The Vanishing of Michael Wehunt is 78 minutes long, but I wouldn’t call it feature length. It’s rough in composition as well as film quality. It meanders, probably to simulate being lost (and variously panicking) in the woods. It looks unedited, but I suspect it was perhaps meticulously edited. I suspect someone wanted to muddy the waters to hide intent or obscure a message. And honestly, if you speculate that the filmmaker was able to create a complex range of mundane events–me traveling to Maine from my home state of Georgia, me and my partner eating fried oysters at a particular roadside stand, me wandering into Down East Thrift just because it was behind the roadside stand and we weren’t ready to keep driving quite yet, me looking through the stack of VHS movies even though I don’t collect VHS movies–in order to put a film into the very hands of the very person the film was made about…it’s not much of a stretch to suspect the filmmaker can do a lot of things.
I found the remote control and can pause the “found footage” (placed in quotes because, to my mind, something that hasn’t happened can’t be lost and certainly can’t be found), so the screenshots I provide below are a little clearer than they would be otherwise. As corrupted as the tape is, this isn’t saying much.
The second photo features a tree in my back yard. The “strange droning” runs through the first 11 minutes of the movie and is difficult to listen to. Some of it squeals at a frequency too high for me to detect other than a feeling of nausea and a tightening inside my ears. Most of it is an ugly, gurgling drone that seems to be rising out of the soil to catch some light but never makes it. And note how the word PAUSE is corrupted, as though the film pulls it from the screen onto the actual images spooled on the tape. As though the VCR is symbiotic with the VHS.
And it’s even stranger than all of this. Those first two seconds I documented in Part 1, the production screen before the title: “A Pine Arch Research Film.” Those words relieve me and terrify me. Whatever this film is, it was made long before I wrote a short story featuring a group of that name. Pine Arch Research isn’t real. I made them up (and have gone on to mention them in a second story that I’m saving for my next story collection). Since I am Michael Wehunt, I can verify that I have never vanished. There are–other things on this tape that haven’t happened. But if the film was “made” by something I “made,” there could be an explanation, right? Right?
But I keep pulling away–as though I, too, am a camera and can choose my vantage point and my degree of linearity–and writing about this video with a detached voice. I cannot stop shuddering. It has my name in the title. It features items and people from my life. It contains moments I remember, moments like threads stitched into the seams of my experience.
Last night the motion light on the corner of our next-door neighbor’s house clicked on and a shadow rose up outside our bedroom window, pasted onto the rough gray curtain. It was the shape a man might make if he drew his shoulders in and hid his arms. And leaned toward us. I crawled from the bed and pulled the curtain aside to reveal nothing. A breeze, the lightest scatter of rain, but nothing on legs that could rise up and cast itself at our bed. But I fixate on the shadow itself and have begun to watch the video repeatedly, rewinding and pausing, watching the scenery, placing my memories and maybe falling for tricks and inventing a few new ones. Looking for clues that the video tells me should be in my head even though it’s the last place they could be.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll try to transfer it onto my laptop. I’ll be staying out of the woods. More later.