Friday, August 29, 2014

Part 66


Winter in the northern woods is not always kind.  Right after the new year started there was a series of several ferocious storms back to back and some of the Singing Waters men decided to go around to all the camps in the area to see how folks were doing.  I don't think they were doing it just to be nice though; more like Mr. Owen and some of the others liked to stay on top of things and know who might be desperate enough to try something stupid.  That impression came from some things that Mr. Svenson, Jamie, and Shane said afterwards.  They didn't blurt it out, I had to add up the sum total of things.  It made me even more careful not to get or appear dependent on Singing Waters in any way.

Getting through the very deep snow was not easy.  They couldn't take the mules and had to carry all of their supplies in their own packs.  They were gone a week and only one of the camps offered them any sort of hospitality.  The first two camps were making ends meet but just barely so the men opted to not stay and be a burden; of course they didn't know what was coming or they might have at least asked for a place to camp for the night.  The next camp was so standoffish there was no telling how they faired.  They were all but run off with knives and clubs.  The fourth camp was the smallest known camp in the area and they were all dead.

Maybe it is that winter in the northern woods is never kind, some people just learn to live with it.  But if some do, then some don't.  The fourth camp - they never even bothered to name themselves - was made up of three family groups and two cabins of single men.  After the investigating was over with it appears that it was a combination of things that killed everyone.  Some was starvation.  Some was sickness.  But the greatest factor was probably the crazies of cabin fever.

There was no telling how long what had been going on had been happening.  Nobody around here is a CSI even if there was a lab and tech set up for that.  And no one left a convenient note or journal explaining anything.  Nope, the men just ease into camp and start seeing parts of bodies.

At first they thought it had been a puss brain attack.  I'm pretty sure that is the first thing that would have entered my mind if I'd seen what they saw all done over in frozen ice and snow.  Rather than go into the gory details I'll just say the sad story went something like this.  The people got hungry.  Hungry people get crazy.  You get hungry enough and crazy enough and your moral and social boundaries fall down.  Then the weak get picked off first.  They say to themselves, only one to die so that all might live and then we'll never say anything about it again.  It will be our secret.  Only help never arrives and the storms don't stop and there was so little to go around that you work out the pecking order all over again.  One horror leads to another and if you compromise and do one horrible thing what else will you do?  In the end there must have been a really siege battle, everyone hiding so they weren't the low man on the totem pole.  Locked in those cabins it looks like even greater horrors took place.  And in the end they all died, either by their own hand, by nature, or by murder.

It was a sickening job but all of the bodies and bits were put into one of the cabins and stacked however they would fit.  The ground was too frozen to dig graves and even though it was a small camp there were still too many bodies for three men to deal with in the traditional manner.  Then after going through the camp for anything that might be useful (and wasn't possibly contaminated in some way) the men threw all remaining burnables into the cabin and lit it.  After they were sure it was caught they walked away and headed to the next camp.

Those folks apparently had had some suspicion of what was going on having run into the "crazies" a few times before the snow blocked them all in.  Camps five and six have a coalition of sorts going ... one camp is made up primarily of single men of a certain lifestyle choice and the other was made up of more traditional family groups.  They stayed separate in living arrangements but on big jobs they would come together and sometimes share ideas ... which is how the water wheel was started.

It was camp six that offered them hospitality.  They are about as well off in their way as Singing Waters is but not as insular.  For Singing Waters their camp was a lifelong lifestyle choice.  For camp six they are just getting by until the puss brain carp calms down enough for them to move back into a gentler environment.

"You can never go home."  That was Shane, always saying weird things like they are supposed to make sense.

Jamie snorted.  I made the mistake of asking, "What do you mean?" even though I had a pretty good idea.

"I mean you can never go home.  Home might still be there, it might even be home in your head.  But you'll never be able to get back to the exact way it was in your heart.  I tell you, it was hard to be my father's son again when I'd been out on my own for a couple of years."

"You'll always be your father's son," Jamie said with a sigh like he had some inkling what Shane meant but either didn't want to admit it or didn't want to think about it.

"Yeah.  And I don't mind that part.  I just meant that it was hard to go back under his authority 24/7.  It's why I get out as much as I can so long as it makes sense."

I told him, "You don't fight that I can tell."

"No we don't.  Mostly because I choose not to, but Dad doesn't always make that easy to do.  They talk about young men always having to prove themselves.  Well let me tell you, old guys don't exactly cut us young guys too much slack.  They always gotta prove who's in charge.  A couple seem to always be looking for someone to slap down or put in their place.  Drives me nuts.  I mean look at Uncle Daniel; good thing all he has are unattached daughters.  And don't take this the wrong way Jamie, but I don't know how you do it.  Uncle Owen is ... is ..."

When Shane fell silent like he was sorry he'd brought it up Jamie said, "Yeah he is.  But I don't see as there's been a lot of choice for any of us."

Shane added, "Well at least you have Belinda."

A bark of a laugh left Jamie before he could stop it.  "Oh sure I do.  I get 24/7 watch dogs with her too.  And her attitude.  Man, if I had it to do all over again I'm not sure I wouldn't have taken that exit and just dropped her off at her parents like she had wanted me to.  If Dad hadn't been screaming in my ear to get up to the camp as quick as I could with whatever I could bring I might have had some time to think and avoid this mess.  Now she's stuck here not knowing what happened to her family or where they might be and I'm stuck being responsible for her."

He looked at me and said, "You better not carry tales to Uncle Joseph 'cause that's all I need.  He already rides my case over her and Aunt Ava isn't any better."

Pressures, pressures, pressures.  I guess there is some trade off to being alone.  Both sides of the coin has its pros and cons.

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