Hello. I’ve ranted and raved about Tweetsie Railroad before. And I’ve told you the sad tale of losing my pocket knife there. Last month, much too late and in my typical procrastinating style, I contacted them in re the lost and found department. Fifteen or so years, of course, is just too long. No such luck. I also roundaboutly found out they’ve had a rough season because of the hysteria over the common cold. The latter problem, I cannot remedy. However, and I am so happy to report this(!), I think I know what may have happened to the knife. I emailed the following story to Meghan – who I can’t thank enough for everything. See what you think:
Et Pisces Cultro
Perrin Lovett, 2020
‘One of you will finally catch him one of these days,’ Will said, not quite to himself, as he sat on the rear cargo deck of his SUV, looking down at something. ‘And, maybe they’ll promote you guys to a full eight cents.’ He laughed softly as he started digging around in a large bag with one hand. His other hand held a pocket knife. Rather, it held his pocket knife, a marvelous little folding device without, in his mind, rival or equal. He considered it the finest knife in the world, a tool of elegant, simplistic utility with a manly, if subdued, artfulness. It was unique.
It was a smaller design: slim, light, and made for unobtrusively resting in pants of any caliber – rugged denim or stylish wool. The construction was solid steel, with a simple hinge, and a locking release nestled at the end of the handle. Compared to other two-and-a-half inch knives, it was as functional, practical, and reliable as any. The handle set Will’s apart. For embedded under clear resin were three green-tinted postage stamps, set fringe to fringe in a row. Each bore the image of a brown trout leaping from the water in pursuit of an elusive dragonfly. Each boasted the nominal price of 7 ½ cents, as marked years earlier in the distant nation of New Zealand. In a way, he had always credited the fish (and the knife) for his long-ago visit to that far southerly land, his own On The Beach moment while en route to employment somewhere colder. The knife had accompanied him even then. Now, it was ready again for lacerative work.
From the bag, Will, at last, fished what he was looking for. That very evening, less than two hours hence, he and his lovely Wendy would take their little daughters, Willow and Wynter, for a night of spooky fun, courtesy of the Ghost Train and Tweetsie Railroad. With Halloween closing in and a chill in the air, warmer clothes were in order. That afternoon, following a day of ordinary, daytime mountain railway excitement, he’d purchased a little pink “No. 12” fleece pullover for Wynter. He’d only to remove the tags and triumphantly present it to her up in the room. He clicked open the knife and could not overlook, momentarily, the significance of the act.
Like the garment, his perfect pocket knife had also come from magical Tweetsie, though not from any gift shop. Many years before, when he was a boy, he’d been wandering around the Country Fair area, Dippin’ Dots in hand. Then, he had noticed a man with a rake, laboriously cleaning years of dust, dirt, and debris from beneath a ride. On the ground were a pile of grime, leaves, bubble gum wrappers, and other dingy trash, awaiting deposit into a rubber waste can. In the pile, little Will caught the gleam of shiny metal, something to naturally attract the attention of a ten-year-old boy. Oblivious of the encompassing filth, he’d simply reached down and lifted the object for inspection. Seeing no one else around, and adhering to the ancient law of Finders, Keepers, he dusted it off on his jeans and, after admiring it, placed it in his pocket. Later, at home, he’d polished the knife and oiled its mechanisms. Despite lying buried for who knows how long, it was sharp when he found it. He kept it finely honed to razor perfection, a feat he’d always found remarkably easy. It was as if this little blade wanted to remain keen of its own silent accord. As such, now he knew it would make short work of his project.
Retailers relish labelings. He pulled back a sticker, then another. He deftly sliced through two plastic tabs. The final challenge was a long nylon stem binding the price tag to a sleeve. With the fleece garment on his knee, he stretched the tag taut with his left hand, two fingers wound around the top of the stem. He placed the sharp blade and prepared to cut. Just then, a passing truck blew its raspy horn. He jerked. The stem snapped clean. But he felt the passing of cold steel across his curled digits.
‘Oh, wow,’ he exclaimed as that hot ripple down the spine that we all feel in such tenuous moments caused him to lurch again. He examined his fingers cautiously, surprised to find only the faintest, superficial lines of indentation that, even as he watched, receded to nothing. He tucked the sweater under his arm and closed the knife. ‘Woo. That was close.’
