The fence posts slid by silently as I stared out of the dirty windows of the Greyhound bus that I found myself on. I was headed toward the small town in northern Saskatchewan where I spent my younger years and adolescence. Like the town I would soon see, the bus hadn’t changed since I was on it years before as a child. It still held the scars of pocketknives, ballpoint pens, and permanent markers; the ashtrays that used to be full of smelly cigarette butts where now stuffed with wads of hardening chewing gum; and the washroom in the back still had that annoying door that creaked as it swayed back and forth as we travelled the many kilometers to our destination.
I watched the same fence posts that I had seen many times before. Occasionally, you could spot a tin can or even a lost boot propped up on one of the posts. As a boy I used to imagine myself as a superhero flying beside the school bus, jumping on the fence posts and leaping into the air, like an acrobat launching himself into the darkness, but not needing to be caught.
It was what lay beyond these posts, however, that caught my attention and brought my memory back to a young boy who I had known very briefly when I was only 11 years old. The wheat in the field was what brought the memory to my mind. As I settled my gaze on the ripening fields in the distance I could tell, even from within the bus, that the crop was a good one. The shafts were densely packed together, and the carpet of movement that it created, in the wind beyond my senses, showed me the deep color of a high quality yield.
The sun was high and I was walking along a gravel road. Kicking the stones with my runners and watching the dust collect around my ankles. I was almost finished the journey I started that Saturday morning. I had set out from home and walked the twelve kilometers to the store to spend my five-dollar allowance on small bags of chewy candy – intensely sweet and overwhelming sour, thin stings of ropey licorice and soft sugary sponge-like strawberries. One bag was dedicated to the small square Mojos that I bought for a penny each. The whole week I would save any penny I found and make sure it was in my pocket with my five-dollar bill, before I left for the store on Saturday morning. Alongside the bags of candy was always a Coke in a thin glass bottle, cold as ice and opened by the shiny steel the bottle opener on the side of the large refrigerator that the bottles where chilled in.
The Erin Ferry Red and White Store was my pot of gold. They had everything, and both before and after I bought my stash of sugar, I browsed the rows of plastic toys to see the army men and plastic farm animals, but inevitably, I would turn my gaze to up to the ceiling to see the larger items hanging from hooks on thin chains. The planes that were controlled remotely by batteries, the large 2000 piece puzzles of multicolored beach balls and sailing ships, and the dream gifts of large swords and even a light sabre that Luke Skywalker had in Star Wars. It even made sound and every time I walked into that store I would ask the man behind the counter if he could take down the light sabre and every time he said that if I didn’t money for it, I couldn’t play with it.
My trek took me past the acreages and large farms of my neighbours. Twelve kilometers of gravel road and I only passed 8 homes along the way. Many of the farms I passed had people outside of them working by the house, by a barn or even on a tractor in the fields I passed. All of these people waved at me, and even though I didn’t know all of their names, they all knew mine. I knew some of them would phone my mom and let her know that I had just passed their place and the direction that I was headed in.
This day, with the sweltering sun high in the afternoon sky, and the dust collecting around my ankles I would notice that someone was following me, and staying just out of sight by keeping to the wheat field that ran along the road. The field belonged to Randy Wilson, a friend of my father’s. I had met Randy many times before, and he would always wave when I saw him on my journey. One time he even offered me an orange pop for my walk when he was taking a break and I met him at the approach to the field he was working on.
The follower was elusive, but no match for my quick senses and I spotted a boy just after I passed the property line to Randy’s farm. He followed me as quietly as he could, but as anyone growing up around wheat knows, it’s almost impossible to move through these fields without the tell tale noise of shafts of dry wheat rubbing against each other. Twice I stopped and looked back into the field and both times the noise stopped when I did.
“I know you’re there,” I called out the second time I stopped, but I received no answer so continued on my walk.
