By M.J. Preston
The Past – Highway 3, Northwest Territories
She lay bleeding, her body, beaten, broken, violated in the worst possible way. The remains of her child cast out onto the frozen gravel, still warm, but without life. Inside her head—she heard the voice, liquid chanting—rained down upon her. Beckoning Come to me. Let me take your pain. Give it to me and I will avenge you, avenge your child.
She listened to the chant, focused on the desolation inside her belly. There, the thing it craved began to form. To grow and divide, becoming, ingesting the malice inside her. As it became, the fervor evaporated the pain of broken bones, of ruptured tissue, the loss of life. Her fury, it’s fury, no longer directed at being raped, beaten and left for dead. But at the thievery of her attackers. They had stolen her security, her dignity, her child.
“The bastards. I want their hearts, their genitalia.”
It grew larger, and hungry spirits crooned, “Unburden your hate child. Let me take the load.”
“What will you give me for it,” she asked.
“Reprisal,” it replied.
From above, flap of wing. Night birds gathered. Swirling downward, fanning her broken body then back up again, into the charcoal darkness. Then they began to land all around, spectators to the atrocity, waiting to eat the aftermath.
Will you give it to me?
She didn’t answer, not at first. The malice in her belly scraped the inner walls with its claws, pushed against the battered muscle and tissue of her sex organs. It wanted out, wanted to live and she had the power to give it what it wanted.
“Yes,” she said.
Her abdomen swelled, much larger than it had been before the attack.
It was coming.
Highway 3, Boundary Creek Rest Stop
Snow raged in great torrents, revolving around the pull-off, cutting through the dual headlight cones of the empty car. The bodies, there were five of them, steaming, were scattered around the rest stop. Their killer screeched, a blood-curdling shriek of joy and victory. She licked the blood from the blade she now carried and tasted the death she had inflicted.
It was sweet.
Outside the yellow light, in the shadows, predators, much smaller than she, waited for her to finish her feed. She stood erect, bare-naked in the bluster, camouflaged only by blood and snow. She shrieked again, like a banshee. She raised the blade, the one she had taken from the Grogan man. The killing was done, it was time to feed, and this was her place. Not theirs.
“Not theirs,” she hissed in the ancient language through broken teeth.
Predators moved closer, waiting their turn, as she pounced on each body, using the blade to eviscerate, and gorged herself. The last had been pregnant, five months, this one had been particularly sweet.
Four Hours Later – Boundary Creek Rest Stop
The witnesses hadn’t even waited, driving off into the night, terrified at the specter. Homicide Detective Howard Logan took in the carnage and could only imagine how that call must have sounded. He was the first on the scene when the call came, returning from a follow-up on two other murders that had occurred between Mosquito Creek and the Frank Channel. All of them were related, he didn’t need forensics to tell him that. The bodies were opened in the same manner. Cut from solar plexus to pubis and emptied of their internal organs.
“Most definitely related,” he said aloud.
Logan rubbed his right wrist, which ached in the cold. It had been broken a few years back. He opened the trunk, removed the police tape and traffic cones. He thought about striking a few flares, but that would only illuminate the horror show and cause a major distraction. No, it would be better just to tape off the crime scene until the backup got here.
He set cones at both ends, closing the pull-off, and then looped police tape up between the cones. This highway used to be one busy piece of work, but after the situation at the Acadia Mine, the ice road, and the prosperity it afforded had come to a grinding halt.
The world had changed, even more so for Howard Logan, who had been on the receiving end of that Acadia business. Since that fateful night, everything that was impossible became possible. Alien creatures had found their way into our world; changing everything. For Howard Logan, that was only the half of it. Not only had extraterrestrial life been confirmed, but he had himself realized that some mythical monsters also walked among us. He had a revelation of sorts after his sister told him what had really happened to his dead father. His father, Police Chief David Logan, had run a Skinwalker afoul and inevitably paid with his life. Howard Logan knew this to be true, not myth or folklore. He had accepted this. He had to. The alternative was embracing the idea that he might be a character in a Stephen King novel rather than a Police Detective with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and that was just crazy.
He aimed the beam of the flashlight at the closest victim, a child not more than nine.
It’s not a Skentophyte, he thought and then said aloud, “Or a Skinwalker.”
The cut was too precise.
He ignored the foolishness of those first two rulings because Logan knew that both creatures existed. He’d had his wrist broken by a Skentophyte alien in downtown Yellowknife and had seen a real live Skinwalker. In the flesh, if you pardoned the pun. The Skentophyte had been stopped. The Skinwalker was still there in Thomasville, returning twice a year during the spring and fall equinox and contained only by an ancient ritual performed by the Chocktee people. Howard Logan had indulged in that ritual just last fall. For him, it had been the first, for his sister Jaimie, the second. For both, an enlightening and terrifying experience.
The world had changed, and not for the better.
Logan continued to trace the flashlight over the child’s body.
So, who did this? Who, or what, cuts open the bellies of victims and steals their organs?
Before he could answer, he heard them. Police sirens called out, coming from the city to the north. An armada of red and blue lights butting against the grey night, sometimes there, sometimes gone, beams jutting skyward from behind the rock and stunted trees that shouldered the Mackenzie Highway.
“Here comes the cavalry,” he said and flicked the toggle that lit the police truck’s light bar.
Boundary Creek – Crime Scene – Highway 3, Northwest Territories
Logan looked over at his partner, Detective Bobby Keefe. Keefe was in the passenger seat of his truck. He and Keefe had been investigating the Highway 3 murders. They were both smoking cigarettes, watching crime scene techs collect the evidence. “What do you think?” Logan asked.
Keefe responded with the same question. “What do you think, Howie?”
“I think I asked first and if you call me ‘Howie’ again, I’m going to bag tag you. Come on, Bobby. Tell me what you think. We’ve got six victims and not a clue. This has become a big deal.”
“Nothing is a big deal after Acadia,” Bobby said and he was right. After stopping what could have been a full-scale alien invasion, the feds were more worried about the new perceived boogeyman. Even the war on terror had become secondary. “But you’re wrong about no clues, Howie.” Keefe smiled, daring him to strike.
Logan didn’t bag tag him. Instead, he lowered his window and cast out his smoke. They weren’t allowed to smoke in police vehicles anymore. Government do-gooders. “Clue? What clue?”
Bobby Keefe lowered the passenger window and tossed his smoke. Then he said, “The Crime Scene guys found hairs at the last two scenes and the genetic make-up of those hairs match one recipient. A woman.”
“A woman did this? I find that sort of hard to believe.”
“I’m not finished.”
“Sorry, I’m listening.” Logan lit up a fresh smoke.
“I got a call from an informant of mine in Rae who says he knows someone that we need to talk to. “
“An informant in Rae. Anyone I know?”
” He’s a throwback to narcotics. Guy’s name is Nigel Tecumseh.”
“Nigel Tecumseh? I thought he’d be dead by now. That guy is a fucking tweaker.” Logan had busted Tecumseh for possession. The story was much longer, but he pushed it away. More Acadia business. “What is Tecumseh doing down in Rae? Rae is a dry community.”
“Nigel is dry as well. No drugs, no booze. Cleaned up his act after the Acadia Event. Found religion and went back home to Rae and started working in the community. He’s been clean for almost three years.” Keefe paused, but not long enough for Logan to interrupt. “He says there’s a guy who lives off the grid south of Edzo who knows exactly what we’re dealing with. Says the guy’s name is Tony Rourke. He’s a Metis, moved up here from Saskatchewan a few years ago, makes his living picking up road kill and running a trap line.”
“Picking up roadkill?” Logan chuckled. “There’s money in that?”
“Don’t laugh, the fur trade is not dead, Howie. A wolverine pelt procured off the highway can fetch fourteen hundred bucks. Anyway, Nigel said that he went down to see Rourke to buy some moccasins for his sister’s kid and when he got there he said that Rourke was drunk off his ass. Mumbling on about how he found a woman who had birthed a Leyak.”
Logan shook his head. ” You sure that Nigel wasn’t smoking a glass pipe when he told you this? I don’t think I’m ready to ask what the hell a Leyak is.”
“Good, because I’m not going to try and explain it. I’m going to let Rourke explain it if you’ll accompany me to his place after we square up here.”
Logan considered this, he’d been up for over eighteen hours. “Okay, I’ll find out how long until crime scene is finished and then we’ll skip down to Rae.”
Highway 3, Frontier Trail – Northwest Territories
The ride lasted about an hour. In the first half hour, the snow began to let up and visibility improved. They drove south along Highway 3, toward the communities of Rae and Edzo. The road was a winding snake, mined by chip seal sinkholes and falling shoulders. The ride was rough but quiet, they only passed one vehicle by the time they reached the Frank Channel and crossed the narrow steel bridge.
Bobby Keefe was silent for most of the ride, smoking three cigarettes to Logan’s one, his focus on the road. He was watching for the drive that would lead them to Rourke’s place. According to Nigel, it was marked by a six-foot Inuksuk made up of large slab stones.
“Turn right there, and his place is about three kilometers in,” Nigel had said.
“He got any dogs?” Bobby had asked.
“One, an old mutt lab named Pat, he’s friendly,” Nigel assured.
Bobby spotted the cairn and snapped out of the memory.
“There, turn right on that road.”
Logan flicked the right signal and turned. Once they were on the trail, he engaged the truck’s four-wheel drive, and then they were swimming down the snow-covered road. “How far in? I don’t want to get stuck.”
“Shit, really? I don’t have a chain set in this truck, Bob.”
“If the going gets rough, we’ll park it and walk the rest of the way in.”
Logan glanced down at the outside temperature gauge on his dash; it read: -27. The idea of walking in on foot made him shiver. “I’ll get us there.” From his peripheral, he could see Keefe grinning. “You’re an asshole, Keefe. You weren’t really considering walking, were you?”
“No, but I had to say something to crush the moaning.”
“Fuck you, Detective Keefe.”
“Right back at yuh, Detective Logan.”
Two kilometers in, the trail tightened, giving enough room for one-way traffic only. Logan hoped that Tony Rourke was at home and not out tending his traps. Above, the skies opened and let loose an aurora borealis that danced in hues of green and red. The time was 3:21 a.m. when they met the dog named Pat. He was old and slow, and his tail was wagging.
Tony Rourke’s Place – 13 Kilometers southwest of Behchokǫ̀ Communities
Rourke was sober, but none too hospitable. The dog’s barking and approaching RCMP truck had awakened him after a three-day bender. He knew they’d be coming sooner or later, but the arrival had come when he was at his worst.
Logan got out first, leaving the truck running. Pat the dog was sniffing at him, thudding his nose against his thighs. Logan wondered if the mutt could smell the death from Boundary Creek on him. He reached down with a gloved hand and stroked the dog’s head. “How are yuh, boy? Where’s your master?”
Beside him, Bobby called out into the dark, “Is that you, Tony Rourke,”
Logan caught a glimpse of an approaching silhouette.
“It is,” Rourke’s said with a hint of accent. “What brings the police to my doorstep?”
Logan sized up the man as he came into the arc of the truck headlights. He was carrying a 12-gauge shotgun casually over his left arm. “What’s the gun for, Tony?”
“Things that go bump in the night,” Tony replied.
“What things might those be?” Logan resisted the urge to reach for his own weapon.
Pat had abandoned Logan and was meandering over to Bobby now.
“Wolves, badgers, skentophyte. This is the new north, everything goes bump up here.”
“What about Leyak?” Keefe said.
Rourke sighed. “I guess you’ve been talking to Nigel?”
“You’d be guessing right.” Keefe was in control of the conversation now. Logan just watched and listened. There’d been no reports of Skentophyte in the area, the military had destroyed the ones at both the Meanook and Acadia mines, the ones that were left anyway. A guy named Spencer Hughes had killed the rest on the night he’d saved Logan’s life in Yellowknife. That night he was face to face with one of the godless aliens. As far as he knew, the creatures were long dead, except those that haunted his dreams.
The world had changed. The monsters were real.
“If you want to spread a rumor, tell a recovering addict.” Tony shook his head.
“I’m thinking you wanted people to know.”
Tony Rourke smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I guess, maybe. Come on inside, and we’ll talk about it?” Then he turned and trudged back up the same track he had broken on approach. Logan followed first, Bobby behind with Pat in tow.
Rourke’s place was a ramshackle cabin made up of particleboard, 2X4’s and Styrofoam insulation. It was, being kind, a one bedroom single level bungalow, lacking the necessities of running water, a toilet, or a television. What it did have in the main living area was a potbelly stove, a battered leather lazy-boy recliner, a loveseat, a plastic lawn chair, and a coffee table. Also, there was a kitchen table from the 1960’s that looked so new, one would think that it had to have been teleported there via time machine. The table was set against the wall next to a door that led to what must have been Rourke’s bedroom. The walls were adorned in animal skins and native artwork. The place smelled like coffee and mothballs. Maybe a hint of weed. Logan took a seat in the lawn chair, Keefe in the loveseat and Pat the dog climbed up to join him.
Logan spotted an empty bottle of Canadian Club on the kitchen table.
“I’ve only got instant,” Rourke said and poured them each a coffee from the pot that sat on the wood stove. He set the cups down on the coffee table. “I’ve got sugar and canned milk if you like.”
“Black is fine for me,” Logan said.
“I’ll take some sugar,” Keefe said.
Rourke went to the cupboard and brought back a box of sugar cubes. He plucked out four cubes and dropped them into his own coffee and settled back into the recliner. He first blew on, then sipped the coffee. It was too hot, so he set it aside and said. “So, you’re here on my doorstep. I guess the question I have is: How many dead this time?”
Logan, who hadn’t said much to this point, turned to Keefe, who nodded for him to take the lead. He set his gaze upon Rourke and told him there had been five victims this time, six if you included the unborn child. He also mentioned the killings at Frank Channel and at the pull-off in Rae. He only gave up the information he knew would make the news. He didn’t say anything about the evisceration, although he assumed Rourke probably already knew.
The victim at the Frank Channel had been a young man, identified as Jesse Phillips of Edzo. His naked body was found stretched out on a barren rock, twenty feet from the river, his belly cut open and hollowed out. He’d been found by his cousin only hours after being killed. The cousin had gone looking when he hadn’t returned home. It seemed that Jesse was going to meet someone to score a bottle of liquor, which was illegal in Edzo. Both Edzo and Rae were dry communities, but that didn’t stop bootleggers from bringing in alcohol. The cousin hadn’t known who the bootlegger was, but they knew Jesse made his connection because next to the body was an unopened bottle of SilkTasselWhiskey. News of the evisceration-murder of Jesse Phillips spread throughout the surrounding communities. The native folk thought they might have a windigo or a skinwalker in their midst. Logan never laughed when he heard this. He knew better. He also pushed away the assumption that the bootlegger had done the killing. He doubted a man who dealt in bootlegging would leave behind a bottle of whiskey after killing his victim. But to be sure, they dusted the bottle for prints and got a partial thumb. A week later that partial print would lead them to the bootlegger or more precisely, the bootlegger’s body. The bootlegger was not a man, but a woman. Her name was Diane Meeitner of Fort Providence, she had a few priors, one pending charge of trafficking with intent to sell methamphetamine, and four times she’d been arrested for fighting. Twice at TheTalon, a native bar in Yellowknife, once at the Snowshoe Inn Pub in Fort Providence, and the last on Highway 3 with her girlfriend. Meeitner was a lesbian. Diane Meeitner had been eviscerated just like Phillips, but she was found in a pull-off right next to her ‘95 Subaru Outback which was loaded with nine bottles of whiskey and seven cases of Labatt’s Ice. She also had a quarter ounce of weed, along with a pipe. Logan finished up and said, “Nigel said that you might know who were dealing with.”
Rourke sipped his coffee and added a splash of Bailey’s Irish Cream. He didn’t bother offering either of the cops a warm up. “Not who, Officer…”
“Detective,” Logan corrected.
“Yeah, okay…Detective. Not who, but what.”
Logan stifled a yawn. He’d been up for almost twenty hours, he thought he and Keefe might be catching a power nap on the way back to Yellowknife. He glanced from Rourke to his partner. “You want to jump in here, Bobby?”
Keefe sat up straight and said, “Nigel said you told him something about a Leyak.”
“Nigel, never to be trusted again.” Rourke grinned. “Yeah, I know who’s doing the killing or as I said, what. You’ve got a Leyak out there, and it’s hungry. Very hungry.”
“Two questions,” Logan interrupted. “What’s a Leyak and how do you know about it?”
“Sounds like an easy explanation when you put it that way, Detective Logan. But if you really want to know everything, it’s going to take a little longer.”
“There’s been seven murders over the course of a month. I’ll give you all the time you want if you’re not feeding me a line of shit,” Logan said.
“We’ve come a long way, haven’t we gentleman,” Rourke said. “Five years ago, people regarded our lore as mythos. Now? That business up at the mine has changed everyone’s thinking. People are jumping at shadows, looking around corners for skentophyte and when someone says that there’s a windigo or a ghost wandering the woods, they don’t laugh anymore. They listen.”
“Get on with it, Tony.” Logan was becoming irritable.
“What is a Leyak?” Keefe was leaning forward, trying to head off his partner’s tension. “Is it a native spirit?”
“No, it’s Indonesian. And just so we’re clear, it has killed eleven people.”
“Eleven?” Logan sat up straight. “What are you talking about?”
“If it’s going to make any sense at all, I’ll have to go back to the beginning.”
And so, he did.
Tony Rourke’s Story – The Birth of the Leyak
Tony Rourke started, “Her name was Nicole Castillo, she’d come to Yellowknife from the Philippines with her husband in 2013, but that was before our paths crossed. When I met her, her husband, King Castillo, was gone for two months. He had come to YK with the hopes of getting on at the Acadia Mine as a cook, but those hopes were dashed because the mine wasn’t hiring. Nicole told me that King wanted them both to get jobs at the mine. Three weeks in, two weeks out, not a bad life until they got a bit of money socked away. Instead, King ended up working at Kentucky Fried Chicken and Nicole at Tim Hortons.
“Back in the Philippines, King was a chef, now he was a short order fry cook. Given the situation in the Philippines, they were still better off. They stuck it out. Living hand-to-mouth. Socking away money where they could, waiting for the hiring freeze to be lifted and then Acadia happened and that changed everything. With both Mines out of business, King and Nicole Castillo became the lucky ones. They were at least employed, even if it was in the fast food industry where the wages are shit. Then there was an accident. Having just parked for work, King Castillo got out of his car when a drunk came barreling down the road and ended him.” He drank the last of his coffee and stood up. “I need a refill. Anyone else?”
Logan and Bobby raised their cups.
Pat the dog, who was now snoring at Keefe’s side, dropped a rose.
“Ah, Jesus. You mind if I smoke, Tony?” Keefe said.
“Knock yourself out,” Rourke said and chuckled, “Pat’s got magic farts, Detective. They bring good luck.”
Keefe lit a smoke. “They don’t smell like magic.”
Rourke poured them all a fresh cup. When he sat down, he offered up the Bailey’s, and they accepted. He set his own coffee down and lifted a pipe from his breast pocket. He packed it with fresh tobacco and lit it. Between the cigarettes and the pipe, a cloud hung above the table, the intertwining aroma masking but not stifling the magical fart Pat had dropped.
“King was killed and Nicole was left to fend for herself. A week after his death, she discovered she was late. By the time the funeral was over she realized that she was six weeks pregnant. Now, I wasn’t there at that time. I was still two weeks from being introduced to Nicole Castillo. I only know this because she told me after the fact. When she found out she was pregnant, she took it as a good omen. That King would live on through his child. It didn’t matter that they didn’t get high paying jobs in the mine or that Tim Hortons barely covered the cost of her one-bedroom apartment. She was with child, giving her a new place to focus the love that had been lost in King’s death. Whether it was a boy or a girl, she would see her love, King, in that child and in that she found hope.” Rourke stopped to gather his thoughts. “That was until Grogan and Stoltz came along.”
Logan knew the names but had no idea why.
Keefe stayed silent.
Rourke puffed on his pipe and continued.
“Those were the first two, I’m not surprised you never heard of them. That was such a time of turmoil. I swear to God, when that thing happened at the mine you could have pulled off the crime of the century and no one would have noticed. What’s a little murder here or there? A little rape and brutality.” Rourke stopped, ran his hand through the swatch of gray beard that hung to his chest. He gathered himself and continued. “People in the Filipino community rallied around Nicole, gave her the things she needed. A used crib, baby clothes, and every payday she stockpiled things for her child. Diapers, bottles, blankets. She was getting ready, and she was only two months along.” He stopped, a smile formed on his face, but it was a sad smile. “Nicole Castillo was beautiful. She was petite, like a doll, with almond eyes, olive skin, and long flowing black hair. Even when I found her that night at Boundary Creek, battered, bloody, her left eye closed up…covered in bruises…I still saw the beauty; you know.”
“Found her?” Logan leaned forward. “I’m not getting you.”
“Okay, sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself,” Rourke said.
Logan waited and sipped the refill Rourke had poured them. The Irish cream was sweet and masked the stagnancy that had formed inside his mouth. He had picked up the smoking habit for a second time after four years, after the Acadia business. When Rourke didn’t respond he pushed, but just a little. “What happened to her, Tony?”
That brought Rourke back. “Stoltz and Grogan. That’s what happened.” He took a slow deep breath. “Fuckers… I didn’t find this out until later because I came into it after the fact. What were Stoltz and Grogan doing before they snatched her up? My guess is they were hitting the booze hard—probably drunk—when they saw Nicole walking back from Tim Hortons. Had to be drunk, it was after midnight and Friday to boot and here’s this tiny Filipino girl walking alone. They snatched her right there off the street, right across from that bar, The Monkey Tree, and no one seemed to notice or care. Nicole said it had been Stoltz who grabbed her and that Grogan seemed shocked at first.
“‘What the fuck are you doing,’ Grogan, who was driving, says.
“‘I got me a gook,’ Stoltz was laughing, but there was no play in that laugh.
“Nicole said that she sat quiet at first, thinking it was a prank and that they would let her out, but she was wrong. She heard Grogan tell Stoltz to let her go. Even felt the truck slowing to a stop, but Stoltz would have none of it. ‘Get this truck moving, Jimmy. Take us down to Boundary, and we’ll have a little fun; then we’ll let her go.’
“Jimmy Grogan didn’t argue and, why would he? It was all an act. Him and Stoltz had done this before. They’d raped and killed three women, one at Boundary, one at the 208 pull-out and another down around Big River. This was just their good cop, bad cop routine, to put her at ease, before the horror.”
Bobby Keefe interrupted him this time. “You telling me that you had knowledge of serial rape and murder and we’re just hearing about it now?”
“Even if I’d called you guys you wouldn’t have listened,” Rourke said.
“Bullshit,” Logan said. “We would have listened.”
“Really? Cops can be selectively blind. Nicole Castillo and the women before her would have gone unnoticed. Never mind that they were minorities, that business up at the mine had everybody’s attention. How many calls have you responded to where people have reported seeing Skentophyte skulking around their back yards, in their garden sheds?”
Logan said nothing, he couldn’t disagree.
Keefe could. “The Skentophyte are all dead. We would have investigated.”
Rourke sat back. Let out a sigh, raised his voice and level of sarcasm. “Dead? I doubt it. I saw all the government vehicles. I doubt there are any Skentophyte around here, but I’m willing to bet that there’s a few of the bone eaters sequestered in some government facility.”
“Oh, for fuck sake! Can the conspiracy shit!” Keefe stood up and Pat the dog was startled awake. He got off the chair and wandered over to his master, tail wagging.
“Stop.” Logan raised a hand. “We are going off the rails here, Tony. I’ve got five murdered people on their way to the morgue. Right now, I don’t give a shit about what happened at the Acadia mine or if there’s an Area 51 in the north. I want to know what happened to Nicole Castillo and what the hell is killing people along Highway 3.”
Rourke calmed a bit, looked down at Pat and said, “You need to go outside?” Pat wiggled his butt in unison with his tail and let out an affirmative whistling whine. Rourke said, “Okay, after I put the dog out.”
He opened the door and a gust of arctic air cut into his face making him recoil. Pat seemed not to notice or care and went headlong into the cold. The door thumped behind him, and Rourke stayed there. “He’ll be back in a few seconds, no point in sitting down.”
“So, what happened?” Logan asked.
“They raped and beat her out there at the Boundary Creek pull-off. They were ruthless, Grogan blackened her eye, broke three fingers on her left hand while Stoltz first raped and sodomized her.” Rourke’s face screwed up into an angry knot. “They took turns out there in the night before the weather had really turned, going at her again and again. Beating and torturing the poor girl. Fucking animals.”
From outside, Pat barked.
Rourke opened the door. The dog sauntered in and returned to the loveseat a little colder, and, Keefe guessed, a little lighter. The dog curled up like a croissant, pushing his cool body against the detective’s right leg, and began to doze.
“I don’t know how long it went on. I found her left for dead, and I was going to take her into Yellowknife, but she stopped me. Said that the guy who did it was a cop and that she couldn’t go to the police.” Rourke said.
“You saying that one of them was a cop?” Logan sounded defensive.
“No, I’m saying that was the lie she told me to keep from taking her to the hospital. I wouldn’t have even stopped at Boundary, would have missed her completely, but I had to piss, and I saw all the birds.”
“Birds?” Logan said.
“Raven’s, there had to be at least 200 of them, maybe even more. Congregating around her body—waiting for her to die—so they could pick her apart. The way they surrounded her was creepy. There was perfect order in how they stood, like an audience watching a street performer. And they weren’t the only ones. Overhead, even more of them were circling and calling out to each other. They lined the branches of the surrounding trees and were perched on a dumpster. What was unusual is you don’t see ravens at night and not just because they are black, but they usually find somewhere to sleep at night and do most of their business by day.
“When I pulled my truck in and caught them in my lights, they didn’t scatter, and I thought to myself that there must have been a dead deer laying there, but then I saw her bare ass smeared with blood and my heart started doing back flips. When I got out of the truck, the birds surrounding her took to the sky, so I moved in and started shaking her. ‘Miss? Hey, Miss, you okay?’ Stupid question, I know, but ‘Hey Miss, you dead?’seemed inappropriate.
“She just let out a moan.
“I said, ‘Don’t you worry, you’ll be all right. I’m going to take you to the hospital. Who did this to you?’
“‘No, no hospital,’ she said. ‘No police.’
“‘Because… It was a cop who did this.’ She passed out then.
“There was no way I could put her in the cab. They’d beaten her up so badly, and I had no idea about the extent of her injuries. The only thing I was sure of was that she had been pregnant and that she’d lost the baby. She was all bloody between the legs, there was a stain and a small mound of tissue on the ground.
“‘I’ll be right back,’ I said and rummaged around the cab. My heart was racing, I was scared shitless, but for all the wrong reasons. I had to decide. Either I took her to the hospital and run the risk that she dies and then you cops try to pin the rape and murder on me, or I take her to my place and she dies, and I end up with a secret to hide.
“I grabbed a sleeping bag and wrapped her up and placed her in the box of my truck. I then took a tarp and placed that over her. I did everything I could to make her as comfortable and warm as possible.
“She mumbled, ‘Take it then, but make them pay. Make them pay with everything they have.’
“I didn’t pay this much mind, not at the time anyway. I wanted to get the fuck out of there. It began to occur to me that the rapist cop might return to the scene of the crime to finish up.
“‘Hang on, Miss. All you got to do is hang on for about an hour,’ I said pretty sure she was going to die either way.
“She didn’t die, though. God help me, maybe she should have. And she recovered quickly, too. It only took a few days, and I thought maybe I was wrong about the extent of her injuries, maybe it looked worse than it was. Now, I know that something else had happened.
“When she was strong enough to talk, she told me her name. Told me about how her husband was killed by a drunk. She told me about the baby and her rebirth from mourning, and I must tell you that I was inspired by her spirit. And then she told me about kidnapping and rape. She was cold, when she related this, there was no emotion, like it had been taken. Listening, I felt my own anger bubble up as she gave a blow-by-blow account of what they’d done to her. Hell, I wanted to club those two assholes to death for what they did to this sweet young lady. So much so, I’d almost forgotten about the cop lie. I wasn’t sure why she’d lied to me, but I didn’t think it mattered.
“‘We have to go to the police, Nicole,’ I said.
“‘No.’ She was calm, but steadfast. Her eyes were distant, focused on some other place, the past or maybe the future. She then added. ‘The police won’t be able to do anything; not now, anyway.’
“‘They can arrest them, put them in jail.’
“‘No.’ She never raised her voice, but there was a force in her tone.
“I didn’t argue, I understood her apprehension about cops.”
“Three months passed and winter loosened its hold, giving way to spring. Nicole cooked, tidied my place, and even helped me with my traps. I started thinking that maybe she could stay. Maybe she and I… Well, I began to have feelings for her, but I didn’t dare show any physical affection. She didn’t smile much, she was serious all the time, and I knew that she would eventually leave, perhaps go home to the Philippines. I told myself that I was just safe harbor, a place where she could heal and once the healing was done she would move on.
“Throughout this, she slept on the loveseat. Pat couldn’t fit on the small couch with her, not once she lay down, so he slept on the floor. I would have offered her my bed, although I probably would have ended up a cripple if I tried a night on the loveseat.
“It was the first week in April, and the thaw was coming, but a last snow came wandering out of the north to remind us who the dominant season was. It was on this night that I slept with Nicole Castillo and saw things that no man should see.
“I was in a deep sleep when I heard her voice.
“‘Tony.’ Her hand touched my cheek and I opened eyes. She was wearing one of my button flannel shirts and nothing else. It hung on her tiny frame like a tent. Outside the wind howled, ice and snow beating against the window, and she said, ‘It’s awake.’
“‘What?’ I tried to sit up, but she pushed me back down. ‘What’s awake?’
“She unbuttoned the shirt and it dropped to floor, revealing her to me. ‘I want to sleep with you.’ She climbed into the bed with me and wrapped my arm over to cup her breast. ‘Hold me, Tony. I need to be held.’ She was shivering, but her body was a furnace, like she had a fever.
“I caressed her thigh and meant to touch her, but she stopped me.
“‘I can’t,’ she said and turned to face me. ‘Tony, I love you. You are my savior, and I would give myself to you for what you did, but I can’t.’
“‘Okay,’ I said and withdrew my hand.
“She pulled my hand to her mouth and kissed the palm. ‘I’m still very tender. Tonight, I just need you to hold me.’ She shivered again and pressed her bare body against mine. I should have responded, but I didn’t and not because I’m a gentleman. She had some power over me. She was suppressing my desire for her. She spooned into me, and I held her tight.
“‘Are you sick,’ I asked.
“‘No,’ she whispered. ‘Leyak is coming. It will all be over soon.’
“‘Shhh.’ She placed a hand over my mouth. ‘You will see.’
“God help me, I did…”
Grogan and Stoltz
There is no way I can know what I know, but I do. So, you can either take me at my word or write me off as crazy. I am going to tell you about the Leyak, the rest stop succubus that is now hunting and killing on Highway 3 and if you think about it, detectives, this no crazier than what happened at that Acadia mine. No crazier than men who will take to hunting and killing their own kind. No crazier than the stories of Windigo or Skinwalker. Monsters take many forms.
When I wrapped myself around Nicole Castillo, I thought I would be up all night. I felt like a teenage boy laying down with his first love. I was giddy, I was heart stuck and I never wanted to let her go. I had fallen hard for this little Filipino doll and if she asked me I would find the men who had raped and beaten her and kill them myself. But I didn’t know who they were until I found myself riding with them, on the hunt again.
“We need a toy,” Grogan said. He was driving.
I was in the pickup with them, but I wasn’t. It was like a dream, but it was surreal. I could smell the stale cigarettes in the ashtray, the Southern Comfort spilled on the front seat and there wasn’t that fog you sometimes get with a dream. All of it was in high-definition—the dashboard and stereo lights were vivid. Even the Dodge emblem on the steering wheel and on the dash blazed out at me.
Outside, snow was blowing, they…we were on the outskirts of YK.
“Yeah, a toy would be nice,” Stoltz agreed, “but it’s fucking cold out, Jimmy.”
Their words were crystalline, free of distortion adding further to the strangeness.
“I know a place,” Grogan said. “Up on the Ingraham. There’s a hunting cabin where we could play all night.”
“Cabin? What cabin?”
“Bob Quinn’s. He’s gone home, won’t be back until summer. His father croaked, and he’s gotta settle the estate. All the Quinn’s are gone back to Cape Breton, the place is just waiting there to be used.” Grogan lifted the bottle of Southern Comfort, unscrewed the cap and tipped it into a McDonalds cup that was sitting in the holder right next to his partner’s. “Fill up?”
Stoltz lifted his own cup—took a big swig, making room—set it back in the holder and said, “Fill-her-up and make it snappy. We gotta find us a toy to play with.”
Both men laughed.
“Yeah, okay, Garry.” Grogan poured his partner a drink.
There was sexual tension between these two. I could feel it. Not homosexual, but something else. Something dark and ugly, perhaps it was their shared love of brutality, of domination or of taking life. As I watched, they worked themselves up for the hunt. It was like they were talking dirty and jacking each other at the same time. I could feel their depravity; almost smell it. It was an oily feel, worse than what you’d find in a septic tank or cesspool and it made me nauseous. These monsters had raped and beaten Nicole Castillo. I knew this. Or was being shown this? Yes, shown this. Something else, they had other victims. Undiscovered, missing and murdered women, unknown to the police.
“Let’s go out by the airport, maybe we’ll get lucky.” Stoltz took another swig. He knew they would. I knew they would. Why else would I be there?
We wheeled out on the highway, passing the airport, and that’s when they saw her walking the other way. I wondered where she could possibly be going in this weather.
“Fuck! Check it out. I think she’s another Gook,” Stoltz said.
“Yeah, that last one was too submissive. I like when they fight a little.”
“Well, then maybe we don’t hit her as hard. Make her think she might have a chance.”
My blood boiled. All I could think about was these two animals beating and raping Nicole at Boundary Creek. They needed to be stopped. Needed to pay for what they had done, what they were about to do. I wanted to grab the wheel of that truck and crash it, but I couldn’t. Because I wasn’t there, not in the physical sense. I was metaphysical castaway.
“Drive up to the turn off and we’ll double back. If there’s no traffic, pull over.”
We pulled a U-turn and doubled back. The snow was churning up into the headlight array and I hoped that when it cleared, whoever this hapless woman was, that she would be gone. She was not. She was petite, much like Nicole. Stoltz had called her a “gook” and this angered me, not just because it was a racial remark, but he was too stupid to even get his racist terms right.
“There she is!” Stoltz almost jumped out of his seat.
“We’ll have to clean up the cabin really good, Garry. Can’t leave any blood or evidence.”
“Yeah, we’ll be careful. We can dump her out at Prosperous with the others.”
“We shouldn’t have left that Gook at Boundary.” Grogan said.
“She’s gone, Jimmy. We had to go. You know that. If that car got too close… Well, it could have been a cop or that fucking D.O.T. prick that thinks he’s a cop.”
I realized then that the vehicle they were talking about must have been me. That if I hadn’t come their way, they would have finished Nicole off and dumped her with the others. They mentioned Prosperous Lake and I knew that was their dumping ground. And though their intentions were obvious, it was just dawning on me that they were going to rape and kill this woman. Cold panic tore through me. I wanted to be anywhere, but here. I did not want to bear witness to this young woman’s demise.
