by Charles C. Cole
Our small convoy of creaky moving vans drove several hours north, then down into the isolated Plainview Valley to evacuate the few stubborn old-timers remaining. The state government, after legal delays, had approved the reservoir, which meant flooding and relocation.
The center of town, with its small cluster of log cabins and a grassy Main Street, reminded me of Norlands, a local tourist attraction representing a simpler era. We packed quickly; there wasn’t much, and we left some things behind, such as broken cars and church pews. The locals watched quietly, sitting on camp stools while enjoying our coffee and donuts.
Dusk came abruptly as we began driving up and out, seemingly hitting every rut and rock we’d missed on the way in. I was in the last vehicle.
Kervin Fretlocke, our tactless driver, glanced back and mumbled, “Farewell, old town. Happy snorkeling.”
Wedged between me and Kervin was a grey-faced, frail fellow who hadn’t said two words. I’d been avoiding conversation, per my boss who was afraid I’d invite a sob story that would keep me from doing my job. But the day was behind us now.
“You’ll like the senior center in Locke Mills,” I offered. “It’s supposed to have all the modern amenities.”
Kervin slammed on the brakes. I barely had time to straight-arm the dash with one hand and hold the old fellow in place with the other. “Kervin,” I hissed, “we won’t get paid if we don’t make it back alive!”
“Look,” he pointed. “Some animal’s watching us, a chimp or something.” The face of the thing was hidden behind dense foliage, but the familiar silhouette was vivid just beyond the headlights. It was three-foot high and humanoid. “A baby Bigfoot!” Kervin gushed.
“It’s the Far,” said the old man.
“Fawn?” asked Kervin. “I may be citified, but that ain’t no fawn.”
“The Far,” said the evacuee. “I knew he’d follow. A dam’s not the worst thing to happen in these parts. Keep driving, don’t stop. I’ll tell you.”
* * *
Many years ago, a feral boy wandered into the valley. Some thought he’d been abandoned by his family or maybe he’d just run off. He wasn’t right. He lived in the woods: alone, primitive, unclean. I heard stories, like from Benny Lechter, who was fixing a flat tire and felt someone watching.
The boy, then twentyish with long tangled hair and a short copper beard, was squatting down about eighty feet away, watching, cocking his head in funny ways and clicking his tongue like a squirrel. The effect wore on the nerves. Benny didn’t have kids of his own, and he had the patience of a gnat. He ended up throwing rocks at the boy to chase him off.
Another day, a new mom-to-be, Sissy Shaw, was having a terrible time birthing her baby. Doc Hallowell was late because a tree had fallen on Rib Eikey at the other end of the valley. The boy was there though, chirping and observing, from the edge of the field, probably attracted by all the excitement. It’s beyond me why he would want to call attention to himself at a time like that, when people’s nerves were at their most raw.
In the end, we lost both the baby and the mother due to complications. The surviving husband, Bumpus, lost his soul to grief and drink. He refused all solace and company, so we left him alone for a couple of days. It’s not natural for men to wail like that. The wild boy, probably trying to communicate, answered by echoing from the nearby woods.
Bumpus felt provoked. He had been scything a clearing for a memorial garden when he snapped. He chased the boy down and committed a hateful act. The boy fell in a thicket. When Bumpus grabbed at his foot to drag him out, the boy kicked him in the jaw, dislocating it. Bumpus responded with the scythe.
Bloodied, Bumpus walked to town to turn himself in, but he returned to help us find the boy’s body. We were good people, trying to do the right thing. He led us to the site, but the boy was gone. Some animal must have carried away the remains. Bumpus, struck to the core at the scene of his actions, climbed up Lovers’ Leap cliff and threw himself to his death. It was all so much to deal with.
The sightings started in the spring of a “short shadow” spotted running out of folks’ barns or chicken coops. Since most of us were farmers, Junior Tetley sarcastically nicknamed the half-man the “Far.” We thought it was people’s anxieties acting up, our guilt made manifest by the dark tragedy. Nobody believed the boy had survived, that new feet had grown on his severed legs, but nature protects the helpless.
One afternoon I foolishly fell asleep outside in the rocker with my Maine coon, Smoky, in my lap. The cat woke me when he clawed my legs and jumped into an open window. I could smell the Far, and there was a tree in my apple orchard shaking wildly. And the clicking. I rose slowly and shut the doors and windows; he never entered houses.
The Far never harmed people, but pets and livestock weren’t so lucky. I think folk knew it was somehow tied to the Shaw incident and blamed themselves for not doing more to prevent the violence. We decided this was the way life was going to be.
* * *
“Weirdness,” said Kervin.
“You didn’t do anything,” I said.
“It’s someone else’s problem now,” added Kervin. “We’re doing you a favor, getting you away from here.”
“You can’t leave guilt behind,” said the old man. “You can’t bury it under some fancy reservoir. I lent Bumpus the scythe that day.”
“So give the Far something and call it even,” said Kervin. He rolled down his window and threw out a bag of apples he’d been working on. “There. Hope it likes swimming.”
We sped out the valley, watching in the rearview mirror for several miles.
Copyright © 2017 by Charles C. Cole