A few bruised ribs. I am fortunate that is all. The doctor gave me some pain pills and a wrap. I won’t need the pills. They dull the senses, and I can enjoy the pain more without them. The fact that it hurts to draw breath only reminds me that I am alive. And what it is I have to do.
I woke up this morning in the cabin. I had been out past twilight last night, checking traps and gathering fuel and kindling for the fire. I would not have missed it last night. I was getting ready to prepare a breakfast at daybreak, dried meat and the fried dough the cowboys call hush puppies, when I saw it. A dreamcatcher on the table. Saulteurs. I have no idea how they made it past the spring gun, which I dutifully check every evening. It will kill a man, and is at least a good first warning against anything larger. But there it was in the middle of the table, as if to mock me.
It was time for me to leave. I grabbed my pack and started down from the pass, east. There is still much snow to traverse here, but there are certain parts of the mountain I know. I stuck to them. Unfortunately, it was not enough. It was only about 40 minutes later that I saw tracks in the snow. Some of the strangest snow-shoes I have ever seen, and moving quickly. They were here. I know this path better in the spring. In the warm months, the foot-path is well worn from hikers, with deer-paths intersecting here and there, twigs and brush pushed aside slightly by those lithe animals. A rappelling wall here. Stone remnants of an old cabin deep in the woods, which I think the children must still try to find while telling stories of the witch who once lived there. An old lodge which long ago burned down at the hand of some drunken teenagers never to be rebuilt. And nearby a large field which hides two World War I era camp bunkers. And then the river. If I could only make it to the river.
I was on the move for the better part of the day before I saw the water. What I found there disturbed me more than anything. Two birch bark canoes. Then I heard a voice telling me to stand still. I felt my adrenaline surge, and time slowed down in that instant enough for me to see three areas around me which provided good concealment. I could only assume that they were all taken. The air was from the Southwest, carried a smell of pine, and it was three hours to sunset. The voice I heard came from near the bank of the river, near the canoes. I heard birds. Strange. These men had either been in wait for sometime, which I considered unlikely, or been able to move without notice. I did not recognize the voice, but thought on it for a few moments. Male, deep breaths, confident, unwinded. I considered my sidearm but decided instead to avoid the fight. I was outnumbered and I judged that my pursuers had already had more violent options available. So I sat down and slowly unstrapped my pack.
“We just want to talk.” So I listened. They described in detail the murder of Deseilligny, their contacts with the Quebeckers and then mentioned a name I had not heard in a long time. Grimpeur. I believed him dead, though I have heard others tell stories of him from time to time. For me he is like the Ojibwa’s Wendigo. His legends persist, at odd intervals, but have always seemed too attenuated to be grounded in reality. They had no information other than what I already knew, but took great pleasure in repeating it to me.
When it was over one of the men walked out of the cover. His skin was rough and deeply pigmented. His hair was a coarse, long tangle of black and gray. I had no recollection of seeing him before. He carried a simple rifle and when he approached I stood slowly. He swung the butt end around into my ribs, then pushed me down, knocking the wind out of me. A few well placed kicks kept me gasping for air as the light wavered and the sun seemed to set instantly around me. “Tell Sarge to come home” was the last thing I heard. I remember thinking that last comment meant that I was being spared.
I don’t know how the Mountie found me but he was able to have me med-evacuated to a regional hospital. A poor unfortunate hiker, we made small talk about my A-frame tent and his days in the scouts using those tents. I must have taken quite a fall, he thought. It was not very intelligent to be hiking alone so far in the hills. I demurred.
My time in the hospital was brief but eventful. The doctor thought it was strange that an unidentified hiker received a manila folder containing a new case file within 24 hours of arrival, but I told him that was the nature of my practice. I have a new passport and am on my way to France. Operation Vercingetorix.