Shrieks echoed in the forest. I hoped they were far away from the spot where I lay. The tunes from the solstice shindig were still ringing within my ears. Our dancing was crazed and I wanted it to last forever so I offered to get more wood for the fire. I had to whiz, so I did. I don’t remember a thing after that. I woke up with my fly down when the shriek came upon the wind.
Amidst the purple forest in the waning moonlight I could see a glowing body coming toward me. I was frozen stiff, unsure if I was dreaming. The specter moved steadily until I could see it was bi-pedal, but it was not walking, it was flying. Its skull and red set eyes could be made clear as day as it floated along. The huge skeleton was wrapped in translucent, yellow skin at stood least 7’ tall.
Not 10 yards away from me it came to a quick stop. I could see its broad shoulders carried a bow, quiver, and a shield. Round his waist hung a belt with war tools much like the Chippewa braves I knew. Knife, hatchet, powder and ruce was all I could make out. He held a spear as if he were tracking something, it paused motionless searching for sound. In a flash the being began to race toward me unsheathing his battle axe as it zoomed through the frigid trees.
A snort of a bovine lit behind us and I turned to see a great beast of bright black/blue light galloping toward me at full speed. Having just enough time to lie flat before the foes were over top of me I watched as the two celestial beasts collided sending a shockwave over the ground.
Upon impact the shrieking skeleton’s axe was knocked from his grip and fell to the forest floor. The massive bull continued to sprint forward with the skeleton beating it wildly about the head.
Snorting and bellowing the ghost of a Long-horned Bison carried its captive to a rock outcropping in the distance. A granite mound lifted out of the forest floor just 10 feet but it was enough. Now at full tilt the cow gave out a last beller as it ran headlong into the rock. Both apparitions howled as their bodies exploded into dust.
Out of breath and gasping for air I could not believe what had just transpired. I immediately remembered cookee’s words, “Watch out for that Jack Thorn weed. It’ll turn you right side down and inside out.” It could have been Bonnie McSean’s last pipe hit, he’s into all kinds of disjointed herbs. I searched out my pockets for anything familiar. I found the box of matches Lewis had leant me. Lighting one I got up to see what I could see.
After inspecting the rock where the fight had ended I was sure I had dreamed the whole thing. There was a pleasant feeling coming over me when I caught a glint out of my eye of something sitting in the leaves. I went to inspect and found the skeleton’s disarmed battle axe. It was striking. It seemed only a hatchet in the hands of the specter, but it was the size of an axe for me. It held a dark brown wooded handle but something stone like about it, or was it metal? It looked like nothing like any hatchet around here. Appeared to be made of copper I touched the cold sharpness and it burnt out of my fingers.
A turgid wind blew up and caught me by surprise. I was sure I heard another cackle of the giant skeleton, but nothing moved in the purple woods. I hoisted my new prize and headed back to camp. Step after step I thought of how I was going to tell the boys I found it. Deciding the ‘how’ I found it mattered a lot less than finding of it so I set for just saying that. Which is true, I found it. Sometimes, I think it found me…
By the time I reached camp I was full awake and my mind was racing through all the possible routes. I could show Danny or Tuck but I’m not sure what they would think. I covered the hatchet in my mackinaw and crept into the bunkhouse
Low snores and the stink of stale socks mixed with pipe tobacco was a welcome sting to my nose. Fire in the center pit was now just embers, red and charged with potential power. I loaded the still frigid axe into my bunk and crawled in next to it. Face deep in the pillow I tried desperately to get a few hours of shut-eye. Alas, my mind was racing on what to do next. I went through every jack in the camp and could think of no one I trusted enough to come clean to. Not even Toby. Oh, tubby Toby, what wont you eat?
Then it hit me. I didn’t need a jack I needed a jane. Lynn the camp dentist, she was just the sort of person who could keep a low profile. No one made much contact with her seeing as how she stays mostly to the smith shop. It was unorthodox for a woman, especially unmarried, out here in the woods with all those brooding, high-strung boys. But being the daughter of the camp boss kept her out of the minds of most of us. Least on the surface… I’m sure lots of my brothers thought on her for hours, but no one dared act on it for fear of her father. And the loss of wages/life. Yep, she’d be the one, and she may know something useful about this thing, I know she reads and reads. She reads more than I smoke, and I smoke a fair amount.
