Tall Tale

Daniel Galef

I’ve told you some real yarns before, first-class stuff and of the tallest and most factitudinous caliber, but it occurs as it does that I do not believe you have ever heard the story of the Winter of 18 and Something-or-Other, the veracity of which I can guarantee on account of I was there, so I know it right. You may well wonder why you weren’t taught of this historical adventure, its principle naval battles and preliminary hypotheses and gerundive clauses, but you won’t find it in any history textbook because they tried and the pupils walked out of the schoolrooms in protest.

It was one of those snap winters.

You know up in the valley we’ve never gotten springs or falls. God ordered up an excess of summers and winters and we get to make our way through them straight one to th’other. I’ve told you the story of playing racquetball at the Z when winter hit and having to snowshoe back up the mountain on the racquets. Or taking a cow in to town when summer hits and whipping the horse to keep pace with the chinook wind so that the horse is galloping breast-deep in snow, and behind you’re being dragged through two feet of mud on the buckboard, and the poor cow another bit behind is kicking up dry dust. Or the time I rode in to town and it had snowed so much I couldn’t find it and tied my horse to a post while I checked the map, and summer hit while I was reading it and I looked up to find myself sitting on the roof of the church with my horse tied to the steeple.

Well, this was like that, but even worse. It was the quickest snap winter we ever had. The mercury turned tail and ran out the bottom of the thermometers. Tears froze halfway to the ground so Olver Barlet’s funeral which was in-progress when winter hit sounded like a tap-dancing competition. The river stopped short so suddenly that the log-drivers were thrown forward by their own momentum and slid all the way until the next bend.

You know the little goosepond down by the main road, the poor things didn’t even know what hit them. Winter came over, and—zowie!—the pond was solid as ice. As a matter of fact, it was ice, so there you have it. Just a little sheet of solid ice and a whole gaggle of geese froze in by their feet around the edge, all of them just as fast as lightning, you know how I mean, but different.

Now, normally, the geese would have been long gone. You know they like to head south around this time, but winter hit so fast, and so early, that those geese didn’t even have a chance to leap out of the pond before they were trapped just as sure as a mouse in a frozen pond. Twelve geese, if I properly recall, and that does make a full gaggle, all standing in a couple inches of water, made twelve geese, now that’s one whole gaggle remember, frozen up to their ankles in ice.

Of course, they started going crazy, honking and flapping and generally raising up such an unbearable ruckus that it came to nobody could stand it anymore. I’m not usually much of a humanitarian, but everyone in town was losing sleep and the traffic on the main road only a few yards away felt ten times worse because of all the honking, so finally I took my little wood saw and went down onto the surface of the pond to start at liberating the poor flying pests.

I didn’t want to hurt their skinny little legs directly, so first I started chipping out around the edge of the pond, where the ice was thinner, with the butt of my bow-and-arrow which I always carry out in green places in case of rabbits. It worked pretty fast, too, I had chipped the giant slab of ice just about free and I figured I could haul it in to melt in front of the fire, but I had forgotten those darn geese.

They were still flapping and hollering like I had a hankering in my eyes for a goose supper, and sure they didn’t know what I had in mind to free them up to fly south. So as soon as I finished breaking the ice free from the ground, the geese still flapping, the whole pond, a puck of ice about six feet across, took off into the air like a cork blown from a pop-gun—and me still standing on top of it.

No? Well what do you think would happen, all those geese flapping like mad, there sure were a lot of them, you think they cared if they had an unwilling passenger? Didn’t think so.

By the time I’d gotten my wits about me and mustered up the courage to peek over the edge, we were already higher up than Lindy ever dared to go. The geese, see, were finally able to fly south for the winter, and they weren’t wasting any time doing so.

We rose up into the air so quick I blinked and thought it’d snowed again but it was just the cotton-candy clouds sprawled out below us and we weren’t even slowing down.

