Chapter 11

Venus & Mars

by Eatoin Shrudlu

Mars, in broad daylight, walking down what he took to be the main street of the ghost town, thought to himself, "I've got to show this to Karl and John". First he looked a little longer to see if he could find the name of the town somewhere on the weather beaten gray wood of it's buildings but his effort was in vain. He decided to fetch the others and together surely they would find out more about this town. What was it's name? What was it doing here? What happened to it?
Mars, full of the adrenaline of excitement, ran all the way back to the campsite, calling out the names of his companions as he burst into camp. No one was there. He ran down to the waters' edge and looked up and down the creek. Nothing. He went back to the campsite and looked for a note or some kind of sign that might indicate where John and Karl went. There was no note but as Mars stood in the center of camp and looked around, he noticed a break in the vegetation and a faint trace of a path on the upstream side of the camp. He had a hunch. He checked and found their fishing gear gone. He was right, they'd gone fishing. His companions had gone upstream because, for one thing they'd already seen the downstream portion of the creek and another reason was; John always worked his way upstream when he fished. Mars followed the path that headed into the woods at the edge of the stream. He avoided calling out John and Karl's names because he new John hated it when somebody made noise when he was fishing. In fact, Mars tried to be as quiet as he could be as he made his way through the woods. The path stayed very near the water so that Mars could see the creek at all times. He'd easily be able to spot his friends.
John and Karl had worked their way pretty far upstream. The fishing wasn't good. There was too much light; the sun was still pretty high in the sky and it was hot out. They had worked most of the shady spots on their way upstream but they just weren't biting today. The real reason they went fishing was to do something besides sit around the camp and moan about the loss of their favorite forest to the chainsaw. Still, they found themselves talking about it but now they were more relaxed and philosophical about it.
"You know John, on a geological scale of time, the loss of that forest is inconsequencial."
"Yeah. Besides, all it would take is one good lightning strike and it could've all burned up." John answered, flicking a hand-tied fly into the head of a shady pool. "Or, it might have become infested with some insects or infected with some disease that could've destroyed it."
Karl added to his first remark. "However, on a human scale, not only is that forest a goner, that area will most likely end up looking a lot like the grand canyon. It'll never recover. Nor will it's streams. It'll erode before it recovers." Reeling in his line and repositioning himself for another cast, he went on, "I don't know why but it seems like it wouldn't be so bad if a natural disaster had destroyed that place."
Mars spotted John and Karl in the stream up ahead. He quietly made his way to where they were, and crawled onto a big rock in the creek bank behind his friends. He couldn't help overhearing their conversation.
Karl reeled in his line to change flies. As he snipped off the old one and searched for a suitable new one, he sighed, "At least this part of the forest has remained untainted by civilization or exploitation".
"Hmm," mused John, "I wonder why."
Karl looked at John. "Get a good look at it my friend, before somebody builds a road into here and cuts it down. Maybe they'll develop it with malls and everything. It'll happen sooner or later."
Mars smiled and spoke up. "Maybe sooner than you think."
"Ah, Mars, my boy!" John exclaimed, "You're back! Have an interesting walk?"
"I sure did!" Mars laughed. "I think you guys ought to reel in those lines and come with me. You're going to want to see what I found."
"What is it?" John asked impatiently as he shuffled toward the creek bank followed closely by Karl. "Well, c'mon, what did you find, Mars? A mine shaft or something, some bones?"
Mars just smiled and said, "You'll see. It's a surprise".
After a quick stop at their camp to drop off their gear, Mars led them back in the direction of the ghost town he'd found. Mars didn't say a thing as he led his friends, giddy with curiosity, through the brightly shaded, park-like forest. Mars, holding back a grin, ignored their questions.
"It's a cave. Right?" John prodded. "Or maybe a hot spring? How far is it?"
"An airplane wreckage, a parachute perhaps?" Karl queried. "What else could it be way out here?"
"Ooo, I know!" John offered, "A long lost Indian village? I wouldn't be surprised. This valley is perfect for a small comunity. Good water. Good trees to build with. They would've been all cleared and this valley would be mostly farm land with a small town maybe. I can't believe it hasn't been settled."
"Yet here it stands." Karl said holding out his arms in presentation. "Intact. Undisturbed. Pristine and unviolated by civilization."
Mars was glad he was in front of the other two because they couldn't see him holding back his laughter as they came over the rise just before the old wooden bridge. He almost felt guilty for what he was about to do. He was wondering if these two scientists would catch on before they got to the town. Karl and John were enjoying themselves playing Mars game, looking all around for, something, they didn't know what. It could be anything and they could be coming upon it at any time. They were trying so hard, they were missing the obvious. The three of them passed over the bridge without John or Karl spotting the small spot where Mars had scraped the dirt away, exposing the wood, nor did they notice the slightly hollow sound as they crossed it. It was only a matter of a quarter mile or so to the town now and the path looked more like the remnant of a road with every step.
"Wait a minute!" whispered Karl, stopping in his tracks. "John, look, it's a road!" He held out his arms parallel and framed the road in front of him and then back the other way.
Their eyebrows raised, he and John then looked at Mars who was still walking down the road. They ran to catch up. By the time they did, the three of them had arrived at the edge of town. Mars turned around and facing them, held his arms wide over his head and said. "Gentlemen, I give you," he paused for effect, "a ghost town."
Karl looked at Mars through his eyebrows. "And you let me rave on like some kind of nostalgic, melancholy idiot about this unspoiled wilderness. I could just . . ."
"Touche', my boy! Touche'." John laughed heartily. "C'mon Karl, he got us good. Admit it."
Karl smiled and then broke into laughter. "Obviously I've grossly underestimated Mother Nature's recouperative powers." He added. The three of them had a good laugh.
"Wait a minute," John said hesitatingly, "this place is in pretty good shape for a ghost town. Looks lived in, if you ask me."
"No, wait, I was here a half hour ago and there where trees growing out of these buildings and all the glass was broken." Mars said as he began to walk down the same street he walked earlier. Yes, the town was old and weather beaten but it sure looked a lot younger this time around. The buildings were no longer slumped but he recognised the same ones he saw before. This was a living town!
Mars was in the middle of the street. Karl was on the boardwalk, looking into buildings on the left side of the street and John was looking into buildings on the right side of the street. They walked the length of the street. There on the buildings Mars could now read the signs: Murphy's General Store, R.Locke - Blacksmith & Livery, Wild Hare Saloon, Mirage Hotel, and there The Mirage Weekly, a newspaper. The name of the town must be Mirage. The threesome met at the end of the street.
"Well," said John, "a ghost town it's not. Maybe it just seemed desterted."
"No, really," Mars declared earnestly, "I came all the way into town. I looked in the windows. They were all broken, the buildings were leaning against each other! There were trees growing through the roofs, there were even trees growing in the middle of the street!"
"Hence, the name, Mirage." Karl offered.
"Calm down my boy. There must be some explaination." John patted Mars on the back reassuringly.
"However, did anyone notice," Karl whispered as he waved his hand at the town before them, "there is no sign of any 20th century technology. It's like one of those historic tourist attractions." He was correct. There was no sign of any kind of electricity. No power poles, wiring or cabling. No paving. No electric lights or air conditioning. Not even a tire track in the dust in the road. Karl pointed out the fact that there were no modern metals and no plastic anywhere. This place is conspicuous for it's lack of advertising alone.
"You guys should've seen it before. This is like the twilight zone, man." Mars said shaking his head. "I'm telling you this place was falling down, dead. Weeds taller than me. You could see right through the buildings, man!"
"Those are real people I saw in the shops." John said. "Shall we do a little shopping?"
They walked back down the street to the general store. Just before they entered, John cautioned them to be careful what they say. He opened the creakey door, tripping a cheery little bell above the doorway, and the three of them entered and spread out. The shopkeeper, a woman in her thirties, acknowledged their presence wordlessly, while keeping an inconspicuous eye on these strangers. John quietly engaged her in a conversation through a sales transaction while Karl and Mars browsed about the store. John bought a blanket for Mars. They thanked the shopkeeper and left the building. Once again back outside, they found a shady spot near the edge of town and sat down to rest under a tree.
"Well, my boy," said John, as he unfolded the blanket he'd just purchased at the general store. "This is a real town, with real live people and this is a real blanket. Real nice price too. Only a dollar. Real nice folks too."
