Once Upon a Time in Coxsackie

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In this small quiet town, in yet another hot summer, some people would have you believe everything was just fine in the world but more than a few understood quite well that fine was neither good nor bad, just the resting place before bad decides where it wants to go. Coxsackie was the kind of place you could drive to from New York City to spend some time and relax. And that is just what Wade was counting on again this year. He had put money he did not have into fixing the roof of his Drive-In theater snack bar. After what was supposed to be a weak storm cell came through the previous year and tore a giant chunk out of it in the middle of the night. He was grateful it didn’t harm any of his food equipment or games inside. Storms and extreme heat were affecting his summer business, as were other things. Both had become commonplace over the last five years. Before it wouldn’t climb above 91 in these parts for decades but lately was reaching as high as 110 degrees, and for weeks at a time. The worst part was there was no nighttime relief. People came upstate to escape the heat but lately the summer nights were stifling and these new mini super storms that could conjure up tornado like conditions in a flash were keeping city folks from traveling the 3 hours to get to his destination spot. He couldn’t have that, that would mean big financial trouble. He could lose their trailer, everything. He had two toddler aged kids and a wife that was losing faith in his abilities. Wade felt incapable of holding a normal job, he needed passion just like some of us need to eat but now he had huge responsibilities. So when the owners of the Hi-Way Drive-In finally decided to retire, knowing it was his only chance, he took his savings and invested in this dying business, a treasured place he’d worked since he was a young teenager. He loved the movies and felt it was a great piece of Americana that should not die so it became his mission to take it over and carry on the tradition. He needed to keep his family rooted in this town, to this plot of land, where all his secrets were buried.

Karl Murphy was not one to give ideas much thought. He was a fly by the seat of his pants type who would have done anything just to get out of town and away from the constant phone calls from the building he managed in Brooklyn. The AC units were leaking, the elevators were making funny noises, a kid got his flip-flop caught in the escalator. There was always some stupid non-emergency that stopped him from relaxing completely after work. Wendy his wife, who he affectionately named Windy as her moods changed like the wind, worked hard at her own passionless job as Human Resources for a big box food retailer and also longed to get away. At this point, they both hoped someday would bring incredible post-retirement living free of any corporate shackles. An excursion was just what they both needed after a few too many years of false terrorism alarms and random violent outbreaks brought on by the ever changing political climate and conditions. Tarrantino claimed this was his final movie and it was playing at a classic drive-in theater just 3 hours away. They decided to take the trip on a whim to escape their troubles if only for one night. Windy found a beautiful state park with a lake to swim if they left early enough and made good time. Most of the lakes had been closed due to algae blooms or high levels of e-coli found in the water by August. Somehow this one was spared and had great reviews for it’s cleanliness and lack of crowds. The local hotels in this funny named town were also running great deals. They had a couple of days off together and this would be the last hurrah of the summer, Karl said aloud.

Windy had been bothered by the extreme weather phenomena and sudden changes in the summer season that were getting worse every year. She was secretly fascinated by it but just as much terrified at this point now that most of her paranoia’s had come true. She thought it was the tiny percent of Indian she had in her that gave her this keen perception of shifts in the atmosphere. Odd things were happening to people and animals all over but you had to pay attention to keep up because the stories were buried and most fell under pseudo science sites. These were not run as investigative reports but humorous fluff pieces. Black bears were becoming domesticated pets seemingly overnight in parts of Jersey, allowed to play with children and sleep in beds! Not just one but dozens of them. They would just show up at homes as if responding to an a Nanny McFee ad. While in other places big cats were attacking hikers and joggers on a regular basis, hunting them like prey as were sharks in the ocean as never before. So far, no one could explain but there was definitely a drastic switch in behavior. Plants and trees were doing unbelievable things to survive too and invasive varieties were popping up all over. At the same time, a new breed of healers and some charlatans were posting their newfound ability to communicate readily with plants, and some animals. They shared insightful stories, some more outrageous. After a good chunk of people dropped off from bacterial infections in just two seasons, farmers finally moved to engineering food inside controlled environments. With the soil being left alone for only a few years, new fauna exploded and aggressively took over areas very quickly especially with all the rainfall. You couldn’t put your finger on it but a huge shift was taking place. A chaotic order, Windy thought.

