written by: Jeff Flaig
Maybe if I walked a little faster, I’d warm up. I don’t know if I could handle another cold night like last night. I quickened my pace as I took and exhaled a deep breath, which reminded me of a steam locomotive, only there was no fire inside to keep me warm. I was encouraged, only slightly, as it lit up like a rainbow and mingled with the morning sunlight breaking through the trees across the road. That’s three long nights in a row that I had to make my way on this lonely highway, through the dampness of the Northwest. I wish someone would stop and offer me a ride.
It’s not like it used to be back in the sixties and seventies, when it was no problem to hitch-hike from one end of the country to the other.
These days, people rarely pick up a stranger, but then who could blame them with all the weirdos on the road. Fortunately, today was sunny, and when the morning warmed up and moved on, it caused my clothes to dry out, and as the night escaped the day, it made everything around me look as if it were on fire, turning everything into a halo of rainbows and smoky mist. At least the rays felt good on my face and shoulders.
A pickup with an old couple passed and didn’t even give me a second look. I guess I will have to play dead in the road to get a ride.
I walked for another hour. Perhaps, this is the loneliest road in America. As I was walking, I saw a flash of brown in the woods and turned to look. That was funny, a flash of brown in the woods? It was more of a light brown with a tint of yellow and didn’t look like tree bark.
It turned out to be a house, the first I have seen for the last twenty miles. I didn’t recall passing a driveway or a road leading off the highway.
I walked into the woods to get a better look. It turned out to be a big log cabin. I went in a little further until I was standing in the yard. I took a deep breath when I could see the whole property. The cabin was rustic. It had a big front porch with faded painted columns supporting the overhanging roof, and windows with light brown, almost yellow shudders, across the front, one end to the other.
“Are you here to fix the roof?” She asked.
“Are you here to fix the roof? I called three days ago.”
“No, I’m not. I saw your cabin from the highway and came in from the woods to get a better look.”
“Oh, okay. What highway?”
I turned to look, but I could not see the road from where I was standing. Oh well, I turned around to explain myself when I noticed how beautiful she was.
“Can you fix my roof?”
“Probably, let me have a look at it.”
She led me around to the side of the home to where a ladder was leaning up against the cabin. I climbed to the top of the ladder where I found several shingles had fallen away from the roof. “I can fix this if you have some replacement shingles, and some roofing nails.”
“I do. Let me get them for you.”
I shouted after her, “Bring me a hammer too.”
I am not a dangerous person by any stretch of the imagination, but this woman had no fear of me. I could have been any kind of deranged human being, and here I was fixing her roof.
How did she get me to do that? The wildest sense of fear grabbed ahold of me. What if she was some deranged human being herself? Oh my. What am I doing?
After giving me the materials to fix the roof, I went to work removing old broken shingles and putting new ones in their place. The damage was just four feet from the edge, and because of that, I dropped two shingles on the ground.
“Hey. I dropped two shingles off the roof. Could you please bring them up to me?”
No sooner did I ask when a snout crawled up and over the roof and set the shingles next to me. I panicked. I nearly fell off the roof. I leaned over to see the largest elephant I have ever seen standing on the ground below me.
“You, you have an elephant?”
She wasn’t there. I shouted, “Hello! Hello, are you there?”
“I’m sorry, I was around front. What do you need?”
“That’s an elephant. I mean you have an elephant.”
“He’s not mine. He shows up to eat the apples from my tree in the middle of the garden. What’s your name?”
“Henry. My name is Henry.”
“Henry, meet Larry. Larry, meet Henry.”
With that, the elephant lifted his trunk with a loud trumpet. I wasn’t sure if I should get down and run away or act like it was normal for someone to have a pet elephant in this area. This did not seem right.
Instead, I asked her name, “What’s your name?”
“My name is Margret. People call me Maggie.”
After a brief pause, she asked, “Why are you staring at me?”
I went back to work. I could only think of how beautiful she was, with coal black hair, and lavender eyes.
I continued working while she told me about Larry, “Larry lives in the woods. He comes by every other day to eat the apples from that apple tree.” She pointed to a large tree in the middle of her garden.
“I don’t mind, but he tears up my garden making his way to the tree.”
There was a noticeable trail leading to the tree through her garden. He smashed everything to the ground.
“Otherwise, he’s very polite. He carries firewood for me, so I consider it a fair trade.”
I asked, “How is it that an elephant, such a large elephant, can live in the forest here in the northwest?”
