The child was ten when the stablehand told her he was a socialist and that she better promise not to tell her father. The father (she never referred to him as pa or daddy- just “The Father”) was real rich and his god was money and big business. He owned slaughterhouses in Chicago and large holdings in some other companies, mostly patent medicines. The child lived in a big house in the fancy outskirts of Chicago. It was April 1906. The weather wasn’t quite as cold now so the child could go outside without it bothering her lungs as much. She had lung trouble due to being born before the right time. She was also real little and skinny.
The child liked spending time down at the stables. The father kept racehorses as an investment. He said they were worth far more than she was. He also said he hated her for killing her mama. He hit her sometimes, broke her arm once. He did it when no servants were around and he was having a bad day. But he always made sure she took medicine for her cough. The child felt conflicting feelings for the father. One part of her hated his stinkin guts. Another part nurtured the secret hope he would one day decide she wasn’t no good.
That day the stablehand explained to her about “your evil daddy”. Oh he’s a big bug alright he said. Wields a lot of power here and in Washington. He told her that the conditions in the slaughterhouses that the father owned were disgusting. The animals were killed cruelly, some had their brains bashed in or they were cut up while still alive because there were no humane regulations for slaughtering in place. No one was monitoring the workers and the workers weren’t paid enough and were themselves unsafe. The meat was dirty and filthy and sometimes just sat in rot on the ground. A famous writer wrote an exposé about this and as a result President Teddy Roosevelt looked into the matter. Even though there were secret tip offs weeks before his commission went in to inspect the premises, they still found filthy unsanitary conditions and Roosevelt was appalled.
Soon Roosevelt is going to sign the Federal Meat Inspection Act once the house approves it said the stablehand. It’s going to at least set up the beginnings of some rules about how to keep the meat clean. And it will open the door to making conditions humane for the animals. (Incidentally, now in the present year of 2013, unless you are buying organic or free range meat, the animals are still being treated horribly. Big business has them in these huge factory farm concentration camps in tiny cages too small to turn around in, standing in their own shit, pumped with hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified feed that causes liver failure in young animals who are slaughtered right before they die of poisoning and disease. These factories are also the number one groundwater polluter in the country. Big Agro lies to the people and tells them it’s the only way to feed the huge human population. This is a lie. Food was proportionately cheaper and more plentiful when this country had thousands of small family farms. Organic food is cheaper to grow and does not damage the earth. More people are aware now and legislation with teeth is coming that will make organic free range the law. The Federal Meat Inspection Act was the very beginning of this revolution).
The stablehand continued talking to the child: And do you know that he’s also going to sign the Pure Food and Drug Act into law next month too? One of the things it’ll do is make it illegal for criminals to sell snake oil medicines to the public by lying about dangerous ingredients inside them. My own auntie had cancer and she was taking some nostrum she bought at the druggist called Dr. Smeegly’s All Purpose Healing Tincture or some shit like that that said it cured all diseases. Well it didn’t cure her cancer. Instead it got her all hopped up on beta eucaine and it gave her a heart attack. She’s dead now. What do you think about that he asked the child.
(Incidentally, now in the present year of 2013, we’ve had a treatment for cancer with higher cure rates than chemotherapy for some time now. A Polish American physician named Dr. Burzynski discovered it. He uses a form of peptide isolate found in the blood. It’s a non-invasive, non-toxic therapy, capable of even healing inoperable brain tumors in children. Chemotherapy is Big Business and it actually has been proven to rarely work. In most cases it destroys the patient’s immune system, encourages metastasis, and kills them quicker. But Big Pharma is spending many crooked dollars and breaking the law to keep Burzynski’s science from being made available to the widespread public. They have used adulterated samples during clinical trials of his work, fabricated results, and slandered his name. They are willing to and do kill for money. Criminals like this require lengthy prison terms. As my eccentric Auntie Bev would say to them when imitating Charles Manson to creep us out “You’re all gonna git what you DESERVE!!!”)
