A Twinkle in My Eye

by George Gauthier

Chapter 6

Forest Primeval

Some forty years ago I lived in British Columbia where I took on the identity of Alexander "Sandy" Sievers, owner of boatyard on the Fraser River where pleasure craft were repaired during spring and summer and stored over the winter months.

My boyfriend at the time was Darren Nighy, then a young commercial artist. Darren worked freelance for advertising agencies crafting imagery for magazine adds and billboards. Just recently a much older Darren had recognized me during my pole dance act at Something Else Again, the trendy gay watering hole in our fair city. I had to pretend not to know him, lest the truth about me come out. How sad it was that I could not acknowledge that fine man to whom I had once been so close.

In the old days Darren was an avid outdoorsman and photographer. I too liked the outdoors and would join him for days long hikes in the temperate rain forests of the foothills of the Coast Mountains following trails blazed by the provincial park authorities. I like to think that we made a fine looking pair of hikers, me a short blond pretty boy and Darren a handsome red haired young man somewhat above middling height.

Instead of camping out under the stars we had booked accommodations in rustic cabins lying along our route. The cabins provided not only shelter but also pantries stocked with non-perishables for visitors to prepare their own simple meals.

With no need to pack tents or sleeping bags or much food, our backpacks were much lighter than they otherwise would have been, making the hiking easier. Even though it was high summer we did pack rain gear and wool shirts in case the weather up in the higher elevations in the mountains turned chilly.

Mostly though we hiked shirtless and usually hatless, wearing just pants and hiking boots. I did carry a hiking pole, almost a quarter staff, useful for balance on slopes or rocky creek beds, for sweeping cobwebs out of the way, and probing for quicksand. Its two halves could be unscrewed and carried in a shoulder pouch when not in use.

In the days before repeating firearms I had much preferred a full sized quarter staff to any bladed weapon for its longer reach in a fight, its utility as a hiking pole, and as less threatening than cold steel to those I might encounter in my travels.

With my tripled strength and quickness, no swordsman stood a chance against me in a fair fight. The iron caps on the ends could crack skulls or break bones. I sometimes carried a bow as well, but the staff was available instantly since it did not need to be strung, and it never ran out of arrows. However useful it was against human foes, it was less so against apex predators who were more than a match for a slightly built boy with a stick.

Now on the website of the provincial park whose trails we were following I had read about the cabins where we staying. Amazingly they were built a century ago using logs taken from a nearby windfall, acres of trees felled or rather ripped down by an unusually strong windstorm. The primitive tractors of the day could not negotiate the trails so it was teams of horses which dragged the logs into place after lumberjacks had taken two-man saws to them to divide them into lengths sized for cabin walls.

This story takes place long before smart phones and smart watches. Back then if you went into the wilderness you were were pretty much on our own with no way to summon immediate assistance if the need arose. We could hope that even if we ran into trouble, sooner or later other hikers would be along whose attention we might attract with signal mirrors or whistles or a strobe light. Very iffy, but there it was.

Now just because we were following a marked trail I used topographic maps to keep track of our position. I like to think that I am a past master at what armies call the Art of Land Navigation, something that is almost entirely different from navigating at sea. The exception is that both on land and at sea navigators have to adjust their compasses to allow for the magnetic declination, which the difference between true north and magnetic north, which around Vancouver is about sixteen degrees East.

(The vertical lines on topographical maps point to grid north which technically is not true north but so close as to make no practical difference.)

One sunny day we stopped about midday to take a swim in an inviting pond just downslope of the trail. That gave Darren a chance to snap photos of me standing at the edge of the pond. The scene was at once peaceful and eerie, the dark woods, the still waters of the pond, the wide bed of gravel on the shore and a solitary nude boy facing away from the camera looking both vulnerable and desirable.

"The scenery around here is nothing special so why not save your camera for worthier subjects?"

