February 18, 2010

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 7: July 4, 1946 -- July 5, 1946

This series is a little biography about my dad and little imagination about a trip my dad took the summer of 1946 – he was almost fifteen. He and friend hitchhiked to Duluth. He says is was “something to do”. I prefer to think there was a more cosmic, mysterious reason. Hence, this story! To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH posts click on the link on your right. Number one is on the bottom as you scroll down…

Neither of them saw ANYTHING from there.

Tommy Hastings woke stiff and cold. He sat up, confused by birds singing and heavy fog hanging in the air. The bench under his back was hard and cold, then he realized it was concrete.

Beside him, Freddie Merrill was curled into a ball, face against his knees and one arm draped so the steel-bright light couldn't reach his eyes. Tommy poked Freddie and croaked, "Wake up. 's time to leave."

Freddie muttered incoherently. Tommy groaned and looked blearily around. That was when he saw the old woman staring at them from across the amphitheater. He jabbed Freddie with his elbow. His buddy rolled over on his back and opened one eye and croaked, "Can't we sleep any longer?"

Tommy whispered, "There's a weird lady watching us."


"She's sitting across from us, watching us. I think she's been watching us for a while."

Freddie sat up on his elbows, looked at Tommy then looked in the direction he was staring. She was wearing a long dress of pale white roses. The sleeves were long and covered her arms to the wrists and an old-fashioned collar rose up to chin where it ended with a frill of lace. The tips of heavy, black shoes stuck out from beneath the hem of the dress. A guitar sat in her lap and her hands were bent as if she were ready to play it. He cursed under his breath and scooted back until his back was pressed against Tommy's shins. "Who is she?"

"I don't know. I just woke up."

The woman smiled at them. It wasn't a bad smile, but a chill ran down Tommy's spine. She said, "The sleepers wake." She chuckled and strummed the guitar.

Tommy sized her up. She wasn't very big and in that big dress, he didn't think she could move very fast. He figured him and Freddie could just jump up and run and they'd be away from her before she could do anything. He leaned forward to whisper the plan to Freddie.

Suddenly she said, "There's no reason to run from me. I won't hurt you." She paused, strummed again then smiled with no warmth at all, "I won't hurt you as long as you stay and listen to my song." She paused then added, "Duluth can wait. Besides if you leave now, you'll have to walk most of the morning before someone stops to pick you up."

"Why should we do..." Tommy began.

"Because I'm a witch and I will cast a horrible spell over the both of you if you refuse to listen to my song." She smiled again as her fingers began to quickly pluck strings and shift their position on the neck of the instrument.

Tommy flexed his knees. Freddie reached down, gripped his foot and hissed, "Stop it! Just stay."

The woman smiled and whispered, "Good boy." She bent over the guitar and began to play an eerie melody that seemed to hang in the foggy air. They couldnt' see the sunrise across the Mississippi, but they could tell it had come up because the quality of the air changed, becoming thicker, more like liquid pudding just before it gelled into desert. Then she sang and the boys stopped moving. She sang a haunting tune of a great fire that had swept through the city of Cloquet, near Duluth, in 1918 and of the refugees that fled to the city and of how they were treated, especially by the Socialists who kept their base in Duluth.

When she was done, she looked directly at Tommy and whispered, "Your past and your future are there, boy."

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