This is the first draft of a work-in-progress that will be updated chapter-by-chapter.
|~~ June 5, 2018, 10:03 PM
Beaver Lake, approximately 12 kilometres north of Victoria, BC ~~
In the gloom of the late Tuesday evening, a blue Cherokee jeep stopped at the side of the Beaver Lake Trail, just at the southern tip of Beaver Lake. The driver shut off the engine and stepped out of the vehicle, taking the time to smell the cool summer air and the scent of countless pine trees that stretched for kilometres in every direction. The smell of the pines filled him with woeful nostalgia, though at first he wondered why – he’d been here only a few weeks ago. That was hardly long ago enough to feel this way.
Once he got over the trivialities of how long ago must count for nostalgia to be applicable, however, he instantly knew why. He beat down the rising sensations in his chest, determined not to even think about it.
How ironic, though, given that it was all he could think about it in the last five days.
The driver of the jeep snapped out of his reverie and got to work getting his things out of the trunk. He slung a grey duffel bag over his right shoulder and hefted a long black weapons case by the handle in his left hand. The Heckler & Koch PSG-1 sniper rifle that was stored inside the case didn’t physically weigh much that he struggled at all to carry it in its case, but tonight, the weapon felt heavier somehow.
Ian Alcantara shut the trunk and pressed the lock button on the jeep’s remote to secure the vehicle. He faced north, past the knee-high railing and into the dark forest beyond. The lampposts by the side of the trail barely illuminated anything past the tree line, but he was armed with a military-grade torch that would make the darkness a non-issue.
The darkness wasn’t what scared him.
For a moment, he merely stood there, bag over one shoulder and a weapons case in hand, simply staring into the trees with a mixture of forced placidness and suppressed dread.
“I’m home, ma’am.”
The words left his lips meekly, but the second he let them out, he was overcome with a surge of revulsion for what he had just said. Was that supposed to be a joke?
No, of course not. Of course not.
He placed his figurative foot down on that feeling and pushed down on it desperately to keep it down. He cursed himself for allowing himself to even think about—
Ian shook his head both wearily and resolutely. He adjusted the strap of the duffel bag on his shoulder and hopped the guard rail finally.
He pushed through the trees. There was a clearer trail nearby to the house but cutting directly through the forest was quicker. He also preferred not to travel that trail alone – not because it was unsafe, but because merely walking it would likely make his mind wander. So instead, he pushed through the trees, crushing dried nettle underfoot and ignoring the scrapes of random brush against the skin of his arms and face.
A roughly six-minute trek north through the woods, following the eastern shore of the lake brought Ian to a good-sized clearing across the lake from the Beaver Lake National Park. Toward the west, almost right alongside and facing away from the lake, was a one-story wooden cabin constructed mostly out of Northern White Cedar. Several wooden steps led up to the slightly elevated cabin itself. Two flowers – one purple lily and one white lily – grew dejectedly in small pots mounted to the railing at the top of the stairs, their leaves wilted from not having anyone care for them in weeks. The cabin had glass windows that were darkened, foreboding. Ian wasn’t surprised – no one had been in since the beginning of last month, and he was the last to leave here.
He walked up to the steps leading up to the building, each step growing heavier and making his breathing hasten. He tried his best to calm down, determined to beat back the emotions that threatened to release themselves from within.
Ian finally reached the front door, which had a large transparent window in the middle of it. Through the light of the torch he was holding in his right hand, he could see beyond the door that the foyer was exactly as he remembered leaving it: no shoes strewn on the welcome mat. The polished wooden floor beyond the mat looked immaculate, something that he worked constantly to maintain in that state. Erin always had a bad habit of kicking off her shoes and leaving them on the—
Ian bit down on his lip, using the pain to occupy his mind. He temporarily put down the weapons case on the porch and reached into his pants pocket for his keys. After selecting the correct one, he inserted it into the keyhole and turned the doorknob. The door swung inwards without a creak.
Once again, he stood just outside the opened door, gazing with trepidation into the darkened hall ahead. He knew he should step inside and do his usual routine of seeing what needed cleaning since the only other resident of this cabin had a penchant for leaving beer cans strewn about and leaving sheets unfolded, but right now he felt hesitant for once to go about his duties. Besides… who cleans the house at ten in the evening?
It couldn’t be helped, though. It was a ritual at this point, and Ian didn’t want to be idle.
He finally stepped inside the foyer and shut the front door behind him. He put down the weapons case beside the coat closet and removed his boots, which he stowed on the rack below the coat hanger.
Right. Let’s see what needs tidying up.
After putting the rifle away in the weapons locker located between his room and the other resident’s, Ian spent the next half hour scouring the whole cabin for anything to straighten or toss or clean or wipe down. He justified a meager few weeks’ worth of dust on some surfaces as enough reason to bring out a wet rag and wipe the counters and tabletops clean. The floors were spotless because the house hadn’t been lived in in a month, but Ian gave the floors a cursory pass with the vacuum cleaner and a mop regardless. Roughly an hour after he had arrived, he wiped sweat from his forehead and looked around at the living room, which he tidied up last. It looked more or less the same as before he started cleaning, but Ian gave the room a silent nod of approval anyway. He smiled a little to himself, satisfied with his work. He put away the rags and the bucket and the mop, then headed to the kitchen to take out the trash and recyclables.
He lifted the bin covers by pressing down on the lever at the bottom with his foot and reached for the tops of the garbage bags to tie the flaps together but stopped midway when he saw what was inside the non-organics trash bag.
There was nothing.
He stared into the trash bag, momentarily confused as to why someone had gone ahead of him to take out the trash. He checked the recyclables and found zero of those familiar white Dageraad Blondes sitting inside the bag. It took him a full minute to realize why there weren’t any: he’d cleared out the bins last month, and obviously no one had been drinking here since.
