Jack Thurston eagerly awaited his return to Black Island, his mother's family retreat in Canada's wild and pristine cottage country of 1929. Yet when the young lad of ten arrived, no one would have anything to do with him, not his grandfather, not his aunt and uncle, his cousins, not even his mother. He soon discovered that the physical world itself would not interact with him. He no longer possessed even the simple skill of opening a door.
The only ones that took note of him were two eerie strangers, a haggard old woman and a creepy little boy that seemed to be always lurking in the shadows. When his grandfather suddenly took ill, Jack knew that these strangers were somehow connected. The urgency of his grandfather's condition demanded that he be rushed to the hospital at once. The worried and distressed family went along with the dying old man. They somehow had forgotten Jack. He was left by himself trapped inside the cottage on Black Island with nobody other than the two strangers who were trying to get in.
"The Little Boy of the Forest" follows Jack's odyssey into loneliness and fear with his undying hope that one day his family would return.
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Storyteller on the Lake
The waves just rolled and rolled. Time held no meaning but time still passes. Jack could feel himself awaken from the daydream that the ceaseless waves had lulled him into. He lifted his head and looked out to the horizon.
There it was. The flagpole stood as a bold solitary figure upon the bald granite rock. The chilling blue waves from the lake slapped up against the island promontory in a timeless parade of frightened soldiers courageously marching to their untimely deaths against the island fortress.
Jack had the premonition that he was just another wave coming into Black Island and that he would be dissipated upon that shore and forever forgotten as well.
“They are not expecting us!” Mrs. Faye Thurston said to her son as she stood behind him upon the deck of the Madoqua Empress on that early summer evening. The sun behind them was on its wane creating a crimson aurora along the western horizon.
“But Granddad sent us an invitation a month ago,” Jack replied, his eyes never leaving that flag that waved defiantly against the lake. It was a declaration that the Meadowfords would be here forever and nothing save death could remove them.
“Yes, I know Jack. But he thinks that it will be another week before we arrive.”
“Surely, he sees the steamer approaching and will be tipped off,” the precocious lad lifted his head to gaze upon the breast and chin of his mother. She was garbed in a white silk blouse with a navy shawl wrapped about her shoulders. Even in the scenic grandeur of Pioneer Lake, her beauty remained unchallenged to Jack.
Mrs. Thurston smiled at her ten-year-old son and pinched his collar lightly. “Grandfather only believes that the Madoqua Empress is coming to drop off some supplies and to pick up his brother, Uncle Thaddeus who has decided to return to Michigan to tend to some business emergency that has come up. He will be very surprised when he sees you and I step from the ramp!”
“Won’t he wonder where Father is?” Jack asked through a lump in his throat. This would be the first summer at the lake without his father.
It was a silly question that had an obvious answer. Still Jack hoped that the mistral magic of the lake would somehow eradicate that obvious answer and in its stead provide one that would fill his soul with delight. One that said that his father was as much of this lake as anybody else.
Mrs. Thurston let go of her son’s shoulders. “Granddad has been completely apprised of the situation and there will be no sour overtones to the joy that will be in his eyes when he sees his strapping young grandson prancing down the gangplank dressed in that handsome outfit that I have chosen for you for this special occasion. No more talk about your father, please Jack. Let’s make this a summer to remember!”
What Jack remembered most of Pioneer Lake was swimming with his father in the shallows near Black Island. The image of climbing onto his father’s back and diving into the cool waters haunted the young boy. It had been his father that had made these seasons upon Pioneer Lake memorable for him. All the relatives on his mother’s side of the family, the venerable Meadowfords, would be put to a severe challenge to uproot those fond recollections he had of Thomas Lloyd Thurston, the estranged husband to his mother.
He wondered if his father pined for this very moment as well. There was nothing back in Grappling Haven, Pennsylvania to match the beguiling aesthetic soothing of beholding Black Island from the bow of the Madoqua Empress on an early summer’s eve.
The Captain of the steaming vessel let go three long shrill blasts from the whistle upon the bridge. It announced to the inhabitants of that Canadian boreal paradise ahead of the steamer that supplies were arriving and that it was time for Uncle Thaddeus to return to the economic contingencies of the hustle bustle life of 1929 America.
Already Jack could see a burst of activity upon the bare exposed promontory of Black Island as several individuals were scurrying to the grand pier along the protected lee-side of the island where the Madoqua Empress would moor. The boy could make out the identical forms of his cousins, Thora and Rebecca, the twin daughters of his mother’s brother, Langley who was the eldest of the Meadowford clan.
And there was Uncle Thaddeus himself orchestrating the efforts of the servants in getting his hefty cedar chest down the slope toward the dock. Jack secretly was pleased that his grandfather’s sibling was leaving. Thaddeus was a strict, stern man that had often frowned upon the playful antics of Jack and his Dad and would make disparaging, sarcastic comments at the dinner table that belittled the husband of his niece.
