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A Simple Handshake
Alice C. Bateman & Clive S. Michie
Many hours later, many miles of water between himself and his killers, Dan had relaxed and come to a few decisions about his future. Heíd decided he
would never go back to either the campsite or his farm. It would be a shame to
walk away from the four year old Jeep, but he could probably arrange for somebody to tow it out of the park and keep it in payment. He could exchange
the pink slip by mail and have the guy send him a five-dollar bill back, to
satisfy the Ďconsiderationí rule. Didnít want to leave it just sitting around too
long, only a few days. Long enough to make the fool brothers think heíd still be
going back to the campsite. He didnít want to have to feel like he was being
pursued while he was trying to decide what course to take.
Drifting, Dan spotted a small patch of beach on the edge of the lake he was traveling through. According to his map, he was somewhere on Snake Lake, paddling south about fifteen feet offshore. Dan liked to stay close enough to the edge of the lake to see the animals and birds going about their lives, in the natural order of things.
Dan had always felt closer to animals than to people; every single picture of him as a child had a puppy or kitten or other baby animal. His parents hadnít owned a large farm, in fact had only raised small numbers of chickens, a few pigs or goats off and on, and large gardens for the family.
Dan felt closer to those childhood days right here in a canoe under a blue sky with white fluffy clouds than he had since heíd been living through them. Days he hadnít appreciated until he was an adult and stuck in a high-rise in the city. Sure, Ottawa was beautiful, and it was the seat of power of Canadian politics, but heíd still felt trapped there during the last half of his marriage to Jane.
Dan heaved a big sigh. The decision to leave everything behind in light of the threat to his life eased Danís mind considerably. For a long time, he had been yearning to cut all his ties and just head out to the mountains. Heíd gone out to stay in Banff for a week with some buddies, his last year in university.
When heíd first stood amidst the grandeur of the mountains, heíd felt immense freedom, immense power swelling his soul. But then the drinking had started, and he didnít sober up long enough to think about that moment until he was back in the dorm ten days later. After which Jane and the path of his life had pushed that experience to a back corner of his mind.
Drinking wasnít something that Dan had continued doing, except on social occasions when it was expected, it was just a part of being away with the boys for a week. He finds it hard to believe now that anyone could think staying drunk for a week was fun, but theyíd all been young and sowing their wild oats back then.
Now again, he felt a pull in his soul, a sense that he was near a place of power. The feeling compelled him to turn the canoe on a right angle toward the six-foot stretch of pebbly sand heíd noticed a few minutes ago. As the canoeís front scraped the shore, Dan felt a small shock of something he couldnít quite put his finger on, akin to the handshake feeling, but not quite the same. This spark, or whatever he should call it, evoked good feelings, and prompted him to pull the joint out from behind his ear and hold a flame to it after heíd beached the canoe.
Sitting on the stump of a tree, bare feet propped on a sun-warmed rock, Dan inhaled deeply of the healing smoke.
Two-thirds of the way through the smoke, his eyes searched the horizon to the north as if looking for a pursuer. Danís head snapped up suddenly as he heard the unmistakable sound of an axe striking a tree trunk.
Curious, Dan pulled the canoe farther up, and tied it to a tree branch hanging out over the lake. On another impulse, he removed the bungee cords securing his load, and slid his guitar case out from under his sleeping bag. He sat it on the ground, removed the guitar and put it over his shoulder, strap in front, guitar in back. The strap was hand-tooled leather, from an adult stag taken in the Spirit fashion, with thanks given to the Father and the animal before and after the kill. The animalís blood soaked into the Earth to nourish her. As it should be, in the taking of a sacred life force. And all life is sacred. Dan had always known these things, and lived his life accordingly.
As much as he loved fishing, Dan was having a harder time eating the flesh of any animal, fish or fowl. Since heíd split with Jane, heíd eaten less and less meat, never red meat anymore at all. He could almost feel the pain of the torture and death of the animalsí spirits when he passed a McDonaldís restaurant. Not something he talked about or preached to others, just something that he was.
After returning his guitar case to the canoe, Dan patted his right pocket to make sure his pouch was still there. Putting his hand in his left pocket, Dan felt among the loonies and toonies and small change for his thinking stone, as he called it. A sort of puffy triangular piece of Arizona turquoise, its natural dark tones were placed in a way that always reminded Dan of one of those typical alien faces that were used everywhere to depict alien life forms. Two large black eyes, with another irregular circle shape centred below, indented a little into the stone, where the mouth and nose would be.
