by Kellie Underhill
Late Night Visit in Burnt Church
The drive to Burnt Church didn’t take long. Within 10 minutes Rachel found her friend’s house and parked in the driveway. A man with long white hair sat on the porch smoking a pipe. “Joe, this is a friend of mine,” Rachel said. “He’s lost and I hoped you might help him find his way.”
Joe eyed Sammy from top to bottom, grunted and nodded for him to sit. Nobody said anything for a long time. While the man smoked his pipe, Sammy tried to catch Rachel’s eye. Finally, Joe spoke.
“You were on a long journey with many people—family, friends, strangers. It was a trip you weren’t prepared to take. You turned your back on your home.”
Sammy sucked in his breath. He didn’t understand what it meant. How could he have turned his back when he was consumed with nothing but finding his way home?
“You are very far from home and close by at the same time. You can get there from here if your intentions are pure and your quest honest. You will meet many people who will help you and a few who will not. Follow the lights, they will show you the way.” And having said all he intended, Joe got up and went into the house, snapped off the lights and went to bed.
“Who was that?” Sammy whispered. “Is he a shaman?”
Rachel grinned. “Nah, he’s my uncle,” she giggled. “He sleepwalks. Comes out on the porch every night about this time, smokes his pipe, says a bunch of stuff and goes back to bed.”
“Wha—?” Sammy’s brow furrowed. “Why would you bring me to see him?” Rachel tossed her hair as she backed out the driveway.
“Because sometimes the things he says make sense. Sometimes he knows things he has no reason to know. And sometimes he predicts things that come true.”
“And the other times?”
“Oh well, the other times it’s all rubbish, but a good laugh.” Rachel honked the horn three times and spun gravel as she sped away from her uncle’s house.
Back in Neguac the pair met up with the others who were still singing and dancing with no signs of slowing down. Sammy and Rachel sat at a quiet picnic table. His eyes drooped and he stifled a yawn.
“You’ve had a long day,” Rachel murmured and touched his face. “You should probably get some sleep.”
“Oh no, I’m fine.” Sammy shook his head vigorously to wake himself up.
She smiled, leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “It’s okay,” she said. “You’ll see me again.”
On the back of Bobby’s truck later as he lay on an inflatable mattress Sammy could still feel Rachel’s kiss on his cheek. His stomach twisted into knots when he thought about her. As he stared at the stars, Joe’s voice whispered in his mind. Follow the lights. What lights? Sammy thought. Was it starlight? What other kinds of lights were there around here? He fell asleep wondering.
Breakfast of Champions
Sammy’s rumbling tummy woke him. He rolled over, stretched and then hopped to the pavement. At some time in the night the boys returned and they were snoring. Sammy yawned and looked around. They were in the parking lot of a motel and restaurant called Chez Raymond. Yesterday people mentioned their breakfast buffet and he wanted to see if it was as good as they said.
He was halfway through his second plate and already thinking about a third when a trucker came in and joined another trucker at a table behind him. He couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.
“You heading out today then?”
“Yep. Stateside. You?”
“Get into town last night?”
They appeared to be men of few words.
“Excuse me,” Sammy said. “Is there another town around here?”
“Yep. The big one. Miramichi. City now.”
A city would have lots of lights, Sammy thought. Maybe this was one of the times when Joe’s sleepwalking ramblings meant something. He had a strong feeling about this city called Miramichi and raced into the parking lot to find the boys.
The Mystical Russellville Road
Driving back the Russellville Road, Sammy wondered what he’d gotten himself into. Houses along the country road were scattered amongst fields and strips of trees. After the hustle and bustle of Neguac this place seemed like another world, secluded and peaceful. He had tried that morning to get the boys to take him into the city, but by the time they woke up and got fed the dancing and singing had started and they didn’t want to leave. He searched all day and finally found a ride as far as Russellville. The man said Sammy could get a home-cooked meal and a cabin for the night at Fins & Feathers and he’d come get him when he was going to work in Miramichi.
The truck pulled into a long driveway. Nestled in the crook where the Little Bartibog River branched off from the Big Bartibog River Canada Geese roamed around a cluster of cottages and a restaurant. The man promised to return and said goodnight. Sammy breathed in the crisp evening air and wandered inside the restaurant to see about lodging and food. Once inside, the building seemed larger than it had from the outside. A group of people were laughing and playing darts in another room. Sammy took a seat by the windows overlooking the water. He ordered a cup of chowder that warmed his tummy and made him sleepy. He went outside to clear his head.
An old woman was sitting on a tree stump puffing a cigar. She wore her smoky coloured hair rolled in bright yellow curlers covered with a clear plastic rain hat tied around her chin. A dirty beige cardigan was draped over her shoulders and the full skirt of her long-sleeved black jumper fell to her ankles. Sammy could see the steel shining through in the worn toes of her black boots. “You’re not from around these parts,” she said dragging off the cigar.
“No,” Sammy agreed.
“No,” she said shaking her head.
She fixed her bloodshot green eyes on his face. “You don’t belong around here,” she said. “I could tell from the minute I laid eyes on ya! You belong out the Bay.”
Sammy frowned. “Well, I was just on the Bay. I’ve come from Tabusintac through Neguac and Burnt Church. And I know I don’t belong anywhere there. Tomorrow, I’m going into the city.”
“The city!” the woman hissed. “What do you want to do that for? I can sense the sea right off ya and you should go back to the Bay with your people where you belong.”
Sammy sighed, shrugged and turned to walk away. Clearly the old woman was delusional or drunk or both.
“I’m not finished with you young feller,” the woman said. “Didn’t nobody ever teach you to respect your elders?”
“I know where you’ve been,” the old woman continued. “I’m talking about where you haven’t been . . . you blew right past Escuminac and that’s where a young feller should be.”
“Escuminac?” Sammy asked. “I didn’t see anyplace like that. Nobody mentioned it.”
The woman laughed. “Well course not! It’s on the other side of the Bay.” She chomped on her cigar. “Follow the river, boy. If you want to get home, follow the river. Head toward the light. You’ll see it. Find the light and follow it home.”
Shivers of excitement tingled Sammy’s spine at the mention of a light. It couldn’t be a coincidence. But how will I get there, he thought.
“Swim for it!” the old woman cackled.
“Who are you?” Sammy asked as he turned to face the woman, but the old crone was gone.
… to be continued …