Algonquin Park in the Dead of April
There was something not quite right… something almost… sinister and wicked… about Lorraine.
For one thing, she was always stealing other girls’ boyfriends. The minute she saw the happy couple wrapped in a warm, private cocoon of romantic bliss, she had to, at all costs, tear them apart. With her long jet-black hair, big dark eyes and wide curvy hips, Lorraine had some kind of charm about her. Still, it wasn’t really so much her looks that she could count on, it was the fact that she was always willing to do anything it took.
But, I think to myself and sighing out loud, that was almost two years ago now. Back when the world was still… well… the world.
Back before the pandemic, before the virus that suddenly came out of nowhere and spread so fast. Like wildfire through a dry brittle forest, it blazed and raged and, in the end, wiped out humanity in a matter of fourteen months.
I was just three weeks shy of my twenty-sixth birthday when I lost everyone I loved and everything I owned.
As I weave my way through these twisty rough backwoods along narrow paths and through dense thicket, I let another sigh escape my lips while I fight back tears of loneliness and desperation.
Today’s been particularly exhausting looking for water that’s not stagnant and clouded with filth or, I can only hope, contaminated. I usually search high and low for a run off, a moving waterfall of clear cold H20 that has always proved to be safe to drink, at least so far. I managed to find it early this morning after a steep hike up the forested terrain and I filled every last jug, bottle, and container I own. Then carefully like a member of the bomb squad setting down an explosive device, I placed them in my backpack one at a time.
I suddenly hear a noise to my left and I’m startled when a gigantic white pine begins to sway a few feet away from me, its bluish green needles dropping in clumps onto the forest floor. I jump back when I spot a snowy owl perched on the branch it just landed on, talons curled in a vicelike grip around the swinging limb. Staring at it until my eyes water from not blinking, I make sure it doesn’t have the signs. But… no… it doesn’t. No red glow from within can be seen pulsating like hot coals throughout its body, no fire red flames in its eyes; it’s all good. This owl has a pure white head and clear yellow eyes and seems to be the way it should be. Nothing to be afraid of I tell myself and move on.
Before long however, I must stop to rest my weary half-starved body on a large rock even though, in the back of my mind, I know I can’t sit here too long, I need to find shelter soon. Though the late April days are stretching out a bit longer now, it still gets dark fairly early and it hasn’t been that warm yet. Nevertheless, I sacrifice a few precious seconds to take inventory of what I have left: a plastic bag of trail mix, several pounds of salted beef jerky, four packages of pepperoni sticks, a box of granola bars, a jar of peanut butter, two boxes of crackers, three juice boxes and two cans of tomato soup. This is all that I’m worth apparently.
Tears well up in my eyes and spill over, dribbling down my cheeks and nose, dropping from my chin to the ripped knees of my blue jeans.
In a sudden onslaught of hysterical emotion, I feel the reality of my plight slam forcefully into the pit of my stomach like a swinging sledge hammer. I’m actually going to die out here all alone soon, and I must spit out the bitter taste of the incredible irony coating the inside of my mouth. I’m disgusted by the incongruity that I, a city girl in every which way, ended up here in Northern Ontario, somewhere in the middle of Algonquin Park. Somewhere in the boonies amidst the glassy clear lakes and lush forests all the way from my home in the Yonge and Eglinton District of Toronto, one of the most urban parts of that wonderful city.
I miss it so much.
I loved the metropolitan life. I loved my cozy suite in my ultramodern high rise apartment building with the perfect sized balcony. I loved the view of the sparkling bright city lights winking against the velvety darkness. I loved the sound of my high heeled boots clopping against the shimmering wet, freshly rained upon sidewalks, glistening in the light of the street lamps as I walked to meet friends for drinks after work. I loved roaming the busy streets on a Saturday afternoon with a Starbucks latte in my hand, window shopping, picking fresh fruits and vegetables at the local markets or visiting the library, the art museum. I loved the sky bridges connecting so many of the buildings, intersecting the skyline like giant glass tunnels suspended in mid-air. I loved the Sky-Share-Rides service I could order to get home safely, soaring above ground late at night, if I needed to. I loved my friends and my parents and I especially loved my boyfriend, Mark. Right up until the day he and Lorraine kidnapped me, restrained me and drove me here to the woods where they left me for dead.
“Hopefully, one of those infested beings with the new plague will put an end to your misery soon Christine,” they had told me just before driving away to God only knows where. There wasn’t any place left to go. Everywhere was dangerous now.
In science class at the college I attended, we studied the history of outbreaks and I remember learning how folks as far back as seventy-five years ago talked about the first benign viruses, the ones that didn’t amount to too much.