I finally stopped by the dugout on Wilson’s farm, climbed through the barbed wire fence and made my way around the small copse of trees that grew down by the water. I peeled my clothes off down to my underwear, throwing them into a small heap on the rocks, and climbed out onto the one smooth rock that jutted out over the water. I dove down deep into the dug out, smiling under the water as I saw the sun’s reflection off the bluestone beneath me. It was brilliant. Shafts of blue and white sunlight danced around me in the cold water, and I only surfaced to gulp for more air and dove down again.
When I surfaced the last time and floated on my back warming myself in the sun’s rays I finally noticed the boy standing on that same smooth rock I had jumped off of not 10 minutes earlier. He scared me and I oriented myself vertically in the water and treaded in place to look at him. He stared back at me with big round eyes, that were intensely blue, almost the same color as the blue stone that even now sparkled in the depths of the water beneath me. His golden hair stuck to his forehead and hid some of his sight. He was dressed as all of the other kids I knew, in a dirty t-shirt and faded jeans. His runners were dusty just like mine. Other than his eyes, the only striking feature he possessed was a silver chain, which hung from his neck. It had a small oval medallion hanging from it, but what was on it I couldn’t tell for so far away.
“Hi,” I said through chattering teeth, but he just looked at me and said nothing. He was younger than I by maybe a year or two and just stood on the rock looking at me as I kept myself afloat.
“I’m Jordan. Jordan Anderson. I live down the road by the old church. You know the one I’m talking about?” The boy continued to stare at me in the water, and I didn’t really know what to do.
“Wanna swim with me?” I asked hopefully.
He shook his head.
“Okay, well, I’m gonna come out now, so could you move out of the way so I can get out?”
He moved off the rock and back to the tree line, but stayed there and watched me closely as I pulled myself back onto the rock ledge and grabbed my clothes. Although I would normally, lay down in the sun on the smooth rock that I used as a diving platform, to dry myself somewhat before I got dressed. It felt a little weird having this kid stare at me so I dressed quickly, pulling my clothes over my wet body and underwear. I’d pay for it on the walk home, as walking in wet jeans was never fun, but the sun was hot, so it wouldn’t be for long.
I picked up the plastic bag that held three small bags of candy and walked over to where the boy stood watching me. I reached in and pulled out a long string of red licorice and offered it to him. He looked at my offering and back up to my face. I nodded encouragingly and he smiled and took the candy. As he tasted it hesitantly, like a kid that’s never tasted candy before, I noticed the medallion again around his neck as saw that it was like one that my mom had. I told myself that I would ask her about it when I got home that day. Eventually, we walked back in the direction of the road, him in front and me following.
Still saying nothing he turned into the field before we got to the fence line, and I wandered after him as he was still walking in the direction that I needed to go. He weaved through the wheat effortlessly. I thought it strange that he knew where he was going as I was a head taller than he was, which was the difference between me being able to see above the wheat, and his sight being swallowed by the yellow stalks, but he kept a straight line with the fence making his way to the end of Randy’s property. We emerged and he pointed to the approach to the field we were on that joined the road. I offered him one more string of licorice, which he accepted with a smile, and then he turned around, and headed off into the field once more.
Later that day, when I remembered the metal the boy wore, I went to my mom and asked her about the medal that she sometimes wore. She told me that it was a medal of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel that kept travellers safe during their journeys. She also told me the story of how Christopher had become the saint of travel, through his journey to serve the greatest King there was. In his search he began his service to a king, but found that the king feared the devil, and so he left the service of the king and found the devil to serve him, but discovered that the one who the devil feared most was Christ and so he set out to find Christ and serve him. Before he found him, however, he found a man who told him that he must serve Christ first to be able to him, and to do this he would need to help the people cross a strong river that was in their path and many were perishing in their attempts to cross. Christopher helped many people cross the river, and then at last helped a young child. As he put the child on his back and entered the current of the river, the child became heavier and heavier, and it took all of Christopher’s strength to keep the boy safe until he reached the other bank. When Christopher told the child he had the weight of the world in him, the child replied that it was not only the weight of the world, but the weight of He who made the world, and that child was in fact the son of God, and Christopher’s King. Strange story, I thought, how could anyone be as heavy as the world, and how would Christ who was suppose to be a man, be a child? Religion never made any sense to me and I put it out of my head as soon as my mother stopped talking.
