Keep Portland Weird
Well, of course this was a myth. Portland wasn’t weird, any more than any other city in America. It just had a reputation for weird, deserved or not, and that reputation brought self-conscious eccentrics crawling from all corners of the world to try to get in on whatever amorphous weirdness existed here.
And yet, was it not, perhaps, the inexorable influx of those very same eccentrics into our fair city, the mass migration that caused us to dig up the city’s land and build more and higher and more expensive apartment blocks, which led to the discovery that brought all of the horrors that followed?
A worker at a building site found the artifact. The site was one of the hundreds of similar projects going up all over the city – a big hole in the ground, the potential of architecture, another apartment block to replace a crumbling but charming old house. Postmodern brutalism, that monotone jangle of glass, concrete, and steel, the skin of the 21st century stretching itself inexorably over the city. The building would have three floors of apartments that, even in this city’s endlessly skyrocketing housing market, would cost more to rent than a reasonable mortgage. The bottom floor would have space for retail, and would go unleased and empty for months before it was occupied either by some inexcusably twee little coffee shop or a vintage-inspired barber who justified his exorbitant prices by giving away tiny shots of liquor to his customers.
I suppose I am a little bit jaded about the city. In my capacity as a possessor of several advanced degrees in the arcane and the occult, Portland had always piqued my interest – a town that existed as a tangle of temporal conflation, anachronistic meta-fashions and the fetishization of the mundane past. Portland never embraced the present moment, preferring instead to find joy in dissecting, juggling, and recombining tropes, trinkets, and trivialities from all over the world and backwards through time. I found a kind of derisive joy in sifting through the cultural gibberish that the town produced, and grew to love Portland all the more for it.
But I digress.
The construction worker who found the artifact tossed it aside and continued his work. It was his coworker, who was an old boyfriend of mine (don’t ask), who picked it up and looked it over. Knowing somehow that I’d find it interesting, he’d put it in his pocket and brought it to me straight after his shift ended. I, being at work, was fiddling with a fussy milk steamer and cursing the world while several waiting patrons glared at me.
“Hey,” he said, and I looked up to find his pug nose and irritating mustache staring over the coffee machine at me.
“Busy, Mike, what’s up?”
“Oh Sean, you’re never too busy for me, darlin’,” he said in a fake Texas drawl he liked to pull out when he was trying to be clever.
“Yeah well…shit…” The milk steamer was jammed in a way that only a milk steamer could be. I fiddled with it.
“Listen, I found this thing at a job site. Thought you might want to take a gander at it,” he said. I looked up and found him holding a gray, pentagonal stone, the size of a salad plate, smooth at the edges, with a symbol on it that immediately filled me with dread. I forgot about the steamer and grabbed it from him.
“Hey, I’m still waiting for my—” said someone far away who didn’t matter at the moment. I stared at the talisman in my hand. It couldn’t be what I thought it was. It had to be a clever forgery.
The symbols on it were in an ancient and dark language, a tongue unknown to modern man, and if uttered aloud might just summon –
“Sean, stop staring at whatever that is and fix the damned steamer!” It was my manager, a fetus named Cody just out of high school who was saving up to tour Europe with his band or some other irrelevant nonsense. I didn’t even glance up at him.
“Shit,” he said, and ran to attend to the steamer. I assume. I wasn’t paying attention.
“Where?” I whispered the question at Mike, because the rest of my voice had run in terror from the thing in my hand.
“65th and Belmont.”
“I need to see that site.”
“I don’t know—”
I walked around the counter, reached out and grabbed Mike by the lapel and brought him close to my face. His eyes widened.
“I need…to see…that site.” I was still whispering, but like a tornado whispers when it’s far away. It was a whisper full of menace, urgency, the threat of destruction.
“Ok…I’ll figure it out,” said Mike. “Let go of me.”
I let go of him. He straightened his lapel.
“Get me in,” I said in that same whisper.
“I’ll try,” he responded. “What is it?”
“Just get me in to the site,” I said again.