Chapter 7 – It Wasn’t Everyday that a Dead Man Saved Your Life
The next day in my hotel room light knocks on my door woke me up and I shot up in bed trying to figure where the heck I was. Then I heard Colonel Roundy’s voice, the gruff sounding one, not the smooth talking voice he used when he was talking to Verna Sands. “Rebecca, rise and shine. We leave in 20 minutes. Brush your teeth and be quick. Daylight’s a’wastin’.” I heard Colonel Roundy chuckle to himself and shuffle away.
Oh my stars, was my first thought, which was Samantha’s favorite thing to say on Bewitched when one of her witch relatives screwed things up and made Darrin mad. It was kind of appropriate considering all the magic flying around me since I met up with Victor Fouchette again this summer. And that reminded me to look for that dang eagle feather which was still lying right where I put it before going back to sleep last night. I picked it up and twirled it with the spiny end between my thumb and forefinger still wondering how the heck it got in my room and on the bed next to me.
I got up and peeked out to see an overcast sky that promised more rain sooner or later that day then made the bed as best as I could around the half that was still soaking from the leak.
It felt weird to be all alone. There was always someone around me when I was at home, my brother, Francis X, Vinnette, or Gran, so it was definitely a different experience to sleep alone and be all by myself in a strange place even though Victor was close by. So I hurried and washed up, got dressed, and repacked my stuff—dirty clothes rolled up in a ball, hairbrush, toothbrush and toothpaste–in my brown paper bag suitcase. I tucked it under my arm careful not to crush my eagle feather that I had hid under my shirt so I wouldn’t have to explain anything to anybody including Victor, Ernie, and especially Colonel Roundy.
Opening the door, I almost knocked Ernie over as he stumped in front of my cabin with a cardboard box in one hand and one hand working his crutch. “’Morning, Becky. I was just coming to knock on your door and see if you wanted a doughnut. The guy at the front desk told me about a place walking distance that had coffee and fresh doughnuts.” Ernie craned his head to look past me into the still open door to my cabin. “Say, you don’t have to make your bed when you stay at a hotel, Becky. They got maids to do that stuff.”
“Oh I knew that. Uh…uh I just wanted to cover up the wet spot.” I immediately felt my face go red. He probably thought I wet my bed now! Not only did he think I was a complete hick for not knowing about maids (which I didn’t) but now I just told him I wet my bed. Not that there was anything wrong with that at all. Gran had told us about our cousins, the Harveys, who were all born with very small bladders so they couldn’t help themselves when they wet the bed.
“It was raining. The roof was leaking!” I blurted out watching Ernie’s head cock to one side and an eyebrow raise up.
“Oh yah? Better tell that desk clerk then so they can get someone out here to patch up their roof,” Ernie said, thrusting the cardboard box at me. “Here, flip the box open and take one.” Inside the box were a dozen doughnuts of all shapes and sizes and a couple of huge bear claws that looked all sticky and maple-y. My mind flashed back to the huge bear paw in my dream last night and my hand moved past the doughnut version and onto a nice glazed doughnut. I stuck it in my mouth, readjusted my paper bag luggage under my arm and took the doughnut box from Ernie as we headed towards Victor’s Impala. We could see Colonel Roundy talking in the front office with the desk clerk, one hand waving and pointing in different directions.
“I’ll walk over there and tell them about the leak. Here, you get in the car. It’s kinda chilly out. I better hurry the Colonel along. Looks like he’s going to town telling one of his stories so we could be here all day.” Ernie opened the back door of the car and moved on. I set the doughnut box and my bag on the seat and slid in over the cold seats. The weather had changed overnight and there was no sun–the beautiful weather of the day before gone for now—so I found a sweatshirt in my bag and maneuvered it over my head somehow with my doughnut still in my mouth and got in the car.
Victor came out of his cabin and walked over to the car and got in the front seat. I pretended I was really busy eating my glazed doughnut and avoided his eyes at first. That kissing made me feel a little funny and all. It made me think that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a grown-up woman yet. He looked a little sheepish, too, and just said, “Mornin’.” I said “Mornin’” back and handed him the box of doughnuts over the back of the seat. He grabbed a big chocolate covered doughnut and wolfed it down. It seemed that his appetite was back which I hoped meant that he was feeling better.
Now sitting directly behind him, I saw that the bald spot on his white scalp was increasing and he had taken to resting his left arm around his head like one of those flamingoes in the National Geographic magazines, maybe trying to hide the hair loss. My heart went out to him again but I blushed remembering the feel of his hands pulling me closer. I looked away quick and felt a little sick and spooked thinking that maybe I had been also kissing his grandpa when I kissed him. Why hadn’t I thought of that last night?
