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       Bed Rock, p.3

           Bernard Fancher
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long walk he’d promised Boozer earlier.

  The dog looked up, extending its ears straight up at the mention of the creek. As Boozer stood nose to the door, Elgin came up behind and together they went out, old man and old dog walking together across the green back yard into the high weeds of old hayfields that served now in the unproductive life of the farm as a mere fallow buffer between the house and back woods.

  They cut down the hill between the front side of the ravine and the back side of a patch of evergreens secluding them, keeping them from view of the neighbors who were having the well drilled. The drillers had gone for the day, allowing Elgin and the dog free reign to look at the stilled rig and check out the progress. The dog sniffed at a puddle of clay oozed from the well head, deciding to pee on it before moving on, leading the way across the wet bottom of the ravine into the dry rising advent of trees.

  At the far side of the golden woods they descended through a cane brake until, emerging once more into a barren field, they converged on the dead end of an old single-lane asphalt road that led straight to the cemetery where Elgin’s parents and brother lay resting, awaiting resurrection. He went in past the wrought iron fence and rested awhile too, standing to look at their graves while the dog wriggled upside down, scratching its back on the grass. Returning to the front and oldest part of the cemetery, he sat with the dog before a four-sided granite spire, touching with his fingertips as he contemplatively read the seraph script incised in the lichen-splotched stone:

  Our Only Boy

  Drowned in Wiscoy Creek

  May 27, 1887

  Aged 12 Yrs. 3 Ms. 28 Dys.

  Perhaps it was foreordained that he would continue straight from there, following the dog down the remnant of the original macadam road, until it merged with the rounding curve of another more recently made but only slightly less narrow road. Continuing on a straight path, he headed for and then past the Baptist Church, passing below its truncated, steeple-deprived bell tower; crossing the intersection with the road that could have taken them home, they continued straight on the gentle decline of a short avenue leading into the downtown of the old milling community, a once-vibrant center of commerce barely surviving as a backwater hamlet since being nearly entirely washed out in the great flood of 1902. He turned for the modern concrete and steel bridge, still missing in his memory, all these years later, the view of the old bridge with its elevated lattice of black girders.

  He passed the front of the vacant hotel. The upper of its shallow double front porches sagged in the center, drooping so much it seemed ready to fail. He wouldn’t have been surprised to see it come down at that moment, and listened as he continued by, half expecting to hear the starting shivering creak as it commenced to fall and implode behind him. He crossed another small road and walked the shoulder of the main road to the bridge, following the lead of the dog as it trotted happily along the upstream edge of the elevated road. The dog continued trotting imperviously ahead as Elgin stopped and stood midway above the creek and looked, leaning, hands gripping the lightly galvanized guardrail, across the first nearly inconsequential falls and over the second, gazing towards the more majestic display of falling water and rising mist farther back. Through a slit in the trees higher still he could see yet another, very narrow, vertical flow falling off the top of the otherwise hidden dam. It seemed such a long way to climb. And yet once upon a time he had thought it no challenge.

  He doubted himself now, doubted he could make it going up the steep rock face of the falls as he had done without thinking as a young man. But all things changed and you either changed too or ceased existing. The hamlet around him had survived a great upheaval. So peaceful now, the creek here had once thrummed with activity. The only mill left, what was left, stood directly to his right, an age-darkened wood structure standing high and narrow and slowly imploding on a still firm foundation of close-fitting blocks of white limestone.

  Recently someone had taken to throwing up stones, breaking many of the narrow twelve over twelve light windows fronting the old mill. But the multiple falls, rising one behind the other in stately progression, remained impervious as ever. Elgin felt secure in believing at least that would never change, or if it did, the erosion would progress so slowly and imperceptibly over time as not to matter.

  He turned away, feeling a sudden simultaneous twinge in his hurt ankle and opposite hip, causing him to rely on his cane more than usual. But the reminder that he no longer remained the young man he still felt residing within his aging body only made him more determined than before to press on.

