A note from someone that wrote this:
I’ve been hmming and hawing over this story for a bit too long, it’s not the oldest one I’ve had clunking around in my head, but it certainly felt like one of the dustiest. The spark, or the core theme, came from a story I read in grade 5. (This will hopefully be brief, because sometimes it’s important to just let a story be a story.)
The story I read followed a squeegee kid (to this day I can’t for the life of me recall what book it was actually in, or who wrote it, or where in the blue-blazes it was set), it was a short story, but I didn’t know the difference between a short-story/novelette/grade-school kiddie books, anyways I remember really digging it. At the time, I clung to horror and adventure fiction like a wet blanket, but I read anything and everything, and that year I surprised myself by writing what I still consider my first short (before that, I had been trying to write stories, but always felt frustrated because I just didn’t know enough yet, my dumb kid-brain didn’t have the right scope to tell a story–it’s a problem I still have, to be honest, a story is one thing, writing it down is a whole other can-o-worms–prior to actually trying to create my own stories, I sort of just copied things I had found in Scary Stories (surprise surprise!), More Scary Stories, and Even more Scary Stories... What a great series. I never dove into full on plagerism, which would just be embarrassing; I mean what if someone found out? That would be like cheating!)
Hold tight, there’s a point in here somewhere...
The squeegee kid story was a great little creep out, and I don’t think it was really trying to be something scary. I’ll try to sum it up as best I can, it was by a North American writer, I remember that much. The story followed this squeegee kid (for some reason I want to say the protagonist was female, but it was YA fiction, or close to that age range, so the vocabulary reach was probably intentionally broad), the squeegee kid, probably in their late teens to be honest, but there was a real sense that they might be no older than fourteen or fifteen, which to my kid-brain was pretty old and worldly, and definitely not an adults age.
In the story, squeegee kid, we’ll call them Lucy, makes a couple of bucks on a street corner cleaning windows. She gets dirty looks, some charity, and is treated like a homeless person. As we follow Lucy walking around a city, we find out that she is a homeless person and she finds a cemetery to sleep in for the night; the story twists a little bit, making us start to wonder more about what’s going to happen with Lucy and less about why she even thinks a graveyard is a nice place to sleep. I’m trying to keep this brief, so I won’t get into detail, but there were mausoleums like you hear about in places that flood, the stand up ones, tiny cement homes for the dead.
Lucy found one and had been keeping herself entertained by pretending she had friends among the names engraved on the stone. Now, back to that twist, well, it turns out; Lucy had been trying to hustle on someone else’s turf! She had been cleaning windows that day on a homeless gangs section of traffic, and earlier she had narrowly avoided getting a good shit kicking from them. (I of course am allowed to be a little more colourful with my vocabulary; my dumb-kid brain says it’s okay) Well, that night, the gang tracks her down to the cemetery...
The ending gets a little fuzzy for me, I don’t think that story will ever turn out to be some sort of lost piece by William Shakespeare or Alistair Macleod, but here’s what I remember:
Lucy hides among the crypts, and she starts to think that the dead just might have heard her talking, and they just might give her a hand, so she sort of runs around, going from tomb to tomb, the gang of hoodlum homeless kids tracking her down. Well, they think they track her down. It turns out, there were ghosts all along! And they were going to trap the gang in their tombs!
Or it went something like that.
The story cycles back through my head from time to time. I’ll re-iterate that it was directed at kids; I had found it on the shelf in the classroom and decided to tuck-in during one of our free-reading sessions. (Best part of a school day, or any day really). The content was going to cater to kids; in other words. Yet, how creepy is that for a set up? A kid, a homeless kid, trying to tough it out, and where do they feel toughest but in a cemetery? I mentioned that it wasn’t trying to be anything scary, and it wasn’t, Lucy (from what I remember) gets out. Now, with an adult brain, well, she could have just died there, joining the countless other ghosts–or maybe that turf she had been encroaching on should be a little more risqué because we’re grownups and grown-up scary stories need to have sex and hints of sleaze–but the part I find funny is that for an adults brain, the author would probably have to work pretty hard to make us feel sympathetic. And I can’t help but wonder if that says something about us? (I know what it says about me, pipe down, I’m trying to philosophize). Lucy just had to tough out the night, and no matter what, keep on keeping on. It’s simple and sweet.
