by Kai-Eric Fitzner (1995)
„Come on now! We’ll be late!“
The two boys ran at high pace through the majestic and ancient Fisherman’s Grove on the shore of Lake Cameron. The ground was muddy and deep since it had rained all morning on this late October day. Joey, the younger one, had clearly fallen behind, struggling hard to keep up with his brother Tim, who was just jumping a large puddle. He turned around to check on his brother, then shouted again.
„Will you move for Christ’s sake? They’re not gonna wait!“
„I’m coming“, Joey replied, gasping for breath. He darted towards the puddle, but then stopped right in front of it. He decided to rather walk around it.
„Hurry up now!“
With that Tim started to run again while Joey decided to give in to his stitch and slowly follow his brother.
When he arrived at the rocky beach, he found the others sitting around the large flat rock, facing his direction, and eagerly awaiting his arrival. On top of the rock, like a king on his mighty throne, sat Old Bill, gently smiling in Joey’s direction. He slowly raised his hands.
„Come closer, my little friend. We’ve been waiting for you.“
Joey walked over to the group of kids surrounding the old man. He took a quick glance at Tim, who looked at Joey as if he were to spit poison at his little brother. Joey sat down as far away from Tim as he could. Then he looked up at Old Bill, who still had that gentle smile on his withered face. Joey didn’t know how old Bill was, and neither did any of his friends, who all gathered around this mysterious hermit every Saturday to listen to his tales from the past, from the days, when he had been young.
„Well, now that you’re all here, I will tell you of a hideous crime, that was committed fifty years ago, on the very shore of our Lake Cameron.“
Bill pointed his frail hand toward Fisherman’s Grove and continued in his whispering voice.
„Do you know, why that place over there’s called Fisherman’s Grove?“
He let his gaze wander around, staring every single one of the boys straight in the eyes, until they had to look away. Then he let out a satisfied chuckle and went on.
„Well then. Right over there“, he said, pointing at the far end of the beach, where it ended in a small cove, „where the Island Highway runs by, there stood Chester McDermud’s cabin. He was a strange old fellow, let me tell you. Very strange, indeed. He would go right out on the lake, every morning, and then fish there until he grew too tired of it. Then he would return to the shore, and eat whatever the lake had offered him that day.“
Old Bill stared onto the lake, where the late autumn afternoon mist gathered, and then started expanding toward the shore. It was, as if Bill saw something within the fog, Joey thought, as if a superior force drove the mists to do whatever it was they did. Bill held his gaze set tight on the grey wisps until he had made sure that every single one of the boys had at least taken a quick glance in that direction.
„Old Chester didn’t have many friends, let me tell you. Infact, the people around Whiskey Creek were pretty scared of him. They couldn’t handle the fact very well, that there was someone, out in the woods, who’d chosen to live all on his own, among the bears, the snakes, and, of course, the demons and evil spirits, which haunt any place, where men haven’t yet decided to dwell.“
„But, …why’s that?“, Joey asked. He didn’t find it particularly easy to ask a question, especially with his brother around. He enjoyed coming here and listen to Old Bill’s stories, although he had noticed how his older brother still despised the idea of having to drag him along every weekend, and therefore hating his guts. Sometimes Joey thought, that most of the boys weren’t here because of the old man, but only to hang out at the lake, to occasionally disappear into the woods to smoke a cigarette in private, or to even drink a can of beer, one of the boys managed to steal from his father. But hardly anyone ever really listened to Bill’s tales about the history of their homeland. Joey didn’t mind, he listened and he asked, when he didn’t understand something Bill had said, even if that would mean, that the hermit considered him to be stupid. Bill, however, fancied the young boy’s question, since it proved to him, that they were – or at least Joey was – listening to what he said.
„That is a very good question, my little friend, a very good question, indeed.“
Joey felt how something inside him pushed him so he would sit straight, maybe even growing a couple of inches. High praise from the Old Sage, for Joey could not recall Bill ever saying anything like it to anyone.
„I believe“, Bill continued, „it’s mainly, because people are afraid of the unknown, you know, and if there is anyone, who manages to live where the others don’t, or don’t want to live, then they’ll make up stories about him to show that he’s different. That’s how it works. It somehow soothes them, I should think, that he’s the one with the strange behaviour. But, all of you should be happy, if you don’t understand this; that’s one of the big bonusses in being a child. Anyhow, where was I? Oh, right…well, Chester didn’t have any friends due to that, except Annie. Annie Strongbow ran the Whiskey Creek store then, and she would go out to Lake Cameron once a week and visit Chester. They would sit at the shore and stare off into the lake to watch the mists rising. They would talk all night and next day Annie would return to the store and would have a couple of fish to sell. That, naturally, led to mistrust within the community, and people started to watch her steps more carefully, and when she got pregnant, apparently with McDermuds help, the crowd went mad and stoned her out of the town.“
He took a deep breath and looked around only to see awe and horror in the children’s faces. He continued, his voice slightly lower than before.
