Monday, June 26, 2006

The Fort

The Fort

At a certain point of road construction, the crew did nothing more than create a one-pass firebreak; one bulldozer wide. They must have loaded it straight on a truck trailer at the other end, the operator not willing to stick around for a second pass. Probably got one of his buddies to drive around to the far side and wait an hour for him to bust out of the balsam thicket, load the rig, then go get some beers and watch Jets-Oilers game. That's the declared reason to hurry the job, but he feels better after leaving that dark, little hollow behind.


Former Toronto prostitute (although that was only for a 'few years and most guys wore condoms'), Mary Elizabeth Penner, walked from church back towards her house. She chose to take the unfinished road, which was barely more than a shallow bulldozer trench, scraping the trees and shallow soil off the omnipresent granite.

It connected two neighbourhoods that were pretty close, as the crow flies, but separated by boreal forest and Canadian Shield that only intrepid boys and girls used to traverse. Adults walk the long way around and tell the kids 'not to cut through there'.

There were several pits behind one of the old homes at the eastern neighbourhood, that were filled with empty 'Five Star' whiskey bottles that looked like something that you might put maple syrup in.

I do not know if that speaks to the quality of the whiskey; prices are not very reflective of quality, being set from afar and distinct from the consumer's tastes.

Anyways, we used to pull these bottles out of the ground, peppered with the occasional rare and valuable examples of pre-depression, local bottling companies, long since dead. Then we would line them up on an old horizontal log or dangle them from tree branches (on strings or with stems in the bottle-mouth). Then we would blast the shit out them with slingshots, arrows, sling stones, pitched rocks, spears and blowguns.

All that kinda museum-quality glass that people drool over in country markets and 'antique-barns'.

This is the territory that Mary Elizabeth Penner crossed. At the halfway point she began to feel like it may have been a mistake to come this way, but turning around means a two-hour walk instead of a ten-minute walk. She stands on the best part of the path; high, open and bright on the ridge. Mary looks at her immediate surroundings and finds it bright, filled with birdsong and sweet earth. She walks on.

The darkest, closest part of the trail dips down before her; a narrow sandy slash through a dense balsam thicket and cedar swamp. Looking down from her ridge, Mary Elizabeth Penner considers how the trail looks from her living room:

It appears as a darkening in the background of the spruce stand, in the valley across the street. It dives down so quickly, that the street exit is not visible from her couch or chairs when she watches TV, Even with the pretty big bay window.
There are only flashes of bright sand, through the shadows.
It reminds her of 'bad streets' that she avoided while in the big city; seemingly abandoned, but overrun with hungry shadows, humanoid shitbags and whirlpools of depravity... the big shitty.

She strides forward, shaking the dread out of her head with a laugh and heads down the dozer-scrape.

As she walked the path, she counted her steps, kept her eyes to the ground ahead and ignored her peripheral vision. The silence of the forest was imposing, for a void.

Two pairs of bright eyes follow her movements... unblinking.
Necks swiveled: slowly, intently, almost breathless and without quivering.

Mary counts out, a whisper with each step:

"... fivehunnerd-thirty two, fivehunnerd-thirthy three,fivehunnerd-thirty four, fivehunnerd-thirty five,fivehunnerd-thirtysix,fivehunnerd-thirty se'en,fivehunnerd-thirty eight,fivehunnerd-thirty nine,fivehunnerd and forty!"

Mary stopped. The echoes of her shout rang through balsam thicket and the cedar swamp, but were quickly swallowed up by the shadows and upturned tree trunks. Mary was fairly certain that she had seen a face 'flash' in one of the pile's many holes.

Mary let her mind wander from the task of staring at the ground ahead and had turned and stared at a large pile of debris. The dozer had formed quite a warren of roots and logs. She thought she had seen the flash of a face in one of the large shadows.

Now, the only thing that she can see is the pile. She stares at it, frozen in concentration, unblinking, heart pounding.

Raven caws loudly behind her and she jumps like a spooked deer.

Others answer the call and the spell is broken. Sunlight streams down as large thunderhead passes. Mary closes her eyes, laughs, then skips up the slope towards her government rental house, Coronation Street and Five O'clock Martini.


"That was scary!..."

"You let her see you! dammit!"
"She didn't see me!..."

"Either that or she heard you fart or smelled your breath..."
"Screw you!"
"Screw you!"

On one of the longest days of my life, a quick shoving match breaks into peals of laughter and triumph, muffled by a thick precarious roof of logs and dirt. It's like a dry beaver house, on the brink of crumbling.


That was no place for kids to play, but we were little lions back then:

We climbed cliffs and jumped creeks.

We hopped bog and played around abandoned mineshafts.

We transplanted fish from the lake to abandoned quasi-legal gravel quarries that we knew would freeze solid, deep as they were, or burn up in the sun, as shallow as they were.

Rednose sucker fish

It would have been cruel if we were to contemplate the long-term; we were too much in the moment. We... had giant, mysterious goldfish all summer.

Mystery arose from a few essential questions regarding our "quarry - aquariums":

- Was / were the fish alive?
- Even if it is still alive, will we see it today? Some "aquariums" were darker or deeper than others.
- What does it eat? We threw in pieces of bread, cheese or baloney; stuck in our pockets before fleeing the kitchen by the back door. I'm of the mind that the fish probably ate well, mostly because we usually used "suckers" (type of coarse fish) which we figured would eat anything. Perhaps ate the worms feeding off whatever finicky suckers would pass over.
- Would the plywood and other construction debris poison the water and kill the fish before the sun or ice did?
- Who put the fish there?


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