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Harmony in Junction City, Part One

The first part in a story of dominance and betrayal

1

I was in college 20 years ago this week. By the end of my first year, I had taken 32 credit hours and was maintaining a 3.6 grade point average. I worked three jobs. Two on campus and one as a stock boy at a local grocery store. I slept about four hours a day. I dressed in black and only directly interacted with the 9s and 10s of the opposite gender. Usually I just looked into their eyes or just said “Hi.”

Boasting aside, my eyes are an amazingly brilliant green. And something about my behavior was received very well by my demographic of choice. But I wasn't here for them, although the complimentary glances and grins and occasional outings helped keep my ego burning bright. I was here for me.

Every day felt like forever, but the weeks flew by.

And then when summer finally decided to sneak up on me, I needed a break. Throwing a bag in the back of my Jeep, I left Seattle and drove north. I think I must have driven for four or five days. It didn't matter. I was young, adventurous and had enough money to do what I wanted.

Time to stop driving, my mind told me. Just as I received that message I saw a highway sign. To the left, more highway. To the right, two towns. Following my own orders, I picked Junction Center.

I'm not sure how the town decided on the name. There was one road into town, with a few curves bent around some mid size hills covered in green along the way. With no mile markers informing me how long I should expect to arrive. And then I could see a break in the trees with hints of rooftops in the distance. You've arrived in JC, my mind said and instantly I rebuked myself for blasphemy. I waged a little mental war with myself if that really constituted breaking a Commandment or if it was just an innocent abbreviation. The debate was interrupted by an obvious breach of nature indicating humans were just ahead.

Main Street entered town looking down a sloping village with an incredible ocean view. It ended about ten blocks ahead. Not blocks really, but there were ten or so little streets until Main Street ended by some warehouses down at the other top corner of this little civilization. Being at the top of the village, I guessed it probably had about 50-60 houses planted occasionally in what oddly struck me as a people garden. Rows of streets with living creatures, dying, living, and repeating the cycle. That's a good analogy, I thought. And then thanked myself for the compliment.

I could tell the sky seemed to be growing dim and I hoped I'd be able to find some sort of hotel or B&B soon or I would just have to turn around. My lack of planning had never prevented luck from striking me at the most perfect times before, so I was almost sure there was probably a likely chance of finding something here. That's enough qualifiers, don't ya think?

Following my version of the Force (And yes, I still like Star Wars), I decided to take a right at the second to last street. The one ending with a pier. That was as likely a point where people might enter and exit what appeared to be a fishing town as anything else. It's not like little villages on the Alaskan coast were known for generating tourism from theme parks. So I again, I congratulated myself for using highly insightful deductive reasoning and began my decent into Junction City.

2

The last building on the left was a sort of two-story building with a few picnic tables scattered around the entrance. I saw a Bud Light and something-“Suites” signs as I approached, found a parking spot, which wasn't difficult at all, grabbed my bags and headed up a wood framed staircase.

“Need a room?” Speaking through a smile with an elbow resting on the hotel/bar counter, the gentleman on duty threw in a man-nod. For females reading this and unfamiliar with “man-nod,” it looks merely like a nervous tic, a barely perceptible tilting of the head, but communicates everything from emphasis, queries, threats and directions to greetings and salutations. It is physical punctuation, but flexible enough to relay emotion and information. We don’t even have to grunt to communicate. For example, by using the MN combined with precise timing, I and many of my kind are able to accompany one another and buy a ticket for a particular movie, popcorn and a drink without uttering a word. I am able to buy tools, gas, drive in silence, hunt and hundreds of other tasks using just a MN. Jealous?

I dreamt of swimming behind a boat. My uncle was in control, drifting in a gentle current as my aunt and I swam along just off the stern. Suddenly my uncle was hovering over the rails yelling at us to come aboard. He pointed and shouted about an enormous alligator sneaking up on us. My aunt nimbly caught the ladder and hoisted herself up, but I was in a bad spot and wasn’t able to find a hold. He jumped to the controls as my aunt dropped the sails. My uncle shouted about going “binary” and not having a clue what that meant, I just assumed he meant electric instead of wind power. Just as I reached the ladder, we shot ahead with the alligator following closely on my heels.

