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  • “By the light of the fire he inspected the wound. It was vicious and deep, a long red tear in the horse’s underbelly.”

“By the light of the fire he inspected the wound. It was vicious and deep, a long red tear in the horse’s underbelly.”

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 eight chapters of the novel here.

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

BOOK ONE: BEGINNINGS

CHAPTER 9

Camp that night was spartan. Jim’s nerves were on end as the sun sank below the horizon, and he left Rudy fully saddled, ready to go in an instant. He dared light no fire to give away his position, and he lay on the ground in the dark, rifle in his hands, listening nervously to the sounds of the night. The shadow in his heart lingered at the recesses of his consciousness, distant and remote, yet in his imagination every sound in the bush was the creature. He passed a sleepless night, tossing and turning, and was up before the dawn. Watering Rudy, he mounted and was on his way once more.

They pressed on, day by day, the shadow lingering in Jim’s heart. Some days it would grow, and then Jim would push Rudy even harder, desperate to keep distance between them and the shadow. Rudy’s leg still pained him, yet still Jim pressed on. I know he’s hurting, but it won’t matter at all if that thing catches us. Their nights were sleepless, and Jim often went hungry. He refused to hunt, to do anything that would slow them down and give the creature time to catch up. That it had come upon him so completely without warning terrified Jim, and the fear drove him onwards.

Finally, long after they had passed Lake Superior far off to the south, Jim drew up one evening. Dismounting, he said, “This is getting ridiculous, buddy. We can’t keep running…if I don’t hunt soon I’ll starve, and I’ll be just as dead as if that thing finds me.” Rudy tossed his head in agreement, and Jim smiled. It was time for the hunted to become the hunter. “Your senses are better than mine,” he said, leading the horse off into the bush, “so we’ll wait and let him come to us. When you see him, tell me, and I’ll get him.” Jim tried to sound confident, for the place where they had stopped was a good one, full of brush to use for cover. And yet he was nervous. If this works it’ll be sheer luck…I can’t keep running, though. One way or another I gotta get it, or at least slow it dow, buy time to put some real distance between us.

Hiding Rudy in a thick stand of spruce, he found a comfortable place on the ground and sat down to wait. “Come and get me, you bastard…let’s see what you got.” Nestled on the ground as he was, at the base of a tall pine, he was almost invisible in the gathering gloom. He sat facing Rudy, trusting to the horse to tell him when the shadow came and where it was in the darkness. Months together on the trail meant that they knew each other, trusted each other implicitly, and could read each other’s movements. Jim checked his rifle to make sure he had a round chambered, and waited for the shadow.

The sun disappeared over the horizon, plunging the forest into darkness, and the sky clouded over once more. What I wouldn’t give for a full moon, thought Jim. He could barely see his hands in front of his face, let alone Rudy. I can hear him, though… This might just work.

Yet the hours dragged on, and Jim’s confidence began to fade as the clouds in the east grew lighter. He dozed off and on through the day, despite himself, the months on the run having taken their toll. He chewed a little jerky, drank a little water, waited, and dozed some more. He awoke sometime in the middle of the night, his mind hazy with sleep. He heard nothing from Rudy’s direction, and sensing that his friend was asleep, he made to get himself more comfortable at the base of the tree.

And then it was there once more, filling his heart with terror as it stood in front of him.

“Fool…” the voice hissed, as fear gripped Jim’s heart and devoured what little courage he still possessed. It was there again, scattered and broken in his mind, coming from all directions at once, and the pressure made Jim’s head a throbbing mass of agony.  “You are weak…I know…I am…your fear.”

Jim sat there, staring up into blackness deeper than the night itself. Fear bound his limbs, kept him pinned to the spot. He struggled within himself, desperately trying to fight down the terror he felt. His limbs trembled and the terror within him screamed for release. He would have done anything, anything at all, to make the thing, whatever it was, leave him alone.

Yet again he sensed the blow more than saw it, and something within him broke. He raised his rifle in a desperate parry, yet the shadow had seen it coming and, with a savage sweep of his blade, sent the rifle crashing into the woods.

