A NEW HUNT
Old medicine has a way of being remembered, of haunting the land where it was laid. People are forgetful. Medicine is not.
The town of Arcand was a church, a school, a convenience store, a bootlegger and a crowd of stooped houses leaning like old men trying to hear a conversation over a graveyard of Greniers and Trudeaus. Sundays were for God, though most people prayed out on the lake, casting Hail Marys with their fishing lines into the green water, yelling to the sky when they didn’t get lucky or when they did.
Parties were held in kitchens. Euchre was a sport. And fiddles made the only sound worth dancing to. Any other music was just background noise for storytelling and beer drinking and flirting. Or for providing the cadence for fight choreography when you just had to beat the shit out of your cousin.
The people who lived in Arcand were brought from another place, moved off Drummond Island when it was handed over to the United States in 1828. They were halfbreeds, the children of French voyageurs and First Nations mothers, and Métis people who had journeyed from Manitoba. The new colonial authorities wanted the land but not the Indians, so the people were bundled onto ships with their second-hand fiddles and worn-soft boots. They landed on the rolling white sands of the Georgian Bay and set up their new homes across from the established town that wouldn’t welcome them. At first they were fine on their own, already flush with blacksmiths and hunters, fishermen and a hundred small children to toss stones into Lake Huron. If they had known then how each square inch would have to be guarded, how each grain of sand needed to be held tight, perhaps they would have stacked the rocks instead of gifting them to the lake.
Over the years, without treaty and without wealth, the halfbreeds were moved away from the shorelines where million-dollar cottages were built in a flurry of hammers on lumber, so many at one time it was as if the shore was standing to anovation. Family by family, the community was pushed up the road.
Catholic by habit, they prayed on their knees for the displacement to stop, for the Jesus to step in and draw a line between the halfbreeds and the new people. Those among them who carried medicine also laid down coarse salt as protection against the movement. This salt came from the actual bones of one particular Red River family, who drew their own boundaries when the hand of God did not reach down to do it for them.
Eventually, inevitably, the shore belonged to the newcomers who put up boathouses and painted gazebos and built docks where sunburnt grandchildren would cannonball into June waters, calling for someone to watch what they could do. And the halfbreeds? They got the small settlement up a dirt road. They got Arcand.
Some of the people managed to hold on to the less desirable patches of waterfront, areas with no beach or too many lilies like the decaying fingers of a neglected woman pushing out of the muck. These were the older people, who refused to head up the road to Arcand. They kept rickety docks where the fishermen tied their rusted boats in exchange for some of the catch. The heavily wooded acres that bloomed out from Arcand toward the highway and the smaller roads with hairpin curves snaking down to the occupied shore, these areas, too, remained up for grabs. In any halfbreed home there were jars of coins and a wistful plan to buy back the land, one acre at a time if need be.
On these lands, in both the occupied places and those left to grow wild, alongside the community and the dwindling wildlife, there lived another creature. At night, he roamed the roads that connected Arcand to the larger town across the Bay where Native people were still unwelcome two centuries on. His name was spoken in the low tones saved for swear words and prayer. He was the threat from a hundred stories told by those old enough to remember the tales.
Broke Lent? The rogarou will come for you.
Slept with a married woman? Rogarou will find you.
Talked back to your mom in the heat of the moment? Don’t walk home. Rogarou will snatch you up.
Hit a woman under any circumstance? Rogarou will call you family, soon.
Shot too many deer, so your freezer is overflowing but the herd thin? If I were you, I’d stay indoors at night. Rogarou knows by now.
He was a dog, a man, a wolf. He was clothed, he was naked in his fur, he wore moccasins to jig. He was whatever made you shiver but he was always there, standing by the road, whistling to the stars so that they pulsed bright in the navy sky, as close and as distant as ancestors.
For girls, he was the creature who kept you off the road or made you walk in packs. The old women never said, “Don’t go into town, it is not safe for us there. We go missing. We are hurt.” Instead they leaned in and whispered a warning: “I wouldn’t go out on the road tonight. Someone saw the rogarou just this Wednesday, leaning against the stop sign, sharpening his claws with the jawbone of a child.”
For boys, he was the worst thing you could ever be. “You remember to ask first and follow her lead. You don’t want to turn into Rogarou. You’ll wake up with blood in your teeth, not knowing and no way to know what you’ve done.”
Long after that bone salt, carried all the way from the Red River, was ground to dust, after the words it was laid down with were not even a whisper and the dialect they were spoken in was rubbed from the original language into common French, the stories of the rogarou kept the community in its circle, behind the line. When the people forgot what they had asked for in the beginning—a place to live, and for the communityto grow in a good way—he remembered, and he returned on padded feet, light as stardust on the newly paved road. And that rogarou, heart full of his own stories but his belly empty, he came home not just to haunt. He also came to hunt.
JOAN OF ARCAND
Searching for the one you lost feels like dying of exposure again and again and again. You are bloodless, single-minded, numb around the edges of the panic and loss. Fingers exist only to dig, legs to pump you forward on blistered feet.
You push granola bars between your teeth to get some fuel into your stomach. So you can keep going. You piss in the woods to save time, but only after meticulously checking the ground for evidence.
You hold your breath when you spot tracks and then you follow them. Any small sign that he may be close slams electricity into your nerves so that everything is on fire. You are a fever in the woods.
But then a broken shoelace is just a shoelace and nothing more. A clue is not a clue, just a dropped barrette, a drunken stranger sleeping it off, a used condom.
And your blood recedes like a red tide and your fingers close tight around another shitty cup of coffee. They rest over a broken heart held careless by inadequate ribs.
You look some more.
Joan had been searching for her lost husband for eleven months and six days, since last October when they’d fought about selling the land she’d inherited from her father and he’d put on his grey jacket and walked out, the screen door banging behind him. She’d pored over that small sequence of movements and words every hour for eleven months and six days until the argument had distilled to a scream and a dash, then the door.
“Going to check the traps,” he’d thrown over his shoulderand into the living room where she sat.
“Yeah, good,” she tossed at his back from the couch. “Go enjoy the land you want to sell out from under us. Why not?”
Then she’d half laughed through her nose so that the last sound he heard from her was a derisive, mocking exhale. That was the punctuation at the end of their collective sentence, that horrible noise. Maybe he hadn’t heard her. She hoped that he hadn’t.
She couldn’t remember what it was to eat and sleep and dream. She couldn’t make herself cum and she couldn’t ease her lungs enough to sigh, which, she thought, was almost the same thing. Without Victor, Joan was half erased. Was he dead somewhere? Had he run off? She couldn’t grieve like a normal person—cut her hair, cry herself to sleep and wait for a day when she could live with his absence. The only thing she could do was search.
She was born in Arcand, like generations before her. Unlike them, she’d lived other places before moving back, in cities and towns around Ontario and once, years ago, in Newfoundland when she’d hooked up with a cod fisherman. Growing up in Arcand had made her itchy and absent-minded. She had to see what else was out there. There had to be someplace where she fit. As it turned out, the fisherman stopped being verbal and she couldn’t figure out how to play a decent hand of 120s like a respectable islander, so she’d made her way home.
Between Leading