Posted by: Abe's Blog | October 2, 2010

Gold Mountain Fever

Obadiah Johnson peeled a wet wool sock from his foot and hung it on a wire over the wood stove. It steamed and began to stink like a…well, like a filthy wool sock being steamed over a fire. The steam rose in heavy tendrils, wafting through the cracks in the ceiling and into the loft above. A choking sound emitted from the loft. “What in tarnation! What is that infernal stink?” Earl Clusky’s dirty face poked over the rail of the loft and peered with consternation at the steaming sock. “That smells somethin’ terrible, Obadiah! Why you gotta put yer sock there now?”

Obadiah stared straight ahead for a moment, his face rigid, then he bent and pulled his other sock from his hairy foot. He hung it on the wire next to the first sock. It began to steam as well. Earl sighed, then cleared his throat. “That ain’t right, Obadiah. ‘Tain’t right ‘tall,” he said quietly, then his dirty face disappeared from view. Obadiah heard the ceiling creak as Earl lay back in his blanket. Then the floor began to squeak rapidly as Earl scratched at the bugs that shared his bed, clothing, hair, and beard.

The cabin was small. In the spring, Obadiah, Earl, and Fang Peng had felled lodgepole pine, and as the season wore on, they erected the structure in between fits of gold prospecting, hunting, and arguing. They–that is to say Fang–peeled the logs, notched them, and fitted them together in a neat square. Earl took it upon himself to construct a door and spent many days searching the woods for “just the right kinda log” from which to cut his door. He insisted upon finding a log of sufficient diameter and straight grain from which he could cut a single slab to act as a door. Obadiah began to suspect that Earl’s hunt for the mythical door-log was a ruse to get out of the real work of supervising Fang’s cabin construction. He attempted to talk to Fang about Earl’s slack attitude, but Fang appeared not to hear, or in fact could NOT hear as he was in the middle of chopping notches in pine logs with an axe. Obadiah wandered away to look after the mining gear, mumbling to himself about Fang’s attitude.

By mid-October, the cabin had taken form and Fang was busy nailing shingles to the roof while Obadiah carefully pointed out spots he might have missed. Earl was still hunting for the perfect door-log and on one particularly nippy morning, Obadiah took him to task. “Earl, I’ve been fixin’ to ask how your door-log hunt is comin’ along,” he said, casually inserting a twig in his mouth and beginning to pick at his rotting teeth.

Earl glanced up, his face hard, “What do you mean ‘comin’ along’?” He pulled a large Bowie knife from a belt sheath and began to whittle a stick.

“I mean, how is it comin’ along? Do you think you’re about ready to find that perfect log?” Obadiah stared off at the distant mountains. Fang was busy at the cook fire, boiling water for his tea, his silk gown impeccable, his long hair tied back in a queue.

“I don’t think I like your tone,” Earl said, then he put his knife away, stood up and stomped off into the woods.

“See what I mean, Fang? He’s slackin’. I don’t know how this operation’s gonna work without him pullin’ his own weight. You know what I mean, Fang?” Obadiah stared after Earl. “I think we’re gonna have to take it upon ourselves to get that door done afore the snows come.”

Fang made a door that day and Obadiah watched him hang it, correcting Fang when he noticed that it was slightly askew.

Now winter was upon them and the cabin was small and growing smaller by the day. As this was their first winter in the Gold Mountains, they had severely underestimated their supply needs and had run out of beans, flour, coffee, bacon, sugar, and…well, everything else, within the first month of winter. Henceforth, a great debate ensued between Earl and Obadiah over who would don the snowshoes, take the few gold flakes they had found, and trek into Black Falls City for more grub. Obadiah was of the opinion that Earl should go as he had wasted the whole summer looking for a “door-log”, then wasted the whole fall season by moping and grumbling and complaining about how much better his door would have been if he had been allowed to finish it. Earl thought that Obadiah should go as he was so much smarter than anyone else in the Gold Mountains and had, by the way, begun to show a bit of a paunchy belly, despite the supposed lack of food, and perhaps a bit of a walk would do him some good. Obadiah had taken this as an insult, which insulted Earl, which caused him to look at Obadiah in a certain way, which caused Obadiah to reach for the closest chunk of firewood with which to bean Earl when he noticed that there was no firewood to be grabbed. This surprised him as there was always a neat pile of firewood by the wood stove every morning, and he began to yell for Fang to ask him if he knew why there wasn’t any firewood. But Fang didn’t answer as he had put on the snowshoes and taken the gold and walked off to Black Falls City.

That had been a week ago and a day. The last of the flour had been scraped from the barrel and the men were hungry and beginning to show a tendency towards orneriness. Obadiah had begun to make jokes about eating Earl’s left arm as he didn’t really need it, and while they were at it, they could eat his other arm and his legs too, since he really didn’t use them much. Earl had taken offense at this and had retorted that they could just as readily eat half of Obadiah’s brain as it was so large and he was so smart that he could probably do without part of it. Obadiah took this as a threat and had again reached for a chunk of fuel wood to bean Earl with and had again come up wood-less. He berated Earl for not bringing in enough wood and for being a worthless cull, and Earl began to cry.

As the steam from the filthy wool socks filled the top half of the cabin, Obadiah stared down at his feet and listened to Earl sob. He sat down on a stool and put his head in his hands. “Earl?” he said, “Earl, can you hear me?”

Earl snuffed, then said, “Yeah.”

“Earl. I’m sorry for gettin’ on you ’bout that door.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. You ain’t a bad guy, Earl. We just been couped up in here too long.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Cabin fever.”

“Yeah.”

“Now let’s go find Fang.”

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Responses

  1. Hmmm, missed it!

  2. What a great (and better) variation on the Turtoise and the Hare story!

    (Gotta give props to Fang, too. Ya gotta. Though he probably doesn’t need them, what with all that gold and stuff)

    • Thank you, Wolf. Guys like Fang are my heros! Keep your head down, do your work, get the gold 🙂


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