C.M. Chapman

How to Get Away From the World

At some point in your life, you might find yourself ready to run away from the world.

Many people do. Many people get to a place where they say, “I can’t take it anymore!” and then just seemingly drop off into the dark corners of the earth. It’s much more common than you might think. You might be, say, a shoe salesman who finally admits for the first time that he hates feet, or possibly a chef who has seen one too many soufflés fall to ruin. You might even be an ex-employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, someone who’s seen too much, someone who needs to hide, someone who—well—you get the picture. You could be that guy. Or any one of those guys—or girls. You could be that girl. That girl chef.

In the midst of this crisis, you might remember once seeing a picture of the earth at night with its spider webs of light and noticing that there existed only one significant dark place on the whole east coast of the United States. If you then consulted an online map, you might zoom in on that area and discover that there is a town called Dogleg Bend, West Virginia. You will most likely think to yourself, no shit? There’s really a place called Dogleg Bend, West Virginia? And once you come to grips with this fact, it is likely that you’ll assume that it doesn’t get much farther out than that.

Now you will imagine your new home, out there in that big dark patch, away from everything and everyone, solar and wind-powered, nothing that stands out, a small and simple place, off the grid. And you might think, here. Here it is. The place where you can get away from all the undercooked Beef Wellingtons…the vastly underestimated problem of foot bromhidrosis…the uncomfortable implications of a hostile debriefing.

At this juncture, you will need the services of a local realtor. Search for an independent agent, unaffiliated with any national chains. The time has come for you to put into use those large piles of cash that you have been hiding away for all these years. Hopefully, you remembered those large piles of cash, because they are instrumental in maintaining your anonymity.

 

Anonymity, naturally, is crucial to your whole purpose. You cannot afford to gamble that your whereabouts will become known, for obvious reasons. To this end, you will need to take care of several things.

All cell phones, for instance, can be easily tracked. You will, therefore, have to purchase “burners.” These cheap phones can be fraudulently registered, used temporarily, and thrown away. You will use these for all your communications and it will complicate any attempts to monitor you in this way.

For purchases, especially purchases of land onto which you plan to disappear, it would be extremely helpful to have a false identity. There are plenty of good identity thieves out there. You can find one for a reasonable price at your local college’s freshman dorms. There you will make the acquaintance of a pale, spectacled lad named Nelson Boyd, who will take your picture in front of a blue sheet that he hangs over top of a beer bong dangling from a coat hook and a World of Warcraft poster. He will then provide you with a new social security number, birth certificate, and a Virginia driver’s license.

Beyond the cell phone issue and the process of obtaining a false identity, it must be noted that many current vehicle models are equipped with GPS units which can be tracked anywhere on the planet. Before travelling to your new locale, you will have to trade down to an older model vehicle so that your movements will not be logged.

 

When searching for an independent real estate man in Trevelton, West Virginia, it is likely that you will end up with a realtor named Wilbur Smith, and you might say to yourself, “No shit? Wilbur? Really?” But Wilbur, despite his “down home” manner will turn out to be quite the dynamo and after only a few weeks of phone calls will call to tell you he’s found the perfect property, set in Bergen County but not part of any municipality. You will ask if there is an access road and he will assure you that there is.

“And some level terrain?” you’ll inquire.

“Sure as you’re born,” he’ll say.

“Because I want to build,” you’ll remind him, laying your index finger on the blueprints there on the kitchen table, as if Wilbur could see their self-sustaining beauty through the phone.

“Oh it’s level alright,” he’ll say. “Course you’re gonna have to clear out some.”

“And it’s not near any mountaintop removal sites?” you’ll ask, as you glance again at the horrific picture still on your computer screen, also on your kitchen table.

“Nearest one of those is twenty miles.”

“Because I don’t want any water problems.”

“Well there ain’t no city water out in them parts, so you’re gonna have to to dig, as far as that goes,” Wilbur will say. “But there shouldn’t be any problems with the water there. What do you think? Want to come have a look see?”

