JOHN'S CABIN



Today was a big day for Weevil's father John. He was up before dawn and took all the sandwiches and other food and drink that mother Nancy had prepared for him. He packed the car with tools and lumber and had more lumber on the roof rack and in the box trailer. Off along the bush trail he drove as far as he could towards the cabin, then carried everything the last short distance to the clearing. The sub-flooring was already laid out, like a platform in the wilderness:

and today he was to erect the framing; if all went well it could by day's end look much more like a soon-to-be-finished building.

Using pre-cut studs and checking his measurements carefully to his plan, before long he had nailed together the first short side framing, flat, on the subfloor. He lifted it up slowly for it was heavier than he expected, and stepping across to bend underneath it, raised it into place and nailed it to the subfloor. It stood quite square on its own. Next he tackled one long side, putting in the cripple studs for the window and the door. This one, when completed, was very heavy to lift, and had to be propped up inch by inch as he slowly raised it. The last stage was accomplished by hitching this framing with a rope to a tree to prevent it falling back as he raised it. Finally it was up, after a great struggle, and it also stood on its own. As he squared it with the other raised framing and nailed them together and secured the base, he found himself whistling, humming and singing a song. It was a song of triumph.

As he continued working he began to think about this singing and how it had burst from him in that strange way. Suddenly it came to him where he had heard the melody before -- it was the "Ode To Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. John thought he now had some idea of the emotions of the composer when it was created. He had not realized he knew the melody so well, and in fact had difficulty recapturing it all, a while later, in retrospect. But much stranger things were to happen on that and the next day.

It all began after he had brought back a load of roof trusses and installed them. For this he swung up one end, upside down, then the other, then reversed them to right side up and nailed them down. By now he had the building well underway. He was checking and levelling as he went, and had among all his other tools, three levels -- a four foot, an 18-inch, and a small 'torpedo' level, about 8" x 1" wide:

He finished using the small one and put it down on the sub-floor among all the other tools. Then, a few minutes later, he needed it again.

It was gone. He searched everywhere for it. There was the dumpy hammer:

the tub of nails, the carpenter's hammer, the roofing square, the other levels, the plane, power saw, generator, punches, various ends of 2 X 4's and so forth. No sign of the torpedo level. Up the ladder he searched along the joints -- nothing. Then on the sub-floor, he started at one end and moved steadily across the area, checking each group of tools as he went. There was no doubt about it. The small level was not there.

He had forgotten to put in the sway bracing on the first framing before he raised it, but all four sides were now completed and raised and he checked every part of this and the window and door framing. There was no doubt about it, the level was not there.

John sat down to review the whole matter. He had been told not long after he bought the land, that an old timer once had a cabin not too far away, but as he heard the story, although one cold night he heaped up too great a fire and burnt it all down, he himself was not hurt, and now lived elsewhere. Another version said he had fallen off the back of a moving truck and died.

John had stopped for a food break when these thoughts went through his mind, and now that he had eaten and briefly rested, rose and turned around to begin work again. There on the sub-floor, not three feet away from him, as he bent to pick up hammer and nails, was the small level. It seemed almost to be dancing and winking at him. He could scarcely believe it -- for his search had been very thorough.

"Someone, or something," he thought, and said aloud, "is playing games".

He was a little concerned, and very surprised and at once quickly studied all the other tools to be sure where they were. John was always careful not to leave tools on the trusses or step ladder, as once a hammer had fallen not far from his head, and now as the day drew to a close, he went down the ladder after checking a level when he had trued up the last truss with a small shim. He came down the ladder, picked up four spiral nails and reached for his carpenter's hammer:

It had gone. He searched briefly, as a hammer is a large and obvious tool.

"Very well," he said to the unseen prankster,"if you want to play games, go ahead."

He picked up the dumpy hammer, finished strengthening the corner, and began packing up the tools to go home. Sure enough, in a few minutes he noticed the hammer, not where he was sure he had put it, but some fifteen feet away, next to a few pieces of 2 x 4 by the saw. It also seemed to twinkle at him mischievously.