"I use my Canon SLR camera for the artsy stuff but I can take pretty good snapshots with this Instamatic camera. Operating it is simplicity itself, you just point and shoot with no fussing with F-stops and such.

"Besides, what photographic subject could be worthier than immortalizing your physical beauty? Without being vain, you must be aware of how scrumptious you are, with that slender physique, of yours standing there naked and glabrous and lightly bronzed all over without tan lines. Why you are nothing less than a veritable vision of youthful male pulchritude."

"Darren, if you absolutely must show off your Classical education and wax poetic in a largely Latinate vocabulary, I would prefer the more gender neutral term concupiscence to pulchritude. As you know very well the root of that word is Latin for girl."

"Point taken."

With that we slipped into the pond and swam and horsed around for a while before returning to the grassy bank and stretching out in the sun. I thought back to times past when I had been stark naked in a wilderness while I hid from enemies in the jungles of Ceylon or in the Orinoco River Delta. This time though I was not alone nor so very far from the comforts of civilization.

My musings were interrupted when Darren pointed out:

"As much as I am enjoying this interlude, we really should get dressed and head toward the cabin where we will be staying for the night."

We got back to where we had left our packs but before we could climb into our clothes a grizzly bear emerged from the woods. His intense stare suggested a predatory intent. Unlike black bears, solitary grizzlies should always be regarded as dangerous.

"Crap! What do we do now Sandy? That bear looks like he is getting ready to charge."

"Well we cannot outrun him or out-swim him or out-climb him. The only thing we can do is fight."

Darren shook his head. "I don't think this bear spray I brought along will help very much. That grizzly looks too lean, too mean, and too hungry to stop because of a stink bomb. Anyway with him upwind of us, the spray won't have much reach.

I drew my sling and musket balls out of my pack.

"This sling of mine could kill the bear if a musket ball hits a vital spot, but only then. Not much chance though with a charging bear. My shot would likely just ricochet off its skull or maybe lodge in the flesh of its chest or front legs. It really takes a high powered rifle to punch through to his vitals."

"Wait a minute, Sandy. I've got an idea. Let's see if we can distract the bear with the strobe light. Its flashes are far brighter than anything the bear would ever have seen especially close up. So he would likely take it as a threat, one he should deal with before attacking us. If we can delay him even briefly that might give you an opening for a shot at a vital spot."

"Good thinking!

I asked Darren to wait for the bear to start his charge then switch the strobe on and fling it about thirty yards out.

"So it's David against Goliath, eh, Sandy?"

"I sure hope so. David won his battle with a sling. Let's hope we can too."

With a shrug and a "Here goes nothing" Darren flung the strobe light right when and where we needed it.

Even in daylight the flash of a strobe light is intense. It is not something you want to stare for it can injure you eyes. The flashes brought the bear up short and made him rear up on his hind legs the better to assess the situation. That is when I whirled my sling and let fly. My aim was true; the musket ball hit the most vulnerable point of its anatomy: its throat.

Now my musket ball was a bit larger than those shot from the old Brown Bess muskets, and the sling propelled it faster than black powder ever would have. So it inflicted a terrible wound, crushing the bear's windpipe and tearing major arteries. With his trachea unable to draw air into his lungs and his lungs filling up with blood, the bear was doomed. It soon crashed to earth, thrashed around for a while, then lay still.

"Jesus Christ was that ever close! You know Sandy, I always wondered about that Biblical story and whether it really could have happened the way the Bible tells it. I mean could a scrawny shepherd boy really bring down a giant soldier? I thought maybe it was an exaggeration like with Samson slaying a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass."

"That is what most folks think, but when you analyze it, it was Goliath who was at a disadvantage. Sure he was eight or nine feet tall and David was more like my size but David was fast and agile and his sling was a ranged weapon. Goliath was big and slow and his spear and sword were melee weapons with not much reach. So Goliath had to get close to his enemy to strike him. David could strike from a distance. Which is exactly what happened both then and now."

