Ken Weaver received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland - College Park and his M.S. in physics from Cornell University. He has taught creative writing both at Maryland and in a remote Miskito village in Nicaragua. His work has recently appeared in Juked, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Twelve Stories. He also writes regularly about craft beer culture, and his first book, The Northern California Craft Beer Guide, will be published by Cameron + Company in May 2012. For more on him and his work, see his website.

We’ve published two more stories by Weaver: “Laguna de Vuelo” and “Wood Liquor.”

The Escape Artist

posted Nov 1, 2011

The note his wife had given us included directions to a clapboard shack hiding beneath the limbs of an evergreen. A rusted-out Datsun, its hood covered by a towel and an arrangement of unmatched tools, stood watch in Vincent’s dirt driveway. “To this end?” I thought. Beside the eastern wall of the structure was a covered woodpile and pair of sawhorses, their hinges rusted beyond usefulness. No house number. No mailbox. One distinguishing feature of the property was two small headstones further up the driveway, whose etchings matched the names of two German Shepherds I was also supposed to look for. Behind them was the only other notable flourish: a bristlecone pine, its gnarled roots extending out like a cape.

When I reported things to her later, one thing that I emphasized was the calmness of the scene: the wind audibly passing through dry foliage, the gurgle and push of small streams hidden just beyond view. The footsteps of the men I’d brought with me fell like those of the softest giants, and even the slam of the screen door closing behind Vincent seemed lessened. It had been years, and I struggled to recognize the man I’d once known well underneath that outcropping of hair and the shade of his wide-brimmed sun hat. I knew, as I was explaining things to her later, that embellishing the serene nature of the place was mostly for myself.

“Who are these guys?” asked Vincent, smoothing stray hairs from his eyes.

“They’re here to help,” I told him.

We had been roommates in college. Vincent enrolled in a general studies program to please his parents, and while he’d never quite succeeded in doing the latter, he at least knew that a steady stream of income from them would allow him to further his “art.” Some nights, when I should have been asleep, I would hear the sad sounds coming from his room. I urged him to be more pragmatic, to consider the financial realities of even normal artistic pursuits. “Shut up and tighten this,” he’d reply. “If I’m not out in three minutes, hit this button.” I’d said nothing at the time, and have said nothing since—how can one properly help when one doesn’t even know the origins of a private sorrow—and moved out the next year. Despite all tendencies towards the contrary, I was soon able to follow him in the papers: the spectacles, the daring feats, even the opinion pieces that postulated (quite astutely, let’s be fair) that his endearing stage presence stemmed from his ability to interpret physical constraints as mental ones. Then the attention subsided, as it often does. When his wife approached me so many years later, note in hand and requesting perhaps the largest favor that has ever been asked of me, I could only imagine it was because of that shared history and the distance involved.

“It’s been too long,” I told him. Vincent stood silent as the other men approached. He held his arms calmly at his sides as they bound them with thick rope, clasped his wrists in reinforced handcuffs, wrapped his torso in a thick, coarse-textured fabric. While I looked for some sort of emotive expression through the whole thing, there was none to be found. “You remember when we made that dunking tank?” I asked him, as they led him to the car. I tried to recall better moments—his buried-alive trick, the prison cell we’d made out of milk crates, even the time I’d suggested myself as his assistant—before Vincent quietly asked me to stop.