Thanks for the Flowers

Shifting shadows can play mean tricks on a person. When I was little, I’d never go outside before the sun was high. A person can get used to the falling dark, as the sun sets your mind and body become accustomed to the descent into blackness. Waking in the dark of early morning is something else entirely. There’s a different sort of feel to it. Anyone or anything I might trust has long been sleeping. Creatures on the prowl, scavengers and thieves are nefarious. Nothing, not man nor beast was to be feared more than the Rougarou.

He was shaped as the strongest of men, covered in hair with the head of a snarling wolf. His purpose was to no longer be what he was. Through your blood he might find redemption, and then it will be your turn to live out the curse. 

My eyes occasionally closed as Ross paddled. Somewhere in a distant and better place, where it was bright and warm I could feel myself tipping. My body feared falling when my mind didn’t seem to care. Sharp, stabbing pains woke me, reminding me who and where I was. My eyes surged open, reintroducing me to fear over and over again.

She was every rock and boulder along the shoreline. Creeping as the Rougarou in the dark, waiting. Jumping fish attacked my anxiety, feeding on my fear. Common Loons sang macabre ditties, recording my demise in the folklore of their songs. A cold and unexpected splash across my back took part of my life as it passed.

“Sorry, getting pretty tired I guess,” Ross said.

He caught a little water on his forward stroke, sending it cascading in all of its coldness across my back and shoulders. It wasn’t coffee, but close. If only he could have seen my face, he might have jumped.

“We should probably find a place to hole-up once it gets light, just in case,” Ross said.

“Do you really think she’ll come after us? I mean, do you have any idea of where we are?” I asked.

“I have a general idea, sort of,” he said.

“That’s reassuring.”

“We could get back up in the woods a little, no way she’d see us. On the other hand, it would be good if we could find some other campers, maybe get a look at a map, some matches, something. What do you all have in that bag?” Ross asked.

“Yeah and warn them that there’s a maniac, crazy killer woman out there with a gun and a possibly dead husband,” I said.

“Yeah, there’s that too. Anything useful in that bag?” he asked.

“Gage’s knife, we could try and start a fire again. Some jerky left, other than that, squat. You know I wouldn’t mind if we could find a regular campsite,” I said.

“Not sure that’s the best idea. It would be one of the easiest ways to find us,” Ross said.

“I know but they have certain amenities, you know?” I said.

“Amenities?” 

“Um yeah. Do I really have to spell it out for you?” I asked him.

I could tell by his silence that he didn’t know what I was talking about. It must have been ten minutes later before he said anything at all.

“The John.”

I clapped twice. My insides were trying to tell me something important, and It was becoming more and more imperative that I listen.

“Pretty soon would be good,” I said.

A deadhead, in canoeist lingo, is a log or rock that lives just below the surface of the water. Wind driven waves breaking over their shallow existence is oftentimes the only indication of their presence. They are incredibly difficult to see on any given day, and completely invisible at night. A canoe, especially an aluminum canoe can easily become wedged on a dead head, and if it’s windy very well might cause it to flip. At this hour, just as light breaks over the eastern horizon, the urgency of my situation was greatly accelerated when the very first thing that crossed my mind was we just ran into floating Bob. Wump!

“Just a log, good thing,” Ross said.

There was nothing good about it, nothing.

“Now, we need to get to shore now,” I said.

“Really?” he asked with a chuckle.

“I swear Ross, get us to the frickin shore right frickin now,” I demanded.

“Okay, okay, I got ya, headed in,” he said. 

By the time I returned from the woods Ross had the canoe pulled well up away from the water out of sight. 

“You don’t look so good. You okay?” he asked.

As much as I wanted to say that I was, the feeling of an encroaching fever, coupled with twisting intestinal pain made it impossible to hide my condition.

“You think?” I said sarcastically.

“Try and get some sleep, maybe you’ll feel better. I’ll watch for a while,” he said.

I laid down inside the canoe and hoped for remission. Sleep was fleeting. I slept hours but it felt like minutes. Once I woke the minutes felt like hours. 

“Holy crap, you’re white as a ghost,” Ross said.

I’ve heard the phrase before, but no human being has ever spoken those words directly to me. It made me admittedly unhappy. For some reason, between the sickness and Ross’ choice of phrase, I felt as if I was being put on stage to receive an award for being a negligent sub-human. As the day wore on, I felt worse and worse. I was dizzy, and to further complicate the situation, my body was denying water. 

“You think you can travel?” Ross asked.

So much of me wanted to say yes. Through dry, cracked lips I cleared my throat to speak. I wondered for a moment where Ross was running off to, but he hadn’t moved. The earth took him, along with the rocks, trees, and the water. Everything spun to the left as my body fought to counter. I could hear Ross as if he were in another room, muffled and hard to decipher. He mentioned something about beavers as I looked towards the sky and fell into a nightmare.

I remember running across the treetops, towering pines became mere stepping stones. I jumped across rivers and small lakes. Darlene was hot on my heels. Whenever I looked back I would see her, the woman, unlike me, her feet barely touching the treetops, almost as if she was flying. But whenever I turned to run, when my attention was focused forwards, she was the Rougarou, snapping her jaws, calling my name through gravel and fangs, letting me know she was coming, that she was always going to be coming.

“Philippine? Philippine? Are you hearing me Philippine?”

I didn’t recognize the voice. I didn’t even realize that for the first time in what seemed like forever I rested comfortably. The blinding light in my eyes was apparently to help them work.

“Yes, yes,” I said, barely.

“You’ve had quite the adventure young lady. You’re in Ely Memorial Hospital. My name is Dr. Christiansen. I’ve been your attending physician for the last few days,” he said.

“What? Last few days? How? I, I…,”

“Ross Parent brought you in a few days ago. Extremely ill and severely dehydrated. You got to meet one of our local bugs. It’s called Giardia, otherwise known as,” 

“Yeah I know, beaver fever,” I said.

“You got it,” He chuckled.

“Even though I laugh, it can be quite serious, even life threatening, as in your case. Sounds as if you drank some infested water, quite a bit of it from what I gathered,” he said.

“Where’s Ross?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s around here somewhere. I’ll see if I can find him. He’s been in and out but generally he’s been here with you the whole time,” he said.

After a few minutes Ross peaked sheepishly through the hospital door.

“How you feeling?” he asked.

“Not too bad considering. Flowers? Really?” I said.

“A rare smile, nice. Of course flowers. Wild ones too, kind of like you,” he said.

“And why wouldn’t I smile at the man who saved me? Look Ross, I’m not really sure how to say this.”

“Then don’t. I wouldn’t have had the chance without you doing what you did out there. And just for the record, we’ll never be even,” Ross laughed.

“What about her? We need the police,” I said.

“I told them everything. The Forest Service, the State Patrol, I called everybody. There was even talk about getting the feds involved seeing as how it happened in a federal area. The thing is, they checked the permits, there’s no record. Nothing. They’ve even been paging back through the years but so far, nothing. Part of me thinks they’re not even believing me,” Ross said.

“What? I want to see them, now,” I said.

“I called the sheriff the second I heard you were awake. He should be here in a few. I also called Marnie,” Ross said.

“What did you tell her?” I asked.

“Well, I told her we were okay, or going to be anyways, and I told her we found Gage’s knife,” he said.

“That’s it? No Darlene, no pitching lifeless Fred over your back?” I asked.

“Nope, I figure she hired you for all that stuff,” he said.

“She didn’t ask for details?” I asked.

“Oh she did, but like I said, I’ll leave that up to you,” he said.

“Knock, knock,” said a voice in the hallway.

“Come on in sheriff. Let me introduce you to Ms. Philippine Maximine. Phil, this is sheriff Sam Schmidt.”

“Hello there little lady, I heard you got quite the little yarn to spin,” he said.

“Little lady? Yarn? Look…sheriff…”

If you knew me, you would know that anytime I start my sentence with ‘Look’ I’m bound to be far less than cordial. It has been said that you can catch more bees with honey, but sweetness wasn’t going to be an option this day.

I was released from the hospital in the afternoon. It took another two days after that before I could get a key made for my car and shipped up from the nearest city large enough to have a functional dealership. I spent those two days with Ross, eating, drinking, sleeping, and of course, playing. 

I told Marnie that Ross and I, through diligent research and a bit of luck were able to locate some people who happened to be camping on the same lake as Gage when he disappeared. I told her a kindly old woman and her husband had flipped their boat in a late season thunderstorm. Gage dropped everything and paddled out from his campsite in the face of huge swells and hurricane force winds to save them. He towed them to safety and the last time they saw him he was headed back to his site. All indications are that he never made it and likely died a hero.

The US Forest Service and sheriff’s department turned out to be completely useless. There was no record of, or permit issued for Darlene or Bob for legal entry into the Boundary Waters. Nor was there a record of them paddling down from Canada, through The Quetico. There were no reports of abandoned cars, no couples matching their description, and nobody had ever heard of them. They were ghosts, or as law enforcement suggested, a figment of my imagination, or a fever-based hallucination. They even made sure to get in on the record that the Dr. deemed it to be a distinct possibility. 

As far as Ross was concerned, he was incensed. The consensus was he went along with my hallucination to cover his tracks. As a good old boy on a romantic tryst with an older woman of color, well, let’s just say nobody would have known about us if I hadn’t gotten sick. This was a way for him to save face. He promised me he would get to the bottom of it, one way or another. He even signed up for police science courses at the local college with the feeling that law enforcement needs to do a better job of helping people, and he could be part of the solution.

Me, I took the long, winding road home, back to the city. My office smelled damp the next morning, the result of having been closed up for so long. Imagine the smell if I’d have locked up a cat in there. The coffee was brilliant, and still ranks among the best I ever had. 

Deja Vu is always welcome, as much as the woman walking down the hall, slamming her heels into the floor, knocking lightly on the door.

“Come in,” I said.

“Philipine Maximine?”

“At your service,” I said.

“Hello, my name is Mary, Mary Owens. My jerk of a husband is cheating on me and I need proof so I can…Oh my, those are gorgeous flowers,” she said.

“Oh thank you, they’re wildflowers. Black-eyed Susans, my favorite.”

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