"I am not going out of my mind," he said firmly, "I know perfectly well where the hammer was."

Driving home he thought about the incidents. They were a little disturbing, but not exactly harmful. He had been brought up in an old house, and knew a little about ghosts. Buildings, to him, had characters, and when you entered them some seemed sad, others happy, and others foreboding, or evil. There were solidly protective buildings, work buildings, and buildings that spoke of love, or sorrow. Even rooms in buildings had quiet histories of their own to communicate, if you could listen and hear them.

Weevil and Felicity were away on a school trip so when he was home again that evening John confided the story to their mother, Nancy. Nancy wrinkled up her nose and laughed gleefully at him.

"A true father of Waverley," she said, "I doubt if he could make up a better story with just a small level and a hammer."

John nursed his pride as he ate supper.

"It makes a difference, you know," he said, "it's not just an ordinary place in the bush."

"No, of course not dear," said Nancy, "nothing is every quite ordinary in this family, at least the way people tell their stories, it isn't."

Early the next day John returned to the cabin site with a trailer load of plywood for the sub-roof and ten-test to cover the outside of the framing. He was very keen to get the roof covered before it rained, and had planned a 5/12 slope so that he could walk on it. He soon found, though, that he needed a special way of securing things he was using on the roof or they would slide off and fall to the ground. But by the time he stopped for lunch he had more or less completed nailing down the plywood, and several times during the morning he thought he heard a woodpecker nearby. So far the day had passed uneventfully.

Then quite suddenly it happened. John was sitting half in and half out of the doorway, quietly eating his lunch. Without warning there was a quick succession of blows to the inside of the framing just under the roof. The sound was very loud. It could have been a woodpecker, he supposed, although it sounded heavier, more like the hammer he was using, and the blows were a quick succession of hammer blows, not quite the effect created by a woodpecker. He at once leaned backwards and looked inside -- no sign of a bird in there, trying to get out, or flying through the framing. He leaned forward and out from the doorway. No sign of a bird under the roof outside. The sound had been not more than 12 feet away. He scanned every tree at the edge of the clearing -- no sign of a woodpecker flying or working its way up a tree there. Then he had another strange feeling associated with the sound. It came as though someone or something was trying to escape from the building, as though it had been trapped there, and was trying to get out.

He thought very carefully about it, trying in his mind to recall accurately and analyse the sounds, but came to the same conclusions. Then he put the whole incident out of his mind, packed up after his lunch and began to lift the first piece of ten-test for installation on the outside of the framing, on the small south wall. Almost at once, as he stood, hammer in hand, behind the panel so that he could not see inside the cabin, the noise came again, exactly as before, in the same place, on the west wall, past the doorway. He leaned the panel against the wall and quickly peered around its side -- no movement, nothing, in the cabin or outside it.

John put down his hammer and walked to the centre of the cabin, and addressed the blank east wall,

"You don't need to worry," he said, "whoever you are, you can always get out, there's plenty of space for that. And please don't hide my tools," he added, "I have a great deal to do and so little spare time to finish this cabin, it slows me down."

And for the rest of that day until he left at sundown, there were no more strange incidents.

The next weekend he again came alone. Weevil had gone fishing and Felicity stayed with her mother. John had already come to love working and being alone at the cabin site. This day he worked steadily, and nothing unusual occurred. But he felt differently about the clearing and the cabin now. It was not just a place he was changing, or where he was building something. It was somewhere with a soul and spirits of its own, which did not exactly resent his intrusion, but which allowed him to become part of it, not without some mischief and assertion all its own.

He found himself occasionally talking to it, whimsically:

"Now, I have put this square exactly here, see, and I know precisely where it is -- just be sure it's here when I need it shortly".

And so on. But nothing strange took place that weekend, or later.

Finally the cabin was completed inside and out, just before winter arrived.






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