The three words selected for this month's story were: Glengarry, Gobbledygook, Kerfuffle
You wouldn't know that Baist got his start at the Ceres Highland Games by looking at him today. Almost ten years ago, at just eighteen, Baist entered the Caber Toss at Ceres with bulging muscles and a head full of steam only to come in fifth. Headstrong and determined to win the next year, he cut down a Larch tree in his family's back yard the very next day, whittling it down to the twenty-foot, one-hundred and seventy-pound wooden beam that had become standard at most Highland Games. Donned in a kilt and his grandfather's glengarry, he'd make his younger brothers set the caber vertically on the ground before he cupped the bottom of the caber in his hands, lifted it off the ground, sprinted forward, and launched the caber into the air, waiting for it to make a full revolution. Over and over again, he would practice these motions until his hands were too calloused to bleed. That next year, Baist took home first place.
Since then, he's won first place at almost every other Highland Games across Scotland, living up to his name and his reputation. So, when he walked into the Cowal Highland Games, Scotland's largest games, it was no surprise that people noticed. The crowd parted like the Red Sea as he made his way toward the registration tent. At six foot seven, Baist towered over the bystanders. His broad shoulders and thick arms provided him a wide girth as he approached the tables lined up to welcome this year's athletes.
A young woman with long blond pigtails and a traditional plaid skirt jumped up from her seat at the table as the behemoth man approached. Though Baist was large he carried all the traditional markers of a smoldering male model: strong jawline adorned with the thick stubble of an unshaved beard, brown hair that swooped downward, tickling the top of his left eyebrow, and piercing blue eyes.
"You must be Baist," she flushed, her hands working frantically to find his paperwork. "We thought you might be here this year. We pulled together your paperwork and prefilled as much as we could, so you'd have less to worry about."
"Hmph," Baist grunted, reaching forward and snatching the clipboard from her hands. He shoved it into his brother's chest and walked toward the beer tent without a word.
"Sorry, lass," Baist's brother, Gregor, said to the poor girl left jilted by Baist's brash behavior.
"I wish I could say he's not usually like this, but that would be a lie. He can be a right arsehole."
The pen disappeared in Gregor's large hand as he scribbled the last remaining information onto the documents clipped to the board. He handed everything back to the pretty blond girl, taking notice of her tartan sash and gillie shoes. He wondered for a moment if she might be competing with other dancers later in the day but thought better than to ask.
"No bother." The young woman smiled wearily, taking the clipboard from his hands and slinking away toward another incoming athlete.
Baist was already finishing his first beer when Gregor found him in the hospitality tent.
"Gregor!" Baist boomed, slapping his brother on the shoulder. "How did everything go with the wee lass?"
"What's got you all smiles. You were acting like a right crabbit only a few minutes ago," Gregor replied, pulling a hair tie out of his hair to readjust the bun at the back of his head.
"Well, have you seen the competition?" Baist asked.
"No, I haven't yet," Gregor replied, scanning the tent for other potential tossers.
"That's because there isn't any." Baist laughed. His boisterous cackle seemed to echo the length of the tent. "Lukasz said that the most promising lad was a kid named Alastair from Edinburgh. Just twenty years old and not even twelve stone. This is going to be a breeze."
Baist tossed the rest of his beer down his throat and gestured for Gregor to fetch him another. Five years ago, Baist would have been infuriated by the suggestion of a drink before the competition. Now, he was putting them away as if there were no competition to stay straight for at all.
A small crowd had started to form when Gregor returned with Baist's beer, some intently hanging on Baist's every word while others feigned interest in nearby conversation. The louder Baist spoke, however, the more the crowd rolled toward him, as though the tent were a funnel with Baist at its center. Over the years, Baist had become a magnetic presence at Highland Games across Scotland, and everyone was eager to get to know the colossal giant who could not be beaten.
"But how do you get the caber to fall at 12 o'clock almost every time?" someone from the crowd asked.
"It's really quite simple," Baist replied. "It’s all in the grip. First, you want to interlock your fingers like your Grannie’s best basket weaving. The trick is to keep your fingers tight and pull your last two fingers around the bottom of the caber so that its edge is resting on your middle finger. This will give you optimum leverage to balance with the speed of your sprint and the velocity of your throw.”
Gregor tried to stifle a laugh at the gobbledygook that was coming out of Baist’s mouth. He missed the days when Baist’s answers were, “I don’t know, I just do,” or, “Practice.” Now he spoke as if he were a scientist talking about physics.
Gregor almost stepped away to get himself another drink when he caught a young man approaching Baist from the corner of his eye. His green plaid kilt swayed against his shins as he talked aimlessly to the man walking beside him. It was clear he wasn’t approaching Baist for a chat or an autograph; it appeared he simply wasn’t watching where he was going. Baist stood quickly from his stooping position to demonstrate the best way to hoist the caber into his hands, startling the young man who tripped and crashed into Baist’s bulky body. While Baist barely moved under the impact of the young man bouncing off his chest, the young man seemed to panic momentarily, grabbing at Baist’s head and ripping off his glengarry in the process.
“Are you off your head, mate?” Gregor shouted, pushing the young man back to the ground as he tried to get to his feet. “That’s my Granddad’s glengarry, you walloper. What’s your problem?”
Though half Baist’s size, the young man seemed unafraid as he got to his feet and stepped toward Baist. The white wolf logo on his black shirt's left breast almost touched the bottom of Baist’s right pec. Almost. But the young man was too short to even get that kind of clearance.
“It was an accident, mate,” the young man replied coolly. “No reason to overreact.”
Baist shoved the young man again. “Get out of my face, lad. You should think better before squaring off with me.”
The young man snorted at Baist’s comment. Seconds passed as Gregor waited for the inevitable kerfuffle to break out between the two men and their friends. The young man glanced around at the crowd, all seemingly on Baist’s side, before shaking his head in disgust and stepping away from the tent.
“Alright, you tossers! It’s time for your event!” the announcer’s voice boomed across the park.
“Welcome to the Cowal Highland Games Caber Toss!” the announcer began as the men lined up for their event. “We are honored that Baist Thomson is with us this year! He has held the record for caber toss for the past nine years! Baist, would you do the honors of tossing the first caber?”
Baist strutted to the line while Gregor and the announcer positioned the caber in front of him. He laced his fingers together and wrapped them around the bottom of the caber, hoisting it so the bottom edge sat against his waistline. He took a deep breath as he wrapped his bottom two fingers around the base of the caber. He sprinted forward, a low growl building in his chest and releasing as he tossed the caber into the air. It struck the ground at almost precisely 12 o’clock and flipped over, landing at practically the 12:30 position.
“Brilliant!” the announcer gasped. “I can’t say that we’ve seen a caber toss that close to perfect in almost a decade! Alright, lads, you have some big shoes to fill!”
Baist watched from the sidelines as tosser after tosser attempted to match his incredible effort. By the time the last two tossers were standing in line, the closest throw had landed at 2 o’clock.
“Shall we drink, Gregor?” Baist asked. “I’d love to start celebrating!”
“There are still two tossers left, Baist,” Gregor replied. “It’s bad luck to announce a win before it’s official.”
The second to last tosser buckled under the weight of the one-hundred and eighty-pound caber. He struggled to run under its pressure, and it fell out of his hands before he reached the tossing line. The sighs of disappointment were audible from the crowd.
“Bollocks, Gregor! That boy could barely lift the damn thing, and this last wee lad couldn’t flip a caber if he practiced for a century. It’s over! Let’s go have a beer.”
Baist stood as the last competitor stepped to the line. He paused to wait for Gregor, who didn’t move, his eyes fixed on the familiar young man hoisting the heavy caber. Though the young man was small in stature, he did not sway under its crushing weight.
Baist turned away from his brother, taking his first step toward the hospitality tent as the young man took his first step toward the tossing line. The young man sprinted forward with the confidence and poise of a seasoned veteran.
Baist had just reached the opening of the hospitality tent when he heard the shocked gasps of the crowd, the deafening silence that followed, and the screams that erupted from the stadium.
“A perfect toss! Can it be real? A perfect toss!” The announcer was beside himself. “Let’s get the judges out here for this!”
Baist pivoted. He tried to act casual as he walked back toward the fairgrounds, glancing side to side as if he were uninterested in the events unfolding.
“It is! A perfect toss! Congratulations, Alastair Baldy! The new champ of the caber toss!”
Baist stared incredulously at the young man with the white wolf logo on his black shirt.
“How did you do it?” the announcer asked over the roars of the crowd.
“I don’t know; I just did,” the young man replied.