Getting to a Halloween party can be tough!
|"Now, Michael," his mother hesitated, "I know you know the way to Jeff's house with us, but your dad seems to think you can get there on your own. You remember where the white X is on the fir tree, right?"
"Mom! I'm nine years old. You and Dad promised to let me go alone."
"Hey sport, call us when you get there so your mom doesn't worry, OK?" His father put an arm around him and walked him out the door. "She worries a lot about, you know, the Lost Lumberjack."
"Yeh, right Dad," Michael giggled. He trotted to the trees between his house and Jeff's, calling back, "I'll call. I promise."
He smiled to himself. "Lost Lumberjack. No way. C'mon Darby." The golden retriever yapped and jumped, ready for adventure. Michael walked into the forest in the early afternoon sun for a Halloween party at Jeff's house. To say they were neighbors, was, as his mother was fond of saying, a bit of a stretch. The lots were over 20 acres on the shoulder of Mt. Hood. He could take the road, but it was four times as long as the path through the trees. His dad said Mom was a city girl and couldn't get use to the "wild" woods. But they agreed he could go it alone when he was nine.
He bent over and ruffled Darby. "Hey boy, let's go get us a Lost Lumberjack." Darby licked his face and together they walked into the forest. Michael thought for a moment, then remembered his grandfather talking about the Lost Lumberjack. Something about when things would go wrong for his granddad's crew: a tree falling the wrong way or logs out of control. They would blame the Lost Lumberjack out there with his chainsaw cutting the wrong things. Michael laughed. He remembered his grandmother interrupting, reminding his grandfather about the log that rolled over Frank Perkins, the chainsaw that cut off Dan Stokes’s foot. Freak accidents, his grandfather said; it was a dangerous business. Then a faraway look would come in his grandfather’s eyes as though remembering something he wished he'd forgotten. "You're right Martha," he'd say, "let's talk about something else."
The Douglas firs towered over Michael and Darby. Jeff Freeman was his best friend and his mother promised a special Halloween party for the "neighborhood" boys. Michael was probably the only one within walking distance.
Darby stopped, shook himself, panted a few seconds, then yelped.
"Hey, Darbs, what's up?" Michael paused to look back at the dog sitting down on his haunches. Darby yelped again.
"C'mon Darby, we'll be late. Let's get going." He clapped his hands and Darby acquiesced, although his tail drooped as he caught up to Michael.
The trees sheltered the Oregon sun. Michael looked up, savoring the moment of freedom when a cloud came over. Well, he thought, it rains a lot here; better get going.
As he walked down the path, it seemed to be getting darker. Darby was now at his side, whining. The undergrowth thickened and moss caught Michael's shoulder. Brushing it aside, a spider web he didn't see draped on his face, its occupant running down his neck and arm then spinning a line to the ground from his elbow.
“Yuk,” Michael wiped the web from his face with his sleeve. A loud caw overhead combined with the whop-whop of wings made him look up. A huge black raven dove straight for him, its black eyes intent. Michael ducked, covering his face with one arm and grabbing Darby with the other. The wind from the wings blew around him and the raven's claws raked through his hair as it swept by.
“Ow!” cried Michael as he stood up rubbing his head. Darby leaned on his legs and whined. It was a gray dark, the time of day when things lost their color. But, Michael thought, I just had lunch.
“C'mon Darby. Let's go!” He started to trot, turning at the tree marked with a white X. The path disappeared; Michael faced thick underbrush. He turned around. The white X was always where they turned; Dad put it there two years ago. He walked back to the X. It was right there on this tree. No, there was no X. In fact, there was no path. Where had it gone? Michael shook his head; he'd been this way many times. Dad said when he got lost to think about where the sun was last time you saw it.
He looked up to a thick black overcast sky heavy with oncoming rain. He paced back the way he thought he'd come. Yes, there was the rhododendron his mother pointed out in the Spring. The screech overhead alerted him to the returning ravens. He again grabbed Darby, flopped on his belly and held the dog down next to him. The wings whop-whopped over his head, the screeching so loud his ears rang. Must be a flock of them. Lying on his belly, he raised his head to the sound of scratching. He looked up to a lone raven looking down at him. It was bigger than a cat. "Wraaack." The beak opened letting Michael see down its throat. He started to slide backward. The raven followed. "Wraack." The raven jumped right up to his face and pecked at his nose. Michael buried his face in his arms, rose up and kicked the bird.
