The hedges around my house were as high as they were thick; they were downright dangerous along the driveway, blocked sight lines, and during our summer parties, caused more than one fender bender. But that day, as I walked to the car, the privacy they provided was a blessing. And I’d been right about the wind; it was blustery but welcome, blowing away the remains of a nagging headache.
The chilly morning infected my spirit with its dirty light. I passed through the quiet town with my head on a swivel of paranoia. The highway was easier, calmer, with only the occasional vehicle. I turned onto an old dirt road, and after a few clicks, turned onto an even older dirt road with grass running down its center. My little Mazda RX-7 was low to the ground, and fearful of bottoming out, I crawled the road. Trees had grown in around the trail, and branches lightly scraped the top of the car.
I’d been shown the spot by an aging hippie, an old supplier who’d grown a little patch of weed out here a few years back. I recalled the stuff with happy memories. He’d called the crop Thunderstorm, on account of a savage September hailstorm that had ripped through the area. It had left his plot badly battered, and he’d been forced to harvest early. He’d compensated with a mysterious and lengthy curing process that had provided the bud a real chance to rest. It’d worked, and the stuff had smoked with an earthy, spooky high, as if something of the violence of the storm had been captured in the hour of its cutting. But I wasn’t looking for his patch. I was looking for the ancient gravel pit at the end of the lane, presumably the reason the road had been laid in the first place.
It was fear that drove me so far out of town, but in the dull daylight, with trees raking my Mazda, on the outskirts of nowhere, I began to question myself…would it not have been easier just to sink the bag in some lonely bay on Lake of the Woods? No, it was possible some hapless hiker or off-season cottager might glimpse the act.
The pit’s overgrown slopes rolled into view. I left the car with the engine running. As I walked to the front of the Mazda, I tossed the plastic bag concealing the guilty duffle onto a patch of gravel strewn with wet leaves. I emptied two-thirds of a can of lighter fluid I’d taken from my office, tucked the container back into one of the big pockets on the army surplus. I used a lighter.
I tried to let the damp smell of autumn calm me, but my heart was pounding. As I watched the duffle burn, wind whipping the flames, the drab day closed in around me. Destroying evidence of what I suspected was murder, among the skeletal trees and their naked, clawing branches, it was suddenly easy to believe the haunted tales of a dark wilderness: stories of the Wendigo, or Sasquatch, or any of the lurking weird attached to the antediluvian forests. I shivered.
Eventually the fire burned itself out, leaving only metal buttons and clasps and bits of charred canvas. Certainly nothing traceable. I used my boot to grind the remains into the ground and kicked around some leaves.
I drove back into Kenora, intent upon finding some answers, hoping to dispel what I suspected. Again, my instincts had a good chuckle. The stress was like a weight on my chest as my mind went over it. Horror movies do not prepare us for moments lost in search of one clear thought.
What had happened on McQuillan Street? I knew two men were dead, and the police had snagged a load of snow. If the cash in my hidden cubby was to have been used for purchase, it would have bought about twenty kilos, give or take. The pack Cardiac Carl had been carrying, in my shard of recollection, could have held that amount. But none of this answered how the duffle came to be in my living room.
The Mazda followed the road, and the road curled around the lake. I crossed a bridge branded for a dead cop, the name commemorated by a bronze plaque with raised metal letters. I passed the town’s mascot, a forty-foot muskie, dominating a roadside park; it was forever frozen, as if jumping, or maybe eternally caught at the end of some angler’s line—in my state of mind, it was the latter. Dead leaves blew through the forlorn parking lot, and there were whitecaps on Lake of the Woods in the background.
I turned up Parsons Street with a sense of something beyond normal small-town familiarity—this was more akin to déjà vu. The feeling bolstered my suspicions. I was more certain than ever I’d been here last night. It was worse once I hit McQuillan, the odd déjà vu shaking hands with my new best friend, ever-present dread.
It looked as if every cop in the district was in front of a well-maintained, Craftsman-style house at the end of the block. It was, without a doubt, the same one glimpsed in my alcohol-riddled memory, the same one Carl had entered the previous evening. There were squad cars on both sides of the street, a few with their lights still flashing. I’d arrived just as they were loading a black Ford half-ton with chrome accents onto a flatbed truck.
“Who made who, who made you…? Who made who, ain’t nobody told you…?”
The truck was Cardiac Carl’s, of course. Fuck. The odds Carl was one of the dead men had just jumped astronomically. I idled past the residence—as one is wont to do in the presence of fifty cops—and took a right at the corner. I aimed the Mazda for downtown.
Again, I went over the moment Carl had disappeared into the house on McQuillan, although, to be honest, it had been playing on a constant loop in the background of my thoughts. At this point I could remember Cardiac Carl opening the door and leaving the cab, the music roaring. Carl had reached into the truck’s box to grab the colourful packsack. I was reasonably certain he’d said something along the lines of, “Just wait here, this will only take a second.” I remembered being annoyed. Interestingly, I did not recall him walking the cement path up to the house. And try as I might, I either did not see, or could not remember, who answered the door. It clearly wasn’t anyone I knew personally, as I didn’t know the house. This being said, the resident may very well have attended one of our summer parties. Cheri Coke knew a lot of people. A question bubbled to the surface—at what point had I abandoned Carl’s truck?
James C. Stewart began his career as a journalist working at newspapers in Northern Ontario. He currently resides in North Bay, Ontario.