His name was Luke. That’s all anyone knew him by. He kept to himself, up on Croc Bay. He fished and hunted a bit for his victuals and obviously knew the plants to eat. He ain’t dead yet. Must be a good diet, too, he’s been up there for nearly 20 years and he’s lean, strong and healthy looking.
But of course, looks can be deceiving.
He only comes into town on the odd occasion to restock on necessities – whiskey and cigars – and, occasionally, grab a cold beer at the local pub.
Luke never said much, he didn’t need to. His body language was a walking billboard: “You wanna know, but you really know better than to ask. So let’s keep it impersonal and short: “Don’t.”.’
Every now and then; maybe a dozen times a year; he strolls over to the pub on Goanna Street for a beer; the ‘Croc ‘n Barra Club’, known to locals as, the CBC. It’s here where folks have gotten to know this tall, quiet – and downright spooky – stranger, the best.
Nope. He doesn’t open up when he has a couple of brews. Not even close. There are more ways to ‘get to know’ someone than exercising jaw muscles; a whole lot better. If you watch closely, you can learn a lot from the posture and position a person reveals; no matter where they are.
When Luke arrives at the, CBC, he heads for the one table no one else will set at; in the SW corner of the room, next to the bad chainsaw art of a leaping croc with a big barra in its jaws. Yeah. Namesake of the joint. That spot is known as, “Luke’s Corner ‘n Table”.
Some say the table is an unlucky table; downright evil to some. Four people have been killed at that table over the 60 years the dive has been pushing booze and gossip across the bar. Most just say, they don’t want to be the one sitting at ‘the table’ when Luke walks in; finding someone at, ‘his table’. I don’t know if folks think he’d put the 5th notch on the table’s macabre history, but I’m guessing – so far at least – no one wanted to find out.
Luke will walk to the table and sit. Pull from his shirt a piece of paper and lay out a pencil and two pens on the table. By this time the barkeep will bring over his first cold beer. Saying nothing, just leaving the beer on the upper left corner of the table. Just like all barkeeps know to do, since the first, and ONLY, mistake made, 18 years ago.
Crazy Jack was the new barkeep then. He was a real loser by any standard, but his wild ways seemed to attract customers. So, as long as he sold booze, the owner kept him on.
Crazy Jack had only been on the job for a couple of months when he’d heard of Luke. He’d never met Luke, but he already had his course with Luke mapped; or so he thought. Crazy Jack, when told about Luke, simply said, ‘Bloke’s just a weak-mental misfit. He waffles at me ‘n I’ll can his arse. End of story.’
After word got around what Crazy Jack had said, the CBC was never empty. The owner had to double his beer orders to keep up with demand. Dang-near bankrupt the whole community, too! But no one wanted to miss the moment Crazy Jack met Luke. Everyone knew that had to be an event of millennial magnitude.
Three weeks, 2-days, 5-hours and 10-minutes after the ‘official countdown’ began, Luke walked into town. Of course he knew nothing of what Crazy Jack had proclaimed, and kept embellishing on, every day. By the time Luke walked into town, Crazy Jack had himself gutting Luke and stuffing him, like a fish, and putting him at the table alongside the bad chainsaw art that sat next to Luke’s table.
From the very moment people heard Luke was in town, a steady stream of folks poured into the CBC. But no one took up a seat any closer than 2 table-widths out from Luke’s Corner.
Who’d want to be any closer to Armageddon?
If Luke noticed the greatly increased population of the bar, on a hot mid-afternoon, he didn’t let on. He just walked through the spreading wake of people to his table and sat down. He pulled out the paper, pencil and two pens and looked up into the ugly maw of Crazy Jack, setting the cold beer, dripping a blown header over the sides, right in the middle of his piece of paper. Then saying in dripping sarcasm, “Anything else I can get you… Mr Luke?” Then quickly looking around the room to show everyone he wasn’t in the least bit afraid of this mythic ghost.
When the glass of beer clanked on the table, you could hear a pin drop clear up on Croc Bay. No dogs barked. No one breathed. The wind had suddenly, died.
Crazy Jack, still all cocky’n’like, shifted his eyes, ONLY, toward Luke. What he saw froze him: Luke was lookin’ full-on back into his eyes. What Crazy Jack saw in those steel-gray puddles of mystery, is still unknown, but what happened next was totally unexpected.
Luke said, in a very gravelly but calm, very unused voice, “Yes. You could bring me a towel so I can wipe off my paper and the blood that is going to be spilt. Thank you.”
It was as if Crazy Jack had read the ‘writing in the sand and his bowels had given way’. He ran for the door and no one has seen or heard from Crazy Jack since. Yep, that’s now been over 18 years ago.
The room suddenly, and rather quickly, began to clear. Luke walked to the, now empty bar, picked up a dry towel, walked back to his table and wiped off his paper and the glass of frosty beer. Turned and tossed the towel onto the bar, then sat down, took a drink and began to draw.
Those few who were curious enough to stay, despite the intrepid unknown outcome, still talk about the amazing transformation of the atmosphere in the CBC that day.
One minute the crowd was in a fever pitch of anticipation of bloodshed and mayhem. Then, in-the-blink-of-an-eye, the next moment was more like they were all in the most solemn of church services; sanctuary; solemn; holy. No one would have ever expected such a turn of events. No one ever dared think to the, ‘What if…’, the cards fell into a more malevolent direction, next time, either.
From that day on, the beer was always served in a well-wiped glass, with a modest head and sat in the upper left corner of the table, without saying anything, to Luke.
Funny, before that day, no one had really taken note of what he was putting on the paper he brought in. A few noticed he’d always leave the paper on the table; after re-pocketing his pencil and pens; and would simply walk out the door. No, he never – at least no one saw him do so – pay for the beer he drank. Some guessed he thought what he put on those pieces of paper was payment enough.
And, those pieces of paper just sat there, until picked up by the barkeep. Only the barkeep knew what was on them. And none of them were talking. Besides, oddly, none of them were around to talk.
But on this day, one little old woman from the aboriginal clan known as the ‘Croc People’, walked over to the table, after Luke walked out, and picked up the paper laying there. She gasped when she looked at it. She just stood there looking at it.
Her son, a man in his 50’s came over and asked, “Ma, are you OK?”
She turned and handed him the paper and said, “He is no ordinary man. He may not even be a man. I believe he is a Spirit Walker.”
Her son looked at the drawing and gasped, “Oh! This is interesting. A good drawing, but what does it mean?”
Others came over to look. What they saw, must have been different, to different people. As they all said so.
Some saw a man’s shadow casting across a sandbar, covered in crocodile tracks, with a line of red leading through the tracks into the man-shadow.
Some only saw the croc tail, with tracks trailing behind with spots of red, in the tracks.
Others saw the man and not the shadow, with a red line running from his legs, down the sand, into a very detailed sketch of a water’s edge.
Yet others saw the shadow of the croc, with a red line trailing behind, leading to a man-shadow stretching all the way to the water’s edge, where the head had disappeared, with a red line moving off downstream.
Since no one ever saw Crazy Jack again, the accepted tale was, the Crocodile gods took care of him for Luke. And if Luke had this strong a juju, no one was going to cross him, ever.
There was quite a commotion stirring among the people looking at the drawing. It reached outdoors and others began to return to see what was going on. When they got inside, they heard about the drawing and moved in to look for themselves. Soon the owner of the pub had gotten word of the events at the CBC and came down to take control.
The owner was a short, plump man called, Mr. Charlie. He was the sum total of the wealth of this little community of no apparent name. As it took quite a bit to get Mr. Charlie outside this time of day, he was not in a pleasant mood when he arrived at the CBC.
When Mr. Charlie walked through the door, everyone looked up. The old lady, said to him, “Big happenings have taken place in your pub today, Mr. Charlie. Big happenings!” Then she proceeded to tell him the story; leaving nothing out. She finished and caught her breath. That’s when she showed him the drawing.
After a moment, the old lady said, “This man Luke, is a special man. In fact I do not think he is a man. I believe him to be a Spirit Walker; and a powerful one, too. Four and twenty people have looked at this drawing and four different images have been seen. How is it that a ‘regular man’, makes a drawing that is explained in four different ways? This is not possible. Only a Spirit Walker has such power.”
Mr. Charlie was wildly chewing on a very badly mauled stub-of-a-cigar. Suddenly he stopped and looked at the old woman and said, “Alice, you’re nuts. You always have been. But you just might be right about this. What do you think we should do about this ‘Luke’ fellow?”
Old Alice looked Mr. Charlie directly in the eyes and said, “We don’t piss him off, for one thing!” This comment seemed to untie the tension in the room and the crowd broke into a loud moment of relief-refreshing laughter.
“Enough!”, barked Mr. Charlie. “So, what about Crazy Jack?”
“Forget him. He’s gone and never returning”, said Old Alice. “Good riddance, too, I never liked him.” A hearty murmur of approval traveled around the room.
“OK, but we need a new barkeep. Who can we get? Gotta be able to read, count and be trustworthy, any suggestions.”
“Micah would do well. He’s back in town and needs work.”, said Old Alice’s son.
“Micah, eh. He’s your son, isn’t he, Red?”, said Mr. Charlie, motioning to the son of Old Alice.
“Yes, Mr. Charlie, Micah has just returned to the area from attending school up on the coast. He is a good young man and will work well for you.”
Mr. Charlie waddled off behind the bar to search for a piece of paper, as he described it. Nothing more than a simple form that he had his ’employees’ fill out. Nothing fancy, or legally binding, that’s for sure. Just enough that Mr. Charlie could ‘keep track’ of them.
He rifled through the mess, Crazy Jack had left behind.
As he shuffled and cursed under his breath, he stopped, picked up a stack of papers; tied with a loose cord, over all four side and looked at them. He had no idea what was in this bundle; he’d never seen it before.
He untied the neat bow, laid the cord aside and pulled the blank paper off to reveal the first sheet below. What he saw shocked him. What he saw, was an amazing piece of pencil and pen sketch work of Old Alice. The detail was so amazing. It was as if he was actually looking at Old Alice; into her living face and eyes.
Mr. Charlie, began going through the images. Each one was a portrait of a regular customer at the CBC. He then found one of him. He was thunderstruck! He never thought he looked that good. He was beginning to believe Old Alice was onto something with her, Spirit Walker, theory. This guy Luke was a strange one for sure!
He called Old Alice over. When she walked to the bar he said, “Take a look at this”, shoving the stack of pages toward her.
Old Alice picked up the sketch of her and screamed, releasing the paper and letting it float onto the floor, face down. She staggered back away from it, shaking her head, looking drawn, with a very pallor look in her eyes.
Her son, Red, rushed over,”What is it Ma?” She pointed to the paper on the floor.
Red picked it up, turned it over, and looked at his mother standing there, very shaken and obviously frightened. “Why did you scream, Ma? This is a wonderfully nice drawing of you. It looks just like you. So, life like.”
She screamed again and said, “Yes! Just like me, but 60 years ago! How would the man Luke know what I looked like at age 22? HOW”, she screamed.
Red looked back at the sketch and shook his head. “Ma. This drawing looks just like you do, TODAY; as an old woman, not a young girl of 22.”
Old Alice looked at her son startled. “What? You see and old woman?” She looked at Mr. Charlie, “What do you see Mr Charlie?”
Mr. Charlie, perplexed at the commotion, said, “Why, it’s a danged good drawing that looks just like you look now Old Alice… old. But it’s a really good likeness. It’s like … like … looking at you right now; in the face; into your eyes. In real life! It’s amazing.”
A few more people stepped up and there was again, FOUR very different views, or interpretations, seen by the people looking at the image. They all saw Old Alice, but at different stages in her life, that they had known her.
Then they went through all the images. There were many shouts and screams by the people who were looking at what they saw of themselves. Only to have their visual shaken by what others saw in the same drawing; the same person, but at very different stages in life.
Then there was the last image in the stack. It was a self-portrait of Luke. But this time, everyone saw the exact same image. It was of the man, they all knew as Luke. Not younger. Not older. Just as he looked now.
There wasn’t much to be said then. Everyone was convinced, Old Alice had pegged the man called Luke. He had to be a Spirit Walker and the community had to keep peace with him.
From that time on each barkeep, employed from Micah on, was instructed in the 3 important points of conduct when the man called Luke came into the CBC.
First: Bring him his beer, set the glass on the upper-left corner and leave without saying a word.
Second: Never disturb him, or look at his drawing, and don’t bring him his next beer until he raises his right hand and points to his glass.
Third: As soon as he leaves; exiting the doorway; quickly, retrieve the drawing and put it in the bundle; covered up; and put the bundle back into the safe.
As so it has gone now, for 18 years.
Luke is still a mystery. He comes into town occasionally and visits the CBC and leaves behind his amazing drawings. It is as if he has no idea at all what the towns people think. Nor do I think he even cares.
He showed absolutely no change when he stopped, looked at the new sign as he entered town, paused for a moment and without the slightest glimpse of emotional response, walked on to the general store; bearing as well a new moniker on the sign above the door; to make his ‘necessary and customary purchases’. Nor when he strolled down the street and was greeted by the new sign hanging from the -new- short over-hang roof, welcoming all who enter, to the ‘Croc ‘n Barra Club of Lukestown’.
He simply walked to the table in the SW corner of the room next to the bad chainsaw art, pulled out his piece of paper, pencil and two pens and took a sip off the head of his freshly placed beer and began to draw.
Listen to the author reading this short-story on: