by Math Trafton
It had taken Castor at least ten minutes to pull the heavy thing out of the bog. He’d edged it up along the steep muddy slope of the pool with particularly cautious deliberation, partially out of concern of damaging his net and partially out of curiosity.
He wasn’t quite sure what to make of the thing. It was dense — it held its weight. Once he’d finally extracted it from its tenuous hold in his net’s fine weave, he set it down in the grass beside him. He collapsed and caught his breath, looking at it. It was long, less than a meter in length, and mostly cylindrical from what he could tell. And when he wiped away some of the spongy black muck, he found that the thing was mostly white and maybe twenty centimeters thick. Its ivory tone was immediately suggestive of the several animal skeleton fragments he’d occasionally pull up, all perfectly preserved by the bog’s creeping hold.
But he’d never seen any bone like this. This thing was absolutely foreign.
For a moment, he thought could use a bone like this in his project. He hadn’t properly started the project yet, but he dreamt of erecting a statue of himself or somebody just like him, ideally life-size. He had only considered using moorwood, but maybe there was room for this thing. He thought about how it might fit. It was smooth enough, and at least one of its ends bulged and rounded like a mushroom cap, as though meant to interlock with another piece. But if it were a bone, it was far too large to fit within any animal he’d ever known, even any prehistoric beast that would have lived in this area.
He wondered if instead this was a natural formation, like an old branch whose imperfections had eroded away through the initial stages of petrification. It could have been a stone of some sort, yet once the slime was rubbed away, it felt too light.
Castor let the thing sit while he adjusted the length of his net’s rod. He carefully dipped the net back into the same pool, no wider in circumference than his own cabin. Though it was silly, he hoped to find another similar thing that might help explain this one beside him. Maybe another symmetrical piece to help him erect his project.
At its maximum length, the rod could reach the bottom of the pool. Generally speaking, he tried to avoid the bottoms because slugfish never dwelt that low, and he’d only end up pulling up tangled hunks decayed plantlife. He prodded the soft bottom, feeling the black pool’s deadening pull on the weight of the net. For a moment, he thought he felt the gentle impact of something hard, but after a careful scoop back toward the surface, he found he’d netted only a mass of roots that had rotted off some plant.
Fatigued and quite hungry, he dismissed the catch, though just before he threw it back into the pool, his eye caught a faint glimmer in the mass. What looked to be a disappointingly unsuccessful day suddenly held a faint promise. He pulled in the net for a closer look, and after a moment of sifting through the root’s twisting contours, he withdrew a mucksnail — then another. He excitedly emptied the net’s contents onto the mossy ground, right next to where the thing lay. Squishing through the blackened roots, Castor squeezed out one mucksnail after another until he’d collected at least a dozen. It had been several months since he’d found a mucksnail, though at the sight, the savor quickly rushed back to him.
It would be dark soon, so Castor decided to pack up. The thing aside, the day had been a successful enough with the mucksnails. He collapsed his net and stowed each of the mucksnails into his leather satchel. He stood and looked fondly upon the thing, a sudden charm of sorts, which seemed to have grown there in the grass. He wondered if he should leave it where it lay, and maybe he’d come back to try to find it again tomorrow. Or he could dump it back to the bottom of the pool. If, in the infinitude of the marsh, he could ever locate this pool again, let alone the thing at its bottom, then that would be a true testament of his luck. He paused a moment, considered the challenge, and looked around at the barren trees and mountainscapes in a rough attempt to memorize his surroundings.
But ultimately, for no particular reason, he decided to kneel and pick up the thing to take it with him. It was heavier than he remembered, and he had to hoist it up and balance it over his shoulder to stand with it. He quickly got used to the weight, though, and after several paces, it started to feel somehow natural on him. It wasn’t right, he thought, to use it in his project. At least not yet.
Using the setting sun as a guide, Castor navigated his route back to the trail, and it wasn’t much more than an hour before he was well on his way home. He speculated about the thing along his walk. Perhaps it was some prehistoric weapon. As it rested on his shoulder, he steadied the base with both hands, and he imagined what kind of brute it would take to swing such a massive club. He wondered how many skulls a weapon like this would have cracked through.
Lost in thought as he was, he somehow managed to spot a small patch of gray mushrooms just off the trail. He had walked this trail at least twice daily throughout the season, and his watchful eyes had somehow never spotted these treasures here — in the dimming light no less. He paused and lowered the thing to rest it against a tree. After he filled a satchel pocket with a handful of the spongy mushrooms, he lifted the thing back up to his shoulder and continued onward.
