When Phil got up the next morning, Jessie and Eli had already left for work, so he jumped in the shower and got dressed, and then made himself a big breakfast. As he was eating, he thought that he heard meowing. “Is that a cat?” he asked himself.
He finished his breakfast and was cleaning the dishes when he heard it again. He turned off the water and began walking around the apartment. It wasn’t a very big apartment and the closet in Jessie’s bedroom didn’t have doors, only curtains. He checked under her bed and found a plastic mouse. He checked the coat closet and found nothing. He followed the sound of the meowing and found himself in the room he had just awakened from. This was also Jessie’s work room. He checked in file cabinet drawers, under the cot he had slept on, and behind boxes and bags. Then he noticed a door handle two feet up from where it should have been. He moved a shelf and behind it was a half door. He opened the door and shining eyes jumped out at him. He yelled and jumped back. It was a calico cat.
“Jessie keeps a cat locked away in a storage room?” he said, laughing. He figured the cat must have gotten in when she was putting something away.
JJ went to the kitchen crying for food. Phil rummaged through the cupboards; JJ kept meowing. He seemed happy to get out of the closet and showed his appreciation by wrapping himself around Phil’s legs. Phil finally found the food and JJ ate heartily.
After Phil had cleaned up, he went across the street for a Tim’s coffee. He was hoping to find a familiar face or two, but there were none, so he went to the mall and picked up a few things that he would need for his job in Calgary.
At the shop, Jessie and Rose were telling Denise about the scare they caught last night. Denise laughed.
“Same old Phil. I hope he never changes,” she said. “How long is he staying?”
“Oh, he’s leaving tomorrow morning.” Jessie replied.
“I thought he said he was staying for a few days.” Rose said.
“Well, to Phil, last night was a day and then today is another day, so that’s a few days.”
“Ah, Jeez,” Rose said. “I wanted to take him out for a beer before he left.”
“Well, I have his cell number, why don’t you try and meet him for an early lunch? We have the Halloween orders done and Remembrance Day orders we’ve received so far are just about finished. Take an extra hour and then bring him back here.”
Jessie had planned on taking him to Woodbine to place a few bets. He was always lucky at the racetrack, and they had spent many a sunny afternoon there, talking about life, love, and future goals.
Rose left an hour later. She had reached Phil and they had planned to meet at Crabby Joe’s for a burger and beer. Rose and Phil had had a thing years ago. It didn’t work out, but they had remained friends. Rose wanted to settle down and have kids, but Phil was a roamer, a free spirit, and he felt that he was just too young for a family and so they had parted ways.
At the restaurant, it seemed just like old times. Rose and Phil talked about the old days, their mutual friends—who got married, who broke up—and their current lives. By the time they left the restaurant though, they had both realized that they had made the right decision to break up. The spark they had ignited years ago was gone. They walked back to the flower shop discussing Phil’s new job and Rose’s new beau.
When they reached the flower shop, Jessie had her bag in hand, ready to go. “Come on, bro, we’re outta here!” She grabbed his arm and they were out the door, heading for Woodbine.
It was a warm, sunny afternoon. They drank cold beers, laughed until they cried, and when the winnings were tallied, Phil had won $750 and Jessie had won $375, not bad for a few hours of cheering for the four-legged creatures they’d bet on. They were heading back to the car when Jessie’s phone rang. It was Eli.
She turned to Phil and said, “Eli’s not going to make it for dinner, he has to work late.”
“So, where do you want to go?” She fanned her wallet in front of his face, laughing.
Phil grabbed at her wallet, but she was too quick for him. “Well, it’s too early for dinner, how about we go for a hike somewhere. Have you found any new places?” he said.
“Honestly, I don’t hike as much as I used to. The flower shop’s gotten very busy this past year. I know that sounds like an excuse…” She opened the car doors and they got in. “Actually, there is this one place I’ve been too. It’s just down from Churchville Village. There is a bridge that reminds me of that old book I used to read from my childhood, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Do you remember that one?”
“The one with the ugly troll under the bridge wanting to eat the goats?”
“That’s the one.”
And in their deepest voices they said: “Trip trap, trip trap. Who’s that tripping over my bridge?”
Jessie swerved out of the parking spot, laughing while Phil kept repeating that line.
They drove up Old Derry Road and Jessie found Meadowvale Conservation Area.
“Oh, yah, I know this place.” Phil said. “I think I came here once, that was how I discovered the park above. There aren’t too many trees in this area, and I hate walking on that paved trail; it hurts my feet.”
They got out of the car and started the trek. Many leaves had fallen from the trees and there was a slight chill in the air. The afternoon had been bright and sunny, but now, the temperature had fallen as day gave way to evening. They talked about Phil’s new job and what he had hoped to accomplish in Calgary. Jessie suggested that he make roots somewhere, but Phil, always crooning about being Native Indian, couldn’t see himself outside of his birthplace. He only went away when he couldn’t find work.
A half hour into the walk and they came upon the bridge. Jessie was right; it also reminded him of the story about the goats and the troll. It was eerie and the water below looked dirty and cold.
Phil started chanting: “Trip, trap, trip, trap.”
