It was about 7:30pm when I drove into Pleasant Creek. Never was there a more ironic name for a town ever created (except perhaps for some of those dismal little towns along the southern coast of Australia like Mount Hope or Coffin Bay — towns obviously settled by convicts or castaways).
I was a castaway in my own right, running from my terrible past. The news hadn’t reached the local radio stations yet and for that, I was grateful.
Pleasant Creek was a hunting town nestled somewhere in heart of northern Ontario. Where exactly wasn’t much of a mystery to the townsfolk as it was the mapmakers who placed all the towns and villages on those impossible-to-fold sheets. It seems as though someone neglected to include Pleasant Creek on the map. I found it just off the Trans-Canada Highway, somewhere about sixty kilometres north of Kapuskasing.
I stepped out of my rapidly aging Intrepid. I had put many miles on it and it was beginning to show. The transmission had begun to overheat and after driving any distance now, it felt like something kicked me in the ass when I slowed to a stop. The poor old beast needed her beauty rest.
After every hour of driving, she would need to rest for at least twenty-minutes before I even thought of getting out of first gear. Driving it had become a nightmare but it served me well in the past and I was not quite ready to part with it just yet.
I stretched my arms high in the air and took a deep whiff of air. The smell of asphalt and gasoline mingled with the sweet odour of pine needles and ripening blueberries. Some days I really missed the north.
I craned my neck and surveyed the locale. It was a quaint town on the outside. Probably only about two dozen or so families lived in the dilapidated houses. The town’s only business was a gas station that was also a grocery store and a hunting lodge.
Only one gas pump, with globe atop cracked and faded, provided service to the locals. It looked as though it had transported through time from the fifties. I half expected a team of sharply dressed gas jockeys to come pouring out of the store. “Check your oil, sir?” one would ask as another checked my tire pressure and another cleaned my window.
There was no pit crew for my gasping Intrepid. Instead, I had to flip open my own gas door and unscrew my gas cap. I lifted the nozzle from the pump. Ancient dials on it still read the last amount of gas that the last customer had pumped: forty-eight litres at a heart-stopping thirty-five cents a litre. That couldn’t be right. I placed the nozzle in the mouth of my car.
There was something almost erotic about pumping gas. A phallic-looking nozzle forcibly inserted into an opening just slightly big enough for it somehow seemed wrong. A gentle squeeze and liquid would issue forth filling the belly of my old girl.
Only this time when I pulled the trigger the pump refused to give up its golden treasure. It didn’t even sound as if electricity powered the unit. I looked over the pump; searching for a knob or dial to turn the pump on. Nothing. I returned the nozzle to its holster. My old girl would just have to go unsatisfied for now. I took a deep breath (I didn’t need this, not now) and headed into the store.
Joseph Currant, a francophone whose family had been in Canada for almost as long as the natives, was the sole-proprietor. Joseph (never Joe) was an elderly gentleman possibly in his late seventies. He looked as though he hadn’t seen a barber in a decade or a dentist in just as long. He smiled a gummy, toothless smile when I entered the store. The place smelled of pemmican and petroleum at the same time. It was almost rancid. Pale sunlight drifted in through a grimy window providing very little illumination to the store floor. Dust danced and swirled in the artificial breeze generated by a small electric fan on the counter.
“Something I can help you with?” His accent was unmistakably bushwhacker-north.
I looked around the store. Very little stock filled the shelves. The goods were sparse – too sparse unless you dedicated your life to curing and smoking meat.
“I’m just passing through I’m afraid. I was looking to gas up but it doesn’t seem like your pumps are working.”
“They ain’t worked since eighty-eight. Ain’t had much call for them.”
I picked up a bag of seasoning salt and looked at the price. I wasn’t interested in seasoning salt; I just felt as though I needed to touch something. I gingerly placed the seasoning salt back in its place careful to try to line it up in the void of dust where it once sat. I quite possibly was the first person since eighty-eight to have picked up that bag.
“Do you know where else I can get some gas?”
Joseph scratched his hairless head with rough fingers. Even ten feet away I could hear the course scratching. “You could try Farquarh’s up the road.” He hummed to himself. “Nah, the Farquarh’s have been closed for over ten years. How far are you willing to go?”
My gas light had just turned on when I came into town. I had another sixty kilometres or so, but for some reason, I didn’t want to let Joseph know that. “I don’t know; probably about an hour, or so.”
“Kap is just up the road, don’t you know? Why don’t you go up there?”
“Thanks,” I said. Then added, “I just came from there,” under my breath. Joseph hadn’t heard me and turned back to his well-worn magazine.
I left Currant Goods and Outfitters and stood on the stoop looking at the dense forest just beyond my tired old girl. An unnamed county road wound its way through the foothills of the Canadian Shield and disappeared into the dark wilderness. Back the other way (the way I came) was my old life. I wasn’t too eager to head back that way.
I walked back to my car; dragging my heels into the dry earth, watching the wisps of dust kick up from my feet and tiny pebbles scattered their way tracing little roads in the dirt before of me. A cool breeze found its way down the road and across my back despite the mid-July heat. Autumn was on its way early for up here. Even though it was late in the day, the sun still hung high in the sky.
I got back in my car. After a few minutes idle, the air inside began to warm up. The coolness of the air conditioner would be a welcome feeling. I turned the ignition. The engine whirred and sputtered but did not catch. I groaned. I could already feel my blood pressure beginning to rise. I tried again.
Again, there was nothing. The engine just sputtered like it had before.
I tried again. The engine still did not respond. “Shit!” My fists flew into the air. I caught the rearview with my right hand, bruising my knuckle. “God fucking dammit!” No matter how much I cursed, the car wouldn’t start.
I suddenly became aware of eyes upon me. I looked out my side window. Two urchins, a boy and a girl, stood gape-jawed and dirty faced. They looked apparently stunned by my poor choice of language. I forced a smile on my face, telling them in my head, “I’m all right. I’m just fine. Don’t mind crazy ole me.” The children fled behind the store the moment I opened my car door.
I stomped back to the store, reminiscent of the way I had done almost twenty years ago when my mother dragged me some place I didn’t want to go. I slammed open the door, and the cheery bells above rung out. Joseph looked up from his magazine, indifferent to my dramatic entrance.
“Do you have a phone?” I could tell my tone was gruff but I didn’t care. That damned car caused me so many headaches in the past year; I almost wished I hadn’t bought it.
“Na-ah,” Joseph said quite matter-of-factly.
I squinted at him. He was lying. I could tell. I could always tell when someone was lying just like the way some one can tell when it’s raining when they’re standing in the middle of the street during a thunderstorm. “My car won’t start. I need a tow truck.”
Joseph beamed at me for the first time and soon to be the last. “Ah, my petit-fils has a tow truck. I’ll telephone him and he’ll be right over to fix you up good.”
I slowly walked towards the counter. “I thought you didn’t have a phone,” I reminded him.
He smiled toothlessly at me. “It ain’t for public use.” Joseph disappeared into a back room concealed by a dusty red curtain. He hadn’t disappeared far as I heard him pick up a telephone receiver and dial.
« Bonjour, Alan? C’est votre pe-père. »
I almost wished I had learned French in high school. I opted to take biology and other science classes instead.
« Il y a un homme ici, dit que sa voiture ne fonctionne pas. »
There was a pause. It was probably ‘Alan’ talking. I knew they were talking about me.
« Non, je ne sais pas il a trouvé cet endroit. »
After a few moments of talking with his petit-fils, Joseph emerged from the back room. The smile had disappeared from his face and he looked almost worried. “I’m sorry mon ami. My grandson is unable to bring his truck over right now. He said he would be here in about trois hours.” He held up three bony fingers.
I sighed — there wasn’t much else I could do. “Does this place have a restaurant?”
“Unfortunately no we don’t. We do have a picnic table out dos.” He waved his hands, indicating the back of the store. “I could have my wife make you a sandwich.”
I rubbed my stomach. Now I was beginning to regret not stopping in Kapuskasing for supper. The thought of food right now was simultaneously appealing and disgusting. From the looks of the store and Joseph’s appearance, I leaned toward more disgusting. Images of headcheese on pumpernickel danced in my head. My stomach turned. “Thank — you but I’ll be fine. Do you have some bottled water?”
Joseph laughed at the comment. “Who drinks water out of bottles? If you’re thirsty I can get you some water from the tap.”
I sneered but my body needed something to sustain itself for the next three hours. “That’ll be fine. You say the picnic tables are out back?”
Joseph pointed the way and I found my way to the rear of the store. The view was spectacular. Currant Goods and Outfitter stood atop a steep cliff. Below, almost a hundred feet down, the floor was carpeted green with Spruce trees. I hadn’t noticed how high up I had actually driven until this beauty greeted me.
The vicinity directly behind the store was far less appealing. The stench of a dumpster, which was overflowing with rotting garbage bags, overpowered any aroma that would have come from the forest far below. Bald tires of varying sizes piled next to the dumpster. Wrappers from chocolate bars and pop cans lay strewn across the area directly under the table making it impossible for me to place my feet anywhere comfortably.
I tried to distract myself from the mess around me by gazing back into the deep wilderness. I almost longed running free in the woods.
My mind must have drifted further than I imagined for when I swung back to reality the two children stood directly in front of me. They giggled and whispered to each other. It was apparent now; they were brother and sister, possibly only a year apart and looking about six or seven years old.
“Hello there,” I said in my most un-intimating voice possible.
“Are you a…” the boy began but covered his mouth and giggled into his hand.
“What am I?” I asked.
“You ask!” he demanded of his sister.
She giggled back to her brother and poked at him. “You wanted to know.”
“Great grandpa says you’re a loup garou,” the boy finally let out.
“He said what?” I was shocked. It’d been so long since I heard that term. Most people didn’t believe in my kind anymore; those who did were too afraid to say anything for fear that doctors locked them away.
“Allez!” The voice of Joseph erupted angrily behind me. The two children scattered. I turned back to Joseph, who was holding a glass of dirty water. “Pour vous,” he said offering the glass to me.
