The Truth About My Work (pt.1)
Call this a confession I guess.
The reality of how I’ve spent the last 6 years of my life,...the untold pay cheques per dead myth. The outbreaks, the lost causes, the close calls, relationships falling apart as secrecy creeps in like a cancer and tears them into pieces. Here I am today, a shell of my former self, having seen too many bodies torn to shreds, lives ripped into oblivion, you get the point - sort of.
In 2014 after a handful of years had passed since I’d returned from Afghanistan, I’d attended a meeting in Ottawa, Ontario - told by a senior official I’d worked with in the forces while in Kandahar. “Between you and me, whatever this is...it’s raising a lot of concern out west right now. Especially the area around the foothills in Alberta. We’re not sure what exactly “it” is, but I can tell you it’s highly classified. Even I haven’t been briefed on the situation. The Brass wanted someone who was experienced in tracking, so I dropped your name.”
Of course he did. When I’d gotten home from overseas, I took a guiding job with my uncles hunting operation in northern Quebec, where I’d track Caribou, Black Bear, and if we flew far enough north, and the client was willing to pay top dollar, Muskox. Just as I’d been in the forces hunting down the Taliban, I’d become proficient with tracking down big game animals without them ever knowing I was there. I can see you sitting here, reading this, wondering if while in the mountains on my own in Afghanistan, if I’d ever pulled the trigger on another human being.
Yes. And there is nothing more sobering for the soul than that. Nothing.
Let me save you the time and tell you the short version of the meeting. A lot of high ranking officials, two provincial Premiers, 4 biologists (you’ll understand later) and several other people of significant authority were in the room, some of which looked as though they hadn’t slept for days. I recognized one person in the room as Master Sargeant James (Big Jim) Keller Corbett, a renowned Sniper from the Patricia’s that I’d had the pleasure of accompanying on a handful of tasks while over there in the mountains. He seemed perplexed, taking notes, flipping slowly through a file folder.
As I sat down, the same file folder was handed to me. A voice began to speak but I instantly zoned out while going through the physical copy in front of me. It struck me as odd that rather than an operational briefing, these looked more like case files from various horrific crime scenes. 11 in total, termed by the places they had happened in. Elk Lake, Ontario, Notre Dame, Quebec, Attawapiskat, Ontario, Norway House, Manitoba, places I'd either been to or had never heard of. It seemed that there were denser clusters of victims of whatever this was out west though. Though the photos were black and white, the gruesome nature of the remains in the photos, to me, indicated an animal predating on prey, while others looked to be vicious maulings and nothing more.
Midway through the briefing, it dawned on me that I'd been brought here to track and kill whatever was doing this. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I'd hunted down some seriously fucked up individuals during my 3 years in Afghanistan, men who would do ungodly things to other human beings, and never once did I bat an eye to the thought of it, but what I was seeing in these photos was something else entirely. At this point, a large stainless steel table was wheeled into the room with a lumpy shape under a grey sheet on it. The biologist folks got up at the same time and walked over to it, and all of us were asked to join them. Removing the sheet, the culprit of the various attacks was revealed as an unknown animal, certainly a predator, resembling some kind of cross between a wolf and a bear, but really neither. It was all business up front, with thick grey fur around the shoulders, neck, chest and back, which tapered out into almost bare skin towards the back end where a small hairless tail, maybe under a foot long. One of the men put a pair of gloves on and began to talk about what they knew of the animal, pushing the fur back on the left shoulder revealing a marking of some sort underneath.
I remember the voice of Big Jim asking what the hell it was, and the biologist replying that as far as they could tell, it was a tattoo. I leaned over the table as far as I could to get a better look, and sure enough, it looked an awful lot like one of those old pin-up girl tattoos, colourless, faded, but at some point someone had been close enough to whatever the hell this thing was, to get that tattoo onto it.
"Gentlemen, at this point in time we really don't have any idea what these things are, or where they came from. We do know that the reported attacks seem to happen only in smaller towns in northern area of provinces, often in clusters. Alberta, and B.C are reporting the most, but we've recieved confirmation that there have been attacks in two places in Washington State, and one in Montana. Currently the attacks are going unreported to the press until we can figure out just what it is we're dealing with. " said the man with medals pinned to his chest. He introduced one of the biologists, who would give us, i'd hoped, something a little more detailed in terms of information about the dead animal.
"Right now we don't know much. As you can see these animals feature several predatory traits; eyes at the front of the skull, immense canines, exceptionally muscular in the shoulders and forelegs, paws unusually spaced and elongated pads, the tail as far as we can tell serves absolutely no purpose in terms of stability. It should be said that the nature of these things as far as we can tell, is extremely aggressive, but they're skeletal structuring is remarkably frail. This specimen has been confirmed as a male, 170lbs roughly, though we're unable to confirm its age."
Nobody said a goddamn thing.
He continued, "You see, we can't really study them without putting our field biologists in immediate danger. What I can tell you is that if one is injured, it gets the others excited. They don't seem to be pack animals so to speak, but in areas with more than one, if it's confirmable, they do tend to hang out relatively close to one another. We're not sure if there is any kind of social structure to it. We don't know when they breed, or where. We can't get any DNA to back up the lineage of where they've come from because all tests have been contaminated with human DNA. We know they're extremely aggressive, often going out of their way once they spot another animal or person, to maul it or kill it. We don't know if they have territories but at this time it seems reasonable to assume they may."
A voice from the other end of the conference table: "What was the cause of death in regards to this particular specimen?"
He flipped through a notebook and replied "As I mentioned earlier, their skeletal system is relatively poorly built. This one was the culprit of the Elk Lake attacks as far as we know. A resident shot it with a .243 after it attacked their hunting camp. 4 people at the camp were killed before it was shot."
It didn't seem plausible in my mind that such a strong looking predator could be built so poorly, but the entry hole and exit told the tale of what a well placed shot was capable of.
A new folder was handed to me toward the end of the meeting. New attacks, seemingly out of the blue, in a place called Fort Mackay, Alberta. 3 people confirmed dead, another 4 missing and presumed dead. Again, the photos of the victims were horrendous. I still vividly remember the permanently horrified look on the female victim, 20 years of age who had been camping with her fiance. In truth, her face was the only thing that could tell you that she'd ever been a human being at all. I am haunted by that photo even to this day.
That's how this all started for me. That one phone call that led to that one meeting, would reshape my life for the next 6 years. Worst of all, and I wish I had of known then what I know now, but things were only going to get worse for those northern towns.