The myth that a road trip is efficient is a sad (perhaps untrue) reality to many Canadians. It takes time and time is money, it doesn’t grow on trees, it can take almost as long as the fossil fuels take to be compressed into the earth over millennia. Currency irrelevant, wealth is but a wisp in space, yet a proper road trip has a certain thrill that is only rivaled by the very primal urges we dare not speak aloud. Roxy loved being on the road, always had, and having a partner in crime while traveling the great Canadian highways made the journey that much more enjoyable. They didn’t care what they could get up to, and to be honest their destinations were planned only with cursory concern for the short-cuts and back roads that they wanted to find. The road trip was a thing of immaculate conception, born of dreams and low-gas prices. It held adventure and excitement–maybe even provided lessons to travelers–and it was one of the most invigorating ways to feel free and wild; at least in public.
Roxy and Howard were on such a road trip.
The map they had acquired–both of them were reliant on google maps and a strong data connection, but they still wanted to mark the trek with some authenticity–marked in highlighter and circled in bright fluorescent around turnoffs from the Trans-Canada had their route mostly laid out. The plan was to stick to small back roads, at least as much as they could. Mid-summer weather made camping beside their station wagon reasonable. Plus, they both agreed it was fun to be creative in methods of keeping warm.
They were driving away from Brett Lassider and Ellen Tufts house warming party. Roxy thought that now that the two had bought a home, she was waiting to see–any day now–a notification to light up on her home computer announcing that next big step in adult relationships, marriage. In serious relationships like theirs, probability tended towards it. The party had been fun, and after sharing two or four pots of coffee with their hosts and other dwindling party guests, Roxy and Howard decided to pack it up and hit the road.
It was a lot of fun goodbye’s and full-on hangover shake offs. A party with old friends sometimes just went that way. But, Roxy had a home in Longlac that was due for showing in three weeks time. Howard could afford the time even less and had been sending off hasty work emails during the party. Only two beers in, but still typing away, eventually he pried himself away. The end of the night saw bottles of rum passed around and a smorgasbord of beer jugs for people to try. The food was fresh from the barbecue, smattered in chipotle sauce. (Roxy was told by Alley Holland that the last person to zip up their tent had been Jamie Kennedy around 5 a.m.) The first round of clean-up started by seven a.m. as early risers sat outside smoking their cigarettes and sipping their first cup of coffee. Others yawned next to plugged in phones, charging from some outside wall socket. A few shambled about like zombies picking up the early morning trash. Giggles of laughter and humility came from the group as more people rose from slumber. It came across like a play; complete with foolish gossip, jokes, and memories. The gang had gotten back together and was now ready to go back to reality.
The trip had started with the two of them deciding to plan a vacation in Cape Breton. It was on a whim, Roxy once had family in that area; all had since sold their land and moved on to a less connected, more dispersed life. She thought that maybe, just maybe, Howard would consider relocating his life to follow her there. It hadn’t come up yet, and she didn’t even know if it would. Roxy was playing with the idea. Savouring it in her head, the trip was a testing of the water.
The two of them seemed smitten over the place, but ultimately, Roxy didn’t think now was a great time to be there. They had good jobs in Ontario, and both were still on the low end of being able to say they were in their mid-thirties. Roxy’s uncle Garth would have said they had ‘plenty of spunk to keep on keepin’ on’, which was another way of saying make hay while the sun shines, or so she supposed. Marriage was going to wait for them, children (to their dismay) was taking longer than hoped for but still remained a part of their plan. It was a circled route on their life maps.
Howard stole her heart by really falling for the faux-island. The act of theft on the other’s soul was of natural frequency in their relationship and always a blood pressure rising occurrence. He told her he could imagine buying a cottage there.
They had spent the night at a b & b looking up listings on his phone, noting how affordable it was.
Roxy indulged his dream, and reminded that they still had to get back to Ontario and meet up for Brett and Ellen’s house warming on the way back through New Brunswick.
“Oh I know, I just thought, maybe in a year or two...” Howard said. “It could be a great place to just head off to for a few weeks at a time. In the summer...”
“I wish, but it would be hard to pull off.” Roxy replied. “You won’t be able to go back to school if we did something like that; you’re already enrolled into Waterloo for next Spring! I know it’s mostly online submissions, but it’s going to be a lot of work... I still have like, four homes coming up that I need to be there to sign off on and over-see inspections...”
Howard smiled and winked. It caught Roxy off-guard and revealed her smile.
“It is nice to dream with you.” She said.
The bed and breakfast they were staying at was quaint. Thirty minutes from Sidney, it was one of the few planned beds on their trip–both insisted that they should camp whenever they could, but small luxuries are fun when you’re in it together.
A benefit of the country house accommodations was that each room was large enough to be considered an apartment, each unit on par with their cramped two bedroom loft in Sudbury. Inside their sickly sweet couples retreat were two old writing desks made from sturdy wood, polished to a high gloss, decorated with soft lace and dark green cloth. Two reading chairs sat side by side looking over the back of the old farm land. A Queen Size bed held prominence but didn’t cramp the room. The bathroom was beautifully arranged with soft pink towels, a claw foot tub–big enough to fit two–and shiny porcelain with chrome fixtures. A small flat screen had been installed on one of the walls, but remained unused for the duration of their stay. Both preferred to read, Howard on his laptop reviewing writing samples for an upcoming research group–a report on water-distribution in rapidly developing urban centres–and Roxy either on her phone or idly flipping through pages in a recent Dean Koontz novel.
The place was run by an elderly couple. It was fine seasonal business they told them. The couple kept a small stock of pigs and chickens that allowed for free-range breakfast goods.
Howard hadn’t had pork strips since a little kid, and enthusiastically complimented his hosts while digging in at the breakfast table. It was goofy in an awe shucks kind of way.
The day that had followed was a tour of the Brau d’or Lakes, and a quick stop at Fort Louisburg. Then they hopped onto the twisty Trans-Canada, leaving the ocean, passing by small Nova Scotia communities, set for Fredericton. They started a road-kill-count game to help pass the time between whatever pop-music Roxy dj’d for them, it was a little morbid, but both of them remembered doing it as kids. Each had gone on trips with their families (Howard had gluttony of stories about how he and his brothers used to drive his parents nuts with their backseat teasing and bickering. Roxy was a little more reserved and merely talked about how she and her sister would somehow always end up feuding before the trip ever took place, and the two of them would sulk sullenly in the back seats to their parent’s general amusement.) it was still an adventure to look back on, and it still made them a little giddy thinking about the possibilities that lay on the road before them.
As they left the peninsula, the rolling sea gave way to trees of not-so impressive age, at least compared to some of the old-growth that they were familiar with. They found it was common among the locals to assume the coast ‘just wasn’t great’ for old growth. Nor’ Easterly winds just wrecked too much havoc for something ancient to stand tall. Nova Scotia waved goodbye to their navy-blue Vibe with what–to Roxy–looked like a hundred large wind-turbines, connecting the province, they crossed the marshy bog-land called the Tantramar Marsh, and New Brunswick greeted them with rolling forests.
There’s probably only a couple of dozen of those huge towers, but still, it blocks what would undoubtedly be a beautiful view. She thought as they passed the farm of power generators. No different than the solar farms back home I suppose.
The trees surrounded them next, tall, nurtured dense along the highway. The road kill count-game ended around twenty seven, most were foxes and a few porcupines. Wire fences blocking bears and Moose from the Number 2 kept the highway a strong fifty yards from the forest perimeter. It felt like the whole world was wrapped in trees. The roads just happened, and nature was required to hold back while the pavement was needed.
The morning after the house-party they hung around Fredericton, not wanting to leave the cute riverside town, and decided to have a late lunch in one of the college restaurants that served a good greasy plate of food. The two of them had eaten well, but a full stomach on the road never hurt anyone. Roxy talked about work. Howard talked about how flooding effected the low-laying provinces that bordered the Bay of Fundy, and, the two of them talked about the future, what it meant to live in one of these small towns, what it was like to live in Canada. Howard related growing up in Ontario, but remained mutually innocent in understanding all the answers to life. The two of them were fascinated with how people lived in all their different ways. It was something they agreed, in unspoken commitment, that it might be fun to do together
It was a nice meal. The fries were deep-fried to a perfect crisp. Howard ate a chicken club that had a healthy wedge of old-cheddar and fat slabs of tomato. Roxy snacked on chicken wings accompanied with the hottest dipping sauce they had. It was okay, she still added tabasco sauce to try and give it more kick. They gulped their meal in anxious anticipation of the road ahead; joking with the server and tipping well when they left.
The route home was a zigzagging path today. It was calm. Tranquil landscape defined to the T. A hypnotic silence overtook them as they let music fill the station wagon. It was literally a feeling of being lost in the woods like a child. Roxy offered to check the map on a few occasions, Howard eventually voicing that it couldn’t hurt, and yet she let the folded guide rest comfortably in her purse. The sense of floating through a forest was almost intoxicating when two people dream together. It felt daunting after the first hour, but the two noted the kilometer markers they passed with good humor. The warm innocence of the forest felt monotonous in these parts, especially once they made it to Hwy 180. Bathurst was the very last they would glimpse of the ocean for what would likely be years to come. Dreams were fun but they would have to remain make believe for the time being. Ontario called, big wheels kept on turning, and life would get busy.
The sun was setting on the highway as their Pontiac passed Caribou Depot, a noted halfway point according to their map (something Roxy had begun to check with increasing frequency once they skipped through the final coastal town) and with any luck, she kept an eye out for possible stopping place’s for them to pitch a tent.
It was nearing on five p.m. when they saw the first of many provincial notices–most relating to snow warnings and various animal crossings. A sign for a mountain park maintained by Parks Canada flashed by as they made west.
Mount Carleton? Roxy confirmed with the map.
It would be dark soon, and if there were animals freely crossing, it would be best to find a place before night fell on the mostly unlit highway. The farms seemed to be tucked away from the road. The 180 was sparse with off shoots, and instead held long tree-lined driveways, most seemed to act as service lines for off road trucks and large four-by-fours. Surely people didn’t live out here...
The music, connected to their stereo through a Bluetooth signal, played from Roxy’s phone. It was a shuffle of Kings of Leon, Sufjan Steven’s, The Kooks, a wide variety of rap that she happily filled Howard in on the details of–and almost every other imaginable thing she was able to fit onto the memory card. The tunes had served them well, plugged into the car charger, most of the time it never failed.
Instead of some young-sounding British pop band cooing out love songs, the stereo made a disconnect sound and went silent.
Roxy looked at her phone with mild annoyance.
They were at the mid-point of their trip and having to deal with technical junk like this sort of put a stinker in the whole fun of things.
Howard–silent and smart enough to know not to tease her–decided that a clear spot after what looked like a driveway up ahead would be a good a place as any to pull over. Any old spot would do. Google maps, when they had looked up the area, showed that homes were far and few between in these areas, setting up on the side of the road was–in most cases–acceptable.
The idea of being travelling gypsies was joked about between the two of them quite often. Slummin’ it on the side of the road was just a part of the charm of being young and foolish.
The sense of adventure was soon quashed as he felt the engine sputter and begin to choke itself off. He cursed at the steering column as it lurched to a stall. Their pace had been set at seventy five kilometers per hour. The car brought them to an oddly jolted stop. Roxy lost her phone to the passenger side floor, using some choice language that she generally saved for renovation contractors. Howard remained silent and grim faced behind the wheel.
It was easy enough to slide into neutral, and after a few moments complete chaos was reduced to the mild laws of the universe. Car trouble happened.
“Well that’s the shits...” Howard said.
“The ignition won’t even engage?”
He proved the point by trying to click the engine to life. A turn of the wrist, nothing lit, turned again, still nothing. The lights were out. Roxy unbuckled her seat belt and dug around the floor for her phone, hoping for, at the very least, a cell signal. The odds of someone living at the end of the driveway weren’t necessarily in their favour. Grass around the black mailbox was overgrown, light brown and dying, giving way to higher wheat grass and small saplings.
The numbers on the box were faded white and indistinguishable.
POLLOCK was painted bold onto a wooden sign above the aged metal. It looked ancient, and unused, perhaps a family’s homestead, with the inheritors vying for property rights. The power would be snipped off at the meter and the phone line abandoned.
“My phones dead... Son of a-” she paused the explanative
“It was plugged in though...”
