A Hitch in Time

by Carl Jarvis

In the dark forests of the Olympic Peninsula, there are more strange and mysterious tales than those of Bigfoot.  Here is an account told by a totally blind man. 
It had been two years since I'd cleared the long, steep trail up to the big water tank sitting high above our house.  We pump the water from a well by the garage, about 160 feet deep, up the hill to the tank, where gravity sends it back at 30 pounds pressure. 
Now my hip replacement was pretty much healed and I strode out with my trusty old brush axe on my shoulder.  If you've never seen a brush axe, it has a long handle like a splitting maul, only longer.  On the end is a large, flat, curved blade.  Razor sharp.  Great exercise, swinging my way through the tall thistles, nettles and salmon berry bushes.  Little alder trees had taken hold, too.  All fell before the mighty brush axe.  The trail climbs straight up for about 600 feet before leveling out at the base of the tank.  My nephew and I dragged that 500-gallon tank up through the brambles about 16 years ago, when he, a massive defensive lineman, was home from Humboldt State University and I was, well, younger.  It took me three afternoons to pound through that ugly tangle.  But now I was feeling flushed with victory. 
I turned toward the back of our 10 acres of forest and began whacking my way down a trail I'd not cleared for over four years.  It followed an old narrow gauge railroad bed and then cut up through a stand of the tallest, straightest grove of cedars, Douglas fir and hemlocks that ever grew.  It was like nature's park, covered with tall ferns and only filtered sunlight finding its way through the mighty branches.  But to get to this fairyland was like fighting the jungles of Vietnam.  This trail was going to take a lot more sweat and muscle than the one I'd just reclaimed.  For the next two days I hiked up the hill to that trail, hammering down the bushes and berry vines, slowly working my way back to my forest path. 
On the third day I knew I was closing in, water pouring off my body from a hot, almost windless afternoon.  Suddenly the air became totally still.  No bird song, no hum of busy bees, not even a whisper of a breeze.
And then the ground shook.  Just a whimper, a suggestion of something in the distance.  Every nerve in my body yelled, "Earthquake!"  But no, it was not the ground.  It was the huffing and grinding of a huge machine.  I backed quickly into the brush at the edge of my trail just as this steaming, screaming monster rounded the bend and roared straight down upon me.  As it lumbered past, I knew, even without being able to see it, that here was a real steam engine.  A locomotive straining down this old logging road pulling a long string of flatbeds.  I could smell the scent of freshly cut logs. 
The relentless noise was hypnotizing and I felt myself being drawn toward the side of the train.  I stuck my brush axe out in an effort to stabilize myself.  With a mighty yank, my brush axe was slammed out of my hand, and I sprawled backward over an old rotten log. 
Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it was gone.  Just a faint wiggly vibration fading into the distance.  And the breeze reappeared, and the bees went about their business as if they'd never missed a beat.  The song birds took up exactly where they'd left off. 
I struggled to my feet and shakily moved forward.  Then I stepped on my brush axe.  I picked it up and poked about in the middle of my trail, looking where the tracks must be.  Gone.  Nothing. With a sudden cold shiver, I quickly turned and picked my way down the long hill back to the safety of my house. 
My wife was happily watching a golf tournament, and I thought of telling her what had happened.  "Oh sure," she'd chide me.  "I keep telling you to drink lots of water when you're out in the hot sun."  And maybe that was it.  Heat stroke, or something like that.  I took a long, deep breath and felt so much better that I went back outside thinking I'd sharpen my brush axe. 
And that was when I discovered that the blade had been twisted and bent.