Ex-Cadet Puts Pen to Paper, Part 4

In the final installment of this four part series, we feature the writing of 25366 Mike Shewfelt (BA, English, 2012), 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. A publisher for the novel is currently being sought. Mike Shewfelt would like to thank Dr. Huw Osborne, RMC English Department, for his invaluable editorial assistance.

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

BOOK ONE: BEGINNINGS

CHAPTER 4

At dusk two days later, as a brilliant moon lit the sky, they were on their way again. It was mid-April now, and in the slightly warmer weather, Jim had happily tied his slicker to the saddle. He rode easily, his spirits raised by the rest, clad in khakis, boots, sweater, wide brimmed hat, and chink chaps. He had yet to change his clothes since his ordeal began, but he didn’t mind. He hardly noticed the smell anymore, and he’d cleaned them as best he could during their brief stay on the island. His hat was the one he’d always worn when riding, a battered old leather hat that he’d bought that summer in Alberta, and his boots were his military issue Gortex combat boots. For those, at least, he was grateful. All that time spent in the rain, and his feet had stayed dry, the only part of him to do so. The water had even found its way under the leather chaps, soaking his pants. His rifle lay across the saddle, and the journal, the key to his journey, was wrapped deep within his saddle bags.

They rode south, retracing their steps across the narrow land bridge that connected the island to the shore. He rode easily, but he was wary, too. He’d lost track of how long he’d been on the run (his watch had given up the ghost days ago in the rain), but in the time he’d been gone, he was learning to truly see his surroundings. Jim and Rudy rode as one, and they were part of the night now. They made hardly a sound as they rode slowly on, only the creak of the saddle breaking the stillness of the night. They followed the shoreline to the west, holding to it until it curved back around to the north. “Northwest til we’ve passed Lake Huron,” he said softly to Rudy. “And then west and north to the prairies. With any luck we’ll see them by midsummer.” Rudy grunted, and Jim smiled to himself. He wondered how long his newfound optimism would last. “We got us a long road to follow, Rudy, my friend.”

The days and weeks that followed rolled one into the next. While he still had his watch, during his first days on the move, he’d been able to tell one day from another, even in the nightmare of the never-ending rain. Without it, the days were a blur of riding and camping, always on the move, always in the saddle. Three weeks after finding the journal, Jim rode openly in the daylight for the first time.

They moved ever northward, riding in the day or at night as civilization dictated. Jim ate when he was hungry, and slept when he was tired. He still rode often at night, keeping the North Star fixed on his right as they rode on, past rocky lakeshores, through dense brush, and over countless roads. Some, like the backcountry roads that riddled parts of the wilderness, he rode over without a second thought, while others, like Provincial Highway 7, he crossed with great caution, and only after spending a day watching it from the dense brush by the road’s edge. It was a main route through to Ottawa from the cities further west, and, if his pursuers knew his direction, a sensible place for a police patrol. Yet his hours of observation had revealed nothing, and he had crossed without incident. Along with Becca’s wellbeing, the lack of pursuit was his chief worry as he and Rudy made their way farther to the north, but he pushed it from his mind and did his best not to leave a trail. He was living day to day, and, though the shadow of fear continued to grow in his mind, he would deal with the police when and if they found him. Despite himself and the gravity of his situation, he was content, almost. The restrictive nature of life at the College had kept him and Becca from riding as much as they wished. Now he had miles and miles to ride, and all the time in the saddle he could ever want. But no Becca…and homicidal monsters after me.

Much more…

He was somewhere north of the highway, with spring in full bloom, when his food ran out. Marge’s estimate on how long that would last was pretty good, he thought with a grimace as he stopped to camp one morning. I guess she figured I’d be out of here by now…Hell, I thought that, too. And now I’m down to the last of it… I’ll have to hunt tomorrow, or scavenge or something. “Looks like we’re making another pit stop, buddy,” he said to Rudy. The horse, he thought, had held up well to the rigours of the trail. He was a little thinner, maybe, but none the worse for wear. Not like me. Whatever fat had been on Jim’s body was wearing away, showing the muscle underneath. Wish I’d done this before those fitness tests… At least I’ve tried to be observant. He had known for the past few days that his food was running out and that he would have to replenish it somehow. This knowledge had heightened his awareness, and he had been more observant than usual, trying desperately to note tracks of game animals. Should have paid more attention earlier, instead of worrying about police, or enjoying myself. Hell, it’s not just meat that I need, either, he thought. I need fruit, and fat, too, or I won’t make it more than another month out here. His meat heavy diet, supplemented with the trail mix Marge had packed, was leaving its mark. He wasn’t getting enough balance, and without it, was in real trouble. And at this time of year, there’s precious little wild stuff to supplement it with. As far as I know, anyways…all I’ve ever done is read. Every other time I’ve been out here I brought my own grub.

