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copyright 1999, Lois June Wickstrom

Unenlightened Flesh


by Lois June Wickstrom
as published in Tales of the Unanticipated


"They was siven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County, but you, yah voracious, man-eatin' son of a bitch, yah eat five of thim and I therefore order you hung by the neck till you are dead." Judge M. B. Gerry, April 13, 1883, Lake City, Colorado.
Alferd Packer was a slim bearded young shoemaker. By the time he was 22, he'd been kicked out of the military for poor health, out of bars for poor behavior, and out of prostitutes' beds for reasons he never reported. He was the kind of man that history books call a survivor. But by his own standards he wasn't ever rich enough or fat enough to be truly happy. And most of all, he craved an angel.
He was competent at mending shoes, and capable at tracking and hunting. If anybody could stay alive in the Colorado mountains in winter, it was Alferd Packer. You could count on him to shoot a big horn sheep, trap a rabbit, or find rosehips on a frozen bush to tide him through. And on occasion, he found gold.
Packer had only one secret. He was a mystic, a spiritual seeker. Enlightenment was the only worthy goal for a superior man like himself. He'd heard a lecture once -- not at a bar -- but downtown in the lecture hall -- so he knew it was legit. The lecture was called ``Unlimited Power,'' delivered by a popular mystic of the day -- Rosy something or other. And later, he'd heard another on ``Animal Magnetism.''
Packer felt both speakers knew his inmost soul and craving. ``You always feel like you have less than you should. No one recognizes your true worth. You are never truly happy.'' Packer found himself nodding his head in agreement. He knew the world thought he was scum and did not see his true self. ``The judgment of the world is not the same as the judgment of God. Be not deceived,'' said Rosy.
The speakers promised that initiates could have whatever they wanted -- conversations with dead relatives, wealth, power, women, knowledge of the future -- all the joys the human heart could desire. They could summon wisdom from beyond to answer any question. And no one could harm them. This they called enlightenment. They spoke of a light that came from heaven. And once it entered the initiate, it glowed for all to see and envy.
And he listened to Mormons who spoke of the angel Moroni who visited Joseph Smith and presented him with twelve golden tablets.
From that day forward, Packer sought enlightenment, and an angel of his own. Wasn't he a truly superior man?
From his youth, Packer spent his evenings staring into space sure that Truth would come to him from the stars. In early 1873, when Packer heard rumors of angels, or beings made of light, in them thar hills, he knew his time had come. If any man were due enlightenment in this lifetime, he was sure it was he.
Dazed travellers told of winged beings, glowing with fearsome light, who beamed down from the heavens into the bodies of men. These men found gold in heretofore unheard of quantities. Women flocked to them. They predicted the future unerringly. Packer could taste their joy. And being the superior man that he was, he knew his future was even rosier than theirs. All he needed was a prospecting party to hire him and he'd be off to the mountains.
Packer promised to protect his customers from everything in the mountains -- wild animals, cold, and avenging angels if necessary. And if anybody could find gold, it was Packer. (Some folks said he found it in the pockets of drunken gentlemen, but that's another story.)
On November 8, 1873, twenty-one prospectors from Bingham Canyon, Utah, hired Alferd Packer to guide them in Indian territory. Packer knew winter was no time to go gold-hunting. But any time was the right time for an angel.
(Five of these prospectors were the ill-fated Democrats from Hinsdale County.) Packer got along well with Indians. He bundled up men and provisions and set off on rafts down the Colorado River. On January 21, 1874, Packer led them to the camp of Chief Ouray. The heavy snows came, and Packer convinced Ouray to give them refuge in his sheepskin tents until thaw.
On February 9, 1874, contrary to the advice of Chief Ouray, the five Democrats from Hinsdale County caught gold fever and promised Packer a bonus to take them out in the snow. Packer, never one to turn down a bonus -- even for a mission he knew to be fruitless, loaded the five suckers up with seven-days food and headed out.
They traipsed through crackling white snow and across gurgling rivers thinly covered by ice. When they reached the timbered valley where Packer intended they camp for the night, the men were crying from exhaustion, cold and blisters on their feet.