The stone was already hot to the touch, which was unusual. It had only ever heated when he was holding it. Another small bit of mystery and magic in this very unusual day.
By now, the steady rhythm of the axe strokes had allowed Dan to pinpoint the location of the sound. Maybe twenty or thirty yards away, to the northwest. In a matter of moments, Dan was looking at the user of the axe. Looking up at him, to be exact. This was one large man, thought Dan, who was considered tall himself, at six feet. He was standing with his back to Dan, six foot six at least, a shoulder width that looked wider than the length of the axe he was using to chop through the last couple of inches of the thick trunk of a pine tree. Dan was pleased to note that the tree was notched to fall in a direction away from where he was standing.
Shirtless, the large manís muscles rippled and bunched with the motions of his work. A few minutes later, Dan heard the cracking of the last fibres of the trunk splitting, and a part of him gave thanks to the tree, even as the tall stranger turned around. Ludicrously, Dan suddenly thought of the childhood story of a giant called Paul Bunyan, who chopped down trees in the forest. All of a sudden, the possibility that such a man could actually exist didnít seem too far-fetched.
The strangerís torso was covered with hair, front and back, partly a reddish blonde, partly grey. Waist-length hair the same mixture of colors was tied into a ponytail with a leather thong, a long curly beard hung to his chest. Danís sense of storybook reality was intensified when a grin broke across the strangerís face at sight of Dan and his guitar. Dan was, he admitted to himself, intimidated until the guy grinned.
"Hey, didnít know I had company!" the stranger exclaimed, in a deep, resonant voice. He held his axe handle in his right hand, and did not automatically extend it for a handshake, as most of the population seems conditioned to do. "How are you, young fella?"
Somewhat taken aback by the joviality of the other man Ė Dan had expected a much more gruff greeting, or a demand that he be gone from this manís territory Ė Dan took half a step back before answering. "Iím, uh, fine. Nameís Dan, just taking a canoe trip through this beautiful country."
"Mineís Eugene, son. Nice to meet you." Eugeneís eyes crinkled as another grin split the beard and mustache. His weathered face wrinkled a little around the eyes, but was otherwise smooth and what Dan considered ruggedly handsome. Almost like Dan had always pictured a heroic Viking would look if he were relaxed and at home.
For a moment, it seemed to Dan that Eugene grew even taller, then shrunk again to a more comfortable size. ĎOK, this is just getting too weird now,í Dan thought. ĎMaybe I got too much sun today, and Iím just dreaming or something.í Dreaming or not, Dan no longer had to crane his neck to look at Eugeneís face.
"Set yourself down, son. Pull up a stump." Eugeneís deep laughter at his own humor was contagious, and all at once Dan was laughing too, and it felt so good to just release the tension of the morning in a gale of laughter. Soon, tears streaming down his face from laughing so hard, Dan tried to compose himself again. His new companion was looking at him intently as Dan quieted.
"So, whatís brought you to this neck of the woodís, Dan? Just a simple canoe trip?"
Even as Dan decided to answer yes to the question, his mouth opened, and his entire story poured out. Amazed at himself, Dan finally clamped his mouth shut after talking about the idiot brothers and the seemingly distant morning. Heíd had no intention at all of telling this man anything, and yet it had all come out, right down to the weird experience of shaking the guysí hands and seeing their memories. He explained to Eugene as heíd explained to himself, that this must have been a warning from God, to let him know that he needed to get away.
"Could be, Dan, could be. Thereís a lot more to this world than meets the eye." Eugene pulled his plaid shirt off a nearby tree branch, where it had been hanging. "Was just about to head back to the cabin for a little refreshment. Care to join me?"
Suddenly extremely thirsty, Dan readily agreed to Eugeneís invitation, and followed as the big man led the way to a small cabin not too far to the west. As he walked, it sounded to Dan as if his guitar was playing, oh so very softly, a pretty melody Ė all by itself. ĎA trick of the wind, obviously,í Dan thought. Besides, he didnít think anything that might happen on this very unusual day could surprise him anymore. If his guitar wanted to play itself, who was he to object?
He was wrong about being surprised, though. A black wolf lying across the doorway of the cabin that came into view startled him out of the pleasantness.
"Eugene! Look out!" Dan exclaimed.
"Thatís a pretty powerful piece of stone there, Dan. You say it just
showed up? What do you mean?"
Eugene grinned broadly. "Well, Dan, thatís about as good a way of putting it as
any. Now, letís give thanks for our food, and especially for the magic in these
mushrooms weíre about to enjoy."
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