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 nine chapters of the novel here.
THE PHAIREOIR LEGACY: JIM CARMICHAEL’S STORY, VOLUME ONE
BOOK ONE: BEGINNINGS
Cout lay down to sleep in the woods, using his rucksack as a pillow. He smiled to himself. At least the damn thing has some use…must get heavier every day I’m out here. By his reckoning, he had left Sudbury two weeks earlier, following Jim’s trail as best he could. Could have been longer, though, he thought. All these days blur together. Cout prayed he’d get to Jim in time. As he drifted off to sleep, rifle in his arms, he thought, as he had a million times since he’d picked up the trail, of Jim, out in the wilderness and all alone. The only reason they’d pull the soldiers off the trail when we had him cold was because we play by the rules. And that means whatever’s after him now doesn’t. Hang on, Jim.
Jim walked steadily down the ridge through the trees, taking his time, his eyes always moving, always searching. I know that shadow is still out there, he thought, but I’m not sure where…he’ll find me sooner or later. While the memories of the dark shadow and the blade in the moonlight still terrified him, he walked on, resolute, caring little how much of a trail he left behind. He fought down the ball of terror deep within that threatened to overwhelm him. There he was, all alone, hundreds of miles from help, with a maniacal creature on his tail. I don’t know if I can do this, he thought blearily. Odds are good I ain’t walking away from the next time, unless I kill it…one of us will win, anyways. And somehow that has to be me, he thought grimly. But how…? Somehow it’s always found me when I was asleep. I can’t see it coming, and I can’t outfight it. How the hell am I gonna kill it…? At least I know it can be hurt, anyways. Oh well, I got enough problems right here.
“Like, for example,” he said aloud, “where the hell am I…?” He had long been navigating by compass and dead reckoning, keeping Lake Superior, when he could see it, on his left. And the last I saw of it was weeks ago, so I’m somewhere west of it…but how far…? Jim had no idea, and without a map, no way of knowing. And I couldn’t see Lake Nipigon, either, from that ridge back there, and I’ve passed any number of rivers, so I gotta be well past that. He had no choice but to trust to his compass and to luck, and so he pressed on.
His progress was achingly slow. Accustomed as he was to covering ten or more miles a day with Rudy, that first day he made, by his reckoning, only three. And the next day he made only two when he blindly walked onto a peninsula and had to spend hours finding his way back.
Camp that night was a sombre one. His back ached from the heavy pack, his legs were rubbery, and his feet, unused to such torturous treatment, were blistered and bloody. Like the soldier he had once been, he had fought through the pain, and now he regretted his bravado. Taking his boots off to examine his feet, they immediately began to swell. He bathed them with water heated over his fire, and then put his boots back on and laced them up tight. Haven’t got anything to treat them with anyways… he sighed. At least that will keep the swelling down. But after only five miles…I still have more than a thousand to go. Despair began to grip him, and that despair only deepened when the chill of night closed in around him. Despite his fire, Jim was scared. He had lost all track of time during his ordeal with Rudy, and the cold was a shock. Shit, he thought. Autumn’s coming.
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He pressed on through the days, through the pain, driven by the knowledge that if he was caught deep in the bush when the snow fell, he would be dead. On the seventh night out from Rudy’s cairn, his back was a little less sore, and when he took his boots off during his dinner, he saw with gratitude that they had begun to callous over. Might just make it after all. He shot a deer three days later, spent two nights smoking the meat, and then was on his way once more. His spirits grew as his strength did, and he was buoyed by the fact that since the night Rudy had died, he had neither seen nor felt the shadow’s presence.
Somehow I can sense it coming…at least at a distance, he reflected as he followed the rocky shoreline of yet another lake. He stepped over tree roots and around rocks as birds sang in the branches overhead and a loon dived beneath the water’s surface. All this he took in without conscious effort, his mind focused on the problem at hand. But why can’t I sense it up close…? And more importantly, how do I kill it…? He was well aware that he had been lucky so far, but try as he might, Jim was no nearer to finding a solution. If Becca were here she’d be able to help, he thought with a smile. She always was good at figuring things out. I wonder what she’s doing right now…getting ready to start another year in purgatory, I’ll bet… Does she even know I’m still alive…? Purgatory had been their nickname for the Royal Military College, and Jim smiled at the thought, remembering the day he and Becca had met. Their first date, he remembered, had been while they were still on FYOP, the First Year Orientation Program through which all new cadets at the college had to pass. Forbidden to leave their rooms, they’d snuck out and spent the night watching the stars and the lights of downtown Kingston. I never thought she’d come when I sent that note, he remembered, but she did. And when it got cold and I put my arm around her, she didn’t pull away. We were inseparable after that, sharing everything…God, how she could make me laugh…could use a laugh right now…like the time I showed her my dad’s moccasins…she…
He stopped in his tracks. “Why the hell didn’t I think of that…?” Dad used to wear moccasins in the bush…he swore by them, said they made him like a ghost…but how to make them…? Hell, I already got the deer hide…but it ain’t ready for use yet…still got the fat on it.
