The Tale of the Hatchet Man
There was a Man who became separated from his Shadow.
It followed him, sometimes near, sometimes far.
It followed him, far from their home, into the Wild Land.
It wandered away, and entered a Great Bear.
The Shadow felt joy within the Bear, in its purity of conscience, the plainness of its needs.
This Great Bear, however, was the very thing the Man sought to destroy.
The Man and the Bear came together, at a swift, cold river.
With steel and thunder, he separated the Bear from its new Shadow.
The Man left the Wild Land, taking the hide of the noble beast, and abandoning his sad and forlorn Shadow.
It drifted over ice and bog and stubborn, scrubby grass.
After a time, the Shadow came upon a village.
Lonely and miserable, it wrought chaos and mischief upon the inhabitants of the village.
It gave wind to gossip, and obscured beauty.
It strangled hope, and amplified lies.
It cultivated misery, and hindered any good intention it could find.
A Wise Man in the village asked the Spirits how to relieve his people of this tormentor.
They instructed him to hew the shape of a man from fallen cedar, and invite the dark visitor to inhabit this form.
Then he should burn it, and the Shadow would be cast away as smoke, carried far from the village, on the winds.
The Shadow overheard this plan, and watched as the Wise Man took up his sturdy hatchet.
The Shadow waited patiently as the Wise Man worked.
He chopped rough shapes, then finer details of trunk and limb.
Finally, the Wise Man was certain the offending, vagrant presence would recognize its form.
The Shadow entered the wooden body at this perfect moment, just as the Wise Man made the final strokes of his hatchet.
A new man was formed from the union of Shadow and wood.
It leapt up and ran out of the village, with the Wise Man’s fine old hatchet still in his knotty back.
The Wise Man grieved, for giving life and legs to this abomination, and for whoever would be afflicted next by its rueful anguish.
Also, he wept for the loss of his cherished hatchet.
Some say the Hatchet Man dwells among the trees – his brothers – waiting to frighten children with the fearsome tool of his creation.
Others say he made his way south, earning a Human Resources Certification from Bellevue College; then, embarking on a quest for revenge on the Man who left him behind.
But who can say for sure.
From Folklore of the Indigenous People of the Pacific Northwest
By T. Franklin Jereau, Ph. D
The autumn breeze stirred, and the sun blazed in Rusk County. The old man dreamt often of this moment. The sturdy wooden derrick pierced the blue sky and, in the image of the dream, he saw the well penetrate the earth also, a mirror reflection. They reached 1000 feet, 2000, 3000. Finally, the black giant was awakened, and the ground shook. The dark bounty erupted into the sky, obscuring the sun, throwing a shadow across him. Then, he was blackened by the inky prize itself, engulfed in blackness.
Val Verde, TX – Midday
Gerald Molo was awakened by his assistant, Welston. His presence had been requested. Presence was a subjective condition at this moment. He slouched crookedly on a worn Chesterfield, hovering between deathly sleep and sleepy consciousness. The old armchair seemed part of his body, a creaky frame stretched with sagging hide, soulless within, barely sustaining its appointed function of keeping the fading captain of industry from collapsing to the earth. Welston spoke.
“Sir, I’ve just been on the phone with MoloChem, the folks in Portillo.”
Welston was careful to say Por-TEE-oh, even though many of its residents drawled Por-TILL-uh. The scrappy burg, located fortuitously on the Houston Ship Channel, was Molo’s birthplace, and owed much to his investment.
“An event is being planned, a celebration of MoloChem’s twentieth anniversary. They have invited you to be the guest of honor,” reported Welston.
He felt the old man had understood the question, and would be typically deliberate with a response. Molo rarely left the ranch. He was a figurehead at the end of the conference table, a stern portrait on the wall. Welston deduced from the sawdust-and-hide menagerie on the far wall that Molo had once been an avid sportsman. The parade of claws and antlers and glass eyes terminated with a brown bear in savage posture, its immensity at once menacing and garish. Welston was curious about this abondoned pursuit, but any conversation approaching the subject of the dusty trophies was caustically deflected.
Welston pondered them as he awaited Molo’s reply.
By and by, the old man exhaled, with languor, pushing out every last particle of air, from his lungs, his body cavities, even the little space where his soul used to be.
Reversing this compression, he drew in a sharp breath, and muttered, “I will.”
He would make this appearance in Portillo, if only to see it one more time before the end.
Portillo, TX – Afternoon
MoloChem Petrochemical was in the midst of bleak times. The company employed much of Portillo’s blue-clad workaday populace. They had a keen interest in fostering good public relations, assuaging concern about pulmonary conditions, minor explosions and other troublesome minutia that petrochemical production entailed. Recent economic developments had attenuated market demand, making reduced production and layoffs inevitable. A celebration was being planned to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the company’s founding. It was, in part, a smokescreen for the bad times to come, to keep the community lifted.
A specialist had been called in to oversee the impending cutbacks. A Hatchet Man; a ruthless, wooden man. Which is not to say he was stiff or unfriendly (he was both), but to the point, he was in fact carved from wood. A handsome cedar, most guessed, but none questioned. His credentials were solid, his resolve unyielding, and they were eager to let another take accountability for the tough choices the darkening business climate was soon to make necessary.
The Hatchet Man had traveled far over the years, learned to move aptly among men, found a vocation to suit his temperament. His surface had worn smooth, and still exuded a pleasant citrus waft. He was drawn slowly, but incessantly, south and east; by the murmur of instinct, and a dull compulsion to vengeance.
