AGAINST THE WIND

By John Thomas Tuft

The barn owls are fleeting shadows against the dusky sky as they begin to hunt. Mist is hanging over the fields clinging to the fresh turned dirt like a guest reluctant to leave a good party. Fireflies rise from the damp grass and the dogs are making conflicting plans near the garden for a rabbit hunt later this evening. The new kittens search for meaning in a bug caught in the spider’s web they found in a corner of the porch and the bats leaving the chimney for the night turn on their radar and disappear in a whiff. The breeze coming off the mountains stirs the leaves of the orchard with a quiet rustling that puts one in mind of a cotillion ball where fancy clothes draped on parents’ expectations belie adolescent confusions and contradictions.

Ernie eases into the rocking chair that his great grandpappy made four score and seven years ago, letting the tiredness that is the reward for a hard day’s work wash over him. He pulls off his boots and delights in wiggling his toes, more sure in this boyish pleasure that he is alive and well then any doctor could ever convince. In the distance, a freight train announces it has cleared the tunnels with two long, slow droning beats of loneliness as it heads down the valley toward the terminals and ports of folks’ necessities and contentments. Ernie needs no clock to tell him what time it is. He lets it all flow over him, distracted by flashes of light as great sheets of heat lightning betray the silhouettes of the mountain peaks. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spots him. A figure moving through the shadows and mist, moving steadily forward as though drawing a bead on Ernie’s countenance.

Ernie stands and reaches inside the door for his Remington 870. The only thing beyond the orchard is the river and he wonders what this lone traveler with the purposeful stride is doing way out here, especially on foot. The stranger reaches the orchard and pauses, as though listening. Then, with what looks like a slight bow, he begins to dance his way through the trees. Ernie watches, too astonished to cry out right away as the dark figure dips and sways, lightly stepping around the tree trunks, gently reaching to touch the drooping blossoms. Ernie finds his voice. “Hey, what do you want? Who are you?”

The man steps into the glow of the porch lamps, an easy smile on his face. “I’m Harvey. Welcome.”

“Welcome?” asked Ernie. “Yes. Welcome to this place, this time,” said Harvey, walking closer to the back steps. The dogs come bounding over and take up flanking positions—facing Ernie, much to his surprise. The kittens stop their game, trot over and promptly roll down the stairs in a furball heap. “This is my place, my time,” insists Ernie, bewildered. Harvey smiles and holds up his hands. “I’m just the messenger.” Ernie scratches his head. “Messenger? From where? Who sent you?”  Harvey waves his arms back in the general direction from which he came. “I’m from out there. Back beyond that time and place.”

Ernie waits for more, but no more words come. “Back beyond what time, what place?” Harvey shrugs. “Wherever the wind starts. Whenever time begins. May I sit? It’s been a long journey. Maryanne says you might have cookies.” The gun drops from Ernie’s hand with a clatter, startling the kittens into hiding between the dogs’ legs. “What?” Ernie’s legs threaten to give out. “Maryanne? Maryanne’s been gone…” Harvey is quickly up the stairs, holding Ernie up. “She’s right where she needs to be now.” Harvey makes sure Ernie is able to stand on his own, then carefully picks up the gun and puts it back in the house. He stands in the doorway and peers at Ernie, eyebrows raised. “Cookies?”

Later, the two are seated at the small patio table, speaking of things that I will leave up to them whether to share with you or not. They are quaffing root beer served in chilled mugs, of course, working their way through a serious plate of chocolate chip (absolutely no nuts, mind you) cookies, the night darkness kept at bay with an old kerosene lantern that throws flickering shadows that the kittens wear themselves out chasing. Ernie suddenly remembers, “What message? You said you are a messenger.” Harvey takes a big bite, chews it thoughtfully. Chases it down with a big draught. “The wind. It’s about the wind. Times are getting pretty scary around these parts lately. It has not gone unnoticed. Folks don’t know what is going to happen next, who to believe, whom to trust; all the sickness, fire, war, famine…the wind is behind it all.”

In some bushes near the barn, a lone whippoorwill signals it is time for rest. Harvey stands up and jams as many cookies as he can into his pockets. “So many of you,” Harvey adds, “say that you will go wherever the wind takes you. But I’m here telling you something different. Ernie, it’s time. It’s time for all good folks to go against the wind. Don’t despair, Ernie.” And then he is gone, calling out once more from the orchard. “Against the wind. Do not despair. Keep wiggling your toes…”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.