Many folks didn’t notice because they had shifted to the virtual world of their own creations complete with alter egos. So even though these fantastic events that were happening were being shared via the internet, they were mainly seen as entertainment. It was as if 3/4 of the population was asleep at the wheel. Good thing most vehicles had become self driven. And this all happened fairly quickly. After Trump won that second term back in 2020, people on both sides melted down and it was clear the U.S. was in uncharted territory. Societal entropy was beginning to set in, the rule book thrown away. Recovery was still possible but for the moment people were forced to self police because too many situations required the constant pull of our local law enforcement resources. There was just not enough to go around or that could respond quickly. Some outcome was positive though. Generally speaking given more freedom, most people stayed good at their core. But forced to make life or death decisions, the lines were beginning to blur on what was right or wrong.

By the time the couple reached the town of Coxsackie there were urgent severe thunderstorm alerts flashing on their phones. By this time, these were customary and even though many would indeed strike, and hard, some dissolved as if the steam magically let out of the system by some unknown force at the last minute. It was mandatory that The National Weather Service send alerts to your phone but most people started following independent agents for their weather predictions. The rich had recruited the aide of Shamans and used traditional medicine now only for surgeries and necessary cosmetic procedures. A large percentage of the left population had replaced vacations with spiritual retreats, including Ayahuasca trips where you never left the tent. Celebrities had made the drug famous after Miley Cyrus and Cara Delevingne televised their entire honeymoon allegedly held on another dimension far more superior to any place we have here on earth. Most just saw them in bed for 5 days but many said they were transported to sensational multi-dimentional realms. Miley even recorded an album of songs she said were written by the plant teachers, as she called them. Many artists felt these plant drugs were essential to reaching their best work and selves and refused to produce without them.

The couple reached the town early on purpose to check out the nearby Lake Taghkanic, about 40 minutes away. They were so surprised at how gorgeous and well kept the grounds were for a state park. Everything was immaculate. Karl walked up to the concession booth to get his 4th cup of coffee of the day. The man running the counter was very concerned about the weather, as there were watches in effect all day and night, he said. But nothing was visible to Karl as he looked up and scanned the gorgeous sky. He always saw the positive in any situation to a fault and tended to ignore any talk that tilted otherwise. He refused to acknowledge any of the hooey as he called it, that Windy tried to feed him in the last years of all her many findings. She was absorbing all of these new happenings as new truth but he refused to believe change of this magnitude was possible. If he didn’t see it happen, it’s not a thing, he would always say. So it didn’t surprise Windy when he wanted to go out on a pedal boat and chance the weather. This seemed a bad idea by everyone including the rental gal, who was too lost in her own thoughts to care enough to talk them out of it. In fact Windy had noticed almost everyone in the whole town seemed to have that far away look in their eyes. All the nice people along the way seemed to be in a pleasant trance as if they were distracted with bucolic visions. The toll booth girl, who Karl had to practically honk his horn to take his money at the Rip Van Winkle bridge seemed way too happy for a job this mundane. The dreamy fast food kids who giggled incessantly while taking their order, the car wash attendants that polished their car with freakishly pleasant grins. The concession stand guy just now that went on about how bad the coming storm could be as if he was an extra in a funny sitcom. But the skies were clear and there was just a slight wind.

They boarded boat #11 and headed to the middle of the lake. Karl jumped off to swim though the signs clearly said not to do so, not just once but several places along the path. Very shortly after he did a boat came speeding up to greet them. The park service agent seemed almost panicked saying they heard thunder and are clearing the lake and beaches. Windy looked up and saw only white fluffy clouds and heard nothing. She motioned for Karl to come up out of the water, also relieved they weren’t in trouble. The ranger stayed to ask if they both were okay. Windy swore he said, Are you feeling okay but Karl didn’t hear him. Karl struggled to hoist himself back up as the motor boat had made big waves in the lake. He strained to keep himself afloat and must have ingested some of the water because he began coughing as if he just took a huge hit off of a bong. Windy worried she may need to help him up but at that moment, he popped up onto the front landing like a seal, talking about how refreshed he felt. He scraped his knee on the rough black anti-slip guards but didn’t seem to notice he was bleeding. The rest of the day he went on and on about how beautiful it was in this town and how he had planned to come again and again. As a matter of fact, he insisted they spend the night instead of driving back to the city after the movie.

