Authors: Judy Griffith Gill
copyright © 2013
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to
persons living or dead is purely coincidental. All events and locations except for
real place or institution names are the invention of the author.
book is dedicated to my sister Joyce and, as always, to my husband, Bob with
thanks for his unfailing patience.
The morning sun poked fingers of light
into the small natural clearing in the forest. A bird trilled a few sharp notes,
then was still, while a squirrel chattered angrily before dashing high into a
fir tree. A katydid called from over the hill.
Into the clearing stepped a tall, broad
shouldered man carrying in one hand a double bitted axe while the other swung a
wicked looking machete. He stepped over a downed tree, which until recently had
stood in the edge of a glade but now lay on the mossy earth. He began swiftly
to denude it of branches and bark. When it was nothing more than another log,
he rolled it with some difficulty to a spot nearby where lay other logs. As he
worked, the muscles in his back and shoulders rippled, his dark hair fell with
great persistence over his thick brows and into his slate gray eyes. His big
hands paused now and then in their work to brush the hair back, and one time,
engaged in the act of clearing his vision, he gazed with a saddened expression
upon a leafy dogwood tree and sighed heavily.
He swung his axe into the newly made
stump, hung the machete by its thong from a limb and limped into the shade of a
tree. His long body stretched out in a moss filled hollow beneath the dogwood
and cradling his head in his bent arms, he whispered into the moss, “Eleanor,
Eleanor, are you here? Is this where he put you, like you always said you wanted?”
There was no answer but tender memories
filled his mind, the scent of the forest, the moss, and the new warmth of the
April sun brought her presence to him. As the breeze sighed through the
branches, it was almost as though she were there, whispering, “David...my
Comforted, he slept.
~ * ~
The boy pedaled his bike as hard as he
could, riding pell-mell, headlong and reckless across the meadow, along a path
through the trees and into the edge of a clearing. His front wheel ran up
against a branch protruding from the trunk of a newly fallen tree, spilling him
off the bike. It, and he, fell softly to the thick carpet of pine needles. He
jumped up. His blue shirt caught on a sharp knot and he jerked free. Grating
sobs grunted between clenched teeth. His storm of fury, however, produced no
tears. He was beyond that. He caught sight of the axe embedded in the stump.
With the strength born of anger, he grasped it and jerked it free. He hefted
the axe, which was nearly as long as he was tall and swung it wildly again and
again, hacking small chips out of a log. As the child chopped, words came
spasmodically from his contorted mouth, in time with each swing. “I
There goes an
! That was his
! Here goes his
The man awoke in an instant, sat up and
looked in the direction from which came the sound of someone chopping
erratically with his axe. He saw a small boy swinging wildly, only one cut in
three coming close to the previous marks. He rose quietly, not wanting to startle
a child handling such a dangerous tool and moved towards him.
As he approached, he heard the child’s
words. That depth of fury, the blind, mindless anger in one so young shocked
the man as did the passion, the hatred which colored the tones. This was no
small boy annoyed with father or friend. This was a human soul filled with a
deep and terrible anguish. He caught the axe handle on an upswing and held it.
The boy stood stock still for a moment then let go of the axe to back away in a
scurrying, scuttling manner that suggested he fully expected to be smacked.
Hard. He was poised for flight and his eyes were full of abject terror.
The stranger’s teeth gleamed white
against his brown skin as he smiled at the child. “That was pretty good
chopping for a young’un,” was his only comment.
As though the words had released a
spring, the child shot away into the underbrush. Shrugging, the man lifted his
machete down from the knot upon which it hung and began stripping limbs from
the fallen tree, whistling between his teeth as he worked. A flash of blue from
the boy’s shirt appearing at odd intervals told him he was not alone.
The squirrel, curious now, returned to
watch with bright eyes the action of the intruder into his glade, and the man,
spotting him, spoke quite loudly.
“Hello, squirrel. Did you come to help
me pile up the branches? You did? Well, that’s great. It’s mighty nice of you,
but I’m afraid you’re too small. What I need to help me build this log cabin is
a boy with strong arms. Sure do wish there was one around.”
The splotch of blue behind a huckleberry
bush stayed quite still, and the men bent, holding his back and groaning loudly
as he gathered up an armload of branches. “Oh, that’s hard on my back. Maybe
I’d better leave it for another day.” He dropped his load upon the pile he had
already begun and ambled off, his axe across his left shoulder, the machete
swinging from his right hand.
~ * ~
The next morning he returned and smiled to
himself when he saw that every scrap of rubbish from the previous day’s work
had been cleared away. For some time he worked and the chips flew in white
arcs, scenting the air with the perfume of newly cut wood. As each tree began
to sway the man would leap back, call, “Tiiim-berrr!” loudly as with the
rushing of air through the flailing limbs and an earth jarring shudder, the
tree fell. As each tree met the ground, a flash of red shirt would jump with
what might have been excitement. Picking up a small canvas bag, the man walked
to his favorite resting place and with his back to the clearing, pulled a fat
sandwich from its wrappings and began munching. “Hi there, squirrel,” he said
conversationally to his nearest companion. “Was it you cleared up for me yesterday?
If so then I guess the cabin will belong to both of us. After all, if two
people work together on something, it has to belong to both of them, not just
the one who began it.”
A stealthy rustling behind him told the
man clean-up work was under way once more, and he lay back, pretending to sleep
until a distant voice raised the hair on the nape of his neck calling, “Philip!
He heard the rattle of a bike as it
bounced away from the far edge of the clearing, and then silence fell again.