We were casting a tremendous wake and I could feel the extraordinary drag on my body. As I looked to my right, I realized that we were mere feet from shore of Junction City. Of course, being in dream state, it didn’t seem at all strange that people on the pier were yelling that the alligator following me was the Queen. I could hear in their voices that they’d been hounded by this menace for some time. My uncle yelled back to me to hold on, he was going to try something. He turned hard to port, straight up a creek running along the eastern edge of the town. It seemed that the citizens of JC knew exactly what my uncle had planned and were preparing for a coordinated strike at the enormous alligator at the top of Main Street.

As we reached the area of the largest warehouse, which I had seen on my arrival, we took another sharp left onto Main Street. He wheeled the boat in the opposite direction, throwing me off as if being whipped from my hold on the ladder. The Queen followed me. She was closing in.

His maneuver sent a wave of water carrying me along a section of Main Street that was under construction, fenced along the sides. As I was swept past the bulldozer, the operator slammed into the path of water behind me, giving me enough water to gently wash to a smooth stop. He turned against the flow with a quick flick of his controls.

The Queen was so focused on ripping me to pieces that she slammed into the dozer’s blade. The water behind her quickly washed back into the creek. She was trapped. She was also seriously injured from the force of colliding with the blade of the machinery that had come to my rescue.

As I stood, I noticed a bear, a deer and her fawn and a rather angry looking badger descend from the hill bordering the hillside nestled against Main. They surrounded me. I glanced around and found myself blocked by the construction fence on three sides and the bulldozer to my back. The animals quickly began to circle me as if sizing up how difficult I would be to strike down. But then it dawned on me that they were coordinating with the townsfolk against a common enemy. They were protecting me from the Queen.

I woke to the sound of an alarm clock. No, it wasn’t an alarm clock, it was something else. Whistles? No. Ah, it was a vehicle alarm. Someone had set off a car alarm just outside the window of my room. Blaring. Then. Deafening silence. I wondered to myself what would have happened to the Queen if the dream had continued, but soon dismissed it in favor of looking around this little town that had unknowingly saved my subconscious from doom. Nice folks.

3

As I approached the check-in-counter-bar coming down the hallway, I saw a gift shop off to the left that I hadn’t noticed the night before. I suppose it wouldn’t have been open that late anyway, so I had likely just dismissed it without paying attention. Sloppy.

As I entered, I received a few smiles from the ladies chatting at one of the small round tables along one side of the room. Across from them, to my left, was a cash register being used by an older woman to prop her elbows on as she chuckled at something that had just been said by the other guests.

I’ve always despised walking between people when they’re speaking with each other, but they were spaced far enough apart that I didn’t feel overwhelmed with the urge just to wander elsewhere. At the far end of the room was an inviting bookshelf half filled with genealogical and local history materials.

“Sir,” the clerk raised her voice, “if you see anything you like, I’m giving 10% off through tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” I said and glanced back in her direction. I added a little wave of thanks.

“Not just on books, but cards and, well, just about everything else. Feel free to ask.”

I gave another little wave, nodded and turned back to the books. I dabble in my own family history as a hobby and noticed a book about Northwest loggers and their families. I slid the book from its display and turned to the index to look for mention of my family’s surnames. Skimming, but not really taking it all in, I caught my own last name and turned to the one page referenced. At the top of page 44 was a picture I recognized. The caption didn’t identify the crew in the photo; I recognized it as one I’d used to see on my grandmother’s wall. I remember her telling me that one of the men was her grandfather.

Maybe it was an unconscious decision based on her story of that one picture that drew me to this area after all and not some random adventure gene inherent to my lineage. Some of the story my grandmother told me meshed and came back to me as I read through this particular article. And there it was. That was my Great-Great-Grandfather indeed. His name was in a footnote at the bottom of the second page. You just never know what dictates our movements sometimes, I suppose.

I turned and flipped the book up against my side and saw the expression on the woman at the register. She knew she had a sale and her face brightened up. Consumer behavior, my mind realized. By bringing the book close to my body, I had committed to a sale. Not a bad thing, just something I hadn’t considered before. It was an act of claiming the book on my behalf and no doubt, she had seen the same action many times before, realizing instantly what my behavior meant.

“Did ya find somethin’ in there, sweetie?” she beamed.

“One of my ancestors.”

“Would you mind tellin’ me who?”

I flipped the book open, thumbing to the page and identified the man. She asked which one and I told her the last name and pointed to the picture. The third man on the left.

“That’s my maiden name,” said one of the women in the corner. Eavesdroppers!

I glanced in her direction without my eye contact, smiled a little and gave a little “Oh” tinged with a hint of a question. Mistake. I just opened myself up for a conversation.

