And here friends and followers is the conclusion… if you have not read Part I please click here.
I finally caught up with old Baker scratching his back beside a creek. It was quite something to watch him in broad daylight; so relaxed and at peace in his wilderness. He was rubbing his back up against the rough bark of a tree; eyes closed, lips curled in satisfaction. When finally he opened them, our eyes met and I thought I saw in them recognition. Certainly it was not the first time Baker and I had locked eyes. I had chased him from my orchards with gunfire and clamoring pans more than a dozen times over the years and always he would amble away with a casual sneer. He saw me as the two legged apple keeper and I went from seeing him as a nuisance neighbour to a murderer. I raised my .338 and aimed at that spot between his golden eyes. He took that bullet with an amicable smile.
I thought of old Baker three months later when my wife and I bumped into Tom Yates having dinner at the only restaurant in town with the deceased’s Mrs Yates’ younger sister Alvira. I thought of him again when we attended their wedding the following Fall and Alvira wore her older sister’s wedding dress ‘in tribute’ she had said to me but to my wife she had said something else altogether. She had said her sister had been a ‘large woman’ and so the dress was wide enough to hide her baby bump.
Baker started visiting soon after the wedding. I’d wake up to the sound of falling apples and munching and when I looked out my bedroom window and down into our small orchard he would be there reaching for those apples, the bullet hole clearly visible in the moonlight.
I started doubting myself. I woke my wife up more than once and asked her to take a look when the munching roused me from my restless sleep in those predawn hours but the occasional bear she spotted she said, was nowhere near old Baker’s size. Besides she didn’t believe in ghosts especially not in the ghosts of animals coming back to haunt their killers. She said she worried about me and that I should go see a head doctor. Instead I took to checking on Baker’s remains in the post office and was not comforted by the fact that he was still there. After I had shot him, Tom had Baker mounted as a ‘man-killer’ and put on display at the post office. Such a big bear the townspeople said would draw in crowds of visitors. But very few crossed the bridge to come and stare at Baker.
Earlier this year Baker caught up with me on the bridge. I had been standing there in the half-light of dusk with my hands in my pockets staring down at those two rivers running side by side, wanting to think of trout and pink salmon but instead thinking of Tom Yates and his second wife and their three sons when Baker made his presence known. He was on all fours, panting and heaving on the town side of the bridge. I think I laughed at him. I remember bending down to pick up a small stone and throwing it at him. I told him I was an old man now. I told him to leave me alone. But Baker just kept on staring at me with those golden eyes. When I tired of waving my fist at him I got into my truck and drove through him and into the wide cedar that stood behind him.
A Halloween week treat friends and followers. I wanted to write a different kind of ghost story. I suppose you are the Beta readers as I have not shown it to anyone else. I hope you like it.
I moved to this valley in my twenties to help build the bridge that spans the two rivers we locals call ‘The Sisters’ but in truth they are nothing more than noisy rivals, eyeing each other, as they incise their way down to the coast. Back then the belief was ‘build the bridge and the people will come’ but our young town failed to draw in the people despite the promise of potash and a possible mine.
Occasionally we are graced with the presence of scientists and the like who come to count grizzlies and steelhead trout. We like to regale them with tales of close encounters with bears and man-eating cougars and moose as tall as houses; stories we tell our own children to keep them from wandering deep into the forest. But mostly this beautiful valley is ours and the bridge is a quiet place.
When I am not home, on the farm with my wife (our only daughter has long since flown the coop and now lives with her accountant husband in Vancouver) I like to stop here on the bridge.
I like it here. I like it far better than I ever liked living in the city where I grew up. I like the smell of glaciers and tart berries. I like the heady odour of rotting vegetation on the forest floors and the green smell of scraggly Douglas fir. Nothing much ever happens in our town or in the surrounding farms but from time to time the local newspaper will remind us that tragedy strikes unexpectedly and that darkness has the potential to snuff out the light. Darkness descended when Mrs Yates was taken while hanging out her laundry. I was interviewed by not only by the local newspaper but later by a national newspaper for my side of the story. This happened back in the eighties when her husband Tom and I were like bobcats. Tom was adamant that old Baker had taken her. Baker was what we like to call around these parts a ‘trouble bear’. He got his name because of his fondness for eating pie crust from kitchens and fruit from our orchards. When Tom asked for my help in tracking Baker down I had my doubts. I couldn’t understand why Baker would take Mrs Yates. It wasn’t, as they say in those crime stories my wife likes to read, his ‘modus operandi’. Baker ate pies and apples throughout the valley. He didn’t take nice ladies doing the laundry.
Sure enough I found tracks leading to and away from the Yates farmhouse but I wasn’t sure they were Baker’s and I told Tom Yates so. But Tom insisted. He said it was Baker because no other bear had Baker’s massive girth or thick auburn coat. We lost the tracks at the point where The Sisters hold hands to form a formidable bond of gushing water before going their separate ways again two miles south and had to head back the way we came and then east towards the mountains.
There was blood, here and there, dark but tiny amounts spattered on the mushy ground, but not enough I imagined to indicate Baker was chewing on one of Mrs Yates’ limbs as he ambled along. We finally stumbled upon Mrs Yates body about three days after her abduction lying beside a fallen spruce. She was partially covered by moss and leaves. It was like someone had tried to keep her warm and not necessarily hidden. But it was that surprise- filled expression – those wide empty eyes – staring up at the forest canopy and the sunlight filtering through it that still haunts me. Her throat had been slashed, possibly by a bear or a jagged knife but otherwise she was remarkably intact. I wanted to comment on that, but Tom Yates was groaning beside her like a wounded animal so I pressed on and alone.
