The Warehouse -- Ramon Gandia 8-10-1985 (V2)

It was a warm, quiet June morning in Nome, Alaska. The sun had been up for hours, but the clock said it was only 6:00 AM. I was wide awake and restless, and decided to go for a walk on the waterfront.

Walking down to River Street, I noticed there were no people about. I could hear the lapping of the waves on the Snake River nearby, and the sqwaking of seagulls. The Sun was up in the sky, the wind was dead calm. It was one of those quiet mornings with nothing stirring that can be so disconcerting.

As I walked down the street, I got to the end and made my right turn on F Street. I was at the harbor then, and the B&R Tugs, barges, and numerous private boats were tied up. Not a person in sight, the boats tended to themselves. Looking north, Anvil Mountain loomed ... you could almost touch it, yet it was 5 miles away.

But ... what is that? A bush. A willow bush, growing right there at the water's edge. This water can be brackish at high tide, how could it grow? How could it and not be trampled by beaching boats and foot traffic? This I have to see, and I walked towards it.

Getting closer, I could see it was a cluster of Willows, not just one plant. As I got there, I could see that going out into the water was a pier. A planked pier. And having lived in Nome for 20 years I knew that there were no such plants or piers here, so what was going on? But there it was. So, I walked onto the pier.

The pier started out between the Willows, and as I walked out the willows also were growing out of the water, as if the river had flooded the stand of plants. This was most unusual. Between the branches I could still see the houses of town, and there in the north was Anvil Mountain. But things were getting strange.

I stepped along the pier, and finally came out of the bushy part. The pier went a ways, then had a right turn, parallel to the shore. The shore was all willowed, yet, looking north, I can still see Anvil Mountain.

I then noticed, with a start, that further along the pier is a Warehouse. An old wooden building, quite large, and on pilings rising out of the water. On the other side of the pier, opposite the warehouse, is an old, dilapidated barge with "Alaska Steamship Co." painted on the side. There had been such barges here 20 years ago, but I thought all of them had been destroyed in the '74 storm.

My curiosity aroused, I walked to the Warehouse. The door had a small, glass window, and I peeked in. Inside were most interesting relics. I opened the door and went in ... I didn't think anybody would scold me for just looking, and in any case there were no people about.

Inside was a treasure trove, wonders beyond description for a person such as me that is fascinated by old machines. Here were old Bakelite switchboards, belt driven lathes and drill presses, punches, boilers, old steam shovels, Pacific Diesel generators, Ingerlson Rand steam driven compressors. All this, and more, in dizzying numbers with scarcely enough room to walk between them. I started strolling among this machinery, and noting all sorts of little jewels, such as well oiled drill bits, shovels, hammers, wrenches, complete workbenches, dredge buckets, welders, and much more.

And the Warehouse had upper levels. There were catwalks up towards a high ceiling. These catwalks flanked other platforms, and still yet more machines and equipment. I could not believe my eyes, and I went to a window and peeked out. Sure enough, there was Anvil Mountain. I was still in Nome, but in my 20 years here I had never seen this Warehouse. Had I missed it somehow? You know how it is: you can live in a town for ages and yet it always will hold a further surprise. But this was somehow rather unbelievable. Yet, I knew I was not dreaming, that this was real, that this Warehouse was here, right now, and I was walking among its contents.

Up ahead, a Fairbanks-Morse engine and generator attracted my attention, and I put aside my misgivings and went over to look at it. It was massive, 8 cylinders. The data plate said it was a 1,000 - kilowatt unit. Many of the parts were exposed, as was wont in the olden days when it was manufactured. I was checking out the levers and governor when I heard a sound.

At first I thought it was a rat or a mouse, because the sound was so soft. But ... there it was again, and I caught a glimpse of a person, dressed in white. I called out "Hello! Who's there?!" But I got no answer, yet there was the form again flitting between the machinery. I called out again, and getting no response, I started to walk towards where the person was.

My next glimpse showed that this was a girl, and a young one at that. I called "Hey, hold up! I want to talk to you!" I sure wanted to ask her what was this place, and what she was doing here. But she kept moving, and as I got closer, the girl went up a ladder or staircase towards one of the catwalks. I followed up.

This was a steel catwalk with grated floorboards. It had steel handrails made out of welded pipe, although in a few places the handrails were missing. Interestingly, other catwalks intersected, and there were ladders and steps up and down from the one I was following, leading to yet other levels.

The girl was dressed in a white blouse and white skirt, and appeared to be shod in moccassins. She was very nimble footed and quite obviously was familiar with the path she was taking. So much for more reason to catch up to her. "Please wait! I just want to talk to you!" But she kept moving swiftly, and I could barely keep up.

Down below, I could see a vast expanse of machinery. Belt driven gizmos and electrical franistats. Generators, pumps and grinders. This warehouse was a lot larger than I thought. Sunlight filtered in through skylights and tall, glass windows of the old type, made up of small rectangular glass panes. And above all this, the maze of catwalks hovered, with yet layers of machinery propped up on legs from the floor, or hanging from the ceiling, or, in some cases, seemingly part and parcel of the catwalk itself.