I hope that Dr. Smeegly gets what he deserves said the stable hand. He punched a fist into his hand. Do you know that your daddy is at this moment downtown meeting with some lobbyists who are going to try to bribe congressmen to shoot down these legislations. He knows the meat is unsafe to eat and he knows those patent medicines have dangerous drugs in them. And he and his cronies are literally trying to buy the government so it can’t do its job and protect the people. Now what do you think of that, kid?
During his talk the stablehand had gotten progressively more worked up. His mustache was now quivering with outrage too and looked like it was going to jump off his face. The child wasn’t sure what to do. She just wanted to come down here and pet the horses for chrissakes (she learned to swear from the father, that was one kind of funny thing about him). And while she did find this information highly troubling it was hard to understand it all and plus it seemed like the stablehand was yelling at her. And her chest was hurting. She started to cough and tremble. Her face turned bright red with embarrassment and she saw blood on her hand when she drew it away from her mouth. She wiped it on her butt and pulled out her medicine the father made sure she always carried on her person. She took a swig. It was awfully gross and bitter but she always felt better afterwards.
For a split second the stablehand was staring at her like she was a cockroach in the kitchen. Then he flipped out. What the hell is in that bottle he yelled and he grabbed it out of her hands. She was afraid he was going to hit her but he didn’t have the right to snatch stuff out of her hands. A small amount of anger filled her and she yelled Give that back! and tried to wrest it from him. He held her at arms length kicking and attempting to bite him while he scrutinized the label. One of the stable dogs the horses were friends with was barking and dancing around them and then the horses started snorting. This is goddamn laudanum! he yelled. You’re going to get all hopped up on this stuff kid! There’s opium in here. DO you know that’s what you’re drinking? This is just some dime store cough syrup with opium in it. I have to have it the child yelled back. It’s the only thing that makes my cough stop. I’ll bet the stablehand said. You ever been inside an opium parlour? You won’t see those chinamen coughing neither.
The child had to sit down on the floor. She was getting out of breath. Gimme my medicine she said to him. He saw flecks of blood around her mouth and his eyes got afraid. I don’t think you should take this he said, and he handed it back to her. You should see a doctor who doesn’t see fitting to turn little children into drug addicts.
I’m no drug addict said the child, sitting up. She said, Besides the father, err, my daddy won’t take me to a doctor.
Well I was raised up in an orphanage but I’ll tell you what kid, I think you got it worse than I ever did he said. He looked at her sadly. Why don’t you let me he started to say but the child grabbed her bottle and ran out of the stable. She was so angry. Another sanctuary ruined. She hadn’t even understood half of that crazy mick’s vaporings.
But after a few days she’d calmed down enough to think about going back down there. She wanted to say hello to the horses and brush them. There were stable buddy animals like this one goat that she was friends with too. But it turned out she didn’t get to say hello or goodbye to them. Because the father informed her they were to be taking a vacation. Where are we going she asked him. Pack up he said and then he rang for a maid to take her upstairs. It turned out they were going to a fancy hunting lodge in the wilds of Montana. The father was in an unusually good mood, the child recognized it as his “he thinks he’s won face”.
The child packed a coat and some pants. The father didn’t care what she wore. He stopped buying her dresses after she got sent home from boarding school. He’d tried to board her as soon as she was weaned but the schools kept sending her back due to the cough. He gave up the year before. He said her uniforms had cost a small fortune and she could just wear those. But they were itchy and looked like pilgrim clothes so the girl stole some coins out of his study periodically and when she turned ten she went into town and bought some boys work clothes. No one said anything to her about them. She carefully folded a pair of pants and some undershirts and a sweater into a small trunk and wrapped some more bottles of her medicine with them so that they wouldn’t break during the train ride. And a little boar bristle toothbrush so she wouldn’t get rotten teeth. Rotten lungs were bad enough.