Back in town, they stopped at a local pub called the Cask and Rasher, and immediately bellied up to the bar as Karl had taught Windy to do on previous occasions. Locals didn’t like nervous looking out-of-towners Karl told her. Best to jump right in with no hesitation. The loud chatter kept its pace and their anti-disruption plan seemed to work as they settled in. The group at the other end of the bar, barely bothered to check them out. Karl tried as he might to warm up to the bartender but she wasn’t on what most of the townspeople seemed to be. She was distrustful of strangers it seemed and looked disappointed when they wanted to see food menus. Later, the cook busted out of the kitchen with two huge chilled bowls, personally bringing their salads with the most generous smile. He welcomed them as he said, I hope you brought your appetites! He then tilted his head at who they later found to be his wife as if to tell her, everything is fine, don’t worry. Windy found the exchange slightly odd but Karl told her she was imagining it all as he was prone to say in these occasions so much that she had started to wonder if it were ever true.

Hadn’t he been at all impressed earlier that year when the story come out about those lions that conspired to break out of their sanctuary in a plot that clearly took planning and cooperation, especially since they brought the tigers with them and used the monkeys to help them get the keys? And how they didn’t kill the guard but knew just where to bite as to shock him instead. And how about those kids that were struck by lighting who shot the video of the clouds coming down so low that they were actually ‘in’ the weather system as it began to rain and thunder. She told Karl how she had noticed the sky was drastically changing, cloud formations of incredible shapes, plus storms were super low to the ground and moved in at high speeds. These stories were real. Yet the masses were never convinced, therefore it was not newsworthy. Therefore it was less than fake, it was not compelling enough. Karl became interested never. There were hundreds of these incidents flooding YouTube every day, so many that no one had time to debunk or prove them. And the city officials brushed it off as hoaxes or tampered videos, claiming you could simulate anything these days. Nothing to worry about it. But some folks were concerned, so much that they did their own investigations and found a good percentage of these occurrences were real and provable if you took the time to research, which very few did. Windy did. Every night. Because she was bored, because she wanted to believe there was more to this world than this world would have you believe. From birth she felt all of this coming, so it was an excitement for change and she wanted to be there to help usher it in, in whatever form it came. But Windy’s inner ecosystem was also disrupted by some of the more harsher truths in the new living reality. She was losing some faith and spirit. Her vigilance felt warranted. Everything was in jeopardy; weather, food supply, water, clean air, power, shelter. Not to mention these were all of the things needed for that blissful retirement. Any one event could bring the whole house of cards tumbling down. She just wanted to enjoy some happiness before everything went black.

Back at the hotel they rested a bit before heading to the movie. Something was up with this town they stumbled upon and whatever it was the business owners were weary of outsiders, Windy thought. She didn’t let it ruin her visit, but it was duly noted. And what was up with Karl? She hadn’t seen him this hopped up on life since The Mets won the World Series game back in 2019.

Wade talked with the staff that night before dusk. They would stay open, screw the radar. How many times has it been wrong before, he asked. Sally, who had worked there for 15 years, who actually trained Wade on the snack bar register said, Hey kid, I need to get home on the chance there really is a storm as she had the longest commute down and across the Hudson River to Stottville and where she held her second job at PetSmart. Only six people had shown for all of the 4 screens of double-features Wade admitted. Kyle who worked the ticket booth said there’s a couple come all the way from Brooklyn and they’re real excited to be here. Be a shame to let them down.