  He left the bridge and turned up the last road he’d crossed. Following along the shoulder nearest the creek, he passed a dirt trail that led under evergreen branches to the electric power station, a brick building fronted by steel-framed square windows. He couldn’t see in because the glass had glazed over with time and neglect, taking on a blue-green opaqueness. But his eyes were still good; even at a distance of what must have been fifty yards he could make out the black number 7 painted on a white oval, centered above the station’s steel entry doors. The wiring to the old transformers set just behind the power building had long ago been cut off and rerouted up the bank to a new and bigger substation. More recently even that newer wiring had fallen into obsolescence and disuse. A long flight of wood steps led up towards a point of near convergence, stopping just short of and beneath the place where the power station wiring now hung in loose, disconnected curls. For a second or two Elgin paused, tempted to climb the stairs just to prove he could still do it, but finally declined the challenge, continuing along the easier course going up Mill Street.

  Though only the empty shell of one mill remained, at one time there had been nearly a fully functioning dozen or more, of all manner and size. Elgin possessed an old picture, passed down from his father, showing long buildings crowded together along both banks. In the same picture, a horse-drawn wagon bringing grain to be ground or logs to be sawn passed the very place on the road Elgin now trod. His father could just remember the end of those days, ushered out by the flood of ought two and the advent of rural electrification.

  At the entryway to the modern substation smooth pavement transitioned to chipped stone. Ignoring a No Trespassing sign, evading a padlocked chain crossing his path, disdaining even to acknowledge the warning buzzing of power contained behind the chain-linked and barbed-wire topped fence, Elgin continued undeterred. He passed the substation and left it behind. As the ground began to rise, so did the old wooden flume, arcing out of the earth on its long ascent towards the dam. At first it lay near to earth, but as it continued it lifted parallel with the ground, supported on either thick timbered or concrete collars. In places the concrete, degraded over time, had fallen away and left the stark forms of rebar exposed. But the time when that might have mattered had passed, for the supports no longer held the weight of water rushing to waiting turbines. And so all the encircling clamp rings that once had strained to contain the sluice of swollen lumber hung slack now, bellying beneath the dried and desiccated wood. At an earlier and perhaps more credulous age, Elgin had put an ear to the flume and listened to the internal flowing water, remembering it now as something sounding at once both near and far, like a stream heard through a well casing passing at an indeterminable distance underground.

  He removed his boots sitting on a rock ledge below the highest falls. He fell trying to cross the stream below the swimming hole where the rock bed of the creek channeled the flow. The dog had gone ahead, crossing easily, canting itself slightly against the current, giving Elgin the thought he could cross too by leaning a little into the flow of the water as it pressed against the left side of his legs. Bracing against the current, steadying with the benefit of the cane, he shuffled forward. His feet felt secure, his steps almost sure, on the unbroken rock surface which formed a solid permanence below the ever-changing water. Midstream, perhaps overconfident of safe transit, he began to daydream. He imagined himself already across, lying upon the large flat roc
k, resting comfortably and nearly asleep. He indulged a fleeting memory from days past, desiring to feel once again the retained heat of the midsummer sun radiating out from the slab, into his body. And so he pushed determinedly on, motivated by the reassuring permanence he divined in the bed rock, a piece of the past unaltered by time and innumerable floods, set in place as if for ever on the far side of the creek.

  But three-quarters across, the tip of the cane slipped and the forward impetus of his upper body tumbled him to the water. For a least moment he thrashed impotently, reaching with both hands upstream in a last futile attempt to grasp and cling onto something solid. But all he could find to hold onto was the continually smoothing water which continued to carry him, even as he reached impotently backwards, over the falls.

  He fell free, momentarily weightless with the water, before the combined force of his body and the stream’s relentless, redirected flow met the flat rock creek-bed below. He felt the sliding impact upon the entire right side of his body. For a second he rested, slumped on his left side, as the current, spreading and
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