“Okay, but my phone number has changed.”

“Again?”

After you’ve given Wilbur your new number, you will want to go out and buy a bottle of wine for a quiet celebration. It is somewhat possible that your new forged driver’s license will be rejected by the young cashier with the tattoos. Should this situation arise, do not attempt to use this identity for purchasing your property. And, regardless of what you might have heard about the quality of his forgery work, do not go to the sketchy Chechnyan at the corner of Wilson and 3rd. He is under surveillance. You should know this. You’re a shoe salesman. Woman. You’re a shoe saleswoman.

 

So, what will probably happen now is that, after many pitfalls and travails on the road, you’ll get to Trevelton and meet Wilbur, who wears a plaid dress shirt and jeans. After some confusion as to your change in name, he’ll drive you out past a Walmart and a Motel 6 to the little town of Dogleg Bend, where he’ll turn his green Jeep Cherokee west onto a secondary road which isn’t much more than a tar-chip surface. You’ll be twisting back and forth on that road for some miles before you turn onto another dirt road, left nameless here, of course, to avoid disclosing your whereabouts.

“Yes sir, this is God’s Country up here,” Wilbur is likely to say and you’ll be hard-pressed to disagree. You’ll look out over those rounded mountains covered with early spring green and feel how you could lose yourself in that ancient bosom. You’ll gaze out on the endless mounds of rising earth and be able to see them, as they were when they were young and jagged. You’ll be so struck with this primeval majesty that when you come to the property in question, all will seem magical, the bluebirds, the raccoon, the trees. Everything will seem so magical that you are likely to overlook what seem to be small problems with your plan.
DO NOT DO THIS.

After pulling as far into the woods as he can in his Jeep, Wilbur will probably say, “Well there’s a bit of an access here anyway. Obviously you’ll have to remove a few more trees. But we can walk from here.”

After a ten-minute walk uphill through the woods, you’ll come to a beautiful flat area that overlooks the mountains to the east. It will look like the perfect place for your dream home, and you will be able to picture the sun rising on your mountain hideaway. A stand of aspens on the other side of the clearing with their bumpy greenish bark will promise afternoon shade and you will notice, in the middle of that flat area, rising up through the new shoots of weeds like the back of a giant turtle submerged in the mud, a mound of rock that stretches some twenty yards from side to side.

“What about that rock?” you’ll ask.

“Oh, a little dynamite should take care of that rock,” he says.

At that instant a deer will run out in front of you, bat its eyelashes, paw at the ground and seem to welcome you to your new home.

Don’t listen to it. It’s a traitorous beast. And it only wants your corn.

 

It is likely by now, after your fifth burner phone, that you will come to the realization that all the calls you have made have been to established, monitorable lines and recognize this for what it is: a threat to your secrecy. The only solution in this case would be to make sure all your phone contacts use burners as well. Wilbur Smith will refuse to do this. So will your mom.

It is also likely that you will already have had to replace the engine in your older model vehicle when it “threw a rod,” and you may find yourself considering the option of returning to a newer model. Again, buying a GPS equipped vehicle would sacrifice your privacy unless you were able to purchase it with a false identity, but seeing as how that identity did not pass the scrutiny of a convenience store clerk with tattoos, this will hardly seem a viable option.

In fact, with the property sale imminent, you will most likely have to resign yourself to Plan B, which would be to use your real identity and cross your fingers that it all flies under the radar. While you’re at it, just go ahead and get a new car… and a smart phone.

 

Hopefully, you will have heeded the earlier warnings. Hopefully, you don’t buy into the deer’s bullshit. But if you do, here is what awaits you next:

You will likely take Wilbur Smith’s advice and enlist the aid of the “Miller Boys,” your heretofore unknown neighbors who live “a couple mile down thataway.” Boys, you will discover, is a relative term. These two middle-aged brothers, who arrive in an International pickup truck so old it still has a choke control, will offer to remove the trees for the access road and the large rock in the middle of your level spot for a couple thousand dollars. Little do you realize at this point that you are paying for a party of beer, chainsaws, and dynamite. While the brothers manage to clear all the trees necessary to get vehicles to the site, they leave the knotted stumps and fallen logs laying off to the side, a game of pick-up sticks awaiting a colossal eight year old.

