A Halloween week treat friends and followers. I wanted to write a different kind of ghost story. I suppose you are the Beta readers as I have not shown it to anyone else. I hope you like it.
I moved to this valley in my twenties to help build the bridge that spans the two rivers we locals call ‘The Sisters’ but in truth they are nothing more than noisy rivals, eyeing each other, as they incise their way down to the coast. Back then the belief was ‘build the bridge and the people will come’ but our young town failed to draw in the people despite the promise of potash and a possible mine.
Occasionally we are graced with the presence of scientists and the like who come to count grizzlies and steelhead trout. We like to regale them with tales of close encounters with bears and man-eating cougars and moose as tall as houses; stories we tell our own children to keep them from wandering deep into the forest. But mostly this beautiful valley is ours and the bridge is a quiet place.
When I am not home, on the farm with my wife (our only daughter has long since flown the coop and now lives with her accountant husband in Vancouver) I like to stop here on the bridge.
I like it here. I like it far better than I ever liked living in the city where I grew up. I like the smell of glaciers and tart berries. I like the heady odour of rotting vegetation on the forest floors and the green smell of scraggly Douglas fir. Nothing much ever happens in our town or in the surrounding farms but from time to time the local newspaper will remind us that tragedy strikes unexpectedly and that darkness has the potential to snuff out the light. Darkness descended when Mrs Yates was taken while hanging out her laundry. I was interviewed by not only by the local newspaper but later by a national newspaper for my side of the story. This happened back in the eighties when her husband Tom and I were like bobcats. Tom was adamant that old Baker had taken her. Baker was what we like to call around these parts a ‘trouble bear’. He got his name because of his fondness for eating pie crust from kitchens and fruit from our orchards. When Tom asked for my help in tracking Baker down I had my doubts. I couldn’t understand why Baker would take Mrs Yates. It wasn’t, as they say in those crime stories my wife likes to read, his ‘modus operandi’. Baker ate pies and apples throughout the valley. He didn’t take nice ladies doing the laundry.
Sure enough I found tracks leading to and away from the Yates farmhouse but I wasn’t sure they were Baker’s and I told Tom Yates so. But Tom insisted. He said it was Baker because no other bear had Baker’s massive girth or thick auburn coat. We lost the tracks at the point where The Sisters hold hands to form a formidable bond of gushing water before going their separate ways again two miles south and had to head back the way we came and then east towards the mountains.
There was blood, here and there, dark but tiny amounts spattered on the mushy ground, but not enough I imagined to indicate Baker was chewing on one of Mrs Yates’ limbs as he ambled along. We finally stumbled upon Mrs Yates body about three days after her abduction lying beside a fallen spruce. She was partially covered by moss and leaves. It was like someone had tried to keep her warm and not necessarily hidden. But it was that surprise- filled expression – those wide empty eyes – staring up at the forest canopy and the sunlight filtering through it that still haunts me. Her throat had been slashed, possibly by a bear or a jagged knife but otherwise she was remarkably intact. I wanted to comment on that, but Tom Yates was groaning beside her like a wounded animal so I pressed on and alone.