The Upper Crust, is what the locals called it. A steady strip of flatly laid out ground, stretching out across a plateau and resting at the often frozen grounds of the North Country. There, in the Upper Crust, the ground was covered by trees much like an old man and his beard – full yet barely there at the same time. Worn, in short. Like the trees, the snow brushed over the ever ready landscape in waves and tightly fitting coats. Because of the trees and the snow, and the wind which would also speak in volumes, the texture of the weathered land looked bitable. Rather, looked as if it could bite.
It was late in the winter, a long winter, and the early spring sun would glance out from time to time, casting warming stares out over the snow-licked trees and flats, making a glean appear over everything. And when two men walked up the eastern most part still considered the Upper Crust, along the shore of a lake, the wind was flat and the sun was above, high, making the snow its whitest. Both men wore similar outfits – a dark brown coat under a utility vest of sorts – and they carried with them a number of tools. They both wore beards as well. Healthy, thick beards, which would catch the weather in their expanses. They walked along the shore, which was beginning to let go of its grip of the ice.
Henry did not answer, or even look back to the other man, who was urinating on some small animal tracks in the snow. The one called Henry was steady with his steps, and held onto the trees as he needed, which was not very often.
“Henry, wait for me, will’ya?” said the man behind.
Henry stopped, still with the other man at his back, and looked over the lake and then to the starkly blue sky above it. At that vantage point the sky looked like the lake in the summer months, and held clouds like breaking waves. The man looked upward, into the trees, and sent thick breath into the placid branches.
“Henry?” The man finished and took to fastening his overalls again.
“Just a sec.” The man moved fast, slipping at times. “Where did Lowmach say to go again? I know we were supposed to be on the western edge of the lake, but Christ, it’s large fucking lake.” He was at Henry’s side and they both moved onward.
“He said we should do the markings at 107 and 50. I think that should be near the old logging path.” Henry began to dig inside his fur-lined parka.
“Path? I don’t remember any paths,” the other man said as he looked through the trees with his hand held flat above his brow. “Do you think we will be able to find it today?”
“I don’t see why not. I plan to be in and out today.” Henry continued to walk, touching the thick bark of a maple.
“Huffa, can we stop a sec? I need to have a smoke and I can’t dig one out when I’m walkin.” He had already stopped.
“My name is Hoffman. Yeah, but give me one too.” Henry looked down to the other man, who had taken a seat on a fallen log.
“I heard the weather was going to turn this afternoon.” The man sitting on the log spat some lose tobacco off of his lips. “Freezing rain or something.” He looked up to Henry and lifted his whole upper half to reach the cigarette into Henry’s hands.
Both men smoked their cigarettes, tiny in their gloved hands, and looked over the lake. Henry did not move his feet as he smoked, and bent down on his hunches. It had been a few moments since Henry’s partner had commented on the coming weather, but Henry looked to him and said that he was looking forward to the change – he liked it.
“I don’t know, weather like that always makes me wish I could be home, eating a heavy meal with a beer. Not out here, working.”
“Weather like that always makes me wish I could be in a knife fight.” Henry was still on his hunches.
“What does that even mean,” the other man said before laughing and then threw his cigarette toward the lake, missing the edge by feet.
“It means that I wish I could be in a knife fight with someone,” Henry said and stood again.
“I feel like I never understand you. Christ, Henry,” the man said, looking at Henry’s face coldly.
“What is it?”
“You mouth is full of blood. I think your gums are bleeding or somethin.” He was holding his lips open wide to show his teeth, clenched, and gums.
Henry brought a finger into his mouth and looked at the blood on the fabric of the glove. He closed his mouth, and lowered his jaw, then spat a deep red blob of blood and spit into the snow. As he did this, his mouth stayed open and more blood began to pour out.
“What the hell? Are you okay?” the man asked and reached his hand for Henry’s shoulder.
Henry didn’t respond, but bent down and spat more blood into the snow. A large puddle began to form as Henry continued to bleed onto the earth.
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
Henry took off his glove and dipped his fingers into the blood and studied them carefully, rubbing his thumb and covered fingers together. He spat again and covered the stained area with white snow, which broke off in sharp chunks. “It’s fine,” Henry said. “I think it has stopped.”
“Well, geez. Are you okay? It just sort of came out of nowhere, is all.”
“I’m fine, let’s get a move on it.” Henry stood and looked down to the now covered area where he had spat his blood, stepping on it then kicking more snow over the stains.
Both began their walk again, closer to the shore of the lake, not mentioning what had just happened. While they walked, the water lapped upon the frozen shore, which made Henry’s partner remember the times fishing with his son. He told Henry, who walked ahead, of how they would fish for hours in the summer, and how the wind would blow hot, and how his son would get scared when a fish pulled at his line. Often dropping the pole with a shout and then a cry. He talked about how he missed them – his family – and that he was looking forward to seeing them again soon, when the season was over.
“I don’t even know why I come out here. It’s not like we make that much money, you know?”
Henry just shook his head to agree, but said nothing and looked ahead. The sky, which had started off clear and brilliant, was now gray and tired looking. The wind had picked up too.
“You know, Henry? Why do you do it? You have a family, too, you must feel the same way. Why do you do it? Come out here and work?”
“I’m searching for something,” Henry said. “I’m looking for something I can’t find at my home. Something which will…” Henry trailed off and then stopped.
“Searching for something, huh? Yeah, I think I know what you mean. Do you think…do you think you will find it? Christ, it’s starting to sleet,” the man said and then stopped to look at the coming gray above the lake. The tiny pellets began to come down in waves, making tapping sounds as it hit the ice and hard snow.
Henry stopped his walk as well and looked back to his partner. The air between them was now hazy and streaked with the white of the falling and frozen rain. The sound of the small waves continued to carry along with the constant cadence of the sleet on ground. Around them was air thick with cold and change. It was air caught off guard.
“Will we be able to continue to work?” the man asked Henry and met his gaze.
Henry closed his eyes and lowered himself to the ground, his knees resting at the edge of the lake. In front of him, moving with the rolling water and hitting the hard ground at the shore and his knees was brownish teeth. Henry looked closer and began to reach his hand toward the teeth, stopping. They were large, with yellow and brown rings around the base. They were horse teeth – large and solid. The sleet made ripples in the water and the teeth moved back and forth, in a motion like a child being swooned to sleep.