Wondering what a man will do is a guess at best. Wondering what a man is thinking is surely what magic is built upon. His fingers could still feel the texture of the hat he placed within Joseph’s cabin. He hoped it would bring some sort of hope to him. Just knowing that someone out there knew more than he did should bring solace to the mystery that enveloped the man known as Jacob Tooley. Would the note and hat push the unaware closer to the light? Will just a little prove to be a lot? The night could not leave quickly enough; tomorrow will bring changes. Even if he had to forgo the rest of his years the gift of knowledge would be his saving grace. It would be Joseph’s saving grace.
What seemed like mere minutes of darkened thought I opened my eyes to the sound of those damn dogs commencing their morning ritual of annoyance. Celebrating their new day for God knows what reason being abandoned as they all are it suddenly hits me that my few moments of darkness was actually a night’s sleep in my chair with my father’s hat resting peacefully on my lap. Out of anger or maybe more out of confusion I sling the hat across the room and head for the door to shut the sounds of joy down. Whipping the door open the dogs all run for a bit and then stop, thinking nothing of it as if it’s just another day.
“Shut up you filthy mutts. Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!”
They just stared at me in the wanted silence.
Little do they know, how could they, that today is not only different but forever the beginning of a new Jacob Tooley. Gone for good is the old—desperate men often make such grand announcements to themselves and the world in moments of confusion and my current world is more confused than ever. Giving a half yell half growl to the dogs, I swing around and slam the door shut if it’s a chase they want it’s a chase they’ll get.
Walking over to the fire pit, I grab my poking stick and muttering pointless words I head for the closest dog. With quick attention, Snout’s tail moves from left then right and tenses his stance. Allowing me the pleasure of thinking I’ve caught him off guard he waits to just the right moment and bolts off to the left and is instantly out of reach. Not in the mood to feel defeat I continue on my original course where three more hounds stand poised to play their part, once again gaining ground as quickly as I can my hopes of catching one of them become spoiled by their better-adapted agility and speed.
Stopping, I notice Top sitting and watching the whole show from beside a pine tree. Thinking a new tactic must be used I whistle a slow whistle as I walk towards Top and his tree. Surprisingly he doesn’t move, not even a wag of the tail. As I close the distance between us I find myself on the precipice of a new feeling, a new wonder. I slowly raise my stick and swing as hard as I can, aiming at the beginning of the swing for Top, but connecting only with the pine tree which releases a loud crack as my poking stick shatters into two even pieces. I open my eyes to see Top still sitting motionless by the tree, frozen not with fear but with a soundless grace, and looking me squarely in the eyes as if to say it’s ok.
Top, truly a prisoner that has escaped the clutches of a society that tosses the unwanted aside for reasons known only to the collective unconscious of the ones who move on and leave the past in the past.
I drop the half of stick still in hand and give Top a rub across the brow and turn in either defeat or enlightenment, it’s often hard to tell the two apart at the moment such a thing happens. I can’t help but wonder if Top feels the same way.
I know his look. I’ve given the look myself to certain souls when times were bad.
Why should a dog be any different?
After all, the mind is a mind is a mind no matter what the kind. Emotions, actions, and reactions are seen as coming from the so-called human intelligence, but maybe we overestimate ourselves and place these big brains of ours on too high a pedestal. Is it wrong to do so? Who’s to answer but yet another big brain—sort of like answering your own question: pointless and useless no matter which angle one looks at it?
The chair on my front porch looks more inviting than it ever has before, so I head straight for the carven luxury. Stepping up onto the rough-hewn planks, I slide into the oaken bucket of a seat and stare at the empty distance between me and the forest. The dogs start to move closer once again, no worse for the ware. Have they noticed the change? Have they seen the difference? I know what I must do now, but beyond that, there is nothing more than a black emptiness that I’m sure has always been there yet never till now been acknowledged either by choice or chance.
Standing from my unstable comfort, I unlatch the rustiness and enter my home for the first time in this, my new world; this new life. The room looks unchanged and still far from the same from just a few hours ago. I cross my family rug and reach down to pick up this new hope, this hat. Feeling the smoothness of the leather on my fingertips my mind flashes with pictures to what seems like a far too distant past; my past, my memories in full color and moving faster and faster through the haze of amazement. Once out of my hand and resting on a bedpost the images fade and then disappear. Left standing and not wanting to, I move to a chair and let gravity take over.
