Gouging markers into the trees so he does not lose his way, Albey follows the outflowing branch of the river for around two treks, then puts it to his back and begins his journey to the falls. He has time before the sun reaches its peak in the sky, plenty of time indeed, and he plans on returning to the cabin just as the moon begins to rise. It will be dark then, but so long as he crosses back over the river before twilight sets in he should be able to avoid any predators which might fancy him a prime cut of meat.
“Which none shall,” Albey tells himself. “The reek of my garb is enough to dissuade any denizen, meateating or otherwise.”
Still he proceeds with caution, gripping the spear tightly in one hand and the dagger tightly in the other. With every step he takes the throwing stones clack in his right pocket, producing a metronomal effect that he first considers a nuisance, but slowly warms up to. It’s better than feeling the beating of his heart in his head, which hasn’t been an issue since he’s gotten some food in his stomach. All things considered, Albey is doing pretty well for himself out here.
For the first few treks the burnwood forest seems barren in the way a ghost town is lifeless; surely Life once thrived here, mayhap it even does now, but nothing shows itself to the foreigner wandering through.
“Perhaps the cabin’s previous inhabitant was a hunter of more than just wolves,” Albey reasons. “An avid stalker of game, one which gave the denizens of this patch of wood a reason to fear the sound of his footpace.”
But that’s simply not the case; Albey has quite an audience, quite a following amassed to see him through on this pilgrimage. He just cannot see them. They’re up in the trees, hopping from branch to branch or fluttering without the need to land at all. Many of them followed him across the log bridge he put in place for them, but there are newcomers too in his ranks: hares and foxes who have given up their age-old rivalry for the moment in Order to come together and experience something much greater than predation of pray; a trove of raccoons who knew not of the rabid rogue, who have no reason to fear the ashy ‘man because the husky ‘man who came before it would often toss scraps of viscera across the river for them to eat; a wave of chipmunks and moles and even a few voles follow along beneath the ground, the formers popping out of burrows and then right back in to give off the impression that they are few in number, when in reality they are not – in truth, there are more chipmunks than burnwoods in this patch of forest, and with each new day their numbers increase threefold; Albey does not notice a single one of these denizens until he stumbles over an especially gnarled tree root arching out of the soil, pulling the moccasin halfway off his foot. He bends low to fix it, then looks over his shoulder when he stands up to see a stampede of woodland denizens scrambling this way and that, as if they were following along all the while but did not want to be noticed.
“What a queer patch of land I’ve been blessed with,” he says aloud, addressing the denizens who cannot understand his words. “Mayhap some of you shall join me for supper so we may break bread and chat like true neighbors.”
His stomach growls at the mention of bread, so warm and loafy with a crisp crust holding it all together.
“I miss bread,” Albey whines as he marks yet another tree with an unsightly gouge. “Aside from my comrades, I believe I may miss bread most of all.”
Ram’rl’s bread was the best he had ever eaten. Iuqon was a gifted ‘man, a wizard in every sense of the word and a conjurer of many things, but the food he materialized out of miscellaneous woodland detritus – All things are born from light, my friends, he said, and light may be born into any manner of things – always had an earthy and, dare he think it, stale taste to it. Matter may transcend its form and return to light and that light may in turn take the form of any matter, but flavor cannot be conjured. Flavor comes from the heart, from the love and – sometimes quite literally – from the sweat of the one who prepares it. Ram’rl the Unfallen, gifted as he i–… was, gifted as he was in the ways of combat, had his true passion in the school of cooking, in the art of baking specifically. The ‘man once had a brick oven built between The Lodge and his weapons shack, and with that brick oven he would bake the grandest of confectionery treats ever to be tasted in the endless wood of The Hillside Commons. Cakes, pies, muffins and cupcakes alike (for there is a difference, make no mistake about it lest you catch a merciless whipping), chocolate chunks and cookie dough baked into brownie bars, and most appetizingly of all, the fresh bread. He did not make icing, Ram’rl the Unfallen, for his treats were plenty sweet enough, and adding that sugary paste would only serve to spoil them, but he did on occasion make butter, and friend? Listen well and hear me true: one could make a meal out of Ram’rl’s bread and butter. One could make the last of their meals out of that glorious combination, regardless of how long they may live, for any breakfast, lunch, or supper involving Ram’rl’s bread and butter (and when he toasted the bread, by the divine ones when he toasted the bread! ) was a meal in which all other food was packed away and saved for a later time.
Right then and there Albey decides to build himself an oven in his clearing at the center of the rivered isle, if ever he has the chance. Ten steps later, he comes across his first deersign.
