Wordcarpenter Books

Short Fiction

Injured

 

"You're someone who's been injured. Something happened to you, you know, that thing, and when it happened you reacted," said Corbière. "And that reaction caused you to make a conclusion that has affected your life ever since."

They had never spoken of it. Ever. In the decades that had passed. But the old man was happy in his heart. At some time during his Earth Walk he had become humble, one of the pillars of his evolution.

"How-"

"Instead of taking some time and distance to be objective, you made a decision after this incident based on logic cold and marred by emotion. A fury of emotion. Skewered. And your reaction has dictated your life ever since." He wanted the truth, so he got it. "This is why we're so different. This one incident put you on this path you're on and because you never re-evaluated it, you have gone deeper down the rabbit hole."

The silence was profound in its way.

"I wonder if you can ever come back." Corbière didn't want to hurt him; he only wanted to enlighten. He only hoped to reverse his brother's downward spiral.

His brother shrugged. Corbière knew he was pondering a deep reservoir, which was his life. But rather than talking, he stood up with his crossbow, gathered his things and called his dog. The forest at the end of the property stirred, calling to him.

"It's time to hunt. Don't know when I'll be back but like I said before, I'll return with meat for the winter."

The words sent a chill through Corbière.

The morning was cold, clouds hanging low, overcast, wind stirring red pines towering over them. Mother Nature whispered things he could not hear but that drew his brother towards her breast, something that he had never felt. The lure was a mystery, the woods like the Greek alphabet, foreign and confusing with nothing romantic about it. He saw the dense forest as claustrophobic and sinister and full of dangers, a labyrinth of the unknown and uncontrollable. Any possible enjoyment was hindered by fear. Exposed tree roots were obstacles that could sprang an ankle, rocks with moss a slippery slick there to trip, and low-hanging branches spears ready to poke out an eye.

Corbière watched him walk into the forest. Hair silver and thick, disheveled and uncombed under his leather hat, faced scarred with pain. His brother, an old man now, was resigned and stubborn to Fate, alone but enlivened in a way, skeptical and apart from all that was modern. Nothing would change him. Corbière could only watch him slide closer to the end of the line. The posture of his resignation suggested his time of graduation into the spirit world was near. He had been without a deer for two weeks and today was the last day of hunting season, and he knew his brother would hunt for his food. If he did not return he would go find him, something he did not want to do.

He did not return that night. Worried and sleepless, Corbière faced the decision he did not want to make. And it was this that spurred him to follow his brother into the bush. If he didn't go find him, he knew somehow it would be the last time he would see him alive.

()

The ground was still wet from the rains, the tracks of his boots visible in the trail leading into the vast forest that spanned over a hundred miles to the coast of the island where the Canadian border met America. Nothing but boreal forest, deep woods populated with deer and wolves and bears. His brother knew these woods. A sanctuary from encroaching homes and electricity and Internet connectivity, both of which he shunned. He chose to live in his camper, his home perched on stones, nestled on the boundary of Corbière's land, unseen and safe from tourists visiting the reservation and the beach. It made the old man sick and angry because he was at constant war with people coming up from the city for a weekend jaunt in the woods. "The white man's world. Part-timers and phonies," he always said. He didn't have time for any of them. And to ensure his separation he cocooned himself in Corbière's backyard, a favour that he could never revoke.

Corbière had left a note for his wife that he had gone hunting to find his brother for the day because he could not tell her that morning before she went to work. He wrote he hoped he would be back before nightfall. So populous were deer on the island he had no reason to think it would be different. As deep as they could go into the bosom of Mother Nature, Corbière took comfort that his house, clean and warm and safe and filled with the smell of his wife's cooking, was reachable via the trails that led deep into the woods.

Corbière followed his brother's tracks along the trail, bright orange hunting apparel contrasting against the green and red and yellow of the boreal vegetation surrounding him. Hunting had never interested him but his brother saw it as the true life, man versus Nature, an opportunity to revel in her beauty and to take her offerings as a gift but only to those who knew the laws of the wild. Mohawk by blood and adopted into the reservation by the Ojibwa centuries before, he had learned the old ways, eschewing the European manner of domesticating cattle and slaughtering wholesale. "It's cheating," he had said, "mass production like Henry Ford." It was why the white man suffered from so many afflictions and diseases, an "offside" that offended the Great Mother. The white man's ways were not in sync with the Native ways. He had always said it was a lesson of how not to live.