As soon as their tents were pitched, the Dimmycrats got out their mining pans, chipped holes in the ice over the stream in the center of the valley, and set to work. The red-headed Dimmycrat named Bell kept looking up at the sky instead of down into his pan, like the others.
Packer tapped him on the shoulder and said, ``You've got to blink or you'll go snow blind.''
The Dimmycrat barely whispered, "An angel approaches. It's come for us!"
Goosebumps rose on Packer's arms. This was what he had waited for all his life. ``Protect us!'' demanded the Dimmycrat. ``I have sinned and not ready to face God!''
Knowing it would sooth the Dimmycrat, but mean nothing to the angel, Packer took his gun and climbed the mountain. He wanted to be the one the angel saw. The one to whome the angel gave enlightenment. And if the glow turned out to be from a crazed miner's pan, the gun would protect him. It always had.
When he reached the top of the ridge, all Packer found was a rose bush bent over in the snow, with sweet frozen hips ready to eat. He picked several handfuls for the men. Carefully, he scanned the glaring white sky. Where had the angel gone? How could it go without giving him his gift -- the enlightenment he so richly deserved?
Then he looked down in the valley, back at the camp. There was Bell with gold glinting in his pan. The other dimmycrats still had their pans and hands immersed in the icy stream. Then he saw it. The tiny lit torpedo was headed straight for the red-headed dimmycrat. He'd never heard of an angel that looked like a torpedo. Big or small, Packer figured this was the only angel he was ever going to get. How could it choose Bell? That enlightenment was meant for me! Packer aimed his gun. The fool dimmycrat dropped his gold-laden pan through the hole he'd cut into the ice-covered stream. The light being entered Bell's body. ``No, you fool!'' Packer shouted to the light being. ``You're mine!''
Packer ran toward Bell, sliding angrily down the mountainside. Before he reached the happy dimmycrat, he realized he couldn't just say, ``give me that angel -- it's mine!" He decided to try cajolery -- it often worked better than anger. ``Gold glitter got your eye?'' he ventured. ``I could see sparkling in your pan from way up there!'' Bell just hummed. He'd lost all interest in the hunt for gold.
Instead of answering, Bell serenely seated himself in the snow beside the ice-covered river. The sun glinted, even glowed, in his red hair. And as he sat, the snow melted around him and green herbs grew up beside him. Bell chanted, "God is love. There is no sin." over and over. His voice sounded sweetly angelic, but he was uttering nonsense. The man can't even do enlightenment right, Packer muttered to himself. Bell smiled.
In describing this scene, Judge Gerry wrote, "In 1874 you, in company with five companions, passed through this beautiful mountain valley where stands the town of Lake City. At that time the hand of man had not marred the beauties of nature. The picture was fresh from the hand of the Great Artist who created it. You and your companions camped at the base of a grand old mountain, in sight of the place you now stand, on the banks of a stream as pure and beautiful as ever traced by the finger of God upon the bosom of Earth. Your very surrounding was calculated to impress upon your heart and nature the omnipotence of Deity and the helplessness of your own feeble life. In this goodly favored spot you conceived your murderous designs."
It was true. It was in that wooded wonderland, that Packer decided he would have to put Bell out of his misery. Bell clearly wasn't ready for enlightenment. Bell was a danger to himself and the other dimmycrats. Enlightenment had made him crazy -- sitting in the snow, singing that stupid song over and over. Packer had promised to protect these men. He had an obligation to rescue Bell. And obtain the enlightenment for himself.
Still clutching his gun, Packer approached Bell and spoke to the angel. ``Come on out,'' he said. ``I know you came for me. Now, leave this man alone.'' No response, except Bell's continued chanting, ``Love is all there is.''
Packer grabbed Bell and shook him by the shoulders. ``Let go of it, man! That angel's mine!'' Bell's body rose a bit and reached for his axe. That was his mistake. For a moment, Packer watched Bell -- he seemed to be arguing with himself. Bell shouted, ``I must defend!'' Packer grabbed the axe from Bell who was too dazed to hold it tightly. ``Give it up, man!" he shouted again. Bell did not move. Packer clubbed him in the head with the blunt end of the blade.
