The Lone Stranger

January 6, 2015

I was going to walk at the mall, but then the sun came out, not a warming sun to be sure but a theater light focused stage west. I put on ear flaps, a fleece neck warmer, a fleece hood with a mouth guard, a tee shirt and sweatshirt and windbreaker with a hood, and I took off west into the teeth of the wind. I could always turn back and retell it as a joke.

Once on Stroke Hill I began to sweat and my sunglasses fogged up, first one lens then the other, and long puffs of breath shot from my mouth, and I reached the peak and passed by the field of the summer fairy rings, and descended toward the long line of Osage orange trees.

I heard a commotion and rounded a bend, and there in the middle of the road was a large dead possum, belly flattened, and on its back and running around was a murder of crows, the perched ones tearing possum flesh and pissed at me for disturbing the banquet.

They shrieked at the masked man, and the masked man stopped and watched. But smart crows, once spotted, don’t wait around for fate. They flew off in a rage, shouting obscenities and leaving the intruder to contemplate the possum shell.

I reached bottom, the contrail of the coal-fired electric plant billowing straight east. The wind pierced my armor and made my shrouded head hurt. On the River Road trail, the bluff woods aglow, a thousand blackbirds chattered in the trees, taking off and landing and making waves.

Next came tens of robins shining orange in the weak sun, backlit by the frozen waterfalls and twenty foot long sickles of ice hanging off naked boulders of the tall bluffs, and squawking at an enormous, china-white ferruginous hawk that soared along the bluff line and dipped down for possible robin pie. One lone male cardinal shone on a fir tree branch, the last ornament of the season.

I was nearing the Clifton Terrace traffic light when I heard a cracking noise, and I looked up in time to see a two pound icicle plunge past my left shoulder and crash on the asphalt at my feet. That would have been an ironic death—cops contemplating the headless corpse and finding a wallet and cell phone and exploring the dead man’s house that looked like a museum and piecing together a life—but then ironic death lurks everywhere.

A person headed west in a white pickup truck honked and waved. Was it you?

And then I climbed up Clifton Hill toward home, the cars with texting drivers whizzing by the masked man, the Lone Stranger.

Walking in winter is bracing, a little more so than the shower I am about to take, for my shower is in the unheated basement, and my “boys” don’t care for this adventure.

Maybe I’ll fall in the shower, my body splayed on the green concrete floor, and a murder of crows, having followed the Lone Stranger to his nest and spotting a feast of white flesh, peck furiously at the window.

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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