Comparatively speaking, the day dawned bright and cheery for Halloween. Earlier in the week, temperatures had dipped. Along with abundant frost and the lake thickening toward its eventual feet of ice, there’d been the light skiff of snow. But for now, sunny and clear blue skies greeted the morning, making one forget the months of snow and freezing temperatures which would soon be upon them.
The threat of trick-or-treaters offered a remote afterthought this far out from town and with the opening of hunting season the next day, the opportunity to get out in the bush while it remained relatively quiet had me reaching for my heavy clothes and packing my kit before I could change my mind or get distracted by other chores.
Bared of most of their leaves, the limbs of the trees seemed to sway and wave as I passed adding to the spritely atmosphere. Further in, the bogs and marshes offered up their tangy scent of fallen vegetation over ripe and decaying into the ground, returning nourishment previously granted. Birds skittered overhead. The more stubborn of the ducks and geese remained resolute on the lake, seeming to be intent to delay their long flight until they had to. The occasional partridge thrummed as I passed and ran in circles, flapping its wings only to hover slightly.
These were the sights and smells to absorb the attention. Taking away from noticing the darkening sky, the passage of time, the lifting of the wind, and the cooling of temperatures. I only felt the increasing chill after stopping for a bite and enjoying the still hot coffee in my thermos. I was in a clearing and the grey of sooty clouds seemed to march across the sun reminding anyone in any other doubt what day it was. Old Hallows Eve. The night when the dead woke to roam freely with the living.
An eerie shudder coursed across my shoulders, the down my spine. I shook off the feeling. Obviously, I was letting my imagination get the better of me. Still, the roll of darkness made me realize it was time to get back. Gone were the endless daylight hours of summer. Now was the season of a warm fire and a hot meal.
Yet as I walked the creaks of the cooling branches echoed loudly. The shuffle of crisp autumn leaves made me glance back along the trail. A sudden flight and squawk from a startled blue jay set my blood pounding.
Foolish, I said and laughed out loud Yet the more I chastised myself, the more my thoughts ventured to the supernatural. To the time of my youth in English class when grandfather was very ill. Everyone had paid their respects, knowing time was short. Then in the middle of the teacher’s lecture, the board, where he jotted his notes, faded to black and in its place I saw the cardiac monitor with its blinking blue line—up and down—in a heart’s regular rhythm, until the flattened line squealed. Like fingernails on a chalk board, the sound reached the depth of my soul and stole my breath.
I remembered how I pushed my chair back and started to pack my books. The teacher paused mid-sentence to look at me quizzically, but never had the opportunity to speak. At that very moment, the class phone rang, and I was summoned to the office. My grandfather had died.
The intense feeling of loss weighted my heart. Still, the logical side of my brain shouted, that was long ago and the memory of supernatural merely a kid’s fancy. Nothing more.
Now thoughts of my grandparents and those who’d gone on before drifted in and out of my consciousness. The lives they lived. The adventures they’d had.
All the while, the clouds had folded in on themselves until the thick carpet of gray balanced just above the treeline. The evergreens stood as bush sentinels, protecting and guarding its inhabitants. The creeks from the bare branches no longer waved cheerily, now they scorned and warned me off, chased me, quickened my steps back along the trail toward my own home. A home which had belonged to my parents and before them, my grandparents, passed down generation to generation. A safe haven...always.
Tendrils of fog laced along trunks to snake across my path and the dusk enveloped everything like a hungry shadow devouring the very essence of light.
I paused my trek and pulled deep gulps of air into my lungs. I must get a grip. I shrugged my pack into a more comfortable position and pulled my pen light from my pocket. I wasn’t far from home, yet the distance seemed insurmountable if I were to continue to let my fantasies rule.
In the moments I had stopped, so too had all sound. Like being sandwiched between two pillows, even the creeks and rustle of the forest dimmed with the fleeing light. The click of the flashlight and its brightness brought necessary order to re-establish my purpose. This was my woods. I'd grown up here. Soon, I would be home before a comfy fire, eating the soup left warming in the slow cooker. Halloween or no, this was just another day.
The glare from the light arched across the path. The yellow moon-like beam through the thickening fog. Chill seeped through my clothing with the icy mist and I pulled my scarf tighter.
