Thursday, August 11, 2005
Moonshine Rock Zombies Part One
I just wanted to be alone. After a rough week of verbal reprimands and car failures, the last things I needed were more faces and voices. I figured I'd try that old bullshit trick of running away from society, going back to nature, back to basics, just the essentials. You know, be one with the earth. Shun society. That's tough to do in this day and age, especially around here, but I'd take a half-hearted stab at it. Why not? I knew I wouldn't really be disappearing. I knew it would be a half-assed fool-myself "let's pretend" effort at ditching my troubles, but if was as decent a notion as any.
Yes indeedy, time to hide away. Time for a hike. I went to Busse Woods, a large forest preserve a few miles east of Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, IL. Busse Woods harbors a series of bicycle trails that weave around Busse Lake, through dense forest and wildflower plains, under highways and over streams. Although riddled by health freak power walkers, ache ass cyclists, and spandex clad rollerbladers, I expected to find there a measure of solitude to quiet my angst. If I could get good and lost in the forest, perhaps my mental exhaustion and stress-induced headaches would dissipate into the humid air like candy wrappers swallowed in a flash flood.
I was lost in contemplation watching the cracked paved path before me when I was struck by a bicycle. Two kids, helmetted, were swerving to and from each other, playfully attempting to knock the other off balance. They weren't looking ahead. I took a tire behind the knee and a handlebar swat to the ass before I skidded to the ground, gashing my arm. The kid flew right over me and bounced on the grass off the edge of the path. His buddy looped back. They apologized. I bade them to continue on their voyage. I wasn't angry, just a little sore. The fallen kid collected his bike. They both zoomed ahead.
I patched up my little arm scrape and told myself to get serious. I told myself to really go into the forest, not just mope along a man-made path like some vacant dolt imagining himself to be a wildlife show host. I turned to face the woods. In I strode, passing two tall trees on either side of me. They provided a gateway to the quiet shade of the forest.
I walked and walked, crossing light and shade, dirt and grass. The further I strayed from the prescribed path, the less I heard the whizzing of spokes, the scrape of rollerblade wheels, and the labored huffing of stiff walkers. After a while, I was alone but for leaves and insects. Occasionally I saw a deer furtively dart away from the sounds of my footfalls. Every once in a while I'd step over a weak little stream.
Overall, though, there just isn't much excitement in this forest. Busse Woods is a boring place as far as nature goes. It's surrounded by streets and commerce and suburban sprawl. It's more of a token forest blemish than anything truly wild or dangerous. My notion of a mental vacation was a sham. I knew better than to think I could find a grand escape here in this pathetic mob of trees.
Feeling defeated and depressed, I sat down against a mossy stump. My feet were taking a pounding from the uneven ground, and mosquitos were needling me. I needed a break. From my travel bag I grabbed a sandwich and a sodapop. I sat, I ate, I drank, and then I coated myself with bitter spray and hoisted myself back upright. Onwards I went, hoping to clear my mind of all the poisonous bullshit polluting my mental waters. I would make the best of this retarded exploration.
Two miles deeper into the weak woodland I came before a deep wide hole in the ground. A sinkhole from years past, now fertile with shrubbery and vines. The foliage looked undisturbed, unmolested by human litter like ice cream wrappers and toilet paper. It was just what I needed: an interesting and unique accident, a forgotten landmark hidden from humanity, but most of all, a place I could claim imaginary ownership over. My own special place. With delicate care I descended. Rings of collapsed earth provided stairs, each level progressively deeper towards the center of the sinkhole. Soon I reached the bottom.
I can't say it was a whole nother world down there. It was pretty much the same stuff I trudged through above, except ringed by dirt walls. Nonetheless, I meandered about the sunken recess looking for signs of the last human presence. I found it.
It reminded me of a glorified lemonade stand cobbled together by children: a rickety little shack, long worn by nature and moisture, decepit, nearly finished with its slow collapse into a pile of rotted wood. Both inside and out lay rusted metal tubs, wooden barrels, and cloudy glass bottles filled with stagnant rainwater. Old liquor bottles. As I sifted through the detritus, I came upon a sealed crate. I managed to wrench the lid open with my bare hands. The nails sealing it shut had long ago lost their grip on the weak mushy wood.
Sealed bottles of gin and whiskey sat within, a treasure trove of potent ancient moonshine. Had these sat here since the prohibition ended? Just afterwards, I decided. This secret operation had closed down as soon as alcohol became legal again, and the last deepwoods batch had been stamped for legal sale before it was abandoned. Not logical necessarily, but possible. Illinois tax stamps were still attached to each bottle. Al Capone's legal liquor.
It would be risky to drink booze fermented and distilled (hopefully) so long ago, but even if the contents were poison, the bottles themselves might fetch a pretty price on the antique circuit. I stashed as many in my bag as I could fit. I truly felt I had discovered something worthwhile.
I stumbled past a skull as I departed. It was human and clean. Perhaps I'd found the reason all this moonshine had been left here. This might be the owner before me, now just gleaming calcium. The rest of his skeleton was mostly buried by decades of dirt, but his arm still still stuck out from the ground. The bone hand was curled into a first apart from one finger. The index bone pointed to a dark wall at the edge of the sinkhole opposite from where I'd descended. Curious, I followed my silent guide. I had finally forgotten my mental whining.
The wall was fractured rock, brown and black. Where it met the dirt, a small opening promised a modest cave. Sunlight trickled down to the opening from above. All I could make out inside appeared to be a short stairway leading down into a rock cavern. My visual impression of the deeper cavern was vague, mere outlines, shadows and hints. My eyes told me of hundreds of stalagtite silhouettes, an army of dormant subterannean spires, soldiers at attention, dead, silent, and ominous.
I expected no response. My voice echoed back to me, sounding huge. The hollow below was massive, a subterannean secret worthy of exploration and discovery. Right then I decided I would come back, prepared, and climb down for a better look. With flashlights and rope, cameras and film. My sinkhole, my cave, my underground vacation getaway.
Rumbling shook the air. From the gap in the rock came the sounds of pebbles rattling, rocks crashing, and then, a chorus: deep, low, monotone voices moaning from the deep blackness. "Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr." As the noise grew louder, the rumble increased until the ground shook. We don't get earthquakes in Illinois. This was nothing natural. It was supernatural. Birds cried and fled. Leaves fluttered from shaken trees. The moonshine shack finally gave in, collapsing into a sodden heap.
I stood peering into the dark gap. Frozen, watching, waiting.
Part Two: The Conclusion
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