Copyright© 2019 by Christopher Podhola
“There will be three shades of red in the last harvest. It will begin with red fur, will continue with red eyes, and will end with the spilling of the Great Owl’s blood.”
Crying Shadow’s foretelling of the last harvest
Translated by Erik Livingtree
“Check that line there!” Little John ordered. He pointed to his great nephew’s left. Erik looked down at him with his eyes furrowed in contempt. “And that turnbuckle there, make sure it hasn’t loosened up on us!” he added.
The obstacle course itself was the main attraction to the camp. It was the reason nearly every camper in attendance, came to the camp. A person couldn’t stand in the center of the obstacle course without being overwhelmed with a sense of ‘monumental’. The obstacle course looked like a jungle gym on steroids. The trees standing in the area used for the course stood tall like formidable giants staring down at the forest floor, and the course was built into those trees.
All of the saplings were cleared and any leaves that fell were continuously raked up. Massive logs, some of them up to fifty feet in length, were lashed together to form large structures, or elements, to challenge the minds and bodies of the teenagers camping there. There were deep cement pilings strategically placed for the thick cables securing them like massive tent stakes
“I know. I know, uncle!” Erik said. “I’ve been doing this for two years!”
Erik stood poised on the platform beginning the zip line. He was doing the weekly inspection for the obstacle course, a task he completed many times. He was very much qualified for this important task. Erik’s arms stretched above his head and he was feeling the tops of the cables for signs of wear or broken strands as well as looking at the parts he could see. A single frayed wire in the cable would halt everything until replaced.
“What’s gotten into you this week?” Erik asked his uncle.
He knew Erik wasn’t the only one asking that question. He could see the same question in the eyes of Erik’s spotters. They were on the ground a few feet away from him, holding onto the tether lines strung to cables hanging above Erik’s head. The lines fed through pulleys and attached to the harness Erik wore. The spotters were poised and ready. If Erik should fall (something he often did just to test the spotters), it was their job to lower him safely to the ground.
He didn’t care whether the spotters understood the gravity of what was happening around them any more than he cared if Margraves or the owner understood it. To them, the grounds were just that—grounds. To them, the stories he told every Wednesday night were old Indian folklores. They were entertaining stories told by an old albino Indian with a Dodger’s baseball cap (Even though he usually wore a more traditional headdress when he told the stories).
He cared if Erik understood what was happening around them. Erik was a Cherokee by blood and he was Little John’s replacement as yvwiya gadoga or Standing Indian and Little John needed him to understand. Erik’s blood was Cherokee but, unfortunately, Erik’s mind was modern and his beliefs were conventional. Conventional wasn’t going to help them. Not this week. The signs his great, great grandfather’s grandmother foresaw were upon them and Erik needed to see that.
“We have two Tsuli tsvyasdi this week. Not just one, but two!” he said referring to the two special campers that would be attending that week. They called them braves, using their native Cherokee tongue.
“We’ve handled as many as four!” Erik said as he moved over to the turnbuckle, and he didn’t just say it. He spat it back at him as if Little John were acting like a scared woman jumping on a chair to avoid a spider. “Besides. I think we will only be able to help Michael Murphy.”
I’m afraid not, Little John thought to himself, but he held his tongue. He knew how Erik felt about premonitions. He could tell Erik about what he knew was going to happen this week, but Erik would scoff.
“The boy will only need our guidance, Erik. He is eager to test himself. Whitney will need more than that from us. She will need our vigilance,” Little John corrected.
Erik shook his head. “The girl is blind and deaf! We won’t be able to help her do anything. The boy may be weak in his body, but his will is strong. He showed us that last year. He was barely out of his chair back then and yet he still attempted to climb the wall. She won’t even be able to see the wall and she won’t be able to hear our words of encouragement or the excitement of the other campers, besides, her camp enrollment form says she’s not interested in the course.”
Then why does she fall? Little John thought. That’s what his dreams say happen. Despite the safety lines—despite their precautions and despite their strict guidelines, the girl falls. She falls and she dies. He doesn’t know how that’s possible, but he sees her wrapped in a white sheet, surrounded by other campers.
“It’s not our place to make that decision. We make ourselves ready and prepare the course and we assume that every camper will participate.”
