“And then it was there, the shadow in his heart, the anxiety now turned to horror, full and terrifying…”

A year ago, e-Veritas ran a four part series featuring the writing of 25366 Mike Shewfelt, whose fantasy novel “The Phaireoir Legacy” tells the story of College Cadet Jim Carmichael, and his journey on horseback from Kingston to Calgary and beyond. Now that Mike is back in Kingston, we’re picking up where we left off. Mike Shewfelt would like to thank Dr. Huw Osborne, RMC English Department, for his invaluable editorial assistance. A publisher for the novel is currently being sought.

Read the first seven chapters of the novel here.

THE PHAIREOIR LEGACY: JIM CARMICHAEL’S STORY, VOLUME ONE

BOOK ONE: BEGINNINGS

CHAPTER 8

Jim awoke in the dim light of evening, to Rudy nuzzling him gently. “Alright, alright. I’m awake, I’m awake…” He hauled his weary body off the saddle blanket and took a look around. He could tell, from the hoof prints in the surrounding grass, that Rudy hadn’t gone very far during the day. And even now, as he watched the horse make for the nearby creek, he saw that Rudy limped, refusing to put any weight on his injured leg. Oh buddy… that ain’t good, he thought bitterly. We’re gonna be here a while.

He led the horse back from water, tied him loosely to a tree, and stooped to examine the leg. “That hide’s on there pretty tight, buddy,” he said after a moment. “Think we’ll just leave it for now. You get some rest, ya hear…?” He tickled Rudy under his chin and the horse whinnied softly.

The June night was cool, and Jim soon had a roaring fire going. Rudy looked at him doubtfully, and Jim replied, “Hell, buddy, why not…? They gotta know we ain’t going far, shape we’re in. They want us, they know where to get us.” Using the last of his stolen fish, a little deer meat and a few herbs he found growing nearby, he soon had a stew bubbling away on the fire. First hot meal in forever. God, that smells good. Savouring it, bite by bite, he stared into the fire. Campfires had always been soothing for Jim, and he had spent many evenings in the mountains of the west sitting by one, letting his mind wander. Tonight, though, his mind was too tired to think, and he commanded himself not to dwell on the unanswered questions that faced him. He sat and stared, relaxing by the light of the fire. Despite himself, it was late when he finally turned in, and he slept long into the morning.

 Read more here…

RCMP Detective Green came into the Justice Minister’s office in Ottawa. He had been summoned there immediately after the call had come in to let Carmichael go, but why the Justice Minister wanted him he had no idea. Cout had been the senior man on the case, given the resources the military could bring to bear, yet he was still in Sudbury. The Justice Minister wanted to see him, and so he had gone.

Green hesitated as he was shown down the hallway to the office. The man escorting him in wasn’t a political flunky, but rather a squat, bald man with mean looking eyes. His instincts on alert, he followed the man in.

Green stopped short when they entered the office. The man behind the desk wasn’t the Justice Minister. He was tall, older, and distinguished looking, but there was something else, something there that made Green shudder inwardly. It was the look in his eyes, Green thought. This man could have me killed in an instant, and sleep well tonight… Hell, so could that flunky, or whatever the hell he is…who are these people…?

“I must apologize for the false pretences,” the man said, his voice polished and refined. “I do not usually take such a direct approach in my affairs and when I do, I would rather keep a low profile. The Justice Minister and his staff were most accommodating.”

Green nodded, and then understanding dawned on him. This is the guy who pulled us off the chase…but why…?

The man seemed to read his mind. “You are here because I have a job for you, one which will see you amply rewarded.”

“Why?”

“Carmichael his information that my superiors desire, and they believe themselves better placed to get it than you and your comrades would have been.”

“Then what do you want with me…?”