The train ride was exciting. The child had her own sleeper compartment. The father sat up in the first class smoking car with a few other wealthy gentlemen. She didn’t see him until they disembarked at the depot in Butte. One of his wealthy friends picked them up in a 1905 Studebaker Electric and the father laughed at him for driving an electric car. They’re cleaner than gas and up here in these woods you’re not gonna find a lot of convenience stations his friend said. The father called him a fool which seemed to offend the man a little. They drove for some time very slowly on an icy road. The land was very pretty and very cold. Pine trees were everywhere until you got up to a certain point and then it was just bald cold rock. They arrived at his friend’s property for the night and then had to set out on horseback the next morning because they were going deep up into glacier country where this supposed magnificent lodge was built. His friend explained he was going to build many more structures like it. Their mutual acquaintance, a plutocrat who financed the Great Northern Railway out of his own pocket had made it smart for investors to start building hotels and vacation homes up here in these woods. And there was talk that the government was going to make a great swath of land up there a National Park soon. The father did not approve of that but he did talk with his friend about investing in some properties. Neither of them looked or spoke with the child, who had her own small horse and rode behind them next to a carriage full of weapons and supplies.
It took several hours to ride up to the lodge. It turned out to be an enormous log cabin mansion sitting in a field of snow. Dark trees grew up a mountainside nearby. In the distance you could see various peaks of the Rocky Mountains encircled with snow and clouds like an enchanted land the child thought. It looked like Mt. Olympus way up there. The sky was so blue and the clouds and snow so white. There was a giant lake near the house and it was frozen over in most parts. Very green pine trees crept up to its edge. It was a beautiful place and wild. The child felt oddly like they were intruding. The lodge had a few locals running it and it smelled good like dinner when they stepped in. A young boy took their horses and led them to roomy stable. The child grabbed some rolls off a plate and went out to the barn to get the horses ready for bed.
The young boy was in still in the stables when she got there. He introduced himself. She said hello too. He wasn’t like the stablehand in Chicago, who was an adult man. This boy was only a year older than her. He seemed friendly but the child wanted to just be with the horses and not to talk to any humans so she said it was nice to meet him and then left. She knew he was going to ask her who she was and she got nervous when people looked shocked when they found out she was the master’s daughter. This was because she knew they thought she looked like a bum. She took a swig of her medicine to keep the lungpain down as she took a walk into the snow towards the lake. It was crusted with ice in some parts but she saw signs of life everywhere. There were paws and hoof prints of various sizes. And there was one strange giant print. It looked like a man’s bare footprint but it was the size of a huge beaver’s tail.
The boy followed the child’s footprints out to the lake but when she heard him approaching she wasn’t sure why she did this but she grabbed some old dead wildflowers from nearby and covered the giant footprint. The boy got up close to her and asked her if she wanted to build a snowman. She was surprised and said yes. They spent the dusk making a great big one. He didn’t ask her any personal questions even when he saw drinking out of her bottle. He just pretended to be trying to find the perfect size rocks for the snowman’s eyes instead.
The child and the boy played together most evenings once he was off work. During the day the father went hunting. The child would move off into the opposite direction and hike along the treeline, but staying lower down on the flat snow where she was very visible. She was afraid the father might try to shoot her sort of mistakenly. She really liked being outside in the wilderness. It was better than the city. There was almost nobody around. The nearest town was almost six miles away and it looked just like a tiny Old West boomtown with one bar and one general store which sold mostly tack, farm implements, and some canned goods. She remembered seeing it on the journey up to the lodge. But besides that it was just mountains and trees and sky and snow.
One day the child walked too far. She was following a bald eagle who was slowly gliding around above her in the sapphire blue sky and she got tired out.
