“Sir, may I take your order,” said the pretty face from the opposite side of the counter.
I looked into her almond-shaped, turquoise eyes with my stare of confusion and replied, “I think I need a strong cup of coffee.” I focused my eyes onto her name tag as she slid a cup of steaming coffee in front of me.
“I’ll check back later,” said the smiling waitress with ‘Ashley’ imprinted on her name badge.
I had a mild, pulsating headache above my right eye, and what I could fathom from my surroundings felt like a lucid dream. I required both hands to steady the cup of coffee up to my lips. Whatever happened to me on the other side of the bridge brought me here, to this cafe that looks so familiar, yet differs in minutest detail from Ashley’s Cafe that I had frequented mid-point to the coast. Indeed, this establishment beckons what I recall as Ashley’s Cafe, but everything appears a bit out of phase, ever so slightly, like the eyes of Ashley Crossman.
“Are you in town on business or just passing through,” inquired Ashley, topping off my coffee with precision.
“I’m not sure, actually,” I said, shrugging my shoulders in capitulation to my numbed cognitive state. I tried to summon the voices in my head, but they fell silent.
Ashley sat the coffee carafe on the countertop, gesturing to someone waiting at the door to take the vacant seat to my left. I glanced over my left shoulder to see an Asian woman walking towards me. Her gait and poise reminded me of the way a model walks down the runway, but her physique revealed her combat readiness. Perhaps an Onna-bugeisha, I had thought, a Japanese female warrior belonging to the Samurai class.
“What’s your pleasure today,” asked Ashley, as the Samurai warrior dressed in a black jumpsuit guided herself onto the swivel chair next to me.
“I’ll have what he’s having.”
“In that case,” said Ashley, “You’ll both need proper introductions.”
Ashley beamed a ready smile at me. “I’m Kenji Maegishi,” I said, offering my name and presenting a head bow to the Onna-bugeisha.
“Kenji Maegishi, allow me to introduce Augi Takahashi. Augi-san, please meet Kenji Maegishi,” said Ashley, formalizing the introductions.
I yielded to my situation, that I hadn’t dreamt up this set of circumstances, and that where I had come from, I’m not there anymore. I’m in Augustus Oregon, I had resolved, but where and when?
I ditched the map after breakfast, and the voices broke their silence. I had learned their personalities and their voice streams, so they don’t sound like a garbled studio mix. We had two more hours of driving time ahead of us, and it wasn’t long before my mind reflected on the life I had left in Portland.
There’s no question that the intervention by a Good Samaritan, who had found me slouched against a dumpster in a darkened alley with a needle stuck in my left arm, pulled me from the depths of despair that would have ended in tragedy. In one short year, I had made the transition from principle research analyst to a homeless junkie. I had spent the next two years in a private rehabilitation facility, where I healed physically, mentally and spiritually. I never met my generous benefactor at rehab but knew someday our paths would cross.
There was a job offer waiting for me after rehab, as a research analyst in a think tank. My benefactor had remained anonymous, and ten years later, I had internalized that my destiny remained incomplete, and that’s when the voices revealed themselves to me, inside my head.
I’m now moving to a new life in Augustus Oregon, a life emboldened with opportunities to acquire knowledge and discover enlightenment beyond my comfort zone. A blanket of warmth and security enveloped me as the voices empathized with my quiet ruminations.
My reverie was interrupted by familiar road signage that read, “Augustus Oregon—10 miles.” I’ve passed through Augustus Oregon hundreds of times during road trips to the Oregon coast, but the familiar voices guided me to leave the highway at the next road junction on the right. Given the posted speed limit of 55 mph, it’s par for a driver not to notice the sketchy turnoff that looks like an entrance to an old forestry and maintenance road. The absence of a proper off-ramp forces the driver to slow down to a crawl to merge into a turnoff lane that’s too short.
Set back by a hundred yards from the maintenance road, between October and April, it’s unexceptional to notice two skip loaders, a snow plow, and a sanding truck positioned next to a one-story mound of engineered sand. We drove past the equipment and sand pile stationed to our right and followed the rough gravel road for another half mile, which then terminated before a military-grade security gate that spanned the width of the entrance. A large sign to the right of the gate read,
“CAUTION: PRIVATE PROPERTY.