He made camp early the next few nights, deliberately slowing his pace to make mocassins, scraping and stretching the hide for hours on end, making it pliable, more suitable for what he needed. It’s a risk, he thought, but if I can have an edge… When he was finally satisfied that it was ready, he laid it out on the ground and measured out pieces for the bottom of his feet and the sides. I saw Dad do this a long time ago… he thought as he worked. Here’s hoping I remember how he did it. He cut long thin pieces of hide, used his knife to punch holes in the pieces, and then used the strips to lace them together. They look nothing like Dad’s, he thought with a grimace, but I guess they’ll do. He tried them on, and then stepped into the stream he had camped by, soaking the leather. When that dries, he remembered from when he had treated Rudy’s leg, it’ll be nice and snug. Not exactly waterproof, though, he smiled. Have to work on that.
He stayed in camp the next day, using the time to make two more pairs of moccasins before pressing on. He moved slowly, taking his time, learning how to be a ghost in the bush. He could feel every twig, every leaf on the ground, before he put his full weight on it, and he blessed his father many times for the lessons that he had imparted to him. He worked as he moved, sometimes leaving his pack behind to stalk animals, practicing, learning, moving silently. In spite of his terror, his spirits rose as his skills in the bush improved, and as day after day slipped by with no sign of the shadow. It must be hurt worse than I thought it was…the way it moved before, it could have caught me a long time ago.
I need a bear, he thought the next day. Big ol’ fur, lots of fat…I’ll need that to survive the winter…I’ll never make it to the Rockies this year, not like this.
The leaves began to change a week later. By his reckoning, Jim had been on foot for about a month. I’m not silent yet, he thought, not a ghost like Dad could be when he wanted to, but I’ll get there. I’ll have to be if I’m going to face the shadow again. He grimaced. The shadow had begun to grow in his heart once more, almost imperceptibly at first, but then becoming stronger and stronger until Jim knew that it had to be close. He was ever more wary as he travelled, and his nights were sleepless. He didn’t know when it would come upon him, and he always moved on each night after eating over his fire. He never slept by the flames. He had his doubts, too. Fear began to plague him. How the hell am I going to kill this thing…? It got Rudy, and it almost got me, twice…I’m just a guy from Kingston…what chance do I stand against it…?
He dozed that night, sleeping at the base of a massive oak tree. Before he’d turned in, Jim had spread pine needles and small twigs around where he figured to sleep. Might give me some warning, he thought as he waited for sleep to come. Hell, it can’t hurt. He lay there in the gathering darkness, pushing the worries from his mind, as he waited for sleep to come, huddled under his slicker for warmth.
And then he heard it. A shriek in the darkness, a shrill cry of such anguish and torment that it scattered birds from the trees and chilled Jim’s heart to the core.
Oh shit… Terror gripped his mind. Where is it…? How close…? With a speed born of desperation he restowed his slicker, frantically threw on his boots, grabbed for his rifle, and ran.
Heart hammering in his ears, his knees weak, his bladder threatening to go at any moment, he ran. Feet pounding through the underbrush, almost tripped on rocks too small to see in the darkness, he ran, praying he wouldn’t run into the creature. The shriek sounded again, and for a brief moment Jim was grateful. At least I know where it is now.
On through the bush he ran, careless of the noise he made, conscious only of the need for distance, for speed. His lungs burned, his eyes stung from the sweat that poured down his face, and his shoulders ached from the heavy pack, and yet still he ran, fighting through the pain, forcing himself on.
He fell. A blow of incredible force struck his pack, and he fell. Lying there on the ground, trapped under the massive weight of the pack, he looked up, and there, darker than night that surrounded it, was the shadow. A new wave of terror gripped him, and with a strength born of panic, he frantically tried to get free, to rise, to fight back. The creature, though, so close that Jim could smell the rank decay of its flesh, stood with a foot upon Jim’s pack, forcing him into the ground.
“You…only delay…your fate,” the voice hissed, scattered words of terror and despair in Jim’s mind. “Fear always…triumphs.”
Jim’s face was ground into the rocky soil as the creature pushed, and Jim, knowing with a dreadful certainty what the creature intended, lashed out with the butt of the rifle. It was a weak blow, done blindly, but it caught the creature on the knee cap, knocking it off balance, and for just a second, the merest fraction of a second, it stumbled.
Jim seized the opportunity, pushing upwards with all his strength. Worming out from under the pack, he grabbed the rifle and ran.
He stumbled through the forest, not thinking, driven by instinct, by the need to survive, the crashes of the pursuing shadow filling his ears. He ran on, until the ground beneath him disappeared and he stumbled and fell.
He landed with a splash in the shallow water, got to his feet, and kept going, wading out into deeper water. When the bottom fell away, he struck out, swimming with everything he had. The far shore was shrouded in darkness and hard to see, but anything was preferable than the monster that waited behind him.
The creature shrieked again, and Jim glanced over his shoulder. The moon was there, just a sliver in the sky, and by its light Jim could see it, standing on the cliff that Jim had just fallen from, sword raised in rage. Then it turned and disappeared into the bush. He kept swimming.
Panting with exhaustion and shivering with the cold, his chest heaving, he dragged himself onto the far shore. He collapsed in the shallows and went to sleep.