The blanket man walked for the last time the length of the floating porch. A swirl of mud played at the end that bumped into the shore. Box and Spar stepped into the water and led their horses off the platform and onto the gravel bar. Ogg came next and the blanket man came last after tying the ropes. He went into a shed on this side just like the shed on the other side and came out and stood with a blanket around his shoulders. It was just like the other one, green and worn with leaves and twigs attached to the torn parts.
Box handed the reins for his horse to Spar and walked over to the blanket man. He did not speak. He turned and motioned for Ogg to come over to him, and then he turned his back on Ogg. As Ogg came up to Box he heard him say, “We’ll have those three coppers back now.”
The blanket man scowled.
“You heard me.”
The blanket man looked at Ogg and looked at the axe Ogg held at his side.
“You don’t want me to have him take those coppers off your body.”
“You’d kill me for three coppers?” The blanket man’s voice sounded strange now. Higher and wobbly.
“No, if he kills you we’ll take all your coppers.”
The blanket man looked at Ogg again. He had to look up. Most people did. Even his brothers and Daddy.
“You’d kill me for my coppers, would you son?” His voice had steadied and he looked hard at Ogg.
Ogg looked at Box. What was the answer?
Box answered. “He’s simple. He does what he’s told.”
Those words washed over Ogg. He had heard them before. Not exactly like that. Not talking about killing a man. But he had been called simple before. When Daddy was angry. Or when Queedle or Bosco were making fun. He didn’t like it much. He also knew he that he had learned to do what he was told. And he always did. The best he knew how. And Box was like Daddy. These things he knew were true. But he had never killed a man before. He had killed chickens, pigs, rabbits…lots of things. He had never been told to kill a man and it seemed like that would be different. He wasn’t sure why, but it felt different thinking about it. He also knew that not everything he was told to do was easy. He nodded to Box and turned and looked at the blanket man.
“Well,” Box asked in his quiet whispery voice.
The blanket man reached in his pocket and held out his hand, which now contained three metal circles each with a picture of something. Coppers? But Box did not reach to take these circles. “All of them,” he demanded.
“You said three.”
“I changed my mind.”
The blanket man looked at Ogg again. He reached his hand back into his pocket and pulled it out with more circles. Coppers.
Box held his hand out, palm up. The blanket man let the coppers slide from his hand to Box’s.
“Now get back on your ferry.” Box’s voice had a snap to it. The blanket man flinched and turned to wade out.
“Leave the blanket.”
He turned, dirty water tugging at his pants legs. He rolled the blanket and threw it on shore. “Damn you!” He stood looking at Box and Ogg
“Go on now.” Box’s voice seemed kinder now.
The blanket man turned and stumbled as the water washed around his legs, mud boiling and leaving a dirty trail behind him. He climbed on and unfastened the ropes and began pulling the rope like before, moving towards the shore where they had all started.
“Cut the rope, Ogg.”
“Cut the rope,” Box ordered. He pointed at a tree where the rope was tied off.
Ogg walked over and swung the axe. The rope parted and snapped away, narrowly missing Ogg’s legs. He turned and watched as the floating porch drifted downstream. The blanket man wrapping the rope around the end post as the river carried him and his floating porch down and across.
Ogg had done what he was told. But he didn’t have the good feeling he usually got from that. He wondered if the blanket man would be mad at him. The ferry, what Box called it, floated into tree limbs against the opposite shore and held there. It broke loose and turned and away from the bank and tilted dangerously. The blanked man fought to keep his balance as the ferry washed into a treetop that hung out over the river. He turned and yelled something back at Ogg. Or maybe Box. But Box had already gotten back on his horse and he and Spar were headed down the road. Ogg hurried to catch up. At least he didn’t have to kill anybody. –