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The Campfire Burning

by Jordan Dumer

2018 Smashwords Edition

The new wagon dances across the giant golden brown prairie filled with black swampy pits that look like witches cauldrons with small rolling hills as far as the eye can see. The Panorama framed out by beautiful multi-colored leaves, and evergreens and tall oak savannas that enclose the deer, and the buffalo and the coyotes within this living canvas scattered with small lakes and creeks. A Tall proud man with pale soft skin and a muscular frame with short black hair parted in the middle and a full unkempt beard holds the reigns. His wife cradles their newborn baby inside the canvas of the covered wagon. She looks out at the world, crawling out to sit next to her man.

“For untamed earth, it sure is easy on the eyes” said the Woman.

He moves the reigns to the left, avoiding a carriage creeping up from behind. The carriage rides on ahead, as another covered wagon comes up from behind with another two already visible in the distance.

“Diana-Ray, it's been two days since we left Ole Milwaukee?” he asked.

“Yes, John” she said.

“We should be at the river in less than two weeks” he said.

“That gives us plenty of time to head west before the first frost” she said.

He smiles at her and says nothing more.

The wagon wheels grind and buff their stamp into the living artwork as the tall horses drag it along.

“Whoa, George” he said to the Black Steed heading the pyramid.

He looks over at the young white steed dragging behind and gives it a few good lashings. “Don't get lazy on us now Washington. You are the youngest” he said.

He looks over at the White with brown spotted calico shoulder to shoulder with the the white steed Washington.

“Looking good, Irving. Maybe I should let you lead” he said.

George gets back in line and the wagon begins to roll smoothly down the rugged trail.

He looks back at his wife who is busy sewing a rip in his Sunday pants.

“How's are son doing, Diana?” asked John.

“Tiny Timothy is in perfect health, Mr. Garrison” said Diana-Ray.

“Thank you, Mrs. Garrison. I am blessed by this news” said John.

The wagons ahead become thinner along the horizon. John looks behind him. He leads a thick pack of horse drawn covered wagons. He looks in the wagon at his wife. She sits quietly in the back of the covered wagon breastfeeding their child.

“It is beautiful. Sure beats Livingston Country, New York” said John.

She keeps her eyes on the baby.

“Even as kids, I remember we both wanted to live somewhere else, somewhere wild and free” said Diana-Ray.

“Not me, my love. I want to go somewhere further west to away from the Free Masons, and the Mormons, and the Shakers, and the Evangelists, and the Abolitionists, and the Feminists, and the crazy social experiments taking place throughout the Burned Down District” said John.

“Maybe build a small farm, start a small business and raise a big family” said Diana-Ray.

He smiles.

“Sometimes you have to risk it all for that little slice of the dream” said John. I guess if there is one thing out upbringing has taught me, Diana-Ray. We have to fight for our slice of heaven.

She smiles as the baby finishes. She immediately hangs him over her shoulder and begins burping him.

“This is a far safer risk than throwing it all away at the crapes table like your father” said Diana-Ray.

His face scrunches into a mean stare. He says nothing.

He thinks about the Colonial Houses, and the tall wheat fields and the light houses by the lake. He thought about the big cities, industry, and ocean trade. His face grows sad, and than angry again as he thinks about the roulette wheel spinning. He thinks about the farm being lost, and the colonial house he lived in all his life, sold. His eyes burned in anger at all the lost opportunities. He thought about what his life would be like if he stayed and worked. He cringed. He thought about working in a mine, come home dirty everyday, tired, only making enough just to survive. He thought about it, coming home worn down with a cough. He thought about coughing while digging and causing the mine to collapse. He shifts his mind to working in a factory. He sees his hands getting mangled in a cluster of heavy machinery. He thinks about working in the fields, and coming home with nothing to show for it, He looks ahead and sees nothing but a growing red horizon. He looks behind him and notices the road is clear. They are all alone.

“ We are alone along the fringes of civilization, Diana. Do you miss New York, now?” asked. John.

“I'll always miss the Architecture and the dinners, but I want to be somewhere we can live by our own rules instead of always trying to fight for them” said Diana-Ray.

“Yup. And if I'm going to be working the fields anyways, it might as well be my own” said John.

The sun sets as Tiny Timothy settles down to rest after his greedy feeding. He slows the wagon down and listens to the world around him. He hears nothing. Next, he smells the air for signs of human life and looks around for oncoming dangers. He sees something man made in the distance.