Whitetails – or whichever breed of prancing antlered ungulates meander hungrily through this needly patch the Mad Poet now calls home – are not a clever bunch. Well, mayhap they are clever, but they are not subtle, nor could they be even if their livelihood depended on it. When a whitetail buck grows his antlers, they are coated in a layer of skin covered with fine fur as soft as velvet. This covering gives the antlers an unthreatening, rounded-off look, like the bars of Iuqon’s soap; it is also very itchy for the deer, or at least Albey presumes, and in Order to scratch that most terrible of itches, the bucks will find a suitable tree – not too thick, but certainly no sapling either – and rub their antlers to high hell, scraping great chunks of bark from the tree and shredding the velvet to flaps. It is not a clean job, a most bloody endeavor indeed; to see a buckdeer with crimson antlers draped with shredded flesh is to look into the eye of nature with the knowledge that Death will come, and things will not be comfortable until it does. The blood is washed off over time, or mayhap licked clean by the does if their breeding habits are as frivolous as that of the squirrels and other rodents, but even after the deer lose their velvet they still rub the trees. They do it chiefly to mark their territory and also to assert their dominance; the thicker the tree the bigger the buck, and by the girth of the rubbed tree Albey just now comes upon, there looks to be at the smallest a high rack’a’ten standing sentry over this wood.
Unphased in step Albey continues on. The deer will not approach him nor threaten him in any way, and if they do? Well, let us just say the broad side of a deer makes for an excellent place to rest a spear. Of all the meats he’s had the pleasure of throwing down his gullet the Mad Poet has always savored venison the most… aside from the dried seasoned meat in the jars back in the cabin, that is. That meat is a divinesend and nothing else, whatever kind of meat it may be.
More sign of the deer population makes itself apparent to the Mad Poet as he delves further into their territory. He sees many rubs, the trees in which they’re engraved larger with each sighting; he sees scrapes in the needles, sights where alpha bucks locked antlers and scuffled for respect, for does, or plainly for sport; he sees (and nearly steps in, the horror of it all) many piles of rich brown pellets which surely keep the burnwood forest fertilized; eventually he sees game trails, crisscrossing tracks upon which many deer prance, and at the nexus of these poorly defined trailways Albey finds the whitetail epicenter: a massive field of high grass sprouting impossibly beneath the thick burnwood canopy. Much of this grass is pressed flat from the weight of the sleeping deer, and the urile stench of the place is more than enough to bring tears to the wanderer’s eyes, for deer make a habit – a most disgusting one, at that – of urinating openly upon their bedding ground every morning shortly after waking, to ensure no other deer lays down on their special patch of flattened grass.
There are many deer in this bedding ground, bucks and does and fawns alike, and each and every last one of them turns their heads to stare at the intruder, instantly making sense of that terribly acrid scent carried to them by the forest’s winds. There is another ‘man in this wood, it appears, mayhap a mate for the husky one, although no doe can fathom how anyone, denizen, creature, or otherwise, could stand the putrid scent of baked ashes.
It’s a sight to behold, truly, and Albey pauses his stride to do so. The deer do not stir, many even refuse to blink, their eyes watching very carefully the tall weapon grasped in the ‘man’s hand. The husky ‘man often ventured off its island, and occasionally – once or twice between the Calla and the Halla, mayhap – it would brandish a very similar weapon, one bearing such a likeness to the one the ashy ‘man holds that they could very well be the same spear. That weapon had not felled many deer, but the ones it did it did well; they died without much pain, which is a blessing in and of itself, but still they were made to die, a fact only forgivable as it occurred far from the grounds of the whitetail grove. But this ‘man is here, this ‘man found their sacred land and set his covered foot upon it, and the deer cannot take such trespass lightly.
From the center of the field of tall grass rises a truly monstrous buck, one with antlers grand enough to gouge two men, a rack with nineteen spikes in all, nine on the right, ten on the left, for the left is often larger in nature. As the buckdeer approaches Albey the others shift about and scurry, clearing a path for their one true king, a path he walks slowly and with great confidence, with grace in every step. The buckdeer comes to Albey and faces him, gives him not an arm’s length of space, and exhales a chuff of hot air directly into the ashy ‘man’s furred mug.
Albey stands his ground, chuffing back and stomping his foot.
The buckdeer, leader of this great and proud race of ungulates, stomps his hoof in return, lowering his head as if to charge.
Albey sheaths his dagger between his two layers of pants, spins his spear in his hand, and plunges the stone blade into the soil. He then releases his hold and pockets his hands, wrapping them around a throwing stone each.
Raising his head back to eye level, the buckdeer blinks thrice and moves to return to his royal bedding site. Taking his spear with him, Albey continues along the way he was heading, the deer parting to provide a path for him to walk. A couple of spotted fawns try to follow but their mother does bleat at them, and the light thuds of their tiny hooves splitting the burnneedle floor of the forest soon leaves Albey’s ears. The deersign begins to recede before his eyes, then disappears altogether.
Followed still by denizens of many shapes and sizes, Albey the Mad Poet continues on to the falls.
This has been the fourth subchapter of the third chapter of The Face of Fear, a novel about bigfoot written by the writer in Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
The Hillside Commons has a Facebook page. Here’s that.
If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~