Cyril Bankstrom lives alone on the shores of a sparkling Adirondack lake. He is a quiet, humble man who---after great suffering---acquires a rare and mystical gift of sensing God's Oneness in all things. But for the past 40 years the same haunting nightmare has tortured him---his hands are covered with blood; a child is screaming; a white house is burning, and in a large pine tree, a noose hangs in the moonlight.
In the eyes of his one true friend, Eva, Cyril is perfect, and she has grown to love and admire him. He is the opposite of the things she hates about her imprisoned, alcoholic father. Then a stranger appears in the dark woods with the truth of the old man's past.
Cyril and Eva must journey deep in the forest to find the peace or death that awaits them.
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Eva threw open the bedroom door and hauled two bulging suitcases onto her bed. In heavy handfuls she stuffed her clothes into a tall rickety chest of drawers that stood crooked in the corner. Scurrying around the little room, she savored the familiar smells of the little cabin, even though it was a mixture of cool, stale air, moth balls and a hint of propane gas. Her heart was dancing in her chest—she was so happy to be back at camp, but most of all she just couldn’t wait to see him.
The whole summer, she marveled to herself. I can’t believe it! We’re finally here! Eva closed the tight-fitting drawers as quietly as she could, but when she jammed the empty suit cases under the bed, her mother’s voice echoed down the hall.
“Eva, I hope you’re putting your clothes away neatly.”
“Um…Yes Mooom,” Eva called out drearily, accompanied by her standard scowl. “I’m almost done.”
After giving her room an approving nod, Eva flipped her baseball hat off the doorknob and dashed into the kitchen, almost bumping into her mother. Ann took a step back and began fidgeting with an envelope in one hand and a card in the other.
“I’m all done. I’m going down to Cyril’s. Okay?”
While Eva stood tall with an ear-to-ear smile she watched her mother’s questioning frown dissolve away. Eva knew when the rapid blinking started, followed by a nervous smile her mother would give in without questions. And so the blinking began and Eva smiled even wider.
“Alright, you can go,” Ann said peering suspiciously over Eva’s shoulder toward her bedroom. “I know you’re excited, I am too. But remember, when you get back I’ll need your help getting the camp cleaned up and ready—” Ann’s eyes fell to Eva’s Pants. “Eva, haven’t you got a better pair of jeans to wear. Those are so old and full of holes.”
“No, you know these are my favorite. Why does it matter?”
“Oh, I don’t know Eva. It would just be nice to see you in something besides those jeans and that green sweatshirt for once.” Ann let out an exhausted breath and walked toward Eva with her arms held out, “Now, you be careful on your way—”
“Mom, I’m not five years old!” Eva scolded.
Eva avoided the oncoming hug by dashing around the small kitchen table and making a bee line for the front door. Her hands were busy tucking her long red pony tail through the hole in her baseball hat, when her mother yelled, “WAIT! Eva, please sign the card. I need to get it in the mail tomorrow.”
In mid-stride, Eva spun around to face her mother. Her eyes narrowed and her arms crossed tightly to her chest. “I won’t write anything on that stupid card, and I’m not signing it. He doesn’t care about me or anyone else and you know that!”
Eva held her ground scowling at her mothers’ sad expression. Just as Ann lifted the card toward her daughter, Eva adjusted her hat, turned and long-stepped through the tiny living room, across the porch and through the squeaky screen door. On the top step she stood for a moment, thought of her father and then wound up the rickety door and slammed it.
Eva’s new hiking boots hit the ground with a hard thud, clearing all three porch steps at once. She sprinted across the front lawn and halted at the edge of a barely paved, narrow road, her eyes scanning and searching, trying to remember…
“Where is it?” she asked herself impatiently. Eva’s brown eyes squinted as she separated the Adirondack foliage one by one; pine, balsam, maple, birch, and beech. When she spotted a tiny green apple, she smiled in relief. She crossed the road, not losing sight of the gnarled, twisted branches of an old apple tree that formed an archway and entrance into her secret world; a narrow downhill path that lead to the lake and ended at Cyril’s lakeside home.
Eva never shared her love for camp and Cyril with anyone. At school, Eva felt very much alone among her peers, having very little in common with anyone. Early on, she tried to fit in, but most of the time her so-called friends seemed a million miles away. They talked and gossiped non-stop. It drained Eva just being around it, listening to the false nonsense. For as long as she could remember, she loved coming to camp more than anything. Each year that passed, the beauty and peace of the mountains seemed to take her further and further into herself giving her a permanent lone-happiness that nobody could take away. But she often thought why isn’t anyone in this school like me or just a little like me? And she also thought, just as often, why am I so different?