And as for the rock, well, you get to witness some of that particular debacle yourself before Carl, the oldest of the “boys,” the one with the AC/DC tattoo, says, “You know, I think that rock goes clear down!”

He will pause and rub his stubbly chin before saying, “You might need to get some guys in here who know what they’re doing better’n me.”

A sudden but brief panic will seize you. A professional demolition team. How much will that cost? What red flags will that raise? You are too far in to back out now. But the budget you have is already strained, and going to a bank for a loan is like shooting off a flare for the powers who wish to find you. Much of your plan depends upon getting a speedy start on your house. Now you will have to stay longer in the creepy Motel 6 by the WalMart, which is going to drain you of even more cash.

“You know,” Carl will say, “you got plenty of level space here to bring in a trailer.”

It’s a possibility you haven’t considered and you’ll see it as a way to buy some time.

“’Course we’ll have to take out some more trees to get it in here.” Carl will add.

It is at this moment, this exact moment, that you will look out over your new access “road,” and formulate the following words in your mind: My God, there’s no electricity out here. How much is that going to cost?

All because you listened to that damnable deer.

 

Sometime after the trailer has been moved in, after the electric, but before the plumbing, you will decide to begin moving your things in. Carl Miller will mention that he and his brother will “be out four-wheeling later” and offer to “stop by’ to visit with a couple beers, just as a way of welcoming you to the neighborhood. Understanding that you may need their help again, you will be tempted to say, “Sure!” This is inadvisable.

With the involvement now of the electric company, state government, OnStar, Apple, Microsoft, AT&T, and DirecTV, the grid is now fully aware of your activities and location. It is now doubly important that you tend to appearances. The small details now can save the day, as any good chef should know… as any good woman chef should know…Oh, the hell with it. You’re not a woman…seriously…even if you are.

So, after that first “four-wheeler” party, when ten all-terrain vehicles laden with coolers of alcohol come bursting out of the woods like a swarm of giant buzz-roar bugs, and everyone sits around in front of your trailer drinking, and Carl and some guy named “One-Hand” (no, you don’t know why – he has both hands) get into an all-out brawl, you may feel like you made a mistake letting it happen in the first place.
No, no one expects you to listen to any of the warnings at this point.

 

Ed Brewster, the dowser, will likely complicate things further when he tells you that your trailer is sitting on solid rock and that your well will have to be dug some 200 yards away and pipe laid to the trailer. He assures you the same will be true of your septic system. The Miller boys will volunteer to do these jobs for a reasonable price, pulling you further into their world, entangling you in a personal relationship, the quickest way to undermine your efforts to stay hidden. This will be clearly evident when the second four-wheeler party takes you by surprise, despite your culinary training.

This time Carl will likely bring along two new things, some of his daddy’s “shine” and his little sister, Norma, and twelve muddy people will come barging into your trailer hideaway wanting to see how the plumbing is working out. Not surprisingly, someone will see the documents that you saved to write your tell-all book laying on your kitchen table and start asking you uncomfortable questions about… well… secret recipes and stuff. You will gather up your papers quickly and claim that they are all your own inventions, but everyone will look at you funny for a long time.

That is, until the jar has made a couple rounds of the room, and then everyone will be clapping you on the back again.

Norma, a rather plain, but not unattractive woman of around 30, will be shy and withdrawn at the beginning of the evening, but as the night wears on you will find her snuggled up under your armpit on the couch, looking up at you with big eyes and saying, “Is it true you were a secret agent?” And to your horror, the following morning you will remember telling her all about clandestine missions in Afghanistan, Hong Kong, and the Ukraine.

Okay, so you’re not a chef either. That’s dispensed with too, another fallen soufflé.