The lock had never been messed with. The door had never been opened nor had it shown any damage. How did the mystery man place the hat on my chair? Did he go through the trouble of erasing all indications of his presence? If so, then why leave the note so plain to see? Could there have been two separate intrusions onto my property? Two separate strangers with one task; to bring my missing father even more to the forefront of everything that floats through my mind. Were they working together or one not knowing of the other? What are they trying to tell me and why now? Why not in person instead of these cryptic slaps across the nerves? And most of all, how do they know what they seem to know?
Finishing off the last of my first jug of 88 I rest the bottle in the front left corner of the room and unfasten the doors to my comfort cabinet, retrieving the next jug from its shelf I head for my chair once more and fill my pipe and take two or three large puffs to get the tobacco started. Resting my head back and feeling the warmth of the whiskey flowing down I begin to weigh my options of the next move or if I should even make one.
I could set a tra…
Just then, the dogs erupted into yelps and barks. I could hear the pack racing past the side of my cabin heading south, after what I was bound to find out somehow. Throwing the door open with rifle in hand, I head to the left side of the cabin only to catch a glimpse of the last few dogs leading over the hilltop. Knowing I won’t be able to catch up with them, I return to the porch and rest my rifle against the front wall. Retrieving my pipe and jug, I take a seat on my oaken chair and rest the rifle across my lap. This is the plan—sit and wait for one more bastard to show up at my cabin and end this once and for all one way, or another.
Hearing the dog barks fading farther and farther away I conclude they’re on the trail of a coyote or fox because the distance is widening at an amazing pace. With my attention locked on the dogs, I catch my first glance of movement about seventy yards out into the woods, a slow sliding of an object heading towards the trail I share with the black wolf and all the other creatures of the forest. Not willing to move quite yet I quietly slide the bolt of my rifle into place and switch the safety off. Seeing the distant movement slip behind a patch of pines I briefly lose eye contact with this new intrusion. Coming out from around the pine patch, I realize the movement isn’t welcome because it is obviously an old man struggling to make his way in my direction and coming from the middle of nowhere. I watch as he finally hits the trail and once again disappears into the last dip of the trail.
Raising my rifle and placing a bead on the middle of the trail top that the old man will soon be appearing I lightly finger the trigger and wait. With the crest of this last trail hump a mere thirty-five yards away, I will have an easy shot. Staring down the barrel of my rifle, I see the first bobbing movement of the old man’s head as he stumbles up and into the line of my beaded sights. The man was still looking down when my shot exploded into the dirt just inches in front of his last step forward. Now looking up and leaning a little to the right the old man removed his hat and gave me a wave of confusion mixed with what should have been fear, but seemed more like recognition, and with a quick slide of the bolt and my rifle aligned once again at this strange trespasser I blink my eyes in confusion as the old man continues the last leg of his journey towards my porch.
Wanting like hell to pull the trigger once again and dispatch this unwanted company I let rational thoughts prevail and yell at my new enemy to stop where he is and tell me his business here.
“Tooley, is this any way to greet an old friend?” the man said with an uneasy calmness.
“How do you know my name and what the hell do you want?”
“So it’s true what they been saying all these years.”
Clenching my rifle tighter, “What have they been saying, old man?”
“That you Tooley have been living out here for a long time. Let me reintroduce myself, I’m Levi Meed from places here and there, and I was a friend of your fathers.” Now standing no more than four feet from my front porch and directly in front of me is a man of no less than seventy years of age from my estimation, the thick, deep lines on his pale face carve out every single one of those years with a language only time itself can write or understand. His cloud-white hair is thinning and hanging down in locks that brush his shoulders. His eyes were shining with a knowing, but of what I couldn’t quite place., and with skinny broad shoulders draped over by a ragged wool flannel his height must have been around six feet resting on muddied leather boots that have seen days better than this particular one. As he took one last step forward, I let another shot fly—although it was nowhere near close enough to hit its target the message was clearer than any words could convey.