“Mine too; I thought I charged it before we left Brett and Ellen’s?” Howard said.
“Well fuck... they might have a phone. Wish I knew what the hell happened to the car. I’ll pop the hood.”
Howard pulled the hood release and exited the driver seat. He didn’t have a hope in hell when it came to cars. The last time he had felt any accomplishment with a vehicle was when he had push started his old Datsun over ten years ago. It had been a four-speed stick shift, barely lasted a year.
The Vibe was an automatic–no amount of pushing would get it rolling if the battery was toast.
Still, it would do well to organize his thoughts, the act of progression, assessment of the situation was important. As a kid–around seventeen, barely a kid in the grand scheme of things–he had been methodical and always believed that to be aware of the big picture he had to see everything. It was how he understood things. He smiled at the motor packed tightly under the bonnet.
Yup–doesn’t start. He thought.
Roxy exited the passenger seat and joined him at the front of the car, her hand folding threads of hazel hair into a bun, looking down at the ground as she walked. Her shoes padded on the flat top, a classy pair of converse white Chucks, perfect for hanging out in the passenger seat with one’s feet propped up on the dash, not so great for a long hike on a secondary highway. Howard took a side glance as she walked into his view. She always looked fashionable and downright gorgeous. Her black and white polka-dot button up angled just right over top a white cotton undershirt, tight fitting jeans that filled out nicely in all the right spots. He figured that at least if he’s stranded–
I’m stranded with the best company life can provide.
She looked at him with curiosity glowing deep behind sky-blue eyes.
“What do you think? Any luck, or are we walking?” She asked.
They were walking.
The Pollock house wasn’t visible from the road. It was a long driveway, tucked behind a tree line that gave way to crops. A crest in the land made it impossible to determine the distance to what would undoubtedly be a run-down farmhouse. The field looked to be full of potatoes and other root vegetables. It was surprising, and perhaps hopeful as it looked tended to–and mostly groomed, bushy rows of leaves greeted them once they were past the trees, sopping up rays of sun like flaps of wavy green solar cells. It was clear that some of the crops had been vandalized, the closer they looked at the property; probably gophers Roxy thought–but those scare-crows, or whatever, look like they’ve been down for weeks. It was possible they weren’t even scarecrows. She knew farms, but not much about east coast land practices. The contraptions were oddly placed between the crops–and sometimes on top of a row of vegetables, disturbing healthy produce–contraption was an odd definition but it came to her mind nonetheless, it looked like a bunch of junk pinned to the ground.
“What do you think those are for?” She asked aloud.
Howard was also taking interest in the strange shapes.
“I was looking at that... I don’t know, maybe we can ask to check it out. It looks like some sort of trap. I bet it’s for moose.” He said.
“Moose... I guess, but I thought they were more in Quebec and Newfoundland?” Roxy questioned. She looked at him through the corner of her eye to make sure he wasn’t yanking her chain.
“I guess that might be a reason for it...”
The ‘traps’ counted well over fifteen. Roxy thought it was odd placement, but supposed the farmer knew the wildlife better than her. The bundles of wood, upon scrutiny, were covered in a green fishing net and angle-iron grounded to sharp serrated points. It was some sort of spring trap, one stood four-feet away, and it looked mean.
A mid-summer breeze honed in on them. Sun was soon to fall, but the heat of a summer day still baked the air. A light shift in air currents made the marigold’s dance beside the tree-line, but the atmosphere remained thick and calm. Wet with heat and dulling to the senses. It felt like a lazy day on this sprawling farm.
“You know, I bet they have over fourteen acres here.” Howard mused.
The idea of fourteen acres–for the time being–was a loosely grasped in Roxy’s mind. She was still looking over the endless fields of tubers and wondering just what could prey on such a field to warrant the ramshackle defenses. The borders of the property weighed little with her. It’s not just the land, who lives here? Why would someone tough it out? The idea of sticking to the land like this, in a desolate area of the province at that, it made her skin crawl. Whatever house lived on its borders must be of unnatural construction. A family shouldn’t live here. It was closed off and wrong–the latter thought came to Roxy without any obvious justification.
Some thoughts just happen. You couldn’t ignore them once they were there, and usually people get by fine going about their business without them, but things can feel wrong just like they can feel good, and she wanted nothing more than to leave this place and take a bath. It filled her senses, over powering the faculties she had cultivated within herself: A-class real estate agent (voted Best Associate four years in a row, running on five), part-time manager of the Sudbury food bank (in charge of making sure two-hundred hungry homes saw a way to make it through their end-of-month bank account blues), and diligent secretary for the MacDonald Institute’s debate club, volunteering her evenings and some weekends at the school (a carryover passion from being on the very same debate team during her high school days); distant vagabond ready for adventure and not quite willing to settle down; memories built up her foundations of stability.
She didn’t care if a family had once lived on this property, didn’t care if kids had once ran around the yard spraying each other with hoses, or rolling wagon wheel’s to see who had the fastest–and she didn’t think it would be healthy if a family were to live here these days. It was too far out, too isolated, and downright depressing with its landscape of nothingness.
The ridge of the barn came into their view, the telephone and power line following the hard-packed drive, just beyond their sight.
Roxy wanted with all the hope in her heart to assume that those lines were still connected–if someone had this land, then they surely held full connection with the outside world. They wouldn’t be some sort of weirdo that holed up in the middle of nowhere, aimlessly shooting at passer-bys with a shotgun.
The idea floated before her mind briefly, but once planted, like a vine embedded into a moist spring soil, it dove between her better judgements of the situation. The house could very well be abandoned; it could be home to no-one. The place, if empty, left them at the end of (at Howard’s best guess, a fourteen acre road). They would be up shit creek without a paddle.
The idea of not getting out before nightfall was unceremoniously terrifying–imaginable like the approaching barn and the horizon that bled into the landscape–a distant thought. It danced in Roxy’s imagination. She didn’t want to verbalize it. Doubt is a poor companion on the road.
“It’s sort of beautiful... All this land, I think those are potatoes, I see carrots and some sort of bean stalks down there. I bet the trees look amazing in the fall...” She said.
She turned to look behind them and paused. They had been walking for over twenty minutes; the farmlands first barn in sight didn’t make her want to knock on the door just yet.
“Do you think you could live here?” She asked Howard.
He looked at her with a guarded respect. Roxy liked to pose hypotheticals; this was one of the many in the long string of them. He knew the ground he was currently about to traverse to be a measure of character. He needed to think it through, and be quick about it to boot.
Roxy was not one to keep waiting.
“I’d like to say I could, but you know me... I like being in front of a class of people, delivering course structured around water rights and boring books.” Howard said.
He looked back at Roxy with solemn regard.
“Okay maybe not that necessarily, but I like being involved with what I’m doing, for the time being... I think I could retire in a place like this though.”
He finished his statement by looking over the fields’ produce. It was closer to the ocean than his home could ever be, but it was far from near to the tides. Howard held a dream for the ocean, but knew very little about it. He wanted to have a farm on the land, close enough to water for a boat with a small outboard, something that would putt along and keep him close to the shoreline. It was fanciful and still something he thought possible in the heart of New Brunswick. The idea of living in Cape Breton was all the more delightful for that very reason. It held council with the ocean, and the hills looked beautiful, and rich in soil and green thriving-life.
“I guess I think you’re cute for being a dreamer.” Roxy replied coolly.
Howard fit cute enough as a descriptor with his hair combed over in a messy tuft of road head. He looked frazzled, but in the innocent way a tall goof might stand within a china-shop, aware that his demeanour was portrayed outwardly and awkwardly, he held it with modest grace. He didn’t care if he sounded like a fool; sometimes speaking one’s mind was an important factor to remember within a relationship. Roxy didn’t actually care what her khakis covered lover thought on the subject, she simply wanted to pause and take in the landscape. It suited him somehow. The back drop was perfectly set with him standing next to her like a character in a Norman Rockwell painting. She loved that feeling, that desire to just stop and enjoy something.
He hadn’t noticed how lush the trees had been. It was a small oversight. However, now that he thought about it, Howard looked at the farm with mild astonishment, as though it were some incredible feat of human ingenuity. Soil was being cultivated. It was all that needed to happen here, people could live in other communities thanks to the work of this land. The harvest would be a boon to the local economy.
A chill crept into their bodies.
Time felt like it was growing short and they should keep on moving, the beauty of the forest (vibrant greens and florescent yellows from underlying birch flowers) grew smaller behind them. The field passed them in steady plumes of dark leaves and mostly undisturbed rows of dirt. The strange traps erected ceased within the five rows of the main parking area.
Roxy and Howard were finally revealed to more modern and expected farming equipment. They said nothing and continued with thoughtful observance. The driveway had been fenced off at the perimeter of the field, making a paddock out of the main parking area. Tire tracks and tractor ruts criss-crossed the dirt yard before them, following some of these tracks, they noticed a scuttling of vehicles that occupied the yard. The hard dirt wrapped around a fenced in house and melted directly into the apparently open barn–large bay-doors opened wide like a relative welcoming someone home with a great big bear hug–they had seen from a distance.
A Chevy pick-up sat next to the house. Wood fencing skirted beside it separating the dirt yard from an overgrown lawn. The hood was propped up and revealed–thankfully–an engine that was under current restoration, the pan collecting drippings underneath suggested an oil change in progress. Parked next to the barn were two big-wheeled tractors and a Volkswagen Vanagon.
She swung a heavy metal gate that closed the paddock off to the field.
The entrance was large enough to bring the vehicles through but the two of them made do with just propping it open a few feet. A dull-metal clanking could be heard from somewhere either inside or behind the house. It brought to mind the sound of a medieval knight walking into a smithy’s forge, ready for a quest and ready to acquire a shiny new weapon of glory for conquest.
A clang of metal close behind them made both adults jump on the spot, Howard gripped Roxy’s arm with surprise and alertness, turning they saw that the gate had latched back in place. It had a slow hinge, well oiled, but slow enough so a driver didn’t have to have someone hold the thing when they left to run errands. Without commenting on each other’s embarrassment, they turned back to the main yard and observed the buildings.
High strung and jumping at shadows now. Howard thought.
It was a thought that was worded differently but shared inside Roxy’s head too. The house was covered in boards and looked alone in its confinement. She thought of it as a barren landscape. It unsettled her more than the mysterious wrought-iron defenses that scattered the field like desolate sentries. She noted that the fence had been wrapped in spools of barbed-razor wire. It was off-putting, regardless of any farmer’s intentions, and she hadn’t thought of mentioning it to Howard. He would notice on his own. The signs had been everywhere. Howard was smart, he was in tune with her, and he would know where any of the traps might be.
The two of them entered the dirt yard, investigating the old farmstead with full view.
Roxy thought the house might have been beautiful in another time, perhaps not too long ago. It was a two-story, seventy’s or sixty’s era construction, covered in a hardwood siding that had been painted white and was now peeling in flakes of grey. Green and brown shudders lined each of the windows like lightly shaded eyeliner, accenting and modifying the face of the farmhouse. The windows were planked off from the inside, the front door sat atop the stoop which was covered by a wraparound porch. One loan window on the second floor remained un-boarded, looking over the dirt parking area like a Cyclops eye. Roxy had a few ideas about what the owners could do with a place like this, but something in the back of her mind told her that they weren’t into selling.
“Uhm....” Howard cleared his throat: “look, I might just poke around, but maybe we should keep hiking. I feel like a place like this is bound to have a rig that can get us to a gas station, probably even tow us there...”
He eyed the Kubota with appreciation, and then looked past it to the barn where something nicer might be stored and then his gaze shifted to the wooden fence wrapped in a makeshift garret wire. The unwitting couple might have walked down the wrong road, but where did they go from here?
“I’m just looking around the side, wait here for a second...” Howard said.
His worn Adidas scuffed at the ground. He paused and looked back at Roxy.
“Please... just, uh, hang tight; I don’t like the feel of this place.” He said.
The look he gave her was short, but full of everything it needed to say: Howard was scared and he wanted Roxy to be safe.
He didn’t know how to tell her what to do, but his eyes presented concern enough for both of them–for the time being.
She heard pounding come from the houses basement again.