“Could be we’re related, you know.” It was more of a statement than a question. “May I see that picture when you get a chance?”

I had to follow through with my “Oh” remark, recognizing that what I’d said had been an invitation to interact with her. Instead of paying, I walked over to the little table, placed the book by her coffee cup and pointed.

“I knew it,” she said. “We’re kin.” Her accent changed a little when she said “kin.” It had an old-time flavor to it. She’s being personable, my mind said.

I asked if she’d allow me to pull up a chair. She agreed and asked me what I knew about him. I changed my accent just a touch in response to her, adding a little slur to my normal precise pattern and adopted a slower rhythm. I expended my total vault of information on him in just a minute or two. She took over and filled me in on distant cousins so many times removed that although interesting, hardly had bearing on my branch of the descendants of our shared logger ancestor. It turned out that my GGGFather’s brother had also worked in the area and instead of moving back to Oregon during change of seasons, he’d decided to stay as one of the original settlers of Junction City. JC.

I subtly closed the book and moved in my seat to indicate a good stopping point in the conversation.

“If ya ever need anything, cousin, I’m always around.” I thanked her, paid, walked out of the shop and for convenience sake, decided I’d better just put the book in my room than carry it around. As I walked down the hallway, I noticed a little cart topped with towels and little soap. Are you going to interrupt her? Grr.

I peeked around the doorjamb. I didn’t see anyone in the room. Probably in the bathroom. I called out to avoid scaring whoever had opened my door. No response. Now you have to stay until they get back. Yes, I agreed. I sat on the edge of the bed, being a little more thorough in reading the index for names I may have missed.

After a few minutes, I found another name that was familiar. Literally, right? And then I had an internal debate about the use of “familiar” vs. “familial” and which seemed more appropriate. I decided I didn't care.

As it turned out, I found the page, skimming it at first and then more carefully. It was from my mother’s side of the family. I guessed that our families must have sought seasonal work and since they worked here, although lived in Oregon, this must be the link that eventually brought my parents together. The families lived close enough to be hired by the same outfit and must have developed a relationship. They took that friendship back to Oregon and eventually, our two sides joined in marriage. Possibly. Cool.

It was another thing I’d never considered before that. I guess that’s how it happens. Neighbors or coworkers become friends, friends develop into communities, and communities marry into familiar and trusted environments. Hasty generalization, but there might be something to that. Good point, I told myself.

“Sorry, had to get a new pillow case,” the voice at the door said.

“No problem,” I said, “just keeping things secure.” Hopefully he’d take the hint in the future.

I walked out with further conversation. It was time to move about town.

4

The second I opened the door, I saw a woman and my heart stopped. I stopped breathing. It’s one of those rare moments when you just have to admit to the world that you have been stunned. Senses locked down. Utterly shut down from any other stimuli.

She wore a two-piece bright red bikini. Barely. This against the background of a slender build and olive skin and her white hair cut short. Strikingly gorgeous. She didn’t wear sandals or shoes.

By the way she walked, she knew she was living art. Confidence swept off her in waves almost tangible. She looked at me, piercing my trance. She dipped her head slightly and gave me the most irritatingly sly smile I’d seen before or since. She was a predator.

My heart began with a thump that I could feel throughout my body. I had a momentary thought that I might have just been identified as prey. Eat karma, please.

I realized she was walking with a man as if they’d both been swimming or sunning themselves. She was about his height, tall for a woman, but not over 5’8” or so.

It was at this point when I began to comprehend how surreal this encounter was. Junction City, Alaska. A fishing town by all appearances. Very small populace. The temperature was warm enough, but I knew there was no way swimming in the ocean would have been comfortable. It’s frigid out there. The couple didn’t carry towels or beach chairs or anything else to indicate they were returning from a casual beach visit. Maybe they just went for a walk, my mind said, but granted, it is odd.

I don’t remember what I did for the rest of the day, but I know what I was thinking about.

After I woke the next day, I sat outside at one of the picnic tables and waited all morning for another chance to see her again. Maybe it was a routine. I would stretch and walk across the street to the pier entrance only to walk back and sit, waiting again. Nothing had happened and I was growing hungry. I decided the encounter must have been a one-time or occasional occurrence and not to lose focus on what I was doing here. I wasn’t here to find an exotic woman, I was here to just let me mind go on neutral and to not have any external forces at work on determining my schedule or experience.

