||[Apr. 4th, 2003|07:10 pm]
A Log on the Fire|
By Reuven Ballaban, with help from Arianne Kahn
Our story begins in a rural community in the Sierra Nevada. This particular community was isolated from the rest of the world for quite some time. In fact, it has been forgotten by just about everyone in the world except, of course, for its inhabitants. These people were simple folk, they didn’t ask for much, because they knew that they wouldn’t get what they asked for. They didn’t have electricity, but only because they were too remote from any power station to make power a feasible option. They didn’t know much about the outside world, except that they didn’t like it. They wouldn’t consider themselves hicks, and if you put them in a room with 10 or 15 other people in it, you probably wouldn’t be able to pick them out. They weren’t especially stupid, or smart, or dirty, or clean. They’re just the kind of people you might have for neighbors, if you lived in the Sierra Nevada.
We remember two boys, both about ten years old. They walked along a riverbank, as though they were trying to get somewhere, but not in a big hurry. As they walked, Billy stopped, and looked up. “What time did you say we had to be there by?”
“She said 4, but I don’t think it’ll matter if we get there a little late,” replied Roger.
“Good, because I don’t plan on getting there by 4.”
“Where are we going?”
“We,” said Billy mischievously, “are gonna go fishing.”
So the boys headed off to fish. They headed to where the creek fed into a larger creek, where trout and other fish could be found. They brought in quite a few fish before continuing on the way to their final destination. “I think there’s a bear somewhere near us,” said Roger in a hushed voice.
“A bear? Why do you say that?”
“I just think there’s a bear.”
“I don’t hear anything, you’re pulling my leg.”
“No, I’m serious. There’s a bear near us!”
“We’re going on. We both know you’re only being stupid. There’s no bear, and you know it.”
Actually, a bear had come looking at the funny animals carrying a yummy bucket of salmon. The bear loved salmon, but didn’t know what to do with those funny things on two legs that were keeping it from its tasty lunch. Suddenly, something clicked in its small brain. If it scared the strange creatures, maybe they would give him the fish. So the bear took a few steps into the open, about 10 feet in front of the children, and gave a nice loud roar, complete with a few swipes of its massive paw. The children, naturally, dropped the bucket and ran. Well, they weren’t much fun, thought the bear, as it finished off the last of the fish in a few gulps.
Later on, after explaining how they beat the bear into submission with the bucket, then felt sorry for it and gave it the fish, one of the boys not involved in the incident turned to the boy telling the story and asked “Hey Roger, how’d you know the bear was there?”
“I said, how did you know the bear was there? Billy couldn’t hear it, and he’s got the best hearing in town.”
“I guess I heard it ‘cause I was standing in the right place.”
The next day in school, the teacher was explaining how to tell time, but the children weren’t listening. Most of them knew how to tell time already anyway, having learned from their parents. School was only useful for the slowest of them, anyhow. Three of the boys were discussing a plan to go back and find the bear, kill it, and bring back its hide to prove their hunting skills to the town. Going camping in the woods wasn’t a big deal, but when it was a group of children, they were usually accompanied by a chaperone to make sure that they didn’t do anything stupid. Unfortunately for the boys, any adult would consider their whole plan a stupid move. So the boys spent class figuring out a way to get around this. “Our parents won’t let us go without a grown-up, so why don’t we get one, and then leave him behind somewhere in the middle of the night?” suggested Andrew.
“If we do that,” objected Billy, “he’ll wake up in the morning and run back to town.”
“Okay, so why don’t we tie him up?” replied Andrew.
“Sounds like a good plan to me,” agreed Billy.
“Cool,” said Roger.
So the boys continued on discussing their elaborate bear traps and snares, and who exactly they would pick for the victim of chaperone.
Roger, Billy, and Andrew had set out on their journey to capture the bear. They had chosen the town baker as their unlucky victim. Everyone called him Gramps, because nobody knew what his name really was. Everyone also knew he was just about the oldest man in town who could still carry a knife, and that he was a baker, and that was about their extent of their knowledge on the subject. The boys chose him because he would be easy to tie up, and if they tied him up while he was sleeping, he probably wouldn’t even wake. So they tied him up, quite tightly, and went about setting up their bear trap.
The bear trap consisted of a very dead fish, under a rock. One end of a rope was tied to the fish and another rock on a pulley system overhanging the first rock, so when the bear lifted the rock to get to the fish, the fish would fly up and the rock would fly down, killing the bear. It was a good plan, except that a bear won’t touch a rotten fish. But otherwise, their plan was flawless.
So the trap was set, and they sat in waiting for the bear that would of course, come to get the fish. Young boys cannot wait very long, and half an hour was the limit for these children.
“I’m bored,” remarked Andrew.
“Lets get back to camp, and maybe we can untie Gramps and try to explain what happened,” suggested Roger.
So the boys trudged back to camp, and on their way, a small thunderstorm brewed overhead. Not enough to really rattle their nerves, just enough to slow them down. It got dark quickly, though, and the boys decided to sleep away from camp rather than navigate the woods in the middle of the night. When they awoke in the morning, they approached the camp. About a hundred yards away, Roger stopped and whispered uneasily, “You guys, don’t get Gramps.”
“Why not?” asked Billy.
“Just don’t.” snapped Roger.
“I’m going to go get him. Get over here Drew.”
The screams of the two boys could be heard quite far. Not far enough that there was anyone who could hear it. Only Roger. Roger would be left with that scene imprinted on his brain for as long as he lived. One does not see his friends killed needlessly and forget it.
Roger slowly backed away, and then turned and sprinted for town.
The townsfolk were not very receptive of the chain of events as told by Roger. In fact, they were downright skeptical. They asked questions of him that he could not answer. In fact he couldn’t answer any of them. He couldn’t even describe the thing that ripped away the lives of two of their boys. The next day, people were whispering things behind Roger’s back. By his third day back, people were calling him “murderer” to his face. It got worse after that. History has shown us time and again that if a suspect is proven innocent, it doesn’t mean that he will be spared. The fact that this was an isolated place with no knowledge of lynching in history did not change it. Human nature is human nature, no matter where you are.
And so, on the night of the Sunday after Roger’s return, a large group of the townsfolk gathered around Roger’s family’s home. The mob demanded Roger be brought outside, so justice could be served. As Roger hid in the cellar of his home, he could clearly hear his parents arguing with the mob, and then, a few seconds later, his mother crying. He heard the loud footsteps of the angry townsfolk tramping through the home, looking for the child who was so guilty in their eyes. Then one of them marched down to the cellar and heard him, turned around, and seized him by the shirt collar.
“I’ve got him! Follow me!”
They frog-marched him to a nearby tree, where someone had conveniently tied a rope to a branch about nine feet above the ground, high enough that you could drop a young boy and his fragile neck might snap. They tied it with all the pent up fury they had for the loss of two young citizens, and they tied it with all their sadness for the disappearance of two boys who showed so much promise. But most of all, they tied it with hatred for someone who would do this to a town and expect to get away with it.
As one of them held Roger on the tree, he cried out in desperation “It’s the thing that got Billy and Andrew! I know its there! Its off on the other edge of town.” They all knew it for what it was though, a ploy to distract them. There was no way he could possibly know what was happening on the other side of town. Just another one of his many lies. And the sun shone as bright as ever as the noose was slipped around his neck, and it still shone as they pushed him off the branch. It shone as the boy’s thin neck snapped. And it still shone brightly as the forest fire consumed them all. Of course, it may well have been the forest fire that shone so brilliantly—no one has lived to tell. But regicide was committed that day, for as we all know, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.