Two other memories, equally horrifying, will emerge that morning. You, standing on the bed, showing Norma a new dance move that you call the “Sketchy Chechnyan,” and then something else, something soft, warm, intimate, and delicious. Something stupid. Oh, so stupid.

 

Sometimes you just have to admit you aren’t up to the task.

Some time after that second party you will find yourself at the Wal-Mart outside of Dogleg Bend when you will feel eyes upon you. Turning, you will see a child staring at you who then tugs on his mother’s shirt and says, “It’s the secret agent, Mommy.”

Having admitted utter failure in dropping off the grid, you will now have to bring yourself to face other problems. Like the fact that your entire tenure in the CIA consisted of sitting in a risk assessment office in Virginia, running vast amounts of intercepted international communications through voice and print recognition software and sending the data on to an algorithmic team for analysis.

So no, you aren’t a secret agent either.

But still, it isn’t completely out of the question that someone might need the information you possess, that you could be tracked and extracted, debriefed under the cruelest conditions, and murdered with no one the wiser.

Well, maybe it is…

Or maybe it isn’t, because there will certainly appear to be murder in the eyes of Mr. Franklin Miller the morning he knocks on your trailer door and asks about your intentions with his daughter, Norma. Carl and Bill will be standing behind him, alternately looking earnestly at their father and sternly at you.

Franklin Miller will say, “I don’t care if ye are trained to kill,” and grip his shotgun with white knuckles.

When this happens, aside from the fact that you might feel all of your plans unraveling and that this all might be reminding you of the plot of an Andy Griffith Show somewhere from your distant past, you will likely feel a strong impulse to offer to marry Norma.

 

So there you’ll be now, living in a trailer with a woman named Norma, and asking yourself how it ever came to this. Whatever happened to your secret bungalow, solar-powered, hidden from all the world? Whatever happened to your meditative self-sufficiency? And at times like this you will find yourself ruminating on what prompted you to go into hiding in the first place.

What did you witness while you were there at that non-descript desk in that non-descript brick building in Virginia? Certainly nothing specifically scary. Unbridled stupidity and hubris? Dubious goals and dubious means of attaining them? Perverted priorities? Circumventing the Constitution? Withheld cooperation? Politics? Wasn’t working in this secretive, bungling bureaucracy just enough to drive you paranoid into the night, to a mountain hideaway where you could just cut yourself off from all of it, deny you were ever a part of it, and wait for the bastards to bring it all to ruin?

Can anybody really blame me for that?

Shit.

Sometimes we just have to admit that no matter where we go the Millers will find us.

But, as you will discover, the Millers are alright. Everything will work in your trailer, despite the giant stone turtle burrowed in your front yard. You’ll continue to spin wild yarns about your adventures as a secret agent as you keep every four wheeler party crowd enraptured and yes, every time they will ask to see your old CIA identification badge and they’ll pass it around the room and marvel at it.

Eventually you will confess to Norma, only to find she already knows your secret. Norma will be a marvelous partner, a fine cook as well as lover, and you will be surprised and delighted to discover she is a college graduate. At night she will read you Robert Frost poems and your relationship will grow deeper over time. Your new mother-in-law, Retha will bring you canned vegetables during the winter. Bill will supply you with fresh meats during hunting season. Carl will bring you a puppy.

Even intimidating old moonshiner Franklin will come by and teach you how to put in a garden and you will plant your first rows of corn.

And the deer will have his due.

C. M. Chapman worked for WCLG Radio in Morgantown for 24 years after graduating from WVU. From 2005-2008 he was a regular contributor to Graffiti Magazine with a weekly political opinion column entitled, “Poking the Bear.” He returned to writing fiction in 2012 and a year later was published in the anthology, So it Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut. He has also published a magical realism children’s story and has work forthcoming in Dark Mountain: Vol. 7, published in the UK. He is currently in the middle of his MFA thesis semester at West Virginia Wesleyan College, working on a collection of linked short stories set in the fictional town of Dogleg Bend, WV, called Suicidal Gods. “How to Get Away from the World” is part of that collection.

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