A low mumbling filled the room. Someone spoke loudly, “Another story,” A voice from another table, “Please, sir.” All eyes turned to the Storyteller. He was standing by the fire again.
“No, I’m tired from my storytelling. I have to rest so that I can go on tomorrow. I have more stories to tell as I go.”
There was a low complaint as an “Aw” sounded quietly across the room. Ogg wanted another story too. He could not understand how telling stories could have made anyone tired, even a small fat man like this Storyteller. Perhaps he had been chopping and splitting wood all day and was tired when he started. Ogg knew about that, but he thought the Storyteller did not look like a man who would do much wood chopping.
The door was open again and the cool of the night slipped in past the men who were leaving. Ogg wanted to tell this story to Spar while he still had it in his head. He started to the door but before he could squeeze into line to get out, Dusty caught his eye and motioned him over towards the kitchen.
As he worked his way against the flow going out, his way was blocked by the chairless man. His friends were with him, moving to the door.
“I’ll be waiting for you outside.” His face scrunched into a mean look.
“What?” Ogg heard the words but wasn’t sure what to make of them.
“You heard me.” he said and shouldered past.
Ogg nodded. Yes, he had heard. It was a mystery. He put it out of his mind.
“Wasn’t that great?” Dusty was pulling at his sleeve.
Ogg considered the little guy. He was looking up at Ogg, waiting for a response. Maybe he could ask Dusty.
“Yes, it was. What’s a ‘twelve’?” There, he had blurted out the question. Even though Dusty was just a young boy, he lived here in this busy place. He would surely have heard of, perhaps even seen, a ‘twelve’.
“A twelve?” Dusty replied, looking puzzled.
Perhaps he did not know either. “Yes.” Give it another try Ogg decided. “The kind of fingers that the monster has.”
“You mean twelve fingers?”
“Yes.” Ogg nodded eagerly. A spark of recognition in Dusty’s face encouraged him.
“You don’t know what twelve is?”
Ogg held his breath. He had asked a stupid question. Dusty waited but Ogg offered nothing further.
“It’s a number.”
Dusty spoke quickly, “One, two, three, “ … then some unfamiliar words, then “ten”, then something, then “twelve.” He opened his hand in a gesture like he had just performed a trick. He waited. Ogg pondered.
“You can’t count?” Dusty asked, looking around to see if anyone else had heard this amazing thing.
Ogg looked down. He had a sick feeling.
“It’s a number.” He went back to the words again, this time touching a finger for each word he spoke. Ogg watched. Dusty said “ten” holding up both hands, fingers spread.
“Everybody has ten fingers…”
Ogg put the axe down, leaning the handle against his hip. He looked at his hands.
“But this bear monster has twelve.” Dusty wiggled his fingers then made a claw with each hand. “An extra finger on each hand. Maybe an extra thumb, or one on the side like this or one growing out of the top or palm like a snake coming out.”
Ogg was fascinated. It was clear to him now. This description was the kind of monster that he should watch for. He could look at a man’s hands to see if someone was the monster causing trouble and misery all over the place. Like the Storyteller warned. He should tell Box and Spar so they could be on the lookout too.
“I gotta go.” Ogg interrupted Dusty’s explanation, but Dusty hardly noticed as he turned toward the fire, arms raised with claw like hands waiving. Ogg watched for a moment. He was thinking how the monster’s hands might look with an extra, snaky finger on the top, or growing out of the palm, writhing and menacing and maybe even biting. He turned and hurried to the door.
As he stepped out onto the porch the yard was beginning to clear. Groups of men were breaking up; walking in twos or threes one way or another up the road or toward the houses Ogg had seen earlier. Some with horses were already off a ways, headed home. Ogg looked for Spar and Box but they were not in sight. Probably in the barn Ogg figured as he stepped off the porch and headed that way.
Before he got to the barn three men who had been walking away, turned and looked towards him. They were beyond the light from the building, but Ogg could see that they had stopped and were talking and looking at him. He couldn’t be sure; maybe one of them was Spar. He didn’t know about the others. None of them was tall and thin like Box. Ogg stood, trying to decide if that was Spar. He waved, thinking that if it was, Spar would see him and wave back.
No one waved back, but one who wasn’t Spar started walking towards him. The other two hesitated, and then followed. Ogg waited, wondering whether to wave again.
As the man in the lead came out of the dark area Ogg recognized him as the chairless man. What had he said earlier?
“Hey, there,” the man called out in a harsh voice. Ogg waited without a reply. Suddenly the man broke into run. He was running right at him. This was like Queedle or Bosco when they were mad about something. Sometimes it was a game and sometimes it was not but, almost every time somebody got hurt. Usually Ogg got a thrashing from his Daddy after. All of this played out quickly in Ogg’s head as the man covered the distance between himself and Ogg. The other men were hurrying behind, but not so fast.
As the chairless man got within a step or two of Ogg he put his head and shoulder down and launched himself. Ogg shifted his weight, twiched his wrist causing the axe handle to jump up in his grip and smacked the man in the head with the handle of the axe. The man’s momentum carried him into Ogg, but it was not a solid connection. He glanced off Ogg’s hip and fell heavily to the ground, hitting face first and rolling over onto his back. He lay motionless as the other two men, neither of whom was Spar as Ogg thought at first, slowed to a walk and stopped beyond the range of Ogg’s axe handle.
Ogg prepared to take on the other two men. The chairless man lay quietly.
“You hit him with an axe!” one of the men exclaimed. His surprised tone seemed out of place to Ogg. The chairless man was clearly trying to take Ogg to the ground. Was there some rule about fighting in this place he didn’t know?
“Yes, sir, he ran at me.” Ogg replied. These men did not seem to want to continue the fight their friend had started. The chairless man moaned and moved his leg.
“You could have killed him.” the one who might have been Spar, but wasn’t, said.
Ogg considered this. He thought back to the times he had hit Queedle or Bosco or they had hit him. With rocks, or sticks or their hands. When the fight was on he fought his best with what he had. If he didn’t Queedle or Bosco would hurt him. He knew the strapping he got from Daddy when he won was not as bat as the beating he got from his brothers when he lost. But he had never killed anybody. And he did not hit the chairless man any harder than he had hit his brothers from time to time.
“I didn’t kill him.” Ogg had decided on this response.
“You should have.” The voice behind him was Box. “He jumped you for no reason.” Box was talking to Ogg, but his words were directed at the other two men. Ogg glanced over his shoulder. Box and Spar stood behind him, together. That must have been why the other two men had stopped, Ogg thought.
“Take your friend and go.” Box continued. “Be thankful that he didn’t get the sharp end of the axe.” Box gestured for Ogg to join him and Spar. Ogg was still on his guard as he backed away from the fallen man.
“Why didn’t you use the blade?” Box asked. Again his question seemed directed to the other men even though the words were for Ogg to answer. Ogg considered. He knew the man was coming fast. To raise and swing the axe so the blade would cut the man would take too long. The handle could be swung quickly and was easier to control than the heavy metal blade of the axe. Ogg knew all these things but could not organize this information into a response.
“I don’t know.” was the answer he settled on.
“Next time use the blade.” Box said.
Again the words were not just spoken to Ogg, but it was like Daddy telling him, and he always tried to do what he was told.
“Yes, sir.” Ogg replied. They backed away toward the barn as the two men kneeled in the dirt to help the chairless man to sit up. Ogg could see a darkness that wasn’t shadow across the chairless man’s face. Blood.