Tag Archives: Spirit Deer

395. The Sum of Fears

If you haven’t read today’s Serial post, go read it first.

We all have our fear-inducing creature, and for me, it is bears. Sharks? Nope. Wolves? I’d pet a wolf if it would hold still for it. But bears have my number.

It all started when I was a kid. The old black and white TV carried two stations, and one of them carried the program Cheyenne. I was eight years old when the series premiered, and big, quiet, gentle, soft spoken, confident Cheyenne Bodie became my picture of what a hero should be.

But there was this one episode . . .

Something was terrorizing the region. No one knew what it was, or even if it was human, animal, or supernatural. It came out of the dark night and killed, but there were never marks of claws on the crushed and mangled bodies. It scared the crap out of eight year old me.

Cheyenne set out to rid the ranchers of the curse. The thing hated campfires, and always attacked those it found around them, so Cheyenne went out alone, built a campfire, and took his place in a tree with rifle in hand. The night wore on — and wore on my nerves. The campfire burned down. Cheyenne left his rifle in a crotch of the tree and climbed down to put on more wood. As he was crouched over the fire, it appeared. Cheyenne reached for his six-shooter . . .

After the gun smoke cleared, we all found out that it was a giant grizzly, his claws burned off from a cubhood encounter with a campfire. Perfectly logical.

That bear still lives in my dreams. Be careful what you watch when you are eight years old.

And if that weren’t enough, there was the Bible. The old prophets who lived there were as real to me when I was a boy as the people who lived in my town. Every Sunday morning I avoided the boring sermon by looking attentive in the back pew, with downcast eyes and my bible open on my lap. There are a lot of exciting stories in that book, and one which was particularly troubling. I quote:

And he (Elisha) went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. (2 Kings 2:23-4 KJ Version)

Yikes! I was a fervent Christian back then and now I’m a card-carrying bald guy, but it seemed then, and seems now, a harsh fate for a bunch of kids who were just calling a bald guy bald.

Bears still scare Hell out of me, all out of proportion to their actual danger. So when I decided that Spirit Deer needed a demonic adversary to carry it through to the end, there was no question what it would be.

Two Hands and a Knife, which was always in my mind while I was writing Spirit Deer, was a boy’s vision of a long, adventurous vacation in the woods. Spirit Deer is more like what it would really be like if it happened. Two Hands and a Knife, was a perfect boys’ book; mine partakes of the realism I don’t ever seem to be able to shake.

So, a bear. I introduced him early, kept him simmering in the background until needed, and he will be there in a few more days for the climax, when . . .

No, that would be a spoiler.

392. Cold to the Bone

Poor Tim. I’ve been putting him through Hell since he wandered off and got himself lost in Post five. But you have to give me some credit. I gave him two breaks. If he hadn’t found that piece of pyrites, or something equivalent, he would have died by the second night. And if he hadn’t stumbled onto that piece of obsidian, he could not have made spearpoints and arrowheads.

The rule of fiction is: you can use all the coincidence you want in getting your hero into trouble, but be very careful in using coincidence to get him out of trouble. That is story logic, not real life logic. We dodge bullets every day by sheer happenstance, but we don’t expect our authors to cut our characters any such slack.

So I gave Tim a piece of pyrites and a piece of obsidian, then gave him rain, cold, clouds, a twisted ankle, and got him so thoroughly lost that he had no idea which way to walk out. That’s fair, in story land. Two ounces of luck and a thousand pounds of pain.

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Write about what you know; the oldest cliche in the book. Well, I know cold.

Take a typical December day in Oklahoma. That means not much snow, some sleet occasionally, but typically bare, hoof churned dirt, frozen by thirty degrees of frost into a tangled mass of lumps and holes. It was deadly to walk on and the cow flop froze solid when it hit.

You will find me snug and warm in my bed until 4:30 A.M. when my dad would throw back the door and shout, “Get up!”, in his take-no-prisoners voice. He had no patience for coming back a second time and, with that voice, he never had to.

I hit the floor with a jolt of adrenaline and went in the living room to dress. The only stove we owned was there, gas burning and hot. The stove pipe in the back had been replaced with a “C” of pipe sections that redirected the fumes into the fan that sent glorious heat into the room. OSHA would not have approved, but OSHA hadn’t been invented yet.

First I held my long johns over the fan. They stood out like a wind sock briefly, then I put them on. The same with my jeans and shirt. The same with the overalls that went on next. Then two pairs of socks, boots, overshoes, then a blanket-lined jean jacket. I was warm as toast.

The comfort lasted about thirty seconds after the kitchen door closed behind me and there was no comfort for the next three hours while my dad and I milked cows.

There is nothing like three hours of arctic cold seeping into your feet from a concrete floor to make you appreciate that you would soon be in a heated classroom. I loved school. I loved learning. I also loved being where it was warm — while it lasted. After school, we did it all over again, then I got to sink into the comfort of a warm bed.

Until 4:30 the next morning.

After milking each morning we would load hay onto the truck and drive out to scatter it in the pasture. Then we would drive to the pond, and both hop out with our axes. We each cut — or recut — a series of eighteen inch square holes in the ice so the cows could drink.

There is a science to this. After you chop out the four lines which form the perimeter of the hole, you flip the loosened square out onto the ice, then splash water up and around the hole. This removes the floating ice chunks that would quickly refreeze, and also thickens the ice where the cattle will later stand.

It works well, usually. But one day there had been a rare snowfall. There were drifts, only inches deep, at the edge of the pond. Actually, over the pond, as I found out when I stepped out, thinking I was still on land, onto the ice itself.

No, I didn’t drown. I’m here to tell the story, aren’t I? But I can’t describe the shock when I went in to my knees.

Science tells us that water, under ice, is 0o Celsius or 32o Fahrenheit. Science lies! It is infinitely colder than that.

So yes, Tim, I know all about cold. I feel your pain, but you are the hero and I am the author. I am going to enjoy sitting here in front of the typewriter with my feet wrapped in a blanket while you sleep on the frozen ground. It’s nothing personal, but I’ve been there, and I ain’t goin’ back.