"Wraack, wraack, wraack," it screamed. Suddenly the light dimmed even more and ravens were diving at him. He grabbed Darby's collar and ran to an overhang of rock. It wasn't exactly a cave, but better than anything else in sight. After a couple of minutes of screeching and fluttering, the attack stopped, but Michael had blood on his arms from the pecks and could feel cuts on his face. He looked at Darby. The dog leaned against Michael trembling so much he could feel it through his own body. Darby's pee formed a yellow stream out of the overhang.
A raven landed in front of them. "Wraack." The flock was apparently elsewhere.
Michael stood. "C'mon Darby. We aren't afraid of a raven." He walked boldly out and the raven took off.
"OK, Darbs, now where is that path?" A loud crack distracted him. He and Darby looked. Nothing. Another loud crack. Something large was walking through the forest. Could be a bear. Michael thought about that. Dad said never, ever run from a bear. Wave your arms if you're caught out, hide if you can. He pulled Darby back under the overhang. A branch cracked again. Michael pulled some loose tree limbs over the opening. He looked at Darby; Darby barked bears that came around the house. He was not barking now; he looked terrified. Michael felt his heart start to pound. Why did he think it might be something worse than a bear?
Michael crouched, petting the dog, feeling something was wrong. There were always noises in the forest: bugs, squirrels, small animals. It was quiet, too quiet. Michael listened to his heartbeat between his ears.
"Crack" went another branch. Michael started thinking it was so big it couldn't creep through the forest but was coming through like a truck. It didn't seem to care about the noise it made. Now Michael heard crunching of the small twigs and needles on the forest floor. There was a large grunt and a chainsaw grumbled into action. Michael worked with his dad thinning dead trees, but his dad's chainsaw didn't sound like this. This was a diesel truck next to a dirt bike. He huddled with Darby further back.
He listened. The steps turned away from their hiding place. Michael took a breath. The chainsaw slowed to an idle. He heard the sound fading and the steps crunched away. He breathed again. "C'mon Darby. We're almost at Jeff's. It can't be too far now." The path, where was the path? Where was the fir with the X? It should be right around here. Michael turned again. Darby slunk back to the overhang and cowered.
Michael pulled the dog out by the collar. "C'mon you coward. It's this way, I know it is." Darby looked at him askance. A branch broke again nearby.
“Run Darby, run” shouted Michael as he plunged ahead. The branches reached out to scratch him, the undergrowth reached up to trip him every few steps. After three stumbles, a vine caught his ankle and he launched through the air.
The sun was out just ahead as he flew. It welcomed him, but said he was running late and the ice cream may be melting. Michael started to ask the sun what was behind them when he realized the forest floor was rapidly approaching his face. He bent his elbows under him, crashed down, snapped the vine and skidded on his forearms to a stop. Picking himself up, he tried to stand, but his ankle gave out and he fell back on the ground. He looked around for the dog.
“Darby? Come here, Darby.” Michael's voice quavered.
“Darby! Come here this minute Darby!” he insisted. The forest was silent. No birds chirped, no squirrels darted, no wind blew, no dog barked. The grayness thickened.
Behind him, another branch cracked. He heard a whine. Darby? He crawled ahead to the sound. He heard the whine again, but it was behind him. How could that be? Then he heard the chainsaw. Another branch cracked, the chainsaw whirred into action. Whoever it was wasn't cutting down trees; they were walking with the chainsaw. Then Michael heard Darby scream. Silence. Heavy footsteps crunching.
Michael cowered as tight as he could under a shrub oak. The chainsaw slashed small trees and shrubs around him; he could hear the engine change pitch when it encountered something. He crawled deeper into the oak, heart pounding in his throat. Now the heavy footsteps were near; he could see huge boots like the lumberjacks wore.
"I know you're here, David, and I'm going to get you!"
David? Michael was tempted to get up and explain he was not David, but another slash of the chainsaw through an aspen sapling convinced him otherwise. "Whirrrrrrrrr," he could see the blade now and the enormous hands holding the machine. He scrambled out the back of the oak, crawling on two hands and one leg. A rock; he needed a big rock.
"I hear you, you bastard; I'll get you yet, David." Michael pulled himself behind a boulder and peered over. What he saw stopped his heart. His mouth went dry. It was a carved lumberjack. They had one at the lumber company. Paul Bunyon made with a chainsaw. But this one was moving. Michael stared wide-eyed at the face. It had no eyes, just empty sockets.
The lumberjack moved like he was made of wood taking big unstable steps. The chainsaw was real. The orange grip boasted "Stihl" and had the longest bar Michael had ever seen. A great wooden finger flexed on the trigger.
"I'll cut down the whole damn forest for what you've done to me! David, come out of your squirrel hole."
