Vol. 2 - Part 4
“Take a left at the fork ahead,” said Eaton.
Zev did as Eaton instructed.
“When we reach the orchards, we’ll be nearly there,” added Eaton.
They had left the lakeside cabin an hour or so earlier. Yet, Zev still couldn’t believe Eaton had asked him to drive. Even as he felt his hands on the steering wheel and his feet on the pedals. With Miki and Kolina peacefully resting in the backseat and Eaton calmly navigating from the passenger seat, Zev felt he was the only one surprised by the situation.
He drove on through a tunnel of tall leafy trees arching overhead. It followed winding mountain roads up and down slopes. They passed the orchards Eaton had mentioned, followed by a patch of forest, before the trees broke open to a farmer’s field.
Zev slowed the truck, for the road ended in a turn-around. The sun danced around the clouds, but humans were limited by the fences and trees and could go no farther.
Eaton opened his eyes and peered through the bright sunlight. “Ah,” he said, a small smile blossoming on his silver-lined beige face. “It’s just over there.” He pointed to what looked like a solid wall of trees.
Zev wasn’t sure if Eaton was serious.
“Trust me,” said Eaton. “I always take this route when I come here.”
Over breakfast that morning, Eaton had mentioned how it had been years since he had been to the place they were headed. Zev chose not to bring this up. Instead, drove slowly towards the point Eaton had indicated.
“Just there,” said Eaton. As they drove closer, a narrow tote road had become visible.
Zev continued to drive, and braced as the truck entered the forest. But the truck took to the track well. The tall grasses moved around them, or folded under the truck’s tires. At the top of the hill, they reached an intersection with a gravel road, which in comparison seemed like a highly modern thoroughfare. Eaton directed him to the right.
After a short drive, a house came into view on their right. “Here we are,” said Eaton. The driveway ran parallel to the road, with the house and lawn on the slope below. Zev parked the truck at the end of the drive, in front of a garage.
“Thank you, Zev,” said Eaton, as the quartet made their way out of the truck.
“Ro-rowl,” said Miki, looking up at Eaton with black eyes full of canine curiosity. He sniffed the grass near the driveway, then wagged his tail, clearly eager to explore.
“Wait, boy,” said Eaton. He strode to the front porch and unlocked it. “Let’s bring our things inside first.”
As he brought his stuff from the truck to the house, Zev couldn’t help but notice how clean the air smelled. He was also struck by how green the natural surroundings were. The house was encircled by lawn, with taller shrubs and trees beyond. A variety of scents wafted from the back of the house, evoking images of bright flowers and crisp apples. He understood Miki’s impatience.
They entered into a living room, which had an inviting and warm ambiance. A dining area and kitchen were towards the back. More doors were to the right, as well as a set of stairs that went up to the second floor. Miki was already waiting in front of the dining room’s large sliding doors. A patch of colour was visible beyond the windows.
“Ro-rowl,” said Miki.
Eaton joined Miki at the door. “You can’t just go and eat barrels of silver fruit, you know. Remember your stomach ache last time?”
“Ro-rowl,” said Miki.
“Yes, alright.” Eaton opened the door. Miki darted away. Eaton turned to the twins. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”
Even with the preview of scent and colour, Zev was unprepared for the scene he found outside. Flowers in every colour bordered the lawn, with vegetable stalks and vines behind. Zev glimpsed fruit trees farther down the slope.
Eaton led them along the garden paths. Despite knowing the overall layout, Eaton was still surprised by certain plants or trees. “Oh, she planted that here,” he would say. Or “Yeah, having that down here was a good change.”
When they arrived at the bottom of the garden, it was to the welcoming sounds of a gently moving river. A boathouse stood sentinel on the banks. Miki emerged from a grove of fruit trees and trotted over to greet them.
“So, Miki,” said Eaton, “you’re not full of silver berries, then?” Miki stopped walking and stood facing away from the group. “If your fur isn’t all covered in silver and leaves, then we can go on the river.”
“Ro-rowl,” said Miki, defiantly. But, having turned towards them, he revealed that Eaton’s prediction was correct: his short grey fur was coated in tiny blue-green leaves and what looked like silvery-blue sugar crystals.
Eaton sighed. “You’ll get sick on the boat if you go now. You have to rest.”
“Ro-rowl,” said Miki, then went forlornly along the main trail towards the house.
“You two can feel free to explore,” said Eaton. “Use whatever you like.”
“Are you sure?” said Zev. The grounds were expansive. Their options felt unlimited.
“Yes, completely. After all, I spent hours here exploring as a kid.” He looked up at the garden, pride in his face. A tinge of sadness in his dark blue eyes. “But now I have to rest. I’ll be inside.”
Kolina and Zev explored the garden on their own.
Kolina gasped as they came upon a patch of tiny purple flowers. She studied them intently with her vivid blue eyes, carefully inspecting the stem and leaves. “Yes, these could really help Eaton,” she said. "And this." She held a pale pink flower in her hand. “This one would be wonderful for tea.” And, in the next row: “Wow, this place is really something,” she said, smiling.