Two thoughts buoyed Eva and always lifted her spirits; first, in a few short years she would be attending Forestry College located in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, where Eva knew for certain she would not be an outcast, and to speed things up she had been taking extra classes throughout high school in order to graduate early.
Cyril was her second saving grace. He never failed to bring a broad smile to her face. She didn’t know why she was so drawn to him; she just knew he was different from any other person she had ever met, and someday, somehow, she was going to live just like him, in the solitude of the mountains, away from the hurt and frustrations of the world.
Eva ducked under her archway and entered the green-shaded summer woods. Stopping for a moment under a great pine tree, she joyfully sniffed in all directions, bringing the much-missed aromas of sun-warmed pine, balsam and cedar deep into her lungs. Even the layers of decaying leaves and moss on the forest floor smelled wonderful. She set off on a cheerful trot, pushing the small branches aside, which, over the past year, had grown into her narrow trail. The pathway was made with Cyril’s help when she was seven years old. It was well used, easy to follow, and just four minutes of fast downhill walking to Cyril’s tiny lakeside cabin.
About half way down, Eva gasped and skidded to a halt, sending small pebbles rustling through the dry leaves. Her right hand found a thin maple branch that kept her upright while the other was frozen in mid-air. While trying to hold her breath, her terror-filled eyes frantically searched in every direction. The barking was echoing so loud it sounded like wolves were surrounding her. Her heart was thumping in her ears and goose bumps were creeping up the back of her neck. And then, with a sigh of relief her grip loosened as she remembered the dogs—the witch’s dogs. But why do they sound so close? She wondered. With wide eyes still scanning, Eva’s neck jerked instantly to the right when an old woman’s piercing yell broke over the howling which quickly turned to faint whimpers and then silence.
Eva’s breathing began to slow when she reminded herself what Cyril and her mother had said about the witch. Cyril simply called her harmless Hazel. Ann called her the lonely bus-lady that kept to herself. But to Eva she had always been ‘that witch’ who lived in a dumpy old bus with a bunch of mean dogs. Eva had seen the bus only one time. When she was five her father had taken her by the hand and marched her, half-dragging, through the woods to show her there was nothing to be afraid of. Crying and hugging her father’s leg, the one-time trip terrified her and left permanent, clear visions of the witches’ hideout—bus number 176 was dirty and faded yellow with patches of green mold running halfway up the sides. The windows were greasy and dark and most were cracked. A few gray branches and a thick layer of brown leaves covered the top. The tires were half in the ground and the bus leaned to one side and seemed stuck between a huge tree and a boulder as wide as the bus.
The silence in the woods continued. As Eva loosened her grip on the maple branch she thought about the last and only time she had seen the witch. Eva shivered remembering her darkened outline on the camp road, slightly bent, wearing layers of shawls that hung like dark rags over her long, dirt-smeared dresses. A knit cap of uncertain color was pulled down to her eyebrows, leaving her black matted hair hanging in clumps about her shoulders. But mostly Eva remembered her sharp nose and the two top teeth that seemed to be the only ones she had.
Eva’s mom would repeatedly say, “Eva, you can’t judge anyone on their looks or where or how they live.” But Eva couldn’t be swayed, and when her mind was made up on something it was set in stone. Eva was sure of one thing—she was very afraid of that witch and never wanted to have a run-in with her or her wolf friends. She tried to calm herself by envisioning the bus door slamming shut and all the dogs sitting upright in their vinyl seats, looking out the cracked windows. The thought gave her brief comfort and a brief smile. As Eva’s eyes wandered through the still woods her terror slowly receded. With one last look toward the bus, Eva bravely raised her chin, scowled a smile and said to herself, Cyril wouldn’t be afraid. She then lunged forward and sped down her path, leaving the maple branch whipping back and forth.