"Yes, everything in the store was priced way too cheap, even for a thrift store." Karl offered his findings. "You'd think people'd flock here for miles around, just for these 19th century prices."
"Well, I'd sure like to come back later and see if it's the same." Mars answered rubbing his forhead. "The one time since I've met you guys that I go out alone and this is what happens. I'm bringing one of you guys with me when I come back." He didn't know what to think anymore.
Karl offered a suggestion. "You know, maybe you just got lost on the way back to the ghost town and we ended up here instead. Maybe it's nearby and we just took a wrong turn somewhere.
For a moment Mars considered the possibility but quickly disregarded it. For one thing, the bridge, which Mars had marked by digging on it, was an unmistakable landmark and it was just outside town. This town. For another thing, all the streets are laid out the same way as the town he saw earlier and the buildings are essentially the same buildings only now they were newer. Yes, Mars assured them, this is the same town. But, how could that be?
"According to the proprietor of the general store over there, this is the only town around for 60 miles." John said.
"Wait a minute," Karl, cocked his head to one side. "Wheelerville's only 30 miles on the other side of those mountains. You mean they never heard of it?"
"That's not all." John paused. "They don't even know the railroad is just down the creek a couple of miles."
"Let's go talk to some more people. Maybe knock on the doors of some houses or something." Mars said, preparing to get on his feet.
"It's getting late." John reminded the other two. "Let's get back to camp and start dinner. Let's come back later tonight or tomorrow morning."
Mars huffed. "I'll bet you anything this place isn't even here tomorrow."
John rolled up the blanket and gave it to Mars. They all got up, dusted themselves off and headed back into the woods toward their camp. There wasn't any conversation on the way home. All three of them were deep in contemplation. For Mars, it was a little more difficult to be objective because of his having seen the town in it's before and after states.
Back in camp, the fire was renewed and dinner was prepared. It was unusually quiet with all three of the men so deep in thought. They sat around the campfire poking it with sticks as the day darkened into night. Occasionally one of them would offer a suggestion to explain for the strange circumstances regarding the ghost town. When the suggestions started getting a little lame, it was the signal that they were tired and it was bedtime.
Mars laid himself out on the ground near the fire on an old blanket on top of a bed of long, soft grass. He covered himself with his new blanket. It was a good blanket. Wool, thick and heavy, tightly woven. There was no label but it looked a lot like a Hudson bay blanket, with six wide stripes running across the width of it. He lay there under his new blanket, purchased in a place that he thought didn't exist, trying to rationalize the day's events while looking up at the stars twinkling in the blue-black sky. The town had to exist. The blanket proved it. Something Karl said while explaining his mathematical findings proving that reality is an illusion reverberated in Mars' head. He said, "Provability is a weaker notion than truth."
Sleep finally overtook Mars and he drifted eventually into dreamland.

Venus too had a dream. No, it wasn't a nightmare about the teeanage nazi's or space aliens or falling naked out of a window or related to any of the other weird adventures she'd been on in the recent past. She smiled uncomfortably though as she recalled it. It was a nice/disturbing dream, and she wasn't sure if it bothered her. In it she was sitting on the porch of a nineteenth century house located in a small town in a beautiful wooded valley. It was Summer time and it was hot. Everything in the dream was real old fashioned, maybe sometime in the 1800's. She was wearing a long, light cotton homemade dress and her hair was done up in a bun. She fanned herself while drinking a glass of sun-tea and rocked in a creaky wooden rocking chair. She was sitting there in the shade of that porch, sweating and watching absolutely nothing happen in that sleepy little town when she saw someone she didn't recognize coming up her street. It was a young man. An Indian perhaps? He had a blanket with six wide stripes wrapped around his shoulders and he slowly shuffled up the street as if he was extremely tired. Venus watched as he neared. No, this was a white man. He had hair on his face. He wasn't a beggar. That appeared to be a new blanket on his back. The man stopped and looked around occasionally as he walked up the street, getting a good look at his surroundings then continued, head down, for a few more yards and repeated the same routine. When he came to the house where Venus sat on the porch, he stopped. Again he looked at his surroundings in 360 degrees. His gaze stopped when it met Venus. He cocked his head slightly to one side. Venus, not knowing what to say, smiled. She thought he looked somehow familiar. He said nothing. He just stared at her as if he too was searching his memory.