The man thought for a moment. “I am a businessman, Detective Green. As such I have learned how to survive. And one of the most important lessons I have learned is to protect my position.” The man stood and moved to the window. His back to Green, he said, “There is change coming, Detective. A change of management, if you will. I intend to ensure the survival of my position.” He turned back to Green. “Find young Carmichael for me. I am not concerned as to how, just that it is done quietly, and that he is found before my superiors have the chance to get to him. Do this and I will see that you are amply rewarded, and that you, too, survive.” He sat back down and pushed a cheque across the table to Detective Green. “Your signing bonus,” he said.

Green picked up the cheque. Holy shit! he thought when he’d seen the amount. He met the man’s eyes, an unspoken question on his face.

“As you have no doubt noticed,” the man answered, “I am more than capable of dealing with this problem myself. For my involvement to become public knowledge, however, would be most unfortunate.”

Green nodded, taking that in. “I’ll find him for you,” he said.

“Good. I trust that amount will be sufficient for your expenses…?”

Green nodded again.

“Excellent.” He passed Green another piece of paper. “The number on here will allow you to reach me.”

Green, sensing he was being dismisses, stood up.

“One more thing, Detective; a word of warning. I have very little for patience for those who fail me. Do not put yourself in that position.”

Green nodded again.

“And if that idiot Justice Minister asks what you were doing here, I wanted a status update.”

“Yes, sir.”

As the door closed behind Detective Green, the man in the suit went back to the window. Carmichael’s father eluded us for years, he thought to himself. We almost had him in Barrie all those years ago, where we burned his house down and killed his wife. The bastard disappeared again, and without knowing where the book was we couldn’t act. But now Carmichael is dead and his son has the book, and we are acting….the Shadows are moving…but I’ll find him first, and I’ll secure my position when the new management takes over. 

Jim’s routine for the next few days was unvarying. He slept, ate, and then slept some more. In between, he tended to Rudy, changing the deer hide every couple of days. It was all he could do, all he knew how to do, and he sat, watching and praying for the horse to improve. At night, by the light of the moon, he poured over the journal. He sought answers, he sought guidance, but he found nothing of any value. Three pages at the back held the excerpt of the Froln, and there was little they could tell him that he didn’t already know. The rest was archaeological research. When he lay on the saddle blanket, drifting off to sleep, his mind lingered on Becca. He wondered where she was, what she was doing, and if she thought of him. That she might be the reason for the sudden halt to the search crossed his mind, but he forced the thought away. He had no answers for that, and he refused to spend time worrying.

By the end of the first week after their run in with the soldiers, Rudy began to put weight on his leg again. Jim breathed a huge sigh of relief at the sight, knowing then that it wasn’t broken, and that, given enough time, they’d be on their way again. Jim was itching to get going, his exhaustion receding with every day they rested, but he was patient. To move too soon, before it was fully healed, could mean disaster down the road.

Three weeks to the day from their close escape, Jim awoke to Rudy licking his face. He pushed the horse aside playfully, getting up from his rough bed to tend his fire. He was about to dig through the coals when Rudy neighed loudly, and looking up, he saw the horse trot off to the creek where he’d gone for water. It was slow and it was awkward, but it was enough to convince Jim that the time had finally come for them to move on.

He broke camp after breakfast, saddled Rudy, and repacked his gear. His food reserves had been seriously depleted by three weeks in one place, but he still had plenty of ammunition and he was confident. His spirits were high as they moved off to the north, Jim leading Rudy on foot.

“Don’t worry, buddy, I’m not planning to ride you yet. Not until you’re ready. We may yet need your speed again, and I want you to be in good shape.”

Their pace was slow, achingly slow, but Jim had learned patience in his time on the trail. Three days after breaking camp, in early July, if he was any judge of time, they made camp to the north of the lake that had barred their escape from the searchers. They turned northwest then, and pushed on into the wilderness. Their pace was easy. Jim managed to shoot another deer, and despite his restlessness, spent three days smoking the meat and tending to the hide. Rudy’s leg continued to mend, yet still Jim refused to ride him. They averaged at most five miles a day, a distance they could easily double if he was to ride, but Jim was uneasy and they went cautiously.

