Maiden of Mackinac: The Fudge Maker
Editor's Note: What follows are some pages of a novel I've written and laserprinted and am selling in Northern Michigan. It takes place across a 700-year period and partly within the region in which we live. It is selling in Northern Michigan because it takes place there, as well -- and because I've sold some copies of my previous novels in that area: the Straits of Mackinac. Anyway, I've added these chapters to The Odessa File mix to keep readers busy.
The setup: A writer named Madison is convinced by an elderly Florida woman to investigate a vague legend of an Ojibwe maiden born around 1300 and supposedly alive to this day -- and still in early middle age -- on Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. The skeptical Madison sees the potential for a magazine article, and is led to a second elderly woman, on Mackinac, who plays for him a tape recording. This chapter starts just after the tape recording has ended.
The Fudge Maker
The tape ended there, and I looked across to Mrs. Benson. I hadn't done that in some time, as mesmerized as I was by the voice to which I'd been listening. I'd been staring at the tape recorder, as though trying to see the person behind the words -- words that told quite a story.
But of course that's all I thought it to be, when it came right down to it: a story. True, I had come in search of a legend -- had even entertained the possibility of a Maiden of Mackinac who had lived a life extending beyond an average person's. But seven centuries? With traveling companions like Young Tobias and Kingsley?
It made for a good fairy tale, but come on.
And there was the matter of the recording itself. Great presentation, and a well-told tale - but if I accepted without proof that it was the voice of the mysterious Maiden, I'd be buying into the legend without benefit of fact.
I was still mulling these points when Mrs. Benson broke the silence.
"That was, of course, not the entire story," she said, a small smile on her lips. "But it is all quite true."
I studied her. The smile was still there, and an intensity in her gaze that I found a little unsettling -- as though I were looking at a person just daring me to dispute her; as though any contradictory remarks might bring out the beast in her.
"Uh, huh," I said. It wasn't a brilliant response, but it was safe.
"It is," she said.
"If you say so. But how can such a thing be verified? I mean with all due respect, Mrs. Benson, we're talking here about a 700-year-old woman, which anyone obviously would have trouble buying and now you're expecting me to accept the idea of a giant talking turtle and a funny little man and a thunderbird and all sorts of weird creatures and well, I'm sorry. But you'll have to show me why it's true. Give me something to grab onto here."
Mrs. Benson sat stoically as I spoke, and when I was done simply nodded once, briskly, and stood.
"It was always intended that I -- well, that we -- would, as you say, verify this, Mr. Madison. So, if you will be so kind, we have an appointment to keep down the hill from here."
"An appointment? What kind of appointment? Where? And with whom?"
"In the village," she
said. "We have to meet a woman who works in one of the fudge
"Yes. She makes fudge there. Her shift is about to end, and she agreed to meet with us, to talk to you about well, about the Maiden and about the story you've just heard, and about what followed it."
"Wait," I said, standing. "What in God's name does this woman have to do with anything? You aren't going to tell me she's a friend of this Maiden, are you, and let her tell me some more tales? Because quite frankly, while the story we just heard was entertaining, I really need some facts."
Mrs. Benson held up her right hand.
"Patience," she said. "She will provide all the facts you need, I think."
"Mrs. Benson," I said, an edge in my voice. I was getting a little perturbed.
"Mr. Madison," she interrupted, "I was not supposed to say anything more before the meeting, but evidently I must."
I waited while she struggled for the necessary words.
"You must come," she said, and hesitated again.
I shook my head, not in disagreement but in a dawning realization.
"Why?" I asked, pretty much knowing the answer.
"Because the woman we are going to see is the Maiden of Mackinac."
We could have called for a carriage, but Mrs. Benson wished to walk down to the business district -- a journey that had me a little concerned for her welfare, as elderly as she was. The walk up the hill to her housing development had winded me, and while the walk down might not have been as strenuous, it still held its perils, I figured, for somebody who moved as slowly and carefully as she did.
But slow or not, she was a key to any Mackinac success I might hope for. She was, after all, my easiest -- and possibly my only reasonable -- path to this supposed Maiden.
I wondered, as we walked, just what I might expect in town. Would this fudge maker resemble the woman I'd seen in the nineteenth-century engagement photo? If so, would that mean she was the same person? How could she be, more than a hundred years later -- unless all of this was more or less on the level? I didn't expect that to be the case, though. I still doubted the whole scenario, common sense being my prevailing barometer.
I let the matter settle into
temporary oblivion during the walk; it was too nice a day, and
the vista of nearby woods and water too grand, to worry about
things that might or might not be. The sun beating down, the
soft breeze high in the trees, and the smell -- the feel -- of
the Straits that surrounded Mackinac all played their roles in
the symphony of nature, all sang their gentle songs.
We passed the clubhouse of a golf course set across the road from the hotel, and shortly thereafter the macadam approach to the hotel itself -- the route taken by the horse-drawn carriages and bicyclists as they near the front portico and the red-carpeted steps leading up to the building's lobby entrance. Three carriages turned in there as we walked by, and two departed.
Down farther on the right -- beyond a wooded copse fronted by a small storage building -- was a clearing with a monument of some kind and concrete seating on either side of it. Then the road started leveling as it neared the shopping district. Soon, we were among the businesses on the northernmost portion of the downtown.
It was only then that the old woman spoke.
"She will be at Murphy's," she said.
"I don't know where that is," I answered.
"Don't worry. I'll show you," she said, and then returned to silence.
The final few minutes were slower going than the previous ones had been, for we met the summer tourist crowd -- out in force, as I had seen before. We made it at last to Main Street, turned left and -- after a few yards -- stepped up onto the sidewalk on the left and worked our way through the throng. We passed a boarding house, a bookshop, a jewelry store, various gift shops and three fudge shops before reaching yet another fudge shop.
"Murphy's," said the sign on the large picture window in front. The smell of fudge was strong as we entered, but only a degree up from what I'd been enjoying as we'd passed fudge-store windows along Main Street -- picture windows framing workers within rolling the melted concoction into its desired consistency, preparing it for sale.
The setup at Murphy's was a little different from the rest. The large pot in which the fudge was boiled was not visible there as in other stores -- was probably, I decided, in a kitchen behind a swinging door I spotted on the right at the rear of the salesroom. Aside from that it was similar to the others. Behind the large front window on the right were four marble tables, each placed parallel to the next. And at each, an employee -- in this case two men and two women -- were working the softened fudge, urging it toward its final shape. But I wasn't paying much attention to their efforts; I was more intent on studying the faces of the two women.
Neither one seemed to fit my
expectations, nor did two others who were packaging fudge behind
the display counter on the left and ringing out customers. I
looked to Mrs. Benson for guidance.
We made our way through the shop, trying to avoid the customers jostling for a turn at the counter, and I followed her through the swinging door. The kitchen beyond was not large -- as wide as the front portion of the shop, but not as deep. Space, I decided, was at a premium downtown.
The lighting was poor in there -- much dimmer than in the front room. My eyes adjusted slowly before I could clearly make out the figures in the room: a man washing pans straight ahead, and a woman at a large, heated copper pot in the far left corner, stirring its contents.
"Lily," said Mrs. Benson as the door swung shut behind us.
The woman at the pot extracted a large stirring paddle and set it gently on the counter behind her, and turned toward us. I couldn't tell for sure in that light, but she appeared to be a slender brunette with shortish hair -- not at all what I had anticipated, nor what I would have looked for on my own. The woman in the old engagement picture had worn her hair long, and from the little snippets of legend that I'd absorbed, I had somehow expected flowing locks. The tape recording had done nothing to dissuade that notion.
"Ah," she said, and smiled - and then moved toward us, rounding the corner of a worktable set partially between us. As she approached, I studied her face, taking in more and more detail the nearer she came. Then she was upon us, and I was still staring -- so hard that I failed to immediately realize she was holding out her right hand in greeting.
"Mr. Madison," she said. "We meet at last."
I heard this, but did not at
first absorb it into my conscious thoughts -- and then saw she
was still extending her hand, waiting for me to grasp it. I smiled,
a little embarrassed, and took it.
Yes, she looked exactly the same, save for the changes already noted. The voice, or the little I had just heard of it, sounded like the one on the tape. And on her left cheek was that which had drawn me to the photo -- that which I had read about and clearly envisioned.
On her cheek was a scar in the shape of a cross.
Welcome to My World
Mrs. Benson broke the uneasy silence.
"So," she said, "are you about done here, Lily?"
The woman -- this Lily -- glanced back at the pot.
"In a minute. I'm just finishing up. You guys want to wait outside?"
"Sure," I said. I could think of no other words.
"Of course, dear," added Mrs. Benson. "We'll be out front."
I led the way this time, swinging the kitchen door outward carefully and then cutting a path through the busy fudge shop. Mrs. Benson was immediately bumped by a customer, and grabbed hold of the back of my shirt to maintain balance. Together we made it past the front door, through the passing crowd on the sidewalk, and to the edge of the street. There it was momentarily less chaotic, though we had to pay attention to carriage and bicycle traffic.
"That was her," I said at last -- inanely, I knew.
"Yes," said Mrs. Benson. "Quite lovely, don't you think?"
I smiled, a bit abashed, for I had been thinking exactly that.
"Yes," I said.
"Especially for a 700-year-old woman," she added, and the tone caused me to pull my eyes from a pair of passing horses that were tugging a fringe-rimmed carriage -- to turn back toward her. I wanted to see what was in her eyes -- whether they were twinkling with mirth, which might suggest fun at my expense; or whether they were earnest.
The look was serious.
"Yes," I answered again, and the conversation died there. We both looked elsewhere, taking in the scene about us and -- at least in my case -- anticipating what was to come. In a short time -- a matter of minutes -- I was going to enter a new phase of this hunt.
I was going to be in the company of the Maiden.
God only knew where that might lead.
The voice came from behind me.
"Yes," I said, swiveling around. "You can't believe how ready."
The woman before me -- of apparent early middle age, so to the casual observer no older than me -- tilted her head to the right, an inquisitive look playing on her face. Then she straightened and smiled, and I felt for the first time, there in the sunlight, the dazzling effect of her presence.
"Good," she said. "That means Beatrice here has done her job well."
I sensed a slight bow in gratitude from Mrs. Benson, but my attention was on this other woman, this Lily, this Lillianna.
"Yes, she's been very helpful. Very informative," I said. "Of course, so have you."
"Me?" she said. "Oh the tape. Did you enjoy it?"
I had heard enough of her in-person voice now -- a low, smooth, highly enjoyable timbre -- to confirm that it was exactly the one I had been listening to while seated in Mrs. Benson's room. The tape machine had distorted it a little bit, but the voice was the same.
"Well yes," I said. I wanted to be careful throughout this meeting. If I was being made the fool, I wanted to at least be able to look back and tell myself that I had maintained a journalistic distance -- one that had skepticism built into it. "It was quite entertaining. But it kind of ended prematurely. I take it there might be more another tape. Part Two, if you will?"
I tried to say this lightly, to convey my position between believer and utter skeptic, but she seemed not to notice; didn't acknowledge it, at any rate.
"No," she said. "I prepared that as a kind of introduction, but decided I could tell you the rest myself. That is, if you're interested."
I glanced at Mrs. Benson, who was smiling. I realized I was, too.
"Of course I'm interested," I said. "I take it you have something specific in mind? Some place, or some specific time, for this? Or is now good?'
"Oh, now is certainly good," she said. "I thought we might find a little solitude, but not indoors. I've been indoors enough today. Let's rent bikes and take a tour around the island perimeter. The road is good, and the weather quite wonderful."
I was surprised, and not a bit displeased. The exercise and the island tour appealed to me. But the presence of Mrs. Benson seemed an obvious impediment. How was she going to manage a bike ride? It seemed a little energetic for her.
But Lillianna provided the solution.
"Beatrice, thanks," she said, turning to her friend. "You've been a great help. I think I better take it from here, though."
Mrs. Benson nodded, reached a hand out and patted Lillianna on the shoulder.
"Of course, dear," she said. "You go right along. I think I'll catch a carriage ride back up the hill. That incline is not to my liking."
Then she addressed me.
"Mr. Madison, it has been a distinct pleasure. I'm so glad you came, and hope that you find what you were seeking and perhaps more."
Those last three words were delivered with extra emphasis, but before I could inquire as to their meaning -- before I really had a chance to absorb them -- Mrs. Benson pivoted and headed up Main Street.
As I watched her go, my new companion spoke.
"The bike rentals are across the street. Shall we?"
The coast road leading out of Mackinac's business district is a narrow paved one, lined in the middle to separate bike traffic going in opposite directions. Some people take the scenic tour around the island by heading west from town, and some east, the way Lillianna and I went.
We briefly considered renting a tandem bike, but decided against it.
"It's actually easier to talk if we're riding next to each other," she said. "If we're on a tandem, the conversation tends to get blown away by the wind."
And so we made our way, riding
side by side when we could, but yielding position to other riders
who wished to pass, or who -- on two occasions -- veered dangerously
into our lane from the opposite direction. Consequently, the
conversation was a halting one that never gained traction.
"This isn't working," she said, calling back to me over her shoulder; I had fallen slightly behind. "Too hard to talk. Let's pull off a couple of miles up. There's a nice stretch of beach -- kind of sandy. We'll have some privacy."
"Suits me," I said. I was getting sweaty, so a stop appealed to me.
We pedaled on in silence until we reached our destination.
The beach was indeed secluded, separated from the bicycle roadway by bushes and trees and a few boulders. The first several yards of it that we traversed were rock-strewn, but the rocks gave way to mostly sandy turf bordering the blue water of the Straits. Directly ahead of us -- some miles distant but vivid in the clear day -- was the magnificent Mackinac Bridge, a five-mile span that connected the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.
"They built that in 1957," Lillianna said, noticing me studying it. "Well, that's when they finished. They started sometime before that. Pretty dangerous, as I recall. They lost a few men in falls. But it's been a godsend for travel. Ferries used to be the main connecting link, which proved very slow. Now the cars just zip back and forth."
We had advanced to the water line, and stood side-by-side, watching the small, gentle waves roll toward us and stop just short of our feet. I suddenly felt the intensity of the day's heat -- magnified, I supposed, by the sand's retentive qualities. To test my theory, I bent and placed my right palm down upon the beach, and nodded.
"Hot," I said. "I was thinking barefoot, but I have tender feet."
"We can walk in the moistened portion," Lillianna said, bending to remove her sandals and socks. I was at a disadvantage from a temperature standpoint, because the shirt I was wearing was long-sleeved and black -- a magnet for the sun's rays - and my slacks a dark brown, while Lillianna had worn tan slacks and a white blouse. I had removed my backpack, and was carrying it dangling at my side, but now stopped, unzipped it and pulled out the beige short-sleeve shirt I had considered donning earlier.
"Gotta change," I said. "Hope you don't mind."
"Of course not," she said, and turned toward the Straits to give me a modicum of privacy. I quickly peeled off the black shirt, wiped off some of the sweat it had helped create, and stuck it in the backpack. Then I put on the fresh shirt.
"Much better," I said, and reached into the backpack to retrieve my tape recorder and a couple of blank tapes. I stuck the tapes in my pants and the recorder in my breast pocket, then closed the backpack and tossed it a few yards inland. I took off my shoes and socks and flung them, too, their arc approximating that of the backpack. They landed just a couple of feet from it.
When I turned back toward Lillianna, I saw her eyeing the recorder, which was peeking out of my pocket.
"Oh, I hope you don't mind," I said. "I thought, since you told the rest of your story on tape "
"No, no; it's fine," she said. "I just hadn't anticipated it. So let's go this way." She pointed to our left, roughly southeast. "We can catch the breeze head-on - such as it is."
"Sounds good," I said, and we started striding along the soft, wet sand, neither of us speaking for the first twenty yards or so. Then she did.
"I thank you for coming," she said. "I was not sure that you would."
"Well, you littered the path with some pretty enticing crumbs."