"Would you care for something to drink? You look tired and thirsty." Venus said. "Wait here in the shade of the porch while I get some tea. I'll be right back." She motioned for him to take a seat on the porch then she went inside to fetch the drinks.
The man walked up the stairs and followed her into the house, down the hall as Venus went to the kitchen. Something in the parlor caught the man's eye as he passed. He went into the parlor and there on a table in the middle of the room was a candelabra. He walked around the table and stopped in front of the window, with the light at his back, staring at the candelabra on the table.
"Oh! You startled me." Venus cried as she passed the parlor on her way back to the front porch. "I asked you to wait outside, please." There was no response. The man just stood there looking at the candelabra with a slightly puzzled expression. Without taking her eyes off the man, Venus placed the tea tray on the parlor table. All she could see though was the sillouette of the man against the front window of the parlor. She saw that he was staring at the candelabra. Again she looked at the man's sillouette and the halo of light surrounding him. Suddenly it struck her. Could it be? Could it be him?
"Mars?" she whispered.
The man broke off his staring and looked at Venus. "It is you." He said. "I wasn't sure. I'm not sure of anything anymore." He sat down without looking. "I probably shouldn't be here. Something terrible is bound to happen." He laughed nervously. "I'll have some of that tea now, please."
"Of course." Venus said as she quickly poured Mars a glass of tea from a pitcher. "Sorry, I don't have any lemons. There is plenty of sugar thought. Help yourself." She felt herself nervously talking too much. "Yes, I wasn't sure either. There was something familiar about you though. You look so much different. You look like you've been through some rough times."
"You wouldn't believe." He answered. He took another sip of tea and then sat down his glass. Then, folding his hands looked over at Venus, right into her eyes, and pleaded. "You've got to take this curse off me, please. I'm losing my mind." He bit his lip and looked at the floor.
Venus was taken aback. She sat bolt upright in her seat, cleared her throat and smiled. "Pardon me? Did you say curse?" She calmly asked.
"Sir, do you take me for a sorcerress?" Venus answered, hearing herself speaking like a 19th century lady now instead of her usual voice. This being a dream, she thought nothing of it and continued, "I assure you, I know nothing about any curse." As she now relived the dream in the light of day, she thought how ironic it was that Mars was now coming to her to break a curse.
"Tell me why then," Mars pleaded, also in a 19th century manner of speach. "Why do I dream about you? Why does the mere mention of your name bestow upon me one catastrophe after another? If I even think of your name disaster befalls me. Why can I not remove you from my memory? Why is this? How can this be if it is not the work of a curse?
"I'm sorry for your misfortune, sir, and if it is a curse, as you say, I promise you it is not my doing."
"I'm sorry." Mars eyes remained fixed on the floor as he spoke. He looked lost in thought. "You see, I'm not thinking clearly. I'm not in possesion of my complete faculties."
Venus looked around the room nervously. She felt uncomfortable with Mar's situation, and slightly guilty, though she wasn't sure why. She too had on occasion dreamed about Mars but she didn't percieve it as a curse. She wondered what to do or say next.
Mars, lifting his head, broke the silence. He retold the story of the events since he and Venus last saw each other, at Camelot. Venus flinched with each new chapter in the story up until the present. "Maybe, even though you're not the one who put this curse on me, you could help me break it. Please, there must be something you can do."
"But how?" Venus asked, throwing up her arms. "I told you, don't know anything about the casting or breaking of spells."
"I don't know." Mars shook his head in desperation. "Maybe you could say something . . . do something . . . I don't know."
"Look," Venus said tryng to bring some sense into the conversation. "The reason I don't know anything about spells and curses is because I do not dabble in that sort of thing." She added with a more serious tone. "You should not tamper with what you do not understand."
She felt like she at least owed him some kind of effort though, since she was after all, by name, involved in Mar's plight. Finally after a long silence, Venus rose with a sigh and said. "I will try to help you but I think you need to get it out of your head that you are under some sort of curse."
"What shall we do? Mars asked as he too rose to his feet.