I glanced down briefly and when I returned my vision to the path, movement caught my eye. Shadows within shadows shimmered and swayed in the murk. A mirage. A figment of overactive thoughts.
Slender like a sapling, not quite as dark as the enveloping gloom. So close, yet still a great distance away to make out any distinguishable features. The apparition remained.
I approached with caution. I wasn't scared, just curious. I placed each foot precisely to avoid unnecessary noise. My ears were keenly attuned, but a cushioned stillness blanketed everything.
Now another stood close to the first specter, their shapes merging and separating with the roll of the fog against the glare of my light. I had the feeling they were walking hand and hand. Then they seemed to stop and glance back at me their features still offering nothing discernible. After a long pause where I continued toward them, they walked off the trail.
I marked their location next to a gnarled and broken trunk of a tree where a wall of fog bracketed the location as well.
Within seconds, I’d reach the spot and stopped, searching for the couple for I had no doubt they were a couple, but they were gone. I shone my light into the forest, piercing the vapor, blinking the midst from my vision. But whatever had been was no more. As I turned back to the trail, light blinked back at me like a stray sunbeam caught unaware from when it had been so vibrant in the sky only a few hours earlier. I stepped back, arched the beam across the matt of leaves and mud searching for the source. And there it was again, twinkling at me as though waiting to be found.
It was so tiny, nestled next to a fallen branch and rotting foliage. I wondered how I had noticed it. A ring…in all this undergrowth, vegetation, fog, and mist. A diamond ring.
I wiped the grime from the gem and its brilliance against the light showed its antique setting in a integrate band sculped like vines, twined together to protect the precious stone.
I look around then, half expecting to hand the jewel to the couple. I peered up and down the trail for as far as the shadows allowed, but there was nothing. What had been had now passed and within a few steps I had reached the border of my property now in possession of a ring I knew had been lost my grandmother more than seventy-years previous. A ring my grandfather brought back from France when he returned from the war to propose.
Attracted by the bit of sun glinting off the bay window, the Blue Jay lands on the metal railing.
Upon seeing his reflection, he prances back and forth along the rail, his sky-blue feathers crown majestically, while he lifts his beak and narrows his gaze to the likeness. Taking his own measure, he twists his head one way, then the other as though scrutinizing the horseshoe tattoo of blue, black and white.
Seems to his liking. Not bad for an old guy, his expression suggests.
First one way, then the other, he uses the balustrade like a runway, strutting his stuff. His claws are unable to gain purchase on the metal, but that doesn’t stop him from raising his rump high in the air for further examination in the window’s reflection.
Up come the tail feathers. The zebra-like stripes, different hues from the navy of his face, standing out starkly against the snow white of his breast and this contrast seems to catch his attention. He twists so his back is to the window and he gazes at his mirror over his shoulder.
All of a sudden, he flares his wings, tucks one then the other back into position and looks over the other shoulder while he repeats the performance.
His claws tap-tap-tap along the railing, adding background percussion to his natural singing voice. He’s really getting into this now. His head goes from side to side. He prances first one way then the other. Tail feathers up, crown in position, wings at the ready, beak pursed and--
Opps, there it is. The fate of all supermodels. The misstep. The trip. The glide right off the runway. He loses his mark and slides off the railing. Catching himself before the fall, he swoops back up to land briefly on the fence, gives his reflection a telling glare, juts his beak before emitting a low craw.
Then he’s off again, a glint of blue in the overcast sky.
Does colour blossom
where the ocean meets the sky
Where the dazzle of orange sizzles
into the cool blue with a sigh
While purple hued clouds
flit and flutter
And the white capped waves
Pulse and shutter
The hues of time and tide
measure golden yellow to raging red
Still to the depths of an abyss
teal, to green, where I lay my head
The grey wisps of wind
echo the lavender breath of the sea
A cerulean ease and rhythm
offered as a prayer to thee
No angry black green waves
to terrify the lustrous moon
Only a plum glassy surface
a mirror to the universal hewn
From the velvet purple
giving a window to galaxies beyond
Springs the smatter of turquois
Like magic from the tip of a wand
On through the spectrum
sways my bed of tonal light
Until the indigo blends to magenta
And day marches over the night
By the birth of garnet dawn
the navy aqua shatters like glass
And pink pomegranate rays peek
over a horizon grown in mass
To this a lovers first kiss
this meeting of air to water
Of rainbow of colours
an artist doodles the blotter
You’ve been there…having a chat…enjoying the conversation when something catches your attention and won’t let it go. You don’t want to keep looking but you can’t help it. There, in the midst of a clean-shaven face, animated eyes, and the lively conversation…stands the dancing black hair perched at the end of the nose. Not right at the tip. Not on the bridge, but in that in-between no man’s land, safely ensconced in the facial features.