The crunch of the bed of leaves underfoot was louder among the trees, and the fresh smell he knew filled his lungs with vitamins that were absent in cities. He loved the smell but that was as far as it went with Corbière. He wasn't a part timer but he wasn't as dedicated to Nature as the man he followed.

Massive cedars dwarfed oaks and birch, gnarly and unapologetic in their majesty, soundless and proud in the winds. The milk pods he passed beside a swamp were like cotton candy, wisps hitchhiking with the breeze, the catalyst to a new life and new home. Recent rains quenched the prolonged drought, welcomed by beavers poplar-branch gathering. To Corbière's eye it was a mosaic; a canvas of colour enjoyed as a whole, a respite from the endless miles he traveled on the network of roads that penetrated to the far reaches of the fresh water archipelago on which they lived. The only noise was of the Wind God breathing life into the trees and juniper bushes, which marked the corner of the island. Cold bit through his jacket to let him know its superiority, its iron hand that trumped his kind like a boot crushing an insect. He was thankful for its beauty, but it was not his religion.

He approached a clearing, eyes keen to find movement, aware this was where he brother would have stopped. He surveyed the ground by the stream that snaked quietly through its middle like an artery. Turkey vultures hovered overhead with six-foot wingspans watching prey. Ravens and crows squawked in jealous rage at the ease of their flight, an inequality that persisted from the beginning of time. The limestone ancient sediment that remained from the time the archipelago had been all underwater. The great bedrock that brought miners from around the world was farther north on the mainland that marked the starting point and foundation, the firmament that made him feel safe.

Several trails led deeper into the great forest so it took time to find where his brother and dog had entered. At its entrance he discerned the old man had hunted there, waiting patiently, a cluster of footprints just inside the forest's canopy, a mark of patience that had not lasted long.

Pulling his scarf tighter and banging his hands together to garner feeling in his fingertips, he put his head down, took a deep breath and entered the dark monster knowing that bears, cougars and wolves were the masters of these parts. Even the pretty-eyed raccoons inhabiting this land were fierce and brave, never an animal to back down from a fight if confronted.

()

When the old Mohawk awoke he did not know where he was until he heard crows from above the trees. When he had drifted off the wind grew strong and the drizzly air cleaned the pores in his exposed face, the itch of cedar leaves still floating nearby from the onshore winds. He welcomed the great Gabriel Dumont to join him hunting but in the forests of Ontario with a bow rather than open prairies and a Winchester rifle. 

He changed his socks like he always did when he awoke, dawn still in the act of becoming, the smell of fresh tobacco and coffee steaming in the morning air. The old man's knee was raw in the first of the mornings but the tobacco soon made the pain bearable. He often took two cups but this morning he took a third, fortifying his perspective for the day's hunt and all that was at hand. His crossbow was cocked, arrow clipped on to the bow, a second's draw, and hung loosely off his shoulder. He knew the kill was at hand. Like a solemn cathedral to a beautiful religion of Mother Nature, fallen branches cracked under his boots, the darkness waning deeper into the bush. Squirrels and chipmunks killed prey and gathered plenty in their shared playground, deciduous foliage bespeaking of an ancient place, existing since the beginning of times, a hidden corner untrodden by the heel of man.

He saw a fox but did not move to draw. The yellowish-red hue was illuminated in the rising sun, eyes looking with curiosity before it darted back into the safety of forest cover.

Farther ahead, the old man prowled slowly with his crossbow at the ready, arrows abundant in the small bag, his moustache wet with breath and alive like whiskers on a cat. He used all his senses to detect movement of the white tail, that which would lead him towards his prey. He had encountered pheasants but had not risked the noise of shooting. It was venison he sought, the meat that would sustain him and his dog throughout the winter months.