I wandered around town, stopping at little shops facing the shoreline. I walked the piers or docks. I'm not really sure what the official name of those things are. As it turns out, there was a much more extensive shipping culture than I’d originally observed. Small roads extended along the shore away from town from which other smaller buildings and piers could be found. It just wasn’t visible from where I had entered town due to how tall the trees were around the town. Standing on Main Street, looking down at the town and ocean, it was almost impossible to see the extension of roads down there.

I also discovered that the warehouses at the eastern end of Main Street also had a network of smaller one-lane roads extending into the hills, centered on a large, empty, dirt area with an old gravel base. It looked like a roundish parking lot. It could probably support logging trucks and other equipment for forestry purposes. Maybe a staging area for loggers.

My initial feelings about the town being at the end of a dead end road were obviously incorrect. There was industry here; it’s just not what I had anticipated. I was wrong. But this oversight was nothing compared to what I would experience here over the next twenty years.

5

That evening I waited for the bar to open, sat outside and just watched as people walked about. Some came and went, sitting outside, chatting. A couple dragging luggage walked past, heading inside.

As I glanced at the couple entering the building, “The Junction B&B,” I noticed movement to my right. Someone was approaching my table. A woman’s hand placed an open bottle of beer on the table, I turned. And she sat down. It was her. And that predatory smile was crafted upon a master’s canvas with auburn eyes finely placed as if by a master jeweler. Her features were perfectly even. Harmony.

She introduced herself as Amelia and jokingly accused me of being a voyeur based on our first encounter. I didn’t smile in return. For once, in the presence of someone else, I had nothing to say, but not by choice. Nothing came to mind. Sitting there, I wonder if she thought I was simply unable to speak or even had vision problems. She thinks you’re a serial killer. But no. I’m sure she’d had the same reaction from others. Of course she had. I could feel her presence.

And then I gave her my name. My brain began working again and I learned that she was not the Queen Alligator from my dream that first night, as if somehow I’d had a premonition of our fate together. I have to admit that while speaking with her, I did choose my words carefully and craft my replies to avoid further embarrassment. It was just a friendly chat. I had a fleeting thought that I might be tapped on the shoulder, accused of flirting with someone’s much better half. That didn’t happen either.

We met the next morning for breakfast. We had lunch at a fish shack about a mile along the shore away from town. That was her favorite place, she said. We talked about nothing and everything.

It never occurred to me to ask what she did for a living. I did learn that she lived by herself and I didn’t consider it my business to ask where or how she made a living. It did cross my mind that she might be a “lady of the night,” but those around us never treated her oddly. No glances of accusations. No undue male attention. She was firmly a member of this community. There were no ripples in the Force.

We didn’t spend every waking moment together, but I began to feel like we were becoming a couple. Within that two week period, I had fallen for her. When we sat, we touched. Just casually, but nothing very intimate. We held hands a few times. I got a thrill every time she flirted with me, lightly brushing my hand with the tips of her fingers or leaning against me as if she were tired and trusted me for support or reassurance.

At one point, she asked what I thought when I first saw her. I told her I couldn’t recall, but that when she sat down beside me that night with her beer, I thought of her as Harmony. And then she giggled like a little girl, not quite blushing. I began to call her Harmony instead of Amelia. She twittered the first few times and then it had become her name. Harmony. Perfect.

While walking by myself one day, I noticed a group of uniformed men and women by the docks. I learned from talking with a few of them that Junction City is a place they would train every once in a while. I didn’t want to sound like a spy, so I skipped over asking their exact schedule. Maybe that was strange of me, but it made sense. I’m just curious. I did find out that they routinely came through this area to help stranded boats, perform sea rescues and even interdict drug shipments. It sounded like an interesting job, but not something that I would consider or have ever participated in since then. I’m just not a boat guy. Like 'pier' or 'dock,' right? Sure.

I ran across “cousins” every once in a while, met the Sheriff, saw another Coast Guard boat, visited the library and even the little Post Office. I hiked some of the logging roads, sometimes with Harmony.

And then, the two weeks were gone. I told her I would be leaving the next morning. When I went to her home to say goodbye, she wasn’t there. It didn’t quite send me into a panic, but I checked places we’d been together. Nothing. It’s not like there were a lot of places to hide. She wasn’t the sort to hide anyway.

And I left. I still don’t remember the drive back to college. I couldn’t think of anything except that emptiness of not having a chance to say goodbye.


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