Fiction Fantastic 2019 Winning Story: “The Real Story Behind Kah-Noh-Ta Terrace” by Tor Parsons

The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.

You can purchase this story in the 2019 Winners Anthology, Portals here.

“The Real Story Behind Kah-Noh-Ta Terrace” by Tor Parsons, South Eugene High School

Third Place, High School Level, 2019

The Real Story Behind Kah-Noh-Ta Terrace

By Tor Parsons
South Eugene High School

Hi Karen,

One more day! One more day ‘til I can get out of this godforsaken place and come home to Anchorage. This place is so boring, the biggest event of the year is the day the ice on the lake breaks. I’m serious. Everyone in the town puts in a bet on when the ice will start cracking. They’re starved for some better entertainment. I’ve had to deal with people jumping the fences around the oil fields just to watch us capping the gushing well. 

Anyway, we’ve got the pressure under control and the remaining job only needs two people to do it. Because I’m the least experienced of the three on this job, thank God, Boots & Coots rewarded me for my incompetence with a ticket back to Anchorage tomorrow on the Alaska Airlines combi. The combi is a weird plane. You board in the back and the front half is a windowless freight compartment. 

It’s hardly the weirdest thing about this town, though. From a distance it looks like the place is just one building: a mid-20th century brutalist apartment block plunked down in the middle of the endless tundra. Getting closer, you find it’s surrounded by colorful little huts, some trailers, and a sprinkling of dumpsters with inspiring slogans on them—a pretty run-of-the-mill Alaskan bush town—but that building looms over everything like a giant middle finger. It’s the only building in town with more than one story.

I was at the town laundromat yesterday to wash off my less oil-soaked clothes (because the more oil-soaked ones would have ruined even the highest-tech washer) and I decided I just had to ask about that building. I mean, it’s got to be the first question anyone asks when they arrive here, right? So I asked a couple people about the building and they said they didn’t know. How can you not know what’s going on in that building? It’s as if you went to D.C. and asked about the Capitol, and someone said, “Yeah, it’s a fast food place or something. Not too sure, honestly.”

I asked a few more times and finally someone gave me a real answer. It was this wizened little Native lady who could probably earn big bucks acting in zombie movies, no makeup required. If anybody knew, it would be someone like her. I bet she’s never even left the Unorganized Borough.

So I asked her why they had that giant building in the middle of the little town, and she took me over to an empty corner of the laundromat where there was a pile of decaying Foghorn Leghorn memorabilia (Foghorn Leghorn is pretty much the patron saint of the Alaskan bush), and she told me. Hold on, because this story is a wild ride. 

The story goes that at some point back in the 1960s, when everybody in Alaska was afraid they’d wake up the next day in the newest Soviet Socialist Republic, and there’d been an earthquake in Anchorage but nobody minded up here because Anchorage could be Paris for all they cared, there was an explosion on a Navy ship about twenty miles off Barrow. Big disaster. Lit up the night sky from there to Murmansk. Apparently, there was a bunch of ordnance on the boat so everyone onboard could go down in a blaze of glory instead of becoming WW3’s first POWs in case a commie sub attacked. I don’t believe that, but whatever. Anyhoo, it exploded, nobody’s quite sure what set it off even today, and all the five hundred-something sailors on the ship died. 

Obviously, the military tried to hush it all up, so they promised the widows of the sailors anything they wanted if they never talked about what happened to their man, and they made an entry for the explosion in Project Blue Book—explaining it as unexplained, see. If you believe the little Native witch, they really kept their word to the widows, too. Supposedly, you can still find old ladies in Arizona with a lifetime supply of Oh! De London or women in Wyoming with a professional gardener who flies out to their ranch once a week to water their begonias, because of this explosion. 

A lot of the sailors on the boat were Alaska Natives, though, since desegregation of the military was still in its diapers-at-night phase back then. This little town bore the brunt of the accident. Something close to forty people from here died in the explosion, which was about a tenth of the population back then. After the bodies were dredged up from the seafloor and given unmarked graves in the town’s Russian Orthodox cemetery, and all the semi-secret syncretic funerals were done with, the widows in the town met to talk about what they wanted the Pentagon to give them. It was a cold day and the town’s natural gas system had broken, so they announced they wanted a luxury apartment block built right in their town, with a heated pool and an exclusive supermarket. 