He presently sat at a mud-colored desk, among several others, in an office area adjacent to a large warehouse. A cup of black coffee sat on his desk, long cold. Kenzie Dagel entered, distributing a Xeroxed memo.
“Hey there,” said Kenzie, “you heard about our anniversary celebration we got comin’ up?” She took his silence as a request for more information. “We got a whole carnival-type situation lined up: games, rides, such like. Plus, we’re throwin’ a laser light and pyrotechnic extravaganza. It’s gonna be a hoot ‘n a holler. You like electronical music?”
Kenzie did not wait for him to answer. “I prefer Eddie Rabbitt, myself. We got this European fella, Rory O’Mega, gonna provide the accompaniment. They say the kids like him.”
Kenzie judged, by his reaction, he was not familiar.
“Well, we wanna make this a real high energy event, and we’re havin’ a contest here in the office to name the celebration.”
Kenzie laid the sheet on his desk.
“Also, we got a sign-up for the plannin’ committee, if you’re interested.”
Kenzie leaned in close, lowering her voice to a husky, yet still loud, whisper.
“This stays in the building, but we just found out Mr. Gerald Molo hisself, the founder of our company, is comin’ down to be guest of honor!”
Kenzie giggled as she moved on to the next desk. Even if she had remained, observed his rugged face, she could never have detected the abrupt increase in interest.
He studied the memo. He would have to get on that committee. He rarely understood the sinuous path he felt compelled to follow. Why had he ended up in this foul-smelling town on an artificial river? Now he knew. The time and the place were becoming clear. The news of Molo’s return restored his sense of purpose. He would soon be reunited; he and the one he dwelt with in the beginning, his evictor. In a few weeks, he would have satisfaction.
Portillo, TX – Present
The Maas/Warwick wedding had gone off splendidly, and a procession of guests was now converging on the Maas home. The backyard, called the “grounds” by Trevor Jacks, the Event Coordinator, was a lovely and spacious venue. Elegant decorations were in place. Food was being prepared. The Desny Twins, sons of a prominent NASA engineer, performed Bach’s Two-Part Invention #13 on a pair of Theremins, their smooth, pure tones blending in pleasing harmony.
Rex stood near the back fence with Doug Morton, a photographer, facing the house, and the smiling, well-dressed crowd. Doug had offered Rex the job, and he was grateful, although he rarely resorted to “event” work. He didn’t like the crowds. In his current emotional state, the crush of humanity was a shock. He aimed his camera like a prison guard in a watchtower.
Trevor approached, with a clipboard he rarely looked away from.
“Gentlemen, great work thus far!” he said, “feel free to get some candids during the cocktail hour. Vendor meal will be provided in the guest cottage at 6:00, bride’n’dad dance at 7:30.”
Rex and Doug nodded affirmatively.
“Wonderful!” Trevor chirped, marching away as he stage-whispered into a walkie-talkie.
“Thanks for the gig,” said Rex
“I heard about TVTO. That’s a tough break, my man. You got cards? There’s some bigwigs here. You gotta network to get work.”
Rex shook his head. He was not thinking like a businessman. He hadn’t even ironed his Van Huesen. His beard was itchy. He needed to get serious.
“You got to express your identity, make sure people know who you are.”
Doug handed him one of his own cards, “go to Portillo Office Barn, they’ll take care of you.”
“Thanks,” said Rex, giving the card a polite, yet cursory glance.
“See you at dinner,” said Doug, heading off to circulate in the crowd.
The Desny Twins gracefully transitioned into The Flower Duet, their hands undulating in perfect sychrony.
Rex was already in position to get some coverage of the guests’ arrival. He looked through the eyepiece, checking focus, exposure, battery status. As he drew back from the camera, Rex was startled to see one of the guests suddenly standing beside him. She wore a red lady-blazer, tapering outward imposingly at the shoulders. Her hair was swept up tightly at the back, like a glossy chestnut conch.
“I beg your pardon.”
“Granted.” said Rex, smiling weakly.
“Hope I’m not interrupting your work. I’m Lydia Scotch-Bonnet,” the woman said, extending her hand.
Rex shook her hand, intending to introduce himself, but Lydia continued.
“I hate to talk business at such an occasion, but I work for Air Today, and I believe we might have use for your services.”
“Certainly, please explain.”
“We have a training program, it’s on a film, not like a movie, but the kind where you watch each frame, like a slide.”
“Precisely. It’s so old, we no longer have the means to view it, but it bears vital information, about safety in our plant. It is imperative that our employees receive this message. Would it be possible to transfer this to videotape?”
“It’s quite simple, actually. Please, let me give you my pager number. I’d be happy to discuss the details with you.”
Rex took the wedding program out of his pocket and hastily wrote his number, tearing it off and handing the scrap to Lydia. Office Barn tomorrow, he thought.
“Thank you, Mr. Janneter, I’ll be in touch.”
“I look forward to hearing from you,” Rex said, too formally perhaps.
Rex let his tape roll, and considered this development. He couldn’t bill very much for the service, but it could lead to more work. He would need to obtain a projector. Would Heather have access to one at the high school? But of course! This gave him a pretense to call her, to sidestep her furtive departure the night before. He cursed himself for nodding off like that. Surely an awkward moment was avoided, it was best to play it cool. She would be impressed to know he had taken Air Today as a client. He imagined handing her a freshly minted business card, how they would laugh about it.
Office Barn tomorrow, Rex reminded himself.