“Oh,” Ian muttered to himself. “right.”
What is wrong with me? How could I forget that? Didn’t I just—
His stomach grumbled suddenly, not letting him finish his train of thought. He put a hand to his belly and looked behind him at the refrigerator.
Well, I guess I can stay up a while longer and make something to eat.
Ian rummaged through the refrigerator and after sorting food that could still be eaten with those that needed to be tossed out, he brought a packet of cooked ham, two large eggs, and a small bag of mixed vegetables to the island countertop. Over the course of another half hour, he scrambled the eggs and minced them to small pieces, then did the same with the ham. He added the mixed vegetables to some rice he cooked briskly, then put all the ingredients into a pot and put it on the stove where it stayed for the duration. Ian added a touch of pepper and a meager amount of garlic salt for flavour, then used a spatula to more thoroughly mixed everything together in the pot.
It was twenty to midnight when Ian finally shut off the stove and brought two plates over. He served a hefty amount of fried rice onto his plate and then filled the second plate with the roughly the same amount. He brought one plate beneath his nose to admire the smell of his handiwork before bringing both plates and two sets of utensils to the dining table just pas the island table by the stove.
He placed his plate close to the end of the dining table and the other one in front of the chair at the adjacent end of the table. Ian sat down at one of the chairs along the length of the table and picked up his spoon. He scooped up a bit of his fried rice and shoveled it into his mouth. The taste of pepper, beans, peas, and corn bits struck his taste buds with visceral flavour. He gave a quiet “mmm” and smiled as he chewed.
He swallowed his first spoonful of rice and scooped another spoonful. “Ma’am, how is it? I know it’s a simple dish, but I think I’m getting better at it. Don’t you think so?”
Ian put the next batch of rice into his mouth, waiting for his mentor to either confirm or argue his remark. When neither came, Ian lifted his gaze from his plate and looked to his right at the chair where his mentor sat, but—
She wasn’t there.
Ian stared at the chair that was still tucked partly beneath the table. He stared at the plate of hot rice that sat right in front of the empty chair. The grains, vegetables, egg, and ham mixed in looked undisturbed.
He swallowed his second bite of late dinner. Put down his spoon.
The smile slid off his face.
Ian continued to stare at the untouched food, the green of the peas and the yellow of the corn bits only seeming to drain the colours that mere moments ago resided in Ian’s chest. He picked up his spoon again but could not find the will to take even one more bite of the food he had prepared.
In the end, Ian transferred all the rice he cooked to two large Tupperwares and stowed both in the fridge.
Ian washed the dishes and utensils he used briefly, then headed for his bedroom. He shuffled lethargically toward his door at the end of the hall but stopped outside the one next to his that he had walked past many times before.
I should check and see if the bed is made.
With that justification as his excuse, Ian turned the doorknob and gingerly pushed the door inwards. The room beyond was unlit, yet not two steps inside it Ian’s nose was assailed by a soft, gentle scent of cinnamon. He recognized it instantly, but forcibly kept the association to a minimum in his mind.
The room was dark, but enough light from the stars and the moon above had shone through the window on the west face of the building that Ian didn’t need to turn on the overhead fluorescents to see his surroundings. A queen-sized bed sat up against the back wall its sheets crumpled up and unmade. A desk stood to the right of the bed, its surface cluttered with folders and papers strewn about with seemingly no order to them whatsoever. Near the edge of the desk, almost falling off the side, was a Heckler & Koch handgun, a P30.
Ian approached the desk and moved the loaded weapon away from the edge, placing it closer to the centre of the sea of papers. He knew he should clean up this room, but right now his spirit to tidy up was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t as if he had suddenly felt lazy, but something pleaded in the confines of his mind not to move anything else in this room. Begged him to keep this room the way it was right now.
He strode over to the bed and hovered over it for a moment, almost as if he were afraid to touch anything on or in it. After a couple of minutes of hesitating, however, his moment of weakness won out.
Ian bent down a little and picked up the brown fleece comforter that sat in a ball on the bed. His fingers traced and felt the soft material. Even though he’d sworn yesterday not to do anything of this sort, he ran his hands all over the fabric as if to memorize how each individual thread meshed with the rest.
Ian lifted the heavy comforter up and then hesitated. He knew he would catch a harsh earful if she caught him doing this, but right now he didn’t care.
Right now, even that would be welcome.
He brought the fleece to his face and inhaled. He searched for her smell with a reluctant franticness, like a child trying to be brave and feeling around in the dark for a light switch. Right away, he found that scent of her that he couldn’t quite express in words as anything else that existed in this world. All he could use to describe that sweet, faint scent was her name.
For the first time in the five days since he finished his last mission, Ian’s knees gave out beneath him. He fell to the floor on his own legs and pressed the comforter harder against his skin, hiding his face from anyone who might be looking at him right now.
He felt his eyes growing hot with the surge of tears that he hadn’t expected coming. The pressure kept building behind his eyelids until he could no longer contain the moisture behind them. His strained, choked sobs followed the release of his tears not long after. His shaking hands clutched desperately at the comforter as he fought to keep all sounds from his open mouth from escaping the bubble of the comforter.
“Ma’am, please… please give me an order.
“I don’t know what to do.”
He mumbled the words into her smell, as if it were a confession of some long-buried shame. He knew that if she could see him now, she would effectively snap at him and tell him that he was being a weak crybaby or some other similar term that would rouse as much as it would lance. Yet, he yearned for it. Yearned for those hardened words and for a second voice to accompany his.
“I’m sorry,” Ian whispered so faintly that no one else would have heard him even if he wasn’t alone. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”