He decided that if he was to fully enjoy the day’s harvest, he ought to stop by Paola’s house. His sister didn’t approve of how he spent his days foraging for edible plants and small fish in the bog pools; she said he’d grown odd out of the company of other people. However odd he’d become, though, she always welcomed him home, and she’d let him cook whatever his searches would yield with whatever spices she had handy.
Castor reached Paola’s home just as the sun had set. The house, the only structure in sight, was the same one the two of them had grown up in. Castor knew every detail of the entire plot of land — he would skip school and spend his days hiding below the towering yellow grasses where he could catch and take care of creatures.
He approached the house and set the thing down on the edge of the porch before opening the door and walking in. He made enough noise taking off his boots so as to announce his arrival.
“Mills?” Paola yelled from the other room.
“No, it’s Castor,” he yelled back, removing his satchel.
Paola walked in and greeted her brother with a gentle hug. “Mills ran over to town,” she said. “He had a deal.”
Castor asked what kind of deal, but Paola didn’t respond. Instead she poked a finger into the satchel to spread it open a bit. “Good day?” she asked. “How many slugfish did you get?”
“Look at this.” He pulled out a mucksnail to show her. The snail’s head, a small pink mass about the size of his pinky tip, had emerged from the iridescent crescent shell. Castor would come by to borrow a tool or to cook a small meal for himself, and as often as not, Paola would try to talk him into a visit to the city where he might meet somebody kind so he wouldn’t have to spend his days alone. When he produced treats like mucksnails to share, however, she tended to take less pity on his ways.
Paola took a snail in her hand and held it up to the light. “Lucky day,” she said with a smile, and she gave it back.
“It’s yours,” he said. “I got at least a dozen. I only want a couple.”
She tilted her head and looked at him inquisitively. Mucksnails were one of the few creatures that could survive within the bog pools, which made them unique as edibles go. And rare. Their shells, made of some a strange compound that resisted the decomposing acids, were positively poisonous. However, the meat was very edible. Not only was it very rich in all the minerals the creature used to produce its shell, but it was also mildly hallucinogenic.
Castor and Paola had gone to the kitchen and started to heat the stove. Paola asked Castor about his project. “Are you still working on it?” she asked.
“What project?” Castor asked.
“That thing you’re erecting. The statue. Of you.”
Castor vaguely remembered he’d told her about the idea. To create a likeness of himself, to whittle sticks together and wedge them, sinew by sinew, and create something of himself. He was looking for an answer when suddenly Mills came through the front door. “What’s this thing on the porch?” he yelled.
Paola looked at Castor, shrugged, then walked into the front room. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“That thing. It’s like a long — thing,” Castor heard him say. “I don’t know how to describe it.”
Paola poked her head back into the kitchen. “Is that thing yours,” she asked.
Mills followed behind her and walked into the kitchen and made friendly eye contact with Castor. He nodded. “Oh, hi, Castor. Is that thing yours?”
“What is it?” Mills asked. Castor could hear the front door open and shut in the other room, as Paola presumably went out to have a look for herself.
“I don’t know,” Castor replied. “I don’t know what it is.”
“It looks like some kind of bone,” Mills said.
Paola came back into the house and walked straight into the kitchen. “What is that?” she asked. “Is it yours?”
Mills left the room and let brother and sister speculate about the thing. Castor didn’t have much to say, but Paola did. She left the house at least three times while Castor minded the snail and mushrooms on the pan, as well as some rice and a few greens in a separate pot. Paola at first agreed that the thing was the bone of some prehistoric beast, especially the way that one end had a knob. On closer look, she became certain that it was some rare mineral. Or perhaps some alien device, she chuckled.
Once the meal was ready, all three of them sat down to eat around the table. They ate comfortably, slowly. Mills mentioned his unsuccessful efforts to sell a small corner of the great property to a potentially interested buyer in the city, a topic Paola was hesitant to elaborate on. They talked about Wilma and Yolk, the two chickens out back who increasingly thought they belonged inside. Inevitably, the conversation came back to the thing, though.
After dinner, Paola had Castor and Mills bring the thing in and set it on the cleared table. In the light, it somehow looked smaller. Paola, perhaps particularly inspired by the snail, determined that they would fill a bucket and use some rags to wipe the thing clean. Within a few minutes, it looked relatively fresh.
