Farley Creighton had been working far too hard. Tax accounting could be a real bitch in April. While most people welcome spring with open arms and a certain sense of renewal, not so with Farley. It was the time of year when he could expect clients like Mike Marashenko, who ran his own small contracting firm, to walk through the front door with a large cardboard box brimming with everything from receipts to bills both paid and unpaid and copies of invoices either sent or not. It was poor Farley’s job to straighten out the whole mess and make sure, at risk of certain reproach, that Mike didn’t pay a cent more income tax than he had the previous year. And it would have probably been okay with the beleaguered accountant had Marashenko Contracting Ltd. been a one-off, but no, he was pretty much typical of Creighton Tax Service’s entire client base. In the early years he’d felt thankful the larger firms in town had referred clients to him, but after a few years he realized that they were simply offloading their dregs on him.
By the end of June, Farley could look forward to a break in the pressure cooker tedium and start sending out a few invoices of his own. But now it was mid-April, just weeks from tax filing deadlines, and he tanked, bottomed out, flatlined. Call it what you will but Farley was done. Fourteen tax seasons in this dispiriting business that had promised big rewards never realized. In that time, Farley had seen clients start with nothing and end up millionaires while his business floundered, just shy of being a certifiable failure. Farley was an okay tax accountant, but a terrible businessman. He had grown silently bitter with those who’d “outgrown” his services and moved on, seeking the advanced resources of big firms with initials like “LLP” behind their names, retaining those pricey lawyers whose singular purpose in life was to ferret out loopholes in the tax laws.
On top of all that, Cecilia was taking their two boys and leaving him; moving in with some freak who spent most of his worthless life at Ernie’s Gaslight Roadhouse, that seedy shithole down on the east end of town. She’d be wanting half of what little actual value remained of their sorry union and probably some child support to boot.
Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em all.
So, Farley Creighton went for a walk.
He remembered the woods from his childhood days. He remembered that when he’d been troubled it was the one place where he could find solace. Pulling on his old Columbia hiking pants which were now fitting a bit snugger around the waist, he slipped his feet into his comfortable ten-year-old Vasques. They were one of the few expensive indulgences he’d allowed himself since the children had come along. Unfortunately, the tough, all-leather hiking boots with Vibrum soles had seen far less use than Farley had hoped for when he bought them. Stuffing a few granola bars, three bottles of Evian and a pullover windbreaker into his light day hiker pack, he slipped out the front door, climbed into his taupe 1998 Hyundai Accent and drove less than a quarter mile out of the city. There he found a little-used roadside turnout that ran about a hundred yards into a forest of mixed jack pines and tamaracks.
This wasn’t entirely new territory for Farley, though he wasn’t familiar with this particular spot. As a young boy he and his pals had spent practically every summer weekend in these woods. There had always been something to do; build lean-to ‘forts’, explore, or swim ‘bare balls’ in the bone chilling creek that meandered down through a deep ravine. He smiled to himself at these nearly forgotten memories. Later, just before he met and married Cecilia, he’d frequently hiked here on his own, until an encounter with a black bear mamma and her cub convinced him that doing this sort of thing solo might shorten his life. After that, he’d limited his hikes to the fringes of the forest, not venturing in too deeply.
Today, though, he really didn’t give a shit if a bear was there or not. His growing depression had made him, if not suicidal, at least carelessly fatalistic.
For about fifty or so yards, he followed what looked to be a trail through the thickening trees, then cut off and made his own way through the heavy undergrowth, tripping occasionally on the uneven terrain. Finding himself in a thicket of heavy ground willow and very much alone, Farley looked up through the pines and began to laugh almost maniacally. He hadn’t felt this sort of freedom in years and no, he knew he wasn’t losing his mind. This forest, this wonderful sanctuary, was pulling him magically back from an emotional precipice.
Farley continued on, deeper into the trees, and had anyone been there to view his progress, the transformation could not possibly have gone unnoticed; a slight, contented smile replaced a grim, set jaw and was accompanied by a brisker step and a remarkable improvement in posture.
