Jim Finn, the mightiest man in the Yosemite, loved three things in this life: unforgettable feats of strength, safety, and being right.
He could stack seven sequoias end-to-end and stir the clouds – for days at a time. Jim Finn could fell fifty-five of the giant trees just by breathing on them and haul them off by his self on his bare back, tough as bark. He could chop wood so fast and fine he could make it snow wood shavings over three counties.
But he never did any of this, though, without his protective eyewear, his lower-lumbar-supporting back brace, or without making the men at his camp sign an injury waiver. Mighty or not, Jim Finn’ll be damned before he takes lightly the dangers that chopping wood, hauling logs, and stacking sequoias pose to his eyes, back, and fellow loggers. And if any of the men got to whispering that he was maybe a little too hung up on safety, Jim Finn wouldn’t care because he damn well knew, by God, that he was right to be cautious.
Well, one day none other than Paul Bunyan showed up. His appearance could only mean one thing: a contest to see who would go down in history as the mightiest man in this great American nation.
“Safety first,” Jim Finn said, offering a pair of protective eyewear for Bunyan.
Bunyan laughed. The forest shook. “No thanks, Jim Finn,” he said.
They hacked those logs at a clip that would’ve put a wood-chipping machine to shame. When they’d finished, the ground was covered in three feet of bark chips and wood splinters.
“I’d say it’s a draw,” Bunyan said. “But I did it without worrying over a little tree dust getting in my eyes. You call that mighty? And you know what? I suspect you’d have been just fine without them glasses.”
Finn frowned a frown so mighty it popped the goggles right off his head. He took a long, hard look at them. No nicks. Not even any dust. And there was Bunyan, no protective eyewear at all, with nary a mark on his smirking mug.
“Think you can carry as many logs as me, Jim Finn?”
Finn did, and so he strapped on his quadruple extra-large lower-lumbar-supporting back brace. But neither he nor Bunyan could best the other. Another draw.
“But I didn’t need no girdle,” Bunyan said. “And neither did you.”
Maybe not, but Finn thought it was just plain old reckless to go around carrying logs without one. He frowned anew at Bunyan and flung his back brace to the dirt. The ground rumbled. “Paul Bunyan,” he said, “you’re going to get a hernia.” But then again, Finn thought, maybe not.
Bunyan wasn’t done dogging Finn yet, though, and he yelled “catch” and tossed a sequoia to him. When Finn caught it, he found it to be as light as a lily.
“See? Your back’s fine,” Bunyan said.
It was. Bunyan was right.
“Alrighty, Jim Finn. One last test. We’ll stir them clouds, and whosoever balances the sequoias the longest can rightfully go down in history as the mightiest man on either side of the Mississipp’.”
Out of habit, and probably not so much out of principle anymore, Finn had all of the men sign an injury waiver. Then he handed a form and a pen to Bunyan. “So no one, bystander or participant,” Jim Finn not so mightily said, “can say they didn’t know the risks.”
Bunyan scoffed. “Jim Finn,” he said. “Mightiest coward this side of the –”
Finn frowned his mighty frown again and cursed Paul Bunyan and he couldn’t help himself but to pulverize his pen to powder in his big old paw. He growled and rummaged in his pocket for another one, and handed it once again to Bunyan.
Bunyan ignored him and Finn, well, for the first time in a long time, Finn let it go, and Bunyan went ahead and balanced his sequoias. With barely an hour up, a time Finn could beat in his sleep, a log tumbled down and scraped Bunyan’s cheek.
The log left a tiny cut.
“Aha!” Finn shouted. “Aha! Aha! Aha! Well, look at that. The mighty Paul Bunyan sustaining personal injury. You see now, Bunyan? You see?”
“I’m fine, god dammit,” Bunyan snapped. “And it sure don’t mean what you think it means, that you’re right about having everyone sign that damn waiver.”
“Oh, no?” Finn asked. “What about infections, Bunyan? You might could get one,” Finn said. “And what if it’d been my turn? You could take me to a court of law.”
“Fine, then,” Bunyan said, picking up a sequoia and handing it to Finn. “You just balance your damn logs.” He wore his mighty smirk once more. “Or you can call me the mightiest. Ever”
“Not without your waiver,” Finn said.
So the two men stood there, facing each other, a few paces apart, one man pointing a tree and the other pointing a pen and an injury waiver at one another, and neither one budging.
In the end, Paul Bunyan could be sure of going down in history as the mightiest, but as the blood from the cut on his face dripped ever so slightly, Jim Finn grinned, a grin as big as, but no bigger than, the entire Yosemite.
Terrance Gutberlet is a graduate of the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans. His work has appeared in Scrivener Creative Review, Abstract Jam, and MAYDAY Magazine, and he is a winner of the Ernest and Shirley Svenson Award for Fiction. He teaches at a high school for students with autism and learning disabilities in New Orleans, LA.