Bell's body slumped and bled a little. He mumbled, ``Take care of my sister.'' Then his body went limp. Packer watched the body closely, hoping to see the light being emerge. All he saw was a bit of fog from Bell's last breath. Had Packer killed for nothing? The other dimmycrats watched this murder like spectators at a rodeo. When Bell started chanting, they had known that Bell'd gone crazy. Now they thought Packer was crazy, too, and they rose as one to subdue him.
The judge would later say, "Be not deceived. God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. You, Alfred Packer (the judge couldn't pronounce his name correctly) sowed the wind; you must now reap the whirlwind."
As if presaging the judge's words, a whirlwind did indeed roar down the valley, scattering asunder the attack of Packer's remaining campmates who lunged for his gun, giving Packer time to swing with Bell's axe. Packer saw the angel flit from one dimmycrat to another. As soon as it lighted, Packer swung his axe. Again the angel chose another dimmycrat. Again Packer swung. Soon all the dimmycrats lay dead or dying in the snow. Packer remained alone, waiting for the light-being.
When he ran out of patience, about half-an-hour later, Packer dragged the last body in which he'd seen the angel to the fire and determined to roast the light-being out. He stripped the man's clothing off before tossing him on the fire, and found $50 in his pockets. While the man cooked, Packer ransacked the other campmates' pockets and found another $20. The cooking dimmycrat's body exuded a sweet smell like pork.
Afterward, Packer picked at the flesh between his teeth and wondered if he'd killed the light being when his axe sundered the final body.. A sparkling in the air reminded him of women's jewelry. "God ain't nothing but a God-damned woman!" he proclaimed, and shot his gun toward the sparkle.
He felt a warming within his heart. He looked down at his chest. The lit-up torpedo was halfway inside him. He tried to push it away, but his arms wouldn't move. The thing was disappearing inside his body, like sex. It even felt like sex. He'd always thought sex ought to be more central to the torso, rather than down by his legs. Something inside him wriggled. He felt like he was being explored from the inside out, and knew he had no secrets. At first he was afraid the angel would leave -- that he would be found unworthy after all.
At last the warmth settled behind his belly button. A deep voice from within him addressed him by name, ``Alferd.'' Part of his mind said, Now I'm hearing voices. A stronger part said, You've known this voice all your life ... and beyond. Was this how women felt? Totally invaded and taken over? The angel said, "You must give up attack."
"Your advice is a little late," said Packer. "I already done killed everybody here."
"There will be more later," said the angel. "They will threaten you. But so long as you do not attack, or defend yourself, I will protect you."
"This isn't how it's supposed to be," said Packer. "I wanted enlightenment. I wanted to know the future, and know everything about everyone and every where. I wanted to be rich and powerful. And all you are is another boss telling me what to do. Where are the gifts of enlightenment?"
"All in good time," said the angel. "First you must learn to trust me. I know where your happiness lies.''
``You don't know the first thing about enlightenment,'' said Packer. ``Didn't you hear the stuff at the lecture hall? You're supposed to get me back home safely, and then make me the wealthiest man around.''
``Look,'' said the angel, ``I can't let you go home until you learn to live without harm.''
``And then you'll make me rich and powerful?'' asked Packer.
``Perhaps later,'' said the angel. ``Right now, we've got to get you out of this alive.''
``What's in it for you?'' demanded Packer. ``Even an angel doesn't work for nothing.''
``I get what I need,'' said the angel. ``My goals are not your goals.''
``Why should I trust you?'' Packer asked. ``You don't need gold or women. Why would you get them for me?''
``I need your cooperation,'' said the angel. ``We are incomplete without each other.''
``I was just fine before you came,'' said Packer. ``You're not what an angel is supposed to be at all.''
``You felt incomplete -- and you were a seeker. Now you have found what you sought.''
That afternoon, the angel led Packer to the biggest gold deposit he'd ever seen. All well-formed nuggets, easy to carry in his sacks. ``That's more like it,'' said Packer.
The snow kept his companions from rotting. Packer was hungry. As long as they were dead, he saw no reason not to eat them and thus keep himself alive.