Michael froze. Even without eyes, the lumberjack could obviously hear. He felt the ground under his feet slipping. The boulder he hid behind was beginning to shake. He looked up to see the giant smiling, raising the chainsaw, revving it up and bringing it right down to Michael as though to carve him in half.
The boulder rolled away knocking the lumberjack off balance. Michael stood to try and run, but gravel was rolling under his feet like marbles. He fell back on it and it carried him in a river of rubble. A big log was coming up fast. He flipped over on his stomach and tried to crawl away from the flow of gravel or back up. Anything to keep from hitting the log.
Suddenly, he was falling down at a sharp angle. Darkness enveloped him. Down through an earthen tunnel. Rocks tumbled after him. The cloud of dust was choking. He tried to stop but the tunnel was too steep. He could hear a roar from above, "Noooooooo." He quit trying to fight the fall, but maneuvered himself onto his bottom and bounced the last few feet. Although a cloud of dust surrounded him, he could see blue sky. He spit out a pebble.
"Good grief, look at you." Michael opened one eye and saw Jeff's mother. "You are a mess. Took you long enough. The sun said you were having a few problems."
"There's a wooden giant, Mrs. Freeman. He had a chainsaw and he was chasing me and I fell through a hole." Michael looked up at her.
"I'm sure. Well, you are here now. Come on, you're an hour late and the ice cream is melting."
"I don't think I can - it's my ankle," Michael pointed to his foot which lay at an odd angle.
"Oh that, well, we can fix that." Mrs. Freeman squatted down and put her hands around Michael's ankle. They were warm and Michael felt tingling.
"Now, try that."
Michael moved his foot. It seemed to work and didn't hurt anymore. He got up, tested it, and walked. It was fine.
"Oh no! Darby! He killed Darby!"
Mrs. Freeman smiled. "Darby has been waiting for you; he's already had his ice cream. Come on."
Michael cocked his head. He followed Mrs. Freeman down an unfamiliar path. As they rounded the corner Michael saw a carved lumberjack holding a chainsaw. He backed up, terrified it would come alive. The wooden face with blue eyes smiled down. He scurried past and glanced up. The wooden eye winked at him. He ran to Mrs. Freeman's side trotting to keep up with her.
"The lumberjack - he winked at me!"
"You saw the lumberjack? How interesting."
"He's right there!" Michael turned around and pointed and a tree. He stared in disbelief. "Well, he was just there."
"C'mon Michael, David's waiting for you."
"David, who's David?"
"Why, your grandfather, of course. His name was David, you know."
Michael thought. Yes, that was true. However, his grandfather died last year.
"Here we are." Mrs. Freeman stepped up on the porch. "David?" she called into the house.
A boy about Michael's age came out. "Hi Michael, I'm David, your grandfather." Michael blinked. David was dressed in a white shirt that billowed at the sleeves, suspenders and knickers. Darby charged from around the corner jumped up to lick Michael's face. "Oh Darby, thank goodness you're alive!"
David and Mrs. Freeman watched with smiles. Finally David motioned Michael to a picnic table.
"This is the Lost Lumberjack's home. I drove him out when I was your dad's age, but I have to stay here or he will come and kill more men. Some kind of time warp; I'm not sure."
Michael continued to stare.
"A raven told me he would kill no more, except any of my male descendants found alone in the forest until they were 21. Beats me why 21, but it seems to be the case."
"What about Dad? Does he know? Why didn't the lumberjack attack him?"
"Your dad was over 21. I didn't know about the curse until I was dead."
"What David is trying to say," Mrs. Freeman settled herself at the table, “is that someday, we knew you would walk the woods alone. When your mother said they’d agreed on your ninth birthday, I tried to talk her out of it. She said she would do her best, but you and your dad would probably overrule her. Your dad just didn’t buy the “Lost Lumberjack” thing.
"That thing is real?"
"Only for you and David.. However, you will want to be careful of your children."
“So, anyway,” David continued, “we sent in the ravens to chase you back. If that didn’t work, the spirits of lumberjacks killed would come up with an escape route.”
Michael stared off. "And you, are you really Jeff's mother?"
"Oh, honey, yes. But I'm something of a witch and can travel about in time. David is my cause of the moment." She stood up. "Now, you have a party to attend."
"Michael," David rose from the table and ambled slowly away. "It was real nice seeing you again."
"Can't you go to the party?"
"No, but you have a real good time." David ambled slowly into the forest, his hands in the pockets of his knickers.
Michael got up and climbed the stairs where Mrs. Freeman held the door. Sounds of children shouting and laughing were inside. They were dressed in jeans, t-shirts and running shoes.
“Could you call my mom and ask her to pick me up after the party? I don't think I want to walk back."