Let’s put this dusty story on pause for another brief moment. Leloutre Cemetery was my setting because, well, Massey Cemetery in Halifax is so gosh-darn interesting (if you’ve never been, check it out. South End Halifax, open to the public, a lot of soldiers were buried there and it’s a very old place.) I wanted it, Tinlou had a place just like it–funny enough–and I just had to dig around to see what stories I could find about it.
The next ingredient was in relation to Halloween and the fact that I don’t really like zombie movies. Don’t get me wrong, the effects these days can be stellar, and I’m a sucker for anything visual that plays on the theme of dread and being helpless in a plague setting, and I’m partial to a good post-apocalyptic adventure. The bottom line is that it needs to be entertaining and I find with a lot of zombie flicks my brain checks-out hard after the ten minute mark. But, I love the potential of every damn one I’ve seen, and I still buy tickets with hope when I hear about some zombie movie hitting the big screen, but after Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, and if you’re still trying to get a fix: The Walking Dead, a person can feel a little bored with the topic. I would almost tend to say they earned it by then. You gotta really love the genre to keep going. This story was intended as a zombie feature, and I think I did what I meant to do with it, so there’s the buyer-beware sticker.
I’m not going to do a “and then I added this, and then this, and then I thought of...” type-of-thing. The words I have about every story I try to craft could rattle on and on and fill pages longer than the stories themselves. It would be weird if a magician tried to explain all their tricks, and I think it would be weird if I tried doing likewise, because thoughts change and memories have a way of changing. Perhaps it’s just my present outlook on it, but change happens. The next theme I’m dancing around gets us closer to Lucy the homeless, but we’re not back there yet; I wanted to examine memories. Memories are unique funny little things, and as we get older, they have a way of sneaking around people’s periphery. Some people think back on their lives, remembering all the people they knew the funny little instances. And as people our brains feed on this stuff (we are zombies that like to devour our internal thoughts, mental cannibals if you will), it’s what makes us, us. Now, it’s no surprise that I enjoy writing about madness, so maybe right now I’ll also mention that I really wanted to work on something that had a strong hint of madness. It’s there, perhaps a little more obvious than I had originally intended, again though, I did what I meant to do with it.
Madness, or mental instability, or plain-old crazy, is one of horror’s most insightful themes. It can’t be in every horror story, just like zombies aren’t in every horror movie, and it needs to be respected. Crazy needs to be kept on the top shelf, it must be respected. Insanity done correctly holds some of the scariest stuff put to page. There’s tons of reasons for me to say this; one, I have interest in the mind, what makes us tick, what makes people do what they do, how different are we from animals, how does a duck think, etc.; two, reading, words on a page or screen, generally takes place in ones most intimate of organs, our mind–you can say the words out-loud or try to reword it yourself to your own literal understanding, but your head is doing a lot of the leg work; and three, you would have to be a little unhinged to sleep in a cemetery. Now we’re back to Lucy, the homeless kid.
The homeless person, as a character or entity in fiction, holds a lot of strength, but I’m talking about fiction. In real life, I have a lot of complicated opinions on homeless people, I’ve met quite a few and as a generally social person I like to chit-chat with anyone that will return the favour. Across Canada, thousands of people are homeless, more like a couple million, but the numbers aren’t what I’m trying to get at, and everyday a lot of people just pass these individuals by (me included in the passerbyers). Yet, there’s an abundance of lives, memories and peoples past, which will possibly never get told or never be appreciated. Leloutre Cemetery let me dance with a homeless character (I say it like that because it sounds funny in my head, but isn’t that what readers and authors do? Dance with characters and stories, mentally at least...) and it let me try and find a way for me to get some of these ideas I’ve been toying with. See, when things go bump in the night, our brain has nothing to do but dwell on memories and ideas. I have a book that I’m working on, and it features another, um, person of the street (saying homeless too many times just sounds downright repetitive and sad), but it’s a different person, not like what I’ve placed here before your eyes.