„Annie, however, didn’t go to live with Chester, she retreated to the South, to the Englishman River Falls. She didn’t want Chester to know that she bore his child. She loved Chester very much, you see, and he shouldn’t see, what creature he had spawned, for Annie knew, that the stoning had damaged her child severely.
„Her son grew strong, very strong indeed, but his mind always remained that of a two-year-old. He would never know, when his force, his strength would start to overthrow the natural limits set to men and become lethal to any living creature.
„At the age of thirteen, he wrestled down a brownbear and broke its neck. At the age of twenty, he broke his mother’s back while hugging her dearly.“
The only sound that could be heard, was the gentle wind, which sent tiny wafts of the mist towards the shore. The children gazed at Old Bill with horror. Joey took a glance at his brother. For the first time Bill had Tim’s undivided attention. Joey thought, that he saw serious concern in his older brother’s eyes. He was more than startled, he was afraid. Finally, Tim managed to produce a question, and Joey could hear the fear in his voice.
„What happened then? What’s it all to do with the lake?“
Bill cleared his throat, before he continued, his voice a bit crackled and a pitch higher than before.
„Retarded as he was, Annie’s child was far more perceptive than she’d ever anticipated. You see, he couldn’t speek much, but he could listen, and once his bear-like mind had understood something, he would never forget it.
„Therefore, he remembered his mother sitting on the porch-like attachement of their hut by the Falls, weeping almost every night and singing to the stars about her lost love, the lake, and Whiskey Creek.
„After she’d died, he was mad. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been mad before, but now there was anger burning inside him, far too much for him to bear, and the first thing he did was tearing the hut down, piece by piece. And then he sought his way to the creator of all his misery, of whom he knew little except ‚Whiskey Creek, love, Chester, lake, fish‘.
„It took him many days to find out what and where Whiskey Creek was. He scared quite a few hunters whom he encountered, mind you, and word spread of a huge bearman straying about the woods. But when he found, that it was the place he’d passed by many a time during the past weeks, his anger grew even stronger, as, for the first time, he realised his own stupidity.
„It was on Halloween, fifty years ago, when a bear-sized creature entered the Whiskey Creek Store and let its gaze wander over everything in it. It then angrily approached the shelf, upon which the jack-o‘-lanterns were displayed, and lifted a fifty-pound pumpkin, as if it were made of silk and wool. Holding the pumpkin high over his head, it went towards the clerk – who was totally petrified, of course – mumbled the words ‚love, lake, fish, Chester‘. When the clerk didn’t answer, the creature yelled at her, wielding the pumpkin like a football in its gargantuan claws, repeating the words, which made no sense to her. But she somehow managed to point towards the North, crying out ‚lovely lake, lovely lake‘, and with that she started to screem hysterically, just a pitch too low to break glass. That, of course, hurt Chester jr., the bearman, so he turned that painful sound off by crushing the clerk’s skull with the madly grinning fifty-pound jack-o‘-lantern. He then examined his instrument, only to realize that it was broken, so he chose a new one, slightly larger than the first. With that, he trod off into the darkness, up north, where the lake and the root of all his misery were supposed to be.
„What he hadn’t noticed, and even if he had, wouldn’t have bothered about, was the clerk’s husband, who had decided to check on his wife just after her hellborn scream, although it was Halloween, only to find his wife buried beneath a huge pumpkin, with its fiendish grimace looking up to him, and a bulky seven-foot creature leaving the store with another jack-o‘-lantern in its arms. Half in disbelief, half shocked to the limits of human comprehension he fell to his knees and tried to wake his wife, who’d probably just fainted, he thought. It took him a while to grasp what had happened, but then he wept bitter tears and didn’t stop until, an hour later, a customer entered the store and helped him up to have him sit down somewhere else, far away from this dreadful sight.“
One of the younger boys, Sean Leary, suddenly started to sob, only to realize a few seconds later, that all the others were staring at him, and that he was behaving foolishly – from a child’s point-of-view. He decided to overact his embarassing display of emotion, and started to cough, which fooled no one, Joey thought, not even himself. But it had been representative of how everyone of them felt, thus relieving him and any of the others of that duty. He felt better now and looked at Bill’s friendly old face again. The old man had a caring smile on his face, as if he knew exactly, how they all felt, as if he reminisced the days, when he was told the same story by his father. But then again, he would have been already born then, so he must have been there, Joey thought, depending on how old he actually was. Joey wondered, if Old Bill maybe even had been involved, when the hermit continued.
