Seth was still asleep when David got up the next day. He had barely spoken to his son over the last two days as he had been working longer each day and noticed Seth had been staying up later each night.
He wanted to help his son get through this dark time but he had no idea what to say. He wanted to tell him things would get better but he knew enough people had already said that and he also knew it wouldn’t mean anything because he didn’t believe it himself most of the time.
He got dressed and looked in on Seth before leaving. Drake lifted his head and looked at him as if to ask, ‘you want me to wake him up?’ David grimaced at the thought of trying to talk to his son again and softly said, ‘it’s ok boy. Keep him company for me, ok?’ Drake cooed in response and then rested his head back down on Seth’s leg.
David then grabbed a biscuit from the bowl of bread on the counter and headed out the door. The sun was shining and his eyes squinted and worked quick to adjust. He secured the door behind him and then headed around the house towards the center of town where Crazy Joe’s garage was located.
As he walked he looked down over the Rahn Valley forest below. They lived on a plateau located above the tree line up the side of the northern part of the Dorahn mountains. The Dorahn range created a horseshoe around the Rahn Valley with it’s open end facing the west coast of Agnos. This made it a remote place to live in spite of being one of the largest areas of land. If you were here, you probably lived here and if you didn’t, you were probably lost.
Thus, living on a plateau on the side of a mountain range in such a remote location meant they basically lived in a remote portion of the middle of nowhere.
Their village was actually quite large for being so difficult to get to. Over thirty people lived up here although that was made up of mostly a few big families. But they were also a fairly wealthy village as villages in the Rahn Valley goes since they had a cave system that connected them to Forge. Any savvy traveler could head to Forge, pick up needed supplies, and sell them in the valley to people who got out even less than they did.
“Morning Joe,” David said as he entered and started to organize his tools.
“EGGS!” Crazy Joe replied from inside a large wooden contraption in the middle of the garage.
Crazy Joe had always been called Crazy Joe and he didn’t mind, or at least he never said that he did. Most people were unable to talk to him for more than a minute or two before deciding there was nothing inside his head worth digging around for. David, however, had figured out that he was more of a crazy genius rather than just being crazy.
Even if people could understand his riddle-esque, condensed speech habits they would still immediately think he was crazy thanks to his signature introduction.
While any other sentence he said would be two or three words long at most, his introduction was a full sentence and always the same. “Hi, I’m James. Some people call me Jimmy, my friends call me Jim, but you can call me Joe.” This would be repeated over and over the first time he met someone.
No one was actually even sure if his name really was James or Joe, but they all called him Joe and he seemed to be fine with that. Every so often David would wonder if he should call him Jim, since he considered him a dear friend, but Joe was content with Joe and it was simply the way it had always been.
Everyone was also in the dark as to how Joe came to have the vast wealth of gold pieces he did as well. There were speculations of varying degrees of probability. Some thought his parents may have been rich but no one had ever met them since Joe had moved here alone fifteen years prior. Others thought he had gone searching for gold in the Mines of Madness in the south. They were said to be rich in gold but would drive miners crazy coming out and telling stories of odd sounds and visions of ghosts. Others assumed he had begged for the money and just simply never spent any of it.
David was the only one who assumed he had worked for it. He was always building something and had invented several machines over the years he had been on the plateau.
One machine he had would bring eggs in from his chicken coop outside and crack them open into a skillet, starting a fire underneath it in the process. There were rarely any shells left in the egg. Another machine would pick up dirty dishes from the counter, wash them, dry them, and then place them on the other side of the counter.
The newest creation looked to be the most ambitious even though David questioned whether it would really work.
“What would you like me to do today, Joe?” David looked towards where Joe was hunkered down as though playing hide and seek. There were a few clunks and bangs from his area before he jumped up smiling a big one tooth grin. “SCREW!”
“Sure thing, Joe.” David picked up a wrench and started at the front of the big machine tightening every bolt he could find.
