River 27 - Mark Gets a Trophy

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Okay, here it is. I got my comments on the last story, so you all get your free second chapter. I hope to have another chapter for you by next weekend. (Enjoy, and comment if you wish).

River

By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric

Chapter 27

So far: River came up with a solution that will keep Dale from losing most of his workforce during deer season, in a way that will please Mark. The river refused to cure the cancer victims who come to it, with one possible exception. The prophet headed off to visit two more reserves, and River has a new hobby, sewing. Finally, Marilyn finds another project, and plans start for Ginny’s House II.

The next morning River spent most of her time at the river doing beadwork. She had bought a large denim-colored cotton shirt at Hooper’s store, as well as additional beads in the colors she wanted. She spent over three hours sewing, and was pleased with the work when she stopped for the day. She considered that she was more than half finished and decided that she should be able to complete it the next morning. She thought briefly about trying to get some more done in her afternoon session in the river, but realized that there probably wouldn’t be time.

There was always a small group at the river at four: First Nations people from other reserves who had heard about the river. Pretty much everyone from Stone Ledge had been down by now, and now some had come in from Moose Portage. They said Rod had spoken to them the day before, and his group had stayed over for an additional day, and two families had been curious enough about the river to make the trip in.

After she left the river that afternoon, she found a new tent at the family campsite. It was a bit larger than her parents’. There was also a new truck in the drive. Well, new for a reserve truck, being only 10 years old or so. It was beaten up enough to be a reserve truck though. The box, in particular, was pretty much shredded.

“River, come over,” her father called from the fire pit, where a hefty man was sitting with Alison and him. “Meet Chip Wilson, an old friend of mine and one of the best stone masons in the province.”

“Not any more,” Mr. Wilson said, holding up a gnarled right hand, crippled with arthritis after having been smashed between stones too many times. “I can’t even swing a hammer anymore. I don’t know why your old man wanted me to come up here. But he said deer season starts early up here, and that was good enough for me. I can fire a crossbow with my good hand, and then when rifle season hits I will be out there with the best of them.”

“You may not be able to swing a hammer anymore, Chip,” Dale said. “But you know more about stone than anyone else in the province. I’ll find you some apprentices to swing the hammers and lift the stones. I just want you to build me some of your spectacular fireplaces for the houses I’m building.”

“They are beautiful houses,” Chip said. “Those timber cathedral ceilings are a perfect setting for stone fireplaces. It will be crazy expensive to buy the stone for them, but your Dad seems to think that the stuff grows on trees for free around here.”

“Not on trees,” River said. “But there is a lot of loose stone lying around this place. And there’s more not far below the earth, if you want to dig it out. How many apprentices do you think you will need?”

“Four maybe,” Chip said. “I need to get good workers though. Smart is good, but willing to work on when your shoulders are aching is more important.”

“Strong too, I would expect,” River said.

“That isn’t as important,” Chip countered. “I mean, I don’t want weaklings or anything. But the job itself will build up the strength in the boys.”

“Can you bring him to the meeting place before work tomorrow morning?” River asked her father. “I’ll let the word out that there are a few good jobs that will be open then.”

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When the next dawn rolled around River was in a good mood. She had finished her project earlier in the morning, and now there had to about 30 boys, and two girls, standing on the bank waiting for Chip to arrive. She addressed the group.

“Thanks for coming by. I wasn’t expecting so many. Chip will only need three or four of you, so I don’t want anyone to be upset if they aren’t chosen. The river itself will choose, although Mr. Wilson will have final say. I don’t want anyone who isn’t chosen to think that this means you are less capable. The river is just going to pick a team that it feels will work with Mr. Wilson. The ones chosen will get good jobs. There won’t be much money at first. You are apprentices after all, and part of what you are being paid in is knowledge. You will learn how to craft stone, and if any of you get half as good at it as Mr. Wilson, then you will always be able to make a good living.”