„Meanwhile, Chester jr. walked steadily towards Lake Cameron. He knew little of how far it was, and how long it would take him to reach his destination – and his destiny. He had an appointment with his maker, and it wouldn’t be a pleasant one, for the man, who’d make the bearman’s mother suffer, would have to suffer as well, before he, the creature, would walk of the civilized scenery, never to be seen again.
„The grown men of Whiskey Creek had armed themselves in the meantime. One of the more experienced hunters soon had found the monster’s tracks, leading towards Lake Cameron, so a group of eight followed them, determined to avenge the dreadful murder. They all were alert, since they expected that materialized Halloween spirit to be aware of their every move.
„It was shortly before sunrise, when they reached Lake Cameron’s shore. A thin veil of mist still hung over the water and the land. Daylight was slowly creeping over the hills when three of them stalked carefully towards McDermuds cabin. The others remained in the shadows of the mighty, ancient trees of what then was called Canterbury Grove, in order to cover their fellow men’s approach.
„The cabin’s door was closed, but not locked. There was no one inside, no indication of any violence, nothing missing, from what they could tell. They returned to the others and discussed their next step. They noticed, that the boat was still there, so McDermud wasn’t out on the lake fishing. One of them finally decided to risk it all and called out the fisherman’s name. No response. He called him again, this time louder, a bit more certain of himself. Again, Chester did not answer, and it took the brave men over an hour to dare searching the area.
„It was then, when they found Chester’s dead body, beneath a majestic tree at the very center of Canterbury Grove, his head smashed by a gigantic pumpkin. They searched the woods around Lake Cameron, and didn’t find a hint indicating the whereabouts of the creature. Eventually, they decided to bury Chester, the strange and crazy old fisherman, right there were they found him.“
„And that’s it?“ Tim asked in disbelief. „That’s why they call it Fisherman’s Grove? I mean, they didn’t like the man, right, so why would they name a place after him, that’s already got a name?“
Bill smiled at him. „They didn’t name it Fisherman’s Grove, alright. They called the place Fisherman’sGrave. It’s just, that they changed it over the years, because it’s such a lovely place. That’s all.“
„And what happened to the bearman?“ Joey asked. „When did they catch him?“
Old Bill’s face changed from a smile to a very sinister expression.
„Many years later, when a young bunch of hunters was trying to track down a bear, that had rampaged in the vicinity, destroying a couple of barns and a granary, one of them got hold of a huge creature – and shot it. We found out later, that it wasn’t a bear after all, but Chester jr., the bearman.“
And then Joey knew. He knew that Old Bill had shot the bearman and then investigated on his past. He felt a burning desire, a sudden urge that he had to find Chester’s grave. It was still around, that he was certain of. He tried to remember one of his many trips through Fisherman’s Grove. There must have been a little cave, a mound of earth, which he had not investigated further.
„You oughta go home now. It will be dark soon and I don’t want you to get into trouble with your parents.“
The boys slowly stood up, since they knew that these were his final words, and any discussion about it was futile. Joey saw, that the old man appeared to be more sincere, almost…sad.
Joey looked over at Tim, who didn’t look as angry as he had before, but still concerned. So he walked over to him, slowly.
„Tim, ‚know what?“
„‚bout this grave. I think it’s still around.“
„So? Big deal. Who cares?“
„I think I know where it is. Let’s go and check it out.“
„Bullshit. We’re going home.“
„I’m not“, Joey said, and with that he run off into the woods.
„Joey! I’ll tell Mom and Dad where you are. Joey!!! You’ll get grounded for the rest of the year!“ He stared after his younger brother, for whom he had been given responsibility for the day. „Damn!“, he said, and followed Joey into the grove.
He found him leaning over a pile of dirt-covered rocks, staring at something behind them.
„What the hell d’you think your doing?“
Joey didn’t answer, but he stepped back from the pile, his mind set on something else. With a little nod towards the pile, he indicated Tim to have a look for himself.
And Tim did, and he saw a little engraving at the very base of the tree.
„To…Uncle…Cha…Chester…with…have…no, love. William McDermud. So what?“ he asked his little brother. „Let’s go home.“ He trod off towards the Island Highway.
Joey shook his head in disbelief. His brother didn’t understand. He was supposed to be the older one, fourteen years old, and he didn’t get it. He bent over to look at the engraving again before he decided to follow his brother. For the first time in his life, Joey felt superior. His brother might have been taller and stronger, but Joey was the smarter one. He was very proud of himself and stood as tall as he could.
Before he reached the end of the grove and stepped out onto the highway he turned around once more. And there he saw Old Bill sitting on top the pile of rocks – smiling at him.