The recent winds had stripped the poplars and maples and birch of their leaves leaving vast swathes naked and gray, cement-coloured void of bright colours he saw in his dreams. The old man never woke before he had lived out the night's stories, a stage showing the plays of his life in countless forms. The old man had learned to savour the images and visions the Great Spirit Manitou gave him during the night, guidelines of to how to live well, signs of how best to live, to be remembered as a sacred morality. He knew dreams were a conduit from his ancestor spirits, informing him of dangers that lay ahead and enlightening him to decisions and life lessons.

The previous night he had stayed up for most of the night, sitting under a massive cedar with his dog Klondike beside him for heat. He had nodded off and had seen a stag with long curling antlers across a clearing looking at him, watching him. Today the old man believed he would find the stag and take the offering by Gitchie Manitou, continuing the timeless chain of give-and-take that was the long tradition of survival and life in this world.

Over 40 miles deep into the forest now, the old man was aware that the wild game who lived here had seldom encountered man. Protected by lack of road access and absentee land owners, he was nestling further into the bosom of Mother Nature, the true heart of things. It was a privilege to exist in such a prehistoric environment untouched by the hand of man, a sanctuary found in so few corners of the world. Only his dog and the Great Spirit witnessed him being there so he had to honour his kill with respect.

He breathed deeply and let the richness of the scene imbue him with energy, thankful and proud to carry on in the tradition of his Mohawk forefathers. He welcomed his hunger because it enhanced his senses, like all good hunters. He thought of the venison he would have, mixed the Native way with onions and bread crumbs and spices, a year's worth of burgers he could barbeque on the woodstove outside his camper. Just then he saw a stag, a huge beast majestic and still watching him, his dog unaware of its presence.

He stood still, his crossbow ready, slowly lifting it and aimed at the deer. Moving slightly to avoid the trees that obstructed his shot, he knew the stag sensed danger. Both unmoved and high alert, he breathed deeply and pressed the trigger, the arrowhead directed at the heart of the beast. The swoosh of the arrow released from his bow was like a whisper, the impact of his arrow striking the stag below the heart, the soft muted sound drowned out by the scuffle of hooves when it ran deeper into the trees, fleeing the bite that had stung it.

Klondike ran after the wounded stag, reckless in pursuit, breaking branches storming towards it, barking and jumping over the divots copying the stag's natural grace.

The old man moved quickly to catch his prey, running to the spot where it had been hit. The deep grooves of its hooves left a trail for him to follow, blood spilled against the fading foliage that carpeted the ground before the snows. How long until it would fall from the mortal blow he did not know. He cursed himself for not adjusting for the distance that let gravity lower its flight. But it might have hit a branch that affected its trajectory, but already it did not matter. Find the beast and end its suffering! "Go to walk it down, dear Stag," he said to is dog. "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. The harpoon has struck. The arrowhead deep in the artery to bleed you dead. Don't concede yet!" The old man laughed at his bravado and shrugged his shoulders playfully, the stag jumping over the ground white tail moving in leaping arcs.

"I must track it him," he said to Klondike, murmuring indecipherably to himself, words unformulated but thought out rapidly in his mind, a soliloquy mired in solipsism, fast-forward at double speed.

I wish my brother was here, he thought, the impact of his next task overwhelming him. The old man knew he would see it through, out of honour and for what is right, the final kill required for closure, a noble creature deserving of noble treatment.

The brisk pace of the old man kept him warm, even his feet, which were always the crucial factor in an adventure of this nature. Curling his toes as he walked he took comfort knowing he had two extra pairs of thick wool socks in the bag slung over his shoulder. A quick review of his kit took his mind of the pain in his right knee, a lasting reminder of how the sheer mileage of distance walked had ground his cartilage down to wet sand. Now he could not hold the grinding of bone-on-bone. He kept it bent, vigilant not to hyper-extend his leg.

The injured stag followed a path narrow in the cedars where the bottom of each cedar was bare from hungry deer who liked their cedar tea. The deep bass of galloping had stopped. Tracks showed a slow walk, and places where it had stopped for a rest. Even his dog Klondike knew to be light on its pins.