The farther they went, the more his uneasiness grew. He didn’t know why, yet a growing shadow filled his heart. There was a feeling in the air, something he couldn’t name, something almost imperceptible, but which robbed him of what little peace he had left. Hell, maybe I’m getting paranoid, he thought with a groan. He lay awake long before going to asleep, listening carefully to the sounds of the night, and his fires, when he had them, were small. No longer did he sleep by them, either, but always made camp a few miles on from where he’d built the fire. He even went so far as to spread his bed out as though he were sleeping in it and then lay down in the brush a few yards away. Rudy took all this in in his usual way, giving Jim funny looks when he got back in the saddle each night after dinner. Hell, maybe I really am growing paranoid…if there was anything out there, Rudy would know it long before I ever did… They stopped more often now, Jim taking every available opportunity to check his back trail. He saw no signs of pursuit, no dust to indicate someone’s presence, yet still he was uneasy. The only thing I can figure is that there’s something out there, but what…? I haven’t seen a soul since the soldiers pulled out.

Passing a rocky ridge one morning as he lead Rudy to the northwest, it gave him an idea. There’s one sure way to find out if anybody’s back there, he thought. He led Rudy off to the rear of the ridge, tying him loosely a yard or two short of the summit. Taking down his rifle, plenty of ammunition, a little food and some water, he crawled slowly to a large outcropping that crowned the ridge. He made himself comfortable, and settled down to wait. From here I’ve got a good view of the last hundred yards of my trail…if anybody’s following they’ll have to come right through here…and if they get canny and try to come up the rear, Rudy’ll sense ‘em coming…

The sun grew high in the sky as he waited, sipping a little water and from time to time chewing on a piece of deer jerky. He dared not move, dared not give away his position. The day grew long, flies buzzed around his head, and still he dared not move. He fought sleep with all his might, struggling to stay awake as the afternoon wore on into evening. Still he lay, his limbs cramped and uncomfortable. Should have brought my slicker, he thought, or that deer hide. Oh well…too late now. Even as the sun dipped below the western horizon, he lay there, waiting. I know there’s somebody behind me, and I ain’t moving til I find out who.

Jim dozed despite himself, sleeping softly in the cool evening air. He awoke with a jolt, hours later, in pitch blackness. He was terrified, his heart beating wildly, his hands trembling, yet didn’t know why. The sky had clouded over, and he couldn’t see a thing. All he could hear were the sounds of Rudy frantically trying to get away from the tree where he was tied up.

And then it was there, the shadow in his heart, the anxiety now turned to horror, full and terrifying. He got to his feet, trembling, and he felt something pass in front of him. He couldn’t see it, but its presence alone was enough to terrify him.

“Where… is it…?” The voice hissed in the darkness, raspy, shrieking, piercing Jim to the core, full of such malevolence and hate that Jim had to stifle every reflex to cover his ears. It came in pieces, shattered and uncoordinated. “The book… the book…” In his heart Jim could see it, despite the darkness, and to look on it was pure terror, all of his fears come alive somehow.

Jim stood rooted to the spot. Fear sealed his lips.

“Nothing…you are nothing…”

He never saw the blow that came. He sensed it somehow. Rudy screamed in terror, the spell broke, he rolled to one side as the shadow lunged, then he landed on his feet, and in one, smooth, terrified motion, raised the rifle to his shoulder and fired. He was rewarded with a scream of such raw anguish and rage that he covered his ears and, despite himself, fell to the ground trembling.

When he came to his senses, all was still. The shadow over his heart, so powerful and overwhelming, was gone, lingering in the recesses of his consciousness. Jim stayed where he was, not daring to move, until he was certain the shadow was gone. He got up gingerly, slowly, feeling the weakness in his muscles and using his rifle for a crutch. He paused, steadied himself on a nearby branch, and then moved to Rudy.

