by M. L. Cooke
A fictional book about life in the 1800s in Oregon. A work in progress.
It was one of the driest summers we’d had in years. The evergreens were starting to lose their needles, and the streams weren't flowing anymore. This was the summer that my father had to go a very long way to the pond and back to get water for everyday use around the house. Samuel would help him haul the water back, while Poe and I helped to haul the empty buckets there.
It was a particularly hot afternoon when my father went to the pond alone. Samuel and Poe were caught up in cutting the grass in the field to make hay for Ol' Red Eyes, our albino draft horse. I wouldn't be much help without Samuel there, so instead of going with my father, I helped by gathering the grass that Samuel cut into bundles. I may have only been eleven at the time, but I will remember that day for the rest of my life.
My mother sent him off with a rifle and a kiss, and watched out the door until he was out of sight. I went on with my hay-gathering, and soon I was ready to quit. I went inside for a snack, and when I came back out, Samuel was staring off into the woods with a worried look on his face. When I asked him what he was looking at, he said, "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" I asked.
"That gun shot. It came from the direction Papa went." Poe said.
"Did he shoot a deer?" I asked hopefully. It was always a good sign when we got a deer. It meant the herds were moving our way, and we would have plenty to eat over the winter.
"I don't think so. There would have been two shots. One to wound it, the other to kill it,"
"What else could it have been?" I asked.
"Indians." Samuel said it totally serious-like. I could tell he wasn't joking. He went back to cutting the grass saying, "There isn't much we can do now, but wait." I continued to pick up the fallen blades for the time being.
Hours passed, and there was still no sign of my father. Samuel, Poe, and I went walking in the woods calling for him, but there was no answer. We went home defeated. Once evening had turned to night, Samuel went ahead and lit the fire himself. I usually slept on the rug next to the fire. I laid down and tried to sleep.
A loud, slow banging on the door jarred me awake. I bolted upright as Puppy, our seven-year-old Black Labrador, began to bark. My mother, Poe and Samuel both went to the door. My mother gasped and opened it wider. There, in the doorway, at nearly midnight, was my father. Bloodied and broken. "Indians" is what he said before he collapsed. Samuel was quick to catch him before his head hit the floor. My father was immediately taken to his room and laid on the bed. I followed them in. Tilly, my eight-year-old sister, as sitting in the chair in the corner crying. Puppy jumped up on the bed and laid down next to my father. My mother told me and Tilly to go back to bed. Tilly usually slept with my parents, so tonight she was to sleep in Samuel and Poe's room. She didn't want to. Instead, she came and sat by the fire next to me.
"Do you think Papas gonna be alright?" She asked.
"I don't know," I answered. There was no way to know. I sat there for a while, moving my jaw back and forth, deep in thought, watching the flames flicker back and forth creating moving shadows on the farthest walls, illuminating the darkest corners. But not my parents' room. Tilly eventually laid down and fell asleep. I gave up my blanket to her, and sat down on one of the three chairs in the living room. I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway.
All night Samuel and Poe were going back and forth fetching things for my mother, until it stopped. They didn't come out anymore. I got up to see what they were doing, careful not to wake Tilly, and opened the bedroom door. Poe was sitting in the chair, his head in one hand. Samuel looked up at me from one of the corners of the room where he was standing, a sad look in his eyes. I looked over at my mother. She was kneeling on the floor with her face buried in the quilt on her bed, sobbing. My father lay unmoving, eyes staring off to nowhere. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream, I wanted to wake up and find that it had all been a horrible dream. I never did. Instead I dropped to the floor where I stood. I sat there, stunned, for over an hour, until Samuel came and stood me up. When I sat down on the chair in the living room, Tilly woke up. She looked over at me and immediately started crying.
Suddenly, we heard hoof beats outside. They had come. Samuel went and got Poe and my mother from the room and we hurried out the back door. Tilly was the last one out, and she stumbled over a root right when the Indians came pounding through the door. I went back, helped her up, and gave her a head start. That's when it hit me. One of the Indians threw a tomahawk, and it hit the back of my head. My vision blurred, but I couldn't stop now. I ran through the woods, not having the slightest idea of where I was. I didn't know how far I had come until I stumbled on the dry earth and slipped down into a ditch that was about a mile away from our house. After I fell, I didn't have the willpower to get back up again. My eyes slowly closed as I blacked out.