Now, here’s the trouble. When you think your next-door neighbor is somehow getting a lifetime supply of Oh! De London, you’re sent to the proverbial loony bin. When there’s a big building going up in the middle of your one-horse town, it’s harder to hide. Pretty soon, word had spread of Kah-Noh-Ta Terrace—as the military had named it, hoping it meant something nice in whatever Native language those women spoke—to the Naval Air Facility fifteen miles away. And the sailors from the NAF, who had been told their comrades on the ship got reassigned to Florida and the bright flash out to sea had been aliens, were tossing and turning in their Quonset hut beds.

The puddle pirates building the Terrace were faced with a dilemma. Clearly they couldn’t reveal the explosion, and get eviscerated by the press, over something this stupid. But what could they say? That these forty or so young women had pooled their caribou-hunting dividends and realized they had enough to sit in the lap of luxury?

So here’s what they did, according to my storyteller (and obviously I don’t believe any of this bullshit): They just added more floors onto the plan of Kah-Noh-Ta Terrace, and allowed active military servicemen to live there as well. As the upper floors were still under construction, the forty widows moved in, and the supermarket opened. The ladies were all pretty miserable, though, for obvious reasons, and they began to withdraw from the community. Visiting time, noon to three in the afternoon, would usually find them all asleep in their individual rooms, and lights would stay on in their windows, sometimes projecting their shadows out over the flatness of the tundra, long after the town’s generators had puttered out for the night.

The sailors’ floors were completed about six months after the widows moved in, but then winter broke loose. The real story behind Kah-Noh-Ta Terrace was an open secret in the town, and most people knew why the forty women deserved preferential treatment, but they didn’t care. They wanted in. And by now people had heard of this shiny new building from Prudhoe Bay to Petersburg, Unalakleet to Chicken. The town’s then-mayor gathered a bunch of concerned citizens and decided to blackmail the Pentagon: if they didn’t let the townies into the Terrace, they’d snitch about the explosion.

And so, just after they thought construction was finally finished, the Pentagon sent yet another work crew to add even more floors to Kah-Noh-Ta Terrace. The noise made everybody in the Terrace supremely cranky. The sailors began to spread rumors of lesbian orgies and Collyer Brothers-style hoarding downstairs. The few visitors who the widows allowed to enter had to stay in the first-floor lobby. After a while, the widows pried some doors off their hinges and erected them around the elevator entrances, so even if someone pressed the button for the widows’ floors, they wouldn’t be able to get out of the elevator unless one of the widows opened it for them.

Kah-Noh-Ta Terrace was finally completed at nine a.m. on an ashen March morning, still a few weeks before the sun came back. The townies had to wait outside in the cold until visiting hours began, because the widows had barricaded the entrance from the inside. So there were speeches about the importance of progress and the relevance of the state motto “North to the Future” to the current situation, and drunken cries praising whoever blew up that ship, until the infernally loud air horn announcing lunch over at the NAF went off at noon, and they all rushed in. 

Now, some of the townies, understandably, were not okay with blackmailing Uncle Sam, and stayed in their igloos or whatever they lived in back then. Life went on pretty much as normal for them, in the shadow of the Terrace. They promised they’d stop by during visiting hours, but those were discontinued after a while. The sailors presumably left – nobody ever saw them, but the NAF closed, so they couldn’t stay deployed. The people outside learned to mentally erase Kah-Noh-Ta Terrace. Sometimes they would see silhouettes moving fast against the night-lit windows, and from time to time noises would come from inside. A Wien Air jet still landed at the airstrip every Sunday stocked with food for the supermarket, so things couldn’t be too bad in there. The widows had hopefully gotten over their loss, and everyone else was probably staying nice and warm.

Over the next few years, the lights in the Terrace’s windows began to gradually wink out, starting up top and gradually spreading downward. Most people didn’t notice it until a visitor—so-and-so’s uncle or a musher who lost the path of the Iditarod—pointed it out. In fact, nobody knows the exact date when the last light went out. Estimates usually put it around Watergate. At some point in the late 70s, the townies began to notice that Kah-Noh-Ta Terrace showed no signs of life whatsoever, so they called a meeting. 

A few people argued they should go into the Terrace to investigate, but got shouted down. It was pretty obvious what happened, after all. After a lot of back-and-forth, they decided to brick up the entrance. Cheaper than tearing it all down, and after all, some people might still have been alive in there.

Wild story, right? I don’t believe a word of it. In the morning I’ll ask someone else, and I’ll probably get something different. Anyway, my flight comes into Anchorage at five pm tomorrow, and I can’t wait to haul ass out of here and see you again. What an awful place. No electricity anywhere.