WILL: Hello. You have dialed into "Here And There Along The Echo," a guide to the Echo River for drifters and pilgrims. This guide is a public service provided by the Bureau of Secret Tourism.
For a menu of our resources, press "1." If you have an extension to dial, press "9." For more information about our organization, press "3." If you don't remember dialing this number at all, press "5." To hear these options again, press "|zero|."
For historical sites along the Echo River, press "1." For a guide to the river's flora and fauna, press "2." For help identifying an unfamiliar sound, press "3." If you're holding a snake right now, press "4." To hear these options again, press "|zero|".
Well, if you're dialed into this here informational resource, then you're a certain kind of beach-combing, bat-calling sight-seer. So let's take a driftwood inventory.
For a diver's guide to underwater islands, press "1." For forgotten places, press "2." For restless places, press "3." For what little we know of the Iron Pariah, press "4." For food and drink recommendations, press "5." To return to the main menu, press "6." To hear these options again, press "|zero|."
There is a place always cluttered by debris, floating along the water. Otherwise, it's unremarkable — in fact, the only way to find it is to notice that there happens to be more trash there than anywhere else around. I wonder why that is.
There is a place that regularly floods. I first saw this place years ago when an acquaintance of mine, an artist, built an installation there. The work was very complicated — all of her artwork is. I remember it was made from huge piles of recycled newspapers. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to complete it before the flood came and wiped it out.
The next time I passed by this place, it was full of young men and women on bicycles. They'd built a track weaving through the soggy ruins of my acquaintance's flooded artwork. The rising water level quickly made it too dangerous to ride in anymore, and many bicycles were crashed and abandoned.
The last time I saw the place, it had been repurposed to store handmade pottery earmarked for sale out of state. By the time I arrived, there was just a pile of ceramic fragments dashed by flood waters against rusting bicycles and gray pulp.
I've heard recently that this place has been reclaimed again. Surely, this time, things will be different.
People can't sleep in the wet grass, or on the bridges of New Konigsberg. They can't sleep anywhere near Lake Lethe because it's too large. Nobody can sleep with their toes in the river, because it's too cold.
People can't sleep where I sleep, because I'm all knees and elbows and anyway there isn't enough room for both of us.
I'm not sure if anyone can sleep on the deck of the Mucky Mammoth, but I'm certain they can't sleep on the trash barge, because of the smell.
If you have anything to add, please call us back with extension "7360."
Perhaps it's the violent displacement of natural gases. Perhaps the river tilts to face the moon, slowly changing the angle of its surface over time. Some sailors blame corked rocks!
Whatever the geological explanation, the islands of the Echo River are mostly transient, rising and diving on some inscrutable schedule.
The following islands are presently under water —
Slate Island [if island-0]
The Red Island [if island-1]
The Green Island [if island-2]
The Blue Island [if island-3]
Island Number 8192 [if island-4]
The Uninhabited Island [if island-5]
The Entire "Seven (Plus or Minus Two) Islands" Archipelago [if island-6]
New Konigsberg [if island-7]
Skeleton Keys [if island-8]
Fancy Island [if island-9]
Tearless Rock [if island-10]
Part-time Island [if island-11]
Murphy's Weather Station Rock [if island-12]
Whippoorwill Islet [if island-13]
Rock of Magnets [if island-14]
Island of Trivia [if island-15]
Island of 60 KHz [if island-16]
Island of 350 and 440Hz [if island-17]
Island of Interfering Tones [if island-18]
Island of Eusapia [if island-19]
Despina Dockyards [if island-20]
Baucis Keys [if island-21]
Fish-Jaw Coral [if island-22]
Angled Island [if island-23]
Islet of Distraction [if island-24]
Endless Island [if island-25]
Soggy Island [if island-26]
Jerry's Island [if island-27]
Ted's Island [if island-28]
Nelson's Island [if island-29]
Serious Island [if island-30]
Island of Ringing [if island-31]
Undocumented Island [if island-32]
Overdraft Island [if island-33]
Islet of Overemphasis [if island-34]
Island of Heartsickness [if island-35]
Dog Shit Island [if island-36]
The Beasley Keys [if island-37]
Hermit Thrush Island [if island-38]
The Missing Island [if island-39]
Island of Cones [if island-40]
The Undefinable Island [if island-41]
Béton Island [if island-42]
Bear Island [if island-43]
Implied Island [if island-44]
Rock of Boredom [if island-45]
Loose-Tooth Rock [if island-46]
Water Tree Keys [if island-47]
Chorus Keys [if island-48]
The Doubtful Island [if island-49]
Island of Negative Space [if island-50]
This list is current as of now.
For secret tourism, forgotten places are the vital spark. Take no pictures here nor souvenirs. Write no travelogues. We will discuss these places now in vague and qualified descriptions.