Jim sat there, rooted in terror, as the shadow raised his sword for the final blow. The moon broke through the clouds, and in the dim light Jim could see the sword raised to strike, a black, shadowy liquid dripping from the blade. The creature itself was lost in shadow. He sat, unable to move, unable to think, unable to do anything, as the blade struck down.

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He never felt the blow, for as the sword swept down, Rudy crashed into the shadow from the side. The creature fell off balance and Rudy landed on top of it, kicking and thrashing with his hooves. Jim wasted no time, but sprang to his feet and leaped to where he had heard the rifle fall. He scrounged in the dark, frantically looking for it on his hands and knees. He heard at least one of Rudy’s hooves connect, then heard the horse scream in agony and again sensed more than saw the shadow as it raced for the trees. Picking up the Lee Enfield at last, he ran to Rudy’s side.

He smelled the blood before he found him, shrieking, lying on the ground. His heart pounding, Jim dropped to Rudy’s side. “Easy, buddy,” he said to the terrified horse. “Let me have a look at you.” With tears in eyes he felt along the horse’s side. A foot long gash ran from just behind the rear cinch of the saddle, back almost to Rudy’s genitals. Rudy was hurt bad, and they both knew it.

Working quickly, Jim stripped the gear from the horse, and then, with a roaring blaze going, boiled water. By the light of the fire he inspected the wound. It was vicious and deep, a long red tear in the horse’s underbelly. It bled profusely, quickly pooling on the ground, and as Jim looked closely, he saw that a black jelly on the wound’s edges sizzled as it ate the flesh. “Shit, buddy,” he breathed.

Using the water he boiled, Jim cleaned the wound. The black jelly ate through the leather of his gloves and burned his hands underneath, but Jim didn’t feel it. He was beyond caring, seeing only his friend lying on the ground in agony. When he was satisfied that he had removed the black poison, he stuffed the wound with grass to stop the bleeding and then wrapped the long cinches of the saddle around Rudy to keep it tight.

He kept his vigil for hours, long past the dawn, changing the makeshift bandage whenever it bled through, never once leaving his friend’s side.

By midafternoon he knew it was hopeless. Rudy’s wound hadn’t stopped bleeding once, and it continued to widen under the influence of the black poison. Rudy was dying before his eyes, and there was nothing Jim could do. He stood there, helpless, tears falling from his eyes.

“I’m sorry, buddy,” he wailed, dropping to his knees and taking Rudy’s head in his arms. “I underestimated that thing…I’m no match for it. I screwed up… And you saved my ass…” The tears fell harder as Rudy shook violently and then was still. Jim looked up, his vision blurry. “Rudy…?”

The horse looked at him then, looked at him right in the eye, with a look that broke Jim’s heart. “This wasn’t your fault,” he seemed to say. “This was my choice.”

“Oh buddy,” cried Jim. “What do I do now…? How can I go on…? How can I do this without you…?”

“You can still do this,” Rudy seemed to say. Maybe the words were only in Jim’s head, but the way Rudy looked at him said it all. “I chose you for your heart long ago, let you ride me because I knew what was in you. So see this thing through to the end, to whatever end. You can do this.” And then his eyes closed and Rudy was gone.

Jim slouched over his friend as the tears flowed freely, and his wail of anguish startled the birds from the trees above him. He cried until he could cry no more, and then lay there, stretched out on his friend, lost and without anyone to come to his aid. His friend was gone, and so was his only means of getting to the sword, of doing what he had set out to do, and maybe, just maybe, getting home to Becca. Many hundreds of miles lay still before him, and how could he walk that distance alone…?

He lay there through the night, not even caring what the shadow would do to him if it returned. As dawn broke once more, Jim raised his weary head. The sky was on fire, the clouds a sea of reds and purples and oranges. He lay there, spellbound, watching the sky and remembering. Something his father had told him in the mountains long ago came to mind, spurred on by the spectacular beauty.

