Disclaimer: Pet Fly's guys.
Author's Notes: > A stylistic sequel to Point of Triangulation and Scrooge, it's Blair this time. The 'skill' I gave him is the one I've recently acquired; the real shaman's staff isn't quite done yet, too damp to poly. For CarolROI.
It begins on a crisp fall day at the Ellison household. Father-son relationship repair equals the offer of yardwork, and Blair is, as always, tagging along. Observing this macho-male-bonding in which old wrongs were righted beneath the surface, never spoken of, as the conversation centered on lawsuits and gardening services, and the oak stump left, the bramble of branches tossed aside.
The stump was dealt with, a terrifying operation involving Jim's '69 Pickup Sweetheart and a length of stout chain. Blair participated, looping chain, a million America's Funniest Home Videos passing before his eyes. But surprisingly, the stump popped out, waking a memory of a loose front tooth and Naomi tying dental floss to a doorknob. He thinks of how the 'pop' felt as the roots fly out, a thin trickle of dirt tumbling down the sides of the hole, Earth's tongue trying the new cavity.
He's been in an odd, introspective mood a lot lately. On and off, since Incacha's death and the Passing Of The Way. Shaman of The Great City. Not a title he'd chosen, but one that had chosen him. And what relevance did it have in his life? He knew primitive, tribal customs, rituals to explain the world. That's why we have science in the modern age.
Well. He whips up magic potions for his sentinel, herbal cures to replace over the counter medicines with toxic chemicals that would fell the Protector of the Tribe that is Cascade, WA and outlying suburbs, so he guesses he's shaman enough.
Still, he feels a lack. A something-more-ness that isn't satisfied.
It isn't until he and Jim are tossing the stray branches into the back of Sweetheart for a trip to the dump, and he lifts one branch, resting the end on the ground.
It feels... right. Solid. The curve of the branch, the weight. The rough bark under his curled fingers, and he blurts the words out before he even thinks of asking:
"Can I have this?"
Jim gives him an odd look, but shrugs. Absurdly pleased, Blair pulls off his hair-tie and knots it around the branch, marking it so it won't be disposed of with the others. When they get home, he puts it in the storage locker.
It isn't until the next weekend. He's ahead on his grading for once, and there's nothing on television. Jim is in one of his cleaning moods, nothing he needs help with, just puttering, taking things out of cupboards and putting them back. Blair remembers his branch, and goes down to visit it.
Five minutes with Jim's saw and its a good height, neat flat ends. Thicker at the bottom, tapering at the top, waving a bit over his head. A few minutes' work with the saw blade of his Swiss Army knife, and all the little twig nubs were sliced off flat. Then a blade to peel the bark off, greenish and a little wet on the inside, with a sharp, clean smell. Stringy, orangish wood beneath.
He knows what this is now, and cleans up his mess, the naked wood propped up to dry. He spends a few more minutes in the storage space, poking around, then trots upstairs with a cardboard box.
"Hey Jim, can I use this? You don't need it for anything, right?" He holds up a small yellow can with dark drips down the label.
Jim looks up at him, an old wire whisk in one hand and a can of fruit cocktail in the other. "The Minwax?" he asks, surprised. "Yeah, that's the leftovers from when we redid the floors. Why?"
"That oak branch, I'm going to make a walking stick. Y'know, for when we go camping."
Jim looked impressed. "You know how to do that?"
Yes. "No. But seems pretty easy, I'll figure it out. Thanks." He doesn't know how he knows this, but he does. Too many carpentry and remodeling shows watched with Jim, and the procedure doesn't seem to need much adaptation. Maybe something older, remembering for him.
The winter passed, with Blair making the occasional visit to the storage locker. Picking it up and feeling the weight of it, the tickle of not-quite-splinters, hairy fibers pulling away from the surface. He sorts through the box, the grades of sandpaper, reading the names of colors of stain. Golden oak. Dark walnut. Cherry. Rosewood. And shakes the cans gently, guessing how much of the liquid remains.
Dark walnut, he decides around Christmas, looking at a bowl of mixed nuts on the coffee table.