Ernie and the Colonel came back and got in the car.
“Okay, folks. Time to roll, little doggies!” Colonel Roundy settled himself in the back seat next to me again and took off his F-Troop hat and put it on the seat in between us.
“So I was talking to that clerk and he gave me some good directions. It won’t be much longer ‘til we get to we get to the real beginning of our journey. Ho-wuh!” The Colonel slapped his knees.
”Same way, Colonel?” Victor was at the highway.
“Yuh, yuh. We got a ways to go on this here highway. But not too far.” The Colonel fiddled with his shirt pocket to pull out his radio.
“Not much reception up here for the radio, Colonel.” Ernie had already been trying to tune in the car radio.
“That’s okay. I’m pretty deaf anyways.”
Ernie looked back at me and rolled his eyes and then winked. In the rearview mirror, I could see Victor trying not to laugh. The Colonel certainly was “comical” as Gran would say.
It wasn’t long before that dang eagle feather under my shirt started to tickle something fierce and I had to keep fidgeting around to try and get a comfortable position where it wasn’t touching a sensitive area like my armpit. I sure didn’t want to talk about it or my dream but finally I had to pull the feather out from under my shirt. I hoped he wouldn’t notice but the Colonel raised the salt and pepper bushy eyebrow over his one good eye as he saw me carefully slide the eagle feather in the pocket behind the front seat. I just knew he was reading my mind somehow but he didn’t say a word and just shifted himself in the backseat next to me and then pulled out a tin of tobacco from his pants pocket.
The car windows were up so I could smell the spicy tobacco smell of Colonel Roundy’s chew and his shaving cream of which there was a little dollop left on his collar. He hummed to himself and watched the scenery go past, acting like he didn’t really have a care in the world or like he was out for a Sunday drive. Which we actually were as it was Sunday.
“So what’s our plan today, Colonel?” Ernie leaned his left arm over the front seat. He had finished a couple more doughnuts in the car including those extra large and gooey bear claws. I bet he’s going to weigh 300 pounds soon like my Uncle Ed, I thought and wondered how he was going to get around on one leg with that much weight.
“We’ll get to Lac du Nord around dinner time if we drive on through. Figure we get the lay of the land and reconnoiter the area then make a plan of attack. Going have to sneak up on the devil.” Colonel Roundy tsk’ed through his teeth.
“Roger that, Colonel.” Ernie snapped off a salute.
I wondered what the heck reconnoiter meant and also how the heck we were going to sneak up on Jim Sands. Our group wasn’t exactly like the Dirty Dozen with a bunch of real soldiers. A one-legged man and a nearly hundred year old man with only one eye plus 2 teenagers who didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about the woods. Quite the war party.
“Yuh, should be the right plan. Spirits came last night with some good advice. Right, Rebecca?” Colonel Roundy’s one rheumy eye flicked over my eagle feather.
“I g-g-g-guess so.” I stuttered.
“I feel better for some reason, Colonel. My grandfather is quieter inside me.” Victor blurted out just and deflected the Colonel from asking me more questions.
Thank goodness for taking the Colonel’s attention off me and thank goodness his grandpa was quiet inside him, I thought, or else maybe I would have felt Carter Fouchette in that kiss last night. It was way too weird to even consider and I decided not to think about it anymore.
“That’s the medicine of the journey. Everything is going the way it’s supposed to and we’re on the right track. Pay attention to these things. Whenever anything is too hard or doesn’t feel right, it usually ain’t the right road. That goes for not only this trip but the rest of your lives. Can’t get a girl to love you then let her go. New job don’t feel right, find another one. Our spirits are always right on our shoulders telling us the right way to go, we’re just too darn stupid and human-stubborn to listen to them most of the time.”
“Yuh, I should have listened when I was walking through that jungle over in ‘Nam and I lost my leg. Something was crawling up my back and I knew it wasn’t going to be a good day but I had to keep going and follow my orders. Oh well, over and done with. I got to look on the bright side. Just got to worry about tying one shoe now, right?” Ernie said, slapping the seat back, trying to sound lighthearted but only sounding kind of bitter.
“Some things we can’t change or avoid. I lost my eye near 80 years ago and I wish for it every day since. But I still got this one, full of glaucoma or not, I can still see the hair on the butt of a duck flying south for the winter.” Colonel Roundy wheezed one of his phlegm-y laughs.