There had been one called SARS, one called something to do with pigs… oh yes… the swine flu I believe… and one called the Coronavirus. After that, if I remember correctly, there was a string of outbreaks of viral diseases that, just like the ones before them, killed a few thousand human beings in various parts of the world but became contained fairly quickly, and again, never caused any serious threat to humanity. These included ones with odd names like the Quitovirus, the Ademolavirus, the Discoidvirus and the Agathangelosvirus. That last one was, without a doubt, the worst one, killing over 600,000 people in North America alone and millions more in Africa, Asia, parts of Europe, Thailand, China and wiping out Japan completely. After that things began to settle down a bit when it was finally under control and contained, no longer able to multiply and spread like the Black Death of the 1300’s.
But nobody on the planet was prepared for what came years later, the destructive force of a pandemic so violent, so potent, so omnipotent actually, that most of the human population was now… completely… gone.
There were… are… very few survivors… and I’m one of them.
Forcing myself to my feet, feeling the fatigue in my very bones, I continue on my journey to find shelter for the night. That’s always the hardest part. Though being grateful isn’t an emotion I’m particularly feeling an abundance of these days, I am actually thankful for the supplies my evil boyfriend and his equally evil mistress provided me with: a large backpack filled with two heavy winter coats and boots, a change of clothes and a sleeping bag, an assortment of containers, two flashlights with extra batteries, a fair-sized lantern, matches, lighters, kerosene, rope, Kleenex, a bar of soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, and a battered first aid kit that looks to be about twenty years old. These items have been my virtual lifesavers for the past three months as it has taken all the energy and determination I have inside my soul to survive out here alone.
Though it’s been a relatively mild winter, the nights spent huddling through the cold windy, sometimes snowy darkness in places like the crevices beneath fallen logs and trees, the gaps within rock formations and the inside of caves, have been pure torture. These last homes away from home were the ones I used the most if I was lucky enough to find them. Still, even though they were the best type of shelter against the elements, ultimately, they ended up being traumatic and horrific as hell. Both on my body and my psyche.
Most nights I cried myself to sleep silently so as not to alert anything that I was there. But the caves never extended themselves into permanent residences for me because something always went wrong. Always.
Inside the first one after I had spent several nights there, I suddenly awoke to the sound of rocks crumbling and boulders dropping all around me. Like a building being demolished, it rained rubble and rock quicker than a hail storm and I nearly ended up pummeled to death.
The second cave, unbeknownst to me, was filled with bats that came awake during the witching hour of course and I was never more terrified than when at least twelve of them flew around my head trying to do God only knows what to me. I couldn’t even tell if they had been infected.
And then there was the third cave. This is what happened in the third cave. Though I had noticed that it was a bit drafty and not as cozy as I really wanted it to be, it wasn’t like there were a bunch of swanky cribs laid out for me to choose from. Once inside, I did my usual ritual: set up my sleeping bag in a spot with my back to a wall and where I could see the entrance way and all around me in every direction. Lit my lantern and made sure it stayed lit all night. And kept everything I owned close to me, practically piled on either side of my body, touching me. That particular night, it had taken me a lot longer to get to sleep. My mind had been racing, my sadness was deeper than usual. I had just dozed off when I woke up not being able to breathe, choking and shivering.
Gasping for air I realized that I was drowning!
Somehow, probably from a melted snow run off somewhere, the cave had filled with water that had come pouring in through the crevices. I had never moved so fast in my life! Clawing my way out of the zipped up sleeping bag, I managed to get a foot hold on the soggy bottom of the cavern, grab as much as my slick frozen hands could hold onto, and run outside as fast as I could. Once I was upright and standing, the water wasn’t as deep as I thought, it reached just past my waist and I was able to run back inside to get the rest of my things. I thought I was done for that night, that I was going to freeze to death, everything I had was soaking wet. My teeth chattered, my head ached, and I just couldn’t get warm fast enough. But I managed. Lord I don’t know how, but I managed to build a fire (thank goodness my matches remained dry inside their sturdy metal box) and with an infinite amount of will and patience I dried everything out one by one. Even the boxes of granola bars and crackers somehow survived.
Today there is a smell of spring in the air and along my travels I swear I saw a few wildflowers bloom in various spots along the woodland trail. I have lots of water now, a good supply of food and I’m ready to get some rest before it gets dark, which will be soon. I feel some strange energy pulsing through my veins today and maybe that’s because I really needed the good cry I just had. Or perhaps it’s something else.
With the help of a walking stick I made myself, I trudge on and suddenly I see something out of the corner of my eye. I’ve learned how to be conscious of spotting the necessities and for half a second a bolt of hope touches my heart as I see the mouth of a cave and someone or something lying in front of it.
It’s been so long since I’ve encountered anything living other than plants and trees and that owl and I stifle a sob as my head spins with the realization of how isolated I’ve been.
Please don’t let whatever this is be infected I pray.
I bite my lower lip and inch towards the creature carefully keeping my eyes on the grey, white and black heap its body makes on top of the dirt. And that’s when the incredibly scrawny and gaunt wolf pup lifts its head and looks right at me.