“I know what this is,” Paola said. “It’s a relic.”
“Why?” Castor asked.
“What do you mean a relic,” Mills asked.
“This is part of an ancient monument,” she said. She pointed to the striations and said that it must be some refined mineral like marble. But look how smooth it is, she said. It was polished, and look how preserved it is. This isn’t from any recent civilization, though.
Castor looked closely and wondered at the history. He could almost feel the thing pulse under his light, unconscious stroke.
“It’s perfectly shaped,” she continued, “except for this end. Here is where it broke off from something.” On one end, she pointed to a jagged break, which would have been impossible to note before the thing was cleaned. “You’ve got to inquire into this.”
“Why?” Castor asked.
“She’s right,” Mills added. “Don’t you want to know what this is or where it comes from?”
“It came from the bog,” Castor said.
“But it has a history,” Paola chided. “It has an identity, and we deserve to know what that is — don’t you agree?”
“Why?” Castor asked.
“You’ve got to start thinking about what ahead,” she said. “You can’t keep doing this forever!”
“Stop repeating yourself,” Paola said. “You always do this.”
“And who knows — it might be worth something,” Mills added.
“Are you going to write somebody to inquire?” Paola asked.
Castor was silent.
On the walk home, Castor stumbled a little. His pace was quick and deliberate. He didn’t want to sell the thing, whatever it was. He wasn’t even convinced it was some historical artifact. It might just be a sunken bone fragment of a creature our minds couldn’t even fathom and may not be able to fathom. He balanced the thing in the groove just inside the round of his shoulder, holding it tight around the base, near the jagged break Paola identified.
Half an hour later, he was home, and in the light of his small cabin he felt his senses restored, though the edges of his vision were somewhat dulled with fatigue. He gently placed the thing on the edge of his mattress, where, within minutes, he himself retired into a quick and ultimately dreamless sleep.
Three days passed in peaceful solitude. Castor saw nobody else on the trails, which was not particularly remarkable. Remarkable was, however, the fact that each day’s harvest was uncommonly bountiful. Not only had his own garden seen a heightened bloom, but also had he managed to confidently net some of the largest slugfish and tiny bog mule sliders that he’d ever seen. He even managed to catch between his fingers a dragonfly that had casually landed on his bent knee one afternoon.
He had somehow harvested enough meat to last him weeks, but he had also found corresponding success in finding a suitable tar mix to help mash with the clay near his house to repair some leaks in his cabin. He’d even been lucky enough to stumble upon a newly felled moorwood, close enough to his cabin that he was able to transport home enough to whittle for this project to erect that life-size statue of somebody.
He more or less attributed this unprecedented success to the thing, which he nonchalantly carried with him wherever he went. He would carry it through along his journeys, and when he needed a rest, he would lay it flat on the ground and sit on it as though it were an oblong stool.
On the fourth day, it rained harder than it had all month, and Castor decided to stay in. He lit a small fire in his cabin. He had just picked up his only pen with the intention of writing in his journal, which he hadn’t even picked up — let alone written in — in months, when there was a knock at the door.
Castor realized he was sprawled along the thing, which was positioned comfortably on his mattress. He first put the journal away on the shelf, then he covered the thing with his blanket. He stood, adjusted himself, and opened the door to find a tall man, well dressed, soaked from the rain.
“May I come in,” the man asked.
Castor stood aside.
“I’m sorry to barge,” the man added. “My name is Quincy.” The man extended a powerful hand outward, which Castor took with mild interest.
“You’re not from here,” Castor added.
No, Quincy said. He was from the city, and he had gotten a letter from somebody named Paola, and he immediately set out to this address. “I had trouble finding the place,” he said with some degree of congratulations. “But here I am. This is charming. Do you rent the land here?”
“My sister contacted you?” Castor asked.
“She mentioned that you may have a particularly interesting artifact. She wrote to me, yes. In great detail. It struck our interest, indeed.” Quincy explained that he was an archaeologist, which is just a fancy word for somebody who studies ancient remains to try to better understand a culture. Castor thought better than to interrupt his guest to tell him he already knew quite well what an archaeologist was. “May I have a look?” Quincy asked.