“Old man you take one more step in this direction and I will have no problem protecting my property with this here rifle.” I quickly got out before he could make any more gains in my direction. “What do you know of my father?”
“Only that he and I were hunting partners of the sort and that he went lost some time ago around these parts and hasn’t been heard of since.” He said this with a wink of the eye as if to tempt me into proving my previous statement.
Tempting the easily tempted is a strange kind of courage. This old man is playing with fire, and he doesn’t even realize he’s standing within a ring of four-foot flames willing and able to strike at any moment.
Then the weight of the situation hit my senses all at once—this is the writer of the note, the bringer of the hat. “How the hell did you get into my cabin?”
The old man looked confused for the first time. “I have never been in your cabin Tooley, in fact; this is my first journey to this part of the woods since just after your dad went missing.”
Doing my best to read him and his ability to tell a lie I can’t say too much other than coincidences are believed by only fools and cowards, and I consider myself neither so I quickly decide that this Levi Meed must have something to do with the mysteries that have come upon my remote cabin, but what role exactly I’ll have to find out.
Feeling more in control than just a few minutes ago I rest my rifle across my lap and take a pull from my pipe and lift my hat a little. “So Levi what brings you this way at this moment in your life?”
“Well Tooley, every man knows there comes a time in his life where he knows that the inevitable is closing in on him and the time for me Mr. Tooley has been drawing near for some time.”
“That was a lot of words that never came close to answering the question I ask,” I said with a little disgust as I took a swig of 88.
“Ah, I see you got some of Walter’s 88. Care to give an old man a sip, the last request for a condemned man.”
Wondering how this guy knows Walter and his 88, I wonder if he once lived in Hapsburg, maybe before I was even born but Walter and I are close to the same age, and for the life of me I can’t remember my dad or Walter ever mentioning a Levi. Testing the waters of trust and deceit I offer my jug to the old man, and he reaches for the medicine.
“So how do you know Walter?”
Wiping his brow with a handkerchief and taking a second swig, “When one’s been around as long as I have you get to know everyone just a little and some more than others.” He said handing my jug back to me in a smoother motion than I thought possible. Something strangely familiar about this man, an uncomfortable awareness is slowly creeping up the back of my neck and making my hands tighten upon my rifle.
“So you’re telling me you have never been in my cabin and haven’t even been to my home?”
“Can’t say I have,” Levi said with a glance around. “Quite the home you’ve got here for yourself.” With a look of seeing something for the second time, Levi’s eyes roamed the outline of the front of my cabin and then rested back on me.
“So are you from Shepherdsville?
Shaking his head a small amount he says he’s never truly settled in one spot for very long or least long enough to say he’s from here or there. “I guess if I had to choose a place to call home I’d have to say the forest has been my resting place for many days and many more nights. The years all seem to blend after a certain age is reached.”
This man’s vagueness isn’t exactly setting well with my mood. Who considers the forest his home? “So you have a cabin out here in these parts?” I asked knowing he didn’t, at least anywhere close to mine.
“No cabin, just what the forest provides me and allows me to obtain.” A smile crossed his lips for just a second as if being proud of this declaration. “Men often have more than they need even when what they need isn’t what they really want. I’ve seen many a man come and go within these trees of solace. Most go than stay. Most need to go to save their sanity. The few that are left tend to see me now and then, but only when they need to.”
Reaching in my pocket and pulling out my tobacco pouch I refill my pipe and get it heated enough to keep the thing going on its own. Taking a few swigs of my own, I clear my throat and ask Levi how he met my father.
“One morning I was out checking my traps and as the early morning fog was lifting I stood from my resting spot against an enormous oak tree and found that across the creek and only about thirty yards in front of me sat a man asleep against a fallen tree, after the shock of seeing another man so far out into these woods, wore off I approached him with enough vigor to make my presence known and a sufficient amount of noise to awaken the stranger. As I reached his side of the creek, he rustled awake and instantly took a bead on me. Of course, I stopped dead in my tracks and with a smile told him how much of a nice change it was to see another soul out this far into the unknown, the unforgiving forest, the core of the fear of darkness that fills the hearts of so many others.” Removing his hat, he continued, “Your dad lowered his weapon and stood to get a better look at me. He then stepped forward and with his hand out, and we shook hands for the first time and began talking. Him about his new endeavor into hunting and trapping and me about life in the woods and all it can offer a wanting rootless lost soul.”