It’s a topic I could gab on about all day, stories and how we tell them or read them, but like I said in the beginning, sometimes it’s nice to just let a story be a story. The above was some rambling that I really wanted to get out, beware for below there are things with teeth, and like those old pirate maps used to say: here there be monsters...
Fred Canterbury sat up in sudden fright. The wood bench poorly cushioned by his sleeping bag (he had been content with something high and dry), creaked a little beneath his weight. He heard movement somewhere beyond the bank of Celtic crosses. It was a rustle, the smallest of sounds, but his light sleep had been pulled away. He was nervous, for possibly no good reason, but something was queer. It didn’t feel right being here, maybe he was too brazing. The tombstones were not a place for the living to rest. It was for the dead, and he was trying to use it as a lay-over for the night. He was worried that a security guard might come by and find him, call him in like some drifter that was shooting up and boozing out on a bench. It wasn’t like that; he just needed a place to rest. His days had been long. He wanted to catch a few hours of sleep. Tinlou was a strange place. He had no family and made no effort to find friends while being here and only earned a measly $265 working on a painting crew that was offering pick-up hours. The whim to check out the coastal city was strange, as if from another life, he hadn’t been back in the province for over fifteen years. He probably could have gotten a room at a hotel, but he needed the cash to buy his plane ticket to Costa Rica. He was going; time was time, no need to wait it out any longer. The graveyard was the wrong place, and felt like it may cost him his sanity.
He didn’t want to be considered a drifter. Work outside of the country was what he needed to focus on. Idle thoughts like how to get around isn’t something to dwell on. Before waking with a start Fred had been sporadically dreaming. He dreamed of the past mostly, nightmares might hold the past, but he usually dwelt on good things.
It hadn’t always been nights spent in the outdoors for Frederick, sometimes it was in the bed of a fellow friend of the road (not often lately) and sometimes as far as the southern cities of the US. He tried to make friends as often as he could, but his longing for the road was something people just didn’t appreciate.
He had felt like a drifting orphan since the age of twenty-two. It was a strange pox upon the family. A disease, or virus, and it blotted out not just the Canterbury’s, but at least twenty or so other families living in the apartment building. It spread like a plague, some sort of bird fever they called it. He wasn’t that up to date on things these-days. He was forty two, had moved beyond worrying about his past life. Things were real now. He knew that, and he knew that finding a way south, where deadly winters and hard earned dollars might cease to be of concern. He had heard that the sun and sand of the beaches was like silk against the skin. The ocean was said to be bright aqua blue–he had only ever seen parts of the Northern Pacific and the Atlantic, almost making it to Florida once but having to turn back because some of the locals didn’t take to well to his busking... The vibrant hues of the Caribbean were probably tall talk, yet still something one should investigate in life.
His family started getting sick, like the rest of the building, with the same red-rash along the collar bone and wrists. Their apartment had been in North End Dartmouth, perhaps being in Tinlou tonight–only some three-hundred kilometers southwest–brought about memories of this particular past.
They were dreams, only dreams, but they held sadness and a-morale tinges. The dread he felt was in remembering that he had grieved over the lifeless body of a friend more than any of his family. He dreamed of being at his neighbours bedside, Fred was immune, a mixture of vaccinations as a child built up enough resistance to squash the nasty avian virus.
The neighbour was a lady named Anne Lestat, thirty-one, black curly hair, cute as a button, and one hell of a poker player. She had moved into the building sometime after he had moved away for school. When the building had been healthy, Anne hosted monthly poker nights; Fred had been invited one afternoon while stopping in to visit his parents. He hit it off with her immediately, and she half treated him like a younger brother, and half-heartedly returned some innocent flirting. For the most part she had probably just been getting him back so that a guaranteed extra five dollars went to the winner’s purse; usually hers.
She died on a Thursday, her apartment well-lit and tidy as it could be, her symptoms (like everyone else’s) had declined to the point of keeping her bed ridden. She was able to eat, drank tons of fluids, but her body was wasting away. The doctors were stumped, once you got got, well there wasn’t much else left for you. The heart just stopped, like a clock that wasn’t going to be rewound, one of the cogs or tiny crystals was broken beyond repair; she died with her eyes closed. Frederick had been standing next to her, his arms crossed and wispy-blonde head looking out the window, still half-heartedly talking about picking up work at the shipyard.
It pulled at his thoughts and drove him into a reclusive depression. He had already witnessed his parent’s death at that point, they worked for the department of health ironically enough, and the virus found its way into them. Their passing, sadly, was quick (although Fred often considered it a blessing that theirs hadn’t been drawn out like Anne.) Three other neighbours in their building had also been infected. They died in random intervals before and after Anne’s. Everything had been marked with her passing, for some reason he had believed she had the most life left to live.
She had been at peace in the end, he supposed, inside her nerves and tendons had suffered the same black dotting of growths that all of the victims had, it didn’t impede the functionality of each person, but after a certain point, all roads leading to the heart received a signal not to continue. The body was told to shut down, ignore all traumas, pack-up shop, and no-re-election this colony is done for business; as far as Fred was concerned he hoped it had been painless.
Somehow it made him feel better thinking back on it.
The building had been quarantined. Talks of burning it down circled the media (behind closed doors prominent civil servants were so bold as to consider leaving inhabitants in the building, cleansing the whole place in one go), and this just wouldn’t fly. It was rumored that the virus was somehow in the paint that had been used on the walls. Fred was never sure how paint got infected by a bird virus but he supposed epidemics didn’t always spiral into catastrophe, and sometimes a contagion could be identified and eradicated.
He remembered reading once that the bubonic plague had also been swift and unknown in its sweep over the land. Rats supposedly carried it. And people weren’t as cleanly back then. In a short few years the world had been decimated and almost staggered into extinction, saving itself just barely. There were other diseases that hurt populations, measles, west Nile; hell, influenza could still take out a decent number of populace if not caught quickly enough. The ‘avian virus’ had been short lived (after the rumours that it had been in the buildings paint, Fred was even more confused as to why it had been called an avian virus). No big banners toting health concerns or hygienic panic required. The occupants of the building that had been hit with the strange infection died out, a lot of people were actually immune to it. The building had been sterilized; all sources of the paint involved had been bleached and stripped from the walls with solvents. The paint company saw major lawsuits and ended up shutting down, still paying out on insurance policies from people effected by the toxic batch. Thankfully the building was saved. Dartmouth, as it does, just carried on–city officials bulldozed the place eventually, replacing it with a strip mall that probably still serve the east-side of North Dartmouth.
Fred moved away shortly after Anne’s passing. He didn’t know where to go, as far as he knew he had distant cousins in Winnipeg, but they had never met, and Nova Scotia, as far as he knew, was feeling worn and filled him with a foggy sense of dread. His job at the ship yard was bound to be stable, but he just couldn’t handle all of the “sorry for your loss” and “hope you’re getting on okay”, it was too much weight, he just had to split. The road from there was a little like shooting a shotgun at a map of North America. He saved up enough to make a start in Quebec. It had been first pick only for the reason that it might be easier to heal in a place where people didn’t speak as much English.
Montreal was the easiest to take a train to. So it was his first stop.
He spent four months there, renting out a bachelor loft on top of a convenience store. The landlord was a decent guy, third generation Quebecer, his French accent was thick ta boot. His English seemed to only be reserved for boxing and hockey trivia.
Frederick liked hanging out with the man and his wife; they found his wayward spirit–at the very least–interesting. Both Quebecers had stories of travelling from town to town, city to city; ‘huffing’ it abroad was the word they used for it.
The next stop had been their suggestion, Red Deer Alberta. He had never been to Red Deer, so he packed up his few possessions (a large backpack stuffed with enough clothes to last a week or two, all of his important personal info, and a small jumble of odds and ends) and he hopped on a plane this time. His savings no longer really amounting to much and being spent at a quick rate. He thought Alberta might be a good place to earn some quick cash, after getting his money back in order he could think about what was next.
He turned twenty-three and twenty-four in Red Deer, finding work as a hotel lobby clerk that kept him floating and in a reasonable apartment. Time after that was a muddy mish-mash of dreamy memories. It skirted his thoughts and darkened them into heart aching nightmarish picture shows. He had been robbed. Taken at gun point, the cops did little to help, stating that there were organizations he could approach, but he would need to find his things on his own.
It was a strange assortment of circumstance.
The thieves were probably hard off. They cornered him when he had been passing through Calgary. Frederick had a three week trip planned in Banff. He had lived in Red Deer for almost two years now, sometimes making friends with co-workers that made up the cleaning and lounge staff at the hotel, people around his age, not-too concerned with his past and content with making money locally before they moved away for school outside of Alberta. Making friends was pretty easy, keeping them was tricky, people had their own rhythm and communities to latch on-to, and he always felt clunky trying to shoe-horn himself into a clique. So, he preferred spending his time hiking and looking-up places where he could hike. Sometimes people came with him. But Fred preferred being alone when not sitting in front of his desk, or seeing people to the elevator and checking them out at the register. He made good money at the job, but the money was boring after a certain point. He had never been to Banff nor-hiked the Rockies (he had heard Deadman’s Flats was a real treat if you caught it at the right time of day) and he decided that before he even stepped foot out of the oil-rich for-work province he would spend a small chunk of savings on a little backpacking trek through the national park. The trip would be his way of clearing his head, hopefully, and to help him decide what he should be doing. He was still young, and yet very aware that life was speeding past, in the way it did, appearing to have the consistency of molasses but really flying by faster than light. Boom before he knew it he was going to be twenty five. If he spent any longer in Alberta, he would probably still be single, still scraping by, and still bored as hell.
The situation didn’t progress much, Fred thought now, staring up at the orange-glow of Tinlou’s night sky.
Light pollution, ah what a wonderful manifestation we’ve brought about. Fred thought as he twitched and shivered in attempts to find sleep.
The light among the Leloutre graves was gold and yellow, orange and bland, replaced by white street-lights, guarded by rock borders. The stones had come from the harbour (Frederick had taken care to read the information plaque three or four times before scouting the place out) and the inhabitants of the graves were soldiers?–or politicians, or families of politicians and soldiers? The facts flooded into his mind, whole and exact; ready to pretend it had always been there. Memory worked this way now. It wasn’t constant, it hadn’t been for oh so many years, but when he had something in his head it held firm–at least until the next thought popped in and coated the prior one in inky abyss. The memory of Leloutre’s Cemetery fluttered into focus, for Fred, he was sleeping here tonight, and the boards underneath him were widely slatted, the breeze made his resting place cool and chilly.
It wasn’t cold, May was mostly clear from frost for Nova Scotia, and there had been colder nights on the road. The road behind him was frigid, barren of any solace or warmth. His past, muddied after Calgary, on a good day he was lucky to remember most of it. Fred remembered being holed up in a shelter in Seattle (one, maybe two stops after Alberta); no-idea how he had arrived in the state, let alone in the US. He had been coming in and out of a funk. The trek from Seattle lead him east, towards Massachusetts, and then a zip down south through Connecticut and Virginia all the way down to Georgia, he hopped around, sometimes working for room and board and sometimes just finding a soft spot where he could set up a tent. He remembered losing the tent somewhere around Connecticut, shortly after that he found plastic sheeting and tarps that would make do, anything to keep the weather off of his head.
A trip had felt like a good idea at the time. Fred still dreamed about the alleyways in the busy city.
The bus station in Calgary had been cramped and stuffy. A lot of workers were heading in all-sorts of directions, some off to a work camp, some visiting family, others doing the same thing as him and just seeing where the road would take them. He loved to travel, and in Canada you meet a lot of people that share that sentiment, especially when one hangs around pass-through establishments. You find these people everywhere, in bars near airports, holed up in libraries centered on mass-transit hubs–like moths to the flame, the ramblers of the world. Fred connected with them, but he also felt that sometimes a bus station was just overwhelming. People sat shoulder to shoulder, bumping and pushing each other about. In Canada he wasn’t really worried about crime, people were just too nice.
Many people could be just plain old naive.
He decided to wait out his stop by going for a walk in the streets around the bus station. He didn’t really have to be at the boarding platform for another two hours, and waiting around trying to read a book or habitually check his phone for outside updates wasn’t really a calling he felt inclined to do that day. He had a three hour bus ride ahead of him; he would have plenty of down time before he got to hiking.
He didn’t mind Calgary, it was a busy city, and even though the people were nice enough to him, most shied away–at this point in his life he was sporting a thick mesh of dreadlocks, making him look something like a white skateboarder douche-bag that was deep into their Rastafarian phase, but he rolled with it–the bustle of early morning traffic buzzed around him.
That day, Frederick found himself barely aware of the streets he was passing; the bus terminal was situated on the edge of the city, easy to find if he stuck close to the dense line of commercial streets. Yet, with all of his certainty, all of his worldly huffing it, he found himself eventually lost. He had somehow followed a street that arched towards the heart of the city, and was now looking at rows of mix-use constructions lined with alley’s that could offer a short cut or simply more misdirection. He had only been walking for half an hour. The soft staccato-chord of panic gripped him as he swung around the street, twisting his head to try and find his way back. He was lost. Frederick was wandering in a strange city, confused and alone.
Cars honked at buses and taxis. Frederick remembered looking up and realizing he hadn’t been paying attention to a single street he had crossed.
The compass inside of him corrected his minor terror quickly enough, and he found himself soon back on the path to the bus station. It had been frightening, possibly being lost, and he chided himself for being over-confident. It had been silly to wander so far without paying attention to his surroundings.
He cut through an alley that would bring him a block away from the street to the terminal. It was smelly, like garbage and banana peels that had gone a little too off. He was used to it; Montreal had had all sorts of such nooks among the ancient architecture (West Mount was handy if one was looking for a short-cut to one of the universities and Saint Henri was handy if you were looking to score some dope). Red Deer too, although the alleys there tended t o be friendlier and less inhospitable. Alleys are like a local city dwellers secret passageway, pocketed between the roads for automobiles, canyons of brick and mortar. The walls holding a perpetually wet and steamy look about them–unless it was winter time, then Frederick presumed they really did give off puffs of condensing steam–dark and more ancient then the street facing facades of the buildings.
Fred had always likened it to walking through the belly of a giant creature; it’s intestines of sorts, and he could go places only people could go. Like the viral symptoms that had danced through his life in Nova Scotia, people could act like the little microbes they were, busy and energetic, looking for paths to walk on. The cars were always muffled in these hidden places–alleys were perfect for sleeping in–and a funny thought that Frederick never paid too much attention to was that there always seemed to be someone in one–the alleyway’s. At all times, someone, lucid, or confused, someone was present in what seemed like every alley across the world. You couldn’t get a break. A nice east coast guy like him couldn’t help but nod or say hello or good morning, calling attention even more to his out-of-place vibe. In the larger cities, he found people shied away from a friendly neighbour, or maybe they had just seen too much randomness to care about being neighbourly. Maybe people in alleys thought that it was meant to be their own private place, and they saw anyone as an intruder, a trespasser, a contamination in their space (even someone that was innocently saying how ya doin’), and they didn’t respond back because of any one of these reasons. Maybe their tolerance only allowed for brief curtsey at best, and glaring-death eyes were considered the average demeanor.