Stripping the saddle gear from Rudy, Jim let the horse roll and drink from a nearby stream. The terrain had changed little since the night he’d read the journal, and there was, as there always seemed to be, plenty of fodder for Rudy. At least one of us will eat well today, he thought. I’ll keep what little I have left on the off chance that I don’t get anything today, he thought, smiling to himself. He made sure the horse was tied firmly where he could still graze, and then stashed his saddle gear in the woods nearby. Taking up his rifle, he moved off into the woods.

 

Had Jim known of what took place later that afternoon, many miles to the south on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, he might have ridden a little easier.

“What do you mean you can’t find him…?”

“Sir,” began Sergeant Cout, “We know he’s on horseback, and we know he was originally headed-”

“You’ve had an entire month! The most intensive manhunt in Canadian history! That’s all you know…!?!?”

Cout, along with the two other senior investigators on the case, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Detective Green and Kingston Police Department Sergeant Smith, had been summoned to Ottawa the day before to report on their investigation. Now he stood motionless, refusing to yield to the onslaught. The man from the Justice Department, who had been appointed to oversee the search, was a politician, and, in Cout’s opinion, more interested in saving face than in finding Jim Carmichael.

The two stared each other down. To Cout it felt like more than a minute, but he was used to such exertions, and finally the politician averted his eyes. “Tell me what you know,” he said flatly.

Detective Green stepped forward, trying to diffuse some of the tension in the room. “We know we only missed him by a few hours at the stables. He took his horse, enough food and gear to survive in the wilderness for at least a week, and disappeared.

“Kingston PD interviewed Marge Pingle, the owner of the stables, and Scott Phillips, whose car we tied to the scene via its tire prints. Both claim no knowledge of where Carmichael went, or when.” He glanced at his notes. “Pingle stated that the missing gear was stolen without her knowledge, and Mr. Phillips was at the stables earlier in the day to feed Carmichael’s horse.” He looked up, “We have witnesses for that last one, but neither one has an alibi for the night in question. We suspect them of aiding Carmichael’s escape, but we can’t prove anything.”

“And Kingston PD…?” the politician asked.

“We interviewed his girlfriend, Miss Simpson, but she was studying for exams that night and could tell us very little. She may be lying, but I doubt it. She was more afraid than anything else. Nevertheless, we placed her, Pingle, and Phillips under surveillance, in case Carmichael tried to contact them. As of yet, he hasn’t tried it. Lastly,” Sergeant Smith said, “the members we’ve had searching in the woods have yet to find anything conclusive.” Which, he didn’t add, was your fault. Too long looking in the wrong place.

“And what has the military contributed to this catastrophe…?”

“He headed north from the stables,” said Sergeant Cout. “The tracks were fresh when we found them, but organizing the search properly took more than twelve hours. By that point, it was already raining, and as you know, sir, the last month has been the wettest on record. The tracks were wiped clean.”

“Why, then, if you had found tracks, did it take you so long to get going…?” The politician, Cout figured, was about due for someone to burst his bubble. This was all in the report. If he was any good at his job, he’d have read it.

“Kingston PD’s K-9 unit was out sick, and the RCMP’s only arrived after the storm had begun. CFB Kingston’s MP detachment lost our dogs last year to budget cuts. We initially had to bring other dogs in from Toronto. Helicopters were requested from the airfield in Borden, but that took time to work its way through proper channels. By the time the dogs and the helicopters were ready to go, it was too late. The storm grounded the choppers, and search dogs were useless in the rain. At your direction, sir, when the storm broke, we concentrated our efforts to the northwest of Kingston, expecting him to have sought shelter in the communities-”

“Yes, yes, I know. It was necessary to put the residents of my constituency at ease.”

“…before finally using the helicopters,” Cout continued, not missing a beat, “to conduct an infrared search as far north as Highway 7. That was completed last week, and also came up empty.”

“So what do you propose that we do now…?”

