Friday, May 04, 2007

New Fiction From Oscar De Los Santos

Oscar De Los Santos is one of eight poets and writers reading from their work Sunday, May 6, at Fiddleheads Natural Supermarket, Litchfield, following a live jazz reception.
De Los Santos is Professor of Writing and Coordinator of Graduate Studies in English and Writing at Western Connecticut State University. His stories and essays have appeared in Extrapolation, Connecticut Review and Saranac Review. He is the author of Hardboiled Egg (short stories) and Spirits of Texas and New England (folklore stories). He co-authored Infinite Wonderlands (short stories, with David G. Mead) and Questions of Science, Answers to Life (essays, with JJ Sargent). Reel Rebels, an edited collection of film essays, will be published in fall 2007.


Angel Garcia was on his morning walk when he saw the man fall out of the sky. It was his third day in the dense Oregon forest. Up to now, except for sporadic clicks and hums from his recording equipment, the area had been free of any mechanized sounds. This morning he heard the plane’s buzzing long before he spotted it. Finally, a white piper-cub appeared from behind a thick copse of pines in the distance. Moments later, a man tumbled out of the plane’s cabin and began a long plummet.

Angel was hyper-conscious of sounds. Although he was blessed with twenty-twenty vision, he saw as much with his ears as with his eyes. Angel was a sound recorder. He spent many weeks of the year traveling around the country, capturing the noise of existence, domestic and rural, human made and natural. His favorite journeys were his trips into the wilderness.

As a kid, he filled endless cassette tapes with the chatter of family and friends, his dog’s howls, the cat’s hisses, the cacophony of his Houston neighborhood. Many children become fascinated with tape machines and their own recorded voices, but Angel’s intrigue never dissipated. As he grew older and majored in broadcast journalism at University of Houston, he gained access to increasingly sophisticated equipment. Angel recorded the passing years literally, on stacks of cassettes, CDs and computer files. No sound-creating item or person was spared. Rush-hour traffic, waterfalls, bees buzzing in a mason jar, a tropical storm slamming into Galveston, fast-food restaurant chatter, amusement park rides and their riders, the sounds of a supposedly quiet room on test-taking day, baseball games – even family arguments eventually became part of the Angel Garcia collection. He was seldom without a tape recorder (when he was twelve, he even rigged an old beat-up model on its way out to record himself taking a bath and a shower). His motto became “Have microphone, will travel.”

He gave little thought to his appearance, but by the time he was a college senior, he was quite handsome – tall and slender, with a thick head of black hair and light brown skin. He wasn’t anti-social but he seldom established strong friendships. Women and men welcomed his company for a lunch here or an evening there. Why not? He was charming and witty in his own quiet way. Some also knew him to be a fine lover. On the other hand, most who knew Angel also understood that a fun evening was all they were going to get from him. He was simply too consumed with his obsession.

That obsession eventually paid off. After Angel graduated from U of H, he moved to Hollywood and bugged the studios until he landed a job sweetening the soundtracks of pictures cranked out by a low-budget company. Eventually, the big suits heard there was a kid in town with a personal collection that rivaled the one Lucas owned. Angel got a three-year contract with Paramount, then a rival company offered him an irresistible pot and he bailed on the Big Mountain. Within three years Angel became the conglomerate’s chief sound producer. At thirty, he was in charge of a large team that handled sound effects for various motion picture and television projects. He was well liked by both artists and execs, but still a loner. His favorite part of the job was taking field trips into the middle of nowhere, with portable recording equipment. That’s how he came to be in the secluded Oregon forest the morning the man fell out of the sky.

Angel was stunned. He questioned his eyes the way he never would his ears. Could it be? Yes, a man was plunging down!

Perhaps most startling of all: he thought he picked up the figure’s screams. That may have been an illusion, but he would soon know. The thicket where the figure disappeared seemed to be the very spot where Angel set up sensitive recording equipment before starting his walk. He might have actually captured the poor soul’s death cries!