She laughed; it was a deep, almost rumbling sound that resonated, that appealed to me.
"Crumbs. Yes, I suppose so," she said. "But all truth. And the tape recording?"
"Fascinating," I admitted. "All truth as well?"
I could feel her eyes on me, measuring, as we continued on.
"Yes," she said. "As much as memory serves the truth. It was all as I remember."
"The thunderbird?" I asked, the skepticism probably evident in my voice.
"The thunderbird, yes," she said. "It is what I perceived."
"And the giant turtle?"
"And the little gnome?" I had had difficulty classifying Young Tobias, but that word seemed as suitable as any. But she instantly disagreed.
"No," she said. "He's not a gnome. He's a tajahenus."
"A tajahenus. Part of a rare species of cave dwellers. He is, in fact, the last of his breed."
"A tajahenus," I said, suppressing a grin. I had never heard such a name, never heard of such a species, and doubted it ever existed. But then the tense she had used penetrated my thoughts.
"Wait," I said. "You said 'is.' That he 'is' a tajahenus. Are you going to tell me that he is still alive?"
"Oh my, yes. He is quite alive."
"Uh huh," I said. "And I suppose he's still on Mackinac."
"Well, actually, yes. He's in a cave not far from here, up in the woods."
"Oh," I said, and despite myself glanced to my left, up toward the wooded terrain that rose sharply on the other side of the road. "Can I meet him?"
She didn't hesitate in her answer.
"Certainly. But in due course. Right now, we need to walk some more, and I need to continue the story that you heard on that tape. Are you still interested?"
I looked again to the left, up into the woods, as though the effort would enable me somehow to see through the wall of trees and into the cave Young Tobias supposedly inhabited. She recognized the motion, and answered the unspoken question.
"You won't see him from here," she said. "He rarely ventures out in the daylight. He's very private, and for a very good reason. He is, after all, a tajahenus - not the kind of fellow who fits in easily. And he hates attention. So he remains remote."
I nodded, digesting her words but not really believing them. Seeing would be believing, and nothing less.
"Okay," I said. "But I do want to meet him."
"And you shall," she said. "But for now "
"We walk and talk," I finished for her.
"Well no," she said. "We walk and I talk. It would be best for me to be allowed to relate this story unfettered -- without interruption. Do you think you can manage that -- accept my words on my terms?"
I considered the request, and thought it reasonable.
"I will get to ask questions at the end?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "At some point afterward. So are you agreed?"
I pursed my lips, and nodded.
"Good," she said. "But as we go, let's not lose sight of your backpack and shoes. We can turn and retrace our steps every couple hundred yards, if you like."
I considered the suggestion, and offered an alternative.
"We could find a boulder or a patch of shaded sand up nearer the road," I said. "That would keep the sun at bay."
She looked toward the roadway, scanning for such a spot.
"Perhaps," she said. "I think better when I'm moving, though, so let's start that way. If we tire, we can adopt your plan. Okay?"
I nodded again, and gave what I hoped was an encouraging smile.
"Excellent," she said. "Now then, where did I leave off on the tape?"
"With the giant turtle and Young Tobias and the travois," I said.
"Oh, right," she said. "The beginning of the journey. Well, you might as well start your recorder."
I pulled it out of my shirt pocket and pressed the record button, then returned it. The built-in microphone was pointing up, clear of any obstructing cloth.
"It should pick up your words just fine," I said.
"Okay, good," she said. "So let's start. Let's see We left the clearing at a brisk pace, and I didn't look back "
Author's Addendum: Lillianna next returns to the point at which her tape recording had ended, and recounts her journey west toward Mackinac -- in the company of her two very odd companions. Beyond that, the story unfolds in ways best left unsaid. I don't want to ruin it for anyone by summarizing.
Author's Closing note: I have several copies of this novel available in spiral-bound, laserprinted form. The cost is $15, plus $3 shipping (more for overseas), if anyone wants to read it. Just send the payment to: Charlie Haeffner, P.O. Box 365, Odessa, NY 14869. I plan on printing it in standard trade paperback format next year.
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869