Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Here is another one of the short stories from my "The Yearlings" collection. I hope to have this collection published and available sometime in 2014. It includes stories from Ontario (where this one takes place) to British Columbia and a time frame from the late 1800s to the 1980s. Some of them are based on something that actually happened ... with some slight extrapolation.
Other stories are more in the line of major extrapolation; that is to say they may have been part of a bad dream.
Another selection from the collection, the title story, was posted here several months ago.

That's a lot of water!

                                                                By D.M. McGowan

            They lived south of town, about twenty miles. You leave town and go down through Nottawa, take the fork to the left, and go on through Creemore. After you cross the valley that Creemore sits in, you start back up-hill, and pretty soon you come to Lavington.
            Well, they don't live anywhere near there! You plumb missed it!
            You turn around; go back down the hill and through Creemore. Just after you leave that roaring metropolis - be sure to pay attention, because if you don't see the sign you won't know you've been through it - take the first road to the left and follow it west. Actually, you only go west for a wee ways, and then you start to angle south.
            You take a look around while you're going down that road. That's some of the roughest, standing-on-end country you're likely to pass through. You won't be able to tell how up and down some of it is, without leaving' the road, because the maples, birch, and what-not are growing thick as a jungle.
            You'd best take my word for that part. Don't be leaving the road to look! That's what they call the Devil's Glen. A stranger gets off the road in there, and it's only the devil can find him!
            Anyway, you follow that road on up the valley until it narrows down to a dirt track. A half a mile after you've left the gravel you'll see the Clayton place off the road to your right. It's hard to tell with all the trees and rocks in your way, but you're only about two miles across the valley from Lavington where you were lost an hour ago.
            As you turn up the lane, there's a little cedar-roofed house on your right that hasn't seen paint in fifty years. Fifty yards farther there's a big barn on your left that's in far better shape than the house, but with just as much paint on it.
            You know, I don't think you could paint those old pine boards. You could put a gallon on every square foot and it would make about as much impression as throwing a gallon of water in the Pretty River.
            When you get there, you stop by the house and have a look around. You'll figure that the only thing that land can produce is rocks and pretty, but you'd be surprised. The soil in between the rocks and the trees is mighty good land.
            The Clayton boys grow potatoes, corn, wheat, the occasional cow, and a few pigs. They eat a little of all of it, but their main source of income is the potatoes and corn. Not spuds and kernels, but the product of their manufacturing enterprise. They have what you might call a value-added business. The Clayton boys make some of the finest drinking spirits in the land.
            When you find yourself standing by the house looking at the view, just keep doing it! If you start wandering around the place looking for the Clayton boys, someone will take a shot at you, and you'll find yourself leaking all over the driveway! You just stand there and call out. Someone will come out and find you. They probably knew you were coming when you left Creemore.
            Calling them the Clayton boys is somewhat misleading for a stranger. Actually it's Jacob Clayton, and his two sons, Mark and Matthew. Mark would be about 25 now and Matthew about 28. If you've read any of the Bible it's not hard to figure out which one is the oldest, but it doesn't matter - there alike as two peas in a pod.
            Both the sons have been to school long enough to learn how to read and write, though it's hard to know if they still can. Jacob demanded they quit school after they had finished Grade 8 down in Creemore.
             "Ain't no money in that readin' and 'rithmatic stuff!" Jacob proclaimed. "You boys’ll stay home here an' learn the pride of makin' an honest livin'! Ain't none of them fools down t' town can teach yuh nothin' 'bout makin' good whiskey! 'Sides, if you go on you'll have to go to Collingwood. Ain't no fit place fer folks. Sinful! Must be nigh on t' four thousan' people there." An understanding of Jacob's ability with numbers can be partially achieved by knowing that at the time he made that statement the population of Collingwood would be in the neighborhood of fifteen thousand people.
            When Ma Clayton (During a previous life she had a name. It was Esther.) realized that she didn't have sons any longer, but three men to chase after and care for, she knew just what she had to do. She up and died.
            Behind the Clayton's barn there are a few out-buildings that look like they'll fall down any minute. One of them won't, because there's a Model A Ford truck inside holding it up.