I gingerly took the glass from his frail hands and set it on the table. The glass wobbled showing the obvious flaws in the table’s structure. “Were the children bothering you?”
I blinked at him for a moment trying to cut through his accent. “Oh, no they weren’t bothering me at all. They were just playing. You know kids.”
“Yes, I know kids.” His voice was soft and distant, as if reminiscing on days past.
I took a slug of water. It was warm and I could feel the sediments sliding down my throat. Despite this, it was slightly refreshing. “So, where is Pleasant Creek?”
“You don’t know? You’re here, aren’t you?”
I laughed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean the town. I meant: where is the creek the town was named after?”
“There weren’t a creek. Just some joke by the settlers of this place. They thought it would be funny if they called this place after some creek that weren’t there. Some joke, eh?”
I laughed even though I didn’t get the joke. I tried to force myself to take another drink of the polluted water but I just couldn’t bring myself to. I pushed my glass aside. Joseph looked at the glass then at me.
“Is there something wrong with the water?”
“No, well… it’s just a bit dirty.”
“Ah, Jesus! I’ve been drinking this water since I was a baby. Ain’t harmed me none.”
I shrugged. It was hard to argue with Joseph’s logic. I picked up the glass again and took another drink.
“Are those your great-grandchildren?” I asked and nodded my head in the direction the children ran off.
“Ah, oui. They’re Alan’s children. Alan is my grandson.”
“Cute kids.” I laughed.
Joseph threw me a cool look. “I don’t know why you’re here but I think you better leave as soon as possible.” I smiled at Joseph through the side of my mouth. “I’m trying; remember? Your grandson is coming to give me a tow.”
Joseph walked around to my side of the table and placed his hand on my shoulder. “I don’t know why you came back but we don’t want you around here.”
My spine began tingling. The tension emitting from Joseph was nearly unbearable. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Joseph backed up and threw his hands in the air. “Mon dieu, bâtard dégoûtant. We don’t need your kind around here; not again.” He crashed back into the store cursing in French as he left.
I took a deep breath and held it as long as I could. I don’t know why I wound up in Pleasant Creek. It almost felt as though something drew me here but I couldn’t say for sure. Maybe I could feel the twilight. Maybe there was a calling deep within those woods; a calling that drew me here. I returned my gaze back to the woods far below and daydreamed of running through the forests.
Three hours passed quickly as I dreamed. The electronic beep of a truck backing up and French cursing brought me back into reality. For a moment, the sweet aroma of pine needles hung in my nose and I swore my fingers felt tacky with sap. Then the putrid scent of the dumpster overpowered it all again.
I pushed myself up from the picnic table and headed back to the front of the store where my dying car sat. A bright red diesel pick-up truck with a rigging on the back slowly backed up towards my car. Chains and straps swayed uneasily as the driver, a large balding man in his late thirties, sat forcing himself out of the cab window. Big meaty hands worked the steering wheel and gearshift simultaneously. Beads of forced sweat formed on the large man’s brow. Behind the truck, Joseph guided the driver in with wild hand signals. There was a sickening crunch and a look of pain on Joseph’s face. I knew Alan went back too far. I didn’t want to see the damage.
Joseph ran up, positioned himself between the tow truck and my car, and rubbed his head with his weathered hands. “Ah, mon dieu,” he sighed. He looked up at Alan and then noticed me standing outside the scene of the crime. “Is all right. There is very little damage.”
That sentence made my heart sink even further. I trotted up to the car to get a better look at the incident. The front bumper had cracked and bent. Thank frigging God for plastic, I said to myself. Then I noticed the headlight. “Sweet Jesus fucks!” I howled. This was going to cost a lot — a fuck of a lot. “What kind of asshole tow truck driver are you?” My rage vented on Alan. I didn’t want it to but Christ it made me mad. The car was ten years old and I still paid off the loan. This was going to cost. That kept running through my mind repeatedly.
Alan hopped out of the cab. He stood much taller than I did but I could see he was distressed. “I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to. I really didn’t.”
“Well, who the fuck is going to pay for it? Not you I suppose.”
Alan knelt down and looked at the damage. He scratched his balding head, much as his grandfather did. “It doesn’t look too bad, really. Not too bad.”
“Not bad? You busted the fucking headlight. You wrecked the bumper. Look, the radiator!” I noticed a puddle beginning to form. Rivulets of anti-freeze began working their way through the dirt forming a completely new world of lakes and rivers for the ants that crawled by.
That’s about when it happened. By God, I didn’t want it to happen but it did; much like it did every other time — why I had to leave Kapuskasing in the first place.
I don’t know exactly what happened. I never really do. All I ever remember is the beast welling up inside me, like a volcano on the verge of erupting. Sometimes I can remember my skin tearing; sometimes I can feel my own blood pour out. Most times though, I remember nothing at all. I only know when it happens in the aftermath. Often all that there’s left is the hint of the taste of blood in my mouth. That thick, metallic taste was unforgettable. A few times I still have the meat stuck in my teeth and I vomit when I awake. I’ve always hated that taste. I once heard that the taste of pork is the closest approximation to the taste of human flesh. What is it the cannibals call human–long pig?
-Credited to Bryce V. Giroux