Thomas Thurston never quite fit in to the prim and proper aristocratic ethos of the Meadowfords. He was too much a free spirit and a creature of the new century. There was no room for Nineteenth Century etiquette for the flamboyant and robust Mr. Thurston.
Yet the sentiment openly spoken by Uncle Thaddeus was an undercurrent to the way the rest of the Meadowfords treated Thomas Thurston. He had never quite lived up to the standard and the decorum that the Meadowfords demanded from those associated with the family. This cool aloofness could have been the tip of the wedge that drove Jack’s parents apart. Although Faye admired the libertine character of her husband, she was not strong enough to stand up against the rest of her family and she would be forced to be their instrument of discipline upon her unruly husband.
“Oh look! There’s Granddad right there!” Mrs. Thurston laughed aloud pointing to a silver-haired gentleman dressed in a naval uniform standing at the pinnacle of the barefaced rock known as Black Island. “He has eyes like a hawk. I bet you that he sees us!”
To witness the return of a warm expression upon the beautiful mien of his mother was enough for the boy to shed the dark thoughts that had overcame him as the Madoqua Empress made her slow careful approach to the isle. Its refreshing appeal and the vision of the spectacular, vermeil scenery of Pioneer Lake exorcised the shadow of melancholy that had hung over the boy since that fateful December day when his parents no longer remained united and were cast off into different directions.
His cousins Thora and Rebecca were waving like the giddy schoolchildren they were as the crew of the steamer prepared to tie down the vessel to the rusty iron mooring cleats sitting like fat red toads upon the long dock. Although the two girls wintered in the same town as Jack, they hardly ever saw each other there save for the annual Meadowford Christmas gala at Granddad’s house. The demands of a gender-based segregation in the Pennsylvania school system saw to that.
This past winter however there was no Christmas reception at Granddad’s sprawling Grappling Haven estate as Uncle Langley and Aunt Cora took the girls abroad to England to visit relatives there. Jack’s parents had parted company only weeks before the Yuletide. His brooding mother bravely tried to conjure up a festive spirit for the season but the pain of her recent separation had been too overwhelming. She declined the invitation to Granddad’s at the last moment. Mother and son spent Christmas Eve alone together in silent tears. Sad memories that Jack hoped would never arise again.
Jack waved back at his cousins but it seemed that they did not see him as of yet. Their grandiose felicitations were meant for the youthful crew of the Madoqua Empress. Thora and Rebecca were three years older than him and were now teenagers. They may no longer see him as a playmate for their interests may have turned to the more hormonal indulgences that adolescence seems to entail.
Their display of flirtation soon drew a chiding scolding from Uncle Thaddeus who thoroughly disapproved of any such behavior in any Meadowford. Jack expected to witness Thora and Rebecca’s hearts sink but he was surprised to see that the twins ignored the verbal reprimand from the tyrannical, overbearing Thaddeus. They continued waving at the two teenaged crewmembers that held the thick twine line ready to tie down the long and lanky Madoqua Empress once its hull came into proximity with the dock. Perhaps these girls were announcing to the old man that his influence over them had come to an end and that it was time for him and his crusty values to fade away into some misty past forever to be forgotten.
This was a new age. The world was revitalizing itself as if it had just awakened from a long dreary torpor that had calcified the gay spirits within its repressed soul. Almost as a response to this awakening, another passenger bound for a summer retreat further down the lake, produced a brass trumpet and began playing that lively upbeat new musical form, jazz, with a vibrant tempo and a wily élan in his fingers.
Jack could see Uncle Thaddeus draw his hands to his ears and cringe while the twin girls began stepping frenetically to the music’s swinging cadence.
“Blast it all!” Uncle Thaddeus bellowed. “Get me off of this confounded island and return me to a sane world!”
Even Jack at his young age realized that the old man’s sane world no longer existed and that Thaddeus was doomed to live out the rest of his days at war with what the world had become. The young lad did not pity him.
“Look!” Thora or Rebecca screeched. “It’s Aunt Faye!”
“It is Aunt Faye! I don’t believe it!” the other sister added with the same enthusiastic spiritedness.
The Madoqua Empress came to a gentle stop alongside the pier. The two crewmembers leaped from their respective ends of the steamer upon the sturdy cedar planks of Black Island’s main dock. In a moment each lad had strapped their lines around the fat rusty toads and harnessed the ninety-foot long ship to the island.
Soon the gangplank was set into place and the exchange of people and merchandise between island and lake was about to take place.
No sooner had the walking boards been set between deck and dock than the twin girls charged up the ramp straight into the arms of their beloved aunt.