Howard paused. He looked like a cartoon character in a Wiley coyote cartoon, ready to fall off the cliff and dance in mid air. He dismissed his nerves and continued on, also ignoring the look of amusement on Roxy’s face. He looked scared, sure, but she too was scared of what they had stumbled upon. It didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy his bafoonishness, after all, what was the worst that could happen? The noise came in loud clanking sounds, as if someone were hammering a mighty iron against a puny anvil. It clanked, Roxy noted, like pipes do when hit against each other. Another sound emerged; Howard heard it as screaming and hollering at first. The sound was someone in the basement.
The fence wrapping around the home’s lawn was also fortified with spools of razor wire. Howard approached a gate off to the side of the one that lead up the front steps and opened it cautiously. The hinges creaked loud enough for Roxy to hear it twenty yards away. Its echoes faded quickly into the yards dusk breeze. They were really all alone, nowhere to go, nowhere to run, their car was abandoned and left at the roadside. The wind whispered these thoughts to Roxy, she knew it was foolish worry, but the ideas spun about nonetheless.
Howard was determined to investigate the property. The yard, behind the secondary fence, was made of clumps of grass, in some areas growing well past his hips. It looked as though the owner of this lawn hadn’t mowed properly in quite some time. The mounds of grass popped out at strange intervals, as though equipment had once depressed shapes into the earth, and after enough time and healthy soil the greenery was trying to return.
He looked around the yard in hopes of finding some sort of life. It was close to then that he heard a part of what was being said in the basement. “WHAT DID YOU DO?!” A voice boomed. It sounded raw, cracked with anger and anxious desperation.
It should have been muffled, but Howard had approached a basement window, and couldn’t help but peer inside. He bent down and found the window behind a clump of dried leaves and overgrowth.
The clang of metal against metal emerged from the basement again, louder and more aggressive given his proximity to the window.
It made Howard reel backward in surprise. His arms flung out in an airplane motion to steady himself as he tried to avoid being seen through the dust caked window. His feet stumbled over a tuft of leaves, and steadied after a shaky moment or two. He looked back at Roxy, and then, again tempted a glimpse into the house.
The second Roxy heard Howard scream out in pain–no, in outright agony–she knew there was no way out. He had tried looking into the house lost his balance momentarily and then decided he had needed another look.
His foot was then clamped by some sort of metal band that he had missed by centimeters a few seconds earlier. The bone made an audible crack that traveled solidly to Roxy’s ears. She lurched forward, but stopped almost immediately, the place was rigged
why tempt fate?
It was insane to scramble out after him. The only option was to watch from here, and hope that Howard was going to make it. He had to make it. She was lost out here, on what was beginning to feel like a literal crazy farm.
Howard collapsed onto his crushed ankle almost at once. The bone was pulverized. He grunted and moaned through clenched teeth while prying apart the jaws of a rusty bear trap.
The trap was dull, probably on purpose, and clamped tightly into the soft cloth of his sock. The joint felt shattered, sending pins of agony throughout his left leg as he wiggled the iron jaw. The pain was beyond any injury, he had ever experienced. When he was twenty-three, after one too many rum and cokes, he had earned a broken collar bone while zipping along Walden back roads on his brothers ZX crotch rocket. It had been a foggy state compared to this, quickly followed by a concussion and some seriously good pain killers. This was constant, and unending.
He pried against the rust-pitted clamp again, relieved when he was able to slip his unusable foot out.
The pain washed through him in torrential waves. It melted through the marrow of his bones and clawed at the pulse of his heart.
Howard waited several moments, panting and mumbling nothings against the darkening sky.
“Just... I need a minute... Wait!” Howard shouted back at Roxy. His voice wilted and hurt. She waited at the edge of the yard patiently, anxious to run across the dirt and pull Howard to safety–drag him if she needed to, just get him out of here; to get them out of here.
The trap that ended Howard’s life was similar to the countless others they had passed in the field. It was a spring-loaded device (composed of angle iron and a three-by-three array of iron spikes welded into a deadly cross section). It swung off the ground like a rat trap, brutal efficiency that resembled a fly swatter, coming down on top of Howard’s six-foot frame with instantaneous force. His body was pinned to the ground twitching for all of half a minute. The effect was so instant, so final, that neither of them was aware of his death until minutes after it happened. Roxy had initially watched him stand up, and fall back at once; trying to use what looked like a serious leg wound, but likely encountered by countless drunken hunters in the woods. It probably happened all the time. He had ignored the pain and stood up with a final sigh of pent up anguish. His last thought had been to suck it up and return to Roxy so they could limp their way out of this place.
He failed to notice the pressure plate that lay before him, and hardly had time to register the audible click it made when sprung.
The lawn had been overgrown, intentional design, and hid a cornucopia of surprise trip wires. If he had been so brazing, he would have also found a deadly array of punji sticks in the back yard lightly blanketed with grass trimmings and dead birch limbs. It was an entrenched property and his odds of making it out of there had gone close to zero the moment he walked through the inner-yards fence and off of the dirt drive.
The property remained silent, except for the clang of metal from the basement, eventually the field was filled with screams from Roxy.
The urge to act pulled on all of her senses.
In between cries of incredulous grief she felt adrenaline burst from inside. Her body shook. Cruel gasps of air tore the inside of Roxy’s lungs, unaware that she was shuffling towards the inner fence. The field felt like it was closing in on her, the endless expanse that once was, now a dampening veil that muted the sun and it’s fiery hues of orange and purple, blank disbelief replacing anything understandable. Her hand rested on the wood fence. She was looking in at the knee-high grass and brush that covered the yard. Tremors in her knees made her want to fall down, curl up into a ball, begging to wake up from this hellish nightmare. It was like they had walked into make-believe-land and now her limbs wanted to stop moving until she was back in the real world.
She leaned against the fence, willing herself to stop calling to her dead partner. Her face was grim and set in a sobbing framework of heartache.
The man she had loved was face down in the dirt, barely visible under the heap of metal framing, motionless and head cocked to the side looking away from the house. His cheek had been pierced just below the right ear and extruding out of his bottom jaw was the tip of a fine spike of metal that plunged down into the earth. Blood was pooling out of the top of his skull where a layer of scalp had been peeled back by another makeshift spike.
Roxy held her hand up to her mouth and quickly looked away and then back at Howard’s body; she needed to know, needed to see. She didn’t want to believe that the man she shared a bed with, hiked the around the Algonquin trails and Bruce Peninsula with, planned her life with, that man was dead. He was gone and what remained of him was soon to be gathering flies in the middle of nowhere.
It was when her vision started to blur and go black around the edges that she realized she had been holding her breath.
Roxy let out a panting gasp and almost dry heaved at the thought of passing out here.
The world swirled back into view, returning with it the shrinking light of a summer evening and hot sticky warmth that lingered long after dusk. The sound of metal striking metal in the basement had stopped.
(She was vaguely aware that someone had yelled something from inside the house “Get still, and shut up!”, and the chiming of heavy chain dragging across concrete.)
A loud thud against the homes foundation registered clearly. It was like the sound you hear in apartment buildings when a neighbour is having a party just a little too loud and someone just has to stomp on the floor or bang on the wall to get them to remember that it’s a shared building.
The next sound was a large door slamming shut inside the house–this one emitted from the room that must be close to the front corner. A sliver of fear surfaced in her mind as she realized that if the window hadn’t been boarded from the inside, she would have been seen standing in the yard.
A voice yelled again in the house, booming with authority, and closer to the yard.
“I said shut it! I ain’t done with you yet!”
Roxy ducked low and eyed the fence line.
Instincts told her that she had no hope in running back down the driveway. It was a dirt road, wide open and empty until the tree line, guarded from the secondary highway. She could probably make it if it were full dark, the moon was absent given the time of month, and the field had only one or two lamps fastened to the top of the power lines–little in way of spot lighting. It would be slow moving, but she was certain she could make it better in the dark.
However at present, she had to hide, and hide fast.
Her options few, she ran in the direction of the barn, ducking low behind the tractor and slipping behind one of the bay doors just as the front door of the house slammed open. The frame rattled into the field with aged sturdiness. Heavy steel-toed boots clomped on the boards of the stoop and down the front steps.
Roxy peaked between the barn boards, hoping that the barn’s shadowy interior would be enough to make her appear invisible.
On the lawn of the house a man dressed in beige coveralls and thick leather gloves approached Howard’s body. She noted that he seemed young, perhaps younger than her and Howard, and while he looked the farmer-john type she had expected someone approaching sixty to be the deranged caretaker of this farm. He had a three-day half shave sprouting ebony bristles on the bottom half of his face. He walked confidently and at a no-rush-no-fuss pace.
The distance was deceiving for her, but Roxy thought that the man just might be singing softly to himself.
He leaned down and pulled back on the metal trap with relative ease, his boot resting on the shoulder of its captive, and propped a stick against it once it was raised five feet away from the body.
She closed her eyes when she heard the soft squelch of meat and metal. When she looked back the stranger had already drug Howard’s carcass up to the fence and was back to setting his trap. Prying it down and latching a spring close the ground out of her line of sight. His back turned away from Roxy as he replaced the strewn camouflage. She could see Howards face, one eye was missing making the socket look like it was winking at her, flaps of scalp dangling over his ears like a bizarre comb over. It turned her stomach, almost making her relieve her bladder on the spot. The idea of having to pee, an annoying one, was also beginning to be a notable concern. It was great to have something to distract one’s self. The man had finished disguising his trap and returned to the body. He grabbed one leg and started dragging it towards the field, in the direction away from the barn, away from the house.
One of Howard’s blood streaked hand waved limply as it bumped and dipped in the tire tracks. The man was indeed singing to himself, it was some sort of Stompin’ Tom melody that she remembered from her childhood
Roxy thought it sounded like the Hockey Song.
The desire to leave ate at her patience. It takes a special kind of mental gymnastics to observe danger and act with a cool head. She knew that the stranger would return, he would likely be curious about all the screaming he had heard–Roxy didn’t like relying on the off chance that he hadn’t heard her shrieks of fright–and anyone with the time on their hands to do this with their farm would likely search around for any other sprung traps. With that in mind she looked around the dark barn.
It was like the potato fields.
Well kept and ordered neatly. Chains and heavy ropes hung from the walls in large loops. Above these were assorted tractor attachments secured to a series of pulleys and winches. Dark oak beams supported the roof in place, held in by black-oiled columns, reinforced with iron I-beams and roofed in with corrugated tin. In the far corner of the floor, opposite Roxy, a yellow generator as big as a Smart-car sat silent behind a cage. The barn smelled old, mixtures of earthen manure, oily-fuels and mildew permeated the space.
Beside her was a bank of shelving that actually partitioned a front section of the barn. It made room for a space to be used as storage for those odds and ends that any home accumulated. An ironing board, a few lamps (some with shades hanging off, others looked good as new and just being put off to the side for safe keeping), and stacks of boxes. Some were labeled “Kitchen”, “Bedroom”, while others had names of people–“Liam”, “Marcus” and “Ivy”. Tied onto the wall next to the fine collectables were two bikes in new condition. A twenty-one speed and a child’s fifteen-speed with healthy tires.
She saw the nubs were still sticking out on the adult bike.
Roxy considered the idea of biking out of here. It wouldn’t be all that bad if she could unhook the bike without making too much noise, and it would get her the hell out of here a lot faster than trying to walk to the nearest house. A metal cable wove through the spokes and was clasped with a brass padlock. The lock could be smashed, but that would be more noise than she wanted. The key might be in the barn with her, but she would have to snoop and probably still end up making noise.
She stopped searching after a few minutes, her eyesight short in the unlit barn, and every time she stepped in front of the bay door she jerked her head in panic, worried she had heard the farmer return. The sun hovered at the edge of the field, a red glowing orb kissing the horizon, not wanting to pull the world into night, taking what felt like an eternity to finish its run for the day.
The barn was too dark for her to see into the nooks and crannies.
It was an unfulfilling search and ended with her feeling more lost and helpless than she liked. She hunkered back down behind the door and waited for the day to get over with itself.
Silence is a strange thing. It never truly meets our perception. Roxy listened with narrowing focus on the minute wisps that took place on blades of grass. The barn was also approaching silent, but the dull hum of the world being heated around her filled in the gaps of tranquility. She found it odd that she didn’t hear any birds, or even crickets beating their hearts rhythm into the approaching night. A gentle breeze was the only instrument.
She tried to listen for the farmers return, but even he had disappeared to some unknowable corner of the property, out of sight and out of mind.
It was unsettling to wait. The moments passed by in long intervals that she couldn’t keep track of, her phone toast and her watch resting safely in their station-wagon cup holder.
In a final haze of beautiful sunset, the sky shifted from a pale pink into a cold and dark blue, the wind picking up its gust ever so slightly, and then died away almost instantly. It was darkness that swallowed the world and barely brought with it the cool serenity as sunsets in harvest season were known to do. The land remained hot and in the mid-twenties, perhaps dropping below nineteen come the early hours of the morning, but creeping back up once natures cycle started up again by four-thirty. The weather held its own council, so was true in butt-fuck-nowhere New Brunswick, and in every other part of the world Roxy had ever had the grace to visit.
The stranger returned before she had the chance to make a break for it. He had a glowing lantern hanging off of the end of a shovel now. It swung smoothly on the handle keeping time with his pace.
She cursed under her breath; wishing luck had been only a little bit kinder to her.
The man walked around the corner of the house in off-handed calmness. He walked past the entrance to the wooden fence and in the direction of the barn. A thudding crash against the basement wall made its presence known again. Roxy peeked through the boards of the door to see what direction he would take next.
He halted just short of the tractor, his lower half blocked from her line of sight; his eyes scanned the house and then the field surrounding them.
The distraction was brief, but gave her time to stand up and sink back behind the partitioned storage space. The walls’ planking was tighter together here, a soft outline of visible light from the lantern hardly creeping through.
She felt mildly safer, but knew she was almost all but cornered.
Roxy closed her eyes and thought of Howard.
The lantern’s light continued its route into the barn.
She now saw cluster of metal canisters stacked next to the generator in back and what looked like a work bench fitted with clamps and vices. She ducked behind a stack of boxes and milk crates filled with blankets and sheets. She was alone, and stuck; Howard had been taken out back by this man, after the stranger had calmly removed his body from the lawn.
Roxy wanted more than anything to think that it was all a twisted dream, she wasn’t actually here, something was unfair and wrong about everything.
Life shouldn’t happen like this, should it? She thought this while trying to stay in focus. The madman had returned. Her cover was thin at best, and should the stranger decide to walk into the storage area she would be noticed immediately. But, it would do in a pinch. She heard the farmer digging through parts of the bench–unscrew a metal cap–and then the slosh of something being poured from a can met her ears. He was starting up his generator. The sound made her bladder cramp. It was like the tinkle of a tap siphoning cool liquid into a wash basin. A steady stream of gasoline fueled the engine, undisturbed, dependant on gravity and little else.
Roxy looked through her cover of blankets and cardboard as the sound diminished to a trickle and then ceased. The farmer, finished with his business, screwed the lid back onto the can and returned it to a shelf next to the generator.
He flipped a switch on the wall that made a heavy snap as it locked into place. The stranger stood there for several moments with his back to Roxy. He was looking down at the machine.
Sky succumbed to dark blanket of night. The surreal hues that had painted the sky during Roxy and Howard’s approach all but a wispy memory. It was night time, nocturnal creatures were supposed to be alive and free to roam (as a child she remembered being frightened of shadows, always imagining a vampire hiding and waiting for a delicious neck, ripe with blood), tailgate parties were being held in other out of the way places–she was certain some people must enjoy the chaos of isolation–and beds were being tucked in for little kids ready to dream sweet nothings on their pillows.
The blind silence of a moonless night played on her fear; she couldn’t see and couldn’t look past her little port-hole of nick-nacks, not without knowing that the only other person was here standing in plain sight and starting up what appeared to be the properties only light source.
The lantern also unsettled Roxy, but she couldn’t quite determine why it unsettled her. It beamed soft yellowish light, hissing an audible release of air as if it were a balloon perpetually being deflated. The farmer stood next to it, silhouetted but no longer fully visible, simply standing and pondering. He sighed heavy and began whistling (again to the tune of the Hockey Song). It was a soft sound, calming and easy-going–the type of sound she’d come to expect from Howard during his morning shower ritual. Alone and lost in his own little world.
Roxy heard the fuel pump prime itself. The noise was like a car trying to roll over an impossibly large engine. The pump whirled laboriously and then the engine roared to life. The farmer waited and watched as the generator chugged along in steady rhythm. It had no misfires, no lag in timing–satisfied, he flicked the switch on the wall. The barn flickered and lit up the tube lighting overhead. The main house had been fitted with its own spotlights that projected light across the entire yard.
She was still in the dark. The storage cubby was still only getting its light from the main barn area, and the lantern. There was a set of fluorescent fixtures above her which
were turned off already. Roxy was still out of sight.
And hopefully out of mind.
The farmer content as his machine kept even pace for the light load, picked up his lantern and made to leave the barn.
Fright hit her when she saw the whites of his eyes pass over her sanctuary, quickly replaced by an apprehensive relief as he walked on–out of view–towards the bay doors. A shaky gasp caught in her throat. Roxy held her hand over her mouth to stop any sound that would reveal her. She felt like she was balancing in a very dangerous exercise of tight rope walking.
If I try to run he’ll probably see me, and murder me... She presumed. If I try to wait it out, I’ll be stuck in here pissing on this man’s old hand-me-downs and hope that he leaves and if he doesn’t then I’ll probably just die of fright here on the spot... The former option was what she knew to be the smartest, the most hopeful in terms of outcomes at least, but the ability to act and get-up-and-go felt like a long lost reflex to her now. She hunched down in place, weighing out the options.
It had to be planned out. The need to run had to be quashed. Her escape–for that is what she was now planning–needed to be silent and perfect. Roxy knew she had to be smart about it. She had to think her way out of here. Reaction and panic was a definite way to get her killed like–like Howard she thought. The place had death traps and was owned by someone that had no qualms in burying a body in their back yard. It was the plot straight out of some insane person’s psychological thriller. Tension held an unaccredited role. The barn, to her senses, was thick with dread. It made her legs feel like concrete pylons, cemented to the floor beneath her. She didn’t dare move her arms, or lift her head in fear that some out-of-place movement might give away her position.
So she waited, and listened.
The sound of the man’s footsteps had stopped. Okay, he’s probably back in the house–she could hear the muffled pounding from inside the main building. A noise in its own right that didn’t need solving from her–she didn’t care what was taking place in that house. It was probably unthinkable and best suited for a group of tactically suited RCMP officers.
The hissing from the lantern was also vacant from the yard. The only sound, to which she was becoming grateful for, was the generator–rumbling and chugging along in the corner of the barn–glad something had broken up the eerie silence.
She decided that waiting in the barn a little bit longer might be her best bet, but she would need a better view of the yard to determine when the coast was clear. It meant willing her body to move and sneak back to her hiding place beside the bay doors.
The voice in the back of her head yelled at her to get up! And Roxy dutifully listened. Circulation rushing back to unused appendages created a chill that made her body shiver. Pins and needles pricked at her feet as she stood.
The sensation revitalized her in a way. It made her feel more human, more aware that her body was still under her command. She was going to get out of here. And there’s nothing that psycho can do about it.
She carefully eased around the stack of rubbish. As she moved, her shoulder brushed against one of the blankets, and for a brief moment her heart stopped seeing a few comforters begin to slide off the top of the stack. Her hand jumped out and steadied the teetering pile.
It was a crisis avoided. The next step was to actually exit the room.
Roxy was beginning to wonder if she had replaced her chucks with weighted training shoes. Her movements were slow and exaggerated, her own body crying out for her to stop! Curl up and admit defeat! Yet, she knew that the longer she held off, the more frightened she would become. It’s hard being a canary that hides in the lion’s den.
Her body crouched down–looking foolish she was sure, given the lighting in the barn now–and slinking like an old fashioned silent-picture cat burglar. She crept to the bay door.
The plan could have worked, but the farmer had apparently decided to wait outside of the barn. His right hand was resting in his pocket, left arm propped up on the hood of the Kubota. His body was leaning on the tractor, relaxing and looking like someone that had just finished a long day tilling their fields. The lantern lay cold and extinguished beside him. His head was turned up to the sky–but, Roxy noted that with each rap produced from the home’s basement, he would jerk his gaze down, and then slowly return to the sky. She saw that he had dirt and faint smears of blood streaking the legs of his coveralls.
“Well, I don’t suppose you’re anxious to talk, but I should warn ya that the barn ain’t the best place to be at night. These day’s especially.” The farmer said.
His voice was a smooth drawl, deep and booming, the kind one would expect from a radio announcer or Baptist minister.
Roxy remained silent. Her back to the barn door, her eyes fixed forward and observing the interior of the barn. He knew someone was there. The farmer hadn’t chased her out or gotten the jump on her with a pitchfork and throttled the life out of her–the idea that maybe he was toying with her surfaced. It was possible, given the state of the property she wasn’t too sure what someone like this considered “fun”.
“Sorry ‘bout your friend–I didn’t bury him too deep, someone will find it, give him a proper service when the time is right. People need to be laid to rest you know, not just stuffed out back of some potato picker’s home.” He paused and scratched the scruffy bristles on his cheek, “any way’s, I think it might be too late for you to get outta here. Night time get’s aweful quiet. I guess there’s a chance they might be able to take ya home, but like I said: these days’ it just ain’t the best to stick around.”
The farmer hitched his thumb–Roxy observed all of this through the splintering boards of the barn door–over his shoulder, gesturing in the direction of the driveway. Her view was obstructed and she didn’t dare poke her head out just yet.
A loud shriek, like the wail of a dying rabbit mixed with a wounded fawn, came from the house. It was promptly followed by loud crashes against the foundation.
“I SAID SHUT IT! I’LL GET TO YOU YET!” The man yelled at his house. “Oh I’ll get you all right”
He said this last statement under his breath, or perhaps to Roxy.
“I know how it looks, but I ain’t crazy. Everybody else thinks I did something to them; well they’re just gone goddamnit! I keep tellin’ people to let me sort it. It’s my business and my family. People are sticking their noses in where it shouldn’t be, they think I’m some bible thumper you know, like the type you hear about leading cults in the desert. Well I ain’t, and I’m gonna get my wife and kids back–YOU SHUT UP IN THERE!”
He pounded his fist on the hood of the tractor. His fury directed at the house. Roxy heard him curse something under his breath. As he walked away a suggestion was passed onto her, his voice smooth as molasses: “Fran and Jack will be your best bet, but Christ tell ‘em not to come near the house. My family, my problem... Tell them they just need to get you out of here lickety split.”
He walked away in long brisk strides, head down and fists clenched, preoccupied with thoughts that did nothing more than creep Roxy out.
She heard him climb the steps of the house and slam the door. The noise from the basement increased and shrieking yelps of pain followed. The man’s voice could be heard yelling obscenities and eventually all was quiet. Suddenly, flashing lights pulsed on the exterior facade of the home. A red and blue glow, an obvious beacon against the boarded windows; Roxy next heard the sound of tires rolling up the driveway. The front gate made an audible bang against the wood fence and in drove a white RCMP cruiser. Inside the vehicle sat a man and woman in uniform.
Tears welled up inside of her. Her heart twisted and cramped as a flood of emotions swam through it.
She was almost out of the woods. Help had arrived, through some unknown force; Roxy thanked all the gods she had never paid much attention to (in the back of her mind she still held the belief that random was a more proper understanding of the world). The door of the car opened. The lady behind the driver seat was leaning into the dash and radioing their status to some head office–likely two towns over, and running an understaffed unit. The male cop exited the vehicle’s passenger side and stretched. He glanced in the direction of the barn and then back at the farmhouse.
When the officer in the car was finished radioing the station, she exited and walked around the front of the car to accompany her partner. The two peacekeepers looked at each other, one talked while the other shook their head. Roxy assumed that whatever it was about was short, because they quickly ended the conversation and began walking towards the fence that opened to the inner yard and yielded the front entrance of the house.
Wait! Don’t go in! Panic and terror held her in place. The police were here to protect, not get ambushed by a crazy farmer in the sticks, she couldn’t bear to see them walk away, into the house. It was like being in a horror movie where you wanted to scream at the ditsy screen personalities–there’s a killer in the back seat! Stay out of the attic! Don’t hide in the closet it’s the first place they’ll look!–but Roxy was petrified. She didn’t know if she had it in her. The barn was safe, well lit, and absent of the stranger. He was in the house, away from her, and busy contending with his own demons. It was an unsettling thought, but the acts of crazy people behind closed doors are easier to ignore when we consider ourselves sane. She was rational in every sense. Shaken, exhausted, ready to pee her pants, yet as far as she could tell the ability to keep her head on her shoulders held strong.
The uniformed professionals walked up to the gate. The one that had been in the passenger seat unlatched it and stepped in.
“Marcus?” RCMP from the driver seat shouted. “It’s Sergeant Francis Goldsmith, and Corporal Jack Pangborn; we came to speak with you, we just want to chat about some rumours Marcus, maybe chat with your wife and son, just a few questions and hopefully we’ll be on our way.”
Roxy’s eyes widened. They knew this guy. They were here on some sort of check-up, maybe to make sure old crazy Marky-Mark wasn’t up to anything too bizarre like setting up deadly ordinates around his property, or dropping his toaster into the tub and eliminating himself from the cruel balance of the reality that he probably killed his wife and kid. It drove her mad, adrenaline coursing through her body again like a mysterious battery, frustration and helplessness were tossed aside–replaced with that old faithful sense of needing to act.
Metal clanking against metal emitted from within the house. The RCMP officers hesitated and looked at each other, then in the direction of the back yard. A shriek coated in pain and anguish cut through the night. Both reached down to their hips, instinct telling them to have their gun’s at the ready–the female officer looked to her partner and pointed at the door, then her hand made a circular gesture in the direction of the back yard.
The corporal nodded and walked up the yard and towards the front stoop.
“Marcus! I’m coming in bud! Don’t do anything foolish alright? It already looks a litt-” The male officer called.
“Wait! Don’t go in! Stop, I’m over here, please, please just don’t go in the house!” Roxy cried.
The two law-officers stopped in their tracks, spinning around and looking at the barn where she had emerged. Her legs felt like lead. She limped towards the fence at a gallop. She was panting and holding a cramp in her arm. Roxy had been gripping the bay door for what must have been the past twenty minutes. The muscles were tight and ached from the sudden movement.
“Please, just waaait!” She cried again.
“Miss, please, can you identify yourself? My name is Sergeant Francis Goldsmith, please stay calm, we’ll come to you. This is my partner Corporal Jack Pangborn.” Sergeant Goldsmith said.
The uniformed woman held up a hand in the universal gesture of stop.
Roxy stopped. The sudden sense of needing to move her body seemingly abated. She fell down onto her knees and looked at the two officers with her face twisted in hurting agony. She wept, sobbing, chest heaving gulps of air. Her pants tore as she skidded to the ground, blood mixed in with the dirt from an unfelt gash in her knee. It wasn’t like the movies her and Howard had loved to cuddle up to, where the protagonist has it in them to help save the day, beating the shit out of the villain, stopping a speeding bus before it explodes. The truth was that, in reality, our bodies just don’t want us to continue once we think we’re safe. In times of trauma a person can make all sorts of innocently silly decisions.
The RCMP’s walked up to her, trying to call her attention and getting nowhere fast. Roxy heard them try and talk to her, but she was too mystified by the very fact that the cavalry had finally arrived. She cried and found that she was babbling incoherently. The details of her insane day failed to articulate into lucid speech.
She told them that Howard was dead; she thought she mentioned that the man in the house had murdered him, or maybe she had simply said that he took his body and drug it out behind the house. She was vaguely aware that she told them they had broken down. The car was somewhere at the end of the driveway. The sergeant put a hand on Roxy’s shaking shoulder feeling the woman’s nerves rattling through her bones. They told her to take it easy and catch her breath. They were here to help.
Then Francis Goldsmith said the five little words to Roxy that every child hopes to hear when they wake up thrashing from a nightmare: It’s going to be okay.
The long-arm of the law (as her dad had sometimes referred to them, when he wasn’t busy using pejoratives like pigs, or professional bully in a uniform) was here for her. She was used to Sudbury police, they always struck her as matter-of-fact, cold and possibly over worked, but committed to upholding peace and order in their communities. Roxy generally dealt with them when a squatter was unwilling to vacate one of her listings. The procedure was always to the point, with the “long-arm of the law” there to guide the poor homeless miscreant to a new location, generally close to a shelter or soup kitchen. She knew few of the officers by name, most transferred out of the town’s department and moved on to a different branch in some other province after a short few months, but that was local law enforcement. These Mounties were clad in dark-blue uniform, opposed to the bright red parade attire people typically envisioned, heavy Kevlar vests covered their midsections, a radio and name tag resting dutifully above Velcro breast pockets, identical utility belts strapped around their waists. In her current surroundings it was just about the most comforting sight imaginable. In these parts of the country, officers of this nature dealt in criminal investigation, as well as help assist local law enforcement with keeping the peace. Roxy imagined them tasked with stopping drug dealers from selling to the local youth, looking into reports of murders and disappearances when the townies couldn’t maintain a case, or perhaps keeping tabs on the local Hells Angels chapter (that pesky criminal enterprise that she believed had a claim in just about every community east and west of Quebec). In her mind, the good guys were here.
The Sergeant guided Roxy around to the front passenger seat of the cruiser, assuring her again that she was going to be okay, and then walked back to the driver side. Sitting down next to a dishevelled Roxy, she called in a found person and asked for the switchboard operator to standby for an update. Corporal Pangborn stood next to the gas tank, hands on his hips, looking wearily at the boarded up windows of the farmhouse. She guessed he was Mi’kmaq, or some brand of Atlantic aboriginal based on his almond tanned skin and thick nose. He kept looking around at the fence and the reinforced planks sealing the windows from the inside.
“Fran, maybe you should hang back here, I’ll see if I can get Marcus to talk to me. Ah jeeze–what’s he done to the place? I was out here last spring and it didn’t look like a crack house.” The corporal said.
He was eyeing the farmstead. A look of disgust crept into the edges of his smooth face.
Sgt. Goldsmith stood out of the car and addressed her partner.
“Alright, but keep your radio on Jack. I don’t like the feel of this, you heard her, and we don’t know what’s going through his head right now.” She cautioned.
The dirt parking area was deserted save for the few empty vehicles and the three individuals huddled around the cruiser. The night sky swallowed the surrounding field. The spotlights arranged around the house casting light to the edge of the barbwire wrapped fences. In the field beyond not a leaf stirred, nothing gave off light to reflect the sheen of dew that would have condensed by now, all activity was set within the confines of the main property.
Roxy whispered something under her breath.
“I’m sorry miss, what was that?” Fran asked.
Roxy gathered her nerve. It was a large feat, an internal struggle that she had nothing to compare to, and it took everything inside of her to not break into hysterics again.
“I said he’s crazy.” She muttered. “And I’m Roxy, um, Roxanne Neibolt, Howard Langille was my boyfriend, he...”
Her voice trailed off, but found its way back.
“He’s dead.” She said–her voice soft and horse, like it didn’t really want to be there either.
“Okay, well Roxy we’re here to speak with the owner of this house. I promise I’m not going to leave you, you’ll be safe here with me, I know you’ve been through the ringer today, but my partner here is just going to go knock on the door and see if we can have ourselves a calm and reasonable conversation.”
She assured Roxy, “if no one answers, then we’ll just have to come back after we get you to the station in Saint-Quientin. The man inside of this house might be disturbed, but we know him, he’s lived in this village his entire life. In fact, Jack went to school with him, now if he doesn’t cooperate, well, we’ll deal with that if it comes to pass. He could be a danger to himself, and his family. We just need to understand his intentions.”
The window above the wraparound porch slid open–free from the rest of the house’s end-of-days decorating scheme–between the window frame a figure thrust their head out. They heard a voice and crinkled their necks to see who it could be. Marcus looked down at them, his grizzled beard amplifying the crazed look in his eyes, he appeared strung out, perhaps high on some sort of backwoods moonshine, and matched all the images Roxy recalled of a lone gunman.
“Yeah, don’t come in Jack. It ain’t got nothing to do with you, this is my property so I’m gonna ask you to take your car and turn it right back around.” Marcus said.
He was looking down at them with soft weariness. His timbre of voice was that of a man kindly asking a door-to-door salesman to pass along.
The corporal held his hands out to the side like a mime getting ready to put on a show.
“Hey Marcus, good to see ya, I was hoping we could talk. Fran and I have been hearing some not-so-great things about Ivy and Liam. Now, we know you guys have been going through a hard time, but we just wanted to check up on you.” Jack said this with the calmness of pals discussing the results of an election poll. “That’s all.”
“I don’t need anyone coming around here and messing in what they don’t understand.” Marcus replied, “I really think you’d be better off not gettin’ into the mix. They aren’t here anyhow. They’re staying with Ivy’s sister in Tinlou. You can call ‘em if you want.” He said.
“Well that’s the thing Marcus, we did call, and Tracey hasn’t seen her sister in two months, and then there was word passed on anonymously that you had, well, taken liberties with teaching your family some of the stuff your dad used to talk about. They think you might be falling into a bad head space. I know it’s been a tough year, your dad did a lot of things around here, great things, and you took him in until the end. It’s respectable.” Jack said.
He looked up at Marcus. The farmer, shadowed in the upstairs window was–as far as Roxy could tell–crying.
“What’s in the basement, Marcus?” He asked.
“Don’t you worry about that; it’s mine to take care of. I think you just need to leave Jack. Fran good to see ya, my family is fine. Just goin’ through a rough patch, they aren’t here though. So there’s no reason to come in.” Marcus said. “I’m gettin’ them back.”
“Well I’d still like to step in and maybe have a cup of coffee, looks like you’ve been doing some work on the place. It’s been a good bit since we’ve had the chance to catch up. Fran here is probably going to take this young lady back to the station, so I have some time to kill...” Corporal Pangborn opened the fence and walked into the overgrown yard while talking, Marcus had moved back from the window, watching from the shadows.
“Hey, I like you Jack, Fran too, no offense to either of ya but there’s no need to–DON’T!”
Marcus’s hand shot into air outside the window, somehow hoping to stop Jack from stepping forward. The outburst caught them by surprise; the corporal shook his head and ignored the cry from above, determined to enter the house and talk his old school chum down from his ridiculous perch. He made it three steps up the porch when he looked down (Roxy and Sergeant Francis heard him quietly whisper the word “shit”) and then try to jump forward as the snapping sound of a drawstring loosed a razor sharp arrow into his leg. Jack fell over, the arrow–or bolt–slid through his right calf like butter. Shrieks and volleys of profanity echoed into the quiet night. The RCMP officer writhed on the stoop clutching his leg, his grip tense and trying to stop the blood flow.
Fran was quick to react, her gun was out and pointed up at the open window, she ordered Marcus to sit still and not to move a muscle. She quickly called in an officer down. Procedure was what saved lives, and at present there was a whole nest of lives for her to save.
Roxy stared in horror at the speed at which events had transpired. The knights in shining armour were being picked off. It was a cruel twist of fate that left a bitter copper taste in her mouth. Shock held her in place.
“Now I said, wait!” Marcus shrieked. “Don’t come any closer! I don’t have a gun so why would you go and shoot?”
The irony of his statement would have registered as curious, for both Fran and Roxy, but the man’s voice was blotted out by a rolling thunderclap above them. The two looked up, and saw not a cloud in the sky, nor stars. A bolt of lightning touched down on the hood of the RCMP cruiser, squashing it in, collapsing the engine block underneath.
Roxy cried out, leapt from the car and ran towards the house.
The sergeant grasped at her in desperation, but soon joined in pace as another crack of thunder brought a second fiery beam of electricity to the earth. It chased them in bolts of white-blue energy. The tripwire that Constable Jack had walked into severed, and the crossbow it had been attached to–thankfully Roxy thought–spent.
The yard was bright with white sparks that fizzled out before striking any grass. They floated like snow, dazzling and invisible seconds after their birth. Lightning was still crashing down, blistering metal surfaces with charcoal starbursts. Roxy and the RCMP officers scrambled into the house avoiding the beams, hints of blue and yellow streaked through their vision; Fran Goldsmith dove and grabbed her corporal by the crux of his arm. Roxy was already testing the latch, unlocked, she swung it open. She helped heave the injured man towards the door. Jack had lost a fair deal of blood. His complexion was faint, smooth tanned skin turning pallid and ashen.
A bolt of energy cracked down where his foot had been moments prior.
Roxy let the sergeant drag her partner further into the house and then leaned back out to pull the door shut. The light show had changed. Instead of beams of brilliant light, the air twinkled, charging the spotlights, making them flicker. The lights inside the buildings and pointing away from the house flashed in spectacular white-blue. It felt like an ultraviolet heat was coming from them.
The generator made a high revving sound in the barn, no longer chugging but squealing as it sputtered into high gear. A pop of pressure and then the slow crank of a machine coasting to a dead stop met her ears.
The lights continued to flicker, pulsing and then going dim, bright white and blinding (Roxy noted that a few of the spotlight bulbs had actually burst, leaving ominous patches on a dark landscape). She wasn’t entirely sure, but it felt like the stars weren’t in the sky, it was blank and empty out there, a void beyond that ate at her sanity. It consumed the night, how can there be no stars? She thought the door would be red hot when she went back to it, stopping her from yanking them behind shelter.
She didn’t need to dwell, she needed to close off the house. Something was happening outside, something beyond their reasoning.
The door was cool to her touch. Roxy shut the world out behind her, whatever had caused the lightning storm had seemed to subside, as though it had never occurred.
She closed the door smoothly. The air outside was still dancing with delicate static-sparks–as the door latched, the lights finally went out. Silence returned, broken by huffy gasps of breath from all three of them. Corporal Pangborn was grunting but able to ignore his legs discomfort for the time being. Clomps of boot could be heard coming down the stairwell just off from the main entrance.
The glow of a lantern revealed Marcus Pollock. He stood six-seven, bulking in stature and looming beneath the tall ceilings of the house. His coveralls were still muddy and grimed in dark red blotches. A scared hint of panic flashed behind his eyes.
“Now, just wait a minute, I tried to tell you... I didn’t know... I told you there are things goin’ on, people shouldn’t be here at night...” Marcus said.
His voice stammered, soft, tense with urgency.
“Shut up Marcus! I want your hands on your head now.” Sergeant Fran ordered.
She had her glock aimed at his chest, keeping direct eye contact with him. The light from the lantern cast orange shades upon the entrance. Roxy saw a scarf hanging from a coat rack on the wall and went to work with helping the corporal. The man’s hand, clenched around the flowing leg, glimmering in the gentle light–he was still losing blood.
When she looked back up she saw that Marcus had complied, almost immediately, however a heavy sigh escaped him as he went down on his knees. He didn’t resist when the cuffs went around his wrists, and kept grim silence as the sergeant listed his rights.
“Look, I didn’t set them for you, I warned you not to come up. I set them sure, but I’m the only one around here these days. I ain’t trying to kill anyone, I’m gonna get my family back. They been taken, they went higher, but I’ll get them back...” He said to them more so than just sergeant Francis, adding “It ain’t no god that took them either.”
“Marcus, I don’t think you understand the charges against you, potential homicide, assaulting an officer, how about I check out the basement and see what else I have to add...” She said.
“We came out to find your wife and child. Is there any of you left to actually help? Rumor is they’ve been gone for weeks. If you don’t assist, then when the response to my last check-in arrives, things won’t go smooth for you. Try to help yourself here Marcus. Help your family.”
Roxy wasn’t sure what to do in this situation. The sergeant was trying to speak past her place of authority; she was trying to speak reason with this man. Marcus, the deranged father, suspect behind what she was now presuming wasn’t just Howard’s death. He looked refined and innocent. It was a strange trick that Roxy just couldn’t shake. The man might have done grotesque things mere hours ago, but now he was calm, and let the officers command the situation as they felt necessary. Yet, she noticed that he was still determined to insist that his family wasn’t here. Did it mean he buried them in the yard? Did they get a better funeral than Howard, as he had said; people needed to be laid to rest, not in some potato pickers’ field.
“Go, fine! Look if you need to, but then you come back up here and we’ll talk all ya want Fran, and then we’ll wait while my high school buddy bleeds out into... Into Ivy’s scar...” Marcus said. His voice held strong but sounded thick and watery towards the end.
They had moved to the living room, the corporal was propped up on a black leather sofa. The interior surprised Roxy, it was well kept and had the obvious touches of being lived in by a family. The TV was a flat screen, attached to a cable box and DVD player. A wifi antenna sat dead in the front entrance, a digital thermostat above it. The end tables and walls were neatly decorated with pictures of family outings from parks and beaches, one of an amusement park roller coaster ride. The whole room was beautiful in the lanterns meek-glow; with it being night time
and with that awful black sky Roxy thought
the boarding over of the windows was hardly noticeable. The curtains had been drawn and hid thick spruce planks that peaked out just past the edge of the brown drapes.
Marcus had been put opposite them, hands behind his back, his butt firmly planted to the floor. He was reserved with the fact that the sergeant had to see to believe, and didn’t want to get shot by an itchy trigger finger. The sergeant was standing under the lintel that separated the entrance from the living room. Her gun never quite ending it’s tracking of Marcus’ and his movements.
She didn’t trust him, and probably rightly so. He had issues, no matter how innocent he portrayed himself, what he sounded to Roxy was like someone seriously unhinged and trying to cope with something regrettable. It was clearly something he wasn’t quite ready to speak about honestly.
“Jack, corporal; are you able to watch the suspect while I search the premises?” Sergeant Goldsmith asked the downed officer.
Her partner, who had been listening while closing his eyes from time to time in quivery shocks of pain, looked across the room at Marcus. He drew his pistol from its holster and rested it on the arm of the sofa. His face set, tired, but still alert.
“Yeah I guess so Fran, jeeze, wish I hadn’t quit drinking.” He said.
The sergeant observed him for another brief moment, and then returned her attention back to Marcus.
“Marcus Pollock, I will be searching this place thoroughly, is there anything I should know before I proceed?” She asked.
“Nah, if I wired the house up I’d have likely cut my own foot off by now, you’ll find what you find... Don’t judge upon me, though. I ain’t the problem, and this ain’t helping get my family back.” He glowered.
Sergeant Goldsmith ignored his comment and walked into the entrance way, unclipping a penlight from her service belt. The flashlight illuminated the hand painted walls, prim and proper, like something out of a country magazine. She walked down the hall and out of their view.
Moments past, the noise in the basement had ceased all together. No thumping, no muffled cries of torment, the three of them were alone, the lantern whistled its hiss upon the silence. A Sharp squelch came from the corporal’s radio. He lifted the hand that had been holding his leg and clicked in on a black button.
“Corporal Pangborn, copy.” He said.
“I’m in the kitchen he has the door to the basement locked up. I see three, no four deadbolts and a beam going across. I’m unlatching it, and going down, over.” Her voice was faintly heard through the walls, and through the speaker loud and clear.
“Roger, Sergeant,” the corporal said “hanging tight, over.”
Roxy heard the rattle of metal locks down the hall and began to wonder just what someone like this could be hiding down there.
Did he have something chained up? Sitting in wait?
It nibbled at her thoughts. She was beginning to think that whatever was locked up was locked up for a reason, this Marcus guy knew it and had tried on many instances to warn them, perhaps not outright, but he had given up trying to convince them to leave. The fact that they couldn’t just go out and hop in the cruiser was also something that they hadn’t discussed. How had lightning done that? It had been like a meteor coming down into the hood, she remembered seeing the light dance off with unknowable force, and it had exerted enough power to pulverize the car. Maybe a force had been trying to guide them into the house, out of the fire and into the frying pan as the saying went.
“I’m sorry Jack, really man, never meant for anyone to come by... I know my property... There are things, well, what I got out there now is to stop anything from creeping up at night. I think dad was right you know, not about his crazy Jesus talk, he said something would come ‘a god, or worse’ he used to say, it would come and forsake us... That or it would just be messin’ with our family... He was pretty close to spot on.” Marcus looked at them, and then turned his gaze to the front door.
“Should probably lock that miss... We’re in it now, and like I said, those traps ain’t for people.”
Corporal Pangborn looked at the sleeve covering his gun arm, inspecting it for blood; he tilted his head and wiped a layer of cold sweat from his brow. The gun returned to being trained on Marcus.
“I really think you need to stop talking, and please don’t talk to this person... Marcus you’ve gone beyond what your father ever did, we took him in a few times, but only on the odd drunk and disorderly, nothing insane.” Pangborn said. “I don’t even recognize you, and this, your house, it’s insane. I just hope, for your sake that your family isn’t here.”
Roxy wasn’t sure if she understood the exchange that was happening, it was late, and exhaustion from the end of a long day was creeping into her body. The arm chair she had stationed herself in was soft and relaxing after a frantic chase around this madman’s yard.
She snapped to, this man was insane, yes, but so were they for thinking they had a handle on the situation.
A muzzled moan of despair wailed up from the basement. They heard chains rattle against metal, feeling thuds against the boards underfoot. The three of them exchanged unsettling glances–Marcus’ the most satisfied, yet still laced with fear–corporal Pangborn’s was one of concerned alert, eyeing the hallway and their prisoner–Roxy wanted nothing more than to never know what could make those noises. The sergeant called through the radio and reported that she was coming back up; there was something in the basement
She told him to keep his eyes on Pollock.
The corporal responded to his superior with a short response. He looked at Marcus wearily and heaved himself to his feet. His face contorted for a brief moment as he held his own weight.
“Miss Neibolt, it might be best for you to go stand next to the entrance, just to be safe.” He said.
His auburn eyes, cast in steel, glaring at the prisoner with calm intensity.
“Marcus, you’re just going to sit tight until sergeant Goldsmith gets back up here.”
His complexion resembled parchment paper. He was surely made of sturdy stuff. Roxy felt respect for the man.
Marcus yawned dramatically, ignoring the cold-black steel of the barrel aimed in his direction. He smiled at the officer and then looked past him–his view trained on an uninteresting section of plastered wall painted soft eggshell. It was like a great joke had been told and he was the only one that actually got it.
Roxy moved to the edge of the room without question. They were all in unknown territory, but sometimes it was smart to listen to someone when they decided to take charge. Guns or no guns, corporal Pangborn was the one in command. She couldn’t tell if he was as scared as her–he didn’t convey it in his demeanour–which was comforting. He was true balance in what was thus far chaos. (Roxy thought trauma also fit their scenario as an apt descriptor.)
Marcus, the psycho with a sense of humor, stared past her.
His eyes looked dead, depthless, and yet still tinged with humanity. The corners of his eye sockets were rimmed with red-pink flesh. His brow brimming in what looked like exhaustion, but the rest of his face portrayed alertness and stress. He was nervous, somewhere deep down, and he was still trying to keep himself together. She didn’t want to look at him. He was responsible for Howard’s death; in his prime, living to make plans, plucking him from her, Roxy hated this man. This farmer that was responsible for all of the shit that had gone on today. She didn’t want to be anywhere near to him.
The sergeant had radioed words of caution up to them. Her tone of voice had been uneasy, and it made Roxy wonder just what could have unnerved the officer.
The lady in uniform didn’t come across as one that got their leg pulled often, used to things going by the book; just what did unsettle the senior long-arm-of-the-law? She didn’t think it would be anything like happy unicorns, or a stack of winning lottery tickets.
The way this day had been going “happy thoughts” were fantasy, here there be monsters.
She waited with a strange sense of not wanting to know resting quietly like a slumbering dragon in her stomach.
Francis Goldsmith returned to the living room. Her face was shining with a layer of sweat, undoubtedly boiling under her uniform, except Roxy wondered if it was perhaps fear and apprehension that was the root of her perspiration–she looked shaken and angry. She had a double barrel shotgun pointed down and tucked under the pit of her arm–when she walked in she clicked the penlight off.
Her eyes glared at Marcus. The orange lights from the lantern danced in long shadows against the walls and furniture. The sergeant shifted to Pangborn, whom she gave a curt nod with a softened expression, and then turned back to the man on the floor. She looked ready to bear down on him, beating him within an inch of his life, leaving him for the back-up team to sort out.
Roxy looked at the shotgun and mentally confirmed that, yes, the redneck psycho kit was full and complete.
“Marcus, can you even begin to tell me what you have caged up down there?” Goldsmith said.
Her gaze was wild. Energy of its own kind radiated from her. It was red-angry energy, full of disgust and lost from any sympathy that had once inhabited it.
Marcus laughed. His head tilted back on the arm chair, tittering at something gobsmackingly amusing; he looked like the only person in the room having a good time.
Roxy noticed the clocks on the walls were apparently dead. She wondered what was more likely; Marcus had all of them attached to the circuit breaker? Or did he just forget to check the batteries, losing track of time just like he had forgone keeping track of his sanity?
It’s interesting where one’s mind can wander in times of stress.
“I told ya Fran, but now you know. Now do you think you’re in over your head? And as for that thing, that creature, well I caught it; they took mine so I took one of theirs’.” Marcus gloated.
The sergeant looked at her partner.
“He’s been torturing some sort of–” she hesitated, grasping at words “animal, chained up down there, some sort of goat, or deer... I couldn’t tell for sure because... We’ll have to put it down most likely...”
“Oh please, did that look like a fucking goat to you, sergeant?” He asked.
She lifted her eyebrows, ready to retort with putrid rage. He still thought he was above what he had done, above the lives he had taken, and the ones in danger now. It would have been nuclear, her citing criminal codes and human and animal rights sanctions, a torrent of authoritative lecture to mute him and wipe that smug grin off of his face–
–her fury was cut short before it could even start. They heard a crash outside of the house. The first noise to reach them was the shriek of a banshee, or something that was caught in one of Marcus’s traps.
It was accompanied by a choir of wailing agony as more traps could be heard snapping off in the yard.
The next thing Roxy knew, something was slamming itself against the boarded windows. She could hear it thud, pounding, with violent desperation in its attempts to enter. Marcus was shouting next to them, begging to be uncuffed. They watched as the nails holding the planking in place bulked on the frame of the window. The door rattled on its hinges, but the knob didn’t turn.
The three of them were petrified. The farmer stomped on the floor calling for attention. He was frantic, pleading to be let go, yelling that he would be left helpless if they kept him in cuffs.
Roxy wanted nothing more than to ignore his pleas. The house was being bombarded by some unknowable force. She wanted to ignore everything, hoping the crashes against the exterior would disappear–that the man on the floor would disappear–it was too much. The room closed in on her and the sounds persisted, reminding her that she was stuck here, for better or worse.
The front door banged on its hinges. Corporal Pangborn gripped the arm of the sofa he had been resting on. The sergeant looked between the planking on the windows and the sound from the door. Her assessment of the situation was quick and certain. She knelt down and unlocked Marcus’s hands–Roxy heard a slight tremble jingling from the key ring as the RCMP officer did so–and then told them to move to the back of the house, into the kitchen.
She looked Marcus in the eye when he stood up. He rubbed his wrists around raw marks the restraints had left behind like pale lipstick. The officer handed him the shotgun. She gave him a curt nod and told him to lead the way.
“Stick close Marcus, the thought of you making a run for it would have either me or Jack open fire.” Sergeant Goldsmith said.
They walked down the hall briskly. Roxy held the lantern behind them, Sergeant Francis supporting her partner, the home owner leading the convoy.
The door still thundered from outside, the shrieking had stopped, replaced with disconnected whispers. The group could hear words mired by a tongue that didn’t quite know the language. It fell on them, asking them to open the door; let them in, let them have theirs back...
Roxy looked back and saw that the door was vibrating. The windows shimmered with bright light. It gave the appearance of a halogen shining through on the other side. She looked as dust swirled down from the planking, the nails were sliding out from the boards, extruding as if a powerful magnet was sucking them from the wood.
When she made it to the end of the hall, she realized that all of their voices had been muffled by some unknown sound.
Marcus was standing by the basement door, centered in the kitchen, what had probably been a root cellar when the house had originally been constructed. It was a heavy oak slab, an assortment of locks riveted and pinned along the face. She noted that other than the kitchen windows boarded shut, and a heavy cast iron plate sealing the back door–the kitchen had a rather homey feel to it still. Mason jars for canning sat on the tiled surfaces. A sink, stainless steel with glistening chrome taps, sat under the window sparkling with pristine cleanliness. The fridge was black and sat next to a matching range-stovetop combination. In the middle of the kitchen was a dining table covered in table cloth–roses patterned its edges–a gas lantern, lit, filled the role of centrepiece–three chairs were tucked in, one sitting out.
Corporal Pangborn lowered his body into the nearest chair. He put the pistol on the table. His hands fluttered up to his temples where they met rubbing away what looked like a migraine. The officer’s face screwed into a grimace.
Roxy was also feeling light headed, and steadied herself on the counter. She didn’t hear it, but when the door burst open and flew down the hall, she felt a gust of wind plow past her. The wood splintered, hardware embedded itself into the hallway walls. The door knob rocketed past her sightline and smashed into a picture frame hanging five-feet from her current shelter in the kitchen.
The farmer was the first person to grab her attention. His callused hand–the hand that had drug Howard’s body through the dirt–wrapped around her wrist like a vice. His eyes filled with hellish terror as he pulled at her. It happened so fast that Roxy didn’t even realize he was trying to drag her with him until they were at the top of the steps for the basement.
Sergeant Goldsmith failed to notice. Her attention was on her partner. The deafening effect must have affected them as well, because Roxy saw cords of strain in the woman’s neck as she tried to make herself heard. It looked like she was yelling at the corporal, screaming at him to get up!
The corporal just sat there, shaking to the point of convulsions, his hands still pressed against his temples.
Roxy looked at the scene in wonder. Light was filling the kitchen and not just from the puny lantern. It was bright, blistering her retina’s, ethereal in its tone. She wanted to scream out to the sergeant, but knew her voice would go unheard.
Goldsmith–perhaps deciding that her partner would need to figure things out on his own–followed them to the basement. Her face wore an expression of sad contempt. It was like defeat to her, but she had to save her own ass. When she looked at the entrance to the hallway–as if she had been asked to look up, finally hearing those disembodied requests through the thickening quiet.
She waited not a moment longer and stumbled down the stairs, joining them under the house.
Roxy found that she could almost hear the world around her down here. Marcus was still shouting, and it was finally coming through, it sounded like someone trying to yell under water. It burbled and mumbled against her eardrums. It sounded like–
“Close the door, the basement, we need to close it!” He yelled.
She heard part of this, but was unable to move, her body shocked back to its immobile state.
The sergeant climbed back up the steps with Marcus close behind her. The two of them stood at the top and pried against the wood slab with all their might. Roxy decided she needed to help, needed to do something, and shakily climbed back up to the opening of the deafening kitchen.
She saw that the two people in front of her barely had the door pulled shut. It looked stuck, like some sort of godly hand was holding it on the other side. Roxy tried to squeeze through and join the effort, realizing that it was being held back by some unknowable force, and that force was almost winning.
The kitchen was bathed in the same white light she had seen outside the house. It sparkled and flashed blue zaps of static. She saw Jack Pangborn, shaky and white as a sheet, silhouetted against the luminance like a negative on a film-reel. He was standing, face puckered in a mixture of pain and determination, and trying to grip the chair he had been sitting on. His arms lifted the chair above him, holding it at chest height for a brief moment, blood began to dribble from his eyes down to his cheeks like ruby tears and with a final effort he hurled the chair at the door.
It was almost enough for them to work with.
The hinges lurched for a moment and then caught again; the force on the other side wavered, but not enough for them to close it out. The corporal’s body trembled before them. He was immobilized, eyes as wide as wagon wheels. Roxy could see sweat pouring out of the law officer as he fought against his own body. She couldn’t leave the stairwell, from behind the basement door a shriek of annoyance wailed into the kitchen, whatever had entered the house didn’t want them down there... and it wanted to stop them... The basement, dark and dimly lit with more lanterns, casting shadows in yellowy corporeal lumps of unknowable hallucinations. She didn’t realize they had backed themselves down here, but now it seemed like the safest place for them to run. It felt like the only place. The officer started to levitate beside the kitchen table. His black steel-toed patrolman shoes tilted at the ankles, escaping the floor by eight or so inches. The two people beside Roxy groaned and heaved at the slab of wood, witnessing and not quite believing what they were seeing. The door was gaining wiggle room; it felt like being in a tug-of-war, shift the door a gap or two and then it would hold fast with renewed stuckness.
Their efforts were slow and it gave them a front row seat to the agony that Corporal Jack Pangborn was about to endure. He squirmed and writhed in the air. The force that had defied gravity was now working its way into his limbs. His arms and legs flared out into a vertical starfish pose, presenting his vest covered belly to the stairwell. In his eyes, pinkish red had replaced the white irises, his face set with a look of strained concentration.
Roxy had the brief thought that he looked something like Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. The beauty of this innocent observance was quickly sucked out of her. Corporal Pangborn’s floating body, splayed out like one of those illuminati conspiracy theories one found on the internet–images and caricatures of antiquity being presented like maguffin’s in Dan Brown suspense thrillers–pained and abused, blank and bare, a specimen for enlightened ones to gaze upon.
The kitchen’s surfaces were now refracting bleach-white hues of light. It came from the air, between the boards on the windows, glaring in between cracks in the wall like blades made of electric fire. The light had the qualities of fluorescent-tubes, blinding white radiation, casting beams of otherworldly energy. Roxy could feel it trying to work on her as well, seeping in, blending noise with vision, telling her “it’s okay, that’s right, I’m picking up good vibrations, she’s sending me...” it felt melodic and primal. She wanted to listen to it, to be like those toads that could sit in a pot of water as the temperature is slowly increased; boiling and bubbling in her own skin as she did so... The trick, for it must have been some sort of sensory trick on her mind, broke when she heard the thing on the other side of the door cry out a warbling scream of what could only be interpreted as rage. It pierced her eardrums like a crow emitting a death rattle. The next moment, Roxy saw the corporal slam across the room his back making hard contact with the kitchen cabinets.
His eyes fluttered. He looked like a black void amidst the startling light. The doors of the cabinets began to rattle and break. Shards of glass plucked themselves out of their frames as if held on invisible strings and floated in front of the corporal. His mouth open, a final guttural shriek, as the glass honed in on his body. It sliced him to ribbons. Whatever it was... Roxy didn’t dare question... streams of blood spurted out from clean incisions along his neck, arms, legs and hands. His face was saved for last–the daggers of death levitating in front of the officers’ eye socket while the other broken shards passed through the rest of his body with relative ease–but, weren’t spared any dignities.
Roxy finally looked away.
It broke the spell she had been under–the eye melting light–had subsided when she looked away. She clenched her eyes shut; dampening out the atmospheric brilliance that dazzled the world around her, and was unsurprised to notice that the force holding back the door was subsiding. She thought that perhaps it was distracted from them in its pleasure at carving up the RCMP officer.
The door was starting to pull shut.
She could feel it. She had another feeling that the other two had likely closed their eyes too, either through disgust or a last ditch effort to give it all they got, and the strength to seal the door was amplified on their side. The force, whatever it was, lost interest in them to a certain extent. It loosened grip on the door, just enough for the three of them to heave it shut.
She opened her eyes again as the sound of a high frequency shriek exploded from the kitchen side of the door.
Marcus’s hands were shaking, he looked the most exhausted out of all of them which was a hard earned title at this point–it took him several attempts to slide one of the heavy deadbolts into its latch. The creature, whatever was out there, thumped madly on the other side. It didn’t tear the door open; instead it shrieked and wailed like a petulant child begging to join in on the fun.
He sat down with his back to the door. The rickety staircase gave a creaky sigh of fatigue that whispered into the basement.
“They ain’t the greatest with doors, locks either, eventually though, they find a way in. I seen ‘em as a kid, never thought too much of it; dad was fast to get us into the habit of locking up though... Used to think it was some sort of field critter, you know how when you’re young and don’t know much about local animals, well one day they got into the chicken coop, had a whole slew of ‘em, meat-birds was the general name, granddad raised cocks down here–for fightin’–good business to be honest; he gave it up once the cops showed up a few times and started threatening with fines based on animal cruelty, fostering a gambling ring. He found it enough of a shake down to give it a rest...” Marcus said all this while looking down at his feet.
Roxy presumed his rambling was brought on by the same stress they were all trying to cope with, holed up in the dark cellar, decorated in an assortment of canning shelving, an ancient wood furnace unused and dusty bellow the stairwell, a creature with unthought-of power raging against the door above them, lining the walls not occupied by shelving was a series of heavy iron cages that had mesh covered doors left ajar.
“He always talked about them too... Dad said Paps was just ranting, but he meant well; told me one day that the lord of lords would come down and choose someone. It wasn’t too long after that mom had him sent off to a nursing home, he wasn’t right in the head she said behind closed doors–in face of the local market she was a little more candid, liked to say he was just getting hard to look after.”
“Dad didn’t have too much to say about it, just let the old guy get taken off; he probably thought it was a good strategy. Keep us away from old crazy Paps. Keep us safe. See, he knew there was something to Paps old rants, he knew that as crazy and twisted as the old fucker could get, there was a grain of truth to what he told us... Something was coming, and it was going to take us all right. He disappeared last summer, shortly after that–”
Marcus’ voice broke. He had been speaking in a somber monotone until now.
Roxy saw that the sergeant was listening intently, of course, she knew this man, knew the family, and was probably familiar with the craziness that surrounded it. Maybe sergeant Francis still held a modicum of respect for the farmer, heard something in his words that begged her to listen. His slumped body sobbed a wet hard swallow, and he continued speaking:
“-Liam went missing... I know, everyone still got me tagged for it, they knew me and Ivy had been havin’ it rough. Nobody ever saw anything physical so the word around town was that it was money, that I was havin’ a hard go of it keepin’ the farm a float–there was talk of movin’ and I’ll admit it didn’t sit well with me, but after dad... well I guess it was something I started to consider more seriously, there was something about this place, something that they wanted and it wasn’t the land I can tell ya that. The things up there...”
The farmer looked at them with watery eyes. His finger pointed up.
“They’re farmers in their own right. It’s like sowing the land, at least that’s how I see it. Dad used to tell me that Paps talked about the lord of lords harvesting a great bounty, one that even almighty god couldn’t ignore... Weird shit, but it kind of has a ring to it... I... I’m sorry you’re in this, but there ain’t many other ways ya can go.”
He finished his babbling sermon with his face returning to an expression of contemplation.
The sergeant cleared her throat.
“Marcus, I... I didn’t come here with any speculation on your innocence, but after seeing what you’ve done to your house, the things outside, what you’re talking about...” Francis said. “You need help, I want to find your family and this nonsense isn’t going to get them back...”
She danced around the subject with the deftness of a land mine disposal operator. Trying to keep her cool, Roxy couldn’t look away, she was beyond this situation, it was surreal, and things had progressed far beyond the imaginable. As far as she was concerned, they had set their compass into the fantastical world of the unreal.
The sergeant then said: “I think you’re in over your head, and you need help, is that so hard to admit? Some, thing just tore my partner to shreds, and I don’t even want to try guessing what that is...”
She had lost her cool. The weight and natural understanding of the situation played on her emotions. It was more than most could handle, and unlike Roxy the sergeant was desperate to assume control of the matter, it was time to put normalcy back into the conversation. The world needed to make sense for the law woman again; it needed to be concrete and real.
Roxy cringed at the sergeant’s voice raised voice. The sound that followed was the gurgling moan of a destitute alley cat. It came from one of the cages furthest from the stairwell–a low warble that tried to reach a high-pitch, before trembling back to a yowl–cast in shadows.
Marcus stood up on the stairwell, ignoring his houseguests.
“I told you! Shut up, I’d soon as see you die down here than let ya go. And you up there! Hear that, give me my son and give me my wife back and you can have your little friend back!” He shouted.
His body lunged forward, stomping down and past them; he grabbed at one of the lanterns on a canning shelf as he moved–swinging it up to head height–his form stopping at the only locked cage in the basement.
Sergeant Francis lurched at him on reflex, trying to regain control of the conversation, to keep events rolling lucidly, and grabbed at his thick shoulder.
Marcus gave a quick physical reply with his elbow, sending the officer sprawling to the ground. Her head thudded on one of the open cages making the rest of her go limp. Roxy saw her chest still moving, still breathing, just taking a quick break from things at present. Down for the count as the old time boxing announcers may have articulated.
He looked back absently aware of his reaction. It made him pause, but he returned his attention back to the cage.
Roxy finally saw what had made the warbling noise. It looked at her through silver, glassy-bulbous eyes that sat just too far apart. The thing’s skin, pale and grey, glistened under the lamplight.
It was bubbling underneath that skin.
She thought that it looked human in shape, in that it must stand on two legs, and use the appendages that extruded from its sides as she would use her arms. Its head was elongated, almost in the shape of an almond. The creature’s mouth and nose were clumped together into a snout-like grimace that reminded her of those cartoon images of the Tasmanian devil, except instead of drool oozing out of its mouth–like the cutesy loony tune from her childhood did–the thing had a viscous coating of black neon-green goop pooled out and onto its body. Roxy took this to be some sort of blood. The farmer had beaten this thing almost senseless, and he still wanted to torture it further. It cast its gaze upon her, prying at her ears with shrieks of a death rattle.
“I found this one wearing something... It melted the minute I... well not mel...” Marcus was saying with his back turned.
It sounded far away to Roxy.
The world around her grew foggy, swirling clouds of white-electricity somehow pressing against her senses as if she were being smothered with an amorphous pillow. The yellow glow of the lantern remained, but it was also growing more static and illusionary, and not here she thought to herself, it was a final thought that would never be followed with any other coherent conversation in her life. She was checking out. Roxy–who had been standing with her arms cupping her elbows, timidly avoiding discussion and hoping to stay safe by just not making a sound, watching Marcus pontificate atop the stairs, listening to the sergeant fruitlessly try and get a handle on things–it seemed, her ultimate defense, was flat out surrender. The wailing cry of the creature on the floor, locked away, mined her inhibitions; it brought her away from this place. She didn’t know how to think anymore. The colours of whitened blue tinges and soft yellows were becoming all she needed, all she wanted.
A blinding force of blue bleached the atmosphere above her. She saw a form of light beyond any beauty imaginable. It mitigated the grace of a mountainous sunrise; or the broiling roll of the sea; or even the lovely embrace of sex that she and Howard often mused was one of the only pure blessings the natural laws of the universe granted among mammals; it sent anything pure and wholesome to shame. It was a raw energy, built of joy, and redemption, of lust and passion, it was a kind energy, but it was also a terrifying energy. It held force over her. It was strong, for now, and it would exert itself upon her until it had what it came for.
Roxy was unable to make these connections. Her eyes were rolling in the back of her head. She was gone.
The basement was still cast in dull yellow strokes of lantern light. Marcus, having spent countless seasons in the house during his lifetime, could have walked around the whole floor plan blind-folded. He recalled Ivy often musing that he was like batman when he went down there, a creature of the night, never so much as flicking a switch on when the house had an operational power meter. However now he kept the lanterns on to keep an eye on things. He wanted this thing in front of him to be in plain sight. He didn’t want it getting up to any tricks, no-sir. It was one of those vile creations his family had harked about since they first cut the earth in this part of the country, not even a Dominion in those days, just a tough group of settlers hoping to make peace with the earth and their gods. Before even the first row had been tilled, their family was plagued by zealots, people that could barely keep their stories straight (Marcus knew that one of his great-uncles had actually been a part of the tin-hat brigade when stories about Roswell were all the rage); it came from the land, and it leached into his ancestors–they never really understood that the power came from above. It drove them to great lengths, and wild ideas.
Marcus believed that he might be at his wits end already. It was very possibly that he had inherited a touch of those wild ideas.
The thing in the cage was dying; he knew it, had beaten it pretty good with the butt of his shotgun. Its body was peppered in buckshot, leaking repulsive fluid from its wounds. He considered himself lucky to have gotten a blast into the damn thing before it had been able to get away. He didn’t think he could threaten these things, but he wanted his family back, and this was just about the only option left to entertain.
The body of Roxy stood up behind him, her head lolling to the side, white orbs glowing in place of her eyes. Her skin had turned a pallid shade of ash. A dervish grin spread across her face revealing perfect teeth. She gently reached her hands down to the fallen RCMP officer and unbuckled the pistol from the holster.
Her glowing eyes shooting depthless malice at Marcus
Gun in hand she raised it, and began to speak in a voice that resembled nothing human.
It existed in the basement the way a TV can have that unknowable hiss of static. It was present, obvious, and always there. It danced in Marcus’s mind, ethereal and beckoning; demanding attention.
It almost sounded playful in its tone.
He didn’t understand the words, but they held meaning for him, it undressed him, stripping him of every decent thought he had of himself. It was as if his life had been a perfectly pieced together puzzle, patchwork of memory linked together with exact shapes, only it turned out that was all wrong, fifty of the pieces were missing, it was time to look at the box and see that the pretty flowers were actually supposed to be a flock of seagulls. Marcus looked down at his hands, and then back at the thing in the cage.
It’s a lie. He thought just before Roxy’s hand pulled the trigger.
The stars returned to the sky shortly after.
It happened immediately, little specks of light from far off space plucked back into existence, eternal in their brilliance among the night sky. Crickets and owls sang chorus’s of song among the alder’s and maples that grew along the property line. Calm early morning haze settled on the land. Before this miraculous shift of nature took place, even before a single cricket heartbeat pulsed across the potato fields, Francis Goldsmith’s eyes opened in the basement of the Pollock house.
Her vision was bleary, aching light throbbed at her retinas; brief glimpses of things merged to create recollection. She saw two figures emerge into the world, blazing with a similar blue heat that the thing holding the gun possessed. No, the thing holding the gun was the young woman they had found here–except, there’s something there, something in her, but how? Francis–always Fran among her friends–thought she was witnessing an illusion, as though someone had mirrored themselves into the woman’s place; trying to be two places at once perhaps.
She saw the two spectral shapes emerge after the gunshots dissipated into the basement. The central being–using Roxy as its shadow–projected its towering bulk onto her in pure luminance, it knew Fran was there and didn’t really care. In the next moment she saw the light pull itself from the basement, first the creature in the cage (who’s blinding-light was flecked in splotchy tints of orange), then the larger of the two light-shapes–to the right of the central other–faded into the image of a naked woman, untouched by signs of mortal spoiling; no stretch marks, no bags under her eyes, just a pure and innocent specimen–next came the child. The boy’s skin was fair and smooth, immaculate like the woman’s, wispy strands of straw-blond hair parted perfectly and clean like he was ready to go to church in his birthday suit. Light engulfed the child’s body in sweltering auras; blue, yellow and white heat blistered the officer’s perception. It flowed out of the child, leaving in the same direction as the female’s and the caged creature energy–up–through the basements ceiling.
And before her eyes could understand everything, she saw a little bit of light, that powerful and mysterious energy, remaining in the chest of the child like the soft glow of a nightlight.
The boy looked around innocently and then looked up at the central other. Fran noticed that the looming energy appeared to be looking down at the child. It was consuming the basement with raw force, heat from the thing feeling artificial, imaginary, it was enough to make her feel like her brain might turn to goo, her eyes popping like boiled eggs, blinding and destroying what good sense she had left.
The feeling passed.
Francis saw the tall figure–stretching the roof above them beyond reality and into the sky–brushing what looked like the skeletal hand of death against the child’s face. She saw a layer of gel peel back from under the blue hues of radiant energy, changing the emaciated limb before her eyes, underneath revealing a small greyish hand. Six fingers cradled the soft pink skin of youth. It looked down with all-seeing, all-knowing, and wanting eyes.
She had no way of knowing for certain, as far as she could tell the thing didn’t even have any eyes; but there was longing in the creature’s actions. It projected this sense (perhaps an emotion? She thought) throughout the basement. The naked woman looked up at the creature with soft innocence. Then she wrapped her arm around the boy, and the central figure–the towering inferno of energy–bolted out of the basement.
Up and out.
Roxy’s body fell to the floor in an ungracious heap, empty, mind blank and unable to add two-plus-two or tie her shoes for the rest of her life.
Fran’s eyes drooped, overcome by a wave of soupy exhaustion. Her body telling her to rest, and just wait for the cavalry, she had called the whole thing in hours ago, someone was bound to show up... and they did show up, but not until sunrise, long after the sounds had returned to the fields and the stars had returned to the skies... for now she should rest, a lot had happened, someone else would need to sort it out.
But, before Fran’s eyes relaxed into slumber, she noticed the small boy was still glowing, powerful waves of light had left with its larger companion, exiting his body like being sucked out of a vacuum, but a soft blue glow continued to pulse in his bare chest. It rested there, flashing like a battery on its charger.
The last thought she had before passing out was–I think, I just saw that child get touched by an angel.