A big-horn sheep came down the mountainside. Packer raised his gun and aimed. The angel said, ``Don't pull the trigger.'' Packer loosed his hand. Something in the voice commanded his attention. Packer wished he could turn the gun on that meddling, interfering angel. This enlightenment business wasn't fun and freedom like the lecturers had promised. Okay he'd found some gold -- but he knew men who had more. And this angel was always bossing him.
``Why won't you let me kill the sheep?'' he asked the angel.
``You have enough food to last until thaw. And I can only help you return to civilization if you give up attack. Only then can I promise that you will not be attacked,'' said the angel. ``You have just killed five men. Normally, you'd be hung for that.''
``But you don't mind about the five men. You are protecting the sheep?'' Packer was incredulous.
The angel ignored him.
``So if I don't kill the sheep, you'll protect my life?'' Packer persisted. Immortality was a rare gift of enlightenment -- offered only to the truly worthy.
``If you do not attack, you will not be attacked,'' promised the angel.
Packer, hearing this as a promise of immortality, put down his gun and ate heartily of the flesh from his Dimmycrat companions. Even his spiritually enlightened angel sanctioned it.
After a fortnight of feasting on dimmycrats, the snow formed a crust and Packer was able to climb to the top of the nearest mountain ridge. The fir trees in the valleys of the Colorado mountains make it easy to tell north from south. The dark skinny pines grow on the valley's north slopes and the light green airy ones grow on the south slopes, so Packer would have had no trouble returning to Ouray's camp. But, he knew Ouray had spiritual enlightenment of his own and might not welcome him without his five dimmycrat companions.
Two months later, on April 16, 1874 when Packer arrived at the Los Pinos Indian Agency, near Sagache, he was fat and rich, but not nearly as much as he wanted to be. He was reluctant to talk about the angel that wriggled and squiggled and tickled inside him. He said his companions killed each other. He said they had an accident. He said they froze to death. He admitted he ate them, but that wasn't an uncommon practice in the mountains. And despite their disgust, everybody felt sorry for the survivors of the Donner party, who had eaten their companions. How else was he supposed to stay alive for 60 days in the frozen valleys of Colorado?
Packer had read many sob-sister stories about poor wretches who subsisted through treacherous winters on the paltry flesh of their unfortunate companions. It was Sunday fare, and like everybody else, he gobbled it up, never suspecting that one day these stories would be written about him. The mystical speaker had said, ``The judgment of the world is not the same as the judgment of God. Be not deceived.''
Okay, the heroes of these tales usually had the decency to look skinny for their photos, but then they didn't have a angel promising them immortality. And besides, he knew it was a matter of personal taste, but he found human flesh, nicely roasted, quite delicious. And he knew he'd never have an opportunity to gorge on it again, so he'd indulged himself. What virtue was there in starving himself to death with all that food just waiting to be eaten? If he didn't eat it, the wild animals would. Packer didn't understand why the officials made such a big deal of it. And, to his satisfaction, neither did the angel.
The officials at the Indian Agency took down his report of confessed cannibalism and let him go. So far the angel was keeping his promise and protecting him. Then in August, somebody found bones from the five bodies, obviously marked by a hatchet blade. Packer tried to explain that he'd used the hatchet to cut the meat from the bones. But the agency officials said it was murder. They put Packer in a barred cell.
A wizened old prospecting buddy came by to visit, and offered Packer a knife to get the key from the guard. The angel had a better idea. The buddy could use the knife blade as a duplicate key and free Packer himself. The buddy came back at night and Packer escaped, with the angel. The angel even provided light for their lock-picking efforts. For years afterwards, townfolks rumored about the eerie light they'd seen in the jail house the night of the great jail-break.
For the next eight years, Packer made his living as a peaceable shoemaker near Fort Fetterman, Wyoming. Women flocked to him and fought over his bed. Packer kept hoping one of them would be Bell's sister. He was willing to share his good fortune with her -- even marry her if the angel decreed. That was what he needed to be truly famous -- to marry the sister of a man he had eaten. Other famous men like Black Bart had wives.
He asked the angel. The angel said nothing about a wife, but helped him gain a reputation at the gambling tables, making him richer than ever. People who met this gentle man could not believe the murderous charges against him. This was a man who didn't even brawl in bars -- how could those vicious stories be true? The tales of cannibalism only added to his mystique, and drew even more women to his bed.