Wade knew about the new psychedelic fauna that invaded the woods around his theater. He saw how the mosquitoes that drank the nectar of those plants had become almost like smart robots planning their attacks on his movie goers. He was hopeful spraying the perimeter nightly helped keep them in check. Thanks to all the rain and poisonous mushrooms, at least he was able to make the spray organic, although lethal. He knew about the high school kids that learned that when you take the flowers of these weeds and mix it in your preferred psychotropic brew, even stranger things would happen. These kids were too young to comprehend the places they could venture. They were not using these entheogen’s ethically, seeking wisdom or insight. In fact they were spiritually void, just looking for a nightly joy ride to escape this new apocalypse of nothingness. And as a sober reminder Wade found some had taken that ride straight to their grave when inspecting his woods at night. He would bury them quietly among the weeds like sacrifices to these new gods. He decided with the suicide rate what it was, it was gentler on the families to think their kids just left, so he never told the parents. He was a good man, in a difficult complicated time. So far, it was unclear to the majority of the officials if the deaths in town were occurring from the new plants or environmental changes were causing unknown stresses in the immune system. Allergens, pathogens, it could be anything. Wade saw that something about the winds and the new carbon methane levels in the air were helping all the pollen from the flowering weeds to become airborne, on windy nights making it’s way into his patrons cars and changing up their minds sometimes dramatically. He noticed it all right but he couldn’t report it. Nor could the state park officials report what the lake water was doing to visitors as order from the government who ran them. Nor could the bar owners report how small amounts of alcohol could send affected visitors into psychotic rages, sometimes having to be removed in a gurney. The whole town was desperate for their business owners and tourism to survive. It was a new time. Things were dire. It was every man for himself, while trying to keep a sense of civility if it was possible, which is wasn’t always. They didn’t cause this, they would argue at their town meetings, they barely understood it. It wasn’t like they were trying to dose everyone. They just knew that if their businesses couldn’t remain profitable, they would lose everything for sure and that fear was real. Thousands of people were dying all over the world everyday from new unexplained things. Too many for our government to keep track or military to handle. Whole small towns had dried up or were shut down. Fear drove weak decisions. Daily news briefings kept that panic alive. No, they couldn’t take chances they all agreed. They would need to stay this crazy course for now.

The townspeople had learned how to deal with their new perennial visitors to keep just enough in their digestive system to remain in a state of light bliss with no hallucinations. This was a mixed blessing as it kept the their conscious at bay. They knew when to stay indoors if the wind churned up and not take in too much. Maybe there were less susceptible as they were part of an unknown symbiosis with these plants that were drawn to this place by some perfect storm of conditions. They were mainly in certain areas and if you were very careful, the dangers were minimal compared to this hard to resist anti-depressant that came like the morning dew. It only took a few to learn the hard way as euphoria is a hard thing to quit. But ingesting too much could kill you or worse, permanently displace you in another realm. Expel you from this one entirely. But no one knew this is what happened, as no one ever came back to tell the tale. Most of those folks that passed were elderly, they would tell themselves, so it wasn’t certain what took them. But it wasn’t true, they just chose to believe it. Lots of the towns younger folks came up missing, never to be found. Or even crazier, reappearing in the spot they went missing weeks later, dead. No smells or decay as if they went peacefully in their sleep and they stayed fresh this way eternally.

Wade saw this first hand with his best friend, Temp. Temp was mild mannered on his good days but he fought his demons harder than most on others. He wouldn’t hurt a flea but he just might take his own life. He took to the new psychoactive plants right off but couldn’t seem to find his pocket. He was accustomed to psychoactive drugs and especially loved eating mushrooms. He was a seeker of truth. If you found Temp he would normally be stoned but that helped him to stay hopeful. He was mixing the new plants with Jimsom weed, the Acacia tree leaves plus extracting DMT from the bark of this or that. He was becoming a regular Bill Nye the science guy in a short amount of time but Wade knew, he wasn’t that bright. He was one of the first in town to come out saying the plants were giving him information on procedures and amounts. They also spoke to him about how we formed, where we go from here, the routes to other dimensions, star systems, you name it. He was guided by what he referred to as The Owls. Temp wasn’t the type to have a spirit animal so you tended to buy what he was selling. He was the most no nonsense guy, serious to a fault. He took things literally and was not one to haul off telling tall tales. But he came running outta the nearby Lake Onteora one day claiming this was his last day in this sphere as he would be joining The Owls! Wade couldn’t decide whether to congratulate him or drive him straight to the hospital. He worried about his friend in the last months but was also very excited as much of what he declared was right in line with what others from around the world were saying in more scientific terms. That is, if you were paying attention, and Wade was. Every night. There were sites on the dark web that lead you to rogue scientists giving updates and lectures on the new fauna. New information they were receiving from the messenger molecule. The plants were showing some how science connects to spirit. He knew the power of this psychedelic cocktail meets global warming greens, but he didn’t understand it. He couldn’t decide if it was friend or foe, and then Temp disappeared.