"I will follow you deeper," he said to Klondike, as it trailed behind him at a pace. "But I am not bleeding." Hearing his own voice say these words made him quiet, profound in what now must be done. Find it old man. Let your nose and ears bring you to the river flowing from the western cliffs of the island, where the wild game fed like an eternal spring.

Klondike, a massive rotweiller and lab combo sauntered without a light step behind him breathing heavily, whistling as if in long continual sigh. The dog was loyal and always with him, even when he slept. A pack of two, both limping at a relaxed pace. Of all the dogs he had had over his lifetime Klondike was the most like him in outlook and temperament. Lived like the day was a gift, something handed to him unexpectedly, both grateful for the opportunity to enjoy it and find the flow of Mother Nature's heartbeat. To capture one of Her wonders was a moment he sought at all costs, an offering from the Great Spirit and evidence that untampered forests of the world lived and breathed and provided to those who read the signs.

And he had become an old hand at seeing the many ways Nature shone and inspired man to become better. It was his office and as well as his place to feed and nourish. It made sense to him, where all was at peace and balance and birds went about their business above the groundhogs and raccoons and foxes busying themselves with chipmunks and rabbits. Even eagles chose the archipelago to live. And that said all he needed to know about the islands in the Great Lakes.

Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles. How could they be wrong?

A light drizzle gave the forest a foggy hue, as if Middle Earth was nearby. Fresh deer droppings suggested he was approaching a small colony of where deer slept. They preferred cedar patches with ground covered with dead cedar leaves, a carpet scented with medicine. He wondered at how they slept under cedars and then spent their day eating from Nature's buffet. Berries, cedar cones, juniper, acorns and the plentiful reserve of delicacies that had caused the local deer population to surge to four-to-one more than man. Even the timber wolves couldn't feed on the deer enough to cull them down to balanced numbers. Only the recently imported black bears from the mainland could bring them down other than hunters like him. The old man did not like the way a bear made him feel. It disturbed his something like his equilibrium.

And any disruption to his flow was a threat to his survival.

But what kept him going were the sounds of his brother's words and the old images of him as a young man, incidents of joy that made his heart sad yet buoyant, hurt that there might not be anymore memories to add to their repertoire of good times. An urgent, violent feeling drove him forward to complete the kill. He had always looked out for his younger brother so why should he stop now?

The power that exists in a man's actions speak long past his time is done on his Earth Walk. The plight of man hinges on the shoulders of great men.

Memories still flickered of when Ernesto Guevara resigned from his post as Minister of Agriculture and his Cuban citizenship to instigate insurgence for the people in Bolivia. Dedicated was the word he had remembered used at the time. "If we don't try then we'll have to wait another 50 years." Because Ernesto Lynch-Lynch was a guerilla proven in battle who was willing to get his hands dirty in the struggle, was welcomed with open arms by the fighters in the Bolivian highlands. He carried the rice and made the huts and cleaned the weapons, patiently educating them of guerrilla warfare.

"This is how we fight an army using the bush as an asset." And he spoke from the heart in his effort to empower the peasants overtaxed by the elite, old ways dying slowly in a corner of the southern hemisphere. The chain reaction must start in Bolivia and then it will follow the flow of regime change south to Argentina where the people are rebelling in the streets. Bolivia was America's Vietnam that had remained covert. It might have ended with the execution of Che in the mountains of Bolivia. He would have to be bodychecked if he was going to lose.

He wanted them to learn to read and write.

The old Mohawk did not expect the prayer but it came out of him easily, coming from the heart so the words he found were true and clear, tobacco, the conduit, in his hand.

After prayer, the glee in him spurned a lost memory during a time in Bolivia when he had handed down all his accumulated knowledge of medicines and Native way of life. He had wanted to summarize the education of a shaman so the young man appeared clear-eyed and curious, and so he told him all he knew. He spoke about ancestor spirits who protected you from harm, and how offering tobacco was the way to honour your ancestor spirits. And how images in your dreams tell you what your medicines were, and that it took nine days to digest the full meaning of a vision. He made it clear that anger in all its forms was an evil force that fought against the infinite drop of goodness in your soul. Mother Nature was the balm to heal sores of all. In the plants were where all mankind's medicines could be found. The old man always wished to give his knowledge to his brother Corbière but it had not happened.