When I woke up, the first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. The moon was silently gliding across the treetops, while banks of fog rolled through the trunks of the trees. There were no crickets chirping in the bushes, no owls hooting in the mist. Just silence. I quickly sat up, prepared for the worst. Nothing jumped at me, nothing moved, nothing made a sound. I instantly regretted moving, and I dropped back into the dust. I decided that I had better try and find my way home. I decided that if no one had tried to find me yet, they were most likely waiting until the tomorrow. If they weren't all dead. The thought made my mind whirl, so I did my best to push it away for later.
I got up on my hands and knees and began crawling up the small slope. It was quite the climb, in my current state, and the dust didn't make it better. I finally reached the top. The moon was just beginning to fall below the canopy of the pines. It was getting darker. The moon usually rose as the sun was still in the sky at this time, so I guessed that it was about three in the morning I could see a light in the distance, and I instinctively stumbled towards it. I sighed in relief when I came into the clearing in which our cabin was in the middle. There was a lamp lit in the window. I hurried towards it, but when I was halfway there I froze. What if it was the Indians?
I crept up to the open doorway in the front and peeked inside. My mother was sitting in a chair in front of a cold fireplace. Tilly was sleeping with Puppy on the floor near the wall, and Samuel and Poe were nowhere to be seen. I stepped in making myself known. My mother looked up and her face brightened. I stumbled over and sat down in front of her facing the hearth. I closed my eyes and tried to forget. Tried to forget why my head hurt, why I couldn't see clearly, why I wouldn't be able to sleep soundly for years.
~ ~ ~
The days slowly crept by. My eyesight was never returned to normal. Samuel returned the next day, but we never saw Poe again. He and Samuel had run together the whole way, but he refused to tell us of the happenings of that night. Our lives resumed as if nothing was wrong. Samuel took over and did all the providing. It was as if our family had never been torn apart. I never forgave them for that, but I still go along with it. Our father is now buried under a tree across the stream. No one ever goes there, except for me. I go there to think, to remember, to feel. That was where we met. Me and that wolf.
"Kirt! Get back here, it's almost dark! The chickens can wait 'till morning to be found!" yelled Mother. Puppy had gotten out of the house while we weren't looking, and had gotten into the chicken coop. The chickens had gone everywhere! I ran back inside. Puppy followed me through the doorway. He was getting pretty old. At twelve years, he had protected us from many threats. "Don't you go runnin' off like that again." She scolded. "You can't see 'em in the trees anyway."
"I was only trying to help," I said as I walked back to the house. It was true that I wouldn't be able to see them. I just did some things without thinking first.
I ran through the grassy field. The nighttime wind rustled the tops of the grass making them wave like an ocean. There was a little slice of moon out that night, enough to light my way through the dry stalks. I burst through the door and skidded to a halt in front of the kitchen table. Mother was just setting a hot pan of cornbread in the middle. She straightened and looked up at me. "You're covered with pine needles and grass! Go back outside and brush yourself off. You can have supper once you're done." She returned to setting the table and I stepped back outside. I could only find seven pine needles on my clothes, and there was only one large piece of grass in my hair. I sighed.
"She could find a dust bunny on the floor from the other room. I'm fine!" I said to myself as I opened the front door to enter into the house again. As I sat down at the table Mother came over to me and picked one last pine needle off my shoulder. She raised her eyebrow. "At least I got most of them!" I said as I threw up my hands.
After supper I moved into the living room so Mother and Tilly could clean up. Puppy waddled over to me, his tail wagging, ears laid back. I stroked him as he sat down in front of me and placed his head in my lap. "Your a good boy. You know that?" I said. Is tail thumped twice on the floor. Samuel came through the door and sat down at the table. He had finally finished getting Ol' Red Eyes in the barn for the night. The old horse had decided that a rope hanging in the barn was a snake. His eyes were almost as bad as mine are now!
"You know, I sometimes still get surprised by how dark it is out there. In Appalachia, there was always a little bit of light here and there. Your neighbors were never very far off and there were thousands of fireflies! At least there's a moon out tonight, or else I wouldn't have been able to find my way back to the house!" Samuel said. He took a bite of cornbread and became lost in thought.