“How we going to sneak up on Jim Sands, Colonel? And what are we going to say to him once we do? If he’s that evil, he ain’t going to be too happy to see us, especially me being a Fouchette and having my grandpa inside me!” Victor kept his eyes forward while he drove but I could see the muscles in his neck and shoulders tighten up as he spoke.
“Jim Sands’ is old now. Maybe he forgot about his hate. Maybe it got stronger. I dunno, but we will see and we will figure something out. Why don’t you ask your grandfather?”
“He couldn’t do anything when he was alive.” Victor snorted. “How can he do anything now that he’s dead? Well…sorta dead.” He added.
“Half of him’s on another level now with the ancient ones. He’s just stuck here with you ‘cuz of Jim Sands. Human can’t fight a spirit and your granddad’s in the spirit world now whether he knows it or not. You have to reach out for him and not be afraid now. He loved you and you loved him. Reach out with that love and he’ll remember the warmth of it. Quit being scared of him. He’s scared, too.” The Colonel said.
I could see the right side of Victor’s jaw working and I knew he was trying hard not to cry.
“Victor, it’s gonna be all right, buddy.” Ernie gave him a punch on the arm and that was all it took to unleash Victor’s choked sobs. I saw him brush the tears away with the back of his hands as all the rest of us tried to pretend we were mighty interested in the same old boring woodsy scenery we kept passing through mile after highway mile.
Ernie fiddled with the radio again and this time, the weather came on.
“Sounds like we’re going to get some weather where we’re going, guys. Darn, I forgot my rain boot. Boot singular. Get it?” Ernie yipped in laughter, slapping his thigh, breaking the uncomfortable mood following Victor’s tears. “Whoa. Those clouds up ahead look pretty threatening. Kinda yellow and all.”
“Jim Sands must know we’re coming and he’s scared already. Good!” Colonel Roundy pumped his fist.
“Woo hoo! Semper Fi!” Ernie whooped. “Warriors are coming!”
“He better be ready because there’s two Fouchettes coming this time.” Victor whooped along with Ernie. I woo-hooed along with them and then Ernie started telling jokes and kept us entertained for most of the morning.
At lunchtime, we stopped at an A & W drive-in and had some chili dogs and root beer, my favorite so I drank two large mugs. The weather really was picking up and the strong gusts of wind swirled up under the carhops’ skirts. Ernie and Victor thought that was pretty funny and Ernie tried to sweet talk the only pretty carhop who was working as she passed by. Colonel Roundy refused to let Ernie pay for the lunch and pulled out more money from somewhere deep in his pants and threw it on the tray when our food came.
The carhop that waited on us was homely but friendly and when I couldn’t finish my second mug of root beer, she put the rest in a paper cup to go and even topped it off with some fresh root beer. The homely girl, her name tag said Brenda, took the empty tray filled with mugs off the car window and we pulled back onto the road to continue down more endless tree-lined highway. All of us fell asleep except for Victor who was driving, of course.
It was late afternoon when the Colonel woke Ernie and me up when he said we were getting close to Lac du Fond and told Ernie to get out the map. Finally we pulled up to a road that we could just barely make out to be Porter Highway, the only road leading back to Lac du Fond.
“Don’t look like no highway to me,” Ernie muttered as we bounced down the old dirt road leading who knows where, I thought.
It was so darn windy and the clouds were so dark that I thought it would rain any minute. For now, the leaves and tree branches just blew over the windshield and the road stretched out before us. It was getting pretty dark already with the storm coming and I wondered how we were going to find anything if when it got all the way dark out.
Victor must have been reading my mind because he slowed up and look back at the Colonel and said “We’re going to have to turn around, Colonel. It’s getting dark. We won’t be able to see anything out here.”
“No, it’s good. Just keep going. We’ll be okay.”
All of us except the Colonel, I’m sure, had our doubts as a flash of lightning lit up the whole sky. A few minutes later the loud boom of thunder came.
“We’re coming, Jim Sands. Whether you like it or not!” The Colonel yelled over the hail that had started to beat on the top of the car. It was like it was snowing out all of a sudden. The windshield wipers tried valiantly to keep the windshield clear of the deluge of hail and rain and Victor’s hands gripped the steering wheel tightly. Ernie had himself braced to keep from bouncing up and down with the road and I was leaning into the side of the car door, one foot wedged against the front seat. We kept going like that for what seemed like an hour with the only change being that pretty soon the hail turned into blinding rain. The car windows soon fogged up. I started becoming even more concerned because all that darn root beer I drank at lunch had decided that it was time to come out and I had to take a leak something awful.