She was a ways from the house now, she couldn’t even see the smoke coming out of the huge chimney. She sat down on a rock and drank some snow. She started coughing and the cold air was hurting her chest worse real bad. She swigged some of her medicine and then felt overly drowsy on account of it. She’d begun to feel rightly funny on that medicine and was requiring much more of it in order to breathe. She didn’t remember what happened after that except next thing she knew, she wasn’t sitting on that rock anymore. She woke up a lot closer to the house. She was laying in the snow like a fetus who’d been birthed there. She sat up. She could see the chimney smoke. The sun was a lot lower in the sky. Hours had passed. All around her were large footprints like the one she’d seen at the lake.
The child got up and walked back to the house. She felt much better. She didn’t tell her friend or anybody about what happened. The next day she put on her rattiest boys clothes and a hat her new friend had given her. She tucked her hair up inside it. She walked through the woods into town in the late afternoon. It was already getting dark but the child felt so strong. Stronger than she could ever remember feeling. The sun had set by the time she’d walked the several miles and arrived at the edge of the tiny settlement. It was easy to find the saloon. It was the only building with lights shining out of the windows. She smeared a little dirt on her face and walked through the heavy glass and wood swinging door.
Inside the room was very long and narrow. It stunk of sour mash and tobacco smoke. On the left were some rickety pine wood tables and chairs. Several were occupied. And to the right was a long skinny bar with an old white barkeep standing behind it. In the back was a staircase that led to the left upstairs. The child walked in and sat down at one of the tables. The barkeep came round the corner and said “You’re too young for this place boy. Go on home”. “I will in a second” the child said, “I’m just trying to find the man I work for.” “Hurry up” he said and he kept an eye on her while she went round the tables.
There were some grizzled white miners sitting at one table playing poker and they growled at what they thought was a little boy trying to spy on their game. There were some other men also playing cards and drinking. A woman wearing a lot of rouge and not much else sat on one of their knees. They ignored the child. Then she saw two people sitting together quietly at one of the tables near the backstairs. They weren’t talking, just sitting. One was an Indian. And one was a black man. She wasn’t sure why but she got a funny feeling they would be nice to her. She walked up to them and said excuse me misters. Could I ask you for some help. They both looked at her. Then she was a little afraid and just stood there. What do you want the black man said. He and the Indian both fixed their eyes on her. She said I saw some giant footprints in the snow that looked like a man’s.
Neither of them said anything. They were still just fixing their eyes on her. The black man finally laughed. Why don’t you sit down boy, you’re looking a little thirsty. He offered her some beer. She tried to drink it but her stomach was too roily and it did not taste good. He asked her where she lived and the child said she was the son of one of the men come up from the south to work at the lodge. The two men stared at her some more. The black man finally said “I heard tales from the old folks when I was a boy. They’d scare us talking about a beast in Africa, some kind of monster who could move in the trees and on the ground. They called him Kikomba. And by other names. He was responsible for the deaths of many men and livestock so they said.
The Indian cleared his throat. The man you are seeking would only be bad to the bad men he said. My people call him mah-kheh-mist-ah-eh or Big Monster. But they are speaking of another being I think because he has large bird feet. You did not see the tracks of a bird did you. The child said no. The Lakota, he said, they call this man the Chiye-Tanka. Big Elder Brother or Big Man. And he is not only of this world. He comes through his world into this one. His home is in the spirit world also. I know said the girl.
Oh you know this? The Indian looked at her with interest. He brings a great blessing to those who see him. If he sees you, touches you it is a great gift. It is something you can give to your grandchildren. You have been given a great gift then.
The child shook hands with the black man and the Indian man. Thank you she said to them. They continued to sit at their table together as she wended her way out of the saloon. Wait they called to her. She went back to the table. The black man took something out of his pocket and passed it to the Indian under the table out of eyesight, who then passed it to the child. It was a small beaded knife. She could feel a tiny feather hanging off the handle. Little girls should not be out in these woods alone said the Indian.
