Timothy Wilkie and his alter ego The Ragman is a legend in the Hudson Valley. His prose, poetry, music and art are known worldwide. He loves to perform and meet his fans. He invites each and every one of you to join him in the Timothy Wilkie Fan Club on Facebook and to check out his four novels on Amazon: Ice Pack, Breathless, The Corn Maze and Up River. He lives in Kingston, New York and spends about two hours a day all year around hiking.

Contact him at timwilkie01@gmail.com


by Timothy Wilkie

“I hope you understand, I just had to go back to the Island.” – Leon Russell


The cold crept through the house and seeped into our beds as we slept. I climbed out from my nest of sleep to stoke the stove and looked out the window at the freshly fallen snow. The shrieking wind shook the rafters overhead and I worried about the roof.

I knew in the morning I would have to dig out the sled to carry water to the barn. The hay was already dry and stacked in bales against the back wall. I remembered my father teaching me that hay must be dry and tan, not green, or it could start a fire.

We lost him to pneumonia in the fall, even though my mother had begged him to go over to Cape Vincent and see the doctor. Old Doctor Watt would have fixed him up, but island people didn’t believe in doctors much.

My name is Gary and as of that day I was the man of the house that consisted of my kid sister Connie and my mother Marjorie. I was cold and hungry but before I could eat, I had to start milking; otherwise I’d miss the school ferry. From the back door, I saw the sun creeping over the edge of the farm and eyed a safe route through the snow drifts. Ice was all over the place making it extremely slippery, and the trees had long and jagged spears ready to drop at any moment. They were sharp and could cut you just like shards of glass.

As I stepped off the porch, it was like playing a human game of chess: every step could take me up to my waist in the snow. In that case it would be nearly impossible for me to get out and I would freeze to death.

I was bundled up as best I could. We were poor and couldn’t afford winter boots, so I tied double layers of plastic garbage bags around my feet to keep them dry.

I heard them before I saw them. You always heard them first. They made a whimpering sound as they jockeyed themselves into position.

Without making any sudden moves that might make the snow crumble under my feet, I moved my eyes around—only my eyes. There were six canines that the locals called gray wolves, and they were big. They surrounded me as the last one trotted into place between me and the house.

Suddenly I saw it: a green Ginger Ale bottle that my kid sister Connie had left in the snow. I was always scolding her about leaving her trash around, but this time it might just be my salvation.

I spotted the biggest one. He was big and dark, and watched my every move. The bottle was only a few feet away. If I could reach it and nail him on the head, he might just back off and lead the pack away. Wolves like easy prey and I was determined I was going to be anything but.

Big and Dark growled from somewhere deep down; real snarly-like. He suddenly put his head back and howled in what I knew was a warning for me to get out of his way.

Suddenly the snow and ice fell moved under my feet down and I realized that at any moment it could give way. I sure didn’t want to be waist high in the snow, making me a helpless victim while the wolves slowly ripped me apart.

The bottle was my only chance, but it was still a few feet away. I dove for it and, remembering all my pitching skills from little league, I wound up and let it fly. It tumbled through the air end over end while I held my breath. I was suddenly terrified I had missed him entirely and a knot settled tight in my stomach but then Big and Dark moved just slightly as it hit him right on the nose. He yelped and then spun around in a circle like he was trying to see where it came from and then took off. Within seconds they were all gone. As I walked over and picked up the bottle I whispered. “I love you, Connie.”


Mom found a new boyfriend, Walt. He wasn’t an Islander; he was from Clayton.  I guess he liked me well enough, even though sometimes I thought it was all for show, but I really felt that he couldn’t wait for me to get out.

She hadn’t asked him to move in, but he began staying overnight and the next thing I knew, he was living with us.

I pretended it was okay, but inside, I missed my father and felt resentful that a stranger was taking his place. Anyone who was not a born Islander was a stranger.

I thought about my father a lot. I once asked him, “What is the recipe for a happy life?”

He had scratched his head and sat down on a bale of hay. It was summer and it was hot in the
pole barn with the string beans and the melons and there hadn't been even a hint of a breeze all morning. “It is the awe of living wild and free with your soul exposed to the light around you.”

My father would often articulate poetically, and I loved listening to him.

Today I see new houses being built and a world was evolving that I didn't trust. I knew someday I would be forced to leave the Island, my anchor left to drift in a strange new land. It had been my biggest fear growing up, to someday have to leave the Island.


It was another morning on the Island. By the time I stoked the fire, the sun was just peeking up over the farm to the east. I walked to the little room beneath the stairs and woke my sister up. I always gave her a hug in the morning but this time it was extra tight.

Connie’s old plastic baby doll that was all beaten and smeared with dirt peered at me from the bed as if to say. “It’s cold outside. I’m glad I’m not you.”

Cold outside I could deal with, but as winter came upon the island and whispered its frosty breath across the water, and as ice boats raced up and down between Cape Vincent and Clayton, I was reminded that city folk would see my home as uninhabitable. The cars drove across the frozen waste to Christmas shop in Watertown and Syracuse and I felt a coldness of a different kind growing inside me.

It felt like a flurry of red ants eating down into my brain and it was awful. Depression is boring but its twin, ugly stepsister was exhaustion. I would suddenly soar up from the deepest depths to dizzying heights. It was like my mind had given over its bitterness for a new fairy tale. This time the dragon lived and went back and devoured the villagers. He lived on with a roll of Tums to satisfy his woes. 

The water that surrounded us on all sides was what kept me grounded. That and those that I loved. Sometimes the clouds were high in the mountains and other times they waited hidden deep in the valleys. Either way, the warning signs were flashing and the thunder growling, but worst of all, I felt as though time was slipping past like water through a cardboard dam.

The transformation of my thoughts came suddenly and without warning. Her name was Joanne. She was there staying in a cabin with her parents for winter break.

I met her in the local store and found her to be a mixture of many things. She was melancholy in a way that was most beautiful and graceful, but that wasn’t her main attraction. It wasn’t her long, auburn hair that stopped neatly at her waist or her pale blue eyes that revealed such pain and longing that they made me weep inside.

No, it was the very center of her being which she allowed me to get a peek into from time to time. I considered her to be a soul collapsing and burning to fine ash so life’s storms could just blow it away.  It was as though I heard her crying out to me to come and be with her in eternity.

The fire was in her blood and in a stolen moment, she kissed me, biting her lip in the process so I might not only sense her loneliness but taste it as well. She eyed me with her intense eyes and a mild curiosity. She pressed two fingers to her lips and then tasted her own blood. In this way I would know her wanting me was sincere and that her heart was an open book for me to do with what I chose.

So when two tiny teeth like daggers appeared out of her pink gums and pierced the tender flesh of my neck, I didn’t move away. They were only there for an instant, and they were so sharp as to feel only the slightest prick, but from somewhere came this intense feeling of being truly alive. 

Silence fell all around me, and I felt like I was floating in eternity and then I returned to the thin veil of chaos, the wild and white light of my own fragile reality. The blue sky all around me began to grow darker and much more vivid. Every shade of blue and violet made an appearance within that momentary spectrum. Calm skies suddenly turned evil and menacing as a storm appeared in the guise of a beast and sharp, pointed daggers fell from a pitch-black void onto our bloated existence, overflowing with joy and light.

And at that moment, I knew I was in love.


Summer had arrived. And for some reason, Joanne and her family remained on the Island.

“You didn’t hear me?” Connie asked. “You’re just standing there acting weird. Island people don’t act weird like that. You’re weird Gary, and all the kids at school say so.”

I didn’t resent her words or the taunts of my peers. The last day of the school season, we took the ferry and as always, Connie and I stood in the back by the railing. All the Island kids were excited about summer vacation. I hadn’t slept well, and the sun was so bright that I felt like sliding my baseball cap over my eyes.

As always, the captain went through with his drug sniffing dog Fritz. It was easy to smuggle drugs in through Canada by way of the island but it was always negative, especially when during the school kid run in the morning.

Suddenly, I spotted Joanne. “Come on,” I told Connie.

“No,” she said just flat out.

“What do you mean, no? She’s our friend and she’s new. Island people don’t act like that.”

Pouting at me, she replied. “I don’t like her; she’s weird.”

“You say everyone is weird, even me, and I’m your brother. I’m going over to stand with her so suit yourself if you’re going to be a brat.”

I started to stroll towards Joanne but then the dog Fritz went wild. I jumped back and the captain had to hold him by his collar to keep him away from me. He was barking like crazy. 

I couldn’t understand it, Fritz and I had always been friends. I took a half a step forward. “Hey Buddy,” I said, “you know me.”

The dog almost yanked the captain over, growling and snarling, trying to get at me. The captain passed the leash off to his first mate and asked. “You got any drugs on you, Gary? Maybe something that you shouldn’t be taking to school?”

“No sir,” I said despite the fact my head was pounding. “I don’t use drugs, you know that. I’m Island.”

“Let me pat you down; strictly routine, nothing personal.”

We went through the exercise, and Fritz suddenly became calm. I turned toward Joanne, but she was no longer there.


“Embrace them and you will grow stronger,” Joanne told me. “With a raw understanding of all things, you can see why the wolf howls at the full moon with deep respect and fear of the unknown.”

I didn’t understand what she meant but I wanted to. She was a wonderful and mysterious creature and never had I known anybody even remotely like her.

My mother told me once to read the Bible and replace the word fear with love. I feared this new exciting creature with all my heart and soul but my desire for her changed the fear into love.

In the daytime, her family was never around but after sunset, they would be on the shore where the water makes ground and its endless search was finally found. 

She waited for me. The moon and stars were within her; she was inspired, she was of the earth and of the fire.

“How have you come to me?” she asked as we sat on a log by the fire and a light fog rolled in off the river. Her manner of speech was always formal, even old-fashioned.

“I climbed out the window to reach the sky,” I replied, trying to emulate her speaking style. “In the distance I could see a light that I had always trusted to guide me. It cast a beam that pointed to you.”

She didn’t find me silly. I felt she was more comfortable when I waxed poetic.

The night around me fell silent and the wind didn’t breathe. “I am weary. I have traveled for eons. I would like to rest upon the Island for a while. With you.”

I instinctively understood that she was asking for an invitation. Fear once again trembled though me, but I pushed it aside because my desire for this exquisite creature overwhelmed me. I nodded my head.

“You need to formally ask me. For I may knock on the door, but you must ask me in,” she whispered in my ear.

“Please enter my life and become an Island person with me.”

She came at me with a roar and bent me by her sheer force of will. “They will all be my children,” she hissed like a reptile, letting her tongue slither across the words.


The next day…or was it one endless night? I didn’t know but I awoke safe in my bed in the house that my grandfather had built when he came from Canada. A steady sad rain beat down on my windowpane.

I felt sluggish but forced myself to get dressed. Chores don’t wait. The wind leaped out at me from its place of hiding in the trees as I walked towards the barn.

When I entered, it sounded eerily quiet. I knew our two cows should be restless to be milked and released into their pasture. I was horrified to see both cows lying down in their stalls.

I ran to the first one, our brown, sweet-faced cow named Clover. I knelt beside her and ran my hand over her back, knowing instantly that she was dead. I knelt there for a few minutes, trying to comprehend our loss

Ghostly shapes then arrived; they came from everywhere. They appeared first hidden within smoke and rose into the air. The misty figures swirled inside the barn; the straw on the floor blew softly in their wake and I felt my skin crawl.

I felt the winds howl and the water crashing on the shore. The cloud demons drifted within the paltry maze of smoke and fog.

When the tempest was unleashed, I had no gun otherwise I would have ended it right there by shooting myself. I would have freed my mother and my kid sister and then done myself, but we were always taught that Island people didn’t take the easy way out.

The shattered oak and the power to be forgiven had all been taken from us in an instant and I was the one to blame. She stood in front of me, taking it all in, all of it, all the pain. The darkness was immortal as was She. She was the Beast, and the Beast was She.