“I got to pee. Really bad, Colonel.” Darn that root beer! I thought.
“Pull up over there, Victor, you see that clearing?” Colonel Roundy’s voice was loud in my ear.
“Soon as we stop, run over and go behind those trees. We won’t look.”
The car stopped and I grabbed some A & W napkins I had saved and opened the door and got out. It was surprisingly warm now, a big change in temperature from earlier in the day. I made my way through the pelting rain to the nearby thicket of trees and pulled down my shorts, being careful to try and stay just behind the tree so they couldn’t really see me from the car. It felt so good to go. I finished and started pulling up my shorts. Then I smelled it. That weird ozone-y storm smell. I jerked my shorts up completely and started back to the car. All of a sudden, the hairs on the back of my arms and neck and head stood up and I felt an electric swoosh up my legs.
“Run!” Off in the distance, I heard the Colonel and Ernie and Victor yelling.
Then I heard what sounded like a sizzle and I was knocked off me feet, landing almost right next to the car which was by that time 20 feet away, flat on my face.
A huge rumble of thunder seemed to roar right in my ear and when I pushed myself up from the ground, my whole body hurt and I was shaking and tingling. I looked back and I saw that right where I had been taking a pee, there was a small tree on fire and half down, the grass around it burned into a circle on the ground.
“Get in the car, girl. Can you get in the car? Are you hurt?” I could feel the Colonel standing right next to me but there was a roar in my ears and his voice sounded far, far away.
I tried to talk but my mouth felt all fuzzy.
“Beck, are you okay? Is she okay?” I felt Victor shaking my arm. Then Ernie and Victor each grabbed one of my arms and tossed me in the back seat just as another loud boom came shrieking down from the heavens.
The Colonel turned me to face him and held me up because I had no control over my body so I was like a spaghetti noodle trying to sit up.
Victor and Ernie were back in the car, leaning over the front seat to see how I was.
“She okay? You okay, Beck?” Victor asked again. “God, I’d never forgive myself if she got hurt,” I could just barely hear Victor’s anxious voice.
“She’s fine, a little shook up maybe but she’ll be okay.” The Colonel was holding me up with one bony arm and with the other hand he was lifting up my eyelids and moving my jaw back and forth. I didn’t have the strength to resist.
“Look at her hair! It’s sticking straight out.” Ernie yelled. My hair did feel awfully light.
“It’s the electricity in her. She’s still a conductor. Start this car and get the heck out of here, Victor.” Colonel Roundy leaned me back against the seat after he was satisfied there was nothing wrong with me. He pulled my chin to look at him and I was finally able to bring him into full focus.
“Whoa, I’m kinda shaky.” I said, now able to push myself up on the seat out of my slump.
“Dang straight you should be shaky. That lightning chased you out of the words like a yard dog. I never seen anything like that!” Ernie was shaking his head.
“I think Jim Sands has cooked up a nice welcome for us.” Colonel Roundy rubbed his hands together as Victor slowly pulled away. “Get ready, boys and girls. It’s only the beginning. We are going to need to find somewhere to hole up where he can’t do any more mischief tonight. We’re getting close, boys and girls, we’re darn close.”
Victor had started back down the road as the intensity of the storm started growing stronger if that was even possible. He was going agonizingly slow, even slower than Aunt Suzie drove. The sky lightened up a bit and turned all green, as we drove further into the woods then all of a sudden the wind just died.
“Looks like the wind died down,” Victor commented.
That got the Colonel’s attention and for once, he looked excited. “Jesus H. Criminy! Pull off the road here! Get out of this blasted car and get into that ditch.”
“Beck, can you walk?” For the second time that day, Victor and Ernie were dragging me by the arms but this time out of the car. We were all scared now and they pulled me along with them as they jumped out into the weed-choked ditch. I could feel my legs getting cut by the sharp grass as we all tumbled into a huddle. Then there was this loud noise like a freight train coming at us and we clung to each other in fear, Ernie and Victor trying to shelter me and the Colonel with their bodies. The freight train noise kept getting louder and the wind was even stronger than before, pieces of brush and tree limbs hitting Ernie and Victor. I felt something warm start to trickle down my arm, saw that Victor had gotten a long scratch down his forearm from a branch that hit him. I was tucked under Victor and I reached up to hold him tighter.