One morning when Packer was especially bitter about his lack of fame and adoration, he went to the local bar to get drunk. The angel had done something to his system -- he could no longer stand the smell of alcohol. What's freedom if I can't get drunk? he asked the angel. "It's freedom," answered the angel. "Would you rather I leave?"
"What's freedom, if you are my jailer?" asked Packer.
"A clear mind is freedom," said the angel. "A clear mind lets you see the truth, and truth is the only freedom."
"What truth is that?" asked Packer. "We both know I killed and ate those men."
``The truth is that your blade did not touch their souls.''
Packer was arrested again on March 11, 1883 and tried in Lake City, Colorado the week of April 6 - 13, 1883. There he was found guilty of murdering, robbing and eating his five dimmycrat companions, and sentenced to death.
The angel said, ``Don't worry. You'll die a free man in your old age -- if you refrain from attack.'' In addition to his politically motivated quote about the Dimmycrats and the balance of power in Hinsdale County that Packer had mightily disrupted, Judge Gerry said, ``A jury of twelve honest citizens of the County have sat in judgment on your case and upon their oaths they find you guilty of willful and premeditated murder -- a murder revolting in all its details...I am but the instrument of society to impose the punishment which the law provides. While society cannot forgive, it will forget. As the days come and go and the years of your pilgrimage roll by, the memory of you and of your crimes will fade from the minds of men.
``With God it is different. He will not forget, but will forgive. He pardoned the thief on the Cross. He is the same God today as then -- A God of love and mercy, of long-suffering and kind forbearance; a God who tempers wind to the shorn lamb, and promises rest to all the weary and heartbroken children of men; and it is to this God I commend you.
``Close your ears to the blandishments of hope. Listen not to its fluttering promises of life. But prepare to meet the spirits of thy murdered victims. Prepare for the dread certainty of death. Prepare to meet thy God; prepare to meet that aged father and mother of whom you have spoken and who still love you as their dear boy.''
``On the 19th day of May, 1883, you be taken...to a place of execution prepared for this purpose at some point within the corporate limits of the town of Lake City, in the said county of Hinsdale, and between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. of said day, you, then and there, by said sheriff be hung by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead, and may God have mercy upon your soul!''
Judge M. B. Gerry reckoned without the angel.
Charles Lynch and his famous Lynch Mob didn't know about the angel either as they made ready to take the law into their own hands. But the angel told Packer to ask to be moved during the night to Gunnison. The angel gave such pleasantness and reasonableness to his voice that Judge Gerry obliged. Gerry turned Packer over to Doc Shores, sheriff of Gunnison county, where he spent the next three years in jail. Doc Shores protected Packer, and read his mail. Later Shores testified that Al Packer was "filthy, vulgar, selfish, and to sum up, a disgrace to the human race." Shores was also jealous of Packer because of all the women who wrote him love letters because he was a cannibal.
During this time, the angel became Packer's legal advisor. He pointed out to Packer (who was becoming a jail-house lawyer) that he'd been tried under a state law, but he'd been charged under territorial law. On October 30, 1885, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed Packer's conviction and agreed with the angel. There were even some who said he should have been tried under federal law because the murders took place on Indian Territory. The angel said he'd keep that in mind if future appeals were needed.
"You really do know stuff about life that I don't," Packer conceded to the angel, after his acquittal.
"So why don't you listen and meditate like I ask you?" asked the angel.
"I ain't no fool like Bell," said Packer. "Look where meditating got him."
"He was happy," said the angel. "You're not."
"He's dead," said Packer. "And I'm not."
``It wasn't the meditating that killed him,'' said the angel.
``I know. I killed him,'' said Packer.
``With the axe he lifted,'' said the angel. ``Had he not lifted it, I could have protected his life. I can only protect my host if he does not attack. That's why I had to stop you from drinking. You attack when you are drunk.''
The first week of August, 1886, Packer was retried in Gunnison. This time the jury found him guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced him to 8 years each for his five victims, a total of 40 years. Packer served 5 years of that sentence, and the angel got him out again -- this time with a parole agreement signed by the Governor of Colorado at the urging of the Denver Post. While in jail, Packer earned $1500 making hair ropes and hair bridles.