Quincy smiled down at Castor, who felt a little compelled to humor this man who had travelled so far for a mere look. With any luck, this city specialist could confirm that there’s nothing special about this found fragment of nonsense, and everybody could move forward. Aside from all this, now, more than ever, Castor wanted to start his project. He’d collected more than enough moorwood to start erecting his dream and figure out what’s ahead.
So Castor led Quincy over to his mattress where they both sat comfortably. Castor uncovered the thing. “I’m Castor,” he said.
Quincy nodded a couple of times, then he looked up to Castor. “This is really something, isn’t it? Where did you find it?”
Castor hesitated a moment, then he stood and walked over to the stove and nervously rubbed his hands over the small flame. “I don’t have much to offer, but would you like something to drink — or maybe a bite of fish? I have lots of fish.”
“All right,” Quincy said. “That would be nice.”
Castor withdrew some of his smoked slugfish from a storage container buried just slightly beneath the dirt floor. He set two small fillets on a grate above the stove, then hovered above the mattress. “I found it at the bottom of one of the shallower pools in the bog over north.”
“What on earth were you doing in a bog pool, Castor?” Quincy asked.
“I — ”
“Never mind. This is tremendous, isn’t it?” he asked. “Look at the ridge here, and the fine cutting to etch this curve.” Quincy’s eyes never left the thing. “This isn’t from this century — not even from this millennium in all likelihood.”
“Why?” Castor asked.
“Yet it’s preserved so perfectly. If you truly found this here, this would change everything about what we know about history. Do you realize that?”
“We actually have little knowledge of the ancient cultures that used to live in this continent before us. We have traces of the barbarians who ransacked the land and burned the ruins before them, but because of their blatant disregard of cultural artifacts, we know virtually nothing of the civilizations who ruled before them.”
Castor smelled the fish cooking, and he asked his guest how he liked his fish cooked.
“We have never found any such relics this far north before. We of course assume that the bog was once a rich lake land, nothing like it is now — but we hadn’t known any ancient civilizations to sprawl so far in this direction,” Quincy said, his fingers and his eyes all the while attending the thing. “And I’m not picky about my fish. However you like yours.”
Castor grabbed a few stump rounds he kept in a bucket, and he placed a fish on each, serving one to his guest. “It’s not much,” Castor said.
Quincy took the small fillet between his fingers and dipped it whole into his mouth. His eyes widened with what appeared to be pleasure, and his lips formed a pursed smile as he chewed. “This is fantastic, Castor,” he said.
Castor looked down at the thing and smiled. He tore off a small chunk of his slugfish and took a bite, chewing thoroughly threw all of the small, tender bones.
“Listen,” Quincy said, his mouth obviously full. “You’re going to be famous.”
Quincy withdrew a magnifying glass from his breast pocket and held it tentatively toward the thing. “May I?” he asked.
A little unsure of what was being asked, Castor replied, “Of course, absolutely.”
Quincy knelt his head in only a few centimeters from the thing, following its contours from top to bottom in a slow even pace. Castor’s eyes followed the movements, wondering what could be seen in a magnifying glass that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye.
“Clearly,” Quincy said after what seemed like several minutes of close analysis, “You have something remarkable here. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the element of some grand statue. The unrefined part here, near the end, is where it must have broken off from something larger. I can’t imagine what this may be — perhaps the sword or cudgel of some ancient warrior.”
Castor bit off a little more of his fish.
“We are making history, Castor. We are,” Quincy said. “You have stumbled upon something of great importance. If what I suspect is true, then the rest of this ancient relic is down there in the bog, buried for thousands of years. If we are lucky, it will all be as perfectly preserved as this.” Quincy took a pause. For the first time since it was revealed to him, he took his eyes off the thing, and he stood to look out the window. “Who knows, this thing may be small — but it may be part of a larger monument, a standing statue. Do you think you could take me to where you found this?”
Castor looked up into Quincy’s beaming eyes. “I suppose I could try.”
And so it was set. They arranged for Quincy to return the next day with a small team, presumably students of his who were as eager as he was to uncover something of supposed historical significance.
“You’re going to be famous,” Quincy said to Castor the next day as they deviated from the trail in the direction of Castor’s original find. Castor’s boots had no trouble in the black sludge, though Quincy and his three young students had a harder time. Whereas they would necessarily test the firmness of each step before committing, Castor, who had little regard for the purity of his own boots, trod on. More than once he had to stop so the others could catch up to him.