The next morning I woke up just as early as I always did. I jumped up from the floor where I slept and quickly ate a breakfast of eggs and bacon. The chores in the barn needed doing. I met Samuel at the door of the barn and we split up to do our own things. I climbed up into the hay loft to throw down hay for the cows and horses, lead them all out of the barn and into the field one by one, rounded up the chickens, which on it's own took more than an hour as most of the chickens had wandered off into the woods, fed the chickens, fetched enough water from the old well in the forest for the day, and, once that was all done, walked in the woods surrounding the house. I always kept an eye out for deer, but I was more interested in the birds. They were the only creatures that I could get close enough to to actually see their shape and colors.
As I walked through the shadowed woods I kept my eye out for the most colorful bird I could find. A yard or so off, a bush rustled. I could see the reddish blotchy feathers of a ground bird. A ptarmigan! I thought. I crept closer. As I neared the bush I could hear the bird softly clucking. Clucking? A chicken burst out of the bush raising an alarmed cry. I ran after her. She ran over logs and under the scraggly undergrowth, which made it very hard to follow. I could see the end of the trees ahead. We were nearing the beach. The chicken burst into the open and began running across the pebbly ground. She ran along at a steady pace, although she continued to stumble on the loose rocks. I quickly caught up with her.
Stooping down to grab her, I noticed something shiny in the rocks. I picked that up instead. The chicken would be fine for another minute or so. I peered at the object sitting in my hand. It was a little metal button. It looked oddly familiar, although I could not remember where I had seen it before, so I stuffed it into my pocket and went back into the woods to find the chicken.
I found her scratching around an old huckleberry bush near the river. She was so busy, that she only noticed me once I bent down to pick her up. By then it was too late and I had her securely in my hands. I took care to keep her away from my face. I knew this chicken, and she was a feisty one. I carried her home, and set her down with the other chickens in their pen, then, I ran into the house to show Mother what I had found. She was sweeping the floor for the second time that morning. I skidded to a halt in front of her and showed her the button. She took it gently from my hand and inspected it for a few moments before saying anything. "This was one of your father's coat buttons. He must have lost it years ago." She said placing it back in my hand.
"Oh, you can have it if you want." I offered. That was why it had looked so familiar!
"No. You keep it. You found it anyway." She said as she went back to sweeping. I stood there thinking for a second before going over to my corner of the house where I kept my stuff. I took out my little tin box I kept my "valuable" things in. Inside the box was a large oyster shell lined with mother of pearl, a few silver coins, a handful or arrowheads I had found in the woods, a fossilized shell, and a smooth quartz stone made round by centuries of being tumbled around by the river. I added the metal button to the stash, then put the box away again. I was the only one who knew where it was. It was one of my only closely guarded secrets.
I stepped out the front door and sat down in the chair on the front porch. I was bored and it was only noon. Puppy followed me out the door and sat down in front of me. He placed his head in my lap again, eyes pleading for a walk. "Oh, alright. Come on then. Let's go." We strolled through the woods towards the clearing, Puppy happily sniffing around, tail wagging, while I listened to the birds sing. I noticed how slow Puppy was moving. Just three years ago, he would be running circles around me. Running off and barking after anything that moved. Now he stuck to my side and quietly padded along.
When we reached the clearing Puppy lightened up a little. Enough to trot out to the middle and sniff around for birds. There was a shallow, muddy pond near one end, and a large old pine tree on the other. I sat down under the tree and watched as Puppy stopped and pointed at a frog. It had jumped out of the pond and onto a rock near the water's edge. Whenever Puppy got too close, it would hop a little ways away and continue croaking. As Puppy chased the frog around, I looked up at the sky. The sun was burning up the last of the clouds from that morning. Only a few thin wisps remained in the distance.
A startled yelp followed by a splash broke the stillness. Alarm shot through me as I looked over where Puppy had been standing a moment before, but it quickly changed to amusement as a dripping wet, muddy black Labrador crawled out of the pond and onto the bank. He shook himself dry, then padded over to me. "Now your all wet!" I sighed. "Well, now I've got something to do at least. Come on, boy. Let's get you dried off." I said to him as we began the trek home.
Hold your horses! More's a-commin'! Sit tight for the next chapter, coming soon!