Everybody wanted ropes made by a cannibal. Packer's ropes sold for high prices indeed -- these were times when men killed for as little as $12. ``See,'' said the angel, ``I can even make you rich in jail.''
``Yeah,'' said Packer, ``But like with everything else you give me -- I have to work for it.''
Upon gaining his freedom, Packer again took up his trade as a peaceable shoemaker and argued with his angel -- couldn't I at least go on a hunting trip? or punch a guy out who really deserved it? The angel always gave the same answer: "You must refrain from attack."
"Why?" asked Packer.
``It is the law of enlightenment," answered the angel. ``And admit it -- hasn't your life brought you wealth and women since you began following it?''
``The murders and cannibalism did that,'' said Packer.
``For that you could have been hung,'' reminded the angel. ``You still have much to learn.''
``Then can't you at least make me famous like Black Bart? Everybody seems to have forgotten about me.''
The angel got him an interview with the Denver Post on the anniversary of his first trial, and Packer told the reporter about how Bell had discovered gold before his death. Packer left out about the angel and how Bell had gone crazy. But he left in about Bell's dying request for his sister.
One day a beautiful woman entered Packer's shoe shop.
``Your wish is my command, be it party pumps or walking shoes.'' greeted Packer.
``Do you have money for me?'' asked the woman, patting her long red hair.
``Can't say as I do, ma'am,'' said Packer. ``And I'm not likely to forget one as lovely as yourself. Have a chair while I measure your feet.''
The woman continued to stand, clutching her purse against her belly. ``My name's Clarissa. Clarissa Bell,'' she said.
``Pleased to meet you Miz Bell,'' said Packer. The angel interrupted his polished speech. She's Bell's sister. The one you killed. He asked you to take care of her. Packer resumed talking. ``Bell. Ah yes, the unfortunate accident. And just as your brother was onto discovering one of the richest gold caches in them mountains. I've kept a bag of nuggets for you.''
``That's a start,'' said the woman.
``Will you come by my home after work, or would you rather I bring the nuggets to you?'' Packer gave a little bow. ``And after that, maybe we could get married.''
Clarissa removed her gun from her purse and fired at Packer's head. The bullet whizzed by his nose as he returned to standing position.
``Don't waste your bullets ma'am,'' he said calmly. ``I can't be killed, or I'd have been hung years ago.''
She fired again, and again she missed.
``I'll make it easy for you,'' offered Packer. ``Give me the gun and I'll bring you the gold to your hotel after work.''
He started to reach for the gun. The angel said ``Let me protect you.'' She took aim again. ``Stand still this time,'' she ordered.
``You're crazy,'' said Packer to both the angel and Clarissa Bell at once. He took a step toward Clarissa. His angel said, Stand and I'll save you. Move and I'll leave. It didn't take Packer long to see the consequences. If the angel left, he'd die. Packer stood. The woman's finger closed on the trigger. Packer smiled sweetly, the angel's light glowed in his face.
The woman's gun clattered to the floor, shiny with sweat. When Packer brought the bag of gold to the hotel that evening, Clarissa was gone.
Packer resigned himself to living peaceably with his angel, and with his fellow Coloradans. The choice was simple, even for Packer: alive with the angel, or dead without. For the rest of his life he repaired shoes, made hair ropes, and to his own surprise became a trusting man. The angel had proved that his life was never in danger, so he truly had no need for attack or defense.
``Is this all there is to your enlightenment,'' Packer asked one day. ``Just knowing I won't be killed.''
``Isn't that the freedom you craved?'' asked the angel. ``You feared being killed above all else.''
``But some day, I will die,'' said Packer.
``I will protect you even then,'' said the angel. ``We are part of each other now. Death cannot separate us.''
``This isn't what I thought enlightenment would be like,'' said Packer. ``But, you've done your part.''
``And together, we've found peace,'' said the angel.''
Alferd Packer eventually found a different kind of peace, as well. He died in his sleep, a free man, on April 23, 1907 in Littleton Colorado. His name was misspelled on his gravestone: ``Alfred Packer.'' The stone also honors his brief military career from which he was discharged after only a few months for disability. The angel left his body when he died. Nobody saw where it went.
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