I saw my young friend every Saturday from that week on until the end of the summer, and it was always in the same way. I would reach the edge of Randy’s property and then hear him, walking alongside me as I made my way toward the dugout. I would join him as soon as I heard him beside me, and every week I would give him a different candy from my three bags, but I never once gave him a Mojo, because I really loved them, and wanted to keep them for myself when I got home. We would go to the dug out and he would watch me swim, but he never joined me. He never spoke to me over the weeks that I saw him, and I was beginning to think that he couldn’t speak at all. He shook his head and smiled if I asked him a question, but if I asked him anything about who he was, he just looked at me and ignored the question. I didn’t have the slightest idea who he was, but I was sure that he was related to Randy somehow. Maybe Randy had a child that I didn’t know about, but then I never saw this kid on the school bus last year or any other year. He was probably here just for the summer. I asked my mom about who he could be, but she didn’t know and said that Randy didn’t have any children. He had a wife many years ago when he was younger, but he wasn’t married anymore.
The last Saturday of summer came, it was the last time I would take my journey this year, and I was sad by the prospect of losing the independence, I felt on those Saturdays. As always though, I started off early, waved to the neighbours as I made my way to the Erin Ferry Red and White Store, purchased my bags of candy and headed home along the dusty gravel road. It wasn’t until I reached the property line of Randy’s farm that I heard the familiar footsteps walking alongside me in the field. I joined him, and together, like we had in the previous weeks, he led me through the field of wheat, now taller than me and almost ready to harvest in another month, and on to the dug out. I heaped my pile of clothes onto the rocks for the last time that summer, and dove into the cool water. I made my way down deeper than I had ever before and as always I marveled at the light and how it shone so intensely under the water as it reflected off the bluestone. I made my way up to the surface and watched my friend watching me before I went back down for one final dive.
I had been pushing myself deeper and deeper on every dive, and I had to equalize the pressure in my head as I dove to the bottom of the dugout for the first time ever. Elated, I brushed my hand along the sandy bottom in victory and disturbed the sediment into a cloud around me. I caught sight of something shiny and swam toward it, reaching my hand into the sand, I grasped whatever it was and prepared to surface to check my treasure, but as I brought my hand up, whatever it was, caught on something, and I looked back to see a gleaming bone white skull appearing out of the sand, pulled by whatever was in my hand. It’s surface was completely devoid of flesh, with hollow eyes staring at me, and its mouth of perfect teeth hanging open in a grotesque moan of someone who had been dead a very long time. I screamed in fear expelling the last of my air and panicked as I rushed to the surface 20 feet above my head.
I felt darkness close in on my vision as I neared the surface, not convinced that I would make it before I had to give into the need to breath. I pulled harder at the water, the skeletal image below me pushing me even faster. I broke the surface of the water and immediately gulped at the air, but in my haste I surfaced beneath the rock overhang and crashed my head deeply into the rock surface. My vision swam, the pain exploded in my head, and the darkness took hold, as I felt myself slip beneath the water’s surface.
I woke, my lungs burning and my head pounding, to a voice above me calling my name.
“Jordan, Jordan.” I looked up and saw Randy Wilson, looking at me with concern. He had his hand on my head holding a rag or something, which was covering one of my eyes. I was very cold, and the pain in my head made me vomit violently only adding to the throbbing inside my body. The horror and shock of what I had seen in the water came back to me suddenly and I tried to haul myself away from the water. Randy kept me down with a firm hand on my shoulder and told me not to move. I didn’t have the strength to argue, and as he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed a number lapsed into unconsciousness again hearing him say my mother’s name into the phone.