“I don’t have a clue. I tried following him into the woods, but he’s too fast for me. Just like all the other creatures that live there. I think there’s something unusual about that forest. Things seem to come and go that shouldn’t.”
What a curious thing to say.
I stood up and asked, “What kind of animals are you talking about?”
“Every kind of animal you could imagine. If you’re here long enough, you’ll see them.”
For some reason, I assumed that Larry was a circus elephant. “Do other large circus animals come to visit too?”
I turned my attention back to the roof, while Larry made his way to the apple tree. Maggie yelled at him asking him, “Please don’t step on my tomatoes.”
It was too funny how he complied.
When I finished the roof, she asked, “Do you have any experience with carpentry?”
“I have a little experience. I can usually put something back together when needed. Why?”
She led me back to the front of the cabin and to an old broken down mail box.
“Larry broke my mailbox, smashed it to the ground. I have everything I need to rebuild it, but I’m not a carpenter. I can pay you if you like.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. I said, “No, don’t worry about paying me. I’m happy to fix it for you.”
I was getting worried because I needed to get down the road before it got too dark. Otherwise, it was going to be another cold night on the highway, although I didn’t say anything about it. I hoped it wouldn’t take too long and then I could be on my way.
It was more work than I had expected. I had to dig out the old cement anchor and pour a new one, then place the new box and prop it up so that it stood straight. That took most of the day.
She did feed me lunch, chicken soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
To my disappointment, evening showed up before I finished. Now, I have to spend another night in the damp northwest weather. I should have just kept going down the road.
Despite my frustration, and as much as I wanted to be angry, I couldn’t because I didn’t mind fixing her roof and mailbox, even if it cost me another cold damp night on the road.
As I put the tools away, and while saying my goodbyes, she offered me a place to stay for the night. “I have a small barn. It has a separate room for guests. You’re welcome to stay there for the night, if you like. It has a bed and a wood stove. You can build a fire to keep warm.”
Now, was I going to spend the night walking down a dark, wet, cold road, or should I spend a somewhat warm, dry, normal night in a bed of all things? Sometimes, decisions are just too easy, and they make themselves.
“Thank you. I didn’t want to walk all night, again.”
She led me to the small barn. I hadn’t noticed it earlier while fixing the roof because it was on the other side of the cabin out of my sight. She directed me to the back room and said, have a good night and left.
One-half hour later she came back with a hot bowl of rice and chicken. “I assume you must be hungry.”
“I am. Thank you!”
I built a fire, ate the rice, and made the bed. I was sleepy, but I laid there thinking just how beautiful she was. Eventually, I fell asleep.
I slept in the next morning. It was very hard to get out of that warm comfortable bed. Maggie was already working in her garden when I emerged from the barn
“Good morning, Henry. Did you sleep well?”
I looked at Larry, who was already stealing apples from her tree.
“I did. I slept very well. In fact, I can’t remember when I have slept so hard.”
“That’s nice. If you’re hungry, I could cook up some eggs, maybe some bacon, if you’re hungry.”
“I planned to be on my way by now, but I can’t refuse your hospitality.”
Maggie picked two red peppers and went into the house to make breakfast.
Assuming Larry was tame, I walked over to have a closer look. He was the biggest elephant I have ever seen, and how does he live out here? It was such a peculiar situation.
“Henry, come on in, breakfast is ready.”
The inside of the cabin was so beautiful. A real craftsman built this house. Although the aroma of bacon and eggs filled the kitchen, I could smell burnt wood and cedar. In the middle of the kitchen was a long dining table made from a single piece of walnut, with plates of hot food sitting on either side. I could live like this.
“Your table is beautiful, and so is the cabin. Did you have the cabin built?”
“No. My father built it, and the table. He died five years ago and left it to me. This home, his home, is so beautiful. I can’t see living anywhere else. I could almost say it’s enchanted, so I could never leave.”
“He did a masterful job. It looks like he was a great carpenter.”
“Yes, he was. Please, sit and eat.”
I was halfway through breakfast when there came a knock at the front door.
Maggie said, “Oh, I forgot. My sisters are coming by this morning.”
She got up and answered the door.
“Come in. Have a seat.”
They were talking, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Until one sister asked, “Did he come again? When?”
“Maggie, you can’t keep living out here all by yourself. The things you’re telling us is just plain crazy!”
“No, it’s not!”
“Yes it is! Have you figured out who this man is? And come on, an elephant named Larry? You need to talk with someone before they commit you.”