When glimpses of a burgundy-painted roof began to appear through the soft, light green foliage, Eva’s strides lengthened and then stopped abruptly. Smiling, she wiped her brow and pulled her hooded sweatshirt over her head and tied it around her waist as her wide eyes surveyed the tranquil scene, making certain there were no changes. Just beyond a framework of a dozen slender birch trees she was relieved to see all was well. All was the same. Her happy eyes roamed over a little stream with a single-log bridge to the little green ‘camp’ as Cyril called it. It was still surrounded by wildflowers on one side with several ranks of firewood on the other. The weather-washed building sat nestled on a high bluff, its many large windows glistening on the eastern side. The large panes were still without curtains Eva noticed, remembering Cyril once saying, “I like to feel outside even when I’m in.” His home looked smaller this year as Eva took in the camp’s broad, lake-view opening that had no new buildings to break the secluded setting. Eva scanned the sandy shoreline and stopped on Cyril’s very old row boat. Her smile grew even wider remembering all the times Cyril had rowed her up and down the lake in his wooden guide-boat. For a moment she could feel the caned seat beneath her and the boat slipping atop the smooth, silvery water with barely a sound. From the beached-boat her eyes follow a long path of sun-sparkles dancing on the water that connected the boat to the other side of the lake, where on the opposite shore Whiteface Mountain rose massively into three sharp peaks.
Her heart was thumping slow and steady as her eyes darted back and forth from the cabin to the lakeshore, looking for any sign of movement. Just when she thought he wasn’t home, a spring-door creaked open and a tall, thin man took up the entire doorway. But all Eva could see was his big smile.
She dashed down the hill and cleared the log-bridge in one long leap, shouting, “CYRIL!” as she landed. She ran the rest of the way and fell into his open arms. His woolen shirt was soft and held a familiar camp and balsam-smell she loved so much. She held on tight until he slowly pulled away and held her by the shoulders at arm’s length.
“Eva! My goodness. You’re a half a foot taller. I’ve missed you so much! Come in and sit down,” he ushered toward the porch. “Your rocking chair hasn’t moved an inch and has been waiting just for you.”
“That witch’s, I mean Hazel’s dogs—I forgot about them. They really scared me. They sounded so close.”
“I heard them too. They don’t bark very often but I do know she keeps them chained up. As for Hazel, I’ve never seen her fly by my camp on a broom,” Cyril said, looking up at the sky with a quick grin. “I know she’s a bit strange, but I’ve never known her to be mean or harm anyone and she’s been there for many summers, just keeping to herself.”
As they walked back toward the camp, Eva glanced up at Cyril and was relieved to see that he still looked the same. In fact, to Eva, he never seemed to change. His full-head of snow-white hair was always combed and neatly trimmed. He was wearing the same clothes as always—a clean wool shirt buttoned to the top, loose fitting cotton pants and big leather hiking boots that glistened with a fresh coat of polished wax. But then her smile fell briefly when she looked at his hands. “Those scars”, she thought to herself. “I guess they’ll never go away.” She had always wondered how the ugly jagged lines that crisscrossed the back of his thick, strong hands had gotten there. Several summers ago she had asked her father about Cyril’s hands, but he had said in his usual flat tone, “It’s none of your business.”
With a swift, fading smile Eva went up the three small steps and sat stiffly on the edge of her rocking chair. She had something on her mind, and had been practicing just how to say it, and she wanted to get it out of the way as quick as she could. She looked out across the lake and fidgeted with her compass while Cyril whistled and rocked back and forth. When she felt his eyes, Eva glanced quickly at Cyril and said to her feet, “Well, um, you know everything’s different now. My dad’s now where he belongs… and it’s good, because now he can’t hurt anyone anymore, well, at least not until he gets out. But I’m… it doesn’t matter to me anyway.”
Eva felt like a huge weight was lifted from her. Relieved, she erased it from her mind and slumped back in her chair.
Cyril’s chair stopped rocking and he sat forward.
“Eva, I’m so sorry for all that you’ve been through. I can’t even imagine how you must feel.” As his hand reached out for hers, Eva stood up, took a few steps and grabbed the edge of the two by four window frame and stared out over the lake, waiting for his questions but hoping to answer none.
“Cyril! Look!” Eva said pointing. “It’s a bald eagle! Do you think it’s Charlie? I thought you said he was gone. It sure looks like him!”
Cyril shot out of his chair, grabbed the door handle and motioned Eva down the steps. Neither of them said a word as they bounded down the gently sloping hill toward the shoreline. Eva got there first and had to skid to a halt before bumping into the bow of Cyril’s row boat.
“Is it? Do you think?” Eva said excitedly. She stopped watching the bird’s flight and fixed her eyes on Cyril.