            Every fall, Jacob would load that Model A with the year’s finest distilled product. At least, all that hadn't been bought by hunters, or drank by the production staff in an effort to maintain quality control. He would hide the jars of moonshine under a few sacks of wheat, drive the twenty miles into Collingwood, and sell the load, wheat and all.
            As preparations were made for these autumn trips, Jacob would fend off the pleadings of both of his sons for a chance to go with him.
            "Need you boys to stay home and keep the still runnin'," he would insist. "Can't make a living by shuttin' down production. 'Sides, you boys know that quality drops when you shut down."
            In these statements Jacob was right, as most parents are. Despite his being right, his sons continued to argue, as most kids will do.
            "But it'll only take one of us to keep the still runnin', Pa," one of them would whine.
            "The other one’ll be busy keepin' strangers away," Jacob would advise. "You know its huntin' season and there'll be folks wanderin' all over the hills."
            The boys' eyes would sparkle with the thought of sending a bullet whistling and clipping over some flat-lander's head, and the pleading would stop. However, Jacob would continue with his arguments.
            "Anyway, that city's a den o' transgression an' sin! No place for young boys like you to be! You'll be tempted to stray from the ways of the Lord!"
            Having completed his teachings, Jacob would climb into the old truck, set the fuel mixture, and nod. His sons would push the truck until it began rolling down the lane on its own. When he thought he had achieved enough speed, Jacob would pop the clutch, and the calm of the valley would be destroyed by the explosions of a flooded Model A engine.
            The boys knew they would be alone for at least two days, and perhaps for a week. They thought this was due to the long trip their father would be making, not being aware that it was only an hour’s drive in the Model A.
            Having sold his produce, Jacob would rent a room at one of Collingwood's finest hotels and stock it with one of the town's finest ladies of the evening. The length of his stay would depend on the variety of ladies available, and the amount of money he had raised through sale of his goods. When he spoke to his sons about "a den of transgression", he was not repeating some rumor he had only heard. He had first-hand experience.
            The son’s arguments for inclusion in the trip were likewise misleading. They were actually anxious for Jacob to leave so that they could start their yearly party.
            By drawing straws, one of the sons would be chosen to take a wheelbarrow loaded with sacks of grain down to the mill in Creemore. Having sold the grain, the chosen one would then purchase "some o' that store-bought sippin' whiskey," some bakery bread and a jar of peanut butter. Having returned home with the contraband cargo, he would join his brother in a serious comparison of their own product with the commercial variety, interspersed with an occasional peanut-butter sandwich.
            Since it was often difficult for them to remember the results of this comparison (even the next day), the test had to be repeated each year.
            One year Mark won the opportunity to push the bag of wheat down hill and to return with the whiskey. However, it was a particularly warm day, and he decided on the return trip to pause and take a small sip of his cargo.
            "Ah, that's mighty smooth corn," he proclaimed to the surrounding trees. "It deserves more 'preciation."
            When he had appreciated the whiskey several times, Mark found that the long trip and warm day had made him very tired. He decided that he should stop for a short rest before continuing on home. He passed out under a maple tree.
            On the Clayton homestead, Matthew began to worry about his overdue brother as evening turned to night.
            "Those folks down to the valley can't be trusted," he told himself. "No tellin' what they mighta done to Mark. He might be needin' my help."
            With a kerosene lantern, Matthew started down hill in the gathering dark to search for his wayward brother.
            With only a lantern to dispel the dark of night deep in the canyon of trees, Matthew missed his brother, sleeping soundly under the maple tree. He also missed the turn to the right that would have led him toward Creemore.

            On his way to work early in the morning, Harold Carlton saw someone standing out at the end of the long concrete dock on the Collingwood waterfront. Curious, he turned out along the dock and parked behind the vaguely familiar figure.
            The man did not change his stance as Harold turned the ignition off and slid from the car. Frozen in place, the man stood in the rays of the rising sun with a lantern held up at head height and stared out across Georgian Bay toward the haze on the distant horizon.
            Keeping his distance, Harold walked around the figure and began to approach from the left. When he could see the man's profile, he recognized him as one of the Clayton boys from down in Devil's Glen, several miles to the south.
            "Ah, Matthew," Harold said cautiously, guessing at which brother stood before him, "is there something I can help you with?"
            Matthew remained frozen, staring at the distant horizon. In a reverent tone, just loud enough to be heard over the waves slapping the dock, he said, "You know, I ain't never bin this far from home, but it was worth the trip, just to see the water!"