"Good thinking Sandy, bringing along that sling and musket balls. It was the next best thing to a gun, only it's legal. This fight will get our names in the papers for sure, and we will likely get interviewed on TV."

Channeling Norma Desmond from "Sunset Boulevard" I joked in a falsetto:

"I am ready for my close up Mr. De Mille."

After a moment I added: "and Darren let's be sure to mention that we were skinny dipping when the bear showed up. That will add spice to our story, especially when narrated by a pair of really cute guys such as ourselves."

"Definitely. What a great war story to have in our repertoire. We'll be bragging about this till we are old and gray!"

"Not to mention that guys will be buying us drinks just to listen to us tell our tale!" I added.

Before we left the scene, we took photos and posted a note on a tree to explain what happened to anyone who came along. After reaching the cabin we called the authorities via the emergency satellite phone in the cabin and gave our report. Upon reaching civilization we found ourselves hailed like Conquering Heroes. It was a heady moment and really cemented our friendship, mine and Darren's.

Just recently in the face of rising crime I resumed carrying a sling wrapped around my waist with three musket balls in a pocket. That gives me a legal ranged weapon, one also useful against wild animals or vicious dogs.

Now I am fond of most breeds of dogs, but I find certain others by temperament or by sheer size to be intimidating and possibly a real threat to life and limb. Dogs like wolves will go for the throat or the face.

It is true that I have had to fight off a vicious animal only once in a very great while, but even one attack every forty or fifty years adds up to more than a hundred attacks over my lifetime. Several attacks were really savage, leaving what on a mortal would have been life-long scars but which on me faded away in a matter of months. Remember I am a little guy only five-three and less than ten pounds away from being the proverbial ninety-eight pound weakling. Call me bite shy, but there it is.

I have not taken advantage of the weak gun laws statewide and not just because municipal legislation in our fair city is more restrictive, as I have explained before. My lawyer pointed out that Federal gun laws don't apply to air guns which do not use an explosive to propel the bullet. Some state laws, though not ours, nevertheless classify air guns as firearms, which is illogical, but the law is the law regardless.

So an air gun is a possibility, but concealed carry would still make me feel like I was under siege or in outlaw country beyond the reach of the law. I don't want to live like that. I really wonder at the gun nuts in Redneck Country who don't feel properly dressed unless they are packing even when getting drunk in a bar. Some gun nuts won't sit down to the dinner table without a pistol on their hip, which to me seems just plain crazy.


During our encounter with that grizzly I once again found myself wishing for super powers or even just one strong power. It would have been so handy if I could fly away from danger or loose a lighting bolt at a foe, or use telekinesis to lift that hungry grizzly and dunk him in the pond. An idle dream, but in times of danger it becomes a heartfelt wish.

Alas, it can never be, as the Olympians have told me categorically. Even they cannot confer super powers on a human. And that is not because of any limitations on their own capabilities, but simply the nature of physical and biological reality.

Powers are like any other ability which are not things in themselves just capabilities or potentialities. Take the power of flight. In the animal world birds, bats, and insects have evolved the power of flight, a power which depends entirely on how their bodies work. All three have wings and the muscles to move them and attachment areas for those muscles and a metabolism able to furnish the necessary chemical energy to their muscles.

Humans too posses the power of flight but only thanks to our machines: airplanes, gliders, autogyros, helicopters, hot air balloons and so forth.

As for flying without machines, consider those religious images of angels which depict otherwise normal humans with wings growing out of their backs. As if. But we humans are quadrupeds who walk on our hind legs. Our forward limbs are arms designed for manipulation rather than wings designed for propulsion. Evolution repurposed the forelimbs of bats but not ours. Mammals are quadrupeds which even natural selection cannot turn into six-limbed beings like the angels of myth or comic book heroes like DC's Hawkman and Angel of the X-Men.