“Diana get my gun. I see something in the distance” said John,

They ride on slowly before coming across an abandoned circle of wigwams inside of thick patch of oak Savannah. The wigwams are old and decrepit, decayed beyond repair with caved in roofs. John halts the wagon to a stop, steps down and inspects the land around him. It howls loudly to the music of crickets, and mosquitoes and owls and coyotes. He neither smells, nor sees, nor hears, any signs human life, and his senses tell him that this place is safe for the moment.

Inside his head he hears a faint whisper, “save your bullet last”.

He pays little attention to the voice.

“I think its safe to settle down here for the night but we don't want to linger around here for to long” said John.

He speaks quietly into the flap of the covered wagon.

“I got my pistol around my shoulder and my knife around my ankle” said Diana-Ray.

She crawls out of the cabin with a armful of firewood. He takes it from her and sets it up in the old fire pit surrounding the wigwams. He gathers up some dry leaves and twigs and places it under and around the logs of firewood. He pulls out a match and starts it ablaze. Diana-Ray steps down from the wagon with utensils and provisions. She begins to prepare a meal.

John unties the horses and finds a place away from the wagon where they can graze. He brings his rifle with him as he walks his horses alone up the wooded path further away from his family. He walks quietly up to the end of the path. It leads to a large clearing surrounded by small crystal clear lakes. He sets the horses free, and they quietly move away towards a good patch of hey, and tugging and chewing at their tough meal. The smell of his wife's cooking now lingered in the air. He felt and heard a growl in the pit of his stomach. He walks back to find his meal ready to eat. Its bean soup with scones and fresh butter. He eats it down, enjoying the tiny chunks of salted beef in the soup. He soaks the hard bread in the soup of soften it up.

“Where were you?” asked Diana-Ray.

“I was setting the horses out to pasture when I stumbled on sacred grounds” said John.

“What do you mean by sacred grounds?” asked Diana-Ray.

“There's a clearing up ahead that overlooks two maybe three lakes, and right next to the lakes looks like burial effigies. I saw some jewelry and broken pottery but I didn't touch anything” said John.

“What about Indian's?” asked Diana-Ray.

“I don't see much trouble from the Natives in this part of the country. The Pottawatomie were driven west by the Indian Removal Act. Nobody uses these routes anymore except for maybe travelers like ourselves, an occasional Indian, and most worrisome of all, the Banditti who use these routes between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes” said John.

She looks at him with worrisome eyes.

“One trouble after another” said Diana-Ray.

“I hear the bears get bigger the further north you go” said John.

“Yes, and so do the snowdrifts” said Diana-Ray.

John laughs. Diana smiles before letting out a laugh. They both look into each others eyes and smile.

“Is the baby safe?” asked John.

“Yes, why?” asked Diana-Ray.

“I want to show you some sacred ground” said John.

She walks back into the wagon and checks on the baby. He rests snugly in his crib. She grabs the wool blanket and steps back out.

“What's with the blanket” asked John.

“Well, in case, you wanted to lay me down on sacred ground” said Diana-Ray.

“Darling! Between the wilderness and wild New York, I don't know which one has warped your mind more” said John.

They walk up to path to the opening arm to arm.

Pottery lay broken around the strange mounds of earth visible only from the sky. They walk around and over the mounds using the offerings of pottery, feathers, bones carved into exotic items, arrowheads, and a few pieces of jewelry made from precious metals as outlines. Diana-Ray's greed instinct took over, and John, tempted by the treasure, decided not to disrupt the flow of nature, and grabbed Diana-Ray by the hem of her dress as she tries to snatch up a piece of fine jewelry.

“I don't like it, Diana-Ray. If the Natives catch us with it, they'll know what it is and kill us”said John.

“But eventually this place will get populated by other settlers and what if it ends up in the wrong hands?” said Diana-Ray.

“I never thought of it like that” said John.

“I think we should gather up all the jewelry we can and toss it into the lakes” said Diana-Ray.

They begin to scope around and pick up anything of value worthy of preserving. They find three pieces of jewelry. Diana-Ray found two of the three pieces, a silver bracelet embedded with turquoise gems and a gold nugget ring. John found the most stunning piece of all, a necklace with sliver feathers embedded with turquoise that connected to what looked like an ancient Roman coin.

“This coin alone could change the way we look at history” said John. “Not to mention our lives”.

“Throw it in the lake” said Diana-Ray.