"I will show, in a most outward way that I harbor no ill will toward you." She said slowly and seriously, punctuating her sentences with little nods of her head. "In fact, I will demonstrate a genuine affection for you, if that helps dispell any fears of my sincerety. It will not be hard, I always did have a certain affection for you. I just never had the time to get to know you." Then in an even more serious tone, "Please do not mistake this gesture as that of the wrong kind of woman." Venus walked across the room to Mars and pulled the blanket off his shoulders exposing his dirty clothes. He was dirty but not filthy. It wasn't the dirt of an unhealthy person. It was the dirt of one who lives with the Earth. He smelled like a man, without the disguise of soap and cologne. She pulled his arms around her and gave him a big, loving hug. She held him for what seemed like minutes. He hugged her back, pressing her body into his, rocking back and forth slightly. They disembraced and held each other by the shoulders smiling brightly into each others face. They each wanted to make this look good but sometime during that embrace something else began to stir. Something very human. They hugged again, long and tightly. He felt her rounded and firm body pressing against his, her arms pulling at his back. She felt Mars desperate hug holding her like his life depended on it. They parted again widely smiling into each other's eyes, almost in tears. His, because he thought she cared enough to humor him in his mad request, meaning she might even believe him, and because though he alternately feared and disliked her, he always, in the back of his mind, secretly desired her. She, because she might actually have a chance to help this poor unfortunate man who she was feeling more and more empathy for with each passing minute, and because in the back of her mind she too had always wished she'd had a chance to do just what she was going to do right now. Venus planted a long, hard kiss on Mar's lips, backed off and looked into his eyes. They both smiled. Venus kissed him again, this time more passionately. She thought for a moment, "What am I doing?", but before she could think about it she was lost again in the passion of the kiss. Mars thought for a moment that if this woman was pretending, this was incredibley good pretending, then he too was lost in the passion of the moment. They breathed heavily through their noses, groping and clutching at each other. They fell together, locked in embrace, onto the velvet overstuffed sofa. Venus' warm act of kindness had quickly become a wildfire of passion, now fanned out of control. On the table the candelabra's candles burst into flame in unison as Venus and Mars began to tear at each others clothing. They were sealed together at the lips. There was a flurry of arms and the sound of tearing cloth amid the animal grunts and cooing now rolling around on the parlor floor. The table was bumped, sending the tea pitcher and glasses to the floor and toppling the candelabra which ignited the lacey table cloth and spilling some of the burning wax on the rug. The fire quickly spread and grew.
Venus and Mars, now beyond all grasp of their original purpose, or awareness of their immediate surroundings, rolled entwined along the floor into the hall. They had squirmed out of their clothes without letting go of each other, gripped in a desperate passion, as if this was their last day on earth. Stroking, licking and kissing each other into a frenzy. They indulged themselves in the sex of a lifetime. The flames roared out into the hallway and up the stairs now as they made wild, animal love, oblivious to the inferno. Their grunts and cries grew louder, their rythm increased. The fire spread across the ceiling. Venus saw the sky on fire. Mars felt the building tremble. Nearly the whole house was on fire, roaring, crackling, snapping. Cans and bottles exploded. Venus and Mars cried out loud with unbridled pleasure. They were untouched by the flames as the house began to come crashing down around them.
As the last of the timbers fell and the fire died into embers almost as quickly as it started, Venus and Mars, purring, slowly writhed on what was left of the floor of the hallway. Venus sat straddling Mars, her hands on his shoulders. Her eyes closed, she smiled and said, "Do you think that'll break the curse?"
Mars looked around at the ashes and charred remains of the house and at the untouched area around him. He looked at Venus and a wide grin spread across his face, breaking into a toothy smile and hardy laughter. Venus put her hand on his chest and shook him. "Mars?"
Mars startled awake and, bolting upright, smacked his head on a low-hanging tree limb. He cried out loud, grabbed his forehead, and rocked back and forth, cursing. John was standing over him. Mars had rolled away from the fire and under a tree during the night. It was his ever increasing thrashing and cries that caused Karl and John to think it wise to wake him.

Mars had no way of knowing he'd had the same dream as Venus last night. He crawled out from under the tree holding his head and looked around for his new blanket.
"It was her." Mars said with distain.

(to be continued.)

Way Out West ©1993 Martin Scherer. Venus & Mars © 1995 Martin Scherer. E-mail: