Olentangy John and West Folk Sally
by Patrick Bourland

The Olentangy River. Keenhongsheconsepung, the Delaware called it: stone-for-your-knife stream, so-called for its abundant shale rock, sharp and flat.

The boy John’s interpretation: pick for your axe – the instrument he carved from oak by his own hand, held day and night, played prodigiously, strung with the tendons of bear he slayed, his shale both shiv and scale. He would name his ursine takes. Martin. Ernie. Dean.

From his island camp between east and west fork, the boy John peered upstream to where the river diverged. The river dwellers camped on but one bank. They dared not populate each, for doing so would render them more vulnerable to the river beasts on whom the boy John now eavesdropped.

We hunger, he heard the beasts hiss through dripping, venomous teeth. Lest we starve, we must feed on dweller flesh.

A beast had last taken a dweller before the boy John was born. A girl. If she were alive, she’d be his older sister. West Folk Sally, the dwellers called her, for she spoke with an impediment. As sure as the boy John longed for the sister he’d never know, he swore as long as he lived he’d not let another dweller be lost. So he camped there, self-ascribed protector, ready to foil the fiends.

Folk music, he called it, was his courage and his weapon.

Retaining his axe and his knifestone, he walked silently, obscured by darkness, to his island’s south point, expectant. As the beasts swam closer, mangy and frenzy-eyed, he sang.

“Oh, be joyful!” he bellowed, loud enough to rouse even the soundest-sleeping dweller. Again and again, louder and louder, the boy John sang his refrain, inspiring a waking west-bank chorus. “Oh, be joyful!” the dwellers cried in solidarity.

And those pathetic creatures lurched in shame down the east fork, retreating from the sounds of their dirge, the dwellers’ paean. And the dwellers carried on until morning, and they were not afraid.

 

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