Phillip Oaks was a rarity in Cross.
He was an Indian. Not a member of a plains tribe or one from the southwest, no, he was a northeast Indian, though his tribe was long thought to have been destroyed. His family originated in Canada, and over the decades, they migrated south, eventually settling in Cross in the early 1800s. I was at his father’s farm when Phillip was born, and I was pleased to see him enter the world easily, as were his parents.
By the time he was twenty, Phillip was alone on the family farm. His siblings had traveled north to live with family in Canada, but he had remained. The man never married, and rarely socialized with anyone other than myself or the Coffins. We were good friends, and I enjoyed his company.
Eventually, Phillip sold his farm and moved onto one of the smaller islands in Blood Lake. I would row out on occasion to check on him, and he would invariably have coffee ready for me. When I asked if he always kept a lookout for me, he replied he did not. He just liked to have coffee ready for company, even though at that point, I was the only company he received.
By the time he turned 89 in December of 1907, I was becoming concerned for his safety. I had found the tracks of the Hollow’s creatures on the banks of the lake, and I did not doubt that they would search out the islands for easy prey.
I decided it would be best to speak to Phillip about the ravens before suggesting one as a companion, and with the ice thick enough to travel across, I walked out to his island.
He met me at his pier, and we walked along a well-trodden path to his home. When we reached it, I was surprised to see several of the ravens perched on the low roof, and even more surprised to see the skins of two of the Hollow’s creatures stretched out on racks to cure.
Phillip saw my expression and chuckled.
“They weren’t as quiet as they thought. Want some coffee, Duncan?”
The ravens laughed as I replied that I did.
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