MONTPELIER, VT.–What is he hiding? Former Vermont governor Howard Dean has refused to open a mountain of records from his years in office until 2013, long after his presidential election bid this year, his possible re-bid in 2008, and another in 2012, just in case. When asked why by Vermont Public Radio, Dean, in an uncharacteristically candid moment, admitted, “Well, there are future political considerations. You wouldn’t want anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time in any future endeavor.”
Dean insiders have, however, teasingly hinted that he might open the records just before the general election, when there would be little time to review the thousands of documents. He could then claim openness with little risk that anything juicy would hit the press before the voting started. Opponents object that this tactic would be dishonest, and demand access now, when the information would be useful for voters deciding whom to vote for. Dean still refuses, though, keeping his records hidden in a mysterious archive rumored to be in Montpelier, Vermont’s capital.
It just so happens that I live in Montpelier, and the first inkling of what would follow from opening Dean’s files flickered in my noggin while watching the state’s archivist–the man charged with protecting Dean’s secrets–on television discussing the records. He is a majestic-looking fellow, with white hair and a flowing white beard. Clearly, he is some sort of wizard. Perhaps dark magic was involved. I got an old Ouija board from the attic, anointed it with maple syrup, and, at midnight, burned a copy of that issue of Time magazine that sports a frowning Howard Dean on the cover.
Ten minutes later, I got my response.
It was very cold and windy, and snow was swirling around the house, as it is wont to do in Montpelier in January at 12:10 A.M. When the wind’s wail relented for a moment, I heard a scratching at my window. Two large, waxy eyes gleamed in at me. They belonged to a short creature whose pallid face gave me a sly, insinuating grin worthy of Peter Lorre trying to sell a used hearse. He beckoned to me to let him in, and I did.
The creature entered with a skitter, back bent so low that his fingers, which bore sharp but well-manicured nails, brushed my doormat. On his long, narrow feet were nicely polished shoes, ill-suited to the growing drifts outside. His neatly pressed pants were rather thin for the icy winter air. He wore no coat, just a white businessman’s shirt, rolled up at the sleeves as if he were fastidiously preparing to fling lots of something very unpleasant. At his throat, a red tie waved wildly till my door shielded him from the storm. His chest bore a large blue button that read, “DEAN’S KEEN. HE AIN’T MEAN.”
“You wants to sees the recordses?” he hissed, “The Dean recordses. The sssecret recordses in the boxesss. Yessss?”
I nodded, and inquired as to the name of the diminutive informer, and why he was willing to be my guide.
“Gull’em,” he gurgled, adding, “You will sees the recordses, and the Precioussss will be mine. You will help Gull’em get it.”
It seemed a reasonable arrangement, so I grabbed my parka, tied a scarf around my neck, tugged on my galoshes, and out we went. Gull’em had a car, a German sedan with doctor plates, double-parked in the street. He drove like a madman down the twisting snow-slick streets. We skidded to a stop in front of a massive, windowless, Gothic edifice. Hurricane fences topped by razor wire surrounded it. Gull’em simply grabbed the links and tore them apart. I followed with trepidation. Suddenly, a pack of slavering police dogs surrounded us. Gull’em gave them a spittle-spraying snarl, and they fled without even a yelp. We hurried to the building’s door. It was framed by rows of human skulls and flanked by two roaring torches. Their flames illuminated its surface where, written in blood-red letters, was the warning: “Vermont Archives–ENTER AT YOUR PERIL!”
“Here,” Gull’em implored, handing me a rusty key the size of a badminton racket. “There,” he pointed, nearly begging as he gestured to a keyhole. It was shoulder-high, and I realized why Gull’em needed my help. He wasn’t tall enough to reach it.
The key turned with a clunk, and the door swung open on an eerily still vastness. We grabbed the torches and entered. We passed rows and rows of cobweb-covered file cabinets, deeper and deeper into the building. I couldn’t help but wonder at the arcane mysteries of my home state’s history that were hidden all around me. I paused by a dusty roll-top desk and picked up a yellowed folder marked “State Secret.” Inside was a birth certificate bearing the Peruvian flag. I gasped at the name upon it: “Calvin Coolidge.” It all made horrible sense. “Silent Cal” had been silent to hide a Peruvian accent! My hands raced to other folders. Their labels burned into my brain: “Chunky Monkey on Their Backs–Hiding Crack in Ice Cream,” “Two-Step Process To Convert Tap Water And Maple Leaves Into Maple Syrup,” and “Skiing Creates Cellulite.” The most sinister label of all was on a thick folder covered with the image of a mushroom cloud. It bore just two words: “Cow Bomb.”
“There!” Gull’em squealed with delight.
I turned. Gull’em’s torch revealed a massive pyramid of cardboard file boxes bound in padlocked snow chains. He drove the shaft of his torch into the top of a file cabinet and dove into the boxes, tearing chains and cardboard apart. He was amazingly fast. A letter, cast over Gull’em’s shoulder by his eager hands, whirled by and I plucked it from the air. It was a note of rejection from the “East Hampton Sneerers Society.” It read, “While you have perfected the crooked smirk and the condescending lip curl, and we are impressed by your ability to affect red-faced anger, Mr. Dean, we fear your sneer is too contemptuous for social usage. Please accept our regrets…” I dropped the note to catch a second flung object as it went whizzing past my head–it was an embroidered pillow. Stitched into the fabric was a tall Park Avenue apartment building with a stick-figure doorman saluting as a small boy exited. Underneath was the motto: “REMEMBER, HOWIE. NEVER TREAT THE SERVANTS LIKE SERVANTS, OR THEY’LL SPIT IN YOUR SOUP.–MOTHER”
“The Prrrreciousssssss! My Precious!”
Gull’em stood atop the boxes waving a well-gnawed silver spoon. I stepped nearer, but stopped as my foot crunched down on bone. I had trodden upon a human hand. It belonged to a skeleton, which wore a parka, a scarf, and galoshes. The center of its forehead was punctured by a bullet hole. Suddenly, sirens shrieked to life; there were shouting voices and the sound of running boots.
“It’s time to go,” I yelled.
“No. Gull’em ssstay with hisss Preciousss.” He stuck the spoon in his mouth.
I shrugged and started to leave, but stopped as I heard sudden movements. The spoon was having a strange effect on my guide. His saucer eyes shrunk to close-set beads. The pallor left his flesh, and in its place crept a ruddiness that seemed on the brink of flaming red with anger, and his hair smoothed into a neat, salt-and-pepper cap. His body straightened. His chest puffed up, pigeon-like. He shook his head and blinked.
“What the–,” Howard Dean mumbled around the spoon. He pulled it out and asked himself, “What am I doing here?” He raised the spoon then gasped as he recognized it. “John F’ing Kerry! I gotta hide this!”
As he frantically thrashed, searching for a new hiding place, I left.
–Edward Morrow is the author and illustrator of numerous books, including The Halloween Handbook.