“Could very well be Charlie. There aren’t many bald eagles around, but I’ve not seen him since last summer—that’ odd,” Cyril said rubbing his chin. “Maybe, Eva, he’s welcoming you back. I think nature knows and understands more than we give them credit. Their minds are open and receptive, not all cluttered like our busy brains,” he said, smiling down at her.
They watched the dark bird take three powerful strokes against the blue sky and then glide for hundreds of feet, leaning and tilting, its white head sparkling in the full sun. The eagle suddenly careened toward them, and while holding its sharp left tilt, it circled downward toward the water like it was spinning down an invisible spiral staircase.
“Watch this!” Cyril said, inching closer to the water.
Eva thought Charlie was going to land in the water but at the last second it dipped its talons into the lake and magically pulled a fish from the shiny surface. The eagle reared up, flapping powerfully and flew directly across the lake toward a towering pine tree.
“Wow!” Eva said. “He caught a fish and look at the size of it! How can it carry something that big?”
“Eagles are powerful birds. Faraway they don’t look that big, but their wingspan can be six feet or more. Well, my dear Eva, lunch is served. Charlie’s all set! Are you hungry?”
“No,” Eva replied, shaking her head and turning away from the lake. “We ate in the car, just before we got here. I had one of Mom’s most-excellent egg salad sandwiches—yuck! Yellow paste smeared between two pieces of wheat bark! She says the wheat is good for my colon. I don’t care about my colon! I like white bread, but she’s a nurse and as she always says, ‘you don’t’ know what I’ve seen.’ Honestly, I don’t ever want to know what she’s seen!”
Cyril laughed but Eva frowned and shook her head thinking of her mother.
“Well,” Cyril began through a few chuckles, “I don’t know about your mom’s sandwiches but she makes the best dinners I’ve ever tasted.”
Eva thought hard of something else to say—anything to keep her father out of anymore conversations. “I was hoping we could go on your hike today. Do you still take your long hike?”
“Yes we can. And yes, I still take my walk everyday or almost every day. It keeps me in good shape; I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
“Do you still do it in the rain and snow and sometimes at night when the moon is out? That’s really spooky. Don’t you ever get scared?”
“I only go at night when the moon is full or near-full, and only with snow on the ground. The woods are quite bright and so beautiful and peaceful, but no, I’m not afraid of being alone in the woods—remember what I told you about being alone?”
“I remember what you said but I don’t like being alone in the dark. It’s just scary. But I’d go with you. I wouldn’t be afraid then.”
“Well, I haven’t done my walk today—I saved it just in case you wanted to go. I’ll get my pack basket and we can stop and tell your mom on the—”
Cyril’s front door flew open and a strange little man Eva had never seen before stood teetering in the doorway, glaring blankly ahead. He seemed even smaller in his rumpled oversized clothes that made his feet and hands disappear. Greasy clumps of spiky black hair rose from his head—more on one side than the other, and just above his huge, stained eyeglasses, swirling tufts created one long eyebrow. Eva thought he was going to fall when his legs suddenly bowed and locked against the door frame.
“Good afternoon, Datus. I hope you slept well,” Cyril said in a booming, pleasant voice which echoed off the camp and back down to the lake. Datus scratched his left butt-cheek and grumbled something about the bright sun before turning to go back inside.
“Just a minute, Datus! I would like you to meet Eva,” Cyril added quickly, just before the door snapped shut.
Datus turned sharply and then slowly grabbed his head. “Shit!” he mumbled. When he raised his other hand his elbow banged off the door casing. “Dammit!” he said louder. Wavering, he squinted back in their direction. “Oh, hi-ya there. Ahhh…Cyril talks a lotta ya,” Datus said gruffly. He pulled his long shirt tails up and peered down at them. He then bent over and looked at his dragging pant cuffs. “CYRIL!!! WHAR IN THE HELL ARE ME CLOTHES!!… AND WHY AM I WEARIN’ YOURS!!?”
Staring at the furious little man, Eva sidestepped toward Cyril until her shoulder bumped into his arm. Cyril patted her shoulder and looked down into her wide, questioning eyes. His familiar smile that she loved so much told her that everything was okay. When she was a little girl she told her mom that Cyril had magic blue eyes that sparkled whenever he looked at her, but only her and no one else.
“Of course, I’m only guessing Datus, but I think your clothes are on your dock or somewhere near your camp,” Cyril offered. “You’re wearing mine because you arrived here around two a.m. very wet, and…well, quite naked. Not a stitch of clothing, not even your wedding band.”