Angel raced down an overgrown serpentine path. This area was so remote that even veteran hikers seldom came by. One thought raced through his head as he stooped low to avoid tree branches and jumped over fallen timber: D. B. Cooper. Wasn’t this the region many believed the famous hijacker parachuted into way back in the early 1970s? He thought so. On the other hand, the man Angel saw tumbling out of the sky seemed more victim than thief, and he was definitely without a parachute. I think I just witnessed a murder! The thought chilled Angel as much as the damp air and morning dew.

He arrived at the spot where his recording equipment was set up. A noisy brook and awakening crickets and bird chirps quickly soothed him. Aside from his microphones and recorders, nothing seemed out of order.

Angel spent the next two hours combing the forest in ever-widening circles. By the end of his search, the back of his neck was aching from the time spent looking overhead for signs of a body or broken branches. He used the eyes on the side of his head, too. Every few minutes he stopped and stood stock-still and drank in the sounds of the forest. It was a generous symphony free of human cries. Mystified, he finally returned to his sound equipment and moved it to another spot. Before hitting the record buttons, he played back the block of data that may have captured the falling man’s screams. They weren’t there.

Even more puzzling: repeated playbacks revealed the absence of any airplane sounds.

That night, Angel built a fire back and cooked a simple meal over it. He drank a stream-cooled beer with his dinner and mulled over the day’s strange start. The scene only added to the incongruity of this particular trip. Angel was used to being alone in remote places. He wasn’t easily frightened, yet the past three days in the forest had made him uneasy. A low-grade unnerving feeling clung to him. In spite of his big-city roots and urban job, it was the first time he could recall nature making him feel this way.

Angel finished his beer and let the fire hypnotize him. Then he walked around the parameter of his camp and let his fingernails make a hissing-whizzing sound as they trailed along the exterior of his tent. He peered into the forest. For a moment, he thought he caught movement in the brush just beyond his clearing, but it was nothing. Movement always brought sound with it, especially out here. Nature was never truly silent. This was only his campfire casting dancing shadows around his temporary home. He refused to believe in the sable orbs peering at him, there now and gone again. They too were merely tricks of the flames, bringing his recent nightmares to life.

In truth, he wasn’t certain he was having nightmares, but something had awakened him each night in this forest. He floated out of sleep and the first thing he felt was a terrible foreboding. He made himself lie still and listen for sounds of danger. Only the forest and its myriad creaks, groans and twitches spoke beyond the tent’s zippered interior. Each night, he got up to relieve himself before going back to sleep. As he did so, he tried to remember a dream that may have awakened him. He recalled nothing except black staring eyes. The orbs themselves were rooted in dream paradox: they were as black as midnight pools, yet Angel could see them floating there, black on black. He could feel their scrutiny.

It was all nonsense, he knew. Forget D. B. Cooper. This was Bigfoot country. He was letting folklore mess with his mind. Sure. Angel could rationalize it completely, but that still didn’t prevent the eyes from coming back.

It was cold in the pre-dawn morning, but he awoke drenched in sweat. He listened to the forest, then unzipped the tent and stepped into his small clearing. The moment he did, he grew conscious of something that frightened him more than anything else in his life: the forest was utterly silent. Not a sound flowed forth from the darkness beyond or overhead. Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. He may as well have been floating in the vacuum of space.

And there they were – closer than ever. The eyes. Big, round, frozen open. Staring. Outside of his sleep! This was no dream! Angel raised his right arm and bit into his wrist. His yelp broke the stark silence. He really was awake!
Something skittered in the bushes and the eyes were gone. Gradually, with muted taps, gurgles and creaks, the forest spoke again. Unconsciously, Angel reached up with trembling hands and wiped tears off his cheeks.

