SPLINTER Episode 11: The Sleepless Giant

Windmill

Episode 11: The Sleepless Giant

Al

My legs were restless, and I couldn’t stop fidgeting. Everyone else had gone to sleep hours ago, but something kept me awake. I beat my pillow with my fist and pulled the covers around me, trying to find a position that would help me nod off. If only I could hold on to the sweet image of Miss Lucy floating around my head, instead of the half-dead wounded soldier haunting my memories.

I kicked the covers off, suddenly too hot, as thoughts of conspiracy theories and secret organizations shot through my skull like flying shrapnel. Minutes passed, maybe hours, it was hard to tell how much time in the darkness. I mapped the shadowy imperfections in the plaster of the ceiling above my bed, watching and waiting until the first rays of the new day crept through the window.

Words from the mysterious letter circled my mind as I tried to make sense of the list. Power wind… Could the missing piece be that obvious? The yesteryear images of the windmill, Pa’s workshop below it, and the Blacksmiths’ gatherings coursed through my memory. We hadn’t exhausted all of the wisdom—and secrets—that Albright Acres held. And it seemed as though someone else knew more about it than we did. “What were you doing in that thing, Pa?”

When the rooster crowed, I rolled out of bed and slugged over to the wash basin. A cool splash of water on my skin further awakened my thoughts. It wouldn’t be long before the farm was buzzing with activity, but I still had time to sneak up to the old windmill. Dressing quickly, I grabbed my jacket and hatchet and crept into the hall. As I made my way down the stairs and out the front door, the house was still, except for the kitchen sounds from Mae starting breakfast.

I rounded the side of the house and shot by the barn, a brisk walk I had taken a million times. My boots playfully kicked the stones, and I was a young boy again. I remembered chasing Pike and his friends as they tried to leave me, the little brother, behind. My footfalls yielded swirls of dust, reminding me that my youth was gone and someday I’d return to the earth.

Men stirred in the small white bunkhouses beyond the barn as a new day of work waited. I quickened my pace to slip by, unnoticed. My path lay up ahead, overrun by untamed grass and jungle-like weeds. I picked up a stick and dragged it through the slender blades, whacking ragweed as I made my way to the windmill.

The tattered copper blades turned slowly in the slight wind, casting scattered  rays of sunlight over Albright Acres. Mismatched metal panels closed around a sturdy wood-framed base, but opened near the top of the tower, allowing a clear view of the moving rods and turning gears as they clicked and churned.

It had been years since I’d made this climb.The building used to be filled with mystery and mischief, but it had lost its wonder when replaced with talk of war and the likes of Miss Lucy. But even now, as a grown man, the building held a certain magnificence that filled me with awe.

When I reached the door, I jiggled the knob. “Locked.” I ran my fingers over the dimpled metal plate around the keyhole that held the door closed. I’d half expected to find it open, since Lloyd made regular trips to maintain the power the windmill provided the house.

I stepped back and examined the layout of the structure. The only windows were fifteen feet up, and even though I’d been one heck of a tree-climber as a boy, without a hand grip or foothold there was no way I could scale the smooth, sleek walls to break in.

Overhead, the blades steadily rotated, the gears and mechanisms squeaking with just as much consistency, performing a job and providing a luxury that I had taken for granted  all these years. I wondered what would happen if the sleepless giant ever broke down. Would the fields’ irrigation run dry? Would the crops wither? Would failure and ruin kill Albright Acres forever? Emotions bubbled up from inside me, and all of a sudden, I missed Pa more than ever.

I returned focus to the door and studied the lock. It’s shape wasn’t unlike the brass keyholes in the house, but it was bigger, more difficult to pick without proper tools. My eyes wandered along a crack in the faded, green patina of the metal and landed on the hinges. If I applied the right amount of pressure to the bolts, I could pop them loose and remove the door without damage.

I removed my hatchet from its holster. The compass arrow spun quickly, locating magnetic north. I raised it to the top hinge and wedged the blade under the bolt.

“Mr. Al?”  Lloyd said in a tone that both questioned and accused me at the same time.

I slowly worked out the blade and gave the bolt a soft knock. “There, much better,” I said as I turned to face him.

“Now what are you doing up here?”

“Fixin’ the door.” I lied.

He lowered his chin and looked me squarely in the eyes, knowing good and well I was up to no good. “Mr. Pike sent me to find you. You know, he don’t like waiting.”

“Mmmhmm. He’s been waiting on me all our lives, I doubt that’ll ever change.” I returned my hatched to its holster. “Oh, and Lloyd…”

“Yes, sir.”

“No need to mention I was up here.”

Lloyd shook his head as he turned down the path and agreed to my request with a dismissive wave. “Ain’t my business what you do or where you’ve been.”

I smiled to myself as I followed him down the hill, keeping a small distance between us. As I made my way back to the yard, a familiar odor floated by. A chill ran down my spine as my first thought returned to the explosives from the glade, but the smell was too sweet and refined. Then I remembered the night at the Admiral’s Keg and the strange encounter with the interloper from the West. I remembered his interest in Albright Acres, and fear set in. He’s here.

A flicker of light blinded me as the sun reflected off an object in the field north of the bunkhouses. Under the shield of my hand, I squinted and scanned the treeline. A figure sank back into the shadows, but not before I recognized the unusual outline of his distinctive hat.  I finally placed the familiar scent—that pipe.

“Baku.” His name was a growling whisper under my breath. “What has you sneaking around this place?” My first thought was to go after him and demand answers, but my gut told me to stay. I unstrapped my hatchet, ready to use it if I needed to, and hurried back to the main house.

 

Stay tuned! Episode 12 posts Friday, March 6, 2015.

SPLINTER Episode 10: Pieces of the Puzzle
SPLINTER Episode 12: Promises

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