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The Otter King, Chapter 1, Part 1. #8130819
04/30/24 08:01 AM
04/30/24 08:01 AM
Joined: Apr 2024
Posts: 47
Connecticut
J
Johnny Skunk Offline OP
trapper
Johnny Skunk  Offline OP
trapper
J

Joined: Apr 2024
Posts: 47
Connecticut
An Excerpt from "The Otter King," a novel by JMF Humphrey aka Johnny Skunk

Chapter 1. The Trading Post

The trading post was set near the bank of the Au Sable River in a snowy clearing surrounded by evergreens. Greenwood smoke rose from its chimney, trailing lazily to the south. A pair of snowshoes hung from the wall outside along with an assortment of steel traps, and a flock of scraggly chickens stepped and scratched about the dirty white ground where someone had cast a handful of grain. A sway backed gray mare stood at a hitching post attached to a cart, waving its tail lethargically. Hanging loosely over the cart was a patched wagon canvas frozen rigid with snow and ice. Two blue-gray feet jutted stiff and dead from beneath the covering. The horse was staring curiously at a birch-bark canoe approaching from downriver.

Inside the cabin, three men stood around a wood stove passing around a flask and awaiting the newcomer’s arrival. They had just drawn lots, and no one envied the man holding the short straw.

“Alright, I’ll do it,” said Big Frank. He was a brawny, heavily bearded man who had grown soft through the years, both in frame and disposition. “But we got to plan this right. Jake ain’t a kid no more. He may be thin as a rail, but he’s cast from an iron bar, and mean as a stuck boar. Not too surprising, considering what happened to him. And there’s savage blood in his veins along with all that Irish. I’ve seen the man’s short fuse. Y’all saw how he laid into those forester boys when ol’ Slim kicked his red hound. Trust me on this, fellas. You don’t want to rile him up.”

“He used to t-teach school. He can’t be that b-bad,” said Percy. He was a wall-eyed, mousy man who was always working his jaw but never seemed to say anything memorable. Aside from his trademark beaver-felt top hat, his gypsy mother, and the frozen human cargo in his cart outside, Percy Smith was about as interesting as his last name.

Frank took a long swallow from the flask and passed it to the third man, who was the owner of the trading post. This was Bill, but folks called him Captain Woody. Cappy, for short. Captain Woody was at one time a wild and callow fellow, but he had aged kindly since those days and was now widely sought for his calm advice and counsel. Cappy sported a thick walrus moustache, and still wore his old Union hat from the war.

“That’s right,” Cappy said, “Jake taught the little ‘uns to read and write up until two springs ago. He let the injun kids sit right alongside our white ones. But something went wrong with him that night his squaw died. I ain’t proud to say it, but I was the first to see him again after all that mess. Hardly recognized him. Looked like some kind of forest wild-man, all bearded up and soiled as a hog. He came in with the biggest load of furs I’d ever bought from anyone. Counts each one, he does. Keeps a running tally on a piece of deer hide.”

“Counts each what, each p-pelt?” said Percy.

“It’s not so much the fur he counts, strange enough. It’s more like he’s countin’ the heads. He’s got the local injuns all riled up with all his killing. The Chippewa around here think the forest is some kind of deity. Mother Earth, they call it. They say she protects the animals, and the river’s like her blood, providin’ nourishment to the woods and wildlife and what-not. Jake blames that river for the death of his family. Thinks he’s getting back at the Mother Earth by killing all her critters. It’s like takin’ scalps with him. He don’t do it for money. But he sure hates that river. Won’t drink from it, won’t bathe in it.”

“He d-don’t take baths? Why, that’s c-crazy. I won’t go two weeks without takin a good bath,” said Percy.

“I didn’t say he don’t take baths,” said Cappy, “I said he don’t bathe in the river. Won’t touch it. Jake carries rainwater in jugs. I collect it off the roof for him. He drinks from it, and he washes with it—when he does wash—and when the jugs run out he melts snow. Sounds bat-crazy, don’t it? It’s the oddest goddamn thing I’ve ever seen, that man’s hate for the river.

“Hates a river? That’s c-c-crazy,” said Percy.

“Why don’t you go ahead and call him c-c-crazy to his face when he gets here, Percy,” Frank barked.

“I-I don’t care if he’s c-crazy or where he gets his water. I-I just wanna know if he’s seen the G-Ghost,” said Percy. “If anyone’s gonna catch the Ghost, I put m-my money on Jake. He’s the best trapper in these parts.”

“Yeah, we’ve all heard it Percy,” Frank said. “Jake’s the best woodsman. Jake thinks like the animals. Jake runs the best trapline. Jake f----ing this, and Jake f----ing that. And he does it all without laying steel. That half-breed upstart cashes in on one fine season, and everyone treats him like royalty. Now we’ve got trappers for miles around callin’ him the g-dd-mn King of the Otters. I promise you one thing Percy, Jake ain’t seen the Ghost. He’s looking in the wrong d-mn place.”

Frank took a long swallow from the flask and passed it on to Cappy.

“Some say the G-Ghost’s pelt’s worth a thousand d-dollers. Ain’t that right Cappy?” said Percy.

“Ain’t no pelt worth a thousand dollars,” Captain Woody said. “Least not for the fur. But no one’s ever seen nor heard of a critter like this Ghost Otter. There’s no tellin’ how high the big fur handlers in New York would go for the whole animal. Braggin’ rights alone are worth something. They’d probably make a fortune charging admission just to look at it.”

“Jake runs his trapline downriver. He won’t find the Ghost there,” Big Frank insisted with finality. Percy and the Captain nodded in agreement, but everyone’s mind was still on the Ghost Otter, and each secretly longed to be the one to capture it.

BREAK

Last edited by Johnny Skunk; 05/10/24 07:34 PM. Reason: typo
Re: The Otter King, A Novel [Re: Johnny Skunk] #8131553
05/01/24 02:21 PM
05/01/24 02:21 PM
Joined: Jun 2010
Posts: 3,322
Ontario, Canada
S
slydogx Offline
trapper
slydogx  Offline
trapper
S

Joined: Jun 2010
Posts: 3,322
Ontario, Canada
Very good read, interesting cast of characters and engaging plot.

Is this something you have already written, or is it a work in progress?


Just happy to be here.
Re: The Otter King, A Novel [Re: Johnny Skunk] #8132129
05/02/24 12:22 PM
05/02/24 12:22 PM
Joined: Apr 2024
Posts: 47
Connecticut
J
Johnny Skunk Offline OP
trapper
Johnny Skunk  Offline OP
trapper
J

Joined: Apr 2024
Posts: 47
Connecticut
Thanks Sly. It's a completed first draft. I've been working on it for 4-5 years. Started as a short story tragedy about a trapper and his dog. I wrote another short story from an animal's POV about an otter that encounters a dead fall trap. I combined the two and it has turned into this novel. I could probably finish it in a month if I could find the time.

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