The memory, dream, or nightmare, wasn’t quick and instant like the reflective-thought a normal person might have when they’re going about their morning routine (coffee maker on, toast or cereal at the ready; automatic, easy stuff).
It was more like trying to remember the directions to a childhood haunt, one of those places where you and maybe your friends had gone countless times to skip rocks or share embarrassing hopes and stories. Frederick was wandering through his head, looking for something. He was uncertain about the proper order of things.
Why was he in this park? And where did that sound come from?
He had forgotten why he woke up. That happened a lot these days, hard to keep track of short-term things, probably just the way it was always going to be. Frederick told himself. You’re in a goddamn cemetery you old coot, shacked up here because it’s just about the only quiet place to catch a rest...Tinlou... You’re in Tinlou, and something made a sound and woke you up and then another voice spoke still hasn’t gotten around to figuring that one out yet has ya chumly? He looked back up at the sky.
In his head he had been walking the alley close to the bus terminal.
Or maybe it had been an alley in another city, where he didn’t have his tent and was trying to find a place out of the wind, all the shelters filled up in the city–Jacksonville? Charlotte?–he couldn’t actually remember if he had searched for any shelter, or if he had actually visited those cities. Sometimes it was just easier to wander up to a cozy spot on the concrete and find something nice...
Calgary’s alley had been made of brick, and looked friendly enough. He must have been whistling to himself, since then he never could whistle properly, and can’t really keep a proper tune, but out of habit he still liked to yell at the top of his lungs and does so whenever the mood strikes. Sometimes people got annoyed with it, but he usually huff’d it on to a new spot by the time anyone asked him to leave.
There was Frederick, strolling down a Calgary alley, mindless and carefree, soon to be mindless and careless, a tragic but important distinction. He was spry, humble, and still holding onto all of the simplicities of a small town kid; and he didn’t tend to watch his back when he passed people.
Nowadays he knew better, and these days when he shambled along any street, in any city, his head twisted and looking about with cautious fidgetiness. You could almost think his brain had been replaced with that of a squirrel, anxious and twitchy, with an attention span to match its lifestyle. But in his early twenties, Frederick didn’t give too many minds to anyone and didn’t really think people would pay too much mind to him.
The first of them (always hazy in his head, but he was pretty sure three of them had swarmed him, it may have only been one and in some of Frederick’s nightmares there was only one attacker), looked innocent, calm and sure-footed. The man had been wearing some sort of black-hoodie, or maybe it had been navy-blue, and poked something solid and metal into Frederick’s back. He had never been at the business end of any weapon, or even so much as evoked someone to harm him. But here he was, meeting new people and trying new things.
Oh fuck off, he thought, or possibly said aloud. The noise was there again, clawing, digging at the earth around him. He didn’t care for it, and it was starting to unease him. His muscles clenched and fists tightened around the folds of his sleeping bag. Fred had no idea what was out there, but he could swear he heard it crawling.
Crawling for fucks sakes! Like a slug pulling its ass! He looked over the tombstones in fascination.
Leloutre Cemetery was pretty, neat grave markers–some spaced too close according to zoning allowances, but nobody in Tinlou was saying anything–unfolding over half an acre of inner city turf. The Tinlou boardwalk, with all of its touristy boutiques, was less than a five-minute walk away. The cemetery was well-groomed and mowed within two-inches of the ground. Moist dew from spring’s early morning haze leapt from the air and coated the leaves and granite tombstones. If it wasn’t a home for the dead, Fred would have felt a little more like royalty having such prime real-estate for the night.
The orange glow danced atop the crosses–a strange sight, he always wondered if the Caribbean worshipped a lowercase t in such reverence–slight noises emitted from the streets. A weekday, students and workers were probably fast asleep, dreaming sweet nothings on their cushy pillows...