“I’ll prove it to you.”
Maggie led her sisters to the kitchen where they found a half-eaten breakfast.
“Maggie, that means nothing. Look, the other one is untouched. So, you ate half of this one. That proves nothing.”
Next thing the front door closed. She returned to the kitchen to eat her breakfast. “Those were my sisters. They stop in now and then to check on me. They don’t like me living out here by myself. Oh well, what can I say?”
I heard a thumping at the back door. A bear lifted its head to the glass inserts at the top.
“Don’t worry, Henry. That’s just Charlie the dancing bear.”
The bear lowered its head, and I heard it climb down off the back porch. Maggie got up and ran to the door and opened it. “Charlie, don’t eat the cucumbers! You can have the squash, but leave the cumbers alone!”
She sat back down, “That bear loves summer squash, and cucumbers. I have to yell at him every time or he will eat them all.”
I asked, “Did you used to own a circus or something?”
“No, but a few years back a circus heading to Reedsport crashed out front. I think some animals escaped. That’s why they’re so friendly. They must be used to humans by how they act.”
“I guess that makes sense. Have you called the authorities to come collect them?”
“I could never do that. They are free and I believe that’s what they want. I would never turn them over to the authorities!”
I took the last bite of breakfast, put my napkin down, and said, “Breakfast was very good, and thank you for your kindness, Maggie.”
“Well, I had an ulterior motive.”
“What was that?”
“I need the columns painted on the front porch. I planned to ask if you wouldn’t mind doing that for me. I’m a horrible painter. I could keep you fed and give you a place to sleep for another night.”
I almost asked to see her to-do list. Instead, without hesitation or a second thought, I said, “I would love to paint them for you. Just show me to the supplies.”
I spent most of the day painting when I wasn’t standing round dumbfounded from all the different animals that came by to raid Maggie’s garden. She spent most of the day making sure they stayed out of her cucumbers. I assume all the animals that belonged to that circus escaped, and she was helping them.
Around 7pm, Maggie had dinner ready. She made a big deal about the salad, and how she defended the cucumbers all day. It was full of cucumbers, too many.
We talked late into the night. She told me about her life with her dad, her sisters and how protective they were, and upset that she refused to move from the cabin. She never asked me why I was hitchhiking or where I was going. That fact slipped my mind, even though I planned to tell her. I guess I was mesmerized by her soft demeanor and beauty, which I could not understand why she was alone out here like this.
I asked, “Why did you never marry?”
“I’m too young and restless to think about that now. Perhaps, someday I’ll get married, but I enjoy my life just as it is.”
I went to bed again thinking about how beautiful she was, and kind. She was so kind-hearted.
I slept hard again that night. When I woke up, I was horrified, and that’s an understatement.
First thing I looked up to see that the roof was half gone, most of it fallen into the room I was in. I was lying on a pile of leaves. In front of me was an old wood stove, almost rusted away. I sat up. Most of the walls were gone and what was left of them was all moldy.
I stood and ran outside. The cabin wasn’t in any better shape. Every window was broken out. I crossed the yard, or should I say an old garden, overgrown with weeds, to the front of the cabin. The front porch was broken through, except for one spot on which sat an old rusty paint can with a brush stuck to its insides. Near the front steps was a bouquet of roses, with a note that read, “To our most precious sister, we love and miss you, sweetheart.”
I freaked out and ran to the road. Fortunately, a young couple stopped and picked me up.
“Thanks for stopping.” I was shaking!
“No Problem, we’re going in to Reedsport, so we can get you that far.”
And then she looked me over and asked, “Are you all right?”
I couldn’t help but tell them what had happened to me.
The woman, Janice, asked, “What was the name of the woman?”
“Margret. She called herself Maggie.”
Janice said, “Maggie Sinclair. I knew her. She had the most beautiful lavender eyes. I wish I had known her better. Tragically, she died four years ago when a convoy of circus vehicles crashed in front of the home back there. She used to live there. I guess she was out checking the mail when it happened. She and most of the animals in the convoy died. Oh, there was another person who died too. He was one of the circus people. I think he was driving and was responsible for the accident.”
She turned to her friend and asked, “Do you remember the name?”
“Yeah, I think they said he was also the elephant trainer. His name was Hank, or Henry something.”
She turned to the back seat and said, “Hello?”
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
Strange things can happen on old dark, lonely highways. Just ask Henry…
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