“It’s a tornado coming through those woods straight at us. Colonel Roundy’s words were barely audible over the roar of the storm. “Victor, call your Grandpa now and ask him for help. We need that twister to miss us or we’re goners.”
Victor pushed me under Ernie and pulled back from our huddle.
“Noooooooo!” I heard my voice yelling as I tried to grab him and pull him back. But he kept struggling to stand up against the wind and finally stood with his back to us and held his arms out as if to embrace the ferocious gusts. He was yelling something but the wind took his words and I couldn’t make out a word of it. I had to shield my eyes from the debris that was pounding us but watched as all of a sudden there were two Victors outside our huddle. One fell and crumpled to the ground in a heap and the other one climbed out of the ditch onto the road, pointing with one arm away from us.
“What the heck?” Ernie was heaving deep gulps of air. “Should I grab him?” I could feel him tensing up to move.
“No! Stay here, son. Wait!” The Colonel yelled, his voice hoarse.
Between my fingers covering my eyes to keep the dirt out, I could see the Victor thing (I wasn’t sure if it was even Victor) moving towards a whirlpool of blowing debris, which was circling around him. The trees around us lay almost flat to the ground and then one pulled out of the ground and came flying directly at us. I was so scared that it felt like I wet my pants even though I had just taken a leak.
The Victor thing just waved his arm at it and it deflected away. He kept walking at the storm and it began throwing things at him–stumps, brush, parts of trees, a half of an old rotten boat, a couple of rusted oil barrels. There was no forest on that side of the road anymore, just a cloud of swirling dust and debris, cutting a path of its own. Victor had reached the other side of the road and kept his arm stretched out, pointed away from us, like a traffic cop directing traffic. The storm was trying it’s best to take him down and I saw him go to his knees once but then struggle back up again, never letting his arm down. A flash of thunder illuminated him in the night and I saw that it wasn’t Victor at all; it was the back of an old man that was standing there in front of us. As if trying one last time to get by him, the storm threw two more fully uprooted trees at him and we all hunched down farther in the ditch as they came sailing right over our heads, missing the old man that had been Victor in the road completely.
By the time we looked back up, just that quick in that instant, there was no more noise other than the sound of the rain, which was now a gentle pattering. There was no more wind either except a soft, warm breeze that felt so soothing and pleasant. And there was nobody standing in the road anymore. Ernie pulled back and pushed himself up on his one leg, looking around for something to use as a crutch, having left the car too fast to grab his real one. I fell backwards onto the wet grass, along with Colonel Roundy and we both laid there for a minute trying to catch our breath. It felt like we had been running a relay race for the Presidential Fitness Awards like in gym class and I was winded beyond belief. Ernie hopped over to where Victor lay crumpled in a ball and I rolled over to my side and pushed myself up from all fours to go see how Victor was. I felt a head rush as I stood up but kept going over to where Victor sat shaking his head, trying to get himself reoriented and then he grabbed Ernie’s hand to help pull himself to his feet.
“You okay? God, Victor, are you okay?” I was teary-eyed and near hysterical seeing how beat up he looked. I had somehow forgotten how beat up I felt myself.
“Didn’t I just ask you that question? I’m okay, Beck. Don’t worry. I’m okay.” He pulled me to him.
“Dang, you kicked that storm’s butt, Cuz!” Ernie was leaning on a 2×4 that he had picked up in a pile of debris. Where it came from way out here in this woods, I couldn’t even guess.
“I…I didn’t do anything. It was my grandpa.”
“He’s right. It wasn’t Victor,” I said, “I saw him. It was Old Man Fouchette. He faced that storm down for Victor.”
“Ho wah! Now that’s what I call action!” The Colonel had limped over to join us and was moving pretty slow, I noticed. His face was smeared with dirt and his shirt was ripped.
“Look at where that twister came through. Geez, it just missed us.” Ernie sounded really scared as we all turned to look across the road and saw the wide path through the forest where the storm had moved.
Nobody said a word for a minute and we stood just absorbing the whole shocking sight. We looked at each other wondering how and why we weren’t dead and I noticed that we were all covered with dirt from rolling in the ditch. The rain had made streaks through the dirt down our faces and we all must have realized at the same time that we looked like quite the raggedy bunch.
I pointed at Victor’s dirty face and started giggling then Ernie gave a big old belly laugh. Pretty soon Victor and the Colonel joined in and we all laughed for what seemed like ten minutes straight. We laughed ourselves weak with relief that we escaped the storm and in disbelief at the absolutely unbelievable events that had just happened. It wasn’t everyday that a dead man saved your life.