The blow to his temple had come first. In Calgary, he had been taken by surprise, held-up in the most traditional sense. Except it was nothing like the old wagon heists or bank robberies you read about in old western and detective comics–Frederick vaguely remembered having a collection of these in a scantly actualized memory–it had been fast, brutal, and with little detail.
He felt his right cheekbone get tanked next. His teeth shattering inside his mouth from the impact of the guns handle.
Another blow to the temple, oh hold up-
Some more pushes and shoves (at this point he was pretty much on the ground, broken and disjointed from any real bodily control) and soon Fred was on the ground.
He remembered drooling, it had felt like he had been in the alley for days, months, an eternity, but eventually, he got up. The stumble to the terminal had been–would always be–slow and unmemorable torture for him. It probably looked comical, Frederick appearing as some drunk that was barely able to tell up from down, he had been staggering and sputtering incoherent gurgles of thought (to this day you could put him under hypnosis and still not be able to tell what had been going through his mind, sub- and conscious). He had nothing on him. No backpack (found later, the only things being intact were a few days worth of clothes and his tent). No wallet (never found, probably torched in an Alberta incinerator at this point). No ID. No bus ticket. And really no clue who he was (eventually he clung to Fred, it fit, felt right, and he felt strongly about the virus in Nova Scotia, that was why he had to keep his inner secrets hidden). The drivers and desk jockeys at the terminal didn’t know who the man that looked about to keel over was and called an ambulance and the police immediately. He remembered being questioned, it had felt almost as long of a process as it had taken to crawl out of the alleyway (incidentally, it had only taken him forty-five minutes, if he had been of sound mind and fit-body, he still would have been an hour early for the Banff transit line), he remembered nothing, and everything.
He remembered all of this while looking up at the Tinlou sky and trying to discern just where that noise was coming from. It pulled at the earth. Fred could hear it. It might even be eating the earth, trying to find its way to the surface. He knew something was coming, navigating its way carefully through the limestone and granite memorial foliage. It gripped at each passing stone with a squelching depression of flesh being wrung like a sponge. The clawing and gobbling sound was growing nearer and nearer. Fred didn’t care about the past; he just wanted to be out of here now, oh how to move this body! The thing was encroaching, crawling towards him, he knew it oh how he just knew it. Soon there would be no Fred and it would just be
–the time in between was sparse. Frederick pulled it up and called on it inside of a private trove of neurotic libraries. It hid in his mind, held up and locked tight–no grifter would pull the wool over this case–he needed it. The thoughts hidden there were enough to bring him back... There was never going to be a Caribbean, just like there was never a
–The crushed gravel was making grippy crackling sounds in Fred’s ears. The things were on the path, for the love of Christ they're on the path!, and he could almost see them. A group–no a battalion–an army of corpses had dug their way out of the earth.
Fred screeched from the confines of his sleeping bag.
Their faces were old, dragged by time and eaten by the creatures from the earth. Grey and black yellowing flesh clung to what was left of the skeletons. They should have been centuries old, their remains scavenged by time, but they were lithe enough to maintain a meaty deluge of grotesque physicality. They were strong enough to crawl. And some of them had faces. He didn’t know how to look or react to them.
The only thing imaginable was to lie in his sleeping bag and hope for mercy.
He waited, and heard them creep towards him, slow and mired in their satisfaction with being alive, or the semblance of being alive. He could hear them groaning. The first image of ghoulishness was of Anne, her face looked melted, like her bones had started to consume the skin that clung to them; white molds built for a house-of-horror. Inside of her mouth a rat scurried out, ready to find a new hovel to nest in.
Fred gasped when her hand reached out for his cheek. Her dried pruney lips dazzled his face with a shriveling sensation, Fred batted it away with a sleeping bag fumbled hand. He couldn't let this thing close, not when he was so near, so perfectly safe in his skin.
The demons were there, they were taking their toll, and Frederick waited out the storm.