“How can I believe a single word you have spoken? What proof can you offer that any of what you say is anywhere near what is considered the truth and why did you consider my father a ‘lost’ soul?” I mumbled out from underneath my hat as I pulled it lower down on my head. The feeling of numbness was slowly creeping up from my feet and crawling up my legs attempting to take over my entire body as I listened to Levi as his words reverberated in my ears and seeped into my head as if they were worms digging deeper into the soil to find the moisture that is desperately needed for survival. Needless to say, I was becoming more uncomfortable as the minutes inched by as my new unwanted guest’s words sank deeper and deeper creeping like snakes and growling, unlike any animal that considers this world home. Did he have the proof I had asked for? Where would that leave me if he did? Back to the beginning of confusion over the events of the past day, but can I honestly believe he wasn’t the one.
“Let’s just assume we’re all lost and some people never find their way and others even offer a trade for the path to be shown to them—your father was a trading man at heart, I could sense that from the first time I met him.” Levi let loose.
“And what did he trade for his path to be shown?” I asked.
Levi Meed just smiled and said we all trade what we have to trade to get what we want, and a strong wanting and wishing is a powerful thing to behold.
Levi sat on the edge of my porch, now with his back towards me, and began to talk of a young man new to America in the big city of New York and having the feeling of being lost and out of place. A young man from the countryside of eastern England that wanted something better, something different, something of his own and a chance to be his own man, Levi then switched to the story of love between two kids finding each other by chance on a rainy day under an oak tree and never left each other’s side after that moment.
As Levi continued his story, he kept swaying his head slowly from left then right as if looking for something off in the distance of the forest, almost as if he was reading the words from an invisible scroll written in the trees themselves. I lifted my hat a little and grabbed my jug and began to drink gulp after gulp and only then did I notice my eyes had started to water up from the story of my parents as it was being laid out before me, most I knew some I did not. Levi Meed had indeed known my father, but he wasn’t entirely off the hook yet; it could have been him who left the note and the hat.
When Levi finished his story, I stood and offered him my jug and told him I’d be back in a second. Heading inside my cabin, I moved towards the collapsing bookshelf and pulled out my copy of Milton’s exhaustive poem and retrieve the hated note from its pages and pushed it into my pocket. Grabbing my father’s hat, I headed once again towards my porch to rejoin my guest. Stepping outside I noticed Levi has shifted his position on the porch so that he is now leaning against one of the wooden pillars and facing the chair I’ll soon be sitting upon. As I move by him, I drop the hat next to him and ask if he recognizes it.
“Well, if I had to guess I’d say this is your father’s hunting hat. Sure looks like the same one he always had. Where did you find it?”
Retrieving my jug, I settle back into my chair and say, “I didn’t exactly find it, let’s just say it found me.”
“I see, and I think I understand the rifle now,” he put forth with what I swear was another small creak of a smile at the corner of his mouth. “This is what you meant when you asked if had been in your cabin isn’t it?”
Now he’s just playing dumb or coy I thought to myself, “Of course.”
“Stop calling me that. My name is Joseph.”
“My apologies Joseph, I can honestly say I wasn’t the one who placed your father’s hat in your cabin. Now, if you believe me or not is completely up to you but you must ask yourself—what would I have to gain from such an act?” His words fell like stones from the sky as he spoke them, too much weight being carried along with them. Was it just me and my paranoia or was this old man double tapping every word with extra meaning? Playing with me, toying with my obvious over emotional state, there must be a way to get at the truth, and maybe it was staring me right in the face the whole time.
What one wants and what one gets is rarely the same, we all know this yet we still strive for both to be in unison at every step. We can step forth with our right and change the entire day by choosing that first step. But, who is to say that the day we experience is better than the day started with the left. He questioned his thoughts from the very moment that he found himself knowing. People may be friends, or they may be less yet the senses that they experience their lives are their own. Who am I to take that away? Who am I but a servant? What words dare I share? Forgive me for what I know and for those secrets that I am just now letting loose. Forgive me the reasons that are only known to two.