There is a town which has its own roads but which no other roads connect to. They send and receive mail. There is a school. And so on. But what I want to tell you about now is the horses.
There are horses living wild in this town. I forget how they got there. They don't stay in stalls, they sleep outside. They walk through the town, on the streets or on the sidewalks, and the people of the town think of them as elegant, wordless neighbors.
There is a silo so tall and strange that it can take years for an echoing word to bounce from bottom to top and then bottom again. If you wait patiently, you may overhear the conversations of earlier visitors. I once had an argument there with a dear friend, but I forget what it was about and we haven't spoken since. Maybe I'll go find out some day.
I suppose it must have been an important event, if we felt we needed to commemorate it. The monument looks like it was a lot of work to put together.
I wonder if it was a happy occasion, something we were celebrating and didn't want to let go of — or if instead it was something so horrible that we never wanted to forget it, for fear that we'd accidentally do it again.
There isn't a plaque or anything — I guess we didn't think we'd need one?
"The Iron Pariah" is just what she's called along the Echo River. Of course she once had another name, but it's been scratched away — maybe out of shame? Or maybe she took a bend too sharply and left her true name on a rock.
So, what else ... we know she was in the war, but neither side would claim her.
We don't know if anyone's aboard. She drifts along the water, and commands a wide berth. Tourists, if you hope to document the Iron Pariah, I fear you will be disappointed — she has a beguiling way of vanishing from photographs. Steer to shore and let her be carried along in silence.
Pilgrims, I wouldn't dare to interfere.
If you plan your journey along the Echo to be a slow and thoughtful one, you will surely want to eat. It's true, and even advance preparation can still fail you. Maybe the food you've packed will fall in the water and be spoiled? Or it could be stolen by a bat?
Well, the water sustains all travelers. Catch it yourself in the river, or have something prepared for you at, uh ... it's this place out on the lake ... um ...
The restaurant is called ... well, it's out on Lake Lethe. It has to be out there, where the water is deepest. If you go early in the morning, you might see the diver bring in his nightly haul. Weird creatures from weird depths. Fish, crabs, jellies ... things we don't have proper names for at this elevation ...
"Sam and Ida's!" That's the name of it! Sam dives, Ida cooks. Unique fare and uncommon conversation, to say nothing of the decor ... if you do stop by, tell them I said "hello," and that they're always in my thoughts and prayers.
The water is fine, but more adventurous tourists will surely be looking for stronger stuff! Move quickly along past any strangers with cheap bourbon flasks. You can get that Hard Times rotgut anywhere.
If you're traveling by boat, you'll want the traditional seafarer's liquor. As it happens, there's a watering hole called "The Rum Colony" wholly devoted to the stuff. You know, mixed with sugar and bright colors.
I've heard it's excellent, but I never drink the stuff — I take my spirits clear.
The Echo River is best known for its plentiful waters — not their volume, but their diversity. There's surface water, deep water, big water and small water. Water that moves quickly. Slower water. Water in a cup. There's the water you know about, the water you don't know about, and the water you only assume exists due to indirect evidence like a rumbling sound behind the rock. Cool water, but also warm, and even warmer. Water that gets things clean. Water that only makes things dirtier. Waters both soft and hard. Water in living bodies.
If you come across any other kind of water, be very careful. Call us back and dial extension "0464," just to be safe.
Many find learning the language of bats to be intimidating, but it's really pretty straightforward. The most difficult part is getting your ultrasonic pronunciation right. See, bats have enormous, complex ears. For us, it's more of a struggle.
Here, let's try some useful phrases. Repeat after me, so you can practice your pronunciation.
Here's how you say, "I don't know where I am" —
OK. Here's how you could ask, "Haven't we met before?" —
Great. And here's how you say, "Sorry, I must have left it in the boat." —
Now, a very useful phrase, "It's a shame we didn't record that" —
Every conversation has to end, so here's how to say, "I will write that down in case I forget it later" —
If you stop your boat somewhere cool, you may find yourself swarmed by insects. You may swat at them or cover your face, thinking they're all trying to bite you or buzz in your ear.
But these insects are more interested in each other than they are in you. In fact, they've already forgotten you. They're back to chasing each other, breeding, competing over resources. Their minds are so shallow, that while you've been standing there with your hands raised to your face, they've begun to think of you as part of the landscape. A funny looking rock.
This is what they sound like —
For a catalog of subterranean birdsong, press "1." For help identifying something that's happening in the dark, press "2." If you are hearing organ music, press "3." To return to the main menu, press "5." To hear these options again, press "0."
Now I'll play you several recordings of Echo River birdsong. When you hear a song you want to know more about, just press "1." At any time, you can press "5" to stop.