“Here they come now,” River said. “I need to take Mr. Wilson into the river first, so if you want to sit down for a bit and wait, feel free.”

“These are all here for jobs?” Chip said as he approached River.

“Yes. Good jobs, particularly ones working outdoors and with natural materials are in demand up here. I think Dad has a waiting list of 30 for carpenters at the job site. Can you come with me into the river, Mr. Martin?”

“Really? Oh, it is cold.”

“It warms up pretty fast,” River said, leading the older man out into the water. Soon they were both chest deep.

“It feels kinda good,” Chip remarked as he felt the river drift by him.

“Yes. Right now it is just reading you, and finding out what you are like. Then it will choose the boys … people … who are most suited to work with you.”

“It will choose? Humpf. I’ve always chosen my own people.”

“You have the right to overrule it. But be aware that the river will know what you are looking for: a willingness to work, if I got it right last night. The river will pick people who have the abilities you want. It knows these people well.”

“What if it chooses girls? I’ve never worked with a female mason.”

“Would that be a problem?”

“No, I guess not. Someone skinny like you wouldn’t work out, but those two looked like hefty girls out there. If they could handle the grunt work, they have the right to do the job, I guess. They’d have to be tough enough to handle the teasing that girls on a job site always get.”

“Okay, the river has a good idea of what you want, so I’m going to start bringing the others into the water, about five at a time. You probably won’t notice, because the river is going to teach you about the rocks and stones that are around here. You will kinda zone out, and when you come back, you will know more about this area, in terms of the stones, than even the people who have lived here all their lives.”

River started bringing people into the river, five at a time. It didn’t take the river more than 10 seconds to evaluate the candidates, and then had River send them back to the bank. Some were asked to stay around, but most were sent home, including both the girls. Eventually there were eight left, and River brought them all back into the water, where they formed a semicircle around Chip. Suddenly his eyes fluttered open, and he gasped.

“Wow,” he said. “That was some trip. I haven’t experienced anything like that since my LSD days in high school. Are these the candidates?”

“Yes. The river sent the others home. All the girls too. The river found them eager, and hard workers, but didn’t feel they could meet your needs for physical labor. These could all do the job, and the river has ranked them. We do need to know if you want four, or another number.”

“Holy shit,” Chip swore, raising his right hand up in front of his face. “My hand! It is whole again.”

River smiled. The gnarled arthritic claw she had seen the night before was gone, replaced by a strong, healthy looking hand. “Yes. Sometimes the river gives people a gift. I think your hand was cured by it.”

“Well, if I can work it like before, then I only need three apprentices. Any more and it gets to be hard finding them things to do. I thought I would need them for hammer work. Now that I can do that myself, three will be lots.”

“The river recommends Peter Stoneman, Paul Stoneman, and Martin Stoneman,” River said, and the three boys at the end of the line turned and high-fived each other, while the others started to make their way to the bank.

“Wait,” River said to the departing boys. “Mr. Martin has to confirm the river’s decision.”

“There is no way I am going to contradict this river if it gave me my hand back. Thanks to all of you for coming, and if something else opens up, I’ll have River let you know.”

“These boys are brothers, as you may have guessed,” River said. “Peter is oldest at 22, Paul is 20, and the big one there is the baby, Martin, aged 18 and just out of school.”

“Glad to have you aboard,” Chip said. “Do you boys hunt?” All three nodded yes.

“Well, we aren’t going to get to work until after bow season. But if you three don’t have other plans, then I’d be honored to hunt with you. It will give us a good chance to bond together. I was going to go out with Dale, but I think he needs the time with his son, and he was only going to go for four days. I want the full two weeks.”

Some of the boys did have other plans for going out with friends, but none that they wouldn’t change for a chance to go out with the master mason, and get a chance to see what he was like in a non-work situation. The boys left and River, Chip, and her dad were alone at the river.

“Miss,” Chip turned to River. “I don’t know how you did this.” He waved his hand, “but I am so grateful. And I need to tell you about something that the river told me as it was teaching me about the rocks and minerals in the area. It is pretty big.”