The natural trail in the forest blew wind directly at him. He strode along an old Native trail long forgotten except the deer and wolves and weasels. A symphony of creatures. He ate the hawberries, over ripe now and some hardened from the frost. "The Song of Nature," he said into the wind.

How far did my stag go? He thought of the stag giving his life and the nobility of it. He wondered in humble tones of its pain and its struggle to accept the mortality of time's ill-timed bite.

He would rest for twenty minutes to alleviate the stress from his knee and his back. The chipmunk looked at him, long hair gray and silver depending on the sunlight.

"Like all us little one, you must put in the work to earn your place on this earth." He dreamed immediately of wolves peaking around trees, respectful of him and his dog, their place en route through wolf territory.

He opened his eyes, his hand gripped on the crossbow, the smell of the stag somewhere near. Limping ahead slowly, a rocky clearing caused him to stop. Silently the old man surveyed, keeping a keen eye for a bushy tail. The sound of the crick filled the air. When he looked at the water he saw branches move against the far bank, then move away. Only when it moved farther did he know the branches were the stag's antlers resting against the hardwood.

Its height made it easy to follow the rack down the shoreline to where it drank. Blood ran down its shoulders where the arrow had entered. Massive, the old papa had lived a full life and had strengthened the stock of deer that roamed the archipelago. Through the trees the stag watched him stir, its eyes ablaze and defiant, taking measure of the arrow shooter that had pierced its lung. Blood dripped from the wound, wiped wide by scratches against bark of broken branches. It was a grandfather who faced the next phase of its existence.

If Corbière was here, he thought, he could act as a decoy to preoccupy the stag while he readied his arrow. The stag breathed deeply to a gurgle and then jumped downstream along the tree line. It must be going to its watering hole, he thought, sweaty and wet in the drizzle.

He wanted to offer tobacco to honour the sheer majesty of the deer, but he could not help trotting after it, stomach cramped from the berries, hands cold from his nap.

"Shhh," he said to Klondike, eyes sharp and senses stirred. He decided on a long shot since he could not risk it running up the ridge that started up just behind the river. Crouching and resting his bow on a branch, he dropped his bag and squinted down the site, left arm ready at the four. The old man aimed for the meat of the neck, the fatal blow that would take it down. A bird flew out of the trees that caused the magnificent beast to stare across the water, perhaps sensing the arrow of its death was near. The old Mohawk loved the stag when it stood by the water, knowing defeat was its destiny. He aimed his bow and shot the arrow, finding the target and burying deep. The thud of a direct hit. He savoured the reverberating bow line vibrating throughout his fingertips. It was the sound of impact that made him know for certain the arrowhead had struck true. Its back legs buckled, the crashing antlers striking the flat limestone, the high whine of the fatal blow.

Not pity but a profound sadness overcame him, relief and then finality, the end of something and the beginning of a new evolution. The old Mohawk felt proud of witnessing the stags final moments of its life of deed and daring, the end of abundance, power and plenty.

"I should've brought the bigger knife," he said to himself.

Half interested in the bloody deer crumpled by the crick, Klondike whimpered as it sat beside the old man, tired and sore from the trail. The dog coughed up a foggy billow in front of him. He took a pinch of tobacco and raised it in his ungloved hand, mumbling a prayer to Gitchie Manitou.

"Great Father I honour and thank you for your offering and for your guidance in finding this four-legged. I humbly accept it as sustenance and life in the cold months to come. With respect and goodness in my heart, I solemnly offer you this tobacco as a gift. Amen." His nerve endings spurred by the small hairs on his shoulders, wet and damp under his layers of cotton shirts.

Drops of rain slipped off his cowboy hat as he lit a cigarette beside the stag.

There will be animals around, he thought. The whiff of blood carries far along the crick, for the coyotes and raccoons that lurked.

 
 

 


 
 
 
 

 
 

 

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