It was a damp morning that turned into a drizzly midday. In the afternoon, he recorded a thunderstorm that lasted until early evening. The sound of the rain falling atop and beyond the tent was magical and diversified. Each drop helped to create something beautiful. Finally, the sky cleared and brought forth windy purple dusk. Angel decided to head home in the morning. He had more than enough material to justify his field trip. The network was adding a “domestic animals do silly things in nature” weekly to its lineup. He would use the new sounds to spruce up the dumb show. If somebody asked why he didn’t use similar material in the sound library, he would tell them that the audience couldn’t be fooled. It could distinguish new woodpecker taps, cicada skrees and bush thrashes from old ones. The suits wouldn’t buy his explanation completely but because they didn’t want to risk the possibility he was onto something, they would leave him alone.

Angel felt better, now that he knew he was leaving in the morning. It was too wet for a fire, but he didn’t mind a cold supper. He resolved to stay awake all night. He wanted no more mystery visitors in the wee hours, in or out of his dreams.

Driving home, Angel would wonder about that final night in the forest. Ironically, it turned into the trip’s greatest puzzle. Quite simply, he didn’t remember a thing beyond rinsing out his dishes in the stream, drying them and packing them away. Like a terrible jump-cut in an amateur film, his next memory involved driving down a winding dirt road that eventually fed onto the highway. But that was late this morning. Where was the rest of it? Did he really break up camp and roll up his tent? Did he make a couple of long hikes to the van to load up all his sound equipment? He must have – it was in the van – but he had no conscious recollection of doing so. And last night was a greater blank.

He got home and called Yolanda, a coworker he partied with from time to time. That night, she met him at their favorite bar and he told her about his trip. Everything was fine until he mentioned the man falling out of the plane.

“My God!” She looked aghast. “Did you call the forest rangers?”

Angel stared at her.

“The state police?”

He couldn’t speak.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t report it!”

“I didn’t.”

“But you keep a cell phone in your van. Why didn’t you call someone?”

He stared at Yolanda and her very logical questions.

“Angel? Why? Are you kidding me?”

No. He wasn’t. But he had no answers for her.

They returned to his condo and made love into the night. Sometime in the wee hours, he got up and, still naked, walked into the living room, picked up a yellow legal pad and took it to the kitchen counter. He began to write.

This is not a dream. I know it happened. I saw a man fall out of the sky. I looked for him in the forest. I couldn’t find him. Before the man fell from the sky, the eyes came into my dreams. They peered into my insides each night. Sad inquisitive eyes. Then one night, I saw them outside my dream, buried in the lush night-shrouded greenery, blacker than the forest. I stared at them and they stared at me. The next night I stayed awake. As my campfire died, the eyes returned. I had a conversation with their owner. We spoke without words. The forest grew silent and listened to our mind-chatter. I asked, who are you? The owner of the eyes replied, I am Lonely. I told him to come into the clearing. He said it was best if he didn’t. I stared at the eyes and saw the loneliness he spoke of. Sadness, too, but that was dissipating. The spirit behind those orbs was ready to soar again this night. Am I right? I asked. The owner of the eyes said I was. He told me that he was on an exploratory mission when a malfunction left him stranded. I asked him when this happened and he said he had been hiding in this forest for a very long time. The long wait was over tonight. He was thrilled over the prospect of going back to his Place. I asked him to be more specific but he said he couldn’t be. Suddenly, a blinding flash obscures the eyes and the forest is gone. I’m lying on a cold metallic floor and looking out a small round window and he tells me not to be afraid. I roll over and the eyes are there, hovering over a blinding white background. Those large ebony orbs are no longer alone, either. Another identical pair hovers nearby. They stare at me. Without speaking, I ask where we’re going. In like fashion, he replies that we’re returning to his Place. He asks me to accompany him. Do I wish to go on the greatest journey of my existence? Do I wish to see things that humanity hasn’t even begun to dream about? And – most enticing! – do I wish to hear wondrous songs played on instruments we will never invent, and drink of the Life Music of his Place and People? We peer into each other’s eyes and he feels my inner turmoil. With great sadness he respects my final decision. I have never connected as deeply with any other entity, man or woman. My soul breaks at having to part with this being I could have called brother. Oh, but we are that and always will be, he assures me. But now it is time for him to take me to Before. There is another blinding flash and I’m falling. The wind roars in my ears but I still hear my screams as I flail my arms and the dense forest below grows ever closer. Above me, I catch a glimpse of a small silver disc moving swiftly away. Below, on a distant path, I see a man in a red sweatshirt and faded jeans looking up and tracking my descent and I am sitting by my campfire, listening to the world wake up and it’s really time to get moving and clear out.

