The forest gave a sigh of relief — Paul Bunyan lay sleeping his final rest, his last tree felled. The funeral was almost as large as the legend himself and took place over several days. The will was read and the house went to his wife, the great blue ox went to his children, and his axe went to his apprentice.
Nobody knew the apprentice’s name, nor could anyone really remember his face, but everyone remembered what he said when he picked up the giant axe. “I’m a time-drenched conservationist, and Paul Bunyan’s time ain’t done yet.” He tipped his sombrero at the coffin and walked out of the church. When he got outside, he raised the axe in the air, as if he were declaring war on time itself, and disappeared.
“Father Time is a gentle lover,” the young apprentice’s mother would say. Nobody knew how Father Time had met her, let alone how they managed to have a child, but even the young apprentice’s mother couldn’t escape time’s embrace. The young apprentice never could forgive his father.
Now another person had been snatched away by his father’s embrace, but this time was different. He had learned the lessons of growing life, of giving time rather than taking it. He remembered the simple secret the great American Lumberjack had taught him when they had first met.
They met in a tavern. You know, the one in the old stories and fables. The Lumberjack was ordering another round for everybody and the young man had looked for a way to excuse himself. But the gigantic Lumberjack clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Never have I ever drank with a man who looked so sad! Come, be merry and drink!”
Maybe it was Paul’s gregarious nature, or perhaps the young man was just feeling lonely. Whatever it was, the young man found himself drinking and explaining his chronological issues to Paul. Time pooled around the young man, never touching him, never aging him, but instead, it gathered around him. It was like treading water — he could stay in one place for a while, but as soon as he tired, he would drown and find himself in another place and time. “It makes relationships hard,” he said in a rare moment of humor.
The Lumberjack laughed, “Time matters not when you are with your friends! Be merry and drink!” And so, since a legend had declared it, time did not matter and the young man was merry and everyone drank. Such was the power of legends.
So enamored was the young apprentice that Paul Bunyan gained an apprentice that night, though felling trees wasn’t in his nature. A conservationist, he decided. Better to extend the time of something, rather than to snuff it out.
But that was then, and this is now. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but he knows where he has been. He knows what he has lost. When Paul Bunyan’s legend ended, so too did the man, and so too did his declaration. Once again time pooled around the young apprentice, trying to smother him like a concerned father. But he had a plan, he knew what he had to do. He held Paul Bunyan’s axe in his hand, stopped treading and drowned in the pool of time.
In 1888, he stayed in the shadows, watching a madman named Jack do his macabre dance. When Holmes enacted justice, his father whisked him away to witness Cain’s despicable act. The young man drank with Mary Mallon when people called her names, and he was even in the Great War, riding on a pale horse through the trenches, as Typhus laid waste.
He tried to save them, he tried so hard and sometimes he succeeded. But always, his father would win. Every soul lost made him hate his father a little more. Every death he witnessed transformed him closer to what he was to become. You aren’t the son of Father Time without being expected to take on certain responsibilities.
Soon his name was on everyone’s lips. Some wished for him to come quickly; others begged him to stay away. Eventually, he found himself in the place he needed to be. The place his father ignored. The place of Legends.
Past the Pyramids of Giza, on the plains of Legends, Yggdrasil loomed. Nestled amongst the tree of life’s roots was his destiny. With a black handle and silver blade, the scythe called out to him, asking him to take up the mantle.
For who alone can deny time’s embrace? Only Death himself.
The young apprentice approached Yggdrasil, Paul Bunyan’s axe in hand. It was to be a trade. The young man picked up the scythe and said the six simple words that had started his journey. “Paul Bunyan’s time ain’t done yet.”
There was quite a commotion at Paul Bunyan’s funeral, as the Lumberjack rose from his coffin, asking for pancakes. Standing at the boundary of legends and mortals, Death smiled down at the world, watching as Paul hugged his children and wife. He knew he couldn’t go back, that he couldn’t see his only friend, because Death visits for only one reason. Eventually he would have to return Paul Bunyan’s axe, but not now. There was still some time left.
So next time you see your life flash before your eyes, and next time you count your lucky stars you survived, just remember to give thanks. Give thanks to a Time-Drenched Conservationist, who thinks that you ought to be the exception to the natural cycle of things.
When not fending off bills, Mike McArthur regularly takes part in obscure literary cage matches.