John flicks it across the lake. It skip across the surface three times before being dragged under the liquid mirror.

“We should pay our respects to the dead” said John.

Diana-Ray stands firmly next to her man as she cups her hands and bows her head before closing her eyes.

“We would like to give our respects to the dead and to the living ancestors of this sacred ground. May God be with these men and all man, now and always” said John. “Amen”.

“Amen” said Diana-Ray.

Diana-Ray slips away as John looks up at the stars. He sees the radiance of thousands of burning suns reflecting off of different lakes enclosed inside this oak Savannah. The air was crisp, and a gentle fog brewed up from the lakes like Alchemists magic, and everything looked mystical and serene and tranquil. The breeze came in small damp gusts carrying a sweet ting of drying prairie grasses scorched from a long hot summer. However, it came with a bite, the sharp stinging chill of the northern icecaps and the chilled lake effect of the Great Lakes to the North and to the East. And at that moment he realized this was nothing like New York. His family was surrounded by nothing but forests, hills, rivers, woods and lakes. Diana-Ray comes back with a lit oil lantern and sets it on the ground next to the blanket. She finds a soft dry spot by the lake and rolls out the blanket.

“I caged him up and secured him down. It would take a full sized grizzly bear to snatch him up and drag him off” said Diana-Ray.

“I want to live here for the rest of my life” said John.

“What about the Banditti?” asked Diana-Ray.

“They are more savage than the Natives. I say we settle down somewhere like here west of the River” said John.

He looks at her and at the bed she's made for them. He looks over at the horses and counts them, one, two, three. He listens to the sounds all around him. He hears a twig snap. He freezes. He hears a coyote howl. He loosens up. He hears a bobcat howling in the distance. He neither hears, nor smells, nor sees anything out of the ordinary.

“I think we are safe” said John. “But we should make it quick”.

She smiles at him. He looks her deep in her eyes. Her spirit twinkling in the corners harmoniously with a million distant suns. Her long thick strawberry blonde hair flowing down like Aphrodite. Her proportions were near symmetrical.

“ Your heart is made out of something more precious than gold. And although I have never told you this before Diana-Ray, sometimes your beauty intimidates me” said John.

“John, stop” said Diana-Ray.

“I'm a brute compared to you. I bath maybe once a month, if even, and usually twice a week in the summer months. You try to bathe everyday and try to get me to swim. I find it odd but you claim its healthy. Where did you learn this from again?” asked John.

“I read it in a book about Japan” said Diana-Ray.

“So exotic. That's what I love about you” said John.

He advances forward, and kisses her. She stands still as he kisses her deep, his hands slip down her waist, roughly squeezing her butt and gently spreading it apart. She pushes him away.

“Johnathon! I've never seen this side of you. So primal and full of lust. I'm not sure I like this side of you. It's certainly not the boy I grew up with” said Diana-Ray.

“Fuck New York” said John.

She swooned backwards a little bit, taken back by his rude comment before regaining her composure.

“How dare you show such disrespect to our roots” said Diana-Ray.

“Is it wrong that I want to tear off your clothes and make savage love to you?” asked John.

She smiles, taking off her blouse and revealing her subtle plump breasts. They were sagging and sore from the breastfeeding. He shifts his focus on her dress. They take off layer after layer of her New English garments until she is almost fully naked. They stop and kiss, and through the chilled breeze, she could already feel the heat coming off his body. She caresses his penis before taking off the last of her undergarments. She slips onto the blanket before spreading her legs apart. He takes off the rest of his clothes. She pinches her nose.

“I have an idea. Let's go for a swim” she said.

She got up and ran neck deep into the lake. He ran in after her, and upon reaching her, proceeded to make love.

A swift blur of gray fur perches behind a bush near the clearing, sniffing out the smell of smoke, and food and sex. It slips past the couple in the lake, snapping a twig, it pauses and looks at the couple, they do not notice as it sneaks up path towards the wagon.

They gather there things and walk back over to the wagon holding onto clothes and blankets. Diana-Ray carries most of the clothes as John carries his pants and the lantern. He looks all around but only notices a tiny gray blur by the wagon.

“What is that?” asked John.

“What is it, darling?” asked Diana-Ray.

He points at the gray blur by the wagon.

“Is that a coyote?” he asked.

“No, John. Do you see it? That's a knife in his hand” said Diana-Ray.

John drops everything and runs.The man wearing a coyote pelt digs his hand in a slit along the side of the canvas harder, deeper and bastard.