Anyway wings are not enough. Humans have heavy bones quite unlike the hollow ones of birds. Also a winged human would need a breastbone jutting out a couple of yards as an anchor for flight muscles. Then there are the energy costs of powering such wings. The digestive system of human cannot deliver enough energy to power flight. It is that simple.

When Zeus rebuilt my body he made it immortal and tougher and stronger and immune to illness, but the essentials were not changed. I was still human. Zeus made me three times stronger than I would otherwise be, endowing me with an explosive strength which is always a surprise to my foes. I can hold my breath for six minutes, run like the wind, and jump like an Olympic champion.

The upgrades to my body included improved senses meaning not just the classical five but the others we don't always think of as senses such the sense of balance and the proprioceptive sense, plus echolocation like the blind use to sense objects around them. All of these powers of perception or of motion are within the realm of possibility for a human being. Flying under my own power, telekinesis, and lightning bolts are not.

Apollo and Hephaestus pointed out the bad logic of the powers of super heroes. X-ray vision or heat vision or eye blasts are based on medieval notions that the eye perceives by means of the rays it emits. But eyes are entrances not exits and only admit the rays of visible light by which we see.

Or consier Invisible Girl's power of invisibility. No one can see her, but how can she see anything herself when her retinas no longer intercept incoming light rays and transform them into impulses to send along the optic nerve? She would be stone blind.

Or take the super breath by which Superman can blow out a fire with a continuous stream of air in a volume many orders of magnitude larger than the capacity of his lungs. The strength of his chest muscles and diaphragm is completely beside the point. All that the muscles can do is forcefully expel the contents of his lungs, which amount to a few liters of air. However strong they are the abdominal muscles cannot make his lungs fill up faster than normal. Our lungs don't really suck air in. It is the higher pressure outside our lungs which pushes a bit of air into our lungs. When we inhale our muscles expand our rib cages which lowers, by a fractional amount, the air pressure inside our lungs. So much so super breath.

How much less realistic are fantasy novels whose protagonists wield magical powers which let them cope with the challenges the plots throw at them. Incantations or thoughts in their skulls cannot compel Reality to pay attention to the words or the wishes of witches, wizards, or druids.

Don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of fantasy lit, but the rationalist in me firmly rejects not only the reality but also the very possibility of both super powers and magic. Only a willing suspension of disbelief allows me to enjoy the genre.

Beast Fights in the Colosseum

Our fight against the grizzly bear reminded me about my earlier fights against wild beasts in the Roman Colosseum.

For reasons I won't go into here, just before the start of the Crisis of the Third Century, which brought the Roman Empire to its knees, I had found myself bound to service in the arena as a gladiator forced to fight for my life solely for the amusement of the Roman public in the most brutal spectacles ever conceived. In keeping with my small size and agility I fought as a dimacherus, a naked gladiator armed with two long knives.

I got to be really good at close in fighting, though I hated having to kill fellow humans being whom I really had nothing against. What was almost as bad is that after each victory while I was still covered in the blood and gore of the loser and maybe some blood of my own, I was pimped out to rich men eager to fuck the young gladiator known as the Killer Catamite.

The organizers occasionally pitted me against wild animals. Most combats with beasts are really public executions of criminals or captives of war who had no real chance, unarmed or badly armed as they were. I never witnessed Christians being thrown to the lions, later legends to the contrary. When beasts fought with professional gladiators the odds were actually in our favor. We were well armed and trained and the great carnivores had been deliberately weakened by hunger and thirst.

I once had to fight a big male lion. I was one of only two bestiarii armed with boar spears to confront the big cat. Oh it looked good for the crowd, with the lion roaring and displaying his alarmingly large canines. One swipe of his paw could tear a head off or disembowel a man, so the danger was real enough. We put on a good show, my ally and me, jabbing with our spears, working as a team to keep the animal distracted and confused.