Fifteen more minutes of hiking brought him to a small clearing. A trickle of a creek was almost unnoticeable in the tall grasses and wild shrubbery as it gurgled its way down one edge. Immediately noticeable, though, was the red vinyl and chrome 1950’s vintage kitchen chair at the opposite edge, its four legs nestled among laid over dead grass and short bits of greener forest underbrush. The red vinyl was somewhat weathered and faded, but the sun glinted off its unaffected chrome. Had Farley been under any illusion that he’d been breaking new ground in hitherto untrammeled virgin forest, that notion was dashed in a nanosecond.
The hike had tired him, and he was thirsty. He viewed the chair with bemusement as he pulled off his pack and withdrew an Evian from its side pocket. He drank deeply then splashed a bit of the now lukewarm water over his upturned face.
“Would you care to sit for a while, sir?”
It was a soft, soothing male voice, but its presence startled Farley to the point of rectal constriction. His panicked eyes darted three-sixty around the clearing but there was no one, and besides, the voice sounded as though it had actually been very close to him. Now, slightly more curious than alarmed, Farley decided to play along with what he determined might just be some elaborate practical joke. In his accountants’ world of serious rationality, chairs don’t talk, but then, who would set up a practical joke in the middle of a forest clearing not likely visited by anyone?
“Are you okay with me sitting on you?” Farley asked with a smirk on his face.
“Well of course you can,” Chair replied. “That’s my job.”
Tossing the day pack carelessly beside the chair, Farley then knelt down beside it to fetch one of his granola bars. This gave him the opportunity to take a quick sidelong glance under the seat, checking for the presence of any sort of speaker device. There was none; nor was one attached anywhere on the chair back.
He cautiously sat down, gently slouched back then stretched his tired legs out in front of him and crossed them at the ankles. Unwrapping his granola, he took a bite and surveyed his surroundings, waiting for further communication from the chair. Only silence.
Farley was not known for being much of a conversationalist, but this extended quietness was a bit unnerving and compelled him to take the initiative.
“So, what are you doing way out here in the middle of nowhere?” he asked.
“Well, it’s a long, rambling story, and I wouldn’t want to bore you with it, but suffice it to say, I’ve been out here for a while now. I like it, too… well parts of it anyway. Truth is, I’ve always been a bit of a loner; never really fit in as a piece of kitchen furniture.”
Farley couldn’t resist commenting on the obvious.
“If you don’t mind me saying, you do look rather out of place here though, what with your chrome and red vinyl and all. I mean, look around you. You stand out like a sore thumb in the middle of all this wilderness.”
Why on earth am I talking to this chair? Have I completely lost my mind?
“Yeah, well, I guess we’re all entitled to our opinions. Didn’t see you going over to sit on that old, rotted log over there. Good thing, too. It’s loaded with red ants. They came over and checked me out when I first got here, but decided I was a bit uninhabitable. Anyway, it wasn’t my decision to be here. When I first arrived—completely against my will, I might add—I wasn’t a big fan of not having a roof over my head. I’m sure you can understand. Sitting out here in the rain and wind, cold and miserable, watching all these smart-ass trees around me soaking it all up like a warm bath.”
“Sorry,” Farley replied. “Obviously hit a nerve. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings or anything, it’s just that this whole area is about, y’know, lush greenery, trees, grass and shrubs, that whole ‘nature’ thing. It’s the only reason I’m hiking around here; clearing my head and getting back to nature. My job in the city is incredibly stressful and the scene there, particularly this time of year, is a real gong show. To make matters worse, my wife’s left me, taken my two kids, and set up housekeeping with some alcoholic asshole. I came here to get away from all that and sort things out. Used to come here a lot when I was a kid, and it always made me feel alive.”
Now I’m pouring my heart out to this chair. What’s wrong with me?
“So, you decided this was the place to be,” the chair replied. “Do you own any of this property?”
“No. This really isn’t private property. It’s public land, so we’ve all got a right to be here. Nature is for all of us to enjoy, isn’t it?”
The chair stifled a cynical laugh.