“Jeez, Phil, it’s creepy enough as it is.” Jessie was serious, but had no choice but to laugh. Half way across the bridge they stopped to look over. The water was thick and slow. They stared at it, neither one saying a word, until Phil came out of it and started repeating the chant.
They walked on to the other side, up through a field then turned around to go back.
“You don’t want to walk up to the tracks?” Phil asked.
“Nah, the last time I went up there I fell down and hit my head. Remember, I told you that last night.”
“Oh, yah, right, I forgot.”
“But, there’s an off-road path I found back at the other side of the bridge. It might be muddy, but the fallen leaves might cover the mud.”
“Okay, let’s go.” Phil was eager; he loved the outdoors and loved to adventure; find new things and new places to go.
When they got on the other side of the bridge a slight breeze began to blow. Jessie found her way through some thick brush that was hiding the start of the muddy trail, and, as Jessie said, the fallen leaves had covered the mud. There wasn’t much brush along the trail. Deadfall made great hiding places for squirrels, and other small rodents. Invisible animals scoured the forest floor. They were too quick to see. A blue jay squawked ahead and a woodpecker sounded off somewhere in the woods.
“This looks like a great place for deer.” Phil said. “Lots of timber.”
“Well, I’ve only been here once or twice, and the only interesting animal I’ve seen was this giant crane, which I thought was weird and out of place. Oh, and I saw a couple of loons one evening.”
Just then a loud crack came from somewhere ahead. Phil hurried up to see what it was, with Jessie at his heels. Again, another crack sounded up ahead to the right. Phil ran up the trail, leaves flicking up as he ran. Jessie ran close behind.
“Sounds like antlers, but it’s too early for rutting season.” Phil said.
They ran up to the end of the trail, which stopped at the Credit. They looked all around, but didn’t see anything or hear anything more. They remained quiet. A few minutes later, Phil spotted something just down the river next to the river bank. It was big. He climbed mounds deadfall, trying to get closer to the river bank. He thought the thing was a deer caught up in a mound of deadfall, but as he got closer, he noticed movement going farther into the woods, into the evergreens, and then was gone, out of sight. When he finally made his way to the area, a dead deer was steaming, it’s neck had been torn open and it’s innards was leaking out onto the mud and leaves.
“What is it?” Jessie yelled from up the river.
“A dead raccoon,” Phil called back. He didn’t want Jessie worrying about whatever it was that had just killed that deer. He found his way back to her and they walked back down the trail, chatting about how that raccoon must have died.
“It could have been a hawk, or an owl.” Phil said. He kept his eyes closed in on the grove of evergreens as they passed. A strange sensation crept up his spine, and he felt like they were being watched. The thought of some psychopath crossed his mind and he dismissed it. If he had been alone, he might have investigated, but he didn’t want to put his sister in danger. He was relieved when they got back to the main trail.
It was nearing dark when they got back to the car. Jessie felt chilled to the bone. “Come on, let’s get out of here. How about we go to the Mandarin? I’m starving. And besides, I have an open account with them.”
Phil shrugged his shoulders. “Great, I haven’t had Chinese food in quite a while.”
By the time they got back to Jessie’s it was almost nine. As Jessie was parking her car, Eli came up and parked alongside.
“Did Pete give you this parking spot?” Jessie asked.
“Yah, I called him this afternoon and he said to park here and you could sign for it in the morning.” Eli replied.
Eli looked over at Phil. “Hey, how are you doing?”
Phil went over to shake his hand. “Good, and you?”
“Great, a little tired, but otherwise good.”
“Are you hungry? We got you some Chinese food.” Jessie lifted the bag of still hot noodles and stir fry.
When they got into the apartment, JJ met them with distaste. Growling and pacing.
“JJ! What has gotten into you?” Jessie went to pick up her bff and he scratched at her, then went running back to the work room. “I don’t know what has gotten into that cat.”
Jessie got a plate of food ready for Eli while he showered, and made a pot of coffee. Phil told her how he found the cat locked in the storage room and Jessie was surprised since she hadn’t used it in months. JJ came out of the room and strutted up to her, wanted to be petted. Jessie reached down and massaged his head, but JJ, once again, was spooked when Eli came out of the shower and headed back to the work room. Jessie thought nothing of it and brought the coffee to the table.
They enjoyed the pot of coffee and talked until all eyes were red and drowsy. Phil’s flight was leaving for Calgary at five am.
Jessie got up with Phil and they said their goodbyes. She offered to bring him to the airport, but he refused. A taxi is easier he told her. Jessie agreed, as she had gotten lost too many times at that crazy backward place. So, he left for the airport and Jessie went back to bed.
When Phil got on the plane he dozed. He slept. He dreamt. In his dream, he saw the dead deer and the thing that killed it. He saw the beast under the tracks, the beast that looked deeply into his eyes, the beast that wanted to kill him. The beast with those piercing eyes, the beast with Eli’s eyes.
“Sir, sir, wake up, you’re having a bad dream.”
Phil stared into the eyes of the flight attendant. They had landed, and all the passengers had disembarked.
“Oh, gosh, I guess I was more tired than I realized; I slept the whole way.”
The attendant smiled.