When spring comes, and the spring rains pass, he brings the stick up to the balcony to look at it in the light. Still rough to touch, it has a warm solidity to it. Most of the made-things that pass through his hands are plastic, metal, or glass. Wood is alive, a living thing. One of the oldest shaped substances known to man. He knows he is connecting to something ancient, to shamans past and that spark of the divine, the act of creation, to take a thing and make it into a tool. He lets his fingers loosely follow the length of it, the sharpness of the grain, the rough lumps of twig-knots, the slight curve twisted into living wood by wind and rain.
He uses the roughest grade of sandpaper on it, watching as talcum-fine sawdust falls away, as the wood smooths beneath the pressure of his fingers. Bone-white, tiger-striped rust with the natural beauty of the pattern of the grain. He works on the stick for nearly an hour, he can feel it in his shoulder, his elbow, until the six feet of oak has been smoothed free of the stringy fibers.
He steps inside, and finds Jim sprawled on the couch, lulled to sleep by the steady rasp of his work. He takes the stick to storage again, and sweeps sawdust.
A few days later, he finds time again. The stick is noticeably smoother when he is done, but he feels a tiny stab as he runs his fingers down the grain, and quickly pulls his hand back before blood can mark the pristine pale surface. Jim applies superhuman sight, tweezers, and a dab of peroxide to the splinter.
One more rough sanding. He finds himself reaching a state of meditation as he works on the stick. The world narrows to the length and breadth of the span of raw wood. Another hour with medium paper, and the last with fine. The stick is done, in all it's tiger-striped glory. Smooth as glass, warm as bone.
He watches the weather, when no rain is predicted for a week, and the humidity is at 33%, he asks Jim for a bit of help. Jim hangs the stick, a bit of wire wrapped at the top made into a loop, from a hook too high on the balcony roof for Blair to reach. Blair spreads out newspaper, puts on rubber gloves, stirs the stain with a popsicle stick, and carefully dips a rag made of a clean old cotton undershirt into the stain. Wipes the rag onto the wood, along the length, following the grain.
The stain goes on the color of chocolate syrup, and the sharp chemical smell of it makes Blair's nose twitch, and Jim sneezes violently from the other side of the glass doors. He wipes the stain off again with a dry rag. Watches as the light wood darkens. And the orange wood. Every four hours that day, four times, he repeats the process, wetting it with stain, wiping it dry, and the colors deepen.
He lets it dry for a few days, and is pleased to see the once-white wood is indeed the color of walnut shells, the orangey color of the grain and the knots are darker, almost the color of his hair.
Jim praises him on the work when he unhooks the wire so Blair can touch up the top. Jokes about finding odd carpentry jobs around the loft for Blair to do, but is truly impressed. That warms Blair. More so later, relaxing watching TV, and during a commercial Jim asks, if they can find another branch, if Blair will make him one.
All that's left to do is a coat of polyurethane, and its done. Its served it's purpose he believes, connecting Blair to the past and the Earth in a way he can't quite quantify. The stick itself is a souvenir of the making.
But it all comes down to this moment.
They're going camping. Jim was downstairs, loading their gear into the truck idling in the alley. Blair had run up to the loft for last minute essentials, for his stick, which was getting it's maiden voyage on the hiking trails of the national park.
He hops downstairs, unprepared for the horror that awaits. By the tailgate of Sweetheart, Jim lays, the exhaust providing an eerie aura, an abstract poppy blooming on the white cotton of his T-shirt in blood. A scruffy teenage stranger kicks Jim, rolling him over with his foot, and reaches for the fat wallet in the back pocket of Jim's jeans.
The intruder doesn't see Blair standing in the open doorway, reaching for the wallet and the promise of cash for his next fix, holds the knife loosely and unguarded.
Six feet of inch thick oak swings in an arc.
Later, in the ER, Blair contemplates the stick, and how Jim would be dead now if he hadn't plucked it out of the garbage and made something useful out of it.
~ End ~
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Page last updated 8/15/03.