“So here you are, in the middle of all this beauty, sitting quite comfortably on me, chrome and vinyl, while we have this little chat. I hope you’re not missing the irony of it.”
Farley had to mull that one over for a bit.
“Okay, okay, I guess I do get the irony. In spite of the fact that you find all this quite amusing and me a bit hypocritical, I really get the sense that you think you belong here, that you actually fit in.”
Chair was quick to respond.
“Well, perhaps not right at this moment. But as I told you before, ‘fitting in’ has never really been a biggie for me. Kind of a human thing, wouldn’t you agree? Some of the locals were a little startled when I first got here; avoided me like the plague. Now they just ignore me. A few deer come around now and then and there are squirrels and chipmunks galore, but I haven’t seen a bear or cougar around these parts in nearly three years.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Farley replied.
Ignoring that comment completely, Chair continued, noticeably more upbeat.
“My day will come. Look around you. You don’t really think those trees are here forever, do you? That little stream over there, definitely on borrowed time. Look at me, though. I’m plastic. I’m chrome. Hell, I’m practically indestructible. In time I think I’ll be fitting in quite nicely.
“When I first got here, they called this area a forest. A forest, sir! Three years ago, they decided to reclassify it a ‘nature preserve’. In five more they’ll be calling it a park, and in ten they’ll decide it should be zoned transitional. I don’t think I have to tell you what comes after ‘transitional’ do I? Makes you think, doesn’t it?”
“I’m not entirely sure whether you’re being an optimist or pessimist, Chair.”
“Pragmatist, my friend.”
With a show of finality Farley stood up and stretched his back, then reached down and picked up his day bag.
“It’s been great chatting with you, Chair, but I really must be on my way. I’ll be keeping our little conversation to myself. You do understand, I’m sure.”
There was no reply.
Re-shouldering his backpack, he bade the chair farewell with a weak wave and left the little clearing. He tried to convince himself that the whole experience was some stress induced fantasy. In truth, he knew better. What had occurred was more an epiphany.
Farley settled into the driver’s seat of his Hyundai and sat for a moment with the ignition keys in his hand. He could think of nothing but the conversation he’d just had. As exhausted as he was, he stuck the keys back in his pocket, left the day pack on the front seat and made the half hour trek back to the clearing. He picked up the chair and hiked back to the car where he laid it gently across the back seat. He would likely not hear it utter another word for the rest of his life, and that was okay.
Farley Creighton also knew he had spent his last day as a tax accountant. Going forward his life would have new purpose and focus. Wherever he was in the world, preaching his gospel of environmental stewardship and conservation, the chair would be there with him.
On more than one occasion he’d been asked, “Why is that chair always by your side?” to which he would reply with no further explanation, “We brought each other in from the cold.”
* * * *
The ex-accountant’s life had, indeed, changed. So had the world he lived in. For nearly three decades he’d been a tireless and successful advocate for environmental reform, whether that involved rallying the public, lobbying for changes in the laws or holding to account those who flaunted them. His was a respected voice of reason, and people listened. His legacy was the creation of the highly influential Creighton Foundation, ensuring that his work would continue well into the future.
Twenty-seven years later, upon Farley’s passing and in accordance with his final wishes, a small group of his like-minded friends quietly carried the old chair into the forest on the outskirts of their mentor’s hometown. Through his tireless efforts it was, remarkably, still a forest, protected by law from urban incursion. They knew not why, but they sat the chair reverently at the edge of a clearing deep in the woods near a tiny stream, stood in silence for a moment, then departed with no further fanfare.
In time there would be another Farley Creighton by this way.
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Rick Gillis has enjoyed a 40+ year career as a journalist and publisher. Over the past eight years he has refocused his attention on the creation of fiction. His first self-published novel, The Boy Who Couldn’t Die, was chosen finalist in the Indie Excellence Book Awards the year it was published. This was followed by his second novel, Buckskin Girl and Blackheart. During the time he was creating his first two full-length novels, he was also penning several short stories. These were gathered into an anthology titled The Chair. A brief hiatus was followed by the author’s current novel, The Astonishing Legend of Johnny P’tuu.
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