When the ninety-seven year old founder of a quaint northern town walks off into the night and disappears, an inquisitive and resourceful young girl is drawn into the mystery, discovering her own family secrets and losses are closely tied to the quirky and heartwarming community of Swift River Falls.
In a far off, quiet corner of the deep north woods is a place where the Swift River drops in elevation three times, in nearly four hundred feet of cascading waterfalls, on its winding journey to the big lake. There, where the water has sprayed and crashed against limestone and quartz for thousands of years, a town was built, with all the charm one can imagine, just as the lumber boom was fading and the automobile was being born. Though the trains didn’t stop there anymore and the old lumber mill had fallen into ruin, the quaint village remained, named Swift River Falls.
The town had been built, through many feats of ingenuity, on a towering cliff overlooking miles of dense forest, interlaced with streams and creeks. The trees stretched south until they reached the sandy edge of the big lake. Hawks and eagles rode the wind currents on the edge of the cliff, dodging ancient cedar and pine trees. The cliff was a geologic sea edge which stretched across the landscape for over one thousand miles, the other end containing the famous Niagra Falls.
The town was not convenient; there was only one winding road to it which looped two miles past the falls until it turned one hundred and eighty degrees and began to climb the cliff at the first reasonable point. But for those who knew, there were other ways up and down the steep cliff, on trails that were older than the town itself.
August Leeds crept out into the cool, summer night with nothing but a flashlight and his lucky coin, which he kept with him always. Because of his wealth, people often assumed his lucky coin would be a silver dollar, but it was a simple penny, worn with age. The flashlight he kept off, for fear of being seen. The steep and rocky trail which clung to the Swift River like a shadow was utterly dark. The full moon hid behind thick clouds and only a few stars shone among the treetops. The darkness didn’t bother August though; he had known this route most of his life. The sound of water rushing down the falls soothed him, and he thought back to the first time he’d climbed this trail, when it was just a path worn by the feet of animals.
Though he was spry for a man of ninety-seven years, and knew the area well, he still stumbled on a root and fell to his knees. He let out a small cry that was consumed by the roar of the falls, then chastised himself for losing his concentration. He’d been lost in memory, and consequently, lost his footing. Shaking his head, he stood up, brushed off his pants and continued on. He would not be deterred.
He had to find the truth.
Where the falls ended in a spectacular drop and the ground leveled out, the water pooled into a small, circular lake. It was the town’s treasured swimming hole, which thankfully, was deserted this late at night. August stopped for a moment to catch his breath. He’d made it down the toughest part of the trail; ahead of him lay a long walk through the woods to his destination. This journey could be his last, he knew, but that didn’t matter. What mattered were answers.
Now that he was far enough from town he turned on the flashlight. It barely illuminated the ground in front of him and he realized with a sinking feeling that the batteries were almost dead. He hadn’t checked them in his mad rush to leave the house.
He sat on a large boulder and began to weep. The lies, the deceit, the secrets tore at his old heart. Behind him, the cliffs loomed, cool and serene. Ahead, the forest, filled with the sounds of chirping frogs and crickets, awaited. And further still, the truth about what had happened so long ago.
The flashlight faded to a mere glow. He had a fleeting doubt he wouldn’t make the six miles to Saints Harbor. He listened to the comforting sound of the falls and wondered if he would ever hear them again. The constant drone of falling water was the familiar sound of movement, of change, of life. Any further and he would be leaving his world, possibly forever.
He knew the place held magic the first time he’d set foot on the cliff over seventy years ago. He had known then that his life would be tied to this place forever. He turned off his flashlight and listened, asking, connecting to that magic to help him with his task.
A small breeze stirred the trees, fresh and cool, like air from the Arctic north, yet mixed with the warm, deep earthen smell of the forest. A few clouds drifted away and more stars began to peek through. An owl swooped overhead, nearly silent. Then the moon broke through the clouds and set the old train tracks alight like a golden tunnel. The thick forest only allowed filtered moonlight to reach the ground, except where the tracks had been.
He knew he would make it.
August Leeds stood and placed the flashlight on the boulder, then straightened himself, wiping away the last of his tears. He stepped toward the illuminated pathway and his far-off destination and kept walking until the drone of the falls was as distant and faint as the buzzing of a bee.
It had been his crazy dream to build Swift River Falls, and he did it, even though it had not turned out exactly as he had planned.
Dreams have a way of doing that.