When I woke again, I was in my own bed at home and Doctor Stodderd, our family doctor, was in my room with both of my parents, talking quietly in the corner. When they saw that I was awake, my mom rushed over and gave me a crushing hug. I saw my dad wiping tears from his eyes and almost cried myself seeing him. He came and joined my mom and we all hung onto each other tightly.
“You took quiet a blow to the head son, let me take a look at you,” Doctor Stodderd waited for my parents to give him some room and he listened first to my heart and my lungs and then took out his tiny flashlight and directed the beam toward my eyes.
I pushed the doctor away in fear as I remembered what I saw in the water. The glint of the light in my eyes brought the memory back of what I saw.
“Mom, Dad!” I yelled. “There was someone in the water. There was someone dead in the water, in the bottom of the dugout! There was something shiny that I saw and I wanted to get it before I went back to the surface for air and it was attached to someone…” I couldn’t say any more, as I almost lost any control I had. It took a while for my parents to calm me down and after the doctor checked me out again to make sure I was okay, he said he would contact the police right away and meet them over at the dug out to check on what I had told them.
I spent two days in bed, sleeping a lot and never really getting the image of what I saw out of my head. On the third day, my mother woke me up and Randy Wilson was with her.
“Hello Mr. Wilson,” I smiled at him, “You saved me. Thanks for doing that.”
Randy looked a little confused, “Jordon, I didn’t save you, you saved yourself, I just found you and phoned your mom here.”
“But, how did I get out of the water? Didn’t you pull me out?”
“No son,” he said gently, “I found you on the rock where you woke up, with me over you.”
“The boy.” I said looking at my mom, “mom the boy I told you about, it must have been him.”
Randy was looking confused again, and I told him about the boy that I saw every Saturday on his land between the property line and the dug out. I told him about how we ate candy together, and how he would watch me when I swam in the dugout. And then I told him about the chain and that I had asked my mom about what it meant.
Randy looked shocked and sat back in his chair staring at me. He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a silver chain and held it up for me to see. Dangling from the chain was a small oval St. Christopher medallion.
“That’s his!” I said excitedly, “That belongs to the boy I told you about, he’s had it on every time I have seen him.”
“Jordan,” Randy said quietly, “you had this in your hand when I found you on that rock. I recognized it immediately. I gave my son this chain 23 years ago, almost a month before he disappeared and we never saw him again. His name was Calvin.” He turned the medallion over and showed me the back. Engraved in scrawled capitals were the letters C.W.
I couldn’t make sense of what Randy was telling me, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of the letters he showed me.
“But you don’t have children,” I looked at my mother, who was staring at Randy as intently as I was.
“Jordon, my son went missing when he was 10 years old. He was wearing this chain. The chain you found at the bottom of the dugout where you found my boy.” There were tears in Randy’s eyes now and my mother brought her hand to her mouth and I saw the tears stream down her face.
I joined them both and the three of us sat there in silence for some time.
Finally Randy broke the quiet.
“I don’t know what you experienced, out there in that dug out Jordan, but what I do know is that you finally ended 23 years of worry and hurt. I can’t have my son back, but I can put him to rest now, and that’s thanks to you. You’ll never know how much that means to me.” He broke down again, and I moved to hug him and he embraced me tightly back.
Parting from each other he held out his hand to me and pressed the chain and medallion into my hand. “I want you to have this, it didn’t help my boy when he needed it, but I’d like to think that he helped protect you when you needed it.”
I pulled myself away from the memory and wiped the tear that began to form at the corner of my eye. The endless fence posts continued to pass as I looked out of the grime-covered window, and the bus began to drop into a ravine and head toward the Saskatchewan River in the valley far below. As we approached the water, I automatically brought my hand up to my neck, took up the medallion that hung under my shirt and brought it to my lips in silent prayer. As I tucked it under my shirt once more, I rubbed the letters engraved into the back of the medallion and gave my thanks once again to a ten year old boy named Calvin Wilson who had died twenty-three years before he saved my life.