Josh’s Tale of The Reach …

Just in time for Coffin Hop 2011, it seems, Raven’s Brew Coffee Roasters has put together a Deadman’s Reach Treasure Pack that includes a pound of their coffee, some chocolate coins and a reprint of the original “A Dark Story For Coffee Enthusiasts.” Yes, I’m a fan of Deadman’s Reach–you know, Served in Bed, Raises the Dead. There’s a story behind it–a story that involves the Russians and the Tlingit.  There is a dangerous shoal in Southeast Alaska called Deadman’s Reach … But, in the world of The Fishing Widow, The Reach is a different place … and after Josh, the 17-year-old greenhorn aboard The Case in Point, told Ethan the story, none of us felt we could breathe for several minutes…..

“You shouldn’t be out here by yourself, Josh,” Ethan began quietly as he turned from the weather deck ladder and crossed to the starboard side of the boat where Josh stood, looking out at San Angelo Island and smoking a cigarette.  “You heard Col
in there.”

“What time is it, Ethan?” Josh asked suddenly without turning around.

“It’s late,” Ethan conceded and Josh smiled as he nodded.

“Exactly.  Bein’ alone or bein’ together,” Josh hesitated and smiled at the tree-covered island, “it’s late.”  He gestured to a cleared area near the north side of the island with a sweep of his hand.  “See that?”

Ethan squinted into the distance.  “That cleared space?”

“Yeah,” Josh replied. “Know what that is?”

“No clue,” Ethan chuckled as he drew out another cigarette and lit it.

“You’re not from here,” Josh smiled.

“Skwentna,” Ethan replied as he blew a breath of smoke out to starboard.  “I grew up on Talachulitna Creek,” Ethan continued.  He bowed his head.  “Beautiful place, Skwentna.  I keep meanin’ to get back to see the folks.”

“Sorry,” Josh offered quietly.  Josh waited.

Ethan shook it off and smiled.  “So,” he said, his voice sounding lighter, “up there.  What is it?”

“The Spanish were there,” Josh replied.  He laughed faintly.  “About a million years ago, they built a mission on San Angelo.”

“Fascinating,” Ethan muttered as he took another drag at the cigarette.

“Consecrated ground,” Josh continued.

“What? You mean like a graveyard?”

“Sorta,” Josh replied with a lopsided grin.  He sighed and flicked a bit of ash over the
side.  “Wanna hear the story?”

Ethan chuckled. “Does it have a happy ending?”

Josh hesitated. “No.”

“Fire away, Josh,” Ethan laughed ruefully as he leaned back against the rail beside the greenhorn.

Josh settled back against the rail and nodded toward the island.  “Years ago,” he started, his voice falling lower, “the Spanish were exploring in these waters.  Pretty soon, they wanted a more permanent foothold in the area, so one of the ships brought several priests along to establish a mission in the islands.” Ethan watched as Josh stabbed out his cigarette and reached into his slicker pocket for his pack.

“Shit’ll kill ya, Josh,” Ethan remarked with a grin as Josh lit another cigarette.  Ethan
pushed himself off the rail and flicked the remains on his cigarette over the side.  “At least you’re not using your last one to light your next.”

“Give me an hour and see how I’m doin’,” Josh smiled as he took a drag on the newly lit cigarette.

Ethan chuckled.

“Anyway,” Josh continued as he took the cigarette from his mouth and gestured away toward the island with it, “the idiots picked San Angelo ‘cause the Natives had told them it was the home of an unspeakable evil.”  Josh hesitated.  “And the holy fathers believed they could prove to the Natives that it was all superstition.”  Josh looked down and kicked at the deck.  “Only it wasn’t superstition.  There was really somethin’ there, and when they started to build and when they started saying their Masses, they pissed it

“I can imagine,” Ethan smiled.  Ethan felt his smile falter as Josh’s face remained serious.

“’Cept, it didn’t prey upon the priests.  It preyed upon the people.  It scattered ‘em.  It over-turned canoes, it spoiled the fishing so the people went hungry.”  Josh paused.  “Wáat’éex’i sáyú ch’a á wooch isxá aantkeení,” he said softly. “It was so hard the people ate each other.  It dragged men from their beds, down to the sea to their deaths.  It ate the babies from the inside out, filling them with spiders that crawled from their mouths and eyes.”

Ethan drew back, startled.  “Shit, Josh,” he whispered.

“So, the people called upon GonaqAdê’t to save them.”  Josh watched Ethan closely.  “You know his story….”

“Yeah,” Ethan replied, not realizing how breathless his voice was until he spoke, “I know about that one.”

Josh nodded. “So he came and bound the evil again on San Angelo.  He could do that because they are … similar… But,” Josh hesitated again, choosing his next words carefully, “the people became angry with the priests.  They believed the priests had loosed the evil intentionally.  That they were in league with the creature, that they were wicked as well.”

Ethan felt down for his cigarettes, knowing he was barely breathing as Josh’s story continued. Josh watched as Ethan lit his cigarette with a shaking hand.

“The evil had been taken away.  So, in celebration, the people prepared a feast to share with the holy fathers in their mission.”  Josh hesitated.  “The women brought blue mussels and oysters and cockles to share with the holy fathers and their servants.”

Ethan felt his eyes close.  Josh nodded. “Yeah,” he said quietly.  “Ten of them fell away dead within the hour.  The other forty boarded their pulling boats and tried to flee, believing they had only been sickened by something in the food.”  Josh gestured
around the northern edge of the island. “They went ‘round that way,” he said simply. “They were trying to make for another Spanish fort to the north. They believed they could make it there safely because the people did not follow.”  Josh hesitated.  “They made it to The Reach.” Josh bowed his head and took a long drag on his cigarette.
“The Reach,” he repeated as he looked straight at Ethan who, startled, met his eyes, “where the wicked crawled to die.”



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