someday.  Just tell me what it said.”

“Read it for yourself.”

My headache was stronger now and my patience was even less than usual.

“Seriously, just,” at which point I stopped because Vann had reached into his bag and produced a black presentation folder, the kind that people use to keep certificates or award letters. He opened it to reveal a plastic bag that enclosed a yellowed set of pages.

“I don’t even believe this.  You stole the journal too?”

Vann looked offended.  “Just the last entry.  Here, read it for yourself.”

…to be continued

The Castle Danger Story (Part 2)

I stood there for a few minutes looking back at him and he held my gaze which , quite frankly, was more than I expected.  Neither of us talked and that seemed somehow appropriate.  The wind kicked up a little bit from the west, stirring up some of that fine top layer of sand that sits around in the desert just waiting to be lifted up into a dust cyclone.  The guy in the Army jacket sniffed and rubbed his nose, then gave me a last look and turned, walking over toward the water tower.   I felt incredibly awkward, like I owed something more to the moment.  As the dust stirred around my feet I glanced over at my truck and thought what I guess would be the ‘usual thing’…namely that I did not want anything to do with homeless people.  Not that I knew for certain that this stranger met that criteria, but it was what I assumed based on my own preconceptions.  Going with my initial thought I took about twenty steps back in the direction of my truck, thoughts nagging at me the entire time.  Enough was finally enough, and I realized I had to do something different, so I veered my course back toward the water tower.  As I did I looked over and realized he was looking right at me again.  Now I really had no choice.

It only took me a few minutes to reach the tower however by then the wind was really blowing and the sand, caught up in the air, was cutting unpleasantly against my skin. I looked past the tower and saw a tidy little dust cyclone that was dancing around, caught for the moment in the same place.

small dust cyclone near Red Rock, AZ

small dust cyclone near Red Rock, AZ

So, I arrived at the tower, stepping onto the concrete pad and extending an enthusiastic “Hello!” in the man’s direction.  I sounded more pleasant than I felt, a fact not helped much by the lack of reply I received.  So now I was stuck occupying a weathered concrete pad underneath a defunct water tower with someone I did not know and who apparently was not going to be much of a conversationalist.  I considered that a challenge.

“How ya doing?”

More silence, although he did shift around a bit from where he was sitting.

“Lots of dust coming this way.”  Sometimes I love to state the obvious.  I let that gem hang in the air and returned to looking out toward the west.  I promptly received two eyes full of sand and ducked my head down, turning away from the wind and rubbing to get it out.

“Here…sit down here.”  He had spoken, apparently out of pity for me, and was indicating a spot near where he had his back propped up against one of the tower’s support legs. I eyeballed my truck again but decided that the wind and dust were blowing hard enough to make that journey seem like much less than a lot of fun.  As I sat down, the wind ceased completely and the dust disappeared.  This was apparently the perfect place to sit.  After blinking my eyes repeatedly, and just as often resisting the urge to gouge at them with my dusty fingers, I managed to clear up my vision.  I looked over at the man who spoke his name while holding out his hand.

“Vann…with two n’s,” and his eyes twinkled when he said it, as though it were some incredibly funny joke that I should understand.  Which, as you know, I did not.  The man had a name with two n’s when he only needed one.

to be continued…