June’s bright sunbeams failed to penetrate the blinds of the closed-smelling dorm-room. Brother Reynolds knocked hesitantly at the open door. “May I come in?”
“Lemmee the hell alone ... oh ... father Reynolds, I’m so sorry, I...” mumbled Eula, wiping the dried material from the corners of her mouth and rising groggily from bed in her slept-in clothes.
“Neither this,” Brother Reynolds said admonishingly, removing the empty fifth of bourbon from the floor to the leather bag he carried, “nor hiding in the dark is going bring him back... he’s in a better place now.”
Eula looked at him grimly, barely holding her tongue.
“You need to get out and do something with yourself, and I‘ve found just the thing.”
Eula winced as he drew up the blind.
“The Chicago diocese has a wilderness camp for inner city girls, north of Green Bay ... they need a wildlife interpreter for the summer. I said you’d take the job.”
“You, wha--,” Eula stopped short, his stern yet amiable look disarming her.
* * *
A month with giddy young teens, camping and rambling through the outskirts of the Nicolet National Forest, had muted Eula’s melancholy. Now, after a quick breakfast, they were moving campsites, a 7 mile hike to Drag Lake, over towards the Potawatomi Reservation.
“Eula, you’ll stay behind with Constance and Aretha...clean up the campsite...trailhead’s 2 miles down the road, at the sandy patch, turn left, follow the blazes...anyways, you’ve got the forestry map.”
* * *
“Great job finding the blazes girls, we’d have been here --”
“Eula, that you?” came a voice from back towards the sandy patch.
Three exhausted girls emerged from the underbrush, their breathless counsellor, Bea, in tow. “Eula ... praise the Lord ... couldn’t find the blazes ... kept on the trail ... swamp ... coming back ... Margie ran ahead ... said she knew where to go ... dunno where... gotta ... go ... back ... take the girls?”
“I’ll go, take Constance and Aretha, they found the blazes.”
“Thanks!” puffed Bea.
* * *
After a narrow stream the trail extending beyond the sandy spot split to right and left. After two hundred yards of the former revealed no signs of passage, Eula turned back and headed, as Bea had, up the left branch. The dark soggy soil was home to sharp sedges, tall Joe-pye weeds, and bushy tufts of willows and alders. Eula proceeded slowly, calling out and tracking up and down any branch trails.
Sitting on a dry tussock, she opened her pack, and scarfed down a messy peanut-butter sandwich. Taking a deep breath she pulled out a locket, opened it and kissed a clip of hair within it -- hesitatingly, she drew out and opened a waterproof packet. She rubbed her cheek against the man’s sweatshirt inside, drawing in the smell. She sat pondering ... it was nearly 4 o’clock, 10 minutes more searching and she would turn back.
Rising over a ridge the trail ended abruptly on a small reed and sedge-skirted pond. Tall bare trees adorned a hazy green background. The map showed a lumber road running from beyond the marsh, over a ridge and down to Drag Lake -- this would save hours of backtracking. Looking up, she noticed a trail of crushed sedges winding it’s way into the marsh -- had Margie wandered this far?
It took a full 3 hours of crossing beaver dams, hopping from tussock to tussock and ultimately slogging knee-deep through bubbling, foul-smelling mud to reach the shore beyond, but she had far overshot the road. The trail of trampled sedges continued, ending where the forest began.
Crossing a dried creek bed, her attention was drawn by movement beside a large beech. The grainy grey vision gathering twilight imposed left her more the impression than a certainty that a thin, dark man, beating winged arms, had processed reverently up the hillside and behind an outcropping. Confused upon reaching the tree and finding no sign of anyone’s passage, she still pursued that direction, as it would lead her to the Lake.
Reaching a ledge just below the ridge, she was briefly assailed by a smell of rotting flesh, along with that of a wood fire; still, oddly, she felt composed. Rounding a spur of rock, she came upon a wooded hollow which the setting sun bathed in a deepening orange glow. The trees housed a number of platforms, some tenanted and equipped with jars, dishes of food, fresh clothes; others, in a state of disrepair were empty. Silently she drew closer.
The man, who had removed his wings and placed them between a tenanted tree and a blazing fire, turned. Eula sensed rather than saw him beckon her. He silently climbed to the platform, unwrapped a tattered blanket, and exposed a skeleton to which a few tatters of flesh still clung. These he daintily yet respectfully picked off with his preternaturally long fingernails, finally descending to offer them to the fire. Climbing again, he drew apart the bones, placing them on a clean piece of coarse cloth, wrapping them, along with the few other objects the platform bore, in a bundle he tied together with a rawhide strip.
Descending with the bundle and extinguishing the fire, he paused, looking her over intently. She pictured than heard when he whispered: “You too have work to do here.” She understood. Climbing to the platform she laid Jim’s shirt across a remaining piece of blanket, placing the locket inside it, and folded the blanket over it, sealing it with her tears.
As she climbed down, the Indian had moved off the way she had come, but was pointing up the hill.
* * *
At the lake, a concerned Bea and Margie, were waiting. “I kin smell where you been, an’ it ain’t pretty,” said Margie indecorously. Reaching the middle of the lake, Bea and Margie suddenly tipped the canoe, sending a distracted Eula into the water. Surfacing she said: “I feel much better now.”
"Pick 'Em Clean"
Copyright: © 2011 Georges Dodds
Published in strong competitors to The New Flesh like International Agrophysics and Estudos de Literatura Oral, Georges Dodds has until recently kept his weird writing under mouldy cerements. His recent genre activities include textual resurrection for a publisher of Gothic novels, unearthing and presenting in an e-library some thematic precursors of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, translating early French science-fiction to English, and preparing a collection of American dime-novelist William Murray Graydon's earliest adventure stories. Georges and his 3-species family (4 with the goldfish), lives in a former bus garage, on the now relocated site of an 18th century cemetery -- so far tilling the garden hasn't revealed its past.