Now, I like a good vacation as much as the next fellow, and once I got over the initial vertigo and managed to wiggle into a pretty secure position clinging to the edges of our little saucer the ride wasn’t too unpleasant, but the trouble was, the further south those geese flew, the warmer it got, and the warmer it got, the faster the platform started melting. Added to which the well-known physical bylaw dictating that heat, like the sun in the east or dough with yeast, rises, and by the time I could see the Lakes underneath us, all little and baby-blue just like a picture in a geography book, dotted lines and labeled points of interest and all, we were losing ice at a truly drastic clip, which I could see didn’t spell well for me.

Now the geese were arranged sort of in a ring around the edge of the saucer, on account of that’s how they were standing when the pond froze, in the shallower water around the edge. So when the melt creeping from the outside edge of the circle got to them, it got to them all at once and they flew off without a look back. Of course, there was still plenty ice (though vanishing fast), and what’s more, there was still plenty me, dropping as fast and just like a coin from a million miles up. I wondered if I would land heads or tails.

Now, here is where events took a turn you might find just an ounce improbable.

I raised you well on a solid fare of Ripley’s magazines and my own gospel stories, so you’ve surely heard about the terrible sea beasties encountered by mariners in centuries past or the Monster in the Scottish lake that photographs like a plank of driftwood. It doesn’t take a geniusness of extrapolation to see that nearly any sufficiently voluminous body of water can and probably does accommodate at least one serpentine-type creature of your standard variety—twenty or thirty yards long, poison-dribbling scimitar fangs, subsists on a steady diet of princesses and beautiful virgins, on which I was aught for three but the thing looked hungry enough even to settle for a stringy old liar on a downward trajectory if only for the convenience of it.

Just then, the last trickle of the ice melted, and I saw that there had been something frozen inside of it all along: a wooden door! In fact, it was Father Fabian’s kitchen door, which some years ago had blown off its hinges at the wind produced when the old sinner had traded his family cow for some magic beans and then ate them with tomato sauce and franks. Now this kitchen door, which I guess must have been hiding in the pond when the thing froze, just so happened to be exactly the size and shape of a seagoing raft of the Medusoid variety, and clambering on top of the thing in freefall I positioned the door below me such that I might use it to break my fall. The door and I hit the water at probably about a thousand miles per hour only it didn’t take an hour so I couldn’t very well calculate, so fast yet that the poor old snake was knocked back a fair bit of fathoms itself. Then I was on the little raft, on the water, on the lake, and on my own in front of the serpent, a great big evil-looking worm drooling out of both sides of its mouth, and I only had the split second before it recouped its lost ground and swallowed me whole to figure out what to do.

All in the world I had on me was still my old bow and arrow which I always carry in case of rabbits and the wood saw I’d had when I went out to free up the geese. I’ll admit I thought about trying to shoot that poor snake, or saw its head off or its tail, although it seemed like it was all head and all tail, but in the end I looked into those big bottle-green dinner plate eyes and couldn’t bring myself to draw the string, so pitiful was the creature in its anger and looking just a little bit like my own dear Jenny-Marie. Also, I knew about some snakes like can grow another head when you knock off the one, and I felt I was having well enough trouble with the thing in the singular to risk multiplying it accidentally.

So what I did was I took the bow from the bow and arrow which I always have on me in case of rabbits and I took the saw from the saw and I put the one to th’other and started playing “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean” on the bowed musical saw just like you do, only I played “My Bonnie Lies over the Lake” on account of I was on a lake and not an ocean and also come to think of it I actually played “Clementine” and not “My Bonnie” in the first place. Now music, so sayeth the Bard and he should know, hath charms, and those charms came in mighty handy because it soothed the savage breast of that lake-serpent, which didn’t even have a breast to it savage or no, so much that it straightaway volunteered to tow me on the little raft clear up to home country, which it presently did and where I wrote this documentation or at least a preliminary outline of it filling in the relevant details upon later reflection.


About the Author

Daniel Galef is currently an undergraduate student of philosophy and classical literature at McGill University. He has published short fiction and humor writing in the American Bystander, the NationalLampoon.com, and Defenestration Magazine, among others. He prefers to poet.