The crowd was on our side of course, but also titillated to see their favorite young catamite putting his life and tender body at risk, dancing naked around the huge carnivore. The sun had long since blessed me with a tawny hide to match his. With my hair grown long, I sported a blond mane of my own contrasting with the darker one on my feline foe. After much back and forth and a few close calls, my ally finally got in a thrust to his heart which killed the beast instantly.

Another time four of us had to fight a good-sized elephant brought over from 'Libya', which is what the Romans called the continent to the south. 'Africa' meant merely the province corresponding to modern day Tunisia. They had strapped swords to its tusks which extended its reach (though the blades were blunted). It was a formidable beast and put up quite a fight, but our attack on its vulnerable trunk distracted it long enough for one of us to thrust a spear into its eye and into its brain.

The pitiful way it died made me thoroughly ashamed of my part in killing such a noble and intelligent animal. I have read that the animal trade for the arena depleted the fauna of northern Africa so badly as to change the environment. With so many predators removed, the grazers grew numerous enough to ruin much of the grasslands which were drying out anyway for climatological reasons.

The only beast fight I did not win outright was against an ostrich. All right, laugh if you will, but the big birds stand eight or nine feet tall (244 - 275 cm) and can top 300 pounds (136 kg), considerably more than twice my own mass. The birds run faster than any human, can turn on a dime, and have a powerful kick that can seriously injure or even kill a man. Then too their beaks can deliver a nasty knock whipping forward at the end of that long muscular neck.

A two man team tackles an ostrich: one man in light armor to protect the belly and with a spear to distract the bird and keep him at bay while the knife man, me, darts in and hamstrings the creature. The spearman then finishes him off. This works because ostriches cannot kick backwards.

Alas, things did not go according to plan that day. I quickly lost the long knife which was all they had given me to fight with. One kick from the bird and it spun out of my hand the blade snapped in two. The cut I had given him on that leg earlier did slow the ostrich down a little, but that was all the use I got from my weapon.

It was angry now, hissing and kicking at me. I had to dodge and weave looking for some opening for my broken bladed knife which I managed to retrieve from the sands of the arena. All the while I edged away from my partner Ulrich, a massively muscled German, who could do little to help since he moved so deliberately.

One of the archers on watcch against cowardice fired an arrow into the ground behind me, a warning shot or a signal not to retreat further. I pulled it from the ground, hoping to use it against the beast, but the specially designed arrowhead slid right off it (a precaution against having them used against the guards or perhaps even the emperor). All I held in my hand was a slender feathered stick which I threw down in disgust.

Turning to face the imperial box, I held my arms out in a stance and with an expression on face that clearly conveyed my bafflement. What could I to do now, small as I was, essentially unarmed, and naked against the big bird? To his credit, the emperor signaled the referee to back off and give me room to maneuver.

As the bird charged I dodged to the side then jumped astride its back, grabbing at it neck and its wings, hanging on for all I was worth, losing my knife in the process. I soon found that it was like riding the proverbial tiger. How could you safely dismount? Its neck was far too strong and flexible for me to choke and cut off its air.

The damn bird made a couple of circuits of the arena as I held on gamely, with Ulrich lumbering fruitlessly after us in pursuit. I looked up and saw the emperor laughing heartily with genuine good humor. The audience shared his merriment.

Eventually, at a signal from the referee, I slid off the ostrich's back and got behind a line of spearmen. Archers quickly brought the bird down, but I could hardly claim that as a personal victory. It was quite a scary experience at the time, though I certainly understood why the crowd found the incident hilarious. That evening, at supper, to hoots from all the company, my ally Ulrich and I were awarded the roasted drumstick in recognition of our 'valiant efforts'. It tasted tough and gamy.

Only recently could I write about these things, choosing, out of caution, to cast them as fiction, a series of fanciful tales of an immortal youth written under a pseudonym. My secret is safe for no one in these days of modern science will believe it. In this tale, everything except the names is real. The events described really did happen just as I have written.

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