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Mark was up almost as early as River on Friday morning. He had to haul Dale out of his cot at 5 a.m., an hour before sunrise. They had a breakfast of sandwiches that Alison had prepared for them the night before as they walked along in the dark, carrying an ice chest full of food as well as all their other gear. Between the two of them, there was nearly 100 pounds of weight, but with Mark’s near-adult size and extra strength, they managed. They could hear other early risers who were also walking along, with flashlights shining here and there. Many more natives had left in pickup trucks to hunt in more distant areas. Chip and his new staff would be out here somewhere, Dale thought.

He followed his son. Mark had spent the past few days with Tall John, searching for deer runs. Mark had a particular buck that he had wanted to find. He had seen a hoof print on a trail with Tall John, and the old hunter had estimated the animal at over 300 pounds. Mark wanted to shoot that buck.

They camped about a quarter mile from the deer run Mark wanted, merely dumping their gear so that they could be at the run before the deer started moving out in the pre-dawn. They could erect tents later. Deer hunting was an early morning game, Tall John had said, and Mark was certain they had their best chance then.

He set Dale up in one position, and then moved along to another position himself, about 50 yards away, far enough that his father would not be tempted to talk to him. Mark spent four hours waiting, and saw several deer. Most were does or yearlings, and Tall John said a real hunter never shot those, unless faced with starvation. A bigger buck stopped and paused for a few minutes near Dale’s position, and Mark refrained from shooting it. It was an easy shot for Dale, but a tricky one for Mark at his greater distance. Eventually the deer moved on without a shot being fired.

When he judged it was too late in the morning to do anything, Mark got up and wandered over to Dale’s position. He found out why his dad hadn’t shot the buck when he found him sound asleep using his bow as a rough pillow.

“See any deer?” Mark asked.

“Not a one. You?”

“Yes. There was a nice stag grazing just a couple yards away from you a couple hours ago. It’s a good thing he didn’t wander any further or he might have woken you up.”

“Oh Mark,” Dale said. “I’m sorry. I guess I nodded off. I worked a full day yesterday and didn’t get to sleep as early as you did. I’ll do better tomorrow.”

“That’s okay Dad. I know you older fellows need your sleep,” Mark teased. “Let’s go and set up camp. We’ll come back this afternoon at about 4 to see if we can catch that fellow on his way home.”

They spent several hours setting up camp, and making a good lunch. They would be hunting again over supper, and only getting back to camp in the evening after dusk.

For the afternoon hunt, Mark positioned his father closer to him, warning him to only communicate with sign language. They hunkered down and waited for the sun to get lower in the sky. They got lucky. At dusk a buck (Mark was sure it was the same one as he had seen near his father earlier) came down the path. This time Mark could see that his father was alert and aiming his bow. Dale pulled, loosed, and watched his arrow fly a foot over the deer. Then he saw a second arrow strike the animal, entering its chest. Mark had made the kill.

The animal took four steps, and then fell to the ground. Mark was up like a shot, aiming to put the deer out of its misery with a knife to the throat, but he found the animal was already dead.

“What do we do now?” Dale said as he caught up with his son.

“Well, if River was here you’d have to carry the deer to the river so she could cure it. But since it is just us, we need to clean it and skin it.”

“I kinda hope you know how to do all that, because I don’t have a clue,” Dale said.

“I’ve never done it before,” Mark admitted, “but Tall John told me how to do it, and I have skinned and cleaned smaller animals. I think I can do it.”

Mark then proceeded to skin and dress the animal, making a small pile of the bones and entrails, while the meat was packed into the cooler that they had brought half packed with ice. The deer yielded over 100 pounds of meat. Mark figured that Tall John would have probably gotten more out of it, but he was pleased.

The head was kept separate. It was a 10-point buck, and Mark wondered if there was someone on the reserve who did taxidermy to have it mounted as his first stag.

“What do we do with all this?” Dale asked about the pile of entrails.