~ * ~
Shortly after another sunrise the glade
rang again with the sound of the biting axe blade. Chips flew as the child was
drawn closer, closer, watching, waiting, listening for the magic call of the
When he went to rest, the stranger to
the glade sat once more with his back to the clearing. When the whispers of
sounds began he waited for a moment or two then turned slowly. As if sensing he
was under surveillance, the child froze, bent by the weight of the aromatic
bundle of greenery he carried. He raised apprehensive eyes to the man then
dumped his load on the pile.
“Cake?” asked the man quietly, extending
a plastic wrapped object to the child.
Philip walked closer, eyeing the cake
with the normal greed of a small boy and reached for it tentatively, as if a
show of eagerness might cause the offer to be rescinded.
His finely cut jaw worked industriously
for a few moments then, with a spray of crumbs he said, “It’s good,” and
The stranger nodded, picked up his
machete and began peeling a log. Philip stepped a couple of short paces nearer.
“What’s that thing?” he asked after watching a long time.
“A machete.” The man’s quiet reply and
quick smile seemed to reassure the boy, for he edged even closer. “It’s
supposed to be for cutting through jungles, but it peels logs pretty well,
There was another long pause then, “Why
you want them logs peeled?”
“For the cabin we’re going to build.”
“Right here. In the clearing.”
“To live in.”
“Why don’t you hire a contractor? Grant
gets one whenever he wants something built.”
“I like to do it for myself.”
“Why don’t you use a chainsaw to cut
down the trees?”
The men bent deliberately, gathered up
an armload of branches and took them to the scrap pile before he was ready to
reply, and then he had to wait until Philip had returned from doing the same.
“I don’t like the smell of power saws in the woods. I don’t like the noise they
make and I think the trees feel better about being cut down if you don’t ruin
their home with a noisy, smelly saw. When you’re cutting down a lot of trees
you have to use machinery, but here for our little clearing, this way is best.”
The boy was not yet ready to admit the
stranger was right. “Grant’s contractors could have this clearing finished in
one day with two power saws and one bulldozer.”
The man nodded. “Maybe. But this is my
clearing, and I like doing it this way.”
“Where do you live?”
He pointed to a path in the trees. “In a
camper over that way. Until the cabin is finished.”
“I mean where do you really live? Where
is your house?”
“The camper’s my home until the cabin’s
ready.” He walked off with more branches. Philip struggled to keep up.
“How come you limp?”
“I hurt my leg a long time ago.”
“Grant fell off his horse and hurt his leg.
He doesn’t limp. I laughed and he was going to hit me with his crop but my mom
made him stop. She told him I didn’t know he was hurt and he did look funny
going into the hedge.”
“He must have,” the man said with a
smile. Then, “Who is Grant?”
The child’s answer, if it was that, was
oblique. “What’s a prep school? How come they dip-licine kids there?”
“I think you mean discipline, Philip. It
just means teaching you what’s right and what’s wrong. Showing you how to grow
up to be a good man. A prep school’s like any other school.”
“’Cept you gotta live there. Sleep
there, Tommy told me. Every night and never come home. Ever. Even to see your
mom.” His voice wobbled and his lower lip quivered.
“Hmm… Not sure Tommy’s right about all
that. I’m pretty sure you get to come home to see your mom. Are you going to go
“Grant says he’s going to send me to one
when he marries my mom. How did you know my name?”
“Heard someone, your mom, maybe, calling
you.” He walked to his resting place, sat down and asked the boy, who had
followed him like a shadow, “What’s the rest of your name?”
“Philip David Jefferson. What’s yours?”
The man’s hand paused in the act of
removing the top from his thermos. For a long moment he remained frozen. Then
the child said, “What’s the matter, Mister? Your face looks all funny.” The man
made a great effort, poured liquid into the plastic cup and passed it to
Philip gulped greedily, then passing the
cup back and repeated, “What’s your name?”
“Jeff,” replied the man. Taking a shiny
green-colored apple out of the bag he set strong teeth into it, cracked off a
bite and offered the apple to the boy. “How old are you, Philip?”
“Seven.” Then as if thinking it might be
wise to add the truth, added “Almost.”
“What’s your—” The distant call of the
boy’s name interrupted Jeff, and his young companion leapt to his feet.
“See you, Jeff!” he shouted over his
shoulder as he ran. He snatched up his bike, mounted it, and was off.
Jeff sat bolt upright for a long moment.
Can it be? Could it be? But if it is, why? In God’s name, why?
Jumping up, he hustled himself out of
the clearing. His camper truck started and with a grinding of gears and spewing
of gravel from its back tires, it sped toward the nearest town.
~ * ~
Philip raced out of the forest, down the
path bisecting the open grassy meadow and across the plank that bridged the
narrow stream, on the other side of which waited his mother. She had her hands
on her hips. A half smile played around her soft mouth and her deep brown eyes
with amber lights in them twinkled down at him. Philip grinned at her and felt
her warmth cover him. Everything about his mom was warm. The way she smiled,
the way her eyes looked, but most of all her hair, like the deepest coals in
the fire just before it went out, glowing deep red.
“Hi, Mom!” he yelled, skidding to a stop
in front of her. Then he turned as he always did to throw a rock in the creek.
“Yes,” she said, exasperatedly. “Just as
it was lunch time yesterday when I had to come out here and call you. What’s so
good about the woods lately?”
“Jeff,” Philip replied thrashing the
fence with a stick he picked up from under an gnarled crabapple tree. “Jeff and
me are building a log cabin.”
Eleanor smiled down at her son. “That’s
nice, honey.” For the thousandth time she wished there were more, or nearer
neighbors with children Philip’s age, so her son would have some real
playmates. “But don’t wander off too far, okay?” She worried about the river,
though it was a long way. Still, an active little boy…
“I won’t, Mom. Just to the other side of
the hill. That’s where me and Jeff are building the cabin.”