The moon was bright and nearly full. It made for a clear night. We went at an easy pace as Winston quietly paddled us upstream against the heavy current.
Close to midnight, everything was obscure except a faint glow along the horizon that silhouetted the shoreline trees against the fading sky. No one had spoken for quite awhile.
The current of the Albany rippled around us as we approached the upstream rapids. At the edge of the whitewater, we turned around to head back to camp.
I was sitting on the middle seat gazing up at the sky. Tom was laid out on his back with his head resting on a seat cushion in the bow of the canoe. He also looked up into the night. All was silent except for the sound of the river.
As it got even darker, the sky became mesmerizing.
More stars kept appearing, faintly at first and then brighter than I had ever seen them before or since. Soon there were countless stars sparkling from one end of the horizon to the other, big stars, and radiant stars, thousands of stars.
Then the sky became even more magnificent. Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis, burst across the horizon with pale blue strands, then they became more numerous and spread as far as one could see. They started as bands shooting up and soon turned to giant waves of ribbon candy covering the sky all around us.
The ribbons of pastel green, red, pink, violet, and pale gold waved in the night sky. They pulsated from the horizon up to the zenith. It was a dazzling display.
Winston continued toward the cabin. The only sound was the swishing of his paddle in the fast water. Even the loons were quiet now.
“What a show,” I said to Tom. “I’ve seen the Northern Lights many times, but not like this. This is beyond words.”
Tom smiled in agreement, as we gazed into the firmament.
“You know,” he said. “This is the most amazing, beautiful and peaceful night of my life. There is magic in the sky.”
Then Winston, who had been silent for the entire canoe trip, stopped paddling, stretched out his arms toward the sky, and spoke. “These are my ancestors dancing for us,” he said. Then he began paddling again.
Tom sat up, and he and I looked at one another.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“They dance to entertain us,” Winston said. “They know our life down here has much misery, so they dance to make us happy. They are with God.”
“So you believe in God?” Tom asked him.
“Yes,” said Winston. “I have met God.”
“Met Him?” Tom said.
We listened attentively to the coming answer. Grey Wolf stopped paddling and stared at us. “Yes. When I was a boy of 14, I asked my father how I could meet God. He told me that God was everywhere and I met him every day.
A few days later, I was walking a shoreline trail to check some traps when I met an old woman. She was sitting on a log weaving a basket.
I sat down next to her and offered her some dried meat. The old woman accepted it gratefully and smiled at me.”
He paddled a few more strokes to keep our momentum going.
“I gave her a drink of water. Again, she smiled at me. We spent the day together talking about the woods and the animals. She knew much about the animals. As the evening approached, I got up to leave, but before I went far, I turned around to thank her for the knowledge she gave me, but she was gone. When I arrived home, my father was curious about the smile on my face.”
“What did you do today that made you so happy?”
“I shared a meal with God,” I answered.
“Yes,” I said, “and he is much older than I expected, and a woman!”
Tom and I smiled.
“My answer made my father happy. He told me how proud he was of me to aid the old woman.”
“That’s a beautiful story,” Tom said.
“It is a true one,” said Winston. “My father taught me we are the sum of all the people we meet in life. How they treat us and how we treat them is what we become. My father was a good man.”
The night fell silent.
Our annual fishing trip had become a horrible and deadly ordeal.
Sloan appeared unnerved, but ready. The mad dash through the woods put a lot of pressure on his broken leg, and it throbbed in excruciating pain. He popped several painkillers and slugged down part of a beer.
The call of the loons, once elegant and magical, awakened his senses and shot fear through him. He constantly glanced about nervously. As a boy, he was always afraid when the lights went out. His time in an Iraqi dungeon made his problem worse. Sloan hid those fears all his life, but fought them.
“There are scary things in the gloom of night,” he said to himself, repeating Winston’s words. Now his fears of the dark overwhelmed him.
“I am becoming paranoid,” he reasoned.
“But even paranoids have enemies,” he laughed out loud at the thought.
Laying the gun on the floor, he pulled himself inside his sleeping bag. Tired and cold, the bag warmed him. He began to get drowsy. Exhausted, he fell fast asleep. Not long after, a wolf howled and he woke, and crawled out of the bag.
“Don’t get too comfortable, Sloan,” he said to himself. “Get too comfortable and you’re dead.”
He sat with his back against the wall, and hunger took hold of him. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Opening his backpack, he removed some cookies and sat on the floor eating, and drinking a beer, intently listening to the sounds outside.
When he finished, he got up and went outside. The night sky was clear, with a few small clouds drifting by. The cold air made him shiver.
A pale white moon climbed behind him to meet the stars.
Sloan stood the shotgun against a tree and knelt behind some thick bushes. Putting his binoculars to his eyes, he zeroed in on the cabin across the lake.
The building was a plywood jail for Tom and Mike, and Sloan couldn’t figure out what had happened. Why had Winston and Victor been killed? Why were Tom and Mike prisoners?”
He watched the current of the river sweep through the lake, listened to the sounds of the rushing water.
“Patience. I must have patience,” Sloan reflected. “But what do I do?”
The answer came back, “Nothing.”