‘We leave it for the wolves,” Mark said. “They will strip the bones fairly clean, and then smaller animals will eat what is left. After that mice and other rodents will chew on the bones for the calcium. Everything will be gone in a week.”

The men, for now that he had a kill, Mark considered himself a man, each carried a side of the cooler back to the camp, with the deer head balanced on top of it. “You got plans for that?” Dale said as they walked.

“I’d like to get it mounted,” Mark said. “Do you think Mom would let us hang it in the new house?”

“Hah, like she will have a say,” Dale said. “Your first kill? It will be in the living room for sure. One of the guys in my team does taxidermy in his spare time. I don’t know if he is any good or not, but his fine carpentry skills are excellent, so I bet he is. You can take it to him if you like.”

They took two big venison steaks out, and were frying them on a campfire as darkness fell. A few minutes later the three Stoneman boys marched into camp, followed by Chip Wilson.

“Company Dad,” Mark called. “Get four more steaks out.”

“Many thanks,” Chip said, slumping down at the fire. “The old man got lucky, did he?”

“Old man,” Dale snorted. “It was the young buck that made the kill. Although I think my arrow might have scared him into submission.”

“So are you heading back tomorrow?” Chip asked. “That meat won’t keep until Monday.”

“I guess so,” Dale said, looking at Mark.

“I think we will try again in the morning,” Mark said. “That wasn’t the buck I was hoping to get. Dad and I can each take one, so maybe we’ll get lucky again.”

“I like your bow,” Martin Stoneman noted, looking at Mark’s gear. “It looks handmade. Like the ones that Tall John makes.”

“It is handmade,” Mark said proudly. “By me, although Tall John showed me how, and helped. I did the arrows too. He is teaching me how to do flint now, but says it will be months before I am good enough to make flint arrowheads that work. But we made the arrows and put commercial steel heads on them.”

“That is so cool,” Martin said. “I wish I had learned stuff like that. You are lucky to have found an elder who is into teaching the young ones. You are only 16, right?”

“No, I will be 11 in six weeks,” Mark admitted. “The river kinda made me big for my age.”

“Wow, I’ll say,” Peter said. “You aren’t as big as Marty, but you will be in a couple years. And he’s a giant.”

“Shut up,” Martin said, pushing at his older, but smaller, brother.

The visitors spent an hour at Mark’s camp, and then wandered off to find their own in the dark. Mark and Dale went to bed knowing they would have to be up early the next morning if they wanted to get another shot at a buck.

Before sunup they were in position again, about 800 yards from the site of their last kill. This proved to be lucky, as they could see a massive buck approaching from the north, at an angle that would have never have neared the original site. The wind was also from the north, so there was a chance that the buck wouldn’t scent them. They waited as it ambled closer and closer. It was a massive beast, well over 300 pounds with beautiful 20-point antlers. Mark signaled ‘mine’ to his father. He didn’t want to see a missed shot spook this huge creature.

The stag got to within 40 feet, and then paused. Mark sensed that it was about to bolt and let loose with an arrow that struck the beast in the chest. It didn’t even twitch, falling dead on the forest floor.

“Geeze Mark, that was terrific,” his dad said. “What a beast! I’m going to have to take lessons or something. That is a massive adrenaline rush, isn’t it?”

They skinned and cleaned the second, bigger animal, and packed it up with their baggage. They carted all the extra food they had brought with them to Chip’s nearby camp to make room in the cooler. Those four were all off hunting, so Dale left a note saying that they had gotten lucky again, and all the tins of food were gifts. That made it possible, barely, to get all the venison into a cooler. Again Mark and Dale walked off on either side of the cooler, with the new stag’s head on top. The first head was discarded. It was absolutely puny compared to the new one. Mark also had the two untreated deer pelts strapped to his backpack, and really was laden down. He refused to let his dad do any more than help with the cooler as they walked back into the camp to surprise Alison, who was not expecting them until Monday.



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