Angel went back to bed and slept late. Yolanda woke up early because she had a six o’ clock call at the studio where she was dubbing mutters, groans and gavel-slamming into a courtroom drama. She fixed a pot of coffee and thumbed through the legal pad on the counter. Angel’s handwriting was usually atrocious but this was his worst slop ever. Yolanda flung the pad back onto the counter, drained her mug and left the condo.

Later, Angel arose and drank overheated coffee. He tried to read the messy squiggles on the legal pad, then shook his head. The next time Yolanda complained about one of his handwritten staff memos, he would remind her of this indecipherable garbage she left him.

He tore the note off the pad, crumpled the pages and tossed them into the trashcan. Then he smiled and went into the bedroom and brought out a slender palm-sized digital recorder. For the next five minutes, he stood by the trashcan, tearing page after page from the legal pad, wadding it up and capturing the tearing crackling in the recorder. He showered, went to the studio and held a long meeting. Yolanda was there. He didn’t ask her about the messy note because he no longer remembered it. In the afternoon, he supervised a science fiction pilot’s audio sweetening. The job ran late. Sometime after eight, Yolanda came by the production room and asked if he cared to join her and a few other workers for dinner, drinks and dancing. Angel begged off. He wanted to get a good night’s sleep before heading out.

“Where are you going now?” asked Yolanda.

“To record some new stuff.”

“What? Where?”

Angel shrugged. He wasn’t sure, but he knew he wasn’t staying in town.

May 6 / Fiddleheads Natural Supermarket
For More Information Contact
Fiddleheads Market
55 Village Green Drive
Litchfield, CT 06759


* Barbara Parsons, Couldn't Keep It To Myself, Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters, HarperCollins, edited by Wally Lamb; forthcoming: I'll Fly Away; Further Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters, HarperCollins, edited by Wally Lamb.

* Martin Schiller, Bread, Butter And Sugar: A Boy's Journey Through The Holocaust And Postwar Europe, Hamilton Books.

* Shouhua Qi, New: Red Guard Fantasies and Other Stories (San Francisco: The Long River Press, 2007); When the Purple Mountain Burns (San Francisco: The Long River Press, 2005). Forthcoming: a novel about American Korean War POWs who chose to go to China at the time of armistice (1953).

* Sharon Charde, Bad Girl at the Altar Rail, Flume Press; Four Trees Down From Ponte Sisto, Dallas Poets Community Press; editor, I Am Not A Juvenile Delinquent, anthology by the creative writing students of Touchstone, a residential treatment facility for female adolescent offenders in Litchfield, Ct.
Forthcoming, Branch In His Hand, Backwaters Press.

* Oscar De Los Santos, Hard Boiled Egg (Fine Tooth Press, 2004) and Infinite Wonderlands (Fine Tooth Press, 2006).

* Jessica Treat, A Robber in the House (Coffee House Press) and Not a Chance, stories and novella (FC2, 2000).

* Louis Colavecchio, forthcoming, You Thought It Was More: The Real Providence Brought To Life.

* Franz Douskey, Rowing Across The Dark, University of Georgia Press. Forthcoming, The Unknown Sinatra.

The readings follow a reception at 10:30 a.m. by the Litchfield High Jazz Combo.

No comments: