This story is pure fiction inspired by Google maps and the images I found online. I extend my apologies to all vegans out there.
Caleb is on a weed run across the unmanned Canada-US border behind his co-worker Craig. Caleb hopes to net himself $25,000 from the proceeds, but the border patrol is not the only thing they have to worry about.
A Drug Run
“It’s feeling a little light, not exactly 25 keys,” says Caleb lifting his backpack with his thumbs a few times. “I risked my ass back there coming across the border on foot, and I want my money’s worth,” he says staring down at the greying 40-year-old dealer wearing a black leather vest and faded dusty jeans. Caleb is a head taller and thirty pounds heavier. “Look,” says the dealer, “Your friend came through yesterday, and I told him the same thing. The weed’s been treated to give it a little kick, and that costs more,” he says holding his ground. “If you want we can smoke some and you can see for yourself.”
“Fuck,” says Caleb with his hands on his hips looking around at the grey wood rot on three abandoned grain elevators that shield them from the road. “No, man,” he says waving his hand. “I’m already paranoid as shit, and I need to stay on an even keel until I’m back in Montana. Where the hell are we, anyway?”
|Whiskey Gap, Alta|
“A swath?” says the guy squinting.
“Yeah, a swath where all the trees have been clear cut that runs the length of the border; it's about 100 feet wide, ” says Caleb.
“Your friend mentioned something about a swath too. Now I know why he was so worried about border patrol drones,” says the dealer, knocking some dust off his jeans.
“Yeah, among other things,” says Caleb.
The dealer gives him a lift in his truck back along a dirt road to the drop-off point. With trembling hands, Caleb jumps out of the cab without saying good-bye and runs across the meadow with $25,000 worth of “treated” BC bud on his back. “There’s no way this pack weighs 55 pounds,” Caleb mutters to himself. And he should know. He and Craig, the other half of the weed run, haul animal carcasses every day at the meat packing plant in Great Falls. “Fucker,” says Caleb coming into the shade of the trees, which is instantly calming.
The smell of pine is soothing to his rapid-fire heartbeat. He pulls out his camouflage rain poncho and pulls it on over his pack. He takes a long drink of water, his mouth dry from nerves. As the sun sets, he walks about a 100 feet before he sees Craig’s first piece of fluorescent orange string tied around a branch. Caleb unties it and puts it in his pocket. There should be five more strings before he reaches the swath.
|The swath courtesy of CBC|
“Selling weed is just so high school. I’m over that,” Caleb had answered. But his friend, ten years his senior, was convincing. “I did a run a few years back to pay off some gambling debts. What a rush! I’m telling you that’s what freedom feels like. C’mon!” Craig had said slapping him on the shoulder “Besides, what 25-year-old worth his salt doesn’t own his own car?”
Caleb had felt a surge of adrenalin, a rush of excitement when they planned the weed run around a full moon to ensure plenty of moonlight to make their way back through the forest.
Branches snap underfoot, and the silence is broken intermittently by the hoot of an owl or the howl of a wolf. Caleb stops from time to time just to listen, but hears nothing other than the odd branch break. He breathes in the fresh air and revels in the scent of earth, pine and decay. He closes his eyes to remember the moment and to steel himself for crossing the swath, which is just ahead. He pockets the last florescent string and concentrates on the sounds around him: no drones, just the ring of silence.
He pulls his poncho hood over his head, inhales deeply and makes a run for it out into the swath as his heart pounds in his chest and the blood thumps in his ears. He turns his head to the right to see the swath stretch for miles until it ends on the crest of a hill. When he reaches the other side, he keeps running until he is gasping for air, his heart in his throat.
Caleb stops, slumps at the foot of a large tree and wipes the sweat from his brow with his sleeve. He removes his poncho and takes a long drink of water. He lies down on the ground and looks up at the trees and the stars above the moonlit forest. As his pulse returns to normal, he pulls out a few bowls of weed from his pack and his pipe from the side pocket. “Let’s see what this little kick is,” he mutters. He smokes three bowls, one after another. Feeling instant relief, he begins to relax and ponders his next 12 miles on foot to the rented cabin in Babb.
Suddenly, the area is invaded by a high-pitched whining sound like a bone saw. It quickly grows louder like it’s coming closer. Caleb’s on his feet looking around, then above. “Fuck! Drones,” he says. He pulls off his poncho strapped to his pack and puts it on. He sits on the ground with his hood pulled over his head and spreads the poncho over his legs and pack. He covers his ears from inside his poncho. So intense is the noise that it hurts his ears, his brain, even the backs of his eyes. He sits huddled on the ground for what seems like a long time until the noise finally subsides. He rocks his body back and forth for a few minutes. Caleb looks at the backs of his hands. The ropey veins are quivering like the small intestine of a freshly slaughtered calf. He pulls the backs of his hands closer to his face. The veins twitch to the same beat. “I’m hallucinating. Fuck, I am way too high,” he says.
Caleb stands up. “Concentrate man, concentrate. You just have to follow the orange strings,” he says to calm himself, but his voice sounds eerie like it belongs to someone else. Then Thwack! Caleb spins around but sees nothing. Cold clammy fear creeps over him. His teeth chatter as he thinks of someone killing him for his weed, a thought that had preoccupied him on his trek into Canada that morning. He begins to run, on the look-out for anything fluorescent orange. He finds one, two, three strings and he keeps running with the strings balled up in his sweaty palm. He stops to catch his breath, but he’s still too high and the trees begin to melt until he sees red dots that expand and leak outwards to nothing.
Caleb wakes up on the forest floor and begins to crawl. “Just go in same the direction,” he mutters to himself. But he cannot find another orange string, his lifeline. Caleb stops dead. There’s a familiar smell that transports him back to his first visit to his workplace slaughterhouse five years earlier. He's trimming huge deposits of yellow glutinous fat off his first slaughtered heifer when the fat in his hand turns into a large white snake that coils around his body and squeezes until Caleb can’t breathe. He opens his eyes gasping for air and wills the thought away, but the stench remains. Ahead lies a large dark creature on the ground.
But it is not wild animal as Caleb discovers. No, it is a partially clothed male corpse with its legs hacked off, awash in its own blood. The stench he smells is that of decomposition. The large intestine has been partially pulled out of the body and chewed. The spleen and stomach lie next to it covered in maggots and pine needles. Caleb sticks his hand under the ribcage and palpates the chest. The heart is hard meaning that the person has been dead for at least a day. He pulls back the torn shirt that covers the victim’s face, and there lies Craig. His eyes wide with fright have been pecked out by birds. The back of his head has been blown off. Caleb screams and staggers away to vomit green bile. Each time his stomach contracts he sees stars, but he keeps moving, knowing that he could be the next victim.
As he walks he pushes all visions he just witnessed aside and focuses on finding his way back. He walks slower now listening for any kind of sound. Then he hears music, a guitar and someone warbling “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” a song his grandfather used to sing. But then it stops.
He walks a little further as quietly as he can when he hears a gun being cocked behind him. He turns to see an emaciated man with only one eye and a shotgun in his hand. His long grey hair is matted and he’s wearing a nightshirt that billows in the wind, but no pants. He gives Caleb a toothless smile and says, “You weren’t gonna walk on by without stoppin’ in now, were ya?”
With his gun trained on Caleb, the old man says, “Now march.” As they approach the old man’s cabin, the fire has a halo of purple and gold with flying blue sparks. There’s a spit with chunks of meat on it, but the odour is foreign to Caleb, possibly wild game. Caleb sits on an old wooden bench, while the old man in his yellowed nightshirt sits his boney ass on a split vinyl kitchen chair.
“I don’t have many dinner guests,” he says, “and before we eat, I’d like to sing you a song, my own creation." The old man strums his guitar, his one eye trained on Caleb and sings:
I danced with Little Mary on a bear skin rug until her ole man come ‘n gave me a tug, I resisted his move then he turned on me, stuck me with a knife in front of Lil Mareee. I was six feet under for my need for love but wish I’d hit the bastard in the head with a club. Wish I’d hit that bastard in the head with a club.
The old man looks at Caleb with a sparkle in his eye.
“Now,” says the old man jumping up. “How about I get us something to eat.” He moves to the spit, takes a long knife and barbecue fork and cuts off a few pieces of meat.
Caleb sees blue fat drip into the fire and turn green. Then he notices behind the split vinyl kitchen chair, there’s a backpack leaning against the cabin, Craig’s backpack.
Caleb falls down on all fours, coughs and dry heaves. When he’s down, he spies a hoe leaning against the cabin within his reach. He grabs it, rears up on his knees and swings with all his might, knocking the shotgun already in the old geezer’s hands before it goes off. Caleb swings back and catches the old man in the side of the head knocking him out cold on the ground.
Caleb grabs his pack and the old guy’s shotgun and runs on pure adrenaline until the trees stop melting and the red spots disappear.