“Sunrises and sunsets are a promise, James my boy. They are a proof that the night is not the end. The sunset promises hope, hope that the night will not endure forever, and the sunrise is the fulfillment of that hope.” His father had smiled then, a faraway look in his eyes. “It’s the light’s way of saying that darkness is not the end. There will always be a dawn.”

Jim looked away from the sunrise, the feel of his friend beneath him drawing him back to reality. “Carry on,” Rudy had seemed to say, there at the end. He got to his feet, his legs weak and wobbly beneath him. I have to live…have to survive. Rudy gave his life for me and I can’t waste that. Thoughts of Becca and his father now fuelled his determination, and, picking the Lee Enfield up off the ground, he went to work.

He made his way slowly to where he had left the saddle bags full of food, and now he ate as much jerky as he dared to bring his strength back. The last three fruit bars he left for later. As he sat eating, he gave though to what lay before him. First thing I gotta do is burry Rudy…sure as hell ain’t gonna leave him like that. Then I gotta figure me a way of carrying all this, he thought with a grimace. I’ll need a backpack or something, too… Oh well, plenty of time to figure that one out. And then, he thought, the determination rising within him, then I continue westward. And when the shadow finds me again, as I know it will…that’ll be it, I guess.

Stripping the remaining gear from Rudy, he piled it at the base of a nearby tree. I’m glad you fell where you did, buddy, he thought ruefully. You got a beautiful view of the sunrise from here, and I sure as hell ain’t moving your 1200 lbs anywhere else by myself. But how to do you proper…? Digging a hole big enough would take forever, especially with all these rocks…that’s just the thing, he thought. A burial mound.

And so he set to work, scouring the hillside for rocks. He had to travel far to find rocks he wanted, ones big enough so that scavengers wouldn’t easily be able to intrude upon Rudy and yet light enough so that he could carry them. As he worked, rifle slung over his shoulder, his thoughts were never far from the shadow. I don’t know where that damn thing went, he thought, and so his eyes moved ceaselessly, seeking out every possible hiding place.

As the sun rose in the sky, his stomach growled, but he ignored it. “I have to finish this right,” he said to no one in particular. “I owe Rudy that much.” Besides, he thought, I don’t know how long I can keep the scavengers away. Good friend or not, he is a horse, and he is gonna start to stink before long.

On through the day he worked, and by nightfall he stood next to the cairn that housed the remains of his friend. In it he had placed Rudy’s tack, his saddle and bridle, keeping out only those items he figured he would need in the days ahead. Who knows, buddy, you might need that stuff up there. As the sun set, Jim got a fire going, and using a cinch ring he’d taken from the gear, he burned Rudy’s name in a piece of wood he’d picked up for the purpose. Glancing over at the cairn, he said, “If you need one of these up there,” he held up the ring, smiling, “just blame me.” His smile faded, and getting up from the fire, he laid the piece of wood on top of the cairn, nestling it securely between two stones. He stood there, in the dying light of the sun, as the tears came. They streamed down his face, “There will always be a dawn, Rudy, my friend. Yours is an eternal one.”

Jim slept soundly that night. Exhausted as he was from the past few days, he was out before his head hit the ground, blissfully unconscious, but still with a firm grip on his rifle. He arose with a stretch when the sun crept over the horizon, stoked the fire and answered nature’s call.

Now, thought Jim as he munched on a piece of jerky, how the hell do I do this…? I gotta carry all this stuff somehow… Hmm… I got the backpack I stole from the campers, but I ain’t gonna be able to carry everything. Jim had never been much of a planner, more prone to spontaneity than deep thought, yet he set down to the task before him. The deer hide, or what was left of it, he lashed to the outside of the pack, along with his slicker. His last granola bar went into a pocket outside, as did the last three fruit bars and the last of his ammunition. His compass went around his neck, and as much smoked meat as he figured he could safely carry went into the main compartment. The canteens went in on top of the meat. By the time the sun had reached its zenith he was finished, and he tried the pack out to test its wait. Shit, he thought, that has to weigh 50 or 60 pounds…but there’s no getting around that. He groaned. I’m gonna need all of that meat. Setting the pack down, he ate a quick lunch and then, picking up his rifle, he was on his way.