Up ahead, the girl went up about 4 steps and ran along this new catwalk. I followed. A right turn, a left turn, down 5 steps, then two right turns and yet more steps leading up. Ahead I could see some cloth, like a curtain, and some wooden shed built right alongside the catwalk. The girl parted the cloth and went inside.

I got to the cubicle and called out: "Hallo! Can I come in?" Hearing no response, I went in. The light was dim, and I could see two figures. One was the girl. The other was an old woman, gray haired, wearing very old clothing. They were both staring at me with their eyes wide open and mouths agape.

I told them my name, and asked if it was okay to come in. The old woman said "Yes, you can come in. Here, have a chair," and pointed to a wood crate that could serve as a seat. Looking around, I could see that this place was a hovel. There was a rough bed made of gunnysacks, old army blankets. The furniture was all makeshift from crates, planks and shipping pallets. An ancient Coleman Stove sat in a corner, and I could see that it was used for making coffee. The walls were a lattice of planks, pipes, plastic sheeting, flattened tin cans and more army blankets.

It was obvious the two lived here, and from the looks of the place had been here for quite a while. The girl herself looked to be about 16 years old, give or take. Her clothing was not as white as I thought at first. The skirt was tattered, but the rips had been mended and sewn up. On closer inspection the color had been white at some point in the past, but repeated wearing and washings had rendered them that weak gray that laundering without bleach obtains.

Her blouse was just a tee shirt, and I could see the mounds of her breasts pushing the fabric out. She had long, lustrous black hair.

The old woman was shabbily clad as well. She had an old, colored skirt, but her upper part was wrapped in some sort of shawl made out of the ubiquitous blankets. Surely, somewhere in this Warehouse, there must be a trove of US Army blankets. Not surprising; the warehouse had all sorts of old military junk there too. Old teletypes and radios, helmets, ammo boxes, and a few jeeps and vehicles as well.

The awkward silence finally broke.

"Who are you folk?" I asked.

"We live here. We've lived here for a long time. We stay away from people," said the old woman.

And the girl added, in a sweet voice, "And I stay with her."

None of this explained why they just didn't walk out. I pointed out Anvil Mountain visible through the windows, but, there were no windows facing town from this particular spot.

"Well," the old lady said, "I just don't want to go into town and deal with those people."

And the girl again added, "And I can't leave. I gotta stay here with grandma."

So, I introduced myself. I told them I am a pilot and fly bush planes locally. I told them I live just a few blocks away and had walked here, and curiosity led me in. I asked why and what all this machinery was doing here. "I am Diane. Let me show you around," said the girl, and took my hand and led me outside the hovel.

We went along the catwalk, and again up some steps, down some others, making several turns. I was not exactly lost, because from where I was I could see some ladders going to the ground floor and it would have been easy to go to one of the walls and follow it to the door. Yet, I stayed up in the catwalks and followed this girl. She was so pretty, and I felt a knot of desire in my gut.

In fact, she was not only pretty, but very appealing. Why is it that some girls, even if not the very prettiest, have an irresistible attraction? I found myself wanting this girl. I wanted to reach out and touch her, feel her, kiss her.

As we walked up there we came up on another hovel. "This is my private, hiding place," explained Diane, "I come here when I am sad or blue, or just want to get away from grandma. She is nice, but sometimes I just want to be by myself." At this, she parted the curtain and led me into this hovel.

It was very much like the first hovel, except there were no cooking facilities. A small stove would provide heat in the winter, but now, in summertime, none was needed. On the floor was a pallet of bedding. The girl took my hand and let me sit down next to her. We were cross legged on the bed, and looked into each other's eyes. No words were neccessary. I kissed her, and she responded eagerly. After a few minutes of kissing, she took my hand and brought it under the blouse to her breast. I was very aroused and responsive.

It did not take long for me to lower my pants. The girl was moaning and her skirt had hiked up. I had my eyes closed tight, and held her and petted her. Before I knew it, I was inside her. I was in and out, making love to her very tenderly and lovingly. Her hands were on my back and pulling me hard towards her. Her hair was on my face, I was completely captured by her.

Then, I decided to look. To peek. And I opened my eyes.

I beheld the most horrific sight of my life. I was not making love to a girl, but to a rotten corpse. Bones showed here and there, a mass of intestines and maggots swirled in front of me. Empty eye sockets stared at me. Ludicrously, her hair was still attractive even if growing out of a bony scalp. Yet her arms were still around me and pulling me towards her. My member was plunging into this horror.

Letting out a scream, I jumped back. The corpse started to sit up. I ran out of the hovel, almost falling face first when my pants tangled in my feet. I frantically pulled them up and ran. Behind me I could tell the girl, or corpse, was following me. I ran harder, and so did she. "Come back! Come back!" I could hear her yell. But looking back I could see I was not mistaken. This half skeleton, half corpse was running behind me full tilt! I could still feel some maggots crawling on my crotch. I was in total panic and running headlong on the catwalk.