If you were to fast forward to a week later, you’d see how quickly I gained the frightened animal’s trust. You’d be amazed at how, with plenty of beef jerky, water, a soft soothing tone of voice and scratches behind the ears, I earned her love as much as she earned mine. With each hug and every kiss I planted right on top of her beautiful majestic head, you’d see a renewed version of the shadow I was. You’d see me with her, the two of us side by side walking as one, talking to each other, albeit each of us in a slightly different language, and leaning on each other so we can fight to stay alive for another day.
The girl who reads books on the bus
There was a girl I met in 6th grade, she was nice and read books on the bus, but I didn't talk to her then, no, it wasn't until the following year that I really talked to her, I learned that she was smart and funny, and she slowly became my closest friend. A few weeks later, My mother got angry at me, it sent me into a dark place, I did things that weren't smart. It culminated in me, sitting on my bed tying a knot in a rope and putting around my neck and was prepared to jump. But then I remembered her the girl who read books on the bus, the girl who was the first person I really cared about, the one who's smile could light up a room, She was the one who saved me. I've never told her about this but she is my best friend.
so can i
i turned sixteen in january
it used to feel like a dull ache
i wanted to be born into the spring rain or summer grass
this year it felt like a big fuck you
to the frost to the wind and to the chill
i was born at the height of season where everything dies
i pour the basil and mint growing on my window sill out every november
no matter how well they’re doing that year
because between the cold and me they have no hope
i tend to wilt in the winter
the sun turns bitter and my mother’s house has no heat
i lay in the dark and birth twin streams
pinching my skin with numb fingertips
two years in a row
i wrote suicidal letters in the dark hours of my birthday
that was the song i sang to myself as i cried myself into another anniversary
this year was different
someone gave me a planter of soft red roses
i rubbed the petals between my finger and thumb
and i thought to myself
if something so thin delicate
can keep it’s colour
keep its shape
can continue to put down roots into the frost bitten ground
then so can i
They stood there waiting. I could not quite see their face clearly, though I felt if I could reach them I would be saved. Running towards them begging them to reach out and pull me from the abyss. Why did they refuse to help? Could they not see me struggling in front of them? I cried out and heard no response, I cried out tears, but still found no answer. I broke down to my knees and begged, but still, they did not budge. I cried until my cries died down and gave way to silence. It was then when I could not stand my despair any longer that I brought myself to my feet. Then in the distance, the figure's face lit up and I could see a smile. It was me! I was looking at myself, the only one who could save me.
Rip tide came with no warning.
Away and away from shore I went.
I kept swimming to shore.
But I was getting no closer to saftey.
Thinking I would move forward, my strength was going going...
I kicked off sand bottom as much as I could
Having to go under to push off bottom more and more.
Struggling to keep above water, struggling to breath.
I dont think I knew how much danger I was in.
Lifeguards silent and no help.
Up and down, under water, above water.
A sighting of a person, swimming for shore.
I begged for help with air I had in my lungs.
This stranger swam us to shore.
This stranger who was pulled out to sea by rip tide.
I kept thanking this man once I could stand above water.
Asking for nothing in return, this man saved my life.
Walking into crowd, blending in without effort.
I never saw stranger again.
This man I knew nothing about, saved my life.
A stranger saved me.
“Rip them off. Hit him like I showed you. It will weaken his arms and legs.”
“You’re evil, that’s why we have to punish you!”
The teens continue to rain punches on the eleven year old until he can no longer lift his arms and legs. They abruptly remove his clothing and grab him by the wrists and ankles. The hallway was empty. Quietly, they ran up the stairs.
One of them drops the boy’s legs. His ankles bounce off of the marble stairs. Pain races up his legs, into his groin.
The door to the roof pops open. A blast of night winter air wraps itself around the naked eleven year old. They push him outside. Once more, they begin to punch his legs, his arms and kick at his stomach and ribs. He curls into the fetal position, coughing, trembling.
They lift him off the ground by his ankles and run to the edge of the building. He opens his eyes and sees the chasm. At first, his muscles strain while he stares at the gaping pitch that waits for him, then he relaxes. His muscles release their tension.
“We’re going to drop you if you don’t do what we ask! Did you hear? You’re going to die!”
The younger of the two teenagers lets go of the boy’s left ankle, causing older boy to stumble, but the older tightens his grip on the right ankle, piercing the skin and drawing blood. The younger teen wrestles with his brother, trying to loosen the fingers that hold tightly.
The naked boy grabs onto the edge of the building while they struggle and pulls himself back onto the roof. All three of them fall to the rooftop. The older teen weeps, terrified. The younger one rasps, the look of hate in his eyes. The boy crawls backwards, away from them both. His body trembles violently as he presses himself against a wall in the shadows...