I’m in the middle of a 14 day work shift. I’m having the kind of month that I just know I won’t survive without my daily attitude adjustment, double shots of Emergen-C and quick intervals of yoga stretches (if I drank coffee I’d be on a caffeine drip).
I had to participate in a 4 day trade show and if you’ve ever exhibited at one of these long 12 hour day trade shows you have an idea of how I’m feeling. Knackered.
Of course my way of getting through any event or function is to connect with people because not only do I like people but I also like their stories. Stories energize me.
How do you stay energized in stressful situations?
I have never had a problem with getting people to tell me their stories. Of course whether their stories are true or false I wouldn’t know and I’m not sure it actually matters. I don’t intend to write biographies but I do intend to steal elements of their stories.
Does that make me a bad person? 😀
Which makes me wonder. What is the purpose or intention behind the story-writing? Do we write because we are collectors and memory-keepers or futurists and mirrors? Perhaps, all of these?
Over the course of the last few days I have met a man who survived a grizzly bear attack and wears a bear claw to prove it; another man whose father saved a few hundred Polish Jews from Hitler’s invading army (in such an ingenious manner that I can’t believe more decent people didn’t think of it); a young woman who raised all five of her younger siblings on her own and a man who while out hunting for deer was himself hunted by a pack of wolves.
You can imagine how all this has the writer in me buzzing with excitement. I can’t wait to get a day or two off so I can start planning another batch of short stories despite having to work on two others that require extensive ‘tweaking’.
How do stories wing their way to you?
A good friend of mine is always buying things in order to ‘start’ things. He once filled his truck with pots, seedlings and bags of soil because he was going to ‘landscape’ his garden. Another time he bought the hollowed out, beaten up shell of a car so he could ‘fix it up’. He started on the garden and got as far as digging holes for the seedlings before apparently moving on to the car which despite his protestations to the contrary looks like it has only ever been attended to by the harshest of elements.
I am sure we all know someone like my friend. Someone who is good at starting projects but never actually finishes anything. Maybe you’re a little like that. I know I am when it comes to writing short stories. And it bugs me. It really does. Enough to keep me up at night wondering why I still haven’t summoned the energy or courage to return to that back alley in downtown Vancouver or that Southern plantation in 1910 or that ramshackle house on Sweet Meadow Road in the late afternoon when Aunt Jess is just about to serve tea and disclose something…something of great import, that well, I still haven’t figured out yet. Because those characters are waiting in the wings, wringing their hands, shaking their heads…
I know what the problem is of course. I am waiting for the ‘prefect time’ to return to them. Maybe you’re in the same boat. Maybe you’re waiting with me – oars in hand – for the right conditions.
Buddha once said there are two fatal errors that keep great projects from coming to life: 1. Not finishing 2. Not starting.
We’re never going to find that ‘perfect time’ to start or complete a project. The perfect time is NOW even if it doesn’t look or feel like it.
This week let’s commit to finish at least one thing we started. Are you with me?
It’s that time of year when many of us look back on what was accomplished over the course of 2013’s fast and fleeting months and while December is still youngish the media will soon blitz us with headlines like ‘2013 was The Year of …(twerking anyone?)’ and we will be faced with the question:
What milestones or accomplishments did you achieve this year?
So while I know a lot can happen in 21 days, you could still swim across the English Channel say (if you’re so inclined or feeling suicidal) or climb a mountain (of you insist) I’m guessing you’re ‘done’ for the year and are looking forward to some peace and quiet and time with the family.
Sadly I didn’t get to run with the bulls this year. But more importantly I didn’t achieve any of my writing goals. Not one. I didn’t finish The Masterpiece which means I don’t get to write THE END in a flourish of black ink at the bottom of the last page on the last day of 2013. I didn’t get one short story published or even accepted for publication. And, the three or four poems I submitted were torn apart, line by glorious line (I’m not kidding) by editors who ‘didn’t get it’. I’m an artist! You’re not always going to ‘get it’ I wanted to bleat from the mountain top but it seems I’ll have to wait a little longer for that privilege.
Here’s what I’m going to do: I am going to keep on doing what I love to do because I’m Tenacious (with a capital ‘T’) you see. But also because sometimes it’s about timing. Maybe it’s not my time yet. Maybe there’s something better ahead or maybe I still need to practice more. Maybe like Malcolm Gladwell says I need 10 000 hours (or 100 000 hours) and that’s ok.
Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
― Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success
I am revising (revisiting is probably the better word) a short story I wrote, then set aside to percolate or brew in a dusty drawer.
It’s a semi-autobiographical story about childhood loss which I found difficult to write because writing about my father in particular,is always difficult. Mostly he was an absent parent. The kind of parent who would flit in and out of our lives like a shadow. For the longest time he reminded me of a Tomcat and in reality he was very much like one; always on the prowl. He never did get to find what he was looking for, perhaps because he went looking for ‘it’ in all the wrong places.
I never got to ask him what he was looking for. He died before I got the chance to really know him. I like to think he was looking for something deep and meaningful like peace or self-acceptance.
Only recently have I come to realize that I write not only for pleasure but also for healing. I write to draw out the monsters from under the bed. It takes courage I think to write about our dark times but also a willingness to see things differently. In writing about my father I have kept him alive all these years and in revisiting the places he took us to and reliving the things we did together I believe I have got to understand him better and the choices he made.
How do you feel about your writing? Do you feel it is healing? Enlightening?