It was busy work, he knew that much. He was done doing what Joe needed help with a few days before but Joe kept telling him to come back. Joe knew that they wouldn’t have much money anymore as Nita had brought made most of it. Before Seth had been born David would go with his wife when she was called away and help anytime he could. If he couldn’t help he’d often take odd jobs wherever they were to stay busy and make extra money.
After Seth came along there was a long discussion as to what they would do. Nita had decided to quit taking jobs anywhere more than a half day away but David knew she wouldn’t be happy. He took on taking care of Seth and started taking repair jobs around town. This was when Joe started hiring him since most people took their repairs to him. Despite thinking he was crazy everyone knew he could repair anything better than anyone else around.
The only thing he had been worried about early on was growing apart from the love of his life. That idea had quickly faded the first year, however, when they would have long talks often lasting all night when she came back. He would make her dinner and she would rock Seth to sleep in her arms and then he would ask questions about every part of her vacation.
And then, when Seth was older, he started to see pieces of his wife come out in him. Seth was smart and picked up on things very quickly. He had the same love of animals as his mom and same love of reading. And then there was the thinker. That’s what David had always called it when he saw Nita doing it. Anytime she would be lost in her own thoughts her face would scrunch up and her mouth move over to one side while her head tipped the other way. Seth had started doing it when he was eight which looked even funnier if they were ever sitting next to each other doing it at the same time.
Now, though, David’s heart had a huge hole in it. His fear of losing his wife a reality in a way he had never imagined and now he was worried of losing his son emotionally. He felt even worse that his son didn’t have anyone to talk to. While others might think it silly David loved talking to Joe about his issues. Joe was wise beyond what anyone realized and knew that most of the time, when someone opened their heart, they just wanted to have someone listen. Other times, he knew exactly what needed to be said with just a few words.
The day David came back to work for Joe after Nita died he poured out his heart and all his troubles. Not much got done that day as Joe just sat there and listened with intensity as David spoke through tear covered eyes. And when David ended with, “I just don’t know how we’ll get through this. She was the backbone of the family,” Joe finally spoke and said, “Son of mom.”
David looked at him and agreed, “he is strong like his mother, isn’t he?”
Seth, however, had no friends like Joe. In fact, Joe was a closer friend than any of the kids his age that lived in the village. Most of the kids weren’t concerned with reading or learning about animals and that was all Seth really knew to talk about. Anytime they played together he was more content to sit and read. And after he got Drake, when he did want to play, he played with his new friend. He had been fine being alone and really still was, even though David knew he needed someone to talk to.
David knew this because he was finding it hardest to cope at night when he lay in bed alone. His wife had had a tendency to try and annoy him any chance she got. She would tickle him and poke him and pinch him and anything else she could think of to get a rise out of him. She was the playful spirit to his practical ways. He never got mad though he did occasionally actually get annoyed which she seemed to enjoy more than anyone should.
He often thought he’d enjoy her time together more if she didn’t do those things but now he realized it was those little things that he missed the most. In fact, he missed all of her habits that he had once found annoying.
Sometimes she would suck on her teeth after dinner while she read. She didn’t mean to do it nor did she ever really realize she was but it bugged David to the point that he would sometimes head
outside after dinner having been unable to concentrate otherwise.
She also whistled random tunes at random times. This he actually didn’t mind much as she was a fine whistler however when she was alive he would have never told you it was something he adored about his wife. Now, however, it was something he not only missed but hated that he would never hear again.
To make it worse all his thoughts like these caused him to feel sick to his stomach. He would be ok doing the little busy work routines that Joe gave him and then a random sight or faint smell would trigger a distant memory and the pains would return. This would be his life over the next few months and a still regular, if not
occasional, routine after that.
“Joe, all the bolts are tight, what else do you need done?”
“Alright, sir,” David acknowledged as he walked to the back of the shop to grab the paints. Painting was something he had always enjoyed as a hobby. He had been doodling on a piece of paper during lunch one day when Joe had saw it and immediately set out to have him ‘brighten’ everything he could see. At first David just painted things normal solid colors but it didn’t seem to appease Joe as he would give a one tooth inquisitive look and ask, “brighter?” Now David paints whatever images come to his mind and they both enjoy it.