Let me wake up. Please, take me away from this, I prayed.
God did not answer, but I heard Nicole’s whisper, “The Leyak is coming.”
The truck began to slow and so did my heart.
They were almost beside her now. She strode along the shoulder, her back still to them, unaware or uncaring. I didn’t know which. Grogan eased the truck over and paced her as Stoltz lowered the passenger window. She was younger than Nicole, maybe seventeen, but she was Filipino and she bore a resemblance.
“Hey, little lady, awful cold this evening. Would you like a ride?” Stoltz said.
She stopped, turned to face him, considering him with those almond eyes and when she was done, she smiled.
Stoltz opened the truck door and said, “Hop in.”
She climbed in and sat beside him.
The truck pulled away and sealed our fate. We drove south for another couple minutes and Stoltz used a side road to hook another U-turn. Our passenger never said a word, she just stared forward, into the driving snow. We were going back up the road, toward the Ingraham Trail and on to Bob Quinn’s cabin. What I knew about Stoltz and Grogan was that most of their victims never came willingly. Even the submissive ones used cowering as a form of defense. This woman was different, she was poised quietly beside Stoltz who examined her with sick craving. He had not pounced to hit her—to push her down as he had the others—that would come later.
We turned up the Ingraham trail and the wind now ran crosswise on the road, kicking up snow devils that danced across the beams of our headlights. Grogan leaned over and pushed a button on the truck’s CD player and a song I haven’t heard since I was kid came on. The singer was Ted Nugent and the song was ‘Stranglehold’.
“Yeah,” Grogan said and touched her thigh. “You like rock n roll, Missy?”
She turned her gaze to him and then Stoltz, nodding.
Stoltz touched her cheek with the back of his hand. It was a snake’s caress. “You like to party?”
She nodded again.
We turned off the Ingraham onto a side road, presumably the one that led to Quinn’s cabin, and the Ram pickup pushed along the unplowed road.
All the while, Nugent was singing, “Come on, come on, come on baby.”
We never made it all the way.
“You’re a party girl, aren’t you? I bet you like getting tag-teamed.” Stoltz was drawing back. “You little slut!” He throttled his fist into her face and drove her down into the floor. She never made a sound, but she didn’t get back up either.
“Jesus Christ, Garry! We’re almost there. Couldn’t you wait two more minutes?”
“Gook cunt!” Stoltz drew back and hit her again.
She was crunched onto the floor, much in the same way Nicole had been. She didn’t say a word and I never heard her cry out. I couldn’t even hear her breathing. Grogan pressed the accelerator down and the truck surfed from left to right through the foot and a half of snow. I watched in horror as Quinn’s cabin came into sight.
The truck stopped short of the cabin and Grogan put the shifter in park. He said to his partner, “I gotta get the key. Try not to kill her before I get back.” He got out and stomped into the snow.
“Oh, we’re going to have fun with you, Missy.” Stoltz said.
Jimmy Grogan worked his way up the steps onto the covered porch. He began reaching up into the rafters, feeling around, and stopped. Slowly, he brought his hand down and held up the key.
“Way to go, Jimmy,” Stoltz said, and then to the girl. “We’re gonna party, Missy.” He opened the passenger door. “Get out and don’t try to run or I’ll kick your ass all the way up there.”
She slithered out into the night, then stood obediently waiting for Stoltz to follow.
He climbed out, drawing his fist back, and tried to hit her again, but this time she caught his hand in mid-strike and held it there.
“Huh,” was all he managed when she began to change.
“Gook,” she said, black ichor spilling from her mouth. “Cunt.” Then she snapped his wrist like a piece of dry kindling and he would have surely screamed, but her other hand was coming up fast and hard. Its destination: His testicles.
The blow connected and Garry Stoltz’ eyes became comically wide and his knees buckled. “Ohhh…” Stoltz groaned, barely managing, “Ji…J…Jimmmm.” Spittle accenting each syllable preceded the threads of drool that hungry from his upper lip.
She was transforming, her eyes turning black as coal, complexion graying, fingernails becoming jagged shards on knotted twigs for fingers, but her smile was the worst. When she grinned, her teeth looked like broken brown beer bottle glass. She released his broken wrist and hooked one of those elongated fingers up into his left nostril. It disappeared to the stump, pushing up until Garry Stoltz’s eyes became even wider.
“Uh… Uuh…” was all he managed, there was snap of gristle, then his left eye popped from that socket, impaled upon the jagged shard that protruded from her finger. Stoltz vomited all over himself and though he probably wished he could faint, he did not. She released his testicles and brought up that other twisted claw-hand and plucked the eyeball from its bayonet pedestal. She held it there between thumb and forefinger, as the impaling finger disappeared back into his socket and was pulled from his nostril.
From behind, fast-moving steps crunched the snow. Grogan was coming, he had unsheathed a long, jagged hunting knife. He wasn’t saying anything, but I could feel his raw panic. I could even hear his thoughts. They had lost control of the abduction. There would be no play tonight, only murder. And he was probably going to end up dumping two bodies out at Prosperous, because Garry Stoltz looked like he was a goner.
Oh, my god, oh my god, he thought, leaving me to ponder how evil people call to God when they so blatantly ignore His will. Grogan was almost on top of her when she popped Stoltz’ excised eyeball into her mouth and bit down. Stoltz threw up again and began to lose consciousness.
Grogan pounced and brought the knife down, but she swirled like smoke and was gone, leaving him to bury it, to the hilt, in Garry Stoltz’ shoulder.
“Fuck!” Grogan’s head darted left—right—left. Where was she?
Behind you, I thought and as if Jim Grogan heard me, he began to turn his head.
She reached out and caught her claw in his hair, dragging him down to the ground. Still holding the knife handle, he pulled Stoltz over with him. Then she was on top of Grogan, biting red scoops of flesh from his face.
She bit and spat, bit and spat, painting the snow, red lacquer with each ejected chomp.
Grogan screamed and begged for mercy. “Please… No more…”
If it had not been so horrific, it would have been comically ironic. How many victims had begged for their lives at the hands of these two monsters? I watched everything from beginning to end and I believe that this was price I had to pay for falling in love with Nicole Castillo. For saving her as she bargained with the Leyak for vengeance. But there was more to come, because everything we do comes with a price and the debt owed had not yet been collected in full.
Neither Stoltz or Grogan were dead when the Leyak committed its final selfish indulgence. They both lay dying, but conscious and aware . She removed the knife from Garry Stoltz’ shoulder and used it to disembowel them. As the life bled from these two killers, she did what a Leyak is destined to do. She consumed their viscera. It was a horrific sight, but ordinary for the predator. We don’t often watch wild creatures consume their kill, perhaps because it is a reminder of what we were before the sanitary world made us tame.
I thought I would never be able to leave this place, then the Leyak watched me through the walls that separate dream and the waking world. Its cheeks were encrusted with already congealing blood, bits of tissue hung in strands from jagged teeth. It grinned, baring even more of those jagged teeth made for ripping and tearing. There was an accusation as it locked into my gaze. “Do you like what you see?” those black eyes asked.
I was terrified, but unable to scream.
Then the ravens came. Gathering in the trees, calling out in the hundreds, communicating the message of death. Then, one by one, they landed to wait their turn. A swelling black congregation in wait for a feast. And they were not alone. In woods, there were other things lurking, hungry.