Castor wore his satchel and carried the thing upon his shoulder, as he’d grown accustomed to, and Quincy and his crew likewise carried strange instruments and devices — and one also carried a what appeared to be a wide variety of foods to accommodate their trek.
After twenty or thirty minutes of pressing through the bog, Quincy managed to catch up to Castor, and he again reminded him of the fame to come. But Castor showed little interest. He only held the thing tighter in his grip.
“Do you think we’ll find the precise spot?” Quincy asked. “There must be a thousand of these pools out here, and they each look identical.”
Castor paused and looked back to Quincy, following his gaze around the landscape. He looked back to Quincy’s hopeful expression.
“This means a lot to you,” Castor said. So many questions threatened to push through him, but he contained them all, each left unsaid.
“Without you, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t even find my way back to the trail at this point,” Quincy said. “But luckily I have you.”
Something in this startled Castor, and he looked deeper in Quincy’s expression. “We’ll find it,” he said.
It didn’t take long. Castor first recognized the pool by its shape, mostly round, but pointed at one end toward the middle peak of a scant mountain range off slightly in the distance. Castor wanted to point out the pool, but he took a survey of the area to assure himself first. Immediately, he noticed the black root he’d pulled up days before, the one that had been full of mucksnails. “This is it,” he said.
Quincy paused and caught his breath, then looked closely into Castor with apparent disbelief. He squinted his eyes and asked if he was sure. “That’s uncanny. Splendidly uncanny.”
Immediately Quincy unloaded his gear onto the hard ground beside the pool and let out a large sigh. Though he had been keeping pace with Castor, it had clearly been a bit of a struggle. Shortly after departing from the trail, Quincy resigned any attempt to keep his clothes clean, which afforded him a more significant pace, but he was clearly not accustomed to the nimble footwork and the wide arches of the step. Nor did he seem accustomed to carrying any amount of weight for any length of time. Castor had offered once to carry something, but Quincy immediately declined the offer, either ashamed or possessive. Nevertheless, Castor’d gone considerably slower, but they still managed to lose the students along the way — yet Quincy didn’t seem especially bothered.
Quincy, clearly delighted, put an arm around Castor. Castor eased the thing to his side, a light burden lifted from his shoulder, and he allowed himself to drift with gravity slightly toward Quincy.
“How can you be sure this is the pool?” Quincy asked. “They are all the exact same.”
“This one is different,” Castor said.
“You,” Quincy said, “are different.”
Quincy opened his pack and took out several devices Castor didn’t recognize. He opened a tripod, then extended a telescoping rod and fit it into the tripod. He placed a counter balance on the short end and dipped the long end into the pool with seemingly no difficulty.
Castor wanted to offer help, but he thought better of it. Instead, he stayed back and watched in wonder. He admired Quincy’s dedication, but he mostly admired Quincy’s dexterity. What grace Quincy lacked in treading through the bog was compensated for in operating these obtuse devices.
After the little while, the strange device was apparently all set up and at least partially operational. Quincy sat on the ground beside it, beside Castor, and he leaned back with a wide smile.
“Should we go find the others?” Castor asked
“I warned them to keep up,” Quincy said. “Anyway, they’ll find us eventually.” Quincy’s eyes caught hold of the thing again, and he looked up to Castor, as though asking for permission. Castor’s smiled meekly. “If you could only imagine the possibilities,” Quincy said.
Quincy reached over and, his arms beneath the thing, tried to lift it toward him, which was no small effort on his part. Castor helped leverage it and then let it rest in Quincy’s lap.
Only a few minutes later, the three students stumbled upon Castor and Quincy. Castor, somewhat startled by their sudden intrusion, stood up quickly, the thing protectively fallen from his grip. Quincy seemed to simultaneously chide them and congratulate them as he pointed out the pool and describe its features in terms Castor didn’t properly understand.
Quincy and his three students set to work in a way that simply didn’t seem natural to Castor. The more they plunged their sophisticated instruments into the pool to gauge one thing or another, the more Castor started to step back. He took the thing in his arms and found another small pool three or four meters away. He settled comfortably, his back to Quincy and his students, then took out his own net and swirled it about the pool. He passed the greater part of an hour or two, one hand controlling the net, the other comfortably resting upon the thing.
By lunch time, Castor had pulled up three or four slugfish, and he was just ready to offer to share the bounty when he turned to find Quincy feverishly bounding between the several devices set up around the pool. Before Castor could speak, Quincy caught his eye and yelled, “We found it!”