The next night the child stole a roast from the kitchen and a cast iron kettle. She packed these things plus a tripod for cooking over the fire and a tin of salt onto a small hardy donkey who lived with the horses. She and the donkey snuck onto the night snow close to midnight. The child wanted to thank the being who saved her by cooking him a nice dinner. She made sure she had enough hankies for her cough and her medicine with her. Although oddly, she hadn’t coughed hardly at all that day.
She built a campfire out by the lake. She dug out some wood buried under the snow, and the snow was very powdery. That meant there was little moisture content in it and the wood would be dry enough to burn. The snow was too deep to dig all the way down to the ground in order to clear a bare patch so the child did how her friend showed her. Just tamp the snow down into a platform so it’ll make a windbreak as well as a table for the wood to burn on. She draped a fur coat across the donkey’s shoulders and gave him some oats to eat by the fire. She set up the kettle and melted snow in it for broth. She put the salt in and the roast and started cooking it.
It was very late when the man in the woods showed up. The sky was bright with faint greenish and pinkish purplish lights that sparkled and glowed. The being was very tall, the child had to crane her neck all the way back to see his face. The child looked over at the donkey to make sure he wasn’t going to bolt but he was just looking up at the being like he knew him already. The being’s form was visible but was sort of undulating and glowing like the lights in the sky. Like he was made of smoke. It sort of looked human, sort of also looked like a gorilla she’d seen once in a picture book. He was covered in darkish hair or fur, and appeared to be a brown color. The edges of the hair were blurred and moving in the air, like dark light. The being did not speak outwardly but the child could feel meanings from him inside her head. She told him thank you for saving me out in the snow. He held out his hand or paw. Touching him was like running your hand very quickly over a candle flame. It isn’t hot, you just feel a delicate pressure of energy, of a form of matter more finite than a solid.
He seemed to stay a long time but it was only for a moment. He communicated knowledge about himself to her. These are the woods you live in she said aloud. He nodded. These woods are the portal you travel through she said. He nodded again in her head. I think you healed me when you touched me she said to him, I am barely coughing now. I also haven’t felt sick without my medicine which always happened if I went too long between doses she said. The being was with her a few more moments but he was fading into the night, his outline was getting more smoky and seethrough. And then he was gone.
The child was so happy to have seen him. She sat in the snow with the donkey late late into the night. It took her a while to pack up. She left the roast in the snow for the big man. She got back to the property and put the donkey back to bed. When she got into the lodge the father was up in the main room smoking. What have you been doing out there little shit he said. She made a quick decision to just run up the big stone stairs past him but he was faster and he spun her around and pushed her down the stairs. Get back up to your room. You’re going to stay there. The child was very angry and crying but there was sharp pain whenever she took a breath. Not from her lungs from the side of her body. The father stormed outside.
The next morning it took her a while to get dressed because she figured she had a broken rib or two. The child began to actively think while she slowly got her shirt on that now that she was healed and going to live a long time she could whup the father once she got bigger. I’ll stick a boot right up his ass she said to herself with relish. I’ll stab him with my new knife. She looked out her window. It was so early in the morning it was still gray out. She saw something out in the snow.
She put a blanket on and got down the stairs as fast as she could make it. She ran outside into the snow barefoot. The father was lying face up in the snow not far from the house. There was an odd peaceful look on his face even though his eyeballs were frozen with tiny ice crystals. The child looked. She saw the giant footprints in the snow.
First the child felt kind of guilty. And then mysteriously, a little sad. But those feelings soon gave way to joy. She was free. And the child did have a happy life after that. Her friend’s family took her in and they were loving to her. All the father’s holdings and money she inherited was put into a trust and she had a great allowance while she waited to turn of age. None of that money was going to lobbyists anymore. And that summer, on June 6, 1906, Theodore Roosevelt signed the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act into law.
As the child began to grow, she decided that even when she got old enough to travel alone, she would always come back to this land. And she would help make it a National Park so no one could cut down the woods the big man lived in. Sometimes she would still see his giant footprints. She always took off one of her shoes and left one of her own small footprints beside it.
Copyright © 2013 by Kim Campion