The engine of my big blue truck growls as I carefully ease my way up Panther Mountain on a foggy October morning. I have the windows down and have turned the music off so that I can listen to the forest. I have become accustomed to paying attention to the bird calls as a kind of “radar”. The forests speak to you if you know what your listening for. Even with the windows down and the radio off I have to stop the engine and step out to be able to get a good ear shot of what’s going on. The fog seems to close in on me like a cloak and the morning light dims a little as I find a spot wide enough to exit the vehicle.
I took a little peek over the edge but the valley below is completely hidden by the fog. After a few minutes the birds began to chirp. I was hoping to get a nice photo of the fog on the Gauley River below but the fog was so thick that you couldn’t see beyond a few yards. I thought that maybe if I sat still enough some wildlife might stumble into range of my lens. This is actually a public road and even though it’s seldom used I can’t leave the road blocked so I stay within sight of the truck. I noticed that the leaves near the edge of the road were moving and suddenly a chipmunk popped up right at my feet. Before I could focus he let out a squeak and disappeared back into a sea of fallen leaves. I chuckled softly and was watching to see if he came back when the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Something was moving through the area. Something big enough to silence the birds. Normally I’d notice the holes in the bird chatter but I was too focused on the chipmunk. That eerie feeling of being watched flooded my gut so strongly that I became nauseous. Whatever it was that made the birds fall silent was close and I allowed myself to drift out from the truck a bit too far. To be continued on Part 2
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The September sky was crystal blue and the time of the Equinox signaled an end to Summer’s warm carefree days. The sun hangs low on the horizon. She meets him by the boat launch as her father and brother packs the camp. The last weekend is nearly over. This is last hour of their summer romance. Here on the edge of the fading lake they embrace beneath the sun and moon. Like the celestial bodies above they can only share the same sky for a short season. The lake boy looks deep into her eyes which are the same color blue as the sky. She noticed how the summer sun has left it’s golden tone on his skin. They continue stare silently into each other. Memorizing every line of the other’s face. Every freckle on his face and every colorful fleck in her eyes. The summer was a time when two worlds met and joined as one. But like the sun and moon the forces of nature will only allow the sharing of the sky for so long. As the embrace for summer’s last kiss, he reaches into the pocket of his shorts and pulls out a small box. “Close your eyes” he whispers. She’s a little bit nervous about what comes next but she trusts him and does as he asks. He places a golden chain around her neck. Suspended from it was a locket. It was small but elegant. Inside was the picture of the two of them on the local fishing pier. Her brother had taken the snapshot when they wasn’t looking. “Don’t let me be forgotten” he whispered once more as he clasped the necklace about her neck. A single tear rolls down her cheek and she thanked him for the gift. By now her family waits patiently in the packed car. “I’ll be waiting here for you next summer” she replied with her voice cracking. “True love is faithful no matter how long and cold the nights to come will be.” She added. With no way to delay their parting any longer the young lake boy stepped aboard his day cruiser and drifting off of the shore. He watched with anguish as she got in the car and went home for the school year. Throughout the coming months they would call, text and even attend prom together. The following summer they met again in the same spot by the boat launch. And never parted ways again.