Over the years I’ve tried to grab the stubborn black hair when the owner was unaware, but to no avail. My humanitarian efforts are flicked away as annoyance. And so, that little black hair, safe in his lodging has mocked me to the point where he is slightly grey at the end. Now he is an aged mid-black hair as lively and distracting as ever under the protection of an unconcerned master.
It isn’t right when one is all set for the fight and the enemy keeps alluding even the most stealthy attacks of tweezer or pincered nails.
And so, I lament with a “Sad Song” for they “say so much” and my opponent openly mocks me with his “I’m still standing” after all these years. Again, I lick the wounds of defeat, planning to fly the flag of truce, when the balled up, woodsy, bush-like inner nose hair spring to the corus “yah, yah, yah”.
“No,” I say, hands cupped over my face. “No.”
It’s true, as I peek through the parting of my fingers, there in the clipped rug of the ear, some curling strings echo the bushy inner nose hair and ignore my flag of truce, flaunting their all out victory and point to my chin. My fingers find the place and “NOOOO” But it’s just a hoarse whisper because a wiry black hair of my own has sprouted to some length and super power strength to adhere to my jawline, just west of my chin.
A new battle wages and instead of “Singing the Blues”, with tweezers and 10x mirror in hand, I take up the battle cry, “The Bitch is Back”.
“Little beige row boat slammed into the beach in front of the Power cabin during the great flood of ’17, chief. It was coming from the other side of the lake, just beyond the narrows, after the storm. The thunder storm.
One tall man went into the water. One tall man came back for the lifejacket and swimmer shoes.
Vessel came aground in twelve minutes.
Didn’t see the algae for about the first half an hour. Green. Sticky stuff. You know, you know that when you’re in the water, chief? You tell by lookin’ in the water and then at your clothes. Well, we didn’t know. ‘Cause our storm had been so secret, didn’t even make the weather channel. Huh, huh. Local news didn’t even list the rain accumulation for a week.
Early evening, right, chief. The stink blows. So that tall man formed himself into his swimming gear, cruisin’ in his life vest. Still kept his tee-shirt on. You know it’s…kinda like ‘ol vendetta, like I gotta get rid of this stinking row boat. It’s not ours. And the idea was, the algae’ll just wash off. So he starts hollerin’ and screamin’ and sometimes with a good washcloth, the algae would go away. Sometimes, in the crack of his bum, it wouldn’t go away. Sometimes, that algae, it just sticks. Gets right into your eyes.
You know the thing about that row boat…it don’t care about the algae. When it comes back onto the beach, it just sits there, bobbing in the waves. Seems to be a livin’ thing. Until you gotta get back into the water, with the green algae.
And then, ah then, you hear the moans and groans and the lake turns green in spite of all those good intentions.
Y’know by the end of that first day, the little row boat came back. I don’t know how many times the tall man cleaned, maybe once. I don’t know about the little groves and cracks, algae gets everywhere.
By the next weekend, chief, the rowboat bobbed over the reeds. The ones lining the front of the beach. Tall stuff, green, healthy. They keep the beach clear. I thought they were great. The damn things cut! Reached over to grab one to steady myself and sliced my palm.
Noon the next weekend, Mr. Hooper, that beige little bastard of a rowboat was back again. I swear to God, if I gotta get back in that lake to drag the fucker out. I need an anchor. Water level had gone done and managed to get the last pieces of the dock in. Everyone says they hadn’t seen a storm like that in the last twenty years. I called bull-shit to that, Mr. Hooper. Anyway the storm came and the storm went. Thunder and lightening lit the sky.