Ahead! Ahead there was a ladder going down! I took it and arrived at the Warehouse floor. I ran towards the door, with the corpse just yards behind me. "Please stop! You can't leave!," she said. But the more she spoke, the harder I ran. I plunged out the door and onto the pier. I ran down the pier, and behind me I could hear her feet pounding. But, I had taken a wrong turn and instead of getting to the shore, I could see I was at the end of the pier.

Without thinking I plunged into the water, and swam under the barge. "Can a skeleton float?" I thought.

Up ahead I could see some daylight coming down at the end of the barge. All I had to do was to swim a few more yards and I could come up for air. I swam and swam, but I was not nearing the end quickly enough. I started to run out of breath. Above me, the bottom of the barge held no hope for air.

"My efforts got feeble, and panic took me. I dreaded that breath. I could not breathe water! I must not! "Hang on," I told myself, "just a few more strokes...." But it was not to be. Before I could reach the sunbeams in the water, my lungs burst and I took in of the water. My arms and legs stopped, and blackness took me.


"Wake up, wake up! Breathe!" said Diane. I could hear her voice next to me. I could feel myself sputtering and spitting water. Diane was pushing on my chest, and shouting at me to open my eyes. I was scared to. I could not even imagine opening my eyes to be faced with that horrific thing - that mass of maggots, rotten entrails, empty eye sockets. But, the voice was smooth, sweet and not to be denied. I opened my eyes.

Instead, there was pretty Diane. No skeleton. Just her. She was also dripping wet, and her long, beautiful hair was wrapped around her face and shoulders. "You just screamed and ran away!," she said. "I could not catch you. And then you dove in the water. I waited to see if you came up, but when you didn't I dove in and pulled you out." Luckily, this girl had been able to revive me. Or at least she helped me revive myself.

But, there she was, as beautiful as ever, in her white blouse and white skirt. I noticed this time she was barefoot.

"Look," I said, "when I was making love to you I opened my eyes and saw something horrible!"

"Yes. I know. Let me tell you my story. Grandma and I came here many years ago. We walked out this pier, and to the warehouse. It was interesting, but we wanted to get back to the house and have dinner. But no matter which way we walked on the pier, when we got to the willows over there, there were turns and branches on the pier, and we were never able to find the shore."

"You are kidding me," I said. "It's easy. Look, there is Anvil Mountain north of us, and you can see the roofs of the houses in town."

"Well, you try it."

So, together we went hand in hand down the pier, and entered the area between the willows that I had seen when I came out. The willows seemed thicker, and I lost sight of the houses and Anvil Mountain. After I walked a while, the pier took a turn. And another. And yet another turn. And there were branches to the pier, and they had more and more turns, dead ends, etc. Once in a while I could see the houses in town or Anvil Mountain, but soon enough I would lose sight of them, and could not get out of the maze. Yet, this whole time, the way back to the Warehouse was always obvious.

"I don't understand it," I said.

"Neither did I. I was just a little girl back then, and grandma and me tried for days. Even months and years, and we could never get back. Even in winter, when things freeze over, there are problems like open water, boats in the way, even the willows are so thick even without leaves. We have never been able to leave."

"So, how did you survive?"

"We didn't. We had most of everything except food. We ate what we could find, but it wasn't enough. My grandma died first, she starved to death. I wrapped her up and put her in the first cubby you saw. I then built a second cubby. Finally I passed out from hunger. When I woke up, I was not thin anymore, and grandma was there awake also. We have been here all this time, alone, with just each other."

She continued "I dreamed at nights of having a man, a friend, someone to hold me and kiss me. And make love to me. I never made love before this." She paused for a while, then continued, "Then, you came along. I tried to hang on to you, but then, just when I thought you were going to come inside me, you opened your eyes and started screaming. And then, I knew the truth."

"This is all very well," I said, "but here I am, and I am not going to give up. I am going to map out these piers, or swim for it, or something."

"You can't. When I told you to open your eyes, you had been in the water for over an hour before I got you out from under the barge. I knew you had died; drowned, but I just tried and you were given back to me. We are now three of us on the Warehouse, and we have each other."

Author's Note, 2009.I wrote this story in 1985. In those days I was flying bush for Fish River Air Service, and splitting my time between Nome and White Mountain, where I had a rented cabin. One night I took a girlfriend from Nome to White Mountain. We spent the night, and in the middle of it, I woke up with a start. I had just had a nightmare, pretty much this story. I jumped out of bed, and went to my desk where I started to write down some notes. My girlfriend asked "What is wrong, Ramon?" I told her I had a nightmare, and as I wrote down my notes, I also spoke to her of the dream. This fixed it in my mind. I wrote the story soon after, and after many years lost, I found the manuscript.

I did some light editing, but this, essentially, is the story as I wrote it in 1985. Those days were the start of contact with my spiritual side. I shared this with the girl, and she was also able to experience it.

Copyright © 1985, Ramon Gandia