‘But we never harm our owner!’ said a small voice, the speaking of which caused Will to drop both coat and knife on the deck.
‘Who said that?!’ he asked with a start.
‘We did,’ answered the little voice; ‘and please don’t discard us so roughly.’
Will’s hand slowly, almost unconsciously inched towards the knife. He picked it up gingerly and, turning it in his hand, gazed at the three diminutive trout. ‘Was that you?’ he asked in disbelief.
His eyes went wide and his head reeled as the report came in: the first little fish turned its attention and its head away from the fly and straight to Will, and spoke! ‘Of course, it was us,’ said the fish.
‘You can talk?!’
‘The same as you, if more selectively,’ replied the second trout. ‘Well, except for him.’ – he nodded to the third fish – ‘He stays quiet. Missing his tail, you know.’ Will observed, for the first time he could remember, that the last trout in the line was creased-over the end of the hilt pommel with its tail obscured or deleted. He had never, in all those years, noticed. And he had never, in all his life, expected a conversation with at least two fish on a knife. (Honestly, he had never envisioned discourse with any fish, bladed or otherwise).
‘How do you— How do you two fish speak? Is it possible?’ he stammered.
‘Not possible; probable,’ said the first fish.
‘Not probable,’ said the second, ‘definitive.’
‘Oh,’ said the first, ‘and we are not two, but one. I am the knife of two voices though of one mind.’
‘You just called each other us,’ Will correctly noted.
‘There is no explanation for that. Is this better?’ they both answered at once.
‘That is— This is just a little odd,’ Will admitted.
‘We always expected mild confusion,’ the first fish said.
‘Why haven’t you spoken before?’
‘We have never spoken before,’ said the second, ‘except to each other. Long discussions we had beneath the Tilt-a-Whirl, our home for an age of fish.’
‘Ha!’ Will exclaimed. ‘So, you remember when I found you? When we first met?’
‘We do,’ said the first, ‘and many thanks for your rescue and kind treatment.’
‘How long were you down there?’ Will asked. ‘Or, better, start from the beginning. What’s behind a talking knife?’
‘The long or the short of it?’ asked the second. ‘Better to finish faster, eh?’
‘Indeed, time is wasting,’ said the first. ‘I’ll explain a little: Will, you yourself have noted, more than once, that we are marked Japan, rather than China or USA like so many common blades. We are the work of an old katana master, sold through a trading company to a certain menswear shop.
‘What was it? Thirty years gone by? We were acquired by a man who treated us well enough. He visited your favorite amusement park – and more than once. It happened that, upon a time, he and his daughter ventured onto the Tilt. We were if we can remember it, already dangling close to the edge of the pocket, so to speak. Sir Newton was right about motion. Once we started moving, started flying, we didn’t stop until we rolled, slid, and came to rest on the metal decking near the outside rail of the amusement. He could have found us, we suppose, if not for the vibrations. When the machine slowed down, the motor shuttered, the floor shook and we fell through the cracks – and not as a matter of mere saying. Lonely and forgotten—’
‘He never forgot us,’ added the second trout.
‘No, but he was most late in thinking of us when he finally did. And too slow to finally act,’ said the first. ‘For about a year we lay amid the crud and smut until you came along. And, thank our maker, that you did.’
‘You said it was an age,’ countered Will.
‘Yes, for us,’ said the second; ‘time passes differently for trout on a dagger.’
‘Oh,’ remarked the first, ‘and time is running away here and now. We can explain a little more at the park tonight. Does not someone need a certain pink cloak?’
‘Wow. Yeah. Thanks,’ Will said, then venturing to inquire: ‘What are your— What’s your name?’
‘Piscis Gladius, at your service as always,’ the knife answered as one.
Enlightened, and still amazed, Will stowed his new friend and former tool in his pocket, handled the pullover, and made off for room 414 at the Holiday Inn, Boone.
Wynter, aged three, was enthralled with her new outerwear. Donning it she became a fashionable sight to match her sister, two years her senior. Clad against the night airs and the threat of fog or drizzle, the happy family soon meandered down US 321 towards Blowing Rock.
On the short drive, as the girls chattered away in their car seats, Will asked Wendy: ‘Did you ever read The Children of Hurin?’
‘What’s that?’ Wendy remarked. ‘Is that a kid’s book?’
‘No, it’s Tolkien. One of his posthumous books, a tragedy.’ Will said.
‘No, I haven’t,’ she said. ‘Is there anything Halloween spooky in it?’
‘Kind of. It’s about Hurin’s son, mostly. He, among many adventures, found a talking sword.’ Will let the words fall out slowly, his mind somewhere else and his eyes on the road.
‘Well, no tragedy tonight. We’re out for spooky fun with the Ghost Train, right girls?’ Wendy said and asked, more to the back seat than to Will. Then she turned to the radio. ‘Let’s see if there’s some macabre music on!’
There was not, as it turned out, though the girls (and Wendy) had fun with a kid’s sing-a-long CD about a black cat and a jack-o’-lantern. Will kept thinking about his new fishy acquaintances. Fifteen minutes later, he did the honorable thing and, seeing a chance, dropped the ladies off nearer to the main entrance, himself resolved to seek out a parking space. For some reason, he parked as far away as he could, and as far as the attendants would allow. On his slow walk up the hill to the ticket office and gates, he checked to make sure no one was close or watching and he pulled out the knife.
‘Okay, now. What’s the real story behind a talking pocket knife, my postal friends?’ he asked.
‘Ah, yes,’ said the first trout. ‘We, as we said, were crafted by a great master in Seki. His skill, and perhaps something greater, lives on in us. We always knew we were smart – uh, smarter than your average knife – but we could never bring ourselves to speak out loud. That is, to anyone else or even to ourselves.’
‘We kind of thought together, if that makes sense,’ added the second fish.
‘Indeed, indeed,’ rejoined the first.
‘You never spoke to the first owner? The man with the loose pocket?’ Will inquired.
‘No, sadly,’ said the first. ‘He was a good enough fellow, and he took us on all sorts of adventures.’
‘We went to the World Trade Center, and to some, well, mysterious meetings in Washington, along with many other exciting places!’ the second said happily.
‘And, then you graciously took us to the home of our philatelic ancestors. And the frigid extremes of the Pole,’ said the first. ‘Exhilarating, if cold enough to freeze the fish off a steel blade.’
‘We’ve a mind to see our true home of origin, where the stamps met the metal, in Japan, someday. If it can be arranged. Perhaps this visit to Tweetsie can help us along,’ said the second, whimsical.
‘The Tweetsie magic, yes!’ said the first. ‘It’s probably not magic, per se – more of Divine Providence. But, it was here, in this blessed little realm, under the Tilt-a-Whirl, that we first spoke. To ourselves, of course. And it might just be proximity, tonight, that prompted our speech to you, dear William.’
‘You guys think there’s more of that magic ahead?’ Will asked.
‘We do, now that we see more clearly,’ said the second.
‘You talked about traveling. And you want to get back to Japan. You think there’s any chance I could help with that tonight?’ Will asked.
‘Possibly, if not probably or definitely,’ replied the second.
‘What can I do, if or when the time is right?’ Will wanted to know.
‘Cast me away,’ said the first trout, flatly.
‘Where? Like into a lake or something?’ Will asked with mild trepidation.
‘Oh, no! Nothing like that, Will,’ soothed the first fish. ‘Let’s just say, if and when the time is right, you will know him when you see him.’
‘I’ll just know him when— Oh, hey, people and the ticket office, guys! Back in the pocket, we go,’ Will said with a wink.
In a jiffy, he passed through the turnstile and into the true happiest place in the world. He was as awed as ever as he walked past the stroller rentals and the ironically-juxtaposed jail and began scouting for his family on Main Street. It was always the same at Tweetsie, regardless of the year, the season, or the time. The little park was (or is) the one place that is always exactly the same as one remembers it from childhood.
Will noticed a sign near the Cowboy Cantina. In a few days, the final day of the season, a concert was to be held at the Hacienda. Will reckoned they would have to miss that fun, even though he knew the band and wanted to sing along.
‘Dandy and the Bass Slayers! Boy!’ he said out loud.
‘Vee herb dap!’ came a watery call from his pocket.
‘Sorry guys. But it’s bass, not trout,’ Will explained. ‘They’re a rockabilly band from… Hello, baby girls!’ He had found his loved ones.
‘Daddy!’ Wynter practically screamed as she jumped up into his arms.
‘It’s me!’ he said before pecking her on the forehead.
‘Daddy! We should have worn our Halloween costumes!’ said Willow, excitedly if somewhat ruefully.
‘Well, now, let’s see,’ said Will; ‘I think we’re costumed enough. You two and mommy are obviously princesses.’ It was a kindly remark, true in a familial sense, pleasing to young daughters and it generated a smile from an appreciative wife.
‘So, daddy?’ began Wendy; ‘Just what are you? Our prince?’
‘No,’ he answered. ‘I’m just a greens manager enjoying a long weekend.’
‘That’s not a costume!’ Willow sang while pulling back and forth on Will’s hand.
‘Everyone else is making up for it! Look at all these characters around us! Now, what are we going to do?’ He placated.
They did just about everything, and some things more than once. The Ghost Train waited while the family had dinner in the Cantina. Then, there was a small matter of more shopping at the very same stores that they’d visited earlier that day. Some pictures were taken. Then! Then, they rode the Train, with frights, thrills, and chills aplenty. They found themselves in a delightfully dark haunted wonderland. There was so much to take in! Ghouls, ghosts, goblins, and more lurked around every laughing corner. The family found out that they call it a Freaky Forest for a reason. And, who knew candy corn worked so well in a funnel cake?! After seeing a spooktacular show at the Palace, they ventured up to Miner’s Mountain for more shows, more rides, more pictures, and more fun. For added measure, just to be safe, they even had some additional fun. On the way back down, via the chair lifts, Will had to ride by himself, a car behind the ladies. He listened to them sing and shout and yell Hello, spiders! to the giant, illuminated spiders down on the hillside. After a moment, he pulled the knife out once again.
‘Hey, guys. I’ve been looking for whomever this is supposed to be, and I haven’t really seen him yet,’ he said.
‘No, you wouldn’t,’ said the second trout; ‘not yet.’
‘You’ll know him when you see him, not before,’ said the first.
‘So, he wasn’t that tall, intelligent but dangerous-looking man with the very attractive woman at his side?’
‘It’s not the last owner, is it?’
‘No. We’re going forward, not backward.’
‘Is he anything like me?’
‘Like you, perhaps, as you were.’
The conversation ended at the lower lift station. The knife was again concealed and, roundabout, Wendy, Will, and the girls ran, skipped, and frolicked their way over to the Country Fair. There, the falls were free, the tornado was gusty, the turnpike was cruising, and the arcade was refreshing. Will and Willow even braved a car on the Tilt, while Wendy and Wynter dared to occupy another. Will almost assumed that the knife would once again fly off, literally, on a further escapade. But in the end, when he checked, it was still in his pocket. At last, as the evening drew towards its closing, the ladies wanted one final thrill. Space limits dictated that only they could ride the Ferris Wheel, so Will contented himself to sit and watch.
He had taken to a bench near the Tilt and was watching (and listening) as the women of his life circled high above. He knew that after the very next revolution, they would exit and this particular Tweetsie visit would come to an end. He didn’t know that he had inadvertently taken out the knife, nor that he was gently turning it in his hand. He had just realized what he was doing and was examining the stamps as they turned upwards to his face, kindled by the carnival lights all around him. Suddenly, a voice spoke – and it was not aquatically-accented…
‘That’s a nice knife you have, mister.’ Will looked up and observed a boy of about ten, who was keenly looking at the little folder. Without thinking any more about it, Will stood up and held out the knife to the lad insistently. After a second of hesitation, the boy took it.
‘That’s a nice knife you have,’ Will said with a smile.
‘Gee. Thank you, sir,’ said the boy.
‘Don’t thank me,’ said Will, ‘thank the fish.’ With that, he simply walked away, almost immediately running into the giggling womenfolk.
‘Will Ferrum, did I just see you give your favorite knife to that little boy?!’ Wendy asked perplexedly.
‘You did,’ Will said. ‘Somebody has to get them to Japan.’
While both the gift and the remark potentially begged a few questions, she asked him no more about it, and he explained no further. Instead, they all four wound their way back, past the Spice Ghouls, past the prize pumpkins, and past spills and chills galore, to the exit on Main. As they were departing – and maybe they didn’t hear it – thus began the melody of Pet Sematary by the Ramones. And a pale, strange man in a cape and a top hat, seated across the cowcatcher of Old Number 12, began to laugh.
Consider steel, as cold as night,
Allocution of the angled;
Find the sword a cordial sight,
So keeper be embrangled.