And by the next day, that little beige rowboat had been picked up by a passing boater. You know that time when you wonder, do they own it or are they just stealing the damned thing. An opportunity like. That was the time I was most frightened. Waiting to see if they would just bring it back.
I’ll never swim with algae again.
So, one tall man gets into the lake. All to take one small dory back out to the middle, so anyone could have taken ‘er, August 2017. Anyway, that was the storm.
Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain."
The fight was real. That much can’t be disputed. Which story is more accurate, depends on perspective. There’s the truth of the fisherman, rod in hand...that of the fish, who took the bait...and then…what really happened.
“There are many ways this could have gone down,” Jack said.
He had floated into the shoal, having fastened a crutch from the weeds. Wondering Eye Walleye hovered at the bar and lifted his brow in silent question when Jack joined him. Talking out of the side of his mouth, Jack ordered a stiff algae punch from the bartender.
Perched under the hanging willow, the thick wall of reeds offered protection from the sun and shielded the patrons from eyes above. A school of minnows turned to stare in disbelieve when Jack laid his crutches to the side. He knew he looked more than a little worse for wear for the usual catch and release crowd. Small guys like them typically never came back.
Jack nodded and turned back to the bar and the drink. “Sure I shouldn’t have taken the bait," he said. "But how many of us can resist?” He spoke as though Wondering Eye had asked. He needed to tell it regardless.
He brushed a fin by the side of his jaw where the wound still smarted. The lost tooth would be missed, for sure. “Three times,” he muttered as though to himself. “Three times in the water, three times on the dock before they let me go.”
An audible gasp from Patti Pike encouraged him to go on. Her milky gaze looked on sympathetically. The school had swam closer to hear.
“That’s right, still on the hook.” He paused to take a swig from the mug, wiping the foam from the drooped side of his lips. “He hooked me, yanked me out of the water, prodded and tossed me back in.”
“Yup,” Jack straightened his spine and spread his fins. He’d made it out where other’s hadn’t. “A three pronger.”
“No.” the word drew out on a chores of gasps.
A brethren of his fellow Jack Fish eased closer to hear.
“For a while we stared at each other. I alternated one eye to the other from under the dock and him with his full frontal lenses from above,” Jack continued. “But I held my ground. There was nowhere for me to go ‘til I could get that damned hook loose. But I knew right then and there he wasn’t getting the better of me.”
He’d finished his drink and without asking, a new mug appeared before him. He couldn’t smile, so waved his fin in acknowledgement.
“And get this.” He turned in his chair to address the patrons and Wandering Eye followed suit as hooked on the story as Jack had been to the rod. “For a while there I just dangled from the stick he hooked to the side of the planks while he walked away. By God, that’s when I thought it was the end.”
“Where’d he go?” Patti Pike asked.
“Dunno, but he wasn’t gone long.”
“Gone to get the hammer.” Wandering Eye spoke for the first time.
“Gone to get something,” Jack confirmed. “Then he sprung me again. I tell you I hit those planks like the time ol’ Yellow Perch rammed the speed boat. I saw stars and that’s not just ’cause I couldn’t breath.”
“Sure, sure,” Juniper Jack said laying a fin on the bar top, easing his girth. “I was sprung once. I know what you mean.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jack said. “He stuck the lever in but couldn’t seem to spring me.”
“Ouch,” the minnows said in unison.
“That’s when I started to fight back,” Jack drew breath. “I flopped and got ’im too. Nailed him good with my tail. Didn’t know what hit ’im. He dropped me then and threw me back in the lake.”
Without waiting to be asked. “Yes, yes, still hooked.”
Wandering Eye brushed a fin by his own jaw and shook his head.
“I’d started to bleed then. It was him or me.” Jack swiped the foam away and licked the drip oozing out of the injured side of his mouth. “Third time up. Yank. Smash. Boom.” He’d swam in a tight circle and gestured with his fins. “I was almost down for the count. One. Two. Three. And on it went. The metal went in and finally.”
A collective breath seemed to whoosh out of the crowd.
“That’s right and a piece of my gill with it.”
Patti Pike was bent double holding back a wretch, looking more green than grey.
“Just before I turned tail fin on the tormentor," Jack said. "I spat my tooth at him and told him to keep. It’s a souvenir.”