“Yeah,” agreed Zev. His identical vivid blue eyes were filled with the image of the river flowing far below. He was curious where it led.
Kolina followed his gaze.
“Do you mind if I take a look by the water?” he asked her. “Maybe see what the boat’s like?”
“No,” said Kolina, with a knowing smile. “Enjoy.”
The boathouse towered over Zev as he stood beside it. It rose two stories up, but the angles of the roof made it feel even grander. The entire wooden structure was carved with intricate designs. Upon trying the door, he found it locked. Out of habit, he went to the spot where keys were hidden on trade buildings. To his surprise, he found a set of keys. They fit the door perfectly. He went inside, a bit stunned at his luck.
Within the boathouse, the carvings continued and seemed even more elegant, having been sheltered from the elements. Canoes, kayaks, paddles, and other equipment were secured on racks surrounding a boat floating in the centre. Eaton had said to use whatever they’d like.
Zev found the boat easy to operate as he moved out onto the river. Even with his boating experience, he found the boat particularly intuitive. The arching trees overhead reminded him of the mountain roads as he made his way along the water.
Within a short boat ride, the left shore opened to a stone town that hugged the slope. Zev found the public dock and pulled up. He secured the boat and then headed towards the main street. A few others were at the docks and nodded in his direction as he went by.
Shops lined the main street all the way to the tree line. While Zev looked forward to exploring them all, he knew he only had time for a few. He didn’t want to be gone long with the boat. Upon spotting an apothecary, he ventured in that direction.
“Welcome,” said the apothecary owner, as Zev entered. A tiny dog was curled in a pet bed beside the counter.
Zev loved the aroma that filled the shop. He tried to memorize everything so he could tell Kolina. He knew some of the herbs and books for sale would be very useful to her. For the moment, however, his gaze was drawn to the bags of chestnuts, Kolina’s favourite.
“Those are grown in a valley close to here,” said the owner. “A very unique flavour.”
He bought a bag, petted the friendly dog, and thanked the owner.
As he made his way down the main street, he felt right at home. During his months in the trade, he had travelled a fair bit. But so far he had not found a town that had made him feel so comfortable. Even the stonework on the buildings’ facades was a warm tone.
Zev returned to the boat and found everything as he had left it. He stowed Kolina’s gift in a compartment to keep it away from any water spray. As he was closing the compartment, he felt he was being watched.
He looked up to see two police officers standing on the dock beside the boat.
“Can I help you?” asked Zev, trying to keep his voice steady.
“Just looking around,” said one officer, stepping onto the boat. They strode by Zev and opened the compartment containing Kolina’s gift. Closing it a moment later, the officer left to examine the back of the boat.
“Is this your boat?” asked the other officer, still on the dock.
“No,” replied Zev. “But I have permission to use it,” he added.
“Oh?” said the officer on the boat. “Can we see your ID?”
Zev got out his wallet. The officer took it from him a second later. With a small device, he started to scan a few of Zev’s cards.
The other officer stepped onto the boat and began to ask Zev questions more intensely than before. Zev tried to remain calm, but it was difficult. The officers were stressing him out and their attention on him had made others in the dock area begin glancing in their direction. Every so often, the officers would exchange sentences in a mountain language, which did little to help Zev’s nerves.
“And who said you could use the boat?” asked one officer.
“Eaton, my recruiter,” said Zev.
“Eaton?” the officer replied. And more mountain language exchanges followed.
“We’re going to need to bring you to the station,” the officers concluded.
As much as Zev wanted to refuse, he didn’t have the energy. And, moreover, he knew it would be ineffective and only make things worse. The officers led him off the docks and into a waiting car.
Once at the police station, Zev was immersed in only mountain language. He learned little of what was going on before he was led down a hallway and into a cell. When he was alone, he swore under his breath and folded onto one of the concrete benches, exhausted. He regretted taking out the boat, especially into the town. But he had been drawn in by the opportunity to explore.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps approaching. He felt his stomach clench. It wasn’t an officer who appeared, as Zev had feared, but one of the staff. Zev recognized them from the main room, where they’d been making coffee. They stopped in front of the cell door. In their hands was a tray, which they placed on a shelf near a tiny horizontal gap in the bars. The scent of food wafted over to Zev from the tray and his stomach grumbled in response.
“You should eat it now, when it’s warm,” said the staff member.
“Fish soup’s not my thing,” replied Zev.
“Good, because this is vegetable soup,” they said. “Well, I make it with meat, but the officers-” they were interrupted by a distant voice calling out. They sighed. “The bread is soft.” Then they left.
Alone, Zev tried to distract himself from the scent of food. But it was useless. He took the tray and sat down, studying the soup’s appearance. It looked normal. He lifted the bowl to his lips and took a small sip. He could tell it had been watered down from its original form, but it was better than he had expected. And much better than the infamous soups crafted by the police on the coast. The bread even turned out to be soft, like the staff member had said. Zev ate everything.