“Oh, Nicole. What have you done?” Knowing my own culpability. What have we done?
Finished its feed, the Leyak rose and began to walk toward me. Behind it, the ravens moved in for their place at the table. As she closed the distance, she began to alter, the twisted fingers retracting, the deformed jaw and broken teeth melting back into shape. Her body became that of a woman once again and I could feel her calling to me like a land siren. That call was melodic and luring like a black widow.
I’m better than her, the whisper said. I will take you deeper. I will please you beyond your wildest dreams. You should come and taste me. Come to me Tony, come to me and we will touch and feel and taste each other.
I knew she couldn’t touch me, but I was still enthralled by her promise and if I were there, I would have given into her lustful song. And she knew this. This Leyak thing standing before me. Smiling, daring me to seek her out in the real world. She looked down for a reaction, wanting me to follow her eyes and confirm my lust.
“No.” I heard Nicole say.
Then, mercifully, I was falling, away from the carnage, into darkness.
I awoke with her at my side, my arm still wrapped across her breast and she was nestled into me. Nothing had changed. Her breathing slow and relaxed, that of a sleeping person.
A dream. I thought. No, a nightmare.
But when I stirred, she said, “They won’t hurt anybody again.”
“Jesus!” I sat up and she moved to accommodate me. “It was real? Not a dream?”
“Not a dream, Tony. What you saw was real.”
“The Leyak. That was real? Those two men?”
She nodded. “Yes, Stoltz and Grogan have been killing women for some time.” She grinned then. “But not anymore. The ravens will feast and soon they’ll be bones. The Leyak has done what it promised, held up its end of the bargain.”
“Bargain? And what is your end of the deal, Nicole?”
“I gave it life.” She stood and got dressed.
The next month was uneventful and Nicole stayed. The vision of what happened to Stoltz and Grogan was always with me, but I could compartmentalize it. Even justify it. They were rabid dogs, both, and deserved what they got.
Things warmed up between Nicole and me. Sometimes we held hands when we walked the trap line. At night, we sat side-by-side on the loveseat and listened to music on the radio. We slept on my bed, but there was no sex. Pat was content to have his loveseat back. I loved her and I believe she loved me, although there was something missing. Nicole had lost something that night, not just her child, but part of herself as well. Given to, or taken by the Leyak spirit. The anger or malice we sometimes feel is an important part of who we are, it balances us. Nicole had surrendered that part of herself and it left a void. She was indifferent at times, like a broken person. She had no fire or fight.
She would never be quite the same. She tried though, she really tried.
Then the Leyak came back.
“Nooo,” she screamed.
I opened my eyes to see her shivering in the corner of my room. She was naked, squatted down, holding herself and staring into the abysmal dark. Her eyes were wide, glassy, but I did not think she was awake. She looked hypnotized, speaking a blend of English and Filipino. “Tanging ang mga ito! Only them! Walang iba! No one else.” I didn’t have to speak the language to understand.
In the other room, Pat stirred and got down off the loveseat to come and investigate. His claws clacked on the floor with each step. He entered the doorway as I was sitting up. My dog was looking at whatever she was looking at, and for the first time in a long time I heard Pat start to growl.
She said something else in Filipino that I could not understand.
I couldn’t see anything, but it was clear as day to both Nicole and my dog.
“Nicole” I said, trying to sound calm.
She didn’t respond, just kept speaking Filipino, desperate words I cannot remember or repeat.
But I knew. Knew that the killing hadn’t stopped with Stoltz and Grogan. The Leyak had come back and it had killed again. That was what she was seeing. Nicole was the conduit, it was her embrace that transported me to Grogan and Stoltz’s truck and if I reached out and touched her then, I would be seeing what she was seeing. But I wanted no part of this vision.
“Nicole. Come back. I’m here. Come back to me.”
Pat snarled at the invisible specter, baring his teeth.
She continued to speak in her mother tongue, to converse with an invisible apparition. I don’t how long this went on, just that it was too long. When it finally did end, my dog began to whine and Nicole started to snap out of it. When I was sure that she was no longer in a trance, I went to her.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I’m tired, Tony. I need sleep,” she said. “Can you help me get up?”
I hesitated, feeling like a complete coward, but then reached out and said, “Okay, let me help you back into bed.” I helped her and turned to see that Pat had withdrawn to the main living area. I put a blanket over her and she faded into a stupor. Maybe it was a just a bad dream, I thought. Maybe it was post-traumatic? From the rape?
I tended my trap line alone that morning, leaving Nicole to sleep. I also left Pat at the house with her. I was out for three hours. I hadn’t caught much. Two rabbits and a fox. The rabbits would serve as dinner and the fox revenue.
I bagged my quarry and started back to the cabin. It was on that trek that I felt myself being watched. Twice I stopped, looked in every direction, but couldn’t see anyone. I was unnerved by this. So much so that I brought my rifle down off my shoulder. Something was watching me, maybe even stalking me. I didn’t know what it was, wolf, human or spirit, I just felt better with that rifle at the ready
The last half mile to the cabin I saw her standing in the trail. I slowed my pace, heart thumping in my chest. She was still a silhouette and it was too far to tell if it was Nicole or the Leyak. I tried to focus, but I really couldn’t tell until Pat appeared at her side.
I let out a sigh of relief.
I waved and she waved back, then Pat came trotting down the trail to meet me. I stopped long enough to give him a rub and said, “Hey, old boy, I’m sure glad to see you.”
When we reached Nicole, she said, “We have to talk.”
She was leaving or so I thought.
We went back into the cabin and I got out of my gear. “What is it?”
“The Leyak has come back. It killed a young man last night, down below the Frank Channel Bridge.” She held me with those almond eyes, her face grave.
“You’re sure? How do you know it wasn’t a bad nightmare?”
“It wasn’t. I should have died out there at Boundary…”
“No, you should not have. What happened to you was not your fault, Nicole. You were the victim!”
“Yes, I was, but I let the Leyak inside, gave it life. I gave it all my hate, Tony. I created a monster and now it has killed an innocent boy. I thought after those two men it would disappear, but it hasn’t and I know now that it will continue to kill.” Her voice was even, her demeanor pragmatic.
“You don’t know that!” I felt my cheeks flush. I loved this woman, had saved her from a horrible fate and she was saying that was wrong. “It could have been a dream.”
“I should have died along with my baby.”
“Stop saying that. Don’t you understand, I love you. I don’t ever want you to leave.”
She smiled thinly. “I love you, too, Tony Rourke. You are a sweet, gentle man. You were my savior that night. You scared them off and took me away, but I did not deserve to be saved.”
“Nic…” I started, but she cut me off.
“Because I gave that thing life. Because I wanted to avenge the death of my child. I gave it all my hate, everything, and now it has killed an innocent boy and…”
“How many more would Grogan and Stoltz have killed? How many innocent women would have died if the Leyak hadn’t…”
“It was in the woods with you today, stalking you.”
I stopped. “Stalking me.”
“Yes, Tony. It was there with you. I saw it. I see what it sees, because it is a part of me.”
“Why? To kill me as it did with Grogan and Stoltz? I am no rapist or murderer.”
“Neither was the boy by the river.”