He smelt the horse before he found him, trembling and sweat soaked in the darkness. The smell of urine was almost overwhelming, and Jim tried to sooth his friend. “Easy, buddy. It’s just me. Whatever that was is gone. I don’t feel it no more. We’re OK now.” Untying him, Jim led Rudy back to just below the summit of the ridge. He unsaddled him, stripping the gear and brushing him down with a handful of grass. “No more tie ups tonight, buddy. We’ll stay together. I gotta get the makings for a fire. I won’t go far, I promise.” Jim moved off to gather kindling and bigger wood, Rudy right behind him. “OK, buddy, you can come.” Before long, Jim had a roaring fire going, a blaze that lit up the ridge for yards in every direction. That it could be seen from a great distance, Jim was certain, but he could have cared less right then. That thing, whatever it was, came at night. Maybe it doesn’t like light. He spread his slicker on the ground, placed the Lee Enfield in his lap with a round chambered, and pulled Rudy close. The two friends sat, huddling together, as they waited out the night.

The dawn, when it finally came, was grey and dreary. The skies portended rain, but it held off, and for that Jim was grateful. He took his time doing the morning chores, watering Rudy from his canteen and lingering over a breakfast of deer jerky. He took longer than usual saddling Rudy and stowing his gear. Finally, when he could delay it no longer, he tied Rudy up again to a nearby tree, picked up his rifle and made to go into the bush.

“I gotta do it, buddy. I gotta track that thing, whatever it was. My shot connected, I think. Sure as hell screamed like I got it, anyways…If it’s dead, I gotta know. And if it’s still out there, I gotta know, too. I’ll be back in a while. I promise.” Rudy gave him a pathetic look, one that nearly sapped Jim’s resolve, until he turned and walked away.

The place of his encounter with the shadow was not far off, and it was easy to find again. His tracks were plain to see, but the earth showed little else. Jim stood there, confused, wondering if he had imagined the whole thing, until, as his eyes began to pick out minute details, he found what he sought. Soft prints…shallow impressions. Some kind of boot, or moccasin maybe… It was here, alright, and it’s more than a shadow, too. Whatever it is, it’s light on its feet, that’s for sure. Now that he knew what to look for, Jim worked slowly, casting about for more tracks. He backtracked the creature, found the trail it left when it had approached him, and from that made a rough guess at its height. It’s got a stride roughly three feet in length, more or less. Jim checked his own stride, found it to be a little over two feet from toes to toes, and shuddered at the implications. I’m about five foot eight…hell, this thing has to be almost seven feet tall… Armed with this new knowledge, he cast about for more tracks, working outwards from the rock outcropping, going slowly so as not to miss anything. Aside from deer and rabbits, he had never tried to track another creature before, and the sun was high in the sky by the time he found what he sought. There, he thought, there is where the thing went when it left. The tracks were deeper, farther apart, made by something moving with great speed and an obvious disregard for leaving a trail. His heart in his throat and his insides churning, Jim hefted his rifle and moved off down the trail.

He found part of what he sought a hundred yards down the ridge. Low to the ground, a black, inky substance was burning its way through the leaves of a small poplar. They sizzled before his eyes. What the hell is that…? he wondered. Looks like blood…my shot must have connected after all…what is this thing…? He continued on, moving slowly, afraid of what he would run into. If it’s badly hurt and waiting for me… Jim’s heart pounded and he was covered in sweat, although the day itself was cool. The tracks on the ground became closer the farther he went, like whatever it was had slowed down some. He saw two more bloodstains in the next half hour, and, satisfied that the shadow was no longer an immediate danger, he turned and made his way back to Rudy.

“I hurt it, buddy, whatever it is,” he said, coming up to the grateful horse. “It’s bleeding…” he paused. “At least I think it’s blood, anyways. It’s not human, though, that’s for sure. With any luck, I slowed it down a little, too. What do you say we get the hell out of here…?”  Rudy whinnied softly as Jim untied him and mounted up.

They moved off at a good clip, Jim riding with his rifle across his lap. He took no chances, keeping to low ground and as much cover as he could. He did his best not to leave a trail, but in his heart he knew it was futile, and he pressed on as fast as he dared push Rudy. His leg still ain’t fully healed…but I don’t have a choice. Speed is our best defence now.