Once his stomach had something in it, his mind spun faster through all his regrets. He tried to distract himself watching the scene visible through the narrow window. The station was situated on a hill; downhill a group of trees were dancing in the breeze.
Zev faded into a restless sleep, with his stomach clenching and waking him at the tiniest sounds.
Then, he heard footsteps and a lively mountain language discussion. He opened his eyes as an older officer strode into view, their uniform indicating their senior rank. Eaton followed after.
Eaton looked at the officer and sighed. “You said my boat was stolen, but-”
“Yes,” interrupted the officer. “That’s why we are here. He stole your boat.”
“Zev had my permission,” said Eaton. “Can he go?”
“Eaton, I only want what is best for you,” said the officer, in an attempt at a consoling tone. “And your late aunt – may the mountains forever shelter her.”
Eaton took a deep breath. “That’s very kind. But isn’t there something for me to sign, to release Zev?” Eaton motioned to the digital tablet the officer held in one hand.
The officer lifted the tablet and tapped its screen awake. “You can sign,” they said, “but aren’t you tired? Didn’t you move back here to rest?”
“I was resting before you called me,” replied Eaton.
“Precisely,” said the officer, with a nod. They turned the screen toward Eaton. Zev could only see a faint outline, but he knew what was on it. The square in the top left corner held his photograph, and the blurbs of text beneath were a list of dates and details of his arrests.
Eaton studied the screen, but Zev studied Eaton’s expression; a brief look of surprise faded into unreadable territory. Eaton glanced over at him, but Zev couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Zev grew more worried.
“Don’t you see?” said the officer.
“And the form I sign, where is that?” asked Eaton.
The officer replied in mountain language mutterings. Yet, when they next turned the screen to Eaton, there was a form on it.
As Zev and Eaton left the police station, Zev had to keep reminding himself to breathe. He tried not to show how much he was shaking inside as they made their way through town. Then he put all his attention into guiding the boat out of the public dock area, which helped him ignore the curious stares from onlookers.
When the boat was back in its boathouse and Zev and Eaton were heading through the garden, Zev was ready to speak. “Eaton?” he said.
“Yeah?” said Eaton, turning toward him.
“If you want to rest, maybe having just one recruit would be easier?” he said. “Kolina knows a lot of helpful things, she’s good with Miki, and-” emotion constricted his voice.
“Zev, you and Kolina are welcome to stay here as long as you want,” said Eaton, his eyes kind. “I know there is more to you than what's on that list. And, as for the Canby area arrests, I know what it’s like there for a new trade recruit.”
“But I can’t promise I won’t mess up again,” said Zev. He looked down. He didn’t want Eaton to see his eyes filling up or him blinking away the tears.
“Is anyone asking you to make that promise?”
“No,” said Zev.
“And do you think I’m perfect?” asked Eaton.
“No,” said Zev, looking up at Eaton.
“Good,” said Eaton. “Because if you did, I’d just disappoint you.” He sighed. “My regrets are as real as yours or anyone else’s.” Eaton glanced up at the garden and the house. “Even this place isn’t all happy memories.” He looked back at Zev. “But we’ve all got something we can offer, something worthwhile. And, well, that’s something,” said Eaton, shrugging.
They made their way up the garden path towards the house.
When they got within view of the house, a “ro-rowl,” came from Miki on the porch, curled on a braided rug. The dog looked too contented to move. Eaton sat on a chair beside Miki. Through the sliding doors, Kolina was visible working on a tea project.
Zev stepped inside and Kolina turned towards him. She smiled. Then studied his expression and frowned. “Did something happen?” she asked.
Zev told her about his time in town. She listened and then hugged him.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I’m just glad you’re okay.” Kolina blinked fast.
Zev took the bag of chestnuts from his pocket and handed them to her.
Kolina’s eyes went wide. “I love them! But weren’t they expensive?”
“They were a good price. I just wanted to get something special for you.”
“Well, thank you,” she said. “Do you want to see what I made?”
She showed him what she had created with some of the herbs he had seen in the garden earlier. Then they moved into the living room to keep chatting. He told her what he could remember from the apothecary. Her face lit up as he mentioned certain herb names.
“That place sounds amazing,” said Kolina. “Nice find.”
Then a “ro-rowl” came from the dining room. The twins got up and saw Miki waiting on the other side of the screen door.
“Hey, Miki,” said Zev, opening the door. But Miki remained on the porch. He walked towards Eaton. The twins followed.
Eaton was covered in silver and looked like he was asleep.
“Ro-rowl,” said Miki, but Eaton made no response.
“Eaton?” said Zev, also with no reply.
Miki tried to get closer, but Kolina held him back. Zev moved closer, listened for Eaton’s breathing; it was there, uneven, but there.
The twins moved Eaton into the living room and onto the couch. Kolina then tended to Miki and Zev returned to the porch to gather Eaton’s things. When Zev picked up Eaton’s phone, the screen awoke. Eaton had finished a call not long before Miki alerted the twins. The caller ID said “Fern”. He placed everything on the counter inside and locked the outside door. Then he and Kolina focused on how to help Eaton.
Comments are closed.