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Some days it seems like a dark cloud just hanging over my head everywhere I go. I look up and there it is trying to look all innocent. The one in feature image is trying to disguise itself and look like a unicorn. “Pay no attention to me. I’m just a unicorn ” it says. But I know better. That cloud is just waiting for me to relax so it can rain all over me. But I wasn’t born yesterday and I’m not fooled by crafty shapeshifting. I keep my trusty oversized army surplus poncho close at hand. As I turned to open the door of my truck to retrieve my camera a cold wet sensation is felt on the back of my neck. A single raindrop runs down towards the collar of my shirt trying to find the best place to spread it’s chill. With cat like reflexes my hand moves on it’s own to close off all entry points. The other hand finds the umbrella and in one motion I spin around to face my attacker. The spring loaded umbrella pops open with blinding speed. Whump! Defiantly I glare at this nebulous aggressor from behind my nylon shield. Okay sucker, you asked for it. It’s well known among Frontiersman that Davey Crockett once grinned down a bear. Nothing, no force of nature can resist the power of such a grin. Now, I don’t know if it was the spirit of old Davey Crockett channeling through me or if my grin is really just that silly but when when I sprang from behind my umbrella and grinned at that cloud something happened. At first I thought it was thunder. Then I realized that the cloud was beginning to snicker. Just a little at first but I kept grinning. Then, the cloud just couldn’t hold back any longer. That cloud let out a full on belly laugh! In fact it laughed so hard that it wet itself all out into the river and is passing through Mississippi on it’s way to the Gulf of Mexico even as you read this post! I know it’s hard to believe me but you can ask the blind man. He witnessed the whole thing. 😉
After learning the secret written in the stone. I began to make my calculations. The maiden was carefully observing my every action as I removed the jackknife from my pants pocket and started scraping small shavings from the log where she had been seated. Ever so cautiously I collected them in the tail of my shirt. Next I would need a large piece bark and dead twigs from a nearby elder bush. I cut a notch in the bark just like my grandfather had taught me as a child and began to spin a twig in the notch. In no time at all I had a hot coal and was able to sustain it with the shavings. I took the next twig which longer split it perfectly in half. The pithy center was easy to remove and once that was done I bound them together with strands of the tall grass in meadow. I studied the broken dulcimer and committed it’s outline to memory. As I worked I looked up and saw the maiden looking onward in amazement and the raven still circled me above the trees. I placed the first hot coal on the dry wood and began to kindle it with the elder blow tube. I occasionally stepped back to the stone and checked the mathematical formulas carved there by ancient hand that was long since gone. The legacy written was instructions for a new dulcimer. The precision burning of the wood and removal of the char would need to be perfect. I became so involved with the task at hand that time lost all meaning. There was only the fire and the wood and my breath. Periodically a large drop of sweat would fall into the coal and erupt with a long stream of steam. With the jackknife I would put the finishing touches on the piece. Hand carved dovetails to hold it together and keys for tuning the strings recovered from the old one. There it was. My dreamworld had a new voice. I turned to the maiden and offered my finished product along with the parchment entrusted to me by the raven. She spoke not a word but the newfound joy in her eyes was the most profound expression of gratitude I ever experienced. Her eyes danced over the open scroll as she read the music. Then, she tuned the instrument to perfect pitch and took a breath. As she played the first few notes that gray sky rolled back and the birds all began to sing with her. The newly awoken sun pushed back the remaining clouds. With my task completed I began to make the return journey back to the waking world. As I approached the iron gate a now familiar shadow passed overhead. As turned to cast one last gaze on my dreamworld the raven landed on the road. He spoke in a raspy voice. “There is more to see here. You are as much a part of this world as you part of the one beyond that gate. You are the Fireweaver and a prince of the dreamworld.”
The drone of the alarm clock grew more intense as I slowly rose from my bed. The sun was shining through the blinds and just outside my window I could hear a mockingbird singing a song that was oddly familiar…
I walked down the silent road with only a plume of dust to mark my passage. The gray world around me seemed so empty and lost. Nothing seemed to move now. No insects in the grass and only the giant raven in the sky. He circled around as he lead me back to the beginning of the road. When I came to the head of the road I looked around. The birds sat still in the trees. If it had not been for the occasional flash of feathers as they shifted position I would have been convinced that a flock of stuffed birds had been placed on the edge of the dark forest surrounding this strange highway in the dreamworld. The raven lighted in a majestic but ancient and gnarled tree. His red eyes flashed at me and he nodded to a dimly lit path in the wood. I understood that he could guide me no farther in this quest. Will a bit of angst I stepped inside the woods and looking towards the place where the light fell away I saw her. Dressed all in white and crying as she sat on a fallen log. At her feet lay a broken dulcimer. And then I knew the answer. She was the voice of this world. And without the dulcimer that voice was gone. The birds could not wake the morning sun and the clouds ruled the day. Silence is not always golden. As she wept quietly I approached her with cautious anticipation. When she noticed me standing on the edge of the path she wasn’t startled. She looked up at me in desperation and gestured to the shattered remains of her joy lying in pieces. I opened my mouth to speak words of comfort but no sound came from my throat. She took me by the hand and pulled me to a large stone in forest. We cleared away centuries of moss and there carved into the granite more strange symbols. I studied them for a moment and realized that I knew the meaning.