Law prohibits trespassing.”
Flanking each side of the entryway, two 25-foot-tall steel radio towers, anchored in sunken cement foundations, hosted an assortment of surveillance technology, including security cameras and sensor arrays. I conducted a mental inventory of the security equipment, when greenish sheets of vertical light oscillated from side to side, canvassing my truck in a glittering light show. The scan lasted about five seconds, and then the gate opened. Fifty feet of steel grating separated the maintenance road from the forestry road, and beyond the grating, the forestry road meandered and disappeared into the forest.
The truck automatically shifted into four-wheel drive for added traction after a few slips on the compacted gravel road. The automated security checkpoint faded in the rearview mirror as we crept forward, minding depressions and forest debris. The navigation screen went blank, and radio static replaced the music. The high beam headlights turned on, illuminating the passage that levels out ahead, while the truck’s suspension negotiated the dips and potholes like a mountain goat. The gate was now five miles behind us as we approached the entrance to a covered bridge that crossed the South Fork Nehalem River.
Exiting the covered bridge on the opposite side, I became disoriented and nauseous, hallucinating tiny cracks in the air. The surrounding air was full of them; they swirled and glistened in gradients of the visible light spectrum; and the spectacle looked as if shards of frozen rainbows, shattered by wrecking ball strikes, streamed into a vortex of nebulous gas and dust. Calmed by the voices I carried, I felt my consciousness slip away into nothingness.
Augustus Oregon is a figment of my imagination. I created the Augustus Oregon Universe to help me make sense of humanity and its place in the cosmos. I ruminate here with vigor laced with a smattering of audacity, but always under the veil of personal experience, even if I perceive the world from the POV of a voice in my head, manifested as a character.
When I close my eyes and clear my mind of rubble, I find myself sitting under a mighty oak tree, on a knoll that overlooks the town where I come from. Augustus Oregon is a place where the elderly are cherished and sought after for their life-long experiences and stores of knowledge; where the children run free and play without fear; and where the communities stand together and take care of their own, no matter what. When my end of days arrives, I will die in Augustus Oregon.
It’s taken me more than half a lifetime to conceive of Augustus Oregon, and now that it’s here, I don’t want its significance to slip away from my matured memory. In the fertile ground of my imagination, through the mysterious methods of the way the brain functions, I hope to reside in Augustus Oregon as I stare off into space from the front porch of my mind. If not that, then I pray the Talosians make the illusion of Augustus Oregon real for me.
I’m on that road less traveled. Destination: Augustus Oregon.
I have a week to recuperate before the Township Council convenes next Monday, and it may take the entire week to get my head right for a terrible bout of questions, clarifications, and analysis that comprises a mission debriefing. Morris Connelly, my mentor, will preside which offers me some relief. If he’s not visiting Dr. Alan Turing, he’s making time for tea with Ada Lovelace, so it’s a blessing the Old Man is in town to grill me over my two-year mission.
Morris is a funny old man, a wide-eyed explorer with a penchant for telling historical stories embellished with gossip and anecdotes that engenders brows to rise and faces to blush. I love the Old Man, after all, he’s a legend in my time and assuredly in others, as a matter of more fact than fiction. He pulled me aside at the homecoming to warn me of an uneasiness that’s stirring in the minds of the Council that invoking the Intervention Protocol is on the table, again. The protocol surfaced last at the apex of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and now it appears history is showing the world it can, indeed, repeat itself. The Cuban Missile Crisis was Morris’s gig, so he’ll set the tone for an invocation of a protocol designed to intervene when cooler heads of states fail to prevail during times of diminished civility and increased uncertainty.
To witness humanity suffer at the hands of those who favor war and terrorism over freedom, prosperity, and the pursuit of enlightenment disturbs me. And when worried about wildly massive issues, like invoking the Intervention Protocol, I seek the wise counsel of Morris, my mentor, my guardian parent.
Richard Crossman is hosting a small cadre of specialists and mission commanders at his ranch today, so I can catch up with Morris for a few sideline discussions about my recent mission and hear his iconic laughter and watch him animate his large, bushy eyebrows. He’s a sweet old man, and it’s difficult to imagine any civilized world without at least one Morris Connelly.