That's a "Mourning Hummingbird," so named because they bury their dead.
I believe that's a "Painted Avocet." If you catch him, you can make a nice pigment from his feathers.
Ah, the "Peat-breathed Riverbill." Keep an eye on that one — they make their nests out of stolen jewelry.
The wet, rocky contours of the Echo River make for sometimes baffling reverberations that turn mundane sounds into weird rattling symphonies. It can be a challenge to pick through the clamor and recognize even something as simple as water dropping in a metal bucket, especially in the dark!
Here are some examples.
When you hear a sound you want to know more about, just press "1." At any time, you can press "5" to stop.
So. You're probably not in any danger, but why are you holding that snake?
If you're involved in an exchange of some kind, press "1." If holding the snake is part of your spiritual practice, press "2." If you don't remember why you're holding the snake, press "3." To return to the main menu, press "|zero|."
Take another look at your snake. Not a bad snake, is it? Yeah, it's really nice. You got a good one. Can you bear to see it go? What's the other party bringing to this here swap?
Press "1" if you still plan to go through with the trade. Press "2" if you're having second thoughts.
Listen, I'm not here to kid-glove your relationship with the eternal, but how do you think that snake feels right now? I mean is that snake in church, or just you?
OK. What's the last thing you remember? Please describe your memory in as much detail as you are able, paying particular attention to any smells and sounds you may recall. Were you breathing through your mouth, or your nose? What did the air taste like? And so on.
Feel free to call again with extension "1618," and tell us the whole story.
Alright, let's roll up our sleeves and get to work on this here snake situation. What you're going for is a kind of gestural conversation. Don't worry, I'll lead you two through it.
Give that snake a name, and look her right in the eyes, and say her name. I'm gonna go with "Delia" for the purpose of demonstration, but you pick a suitable name.
Try to follow along with me here, to the best of your ability.
"Delia ... take it easy, now. What if all of this is just a reflection of a reflection?"
Now hold the silence while she processes that metaphysical curveball ...
OK, what's Delia up to now?
Good, you've got her attention. Now, leading with your shoulder, slowly tilt your body to the left, always maintaining eye contact. Adjust your feet as necessary. You want to do a full rotation over several seconds. It's normal to feel a bit self-conscious. Try not to get tangled up in the phone cord — or next time plan ahead and use a cordless!
OK. Slowly, slowly. Lean in like you're going to kiss her. You've really got to make an impression here, I mean it is crucial. Maintain eye contact to the best of your ability. When your face is just an inch from Delia's, let out a slow, gentle sigh. Let your breath warm up that frosty snake blood, you know? Gently.
Well, your snake may be asleep. It happens. You've got to wake her up gently now. Whisper her something pleasant. Tell her why she wants to wake up. I mean really convince her.
I'll wait ...
OK. Gently raise your arm above your head. Delia should just slide on down and come to rest on your shoulder ...
OK. I want you to tense your arm muscles, and then relax them. One by one. Take slow, shallow breaths. Tense. Relax. Tense. Relax. Try to focus all your thoughts on that blood coursing through your arm veins.
Forget Delia is even there. Just you and your blood ...
You just point your tongue right back at her. If hers moves left, yours moves right, and so on. Maintain eye contact so she knows you're not making fun of her.
There you go. Delia should be in a kind of a calm, thoughtful state now, so you can move on.
So put that snake in some grass or something. Let Delia be free like a snake should. Go ahead and wash your hands, if you care to. I would.
The Bureau of Secret Tourism is supported by a generous population of river creatures whom I fix up and grill as necessary. I am environmentally-minded, and I believe all creatures are equally deserving of support in their transition to the next world, so I usually try to sing a little elegy, like ...
"Small-water creature, crab or frog now you know that sleep is all around us like a muggy, tranquil fog."
Something like that ... it's easier to come up with these songs when I'm hungry, in sort of a transcendental fasting state, but I've actually just had breakfast.
A debt of gratitude is also owed to the Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces, who unselfishly and unknowingly donates this here telephone line for the purpose of this here informational resource.
You can always find the latest secret tourism literature in any of our unmarked kiosks, or any other old place it happens to lay.
That's all I have to say about that.
Hey, do me a favor. When you get a chance, call us back at extension "1928."
You can press "|zero|" now to go back to the main menu.
So you don't remember dialing this number? You just sort of woke up with the phone pressed to your ear, ringing on the other end? Or maybe you thought you'd dialed a different number, but your digits betrayed you. Or there's a faulty connection somewhere out there in that spiderweb lattice of phone cords that covers all of creation.
Must be kind of a nice feeling, really. It's like you and I just bumped into each other in the street or a little cafe.
Say. Next time you meet a stranger, call us back at extension "7864" and hand them the phone. We'd love to get to know them.