Detective Green answered that one. “We look farther north. We know he didn’t go further west, and a horse and rider following the St. Lawrence will draw a hell of a lot of attention in Quebec, so whether he wants to go west or east, he has to go north first. We expand the search accordingly.”

“Sir,” said Cout, “respectfully, I disagree. There’s little more we can do right now. Our best course of action is to wait.”

“Wait!?”

“Yes, sir. Wait. The military cannot afford to keep so many of its personnel in the field indefinitely. He’s one man on a horse, in Ontario. Somebody will see him sooner or later, and when they do, we’ll have him.”

“I’d have to agree,” said Sergeant Smith. “The Kingston PD can’t afford to keep this up, either.”

The politician was silent for a moment. He stood and walked to the window. “Alright then,” he said. “We’ll wait. But make sure you get his description out to all of the local police forces in Northern Ontario. And be ready for a press conference this afternoon. Someone will have to answer for this debacle.” He turned around, looking from face to face to face. “Tough questions will be asked.”

Why do I get the feeling I’ll be answering most of them…? thought Cout. And what description…? He’s a guy on a horse. How many can there be…? Wherever you are, Jim, I hope you’re doing better than this.

 

As he sat in camp that night, Jim could not have been doing worse. An entire day looking, he thought, and nothing. And I seen plenty, too. He spent the whole day scouting the area, hunting for tracks or even berries or roots. Anything that would keep him alive. All he had found was a clump of berry bushes that he recognized from his time in the mountains. They’re edible, and they’ll keep me alive, but not much more than that. What I need is a rabbit, or hell, even a squirrel. Deer are too big, and I don’t know how to skin them yet. His stomach growled, the sound loud in the darkness. He couldn’t even make a fire to raise his spirits, he thought. Jim was down to half a dozen matches, and he still hadn’t figured out what he’d do when he ran out. Squirrels are going to be a bitch to shoot, he realized. Quick little bastards. Oh well, could be worse…at least there’s plenty of water.

He slept fitfully that night, tossing and turning, and in the morning finally gave in and ate a little of his precious jerky. He led Rudy to water and then tied him up again for the day, making sure that the horse had access to plenty of grass. “At least you’re eating well,” he said, tickling Rudy behind his ears. Taking up his rifle and a saddle bag, he headed back into the bush.

Jim headed west, into an area that he’d had little time to search the day before. He’d gone barely half a mile when he ran into another berry bush, and, bending down to fill his saddle bag with the berries, saw something at the base of a nearby tree that he’d yet to see yesterday. Rabbit tracks, he thought, or maybe a fox. Small mammal, anyways. Noting their direction of travel, he shrank back into the brush to wait. No sense in overexerting myself. Let’s just see what happens…

He waited. The sun climbed high in the sky, and still he waited, munching absently on berries from his saddle bag, his rifle poised and ready. He was about to doze off when he heard a noise, and glancing up, saw what he’d been longing to see. Two rabbits, quietly chewing the bark at the base of the tree. He lined up his rifle, taking careful aim. The Lee Enfield .303 was a bolt action rifle, and he would only have one shot. He slowed his breathing, remembering the drills he had learned long ago at basic training. He slowed his breathing some more, gently pulling back on the trigger.

He fired. He got up excitedly, racing towards the tree, and stopped in his tracks.

“Shit,” he swore. At the base of the tree were no rabbits, and a bullet hole six inches above where they had been. Must have been too eager, he thought dejectedly, his stomach growling in agreement. He looked up for the sun, and seeing the lengthening shadows, grimaced. Too late for much of anything else today. Have to be getting back. Retrieving his saddle bag, he headed back to where he had left Rudy. In a flash of inspiration, he took a different route than he had coming out, and sure enough, found another berry bush. At least today’s not a total loss.

Rudy, as always, perked up when he saw Jim coming back, and seeing the horse raised Jim’s spirits a little, too. There was just something about him, Jim thought, which made it hard to stay really down for long. Rudy was so easy going, so accepting of present circumstances, and his attitude was proving infectious.

He led the horse to water again, and then let him roll in the grass. Seeing Rudy frolicking like that always made him think, and after tying Rudy up once more he picked up the rifle and headed back into the bush. While he was gone, Rudy perked up his ears as a flurry of gun shots sounded from the bush, but seeing no immediate danger, the horse went back to chomping on the grass.