“We found it,” Castor uttered back.
And it began. The point was marked on the maps, and it suddenly became a known place. Quincy came and held Castor by the shoulders, looked him in the eye, and congratulated the two of them, but Castor began to wonder if Quincy thought he was looking in a mirror at that moment. In the coming days, Castor almost felt as though he had nothing to do with the discovery. At first machines rolled in and worked only through the shorter daylight hours, but once they had lights, the machines worked tirelessly through day and night, unaware of the sun’s position around the planet.
Castor went to visit what had now been called The Site, and the first day or two seemed promising. At first, Quincy would immediately step away from whatever he was doing, and he’d congratulate Castor. The first two times, Quincy announced to all the crew there — every time a new set of workers — that this was the one and only Castor.
Quincy would look to the thing, and he would speculate that this was an arm, with the little knot at the end somehow forming a very crude fist. He would speculate that instead this was a weapon, or perhaps some alien limb. He didn’t even ask for permission anymore before reaching for it, stroking it as though divining some of its ancient powers.
After a week or so, Quincy seemed far more interested in the thing itself than in its bearer. When he said that “we’ve done it,” it became increasingly clear to whom he was referring. There, in the late hours of the night, the lights shining heavy on the pool, somebody yelled that they had it, whatever it was. The devices — which had been lowered on lines to scour the bottom, to dig, to grapple, and to perform whatever ungodly feats their creators had them do — had finally done it. Castor, out of curiosity, stayed through the night to watch them lower dozens of cables into the pool. A diver wearing a thick, protective layer, went to oversee the operation. Several calculated hours later, they raised from the pool what appeared to be, through the blackened muck, an enormous head. There was a round of cheers, and the cables held the head stable, connected to whatever else lay below.
The head and its shoulders was nearly beyond the size of the pool itself — and there was talk of excavation to extract the full body of this ancient relic. It could take days or weeks in order to do it properly, to minimize potential damage. Quincy spread open some papers on a desk that had recently been installed nearby, probably to consider different possibilities. It would tear up the area, but it was the price of history. It was late, and Castor headed home, the shrunken thing on his shoulder.
He didn’t go back to The Site.
Paola came by Castor’s cabin a few days later. “I read the news,” she said. “Something happened. Where have you been? You haven’t come by in weeks.”
“Do you want to come in?” Castor asked.
“There’s no room in there for two people,” she said. “Come out here.”
“Quincy was in here,” he said.
She asked who Quincy was, and he began to tell her about the letter she sent. Defensively, and possibly unconsciously, he edged the thing away, under a low-hanging shelf.
“You ought to be out there at the site,” she said.
“You mean at The Site,” he replied. “And there is no place for me there.”
“Mills has been trying to sell larger and larger plots of the land, you know.” She turned away. “We can’t keep earning our life on this land. Not like we used to.”
“Why?” Castor asked.
“This isn’t about our land,” she said.
“Why?” Castor asked.
“Castor! Stop repeating yourself. Your mind is fried from eating this toxic shit you pull out of the pools. You can’t think straight. Listen to what I’m saying to you!”
“You found that thing, and you’re entitled to some recognition for it.” And, upset for one reason or another, Paola left.
Castor smoked the remainder of his fish that afternoon and later through the night, and he resolved to withdraw with the changing season. Let Quincy and his friends find what they would out there in the bog. Castor lay there on his mattress, filled with himself and the thing. Yet, he wondered about The Site. It wasn’t his history, to be sure. He wasn’t here a thousand years ago. Whose history would this be, and why would it matter?
In the morning, for the first time in what seemed to be months, he resumed work on his project. He gathered all of the moorwood he had dumped around the backside of his cabin, and he began to whittle them into parts that would fit within the structure. The thing by his side, he finally felt the confidence to transform a misshapen branch into a puzzle piece that would fit within the whole.
As the days grew shorter, his work grew more focused. He worked on — and he worked harder — because he knew what was ahead of him. He created a heel, and he knew what was ahead: an ankle. He created a calf, and he knew what was ahead: a knee. Every step created the demand for a new step. Every new piece worked into what was already there, and it created a new need of what was to come.
Two or three days later, Quincy came to the cabin, and with only a little hesitation, Castor let him in.
“Castor — do you have any fish on the stove?” Quincy asked.
“Not yet,” he said. “But I’ll set some. Why?”
“We resurrected the thing — I mean, the statue. The ancient beast we’ve been searching for all along.”