Erik tested the turnbuckle and it was loose. He reached into his back pocket, grabbed the crescent wrench he brought with him, and tightened it. Catching the loose turnbuckle did little to ease Little John’s mind. He still felt uneasy. Erik, on the other hand, seemed to be satisfied.
Without warning, he jumped from the platform. He spread his arms and legs as if he were a falcon and dropped. The spotters were ready and responded. They increased the tension on the lines, and lowered him safely to the ground.
“We are ready for whatever happens,” Erik said as he unclipped himself from the safety lines. The spotters coiled up the rope and Erik went to his uncle. He put one hand on Little John’s shoulder. “No matter what happens we are ready. Can we go get some lunch now?”
“Shouldn’t you check the confidence pole one more time?”
“Checked it twice already. Checked the climbing wall twice, the repelling tower, the high climb, the catwalk and the shimmy line. All of them are as safe as ever. Relax, uncle! We’re ready!”
Little John wanted to protest a little more. He wanted to insist that Erik check everything one last time, because there had to be something missed. The girl’s life depended on them. There was always tomorrow. Nobody was allowed onto the course before Wednesday, so there was still time.
“Lunch then,” he agreed. “As soon as we check the bridge,” he added with a smile.
Erik cringed. “I was kind of hoping that since we spent so much time here, we could skip that. Nobody goes there anyway. It’s off limits and there are more cameras along that trail than anywhere else on the camp. Can’t we just call Spence and have him check it?”
They had done that a couple of times before. Spence was one of the staff members that monitored the cameras and there were two cameras pointing at the entrance to the bridge. All they really had to do was make sure the entrance to the bridge was barred off. Of course, that would be easier and faster, and of course, it would be more efficient. Little John knew that, but there were things that needed to be said.
Little John turned without saying a word and started to walk toward the southern trail to the bridge. It was the only trail that did.
“Can we at least take the ATV?” Erik asked.
Little John didn’t answer. He rarely got on the back of one of those things and he almost never drove one himself. Walking was so much more natural.
Erik dismissed the other staff for the day and filed in next to Little John. They walked in silence the rest of the way to the gated south entrance. Little John pulled his key, put it to the lock in the chain, pushed the key in, and twisted. The lock fell open and he opened the gate far enough to let himself through.
Little John caught the scent of buck urine as Erik was following him through the gate and re-locking it behind him. The wind shifted slightly and brought the scent to his nose. He looked to the ground and saw the tracks of the buck that left the scent. They were large hoof prints that followed down the path they were about to take. Little John began to walk down and Erik followed behind him. As they walked, Little John saw a tuft of the animal’s fur caught up in the crook of a low hanging branch.
Majestic Red? Little John thought.
“What’s going on with you today, uncle?” Erik asked him.
Little John reached down as they walked and snatched a blade of grass from the side of the path. He stuck it in the corner of his mouth and sucked on it as they continued. “Not sure what you mean,” he responded.
“I think you do. You’re always a little uptight about safety, which I get. It’s your job, but this week you are obsessed. You never obsess.”
Little John kept walking without answering right away. He knew Erik would wait because Erik knew he would answer, but would answer in his own time. “This is the last week of summer camp,” he said as he chewed on the end of his grass.
“Come on! You’ve had twelve last weeks of summer camp. What’s really going on?”
“Hmmph,” Little John muttered.
“Hmmph what? You’re being ridiculous.”
Little John stopped and turned toward his great nephew. “This will be my very last one, Erik.” He let his words sink in to his nephew, turned back toward the trail and started again.
“What? You’re going to retire? You won’t retire! Aunty wants you to, but you always say you’ll work ‘til you’re dead,” Erik said as he pulled his own blade of grass and stuck it in his mouth.
There was a lot that Little John wanted to say, but with Erik, the way things were said mattered. He couldn’t be too direct. His nephew would stand like a stubborn bison and argue. That was his way and Little John knew that. He walked another little bit before he said anything else. He walked and listened to the sounds the forest provided. He listened to the chipmunks and the squirrels chattering. He heard the sound of a porcupine rustling through the leaves, the cicadas and the crows. The forest sounded busier than normal. It took him a minute, but he made the connection.
Little John found a soft spot in the ground. He stopped and pointed. “Sit,” he said.
“Come on, uncle. My stomach is begging for lunch.”
“Sit!” Little John said a little more forcefully. “It’s time your eyes were opened.”