Monday, September 23, 2013

The Knitting Circle

A story I put together for the Frontiersman Camping Fellowship newsletter. Names have not been changed to protect the guilty, but I won't tell you who is who.
The Knitting Circle
by Little Star

Well, it was fall time, way back before Rex’ Warrior took off to the big city to learn the finer points of art and music and I took over helping my pa, Watchman, get meat and wood for the house. It had been a lean year. The summer had been too hot, and there weren’t enough early rains to make the crops produce the way they should’ve. The animals had meandered off to greener pastures, and Pa had to go farther than usual to find meat. He told us he would be gone a few weeks. Most of the wood and all of the crops were in, so Ma and I whiled the days away working on handcrafts. Ma’s a great quilter and she’d made blankets, curtains, shirts for Pa and Rex’ Warrior, and those darn dresses I had to wrestle into until I shot my own deer and made myself a pair of buckskins. But that’s another story. Ma had given up trying to teach me to quilt, and I was teaching her how to weave hats and scarves with a stick. Gramma taught it to me the last time she came out west to visit us. She said the French called it croshay and spelled it funny.
Ma was already a whiz at knitting, but with both crafts she always pulled the string too tight. Once, making a scarf for Pa, she was trying to croshay in a circle so it’d be twice as thick and warm. She wound up with a tube about four feet long. Turned out, she’d pulled it so snug it was completely airtight and sturdy enough that, when Pa’s carry bucket got a hole in it, he made a wooden cap for one end, rubbed it with pitch, and carried water up from the crick without spilling a drop. It was handy for all kinds of storage. Ma and I made more of them which we stuffed full of veggies and stacked in the root cellar. Ma had me try knitting hats, but the same sort of thing happened so we used them as canning jars.
On this particular afternoon, Pa had been gone about four or five weeks. Ma and I were trying to croshay some sweaters as a surprise for when he got back. It was getting late in the day, the sunshine filtered by trunks of the trees more than the branches, meaning dark time was about forty-five or so minutes away. Ma was in the midst of a complicated stitch, and she was looking at the knot she’d pulled it into to be sure it looked right.
“Little Star,” she said, “It’s comin’ up time to feed the chickens, unless you’re wanting to do it in the dark.”
“No, Ma, I’ll go do it. I can’t see the mice in the dark.”
Since Pa left, mice had taken up residence in the feed shed, gnawing their way past the short planks that corralled the grain bags and tunneling into the sacks. Scooping feed a time or two in the dark, I’d picked up a mouse that didn’t take kindly to being disturbed and took a bite out of my fingers.
“Take your scarf. And make sure the wood box outside the door is filled up, please.”
“Yes Ma’am,” I said. On my way out the door, I picked up my own scarf and slid it into my belt. It was about two and a half foot long, round and stiff as Pa’s, and I used it to play sword fights with imaginary injuns and pirates, smacking it against branches as if they were cutlasses and daggers. Pa and Rex’ Warrior had taken the guns with them since there were no injuns in these parts, but I carried my scarf anyway just in case.
The mice seemed particularly fat that night, their greedy middles about the size of my fist. I scooted them aside, filling a small sack with some grain. In the coop, the chickens were not as settled as I thought they might be this time of the evening. My favorite, the black-and-white rooster I’d named Jim, was especially restless—flapping his wings and strutting around the coop so quick it made me dizzy.
“It’s okay, Jim. Look, I brought your supper. Watch out for mice. I did my best to weed ‘em out.”
The other rooster and the hens converged on the grain I dumped in their bin, but Jim just stopped and watched me. Our dog, Ranger, took off the year before. To a farm, Pa said. Since then, Jim had been as alert as any watchdog. If he was unsettled, something was up.
Wary, I gathered the eggs in the feed sack and latched the door behind me, pulling my scarf from my belt quietly. The light had faded to a deep blue-gray and it was hard to make out all the shapes of windfalls and bushes between the trees.
Until one of them stepped into the clearing.
He was tall, dark haired, and could have used the sweater Ma was making. Dark-skinned, bare chested, buckskin pants. An injun! Pa had promised there were none around but it looked like it had been a lean year for them too. We’d never had trouble with injuns before. Pa traded with them if they passed through, swapping stories, food, ammunition, and beads for quills, skins, and anything interesting they might have. Tonight, though, I saw an injun aiming a rifle at the door of the cabin while two more sneaked off to the root cellar.
The only good thing about the dress I wore was that the color of it matched the twilight. That, plus the way Pa taught me to walk silent in moccasins, helped me sneak back to the feed shed. I hunkered down, my scarf in my hand, shushing the mice and praying Ma wouldn’t come to the door to see what was taking me so long.
I wished Pa hadn’t taken all the guns, wished Ranger hadn’t run off that way, prayed for some kind of idea, absentmindedly sliding my hand into my scarf the way I did sometimes when I played sword. A mouse squeaked. I blinked.
The injuns were fiddling with the root cellar door. Pa had taught me to tie a special knot to keep it shut, and when I tied it with wool yarn it was nearly impossible to undo. They didn’t try to cut the yarn, so I figured they probably didn’t want us to know they were there.
It was almost impossible to see in the shed, so I groped around in the nearest sack of grain and picked up a fat mouse, shoving it face first into the end of my scarf until it got stuck. I rested the scarf on one of the boards, sighting down its length at the Indian covering the cabin door. I held it there a moment, breathing slow the way Pa taught me. I jammed my fist hard as I could into the end of the scarf. *POP* went the mouse out the other end, sailing across the clearing until it smacked into the injun’s face and clung madly, clawing and scrabbling up toward his hairline to reach safety. The injun hollered and dropped his rifle. I already had another mouse down the scarf. It went *POP* and bit the hand of the injun trying to undo the knot. The third injun had drawn his knife and was about to slice the yarn holding the cellar door shut.
Another *POP* and an enormous *BOOM* resounded in the clearing at the same time. The injun yelped, trying to detach an angry rodent from his leg, sheathe his knife, and check on two sudden pepper spots on his hand all at once. His companions dragged him back into the woods as silently and suddenly as they’d come.
Ma’s face appeared at the window and I hoped and prayed it wasn’t another injun who had fired that shot. I stood up, still in the shadows, and watched two men step into the clearing. Another followed. It was Pa! He, Rex’ Warrior, and their hunting posse were dragging the biggest elk I had ever seen. I stepped out of the feed shed still holding my scarf with two feet and a tail wriggling out the end. Pa saw it as I came running up and laughed hard. He gave me a giant bear hug.
“What’d you shoot at ‘em, Pa?”
“Rock salt,” he said. “Works pretty well for a few things.” He gestured at the elk.
“You shot an elk with rock salt?”
“Among other things. Lets go inside and I’ll tell you and Ma about it.”
We walked to the cabin and I told him all about my scarf. The next year, he took me hunting.