Life with my buddy Emil, a "hold my beer and watch this" guy, was never dull. I miss him.
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The day was going well until the griffin tore Emil to shreds. Damn, I miss him.
We had been friends since childhood, growing up together on neighbouring ranches in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Once our chores were done--or sometimes to avoid chores--one or the other of us would hop on a quad and roar over to the other's place.
We'd take off together to rip through the woods, dodging trees and pretending we were in Star Wars, riding speeders and shooting at Imperial guards. Or sometimes one of us would be Luke Skywalker and the other would be an Imperial scout trooper and we'd have a mad chase through the forest at full speed. "Pew! Pew!" we'd yell, trying to make our laser guns loud enough to hear over the growl of the motors. That was our favorite game, and a lot of fun until Emil caught a front wheel on a stump. We figured he must have flown sixteen feet and the quad damn near fell on top of him. He landed on a pile of moss and pine needles and wasn't hurt a bit, but it was a long ride back to home, and his folks were royally pissed about the missed chores and wrecked quad. We were both grounded for a month for that one.
Come sixteen, we both got our drivers licenses, and me and Emil scrimped up enough money for a beat up old quad-cab pickup truck. Man, did we have fun in that truck, learning to spin donuts, trying jumps, chasing our buddies around town and the country roads. Emil was a "hold my beer and watch this" kind of guy, so we did lots of really crazy stuff. Both us and the truck somehow survived.
We also both got girlfriends. Emil, who was a short, dark bundle of energy somehow paired up with Sheila, a tall languid blonde, while I, with my husky Swede heritage, hooked up with a little pixie named Judy. I kind of liked Sheila better and often suggested we should switch, but nobody else was interested. Anyway, these were two hot babes willing to fool around in a back seat. Emil and I would flip a coin. Loser drove but cuddled in the front; winner got laid in the back. Emil won a lot of tosses before I decided to use my coin instead of his. After a few months of this, whoever drove would park in a quiet spot and there was action in both seats, though the steering wheel was a challenge. We were both careful and used rubbers, but you can guess who forgot one time and got his girl knocked up.
Sheila, she wanted to get married, but Emil said he wasn't about to get hitched at eighteen and figured to take off. His great uncle or somebody had a place up in the Rockies and he thought it would be cool, a real-life adventure, to head up there and live off the land or run a trapline or something. Like we knew shit about any of that. I mean, we'd both shot coyotes and hunted some and dressed and eaten our kill, but we wouldn't know a wild edible if we found one. Vegetables grow in gardens, or supermarkets.
Long story short, he convinced me that it would be a blast to dodge ranch chores and hide out for a month or two during the summer; we emptied our bank accounts, pooled our money, bought sleeping bags and beer and a bunch of eats. Emil had piled the grocery cart with chips and candy bars and junk but I made him chuck most of it and put in Kraft Dinners and some bread and peanut butter and bottled water and cans of stew and veges. Oh, and a cooler and some ice for the beer. We threw everything in the truck, and off we took. I had left a good-bye note for my folks and Judy, but I think Emil just made like he had disappeared.
We drove for days, getting lost a lot and drinking half our beer, but finally we found the cabin. It was a run-down mess. We chased out a porcupine and patched the hole he'd gnawed in the door with a board and some nails and hammer we found in a shed out back. We tied a stick to the gnawed-off table leg to prop it up. I swept out a couple of pounds of mouse and rabbit and porcupine turds while Emil drank a beer and supervised. We found an old tarp in the shed that we nailed over the roof to cover most of the holes.
Turned out that there wasn't much to do in a backwoods cabin up in the mountains. No radio. No tv. No video games. After we had read every old book and ancient magazine in the place, and Emil and me had started to wear on each other a bit, we took to hiking around in the woods. I really enjoyed it. Fresh air, the smell of pines, birds chirping. Emil hated hiking and took to polishing off the rest of the beer we'd brought. My guess was that he'd stay plastered for a few days, then when the cans were all empty he'd decide it was time to move back to civilization.
Instead, one time when I came back from a hike, he was all excited about this old map he'd found buried at the bottom of his great-great-whatever-uncle's trunk. A griffon's lair, right here--he jabbed at a spot on the map--only a few miles from this cabin, and filled with gold! Yeah, sure, I said. Pull the other one. He shoved some mildewed pages into my face, telling me to shut my ignorant yap and read. The pages had been torn from some old encyclopedia or book about mythical creatures.
The griffin, griffon, or gryphon, I read, is a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and sometimes an eagle's talons as its front feet. Because the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts, and the eagle the king of the birds, by the Middle Ages, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Since classical antiquity, griffins were known for guarding treasures and priceless possessions. In ancient times, griffins were said to lay eggs in hollows in the ground and these nests were lined with gold nuggets and stolen jewels.
There was a picture of a gruesome hybrid animal with head of a bald eagle, fierce beak, razor talons, wings kind of like a bat or a dragon, and a tail tipped with a spear head. It looked like something that would carry off a full-grown sheep to feed its kittens. Or fledglings. Or grubs. Or whatever its eggs hatched into.
Well, "hold my beer and watch this" pretty much sums up Emil's reaction. Even as I was asking him why the hell these nonexistent mythical Medieval things would even be found in the Frozen North, he jammed on his Calgary Flames baseball cap, stuffed a can of beer into his back jeans pocket, and yelled at me to come on and get rich. So off he went, peering at the map in the gloom of the forest, squinting at a compass he'd found somewhere in the shack, with me trudging dutifully in his wake. I had to admit, life with Emil was never dull.
After an hour or so, we were puffing up a ridge and Emil motioned me to be quiet and keep down. We peered over the rocks at the top of the ridge and there in a little valley on the other side, nestled in a depression in the ground, damned if there wasn't a griffin. Big sucker, size of a mountain lion, with its beak tucked under one wing. Higher up the hill on the other side was a big rock surrounded by bones, including a human skull.
On seeing what had become of Great-Uncle Whoever, I immediately slithered back down the hill and hid in some bushes, but Emil stuck his head up for a better look. There was a rush of wings and this loud "Keeeeee!" and a scrabble of rocks up on the ridge. Emil squealed and the wings beat harder and louder. I peered out of the bushes and watched the griffin hauling a writhing Emil to the big rock, where the sharp beak started slashing at his eyes while the lion back legs ripped out his guts....
God, I could hear him screaming all the way back to the truck, where I carefully emptied my pouched t-shirt of all the rings and bracelets and necklaces and took the gold nuggets out of my pockets. Yep, while the griffin was busy with Emil, I had robbed her nest.
I drove to Calgary and became a wealthy man. Let on to the home folks that Emil had lit out for parts unknown. Married Sheila, figuring the least I could do was help raise my best friend's kid. Besides, she was hot.
But damn, I sure do miss Emil.