Datus looked out at the lake while rubbing his ring-less finger. Red, blotchy color started creeping up his neck and flushed his entire face. His mouth twisted up and he yelled down from the porch in a broken, gruff voice, “Might drown dammit!! You know that Cyril! It’s all gotta come off, everthin’, or I don’t float right!”
Datus rubbed his globe-like stomach while beadily staring down at Cyril. As the scarlet glow was draining from his face and returning to its usual shade of pasty white, Datus mumbled in just above a whisper, “I’m…I’m sorry. I…I don’t member las’…I’ll git ta home an brin yer stuff back tomorah. I gotta go.”
Datus took off his glasses and wiped them vigorously on his shirt sleeve. Holding them at arm’s length, he squinted through them, shaking his head and grimacing.
“I tried to clean those last night,” Cyril shouted. “But that dark spot would not come off.”
“Seagull s-s-shit,” Datus stammered. “Got bombed while sleepin’ on the dock…yesterday, or…” Datus scratched through his unruly hair and frowned. “…Think it was yesterday…what the hell day is it?!”
“Tuesday,” Cyril reminded.
Sunlight glinted and sparkled off his trembling spectacles as Datus stared down at them. “Stupid friggin bird!! Musta eaten some kinda purple glue. Won’t budge, tried everthin’…’cept kerosene!”
Shakily clearing his throat, Cyril said, “Flossie was here very early this morning. She was a bit frantic of course, but quite relieved that you were here.”
Datus took a deep, labored breath and looked as though he was shrinking into the ground. While fuming through an array of colorful words, he crammed his dirty glasses back on his face.
“I bes git ta home. The sooner the screamin’ gits done, the better,” Datus said wearily.
As Datus clomped down the stairs with his chin bouncing somberly off his chest he put his back to the cabin and gingerly swayed toward home, shoeless and cursing.
Confused, Eva looked at Cyril and mouthed the word, “Screaming?”
Cyril grinned at Eva, but before he could say anything, Datus stopped and leaned heavily on a large paper birch tree. He half turned around and yelled directly at the white bark of the tree, “Don’ worry, Cyril! I’ll brin’ ol’ Floss inside so’s the whole lake don’t have to lissin to her yellin’!”
Datus took three or four more steps and vanished behind a stand of springy young pine trees.
Before Eva could say anything, Cyril said, “Well, you’ve met Datus. He’s a lot nicer when he…ah…feels better. He and his wife Flossie have been at the lake now since last fall. They bought that little red A-frame, just around the first point. They’re pretty quiet except when Flossie reprimands Datus about one thing or another…why, on a still day, her voice carries clear across the lake.”
Eva looked up at Cyril quickly, then crossed her arms and glared at the spot where Datus tottered through the pines.
“He drinks all the time, doesn’t he? I can tell!” Eva said sharply. “He didn’t remember anything about last night!”
“Yes, Datus does drink often and I think you’re right about him not remembering anything about last night.”
“Why did you let him stay with you? It’s his own fault about last night. Why didn’t you just send him home?”
Eva was still glaring when Cyril stepped in front of her. “I believe I made a good decision last night—that he stayed with me. He had been through enough and was freezing.” Cyril paused for a long moment and then continued while Eva stared at the ground with furrowed eye brows. “Eva, I think I know why you’re so angry, but Datus has never hurt anyone and is not allowed to drive a car, so, in that way, he’s not really a danger to others.”
Eva, looking a little sheepish, had a more important question on her mind and in a nicer tone she asked, “Will he…will he be around a lot this summer?”
“No. I usually don’t see much of Datus, but he does occasionally borrow things from me.” Cyril leaned in toward Eva and shot her a mischievous grin. “However, I often see his stomach sticking out of the water on warm summer days. That Datus! He’s a character all right. Loves to float on his back. I don’t understand it—he hardly moves his hands and feet, but somehow manages that position for hours. I think that belly of his has helium in it.”
Eva forced a smile. Her anger subsided a little when she learned Datus would not be around much. She didn’t like the idea of sharing Cyril with anyone. She wasn’t used to it and she silently wondered if there would be ‘others’.
“Can we still go on your walk? Do you think we have enough time?” Eva asked, starting to walk back to the cabin.
“Oh yes. Plenty of time,” Cyril replied, following behind her. “I just need a few things inside and we can be on our way.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews