Sitting on the gnarled stump of a dead tree, Karl Alston watched the campfire die. He had added the last log over an hour ago, and now all that remained of the once roaring blaze was a weak orange glow that failed to pierce the surrounding darkness. And yet still he watched. For he had yet to hear any rumbling snores, the telltale indication that his teenage son had fallen asleep in the nearby tent. Finally, the coast was clear. He reached into the green bag at his feet, and with shaking hands rummaged through it.
Where is it, he thought. Come on, come on...
Growing desperate, Karl turned the bag upside down. In the dim firelight he scrutinized its contents, looking for his whiskey. His last nip had been at lunch; he’d snuck one in while relieving himself. Since then his anxiety had returned, and Karl was eager for it subside. However, the heavily dented and scratched metal canteen was gone.
Shoot. I left it behind... We’ll have to go back tomorrow.
Dejectedly, he repacked the bag. He tried to stand but his legs felt like rubber. Finally he managed to hobble to bed. As he went, he once again thought that this canoe trip had been a bad idea. The boy’s mother had proposed it. The idea was for them to spend some time together, and Karl still wasn’t sure why he had agreed.
It’s not like either of us are having fun, he thought bitterly. Soon after he drifted into a restless sleep.
The next morning, as they were loading the canoe, he brought it up.
“We need to go back. Yesterday, I left my... camera at the lunch spot.” He dropped his gaze, and busied himself with fastening the final bag into place.
Standing in the water, on the opposite side of the canoe, it took the boy several seconds to realize he’d been addressed. He slowly turned to face Karl.
“Hun? But...” He trailed off. “But didn’t you take a photo last night?”
Karl didn’t answer immediately. He had forgotten. It had been a striking moment; the inky blue lake expanded into infinity, and the sky streaked with blood red clouds. Sitting on the horizon, a black thundercloud had hovered ominously.
“No,” he lied, meeting the boy’s gaze. “You’re thinking of the night before.”
“Nuh huh. Am not.” The tone was defiant.
Karl sighed. “I don’t care what you think. Either way we’re going back.”
The boy’s mouth opened, as if he was about to speak, but instead he closed it and wordlessly got into the canoe. Karl pushed it out into open water and jumped in.
After two hours of paddling, they arrived. It was now midday, with the sun looming directly overhead, like a showdown from a bad western. They pulled the cedar canoe out of the water, and onto the rough pebbly beach. The jarring scrape of wood on rock broke the eerie silence that hung over them. Without a word they began to search.
Karl immediately scrambled towards the spot where he’d last had the canteen. His head pounded and his vision swayed with every step. Except, it wasn’t there. His heart sank and a soft moan escaped his lips. Slowly, he collapsed onto his knees.
The sound of footfalls alerted him to the boy’s approach. Stopping inches from Karl’s face, the boy squatted down in front of him.
“Looking for this?” The boy’s words were a whisper. Karl saw that the rusted red canteen was clasped in the youngster’s hand and he heard the sloshing of the liquid inside.
“I took it you know. I... I...” The boy paused, obviously lost for words. He took a deep breath and continued. “I don’t like it. You go far away. It’s scary.”
His voice was hoarse and the last words were so quiet that Karl barely heard them. And then the boy was crying. Tears rolled down his face and splashed onto the ground. Silent sobs shook his body and he collapsed onto the beach. There he lay, rocking repeatedly while a seemingly endless supply of tears coated his face.
Without answering, Karl took the canteen from the boy’s limp hand. As he opened the bottle, the musky aroma of Crown Royal whiskey filled his nostrils. He took a deep breath, savouring the smell and for a flash he considered inverting the bottle. But the prospect of watching the golden fluid coat the beach brought the taste of bile to his mouth. In a fluid motion he took a long swig and sighed in content.
#Calgary writer #Calgary story