I managed to get an hour of sleep before the cookee came to call. “Daylight in the swamp!” Salsbury yelled into the stuffy bunkhouse. Rangy men with mangy beards began pouring out of their bunks. Most headed for the dipper bastion at the entrance for a bit o’ hydration, others went right for their pipes and toking a morning light. I would have head straight for the smith shop, but I knew Lynn doesn’t begin until after we get in the woods. I’d have to catch her during the day or just before dinner.
The day was cold and bright as we made our way toward the toil that was our lot. Being a swamper was a thankless job but not as bad as the chickadee. I don’t miss my days as the camp peon, but I do enjoy thinking on those sweaty nights hoping I could somehow fit in with all the gruff, all the manhood, all the toughness. I was able to get a head of Michael a bit and what providence when Bruce Pill came out with the wanagan and snapped the lashing. I’d have to run all the way back to camp and get another. Oh crud!
Lynn was where she always was, in the smith shop. Far surpassing most other camp dentist offices she had a forge and cistern on top of the sturdy stone wheels and various files. I could see through the window she was wrestling a cross cut saw for one of the swamper teams and thought it was perfect timing.
“Need a hand?” I said entering.
“I don’t need one, but I’ll use yours. Grab the handle,” she smiled over her tense arms trying to budge the unruly saw in to the vice. We quickly got the eight foot saw in place and set the clamps. Not missing a step she had her kerosene and rags out to work the pitch so she could get to sharpening their teeth. “Shouldn’t you be in the back 40?” not taking her eye off her work.
“Yeah, Pill is covering for me, need to grab some new lashings for the Wanagan.”
“Then what are you doing here?” she spoke again without taking an eye off the saw.
“I need to talk with you a second,” Lynn paused and looked straight into my eyes.
“Look, I’ve told you all before, I’m not interested in fraternizing with jacks,” she said coldly. I smiled.
“I know, you’ve made that made that clear. Numerous times. I’m not here for that stuff, I need your know-how.”
“Uh huh, I’ve heard that before. Thanks for your help, please leave me to my work,” She continued wiping down the saw removing dust and sap.
“No foolin, Lynn. I need you to look at this,” I took my gun case and flopped it on the table despite her protest.
“I don’t work on guns, Jameson, I’m a filer; saws, blades, axes, hatchets. C’mon, leave me be, I got six saws to prep for tmrw morning,” I said nothing and continued to open the case revealing the axe. Lynn stopped immediately and took in the weapon. It was far more striking in the light of the shop. The metal was brighter, almost shined on its own giving off a notion of ancient royalty. Its handle was dark and well carved with rough curved shape of animals I could not easily place.
“What is this?” Lynn asked
“I was hoping you could tell me,” I replied looking to her soft features. Lynn scanned the piece and lifted it off the table.
“It’s heavy,” she said while inspecting the head. “Where did you steal this from?”
“I didn’t steal it, I found it. Last night up past the pond,” I wanted to tell her the vision of the bull and the flying skeleton but I thought better of it just yet.
“The pond, huh?” she said suspiciously. “Well, I’ve never seen a metal like this in an axe. Its shape is more of a hatchet though. See this bevel here and the wide front? It’s to cut wider path quickly rather that press though. But it’s so big, fit for a much larger man than we have in this camp. In all the northwoods… One would have to be eight feet tall to wield this proper, almost Bunyan sized.”
“Bunyan!” I snorted. “Not likely. I thought it was something primitive. See all the animal shapes, that could be native.”
“Hmm, yeah, it could be. But they don’t often have forges. This seems like someone was mixing metals to make this.”
“Right, okay. Well, can you take a close look? Maybe ask around about it? Not too loud though, I don’t want the jacks to know.”
Lynn smiled, “You did steal it, didn’t you?”
“No, really. I just saw it lying there. Past the pond by the stone outcropping,” She nodded acknowledging she knew the spot. “So, will you check into it?”
“Yeah. But it’ll cost you.”
“C’mon Lynn, you know I got nothing but snoose and a few sawbucks until the spring drive.”
“Okay, just one sawbuck. I’ll look into it for free, the sawbuck is for keeping quiet,” I wanted to rip the handle right out of her hands but I knew she was my best information towards its value.
“Fine. I don’t have it on me, I’ll pay you tonight after dinner.”
“I know that game. I’ll just hold your watch until you get me that money,” Lynn looked at me with a serious face. I didn’t want to argue any more.
“Fine.” I said handing her the watch. “But you better get me some answers. I wanna know where it came from and what it’s worth.”
“Give me a few days to rustle up some details,” she said looking to the shiny watch.