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By Roger A. Legg
The paddle dipped into the black water as the canoe slid forward. This process was repeated over and over again as the white-barked trees slid by. Just ahead was the marker tree. A tree that looked like the tens of thousands of other trees that were all around them. But this tree had a broken branch that refused to separate itself, so it hung there, lifeless. That was the way of things here. Lifeless thinks hung about, on trees, bushes or in the water. Nothing really moved, except for the animals, and they usually hid behind the dead things.
Suddenly a bird flew from a tree next to the canoe and an alligator’s head slipped below the waterline. He was the intruder here. He and his man-made object didn’t fit in with the rest of the trees and it moved contrary to the water’s flow. Jason put his paddle on the other side and started the turn. He needed to go right just before the marker tree. If he waited too long he would run afoul on a tree trunk just below the water. He had to repair his canoe the first time he found that stump. Now with all his supplies, he didn’t want to do that again. Two more turns and he would be on the home stretch. A small island that you could barely tell was land. The trees and shrubs covering his little island refused to give it up. Jason had to settle with using the trees as pedestals for the foundation of his shack. Their firm grip on the land would last decades and hopefully, he would have moved on by then… hopefully.
The rhythm of his paddling continued. He was not in a hurry and the sun wouldn’t set for another four hours. The gnats darted at his mask and the mosquitoes were digging at the seams in his clothing. They would soon give up as they always did and he would make it to his sanctuary. The two-roomed shack that he had built from scratch, or rebuilt, as the first one collapsed within a week. It only took a month of paddling in scrap wood from various locations. A grocery store, the local hardware store, and occasionally a job site just at the edge of town. Pallets were the best as they came with nails. He would carefully remove them and then reuse them in building his home. The first year he was here, the shack only had one room. Lots of shelves, but just one room.
He had a small deck where he fished for food. After six months he knew where the best place to find crawfish and bass. He still had trouble with eating catfish, but the taste would grow on him. Now almost five years into his solitude he had two rooms, a separate bathroom and two storage units at other places in the swamp. This way if someone found and raided this place he would have enough to last until he could replenish his supplies.
Jason passed the old oak tree. It was the only one in this section of the swamp. It towered over the other trees in the area. The leaves were on the smallish size and had a brown tone to its green. The tree itself had a huge trunk that broke into thousands of branches that fanned out to find the sun. Jason liked to stop here to rest as the leaves created an umbrella that the sun could not shine through. But today he just glided by and kept up his leisurely pace. Today he needed to get back to his shack. He had something he wanted to try and he needed daylight to do it. So, no stopping. He put his paddle in and with one strong stroke the canoe sailed on.
Two more turns at yet more markers that no one would know, but his shack came into view. It was straight ahead. A thick bunch of trees that both reached to the sky and hung down to the water. Jason kept up his pace. A quick look around assured him that he was not followed. Not that anyone would be interested, but it was always on his mind. He lived on his own and he had stuff worth stealing or even being killed for. Especially now, with his latest find. Jason lifted his paddle but didn’t drive it into the water. He paused and looked around again. If there was any sign that he was followed or that anyone was watching he would turn and move away from his home. But again today he was alone. So he let the canoe dive into the branches that hung down. They brushed by him on both sides and he dug his paddle in and gave one good stroke. Once past the first layer of branches, the water was clear of debris and he was able to paddle up to the dock. He quickly tied off the canoe and stood up. He stepped carefully onto the dock and kept his hand on the rope leading to the front of the canoe. He would tie it to the lift and pull the canoe out of the water. With it tied off, he returned to the back and tied it to the other lift. Then in one smooth motion, the canoe was out of the water and dripping on the dock.
Jason pulled the tarp off his find and threw it on the upper deck. He then lifted a steal contraption from the canoe. It took him close to an hour to reconstruct it as there were no instructions, but he managed to get it done and moved it to its place inside the shack. Now, fully assembled, it was not only heavy but bulky. He had to move it one side at a time. He walked it into the shack and put it near the window that faced in the direction of the oak tree. He then went and got a few pieces of wood and brought them into the shack. He placed them in his newly assembled wood stove. He loved the idea of not having to cook outside in the rain anymore. It would also provide some heat on the few mornings that frost actually visited this swamp. Yes, this was going to be much better. He put the wood in, careful to make a small pile of kindling that he could easily light. At first, white smoke started to come out of the wood that was over the kindling, then a small fire with more smoke, but instead of heading out the window the smoke started to fill the shack. Jason looked around for his pitcher. He needed to put out the fire, but the smoke got worse. He ran out of the shack and pulled the pitcher out of his rain barrel and filled it. He held his breath and ran back in. Splash and the fire was out, but the smoke lingered all evening. The typical breeze refused to blow and his poor shack had smoke seeping out of every crack and crevice. Finally, just before sunset, he was able to breathe inside his home. Jason pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket and, with a short pencil, one that was tossed away being too small to be useful, he wrote “P-I-P-E” on a scrap of paper. He then put the paper back into his pocket and got ready for bed. He was going to have to risk another trip into town. He hated going back and forth so often, but he wanted his stove to work. And he was going to have to find some of his money and go to the hardware store and buy it.
That night all the parts and pieces he needed to complete his stove appeared and arranged themselves in the correct order. It was simple, but come the light of day, the dream faded with the dark and Jason had to figure it all out again. That’s why he was here. Jason used to have a thriving business and a family, but since the accident, all the thoughts and dreams just seemed to drift in and out. He wished he had a way of recording his dreams, maybe then he could get some of his life back.
Anger filled his face, he couldn’t get them back. No, they were irreplaceable. Tears started to fill his eyes. Then as suddenly as it started, Jason yelled “NO!” and it all vanished. Their faces, their names, his life. Gone. Back into the part of this mind that no longer worked as it should. To a place that teased him. Giving him a glimpse of what he had and what he lost.
“Pipe,” Jason said out loud as he read what was written on the paper in his pocket. He looked at the stove then nodded his head. He took the pencil out and wrote near the word pipe, “M-o-n-e-y” then “4 inches.” Jason took another piece of paper from the tablet on the shelf by the front door. He carefully folded it and placed it in his right pocket. He then took the paper he wrote the words on and made a picture of how he wanted the pipe to be. He placed this paper in his left pocket. Jason then collected some dried fish, a canteen, and a rain jacket and headed back to his canoe. He would go to his storage, then read his paper. From there he would make his way to town and if he was lucky, get what he came for.
That night as Jason pulled his canoe from the water he pulled the paper out of his left pocket and examined it. Nothing was written on it. “Good, I didn’t forget anything.” He went in, prepared the stove and lit it. The cabin filled with smoke and he ran out to fetch the water to put the fire out. He waited all evening for the smoke to clear and then went back in. This time he pulled the paper from his right pocket and swore to himself. “Well, maybe tomorrow.” Jason put the paper back in his right pocket and went to sleep.
The owls stopped their screeching when they heard the cries of agony coming from a small clump of trees that smelled like smoke. He’d remembered what brought him here and what he had lost. The vision of their broken bodies filled his nightmares. Then he fell into a deep sleep and it all faded with the sun…
Please visit Roger’s blog at: https://ralegg.blogspot.com