Jim was back half an hour later, a disgusted look on his face. “I was right,” he said to the horse, “they are quick little bastards.”

As hungry and frustrated as Jim was, there was little use dwelling on his present circumstances. He munched on a few berries instead, and then lay down to get what sleep he could.

Up before the sun, Jim forewent breakfast and got right to work. “I’ll tell you, Rudy,” he said, walking the horse to the water for his morning drink, “whoever said sleeping on a problem was a good idea was a genius.”

Rudy’s drink was shorter than usual, so eager was Jim. Tying him back up, he sat on his slicker and picked up his chaps. “What I need, buddy, are animal snares. Leather nooses, made from these right here. And we can forget the damned squirrels. It’ll be rabbit soup from now on, I hope.” He took out his knife and considered the problem. What he needed were leather strips, long enough to go around a rabbit’s head and strong enough to hold it tight. The trick, he thought, would be to get what he needed without destroying the chaps. Working carefully, he managed to get half a dozen from the underside of the chaps, where they rested on the bottom of his thighs. They were each a little over a foot in length and less than half an inch across.

“Wish me luck!” he called to Rudy as he headed into the bush, carrying his snares, saddlebag, and rifle. It took him most of the morning, but he managed to set all six snares along the rabbit trails, which, now that he knew exactly what he was looking for, proved more abundant than they had two days before. He suspended each loop from brush or a small tree, low to the ground and directly over the tracks in the dirt. Eating a light lunch from the berries he’d brought in his saddle bag, and his spirits raised by his ingenuity, he picked up his rifle and moved off to hunt one of the trails he had not been able to snare.

He stumbled back into camp as the sun was setting, weary and frustrated. “Not a damn thing,” he said to Rudy. “And I had a beautiful shot.” Hell, I had two shots, way that rabbit ran away from me. And I missed ‘em both.

After taking care of the horse, he ate the last of his jerky as a consolation, downed it with plenty of water to hopefully fill his stomach, and went to sleep.

The next day Jim ignored his traps. He had no idea how long he’d have to leave them out, and he did not want to ruin his chances by checking them too often. He hunted instead, foregoing the rabbit trails in search of squirrels or other small game. To conserve his strength, he used the same technique as with the rabbits, staking out a likely area and then waiting. And as he waited, eating a handful of berries at a time, he grew ever more frustrated. The evidence of squirrels was rampant. He could hear them moving through the trees, yet he could never get a clear shot at one. He came home empty handed, and even worse, found that in munching on his berries all day long, he had only enough left for one more meal.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, buddy,” he said to Rudy as he lay down to sleep that night. “There has to be something in those traps tomorrow. There just has to be.”

His traps were empty. In his enthusiasm, he had forgotten exactly where he had placed them, and the sun was high in the sky by the time he’d finished, but all six were empty. Despair began to grip him. I might have to try for a deer. But if I do that…with the carcass I’d have to leave behind…I might as well be putting up a billboard that says “Here I am.” I can’t do that…for Becca’s sake I can’t. But what if the alternative is to starve…?

He spent the afternoon scouting the two or three square mile area that he had been calling home for the last few days. He was looking for anything that he could kill and eat, even deer. He was desperate, and perhaps because of that, saw nothing. Deer tracks abounded, as did the tracks of smaller mammals, but he saw none.

Having eaten the last of his berries, he cried himself to sleep that night. “I can’t do it, Rudy. I just can’t. Either I starve or I lead them right to me. I just can’t do it, buddy…”

The sun was already up when he rose the next morning. He watered Rudy as usual and then headed off into the woods. When the horse gave him a funny look, Jim said, “Going to check the snares one more time.” Rudy waited, tied to the tree by his lead rope. He dozed, standing three legged. He munched on the short grass. He dozed some more. And then a loud noise from the bush startled him.

“Rudy! Look at these! Look at ‘em!” It was Jim, and in his hands were two full grown rabbits.

Will Jim and Rudy make it to Alberta…? What will Sergeant Cout do…? Now that you’ve had a taste of the novel, we need your help. If you want to know what happens to Jim, and you know someone who works in the publishing industry (or better yet, you work there yourself), let them know about “The Phaireoir Legacy, Volume One”. Share it with your friends, share it with everyone, and we’ll see it published. 

Click here for Chapter 1

Click here for Chapter 2

Click here for Chapter 3

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