“Because it’s evil, and evil needs to feed. Grogan and Stoltz fed on fear and pain. The Leyak is no different. It must eat to continue its existence.”
“So, you’re saying that it was stalking me for food?”
“No, I think that was a warning to me.”
“Yes. It knows I love you and if I interfere, it will take you away.”
“You mean kill me?”
“Yes. Kill you.”
“If you are right, what are we supposed to do?”
“I don’t know,” she said, holding me in a watery gaze. A single silent tear rolled down her cheek. “I thought it would just fade away. I’m so sorry, I was selfish.”
I got up then and took her in my arms. She was so small and fragile, she sobbed against my shoulder and I held her a little tighter. When the convulsions eased, I felt her touch me and before I knew it we were kissing and moving toward the bed. I tried to be gentle, considerate to the tenderness of not only the physical wounding she endured, but the mental. She took me without complaint or discomfort, she was a willing lover. It was not just sex for me, I loved Nicole Castillo and this was the final consummation of that love. When it was done, we lay holding hands, listening to Pat snore in the other room. Before long, I began to fade and in my final waking moments I said, “Don’t ever leave me, Nicole.”
Hours later, I was awakened by Pat’s barking. That and the sound of my pickup rolling down the drive and away from the house. I was getting my shirt on, slipping into my boots, all the while thinking, Who would want to steal my truck?
By the time I got outside, the taillights were just red dots, too far out to give chase on foot. The snow was gone, so my snowmobile was out of the question. I went back inside to get properly dressed and I saw the note sitting on my kitchen table.
My Sweet Tony,
I am sorry for the trouble I have caused. I know now that the Leyak will not stop unless I make it. It killed another tonight, a woman this time. I am going out to meet it at the place it was born. That is where it always goes after it kills. I do love you, but I must do this. Every time it kills, I see it. It holds part of me hostage, the sinful part.
I know you want to follow and I love you even more for that, but don’t. I must do this. For now, stay away from Boundary, at least for one day.
I will leave the keys for your truck under the floor mat.
I put Pat in the house and hoofed it out to the road. The only thing I could do was try and thumb a ride to Boundary. My odds of getting picked up wouldn’t be too bad, if there was traffic around Edzo. It took me a half hour to get to highway 3. It was another hour by vehicle to Boundary. I hoped to make it there before Nicole did something stupid, but I wasn’t very confident. Another hour passed before I saw my first car and it was loaded with out-of-towners who never would have picked up a scruffy looking guy like me.
My ride came about twenty minutes after that, in a pickup truck even older than mine. It was a 1999 Ford F150 and the man behind the wheel was an Indian fellow with an eye patch. The box of the pickup was loaded down with furniture. I guessed he was moving.
“Where you going,” the big fellow asked.
“Boundary Creek,” I said.
“Ain’t much out at Boundary.”
“My pickup is out there, I have to grab it.”
“You got mechanical issues? I got jumpers and a toolbox. Even some oil and coolant if you need it.” The one-eyed man smiled pleasantly.
“No, nothing like that.” I lied. “The truck is working fine. I had a little too much to drink last night and caught a ride home. I really shouldn’t have been driving, so a friend took me home.” I tried to look embarrassed.
He chuckled, thinking about one of his own drunken misadventures I suppose, then said, “Been there, done that. Good thing you had a friend to pick you up. There was a murder the night before last, at the Frank Channel. A boy as I understand it.”
“That’s terrible,” I said.
“Yeah, I didn’t know the kid, but we lose too many young people to unnecessary things.”
We were quiet for a while, bumping along Highway 3. The silence was awkward, so I said, “My name’s Tony, Tony Rourke.”
He put out his right hand. “Dan Jack. Most folks call me ‘Axe’.”
I knew who he was. He and his brother Billy, along with a handful of others, blew up the Acadia Mine. At any other time, I probably would have engaged him in a discussion about it, but all I could think about was Nicole and the Leyak. So, I shook his hand limply and said, “It’s nice to meet you, Dan.”
We drove on in silence, until I saw the sign that read: PULL OFF—1 KM.
That was the Boundary Creek pull-off.
“There’s your stop,” Dan said. We rounded the corner and I saw the empty truck sitting there next to the old dumpster. He pulled to the side of the road. “You want me to wait; just to make sure she starts?”
“No, but thanks,” I said, and lied again. “I have a friend coming from YK in about half an hour, we’re going back to Edzo. If push comes to shove, I’ll catch another ride.”
“Your call.” He smiled and shook my hand again. “Nice to meet you, Tony.”
“You, too, Dan,” I said and got out.
I managed a smile and said, “Thanks for the ride.”
“Take care, Tony,” he said.
I closed the door and started across the highway. He idled there for a few seconds, then drove away, on toward Yellowknife. I reached the truck, hoping to find her laid out across the bench seat, sleeping. Nothing. I glanced around, to the place where I had found her. Again, nothing. My heart tightened in my chest. I was too late.
I found her about thirty feet into the marshy land. She was on her side, her face half submerged in the spring thaw. Tiny broken reeds poked up from the ground. Her throat had been sliced through, her eyes were still open. They were grey and still. I imagined that the Leyak had killed her with the knife it had taken from Stoltz, but knew better. In the muddy water, a foot from her outstretched hand, lay one of my filleting knives. She had done this to herself, in the hopes that ending her life would end that of her other. I stood awhile, up to my ankles in the cool muck. Heartbroken, angry, cheated.
I went back to my truck, opened the box, and after I readied it, I went back to retrieve her body. She was so light, maybe 105 pounds. The whole process of lifting her from the marshy land and carrying her felt robotic, detached, until I lay her there in the box for a final ride back to my property. That’s when it hit me. I knelt behind the box, tailgate lowered, and balled my eyes out.
The sun was up now—they stood outside—before the cairn of rocks Tony Rourke had used to mark Nicole’s Castillo’s grave. Winter had hit the NWT one last time.
“It was for nothing,” Rourke said. “The killing never stopped. The Leyak is still out there.” And then he began to sob. Pat moved up beside his leg, pushed against him, offering what comfort he could. He knelt and hugged his dog. “She took her own life for nothing.”
Logan and Keefe watched in silence.
Later, Rourke and his dog accompanied the two detectives back to the truck. He told them where he thought they would find the bodies of Grogan and Stoltz. He also told them where he thought the two killers’ dumping ground might be out at Prosperous. He finished by saying, “Nothing will stop it now.” Then he turned and went back to his cabin.
They drove out.
Logan was quiet, contemplating. The drive back toward YK was silent for about fifteen minutes and then Bobby Keefe said, “What the fuck do we do now, Howie?”
“We do what cops do,” Logan said. “We investigate. We get our butts up the Ingraham and find Quinn’s cabin. Then we look for a dumping ground at Prosperous.”
“What about the Leyak? Do you believe him?”
Logan didn’t answer that question. Not directly. “We gotta get the D.O.T to close every pull-off between Rae, Edzo and YK. And put out a press release that no one is to stop for strangers on Highway 3. We tell them what everyone already thinks. That there’s a killer on the road.”
“Okay,” Keefe said. “But how do we stop this thing?”
“Maybe, if we recover the bodies. All of them. Maybe it will stop.”
“So, you do believe him?”
Logan didn’t look over. He just nodded.
The world had changed.