“Oh?” Castor smiled for Quincy. For days, he’d secretly hoped that the statue or whatever it was would be pulled from the hole and removed, taken to the city, and essentially disappeared. Gone forever. It was strange to see Quincy here again.
“We have you to thank, you know,” Quincy said. “This is going to revolutionize our understanding of our history. You know that. Everything of the past will change.”
Castor could see Quincy’s wavering eyes.
“You and — ” Quincy looked back to Castor. “We really have something.”
“Where is the thing?” Quincy asked.
Castor’s throat grew cold. “It’s in the back. It’s fine.”
“May I look at it? May I have another look?” Quincy looked a little desperate, but Castor thought this could be the necessary farewell sequence.
“Yes,” Castor said. “I was working on a project out there. Do you want to see? I’m erecting my own statue of sorts.”
Castor took Quincy behind the cabin, right where the thing lay beside Castor’s project. Quincy took a momentary glance at the erection and asked what it was. Castor shrunk a little, and told him it was a statue — or at least it would be when he finished. He’d been growing it with sticks he’d collected from the area, though admittedly, in its presently incomplete state, it looked more like a haphazard palisade than a statue of himself.
“That’s lovely,” Quincy said. “You ought to see the marble one we pulled up, though. It must be at least thirteen hundred years old — and, fully erect, over dozen meters tall. It seems to be a warrior god of sorts.” And he proceeded to the thing, lying there so peacefully. Without a word, he wedged the knotted end into the ground and hoisted the jagged end up toward him. Squinting his eyes, he reexamined the edge. “This is it,” he added.
“This is the missing piece.”
Castor stood still a moment. There was nothing missing about this. Still, again, he asked, “What?”
“I’m not sure how to say this,” said Quincy, “but the statue we pulled from The Site was remarkably intact. The builders were especially adept at connecting the limbs and elements of the warrior’s armor so that its structural integrity was maximized.”
“What?” asked Castor.
“Except for one element.”
“There was one protruding element we found that wasn’t otherwise structurally bound to the main statue.”
“You drop the statue sideways, everything else will remain intact,” Quincy said. “It’s all grounded together. Everything is tightly bound — sword to shield. Arm to arm. Even leg to leg. Except for one piece.”
“What?” Castor asked.
“Except for your thing.”
“There’s no other way to put it.” Quincy paused and looked deeply into the thing. “The phallus.”
Quincy began to explain the nuances of the ancient cultures and their primacy of virility, but Castor heard only one thing, that one utterance yet to come: “We need the thing.”
Quincy took his eyes off the thing and stepped toward Castor. “Think of it as borrowing.”
“History will be incomplete without it.”
“But think of the statue in a museum where millions of people will be able to see it and touch it and understand it as part of a foreign, ancient culture.”
“But what is this statue without its thing?”
“Think of a man without his thing.”
“Think of science.”
“Listen to me, Castor. The thing looks very tough and sturdy, but it’s really not. It may be heavy, but it’s very fragile. And it’s only getting worse,” Quincy said. “Now that it’s exposed to air, it’s poisoned. I’ve suspected this, but I’ve confirmed it with the other materials we’ve brought up. It needs to be treated. Or before long it will split and splinter and shatter.”
“It needs to be taken care of. Don’t you want it to be taken care of?”
And Quincy took a step back, accidentally snapping off a piece of Castor’s project. He glanced down at the thing, the phallus. “Look, Castor.”
“No.” Castor drew closer to the thing.
“This land isn’t your land,” Quincy said. “And that bog isn’t your bog.”
“No.” Castor lurched over the thing.
“And that thing isn’t your thing. It belongs to us.”
In one motion, Castor heaved the narrower end of the thing into his hands and swung it around in an unsavory arc toward Quincy. He wondered what kind of brute it would take to swing such a club. Before Quincy could react, the thing had collided with his forehead in a quick and savage clap. And that seemed to be it. The impact split the bones — Quincy’s, the thing’s and Castor’s. Precariously aligned, Quincy stumbled backward toward Castor’s project and smashed into the erection. Skull fractured, his body was impaled by a thousand sticks pointed outward.
Castor looked over the body, his thing split, splintered, shattered. He did not know what was ahead.
Math Trafton is an assistant professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast. He earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Colorado, and his main interests are in ghost literature and the love letter. He lives in Sitka, AK with his family.