“Get away from my son, you Bastard” shouted John

John reaches out to grab his hand holding the knife and bash him over the head with the lantern now in his free hand when the strange being slips away into the trees. He looks inside and finds the baby safely sleeping in the wagon. Diana-Ray creeps up half clothed with a pistol in one hand and a knife in the other. John grabs the pistol from her hand.

“Go put on your clothes and fetch me mine while I grab the rifle” said John.

He ran into the wagon, grabbed his rife, powder and ammunition, and ran back out to meet his wife. She comes back dressed with all there gear. He hands her the pistol as she goes yo check on there son. He starts putting on his clothes starting with his trousers. He scurries around trying to fasten them quick when he bumps into a large human body. He jumps back, slipping his pants on and pointing the rifle up at the mans face. Its a tall stout mean looking white man. His look at him from above with a mad look. John keeps the gun aimed.

“What kind of man creeps up on a fellow like that? You should be glad to still have a head” said John.

The man smirks and lets out a loud whistle. Two other men slip out, pointing guns at him. He keeps his rifle pointed at the leader. The leader looks at John.

“We only want things of value like gold, and food and your horses” said the Leader.

John said nothing.

The leader holds up a dainty piece of Diana-Ray's undergarments.

“We also want to know who this belongs too?” said the Leader.

He smells it and does a little hop.

“I also think that wagon of yours before we burn it to the down would be a great place for me and my men of the same stripes to take turns on whoever this belongs too” said the leader.

The men cheer in agreement. John focuses on the men.

A shot rings out somewhere in the thick of the trees. The men turn their attention away from John as Diana-Ray tosses the Bowie knife near him. He grabs for it as another shot crackles from a different area in the treeline. The leader looks at the other two men. John holds the knife tight against the butt of his rife.

“One of you better go see what's going on” said the Leader.

One of them was tall and stout like the leader, the other tall and skinny. The tall and skinny one slips off into the woods as John stares the other two down. They look at John, and than towards that open flap in the wagon, focused eyes piercing back.

“So where are you from?” asked the Leader.

“I'm from back east” said John.

“I hear jobs are synced up that way. I should know, I'm originally from Boston. That's why I also know you're from Northern New York” said the Leader.

John said nothing.

“I hated the city. It smelled like garbage and feces. I hated it. I hated the people. So I moved, and now I'm much happier. I get to take what I want. I get to eat and drink where I want. I get to fuck who I want” said the Leader.

John said nothing. He only looks back and forth at the leader and at the other tall stout man of the same stripes. He clenches tightly to the knife. He did not dare look at his gun.

Another gun shot was heard and the two men look at each other. John tosses the knife at the muscle and sticks him in the neck. The leader is caught off guard as John tackles him to the ground. The other man leaves the knife and goes for the kill with his gun when a shot is heard through the wagon. He falls to the ground dead. John rolls off the leader, and with rifle still in hand, points it at him. The leader stands up, his pistol pointed at John.

“I should kill you right now” said John.

“Then why don't you?” asked the Leader.

“Because I want you to run out into those woods and face whatever is out there head on” said John.

He aims his gun at John before falling to the ground. A wild looking man lifts up his chest, cuts out his heart and takes a bite out of it. He chews and swallows it before tossing the rest of the heart into the fire. He looks crazily at John. John points his gun at him.

“I did it. I am the immortal Wendigo. You cannot kill me now. And I, witch doctor, shall devour the white man until the end of times” said the Witch Doctor.

He crouches down and starts to morph from a man into something part human. His masculine legs replaced by deer hooves, his human torso replaced with that of a grizzly bear and his eyes and claws, those of a wolf. John points, aims and shot it in the heart. It dodges the bullet before taking off full speed into the night.

“We got go, Diana-Ray” said John.

He looks at the bodies all around them as they clean. He kicks the fire over when his stomach begins to grumble. The strange creature burns into his psyche. He has a mad craving. He tries to shake it off, trying hard to focus on the task at hand. Diana-Ray finishes packing up and John goes to fetch the horses. He finds them all close and safe. He fastens them to the wagon before grabbing a rope. He looks Diana-Ray. He sees the same forbidden craving. He ties the rope around the legs of the leader and hoists him up into the wagon. He slits the bodies throat and lets it bleed as it hangs from the roof of the wagon. Diana slips the cover over and secures its tightly. They step onto the wagon, and with a crack of the whip, head west.

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