The breakfast machine has pictures of hens laying eggs while the dishwashing machine has pictures of people scrubbing pots and pans. Now though, he could think only of angels and that’s what he painted. One after another he covered the new contraption with angels. Some flying above clouds and some playing little instruments while others just stood there, looking over all the work, but they all had a resemblance of Nita in one way or another. David became so engrossed that he worked the rest of the day without thinking about anything else but making perfect looking angels.
“INTRUDER,” Joe yelled and startled him back to reality.
“What? Hey I’m no intruder, I’m looking for David Baker.” Joe was already ignoring him and had gone back to work as the man tentatively walked in.
“He didn’t mean it like that. I’m David, do I know you?” David started washing so he could shake the strangers hand.
“No, no I’m afraid you don’t. I was asking around looking for your wife, actually.”
David’s smile faded and his hand unconsciously pulled away and went back to wiping the paint off. “I’m sorry fella, but I’m afraid you’re too late.”
The man wiped his hand on his coat and continued with a bit of a stutter, “Ye..Uhh..Yeah, so…so I heard. I must say I’m sorry to hear about your loss. She was an amazing woman.”
“Thank you… so you knew her then?”
“I’m sorry to say I only had the pleasure of meeting her one time. I had a problem with some wolves killing off my sheep and she helped me out.”
“Yeah, she was good like that. So you are having more pest problems?”
“Huh? No, uhh, well yes, maybe, I don’t know. Honestly I don’t know what it is.”
“I’ve heard that before. Unfortunately I can’t help you in this situation. Creatures were my wife’s thing.” David looked at one of the angels he had painted. His hand traced it’s face.
“Your wife spoke highly of you.”
“Yeah. Almost as highly as she spoke of your son.” David smiled for just a moment. “Some of the people around here seem to think highly of him, too.”
David’s smile waned. “You must not have been talking to the kids around here.”
The man ignored this and continued on, “They seemed to think he might be able to help me.”
David contemplated this for quite some time, shifting his weight from leg to leg and breathing deeply at each silent concern. “I must say I’m honored that others in the area thought he’d be up to it, but he’s never had any real experience. He’s learned a few things around the village which is probably where they saw him doing good but he’s never had to deal with a real wild creature.
“And he’s only 14. AND his mother just died.”
“I understand, I really do. I had to ask, just in case. The next creature handler is in Forge and this would save some travel time.”
“I know. And I wish we could help I just couldn’t even guarantee that he could actually help you.”
“Well, I would be willing to give him that first chance, if it were the case. Everyone starts somewhere, right? I know he’ll be a great creature handler if he’s anything like his mother.”
“… Well, I’ll leave you to your work then.” The man straightened and bowed just slightly before turning on his heels and walking out. David went back to looking at the angels and Joe came around and sat next to him.
“He’s just too young,” David defended words Joe hadn’t said. “He could get hurt,” he continued arguing to no one. “It would be too much for him right now.”
Joe looked him over and David looked back wanting to be reassured. David had many fears, though concern over whether Seth could actually be a decent creature handler wasn’t one of them. He not only knew he could do it, he was sure he could do it now. He did fear losing his son, though. He worried that if he went and he was good he would keep going.
He wanted to believe that Seth would always want him around on his trips but they simply weren’t that close. He also knew his son needed to find himself. Nita had left home when she was 15 to train as an apprentice. The plan had been that she would train Seth but now there wasn’t a handler anywhere near them. Seth would have to move and the house would be empty. David knew this and didn’t want any of it to happen. He didn’t want to be alone.
Joe knew this, too. He watched David and felt for him. He knew what David was going through more than David would ever know. Joe gummed his lips and licked grease off of his one tooth before offering his advice. “Fly little bird.”
David looked at him and then chuckled. “So you think I should let him go?”
“Fly birdie fly,” he said with his almost toothless grin while flapping his arms and starting to jump up and down in his seat.
David stared at him for a few moments before jumping up and running out the door yelling, “SIR! WAIT!”