After getting his bearings the young man and the caretaker went about their routine. The young man took his turn in the bed and fell asleep quickly. Sometime during the night however he woke up in a cold sweat. The room was spinning and he felt very weak. He tried to get to the door but his knees buckled and he collapsed before reaching the door. He felt himself being lifted up and placed back into the bed. A cool cloth was placed on his forehead. The last thing he saw before passing out again was the caretaker’s face. He spoke in a soft reassuring tone to the young man. The next time he came around the bedroom door was open and the young man could see the caretaker sitting at the table in front of the empty chess board. He could hear the same soft tones as the caretaker rested his elbows on the table and bowed his head in prayer.
Outside the storm was raging. Harder than before and in the middle of the day which was unusual for the island. The young man’s eyes closed once more. Again he woke up and this time the caretaker was sitting on the edge of the bed with a cup of broth. As the young man sipped from the cup he could taste the medicinal herbs in the infusion. It was bitter but the treatment was working.
Afterwards, the young man managed to stay awake. The caretaker came into his room and checked his fever. He gave the young man a pat on the shoulder and a thumbs up. Then he went back out of the room and started to work in the kitchen. The young man rose from his bed and sat down in front of the fire. He wondered how long he had been sick but really didn’t know how to ask. The caretaker looked at him from across the room and held up three fingers. Then pointed to three days on the calendar. The young man counted his blessings. He could have been on his one man vessel when the sickness struck. He would have been at the mercy of the sea.
The young man decided to leave the cottage for a while as the caretaker slept. He walked along the the rocky shore and enjoyed the sun while he could. The weather was unseasonably warm. Knowing that a warm front always proceeds a large storm front he decided that he would holed up in cottage for the next few days. The golden sky was of particular concern for him. “Orange or yellow will hurt a fellow” he said underneath his breath. He searched the horizon for any signs of a sail for a moment. He could have sworn that he saw the glimmering of glass off in the distance but when no sail was spotted he presumed it was just wishful thinking. With the tide out he actually had a beach to stroll on. As he did so he continued to look out to sea. Just then he scuffed his foot across something half buried in the sand and fell face first on beach. He rolled over and looked back to what it was that he had tripped over. It was a wooden box approximately one foot wide by eighteen inches long and 8 inches deep. He dug out the other end of the box. It was a bit heavier than he expected for its size. The young man lifted the box to one shoulder carried it back to the cottage. The box could not have been lost for too long. There was no corrosion of the metal hinges or latch. Once inside he placed his newfound prize on the table and contemplated on how to defeat the lock. He walked into the supply room and found some tools. There was a hammer and chisel, a file and after some digging around he found a box of miscellaneous keys. He would start with the keys. He carefully began to remove the sand and debris from the lock. Gently tapping on the lock with the handle of the chisel would get the bulk of the sand out. He inserted the first key and it wouldn’t seat fully into lock. However, raking the key back and forth removed more sand. He patiently worked in this way for a few hours before he noticed a presence in the room. How long had the caretaker been sitting there watching him? The caretaker was just shaking his head when the younger man realized he was there. The caretaker was holding the hammer and chisel. With one pop of the hammer and chisel the lock opened. Inside was a fine navigational kit consisting of a sextant, a compass, ships glass, and a chart. In the very bottom of the box well wrapped up in oil cloth was a watch. The set was exquisite. The fine craftsmanship of instruments was second to none. The box was well fitted enough to prevent the sand from fouling up the instruments. There was a navigator somewhere that if still alive was mourning the loss of this kit. The placed the box on the hearth where the instruments could dry out and prepared the lamp for the oncoming evening. For the first time since he was stranded the young man had a way of plotting his position. This was also the first night with a clear sky. Although the watch had stopped he could still latitude and general Compass points. To the best of his reckoning he was somewhere between Greenland and North America. The compass had a sun dial on the lid which would make it possible to determine local time.