On this episode of the Dance Cry Dance Break, “The Source,” written by Josh Hanson, inspired by Apparition, a song by Jessie Marks.
Dream-folk pianist and singer-songwriter Jessie Marks grew up in the Bay Area. Born in Marin, yet having spent her life almost everywhere between Berkeley and Santa Cruz, and nurtured by the rugged seaboard of Big Sur, it’s certain that the Central California Coast is her true blood line. The sea is her biographer, and it’s evident in the fluidity and oceanic nature of her compositions. Influenced by the female artists Cat Power, Fiona Apple and Hope Sandoval, Jessie's music takes her audiences on a journey that is both intimately personal and transcendent.
Josh Hanson lives in northern Wyoming where he teaches, writes, and makes up little songs. He is a graduate of the University of Montana MFA program, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sinister Smile Press, BlackPetals, Fast Flesh, Stoneboat, and Diagram.
By Josh Hanson
They’d moved at least once a year. Furnished houses filled with anonymous furniture, or sometimes hollow, empty rooms that they would half-heartedly fill with a mattress on the floor and a pressboard chest of drawers. All things that would be left behind with only a water ring on the top or a black scuff along the base to show that they had belonged to anyone, had seen use.
This new place was nice, a low, ranch-style house under tall trees, with a wide, fenced yard. Plenty of room for him and his brother to play. But beyond the fence was a stand of trees that led further back into the hills, into a maze of old concrete foundations and rusted girders and the frames of old machinery whose purpose they could not even imagine.
It was here that they found the first of the bones.
It was in the loose gravel hemmed in by the remains of a ruined foundation, and the boys had been using the space as a kind of no man’s land, scrabbling over the crumbling walls and belly-crawling across the gravel amongst the hail of imaginary gunfire and shrapnel, fingers digging down into the dusty rock, where he uncovered that circle of bright bone.
There had been no moment of confusion, no mistaking it for something else. It was so clearly the crown of a skull, off-white with the sutures along the crown clearly marked with dirt.
He called to his brother, and by lunchtime, they had uncovered most of the skeleton, the rib cage collapsed and lying in a thousand tiny pieces, but the long bones all whole and almost fully articulated. They stood over the bones and looked down, both of them quiet for a long moment. Who were they? How long had they rested here beneath the gravel and dust? It was as if someone had simply laid down in the center of the floor and gone to sleep, waiting and waiting--how many years the boys could not imagine--for someone to uncover them.
He got down on his knees and began to shovel with both hands in the dirt. Somehow he knew there were more. He could almost hear them humming below the surface. They’d waited so long.
Within minutes, he’d uncovered the fine bones of a hand, and calling his brother over, the two boys began to clear the ground. Both boys worked in quiet, their faces white with dust and streaked with sweat.
The next morning, at the excavation site, the bones shone bright in the morning sun. Three figures laying rigid in their beds, chests collapsed, staring upward. They were about to get down in the gravel and move away more rock and dirt, when he heard something off to his left. He straightened and looked deeper into the trees, back where the rusted frames of machinery were half-hidden by weeds and the ground sloped slightly upward toward the hillside. He watched and listened. Nothing.
There it was again. He moved off, leaving his brother playing in the dirt, up, toward the direction of the sound. Almost a voice. He passed through the shadow of the trees, emerging in the next clearing, the chalky red brick of an old foundation off to his left, thin trees growing up where once the building had stood. He cocked his head to the side, strained his hearing. Strained for that humming feel.
He began to dig.
It took hours before he found something. This time it was the long bone of a leg, very white against the dark clay that made up this part of the slope. Deeper than the others.
Following the legs up to the pelvis, he soon realized that the roots of a tree were caught up with the bones, snaking through the ribs. He dug away the dirt from around the roots as well, and by early afternoon the whole skeleton was visible, the tree growing spindly and straight, rising from the ruined chest, so alien there among the bones, and he heard the hum. It was behind him, further up the slope.
He followed the path up and around, away from the excavated bones, away from the house, away from the afternoon sun. He walked on until the hillside rose in a sheer cliff-face of deep red rock. He looked up, and the cliff rose out of sight above him. Scrub trees grew at the base of the cliff, and there were chunks of brick here, too, running right up into the cliff face.
He followed the line of crumbling brick, just barely breaking the surface, pushing away the brush and high grass. And there was the door. Wider than it was high, maybe three feet across, with a brick archway set in the hillside. The door itself was made of thick timbers that appeared to have been nailed up from inside what he imagined must be a tunnel. He squatted down before the doorway, pressed a hand to the wooden planks. Cold. Solid.
He felt the hum in his hand. It was inside, the source of that sound. Deep within the mountain. He imagined it, grub-white and hulking, rubbing itself up again the other side of the door, only inches from his raised hand. It was ancient, timeless, and patient as the earth itself. It sank bones into the ground and raised up saplings from the graves. It was calling to him, and it knew his name, had always known his name, had been waiting. How long? Forever.
He crouched down, kicked sideways. The wood crumbled more than it cracked, and he pushed it away from the opening, hearing the pieces drop hollowly into the passage within. The sound was unmistakably his own name. So soft.
He gripped the edges of the doorway and slid forward, feet first, and dropped down, into the cool belly of the mountain, into the comforting hum of that eternal source, and he followed it blindly down, into the dark.
Apparition was written and performed by Jessie Marks.
“The Source” was written by Josh Hanson and voiced by Wyatt L. Bigham.
The Dance Cry Dance Break is written and produced by Natalie Bayne and recorded and edited by Moe Provencher. Timaree Marston is our Story Editor.
Theme music is Red Lines, by Dance Cry Dance artist Tiny Tiny.
Dance Cry Dance is an arts collective in Seattle, WA. To support our work and to hear bonus material, like artist and writer interviews, subscribe to Dance Cry Dance + on Apple Podcasts.