The following story is part one of something I wrote and submitted to a magazine a few years ago. It was not ever published in print, but it was published as a guest post back in the early days, on a now defunct website of a writer who had set up one of the first blogs. Recently someone emailed me a copy they had saved years ago, asking if the William Taft was me. What a surprise since I had long since lost the original copy of this first part. The email asked me about the rest of the story which I also no longer have and which was never published on that old blog. Lost to history, I guess. Maybe I will have to try and rewrite the ending and publish it here. Anyway, here it is, one of my earliest and one of only a few attempts at creative story telling!
The Mystery in the Mist
I remember the first time I heard it, sitting on the screened porch on a morning wet with the remnants of the storm. The moisture left from a tropical storm swept through the previous night, dumping inches of rain and raising the lake level by 6 or 8 inches. Even the flying squirrels who lived in the walls of the old cabin did not want to venture out that night for their usual nocturnal activities. Instead, they sat on the top of the loft’s walls watching us, hoping we would be kind roommates and let them stay dry. That morning I had dug trenches to drain the ½ mile drive into the cabin. Where the dirt road passed between the big lake and the smaller pond, the water had risen to cover the way out. After the rain stopped and the dam letting water out of the lake had started to catch up, the road was left flooded with inches of water and mud. By digging a couple of trenches to the small pond, the road was drained so that exit later that afternoon would be possible.
But back to the sound… the mysterious sound that carried the length of the lake. Echoing off the thick surrounding woods and catching my notice a mile away, it sounded sort of like a braying donkey. Rising out of the deep old chair, I pressed my face against the screen, as if reducing my distance to the sound by those few feet would give me a better position to interpret what I had heard. Again the donkey bellowed and I sank back into the chair, sure only that there could be no donkeys in this wilderness.
The chair I sat in was made of braided wicker, like nothing that would be seen anywhere today. The braids were thick and so tight the chair gave up almost no creaks as it was used. It was at least 30 years old with an unusually deep seat, probably made specifically for the previous owner of the cabin. I thought about all the people who must have sat in the chair over the years. The cabin’s previous owner, who had died the year before, had been a gregarious, social man, larger than life in the true meaning of the description. I was sure the chair had seen the seats of characters out of the woods of NH and Maine, executives from the financial streets of Boston, relatives of mine from a generation earlier and various other friends and acquaintances. He had been a young bank employee in Boston when he purchased the cabin. Originally from Maine, he had hitchhiked for the weekend from his banking job to the woods of southern NH to get a break from Boston of the 1950’s. Encountering the owner of the property on a walk through the woods around the lake led to the purchase of the cabin and 10 acres of surrounding land. Years later, he would add 10 more acres to the property. Now maintained by his wife, we had been invited to stay there for our week long visit to NH. Rustic is too mild a word to describe the cabin, but it was better than any hotel stay could ever have provided.
The chair I sat in was sturdy, but the cabin was another thing all together. The east side contained an enormous stone chimney, now leaning downhill and against the house, pushing the whole structure towards the lake. The west, lake side of the cabin, leaned such that the top of the exterior wall was at least 4 inches further west than the bottom. New posts had been installed under the pine logs supporting the second floor, but the load limit for sleeping upstairs was still 4 people. The cabin, now well over 100 years old, was definitely not going to make it to 150. A shame, really, as a more beautiful, idyllic spot would be hard to find.
Idyllic that is, except for the sound that again pierced the mist. As donkeys were a very unlikely source of the sound at the unpopulated, desolate, shallow end of the lake, my mind went to explanation two. A moose! This called for action and the old canoe pulled up on the shore beckoned us for an adventure.