Scrimshaw: The Bone Carver Series: Distant Bell
 

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And under the oppression of the silent fog
The tolling bell
Measures time not our time.
- Eliot

A distant bell and the dance of a dream. In my memory. Swaying. The enormous curtain being drawn over the abyss.

- Goddammit.

Coming back to my senses, I turn and see my Grandfather staring out over the Lake towards the Old Mill Pond.

- God Dammit.

Fragments of the dream remained, webs across my face.

We were in his boat, anchored just off Founder’s Point.

I had a profound sense of having already been through this. The dream remembered. The dream remembering itself. Future nostalgia. Trying to gather them together in my head and sensing them dissolve in proportion to my efforts.

My Grandfather pulled on the anchor rope.

- What is it?
- Listen. Didn’t you hear it?
Shook my head.
He held the coils of wet rope paused in his hands. Looked out over the water. Then to me. Narrowed his eyes.

- Listen.

The drops falling from the rope onto the surface of the Lake. The dull knock of the waves upon the boat. Mist sighing in the pines. Nothing.

- There.

A distant bell. Memory flooding through me.

- But how?

- Some goddamned fool has let the Ox loose again.

The Ox. Loose.  A goddamned fool. I was struck silent.

He steered the boat across the water and into the seclusion of the inlet that was once a Mill Pond before the Damm was built. Cutting the motor, we drifted up to the decaying dock. Scattered portions of a broken waterwheel. I tied us onto a mossy post.

The bell rang again. Not far off.

- Go on. See if you can find the thing and stay with him till I get back from the Boathouse. We’re going to need some help to get it back around the Lake.

I got out. For some reason, he handed me the stringer of fish we had caught earlier.
I held it up and back towards him. He waved me off.

- Don’t know. Maybe you can lure him to you with those fish.

He pushed back through the lilly pads and started the motor back up. I just stood there. He said something I couldn’t hear.

- What?

- Careful with those fish.

The fish pulsed on the stringer, twisting gracefully.

The bell rang again. Seemed closer.

I walked off the dock and around to the front of the Old Mill. The bell again. To the right. Off the path. In the woods. I walked towards it, holding the fish high.

After a while, I reckoned the Ox was just playing with me. Whenever I would be ready to give up, I’d hear that bell again. Never did see it. No other sound but that bell.

The fish were getting heavy. And I wondered why I was walking around in the woods trying to find the goddamned Ox in the first place. What good could I do? I decided to head back to the Mill and wait for my Grandfather.

I turned back and walked a ways. The stopped. I was lost. Lost. Dammit. I sat down on a fallen tree. The bell again. I didn’t move. Then again. Closer.

I turned and there it was. The Ox. About twenty yards across a clearing. Staring at me like he was wondering why I stopped. I shrugged, held up the stringer of fish. Turned back to consider my predicament.

The Ox ambled closer. I kept my back to him. Wondering how close he might come and what I was going to do if he came too close.

He blew air onto my back. I jumped up, turning, dropping the fish. He was enormous. Kind of awful. I froze. He pushed around the tree, cracking branches, to come around to my side. Around his neck, the bell, softly sounding.

Then right in front of me. Breath burning my face. Shoulders higher than I stood. I didn’t know what to do. It bent down then. Like a camel might. Looking back at me as if to indicate I should climb up. My Grandfather was going to love this. If I didn’t get myself killed.

I walked around to the fallen tree, grabbed the fish, and shimmied onto the Ox’s back. Patted it’s side. And off we went.

Coming out of the woods, I saw the road over the damn. And I remembered everything. And it made me laugh. We were heading back to the Boathouse. And I remembered the Bone Carver and the Big One. And I started singing as loud as I could.

Halfway across, I fell off. Surprised me for a second. Then I remembered this too. Laughed even more. Rolling on the ground.

The Ox didn’t go anywhere. Just moved to the side to pull grass.

I watched him for a while. Walked back over and waited for him to drop down for me, and climbed back on.

We traveled on across the Damm, back to the Boathouse and the Bone Carver. Who was waiting for me.