Hello, stranger. What's the first thing you remember? When you're finished remembering, press the "|zero|" button.
Alright then, tell us why you can't sleep. When you're finished, press the "|zero|" button.
I just want to listen to the wind blow. Or, even better, television static. Can you tune your TV to a dead station and let the static play into the phone? When you're finished, press the "|zero|" button. Thanks.
Found some weird water, huh? Alright, we'd better catalog it. Hold the phone up to it for a bit and we'll record it for later analysis. Press "|zero|" when you're done.
Something else shook loose? Well how vivid is it? I mean can you really smell it, are you sweating it out now? Are your hands all damp and when you brush your hair out of your eyes it just tastes like, uh ... listen.
If your hands are damp, press "1." If your feet are damp in your socks, press "2." If you don't feel particularly damp anywhere, press "3."
I had a feeling they might be. That's good, that's where it'll soak in and take a resting shape.
Oh, everyone has a damp spot somewhere in their body or mind, it's what lets us sort of squish a little when we try to remember something; muddy the details. Right? Even if it's just that wet blood sloshing around in there. Your soggy heart, right?
Let's hear all about it. When you're finished explaining yourself, press the "|zero|" button.
Operator services are currently suspended, pending automation. The Echo River Central Exchange is being phased out, and replaced with the new Consolidated Auxiliary Switch Number 30.
This is a recording. You may hang up at any time, or stay on the line for more information.
Service surcharges formerly negotiated by Loretta will now be reflected on your electric bill.
If you are having difficulty remembering the number you wish to dial, check your pockets for a scrap of paper. You may have written it down.
The long distance fee structure has been reconfigured as of September. When referring to the August fee matrix, please make the following adjustments. Zone seven is now combined with zone three. There is no longer a zone six. All entries in column A should be erased. To ensure column A is fully erased, tear it off the page. Column C should be reversed vertically, which makes rows three through seven redundant. Rows three through seven may also be torn off. Please fold the paper so that you are not distracted by the holes.
Due to increased flooding, all telephone calls to numbers beginning with a two or lower are now being routed to higher ground. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Time and temperature services on this exchange have been paused, due to rusted gears which have stopped the central clock at five-seventeen PM. Services will resume at five-eighteen PM.
If your telephone is too loud, try holding it away from your ear.
Due to long distance zone drift, outgoing calls made from Lake Lethe are now billed at twice the rate of incoming calls. Please remember this detail when making calls to and from this location, to avoid unpleasant surprises.
It is easy to check your telephone for crickets. First, tap gently a few times on the switchhook. Then simply place the receiver to your ear, and listen carefully for a response. If you do not hear a chirp, you do not have crickets.
It is forbidden to power any unapproved electronic devices from your telephone line. This includes electronic artworks. To reiterate: there is NO exception to this rule for art.
_ The time allotted for you to dial has been exceeded. Please hang up and dial again. This is a recording.
bob: So ... where to?
ben: I am starving.
bob: I had all that jerky on the way down.
emily: Seafood sound OK?[if heard-about-restaurant]
emily: Or maybe a drink ...[if heard-about-rum-colony]
emily: There's supposed to be a sort of flooding cave nearby.[if heard-about-flooding-place]
bob: Where's the sea?
ben: Oh it's probably flown in frozen. It always is.
ben: I mean it's fresh at the coasts when they freeze it, so it's still like it's fresh when they bring it over here.
bob: Time slows down as you head inland.
ben: Right. Same thing for shrimp.
ben: Yeah, but somewhere nice, you know? With a chessboard and a fireplace.
bob: And air-conditioning.
bob: I could get into that.
ben: We can grab some coffee at a gas station on the way. Think they charge admission?
bob: I'll spot you. It's probably free, though.
ben: You're an angel.
ben: I know. I just want to sit somewhere and draw or something.
ben: I know. I just want to sit somewhere and draw or something.
bob: Yeah, work on some whittling. Turn some boards into scrap wood.
emily: Yeah, it's late. Somewhere we can rest.[if heard-about-sleepless-places]
emily: I heard there's this one place with a lot of garbage. Could be pretty cool.[if heard-about-cluttered-place]
emily: They mentioned a weird silo.[if heard-about-silo]
ben: Yeah, we could just drive until we find somewhere that looks ... restful.
bob: That sounds `exhausting`.
ben: How weird are we talking?
bob: I think I've heard about this. It's huge. Like "what did they ever store in this thing" huge, you know?
ben: Worth a look.
bob: Sounds about right.
emily: We should lose the map and just navigate by C.B. chatter.
bob: Uh ...
bob: Let's hit some yard sales, or that place with all the junk.
emily: Works for me.
bob: Anywhere I can close my eyes for a minute.
emily: Works for me.