by Jeffrey Murrell

Chapter 4
The Camp

The camp's dingy porch commanded a light step
from the boy up there with the gun,
or else it threatened to creak and groan,
and he wanted to be absolutely deft
to be able to slip in
and slide others into his trap
to replenish his stock of stolen goods,
and stuff his angry jaws with food.
No boats tied to the dock,
but a light on inside the near window.
The door stood wide open, no screen, no lock,
so he held his gun out in full view
and gave a casual knock,
then stepped inside with it cocked
to announce that he was in charge,
and that everyone would be just fine
if they did what he told them to.
But the surprise he intended was not quite the shock
he thought he had in store;
no soul stirred, except for the dog,
and still he didn't even bark.
The gun held up high, he looked at the room,
a kitchen with a wide iron stove in the corner,
a large table of heavy oak,
cupboards in a single cabinet
of rotting wood grey with age
like the outside walls of the shack.
Flames licked around in the oven's large belly,
puffing smoke up the little chimney,
as it kept a big black pot nice and warm.
The room was long, all the way to the back;
empty back there, except for a box or two
and a musty old throw-rug on the floor,
a wooden keg and a few burlap sacks.
And way back there, the air smelled dim,
as if he'd been there before,
long, long ago or in a time yet to come,
like a visiting spirit he once knew
someplace else he never would expect,
like the ethereal touch of some revelation
stopping him cold just for a second
as he breathed it in deeply to understand.
But no message to come ever that way;
nothing revealed--past, present or future,
just goose bumps and shivers,
but only for a moment that day.
No more windows back there, except through a door,
the threshold to the cabin's other half,
just as long, but narrower by a hair,
no doors to the outside in this one,
only a window front and that window back,
each hung with a curtain of rags on a string.
And in that room, a chest of drawers
with rusty metal adornments,
an iron-framed bed with moss-stuffed mattress
piled with dusty woolen blankets,
and a high set of shelves on the opposite wall,
standing from floor to ceiling, as long as it was tall,
holding row upon row of little rag dolls,
most carefully dressed in tiny sets of clothes,
all individually blessed
with different eyes, mouth and nose,
with hair sewn on from donors unknown;
one, maybe two hundred of them crammed together
on those shelves with nothing else,
the only souls other than his in the house,
other than his and the poor dog's;
that poor dog, just outside the front window,
still limping around in circles
just off from where the dock landed--
still no boats tied up at it.
A breeze had somehow been summoned
through that wide clearing of water outside,
and it moved and twisted the tiny camp,
making it gnaw at itself and crackle,
scraping together and creaking.
And, again, the sun beat the water with rays,
choking steamed air after the rain,
coming in now to the shack
trickling down his armpits and back,
as he held his gun up high
and studied all those dolls,
all their tiny faces so hauntingly real,
their tiny dresses and trousers so neatly sewn,
some even with needles still in them,
some still without any clothes,
stuffed with moss, rice and other things,
someone's little hobby, one would think.
But not what he was looking for.
No, not what he was there for.
Creek! Groan! Snap!
The breezes pressed against the shack.
Creak, groan--WHACK!
He felt the back of his head get smacked,
and his consciousness go black
as he hit the wooden floor . . . .