Wade swore when he walked through the woods next to his theater he could feel Temp in the air. In fact, the new plants were tall and thick rooted, a sturdy stem that stood straight like sunflowers looking at you. And something else, they had a presence. They didn’t feel ominous, more striking was how they seemed to have purpose…..a consciousness. He never told anyone about Temp’s declaration that day, or that he was mixing his own brews to reach these altered states. People were told he left town. Wade spoke to him during his walks in the woods and hoped he’d pop back up to greet him one day. He never showed but his soulless carcass did, completely in tact. As if he was just sitting waiting for Wade among the trees, eyes looking out peacefully. Wade made sure to place him apart from all the others and always put fresh flowers on his grave.

Karl popped his 4th road soda from the ice bucket he set up in the trunk. He said he felt like he could run a marathon he felt so refreshed from the short swim. Don’t stay out there too long, the mosquitoes will get you, Windy said. She stayed in the car just wanting the movie to start as she was beginning to feel a little spooked. Maybe it was all the sun. She wasn’t used to going outside on hot days. In the city it was no longer safe to do so. A nice young man came walking up and told them they decided to stay open even though the turn out was low, Probably the storm threat he said. Thanks for coming out, we appreciate your business. Careful, lots of mosquitoes out tonight. He smiled at Windy and walked off. Later she saw him up on the roof of the concession stand as if standing guard. What needed protection? she wondered.

Did they turn the right way out of the lot? The GPS was down, the phones were not getting reception. The roads were are so dark compared to Brooklyn, said Karl. He was disoriented and slightly drunk. But they made it back to the hotel room. Did he fall asleep? he asked Windy. He didn’t remember the movie or talking to her afterwards. He went to bed with no clothes on because everything felt itchy and foreign, he told his wife. He felt thousands of microbes had taken up shop on his body. He was about to ask Windy if she felt funny too but she suddenly felt so far away. Not much time had passed at all before he fell into a deep silent sleep, more like a vast nothingness. Seconds later he popped up as if out of water, conscious, out of breathe but very lucid. What is happening?! he thought. Gathering his bearings he realized he was not able to breathe. In fact ‘he’ felt separate to his own body. He was on the inside of himself, completely disconnected, nothing was responding as normal. His body felt like an abandoned house. How could this be possible? he thought. He tried to will his mouth open but it was shut tight. How!? he asked again. Eerily he realized how alone he was just then but there was no time to understand what that meant. He needed to get help immediately. He went to move his arm to shake Windy awake but his limbs were no longer under his control. They were heavy as a fallen tree. He had lost all contact with his body. It had now been seconds too long, he desperately needed to get air flowing. Trying to even inch a finger across the sheets was futile. He could hear Windy breathing and for a moment remembered she had once read him a story on sleep paralysis. He pretended to listen but it was no part of his reality, but now it was all sounding hauntingly familiar. He tried to scream out, Help! Auuughhhh!!! Nothing came out but instead expended all his energy. As he drifted deeper into the void, he recalled fever dreams as a boy, similar, of suffocating, drowning, being buried alive but could never say where he was, only black, opposite of somewhere he told his mother, it was nowhere. This was that place. This was happening now at the Holiday Inn Express in Coxsackie, NY. He was going to die inside his own body silently screaming and flailing. Panicking now, he made one last attempt to become super tiny and get inside his mouth to pry his lips open but to no avail. Everything could make sense when nothing did and this felt natural. He tried to gather facts, he was processing thought. He considered, was this a delayed reaction to death, like the chicken in the video Windy showed me, still moving after being butchered? Inside, he still could not reattach. I’m alive!!! His last muffled cries of terror not audible as he tried once more, an inner tug of his weighted down flesh. He just never woke up. He would stay in this state for eternity, forever trapped inside this place that was nowhere. People told Windy a week later at the funeral, just be glad he didn’t suffer. She prayed it was true but somehow could never believe it. She would live her remaining days in mourning before the heat finally took everyone two short years later.

Temp opened his eyes again and again and again. He was now no one and everyone. He could communicate without making a sound. Seeing was no longer happening from his pupils, it was like breathing used to be, just a few minutes ago, or was it so much longer? Time just changed definitions, in fact it no longer existed. There are owls guiding him. Why owls? he thought. He had read the Algonquin Indians named Coxsackie, Mak-kachs-hack-ing, the Place of Owls. They explain to him through their stare that he is in a place where he no longer needs to process thought through a filter. No more figuring or seeking. Here, all is known, always. Before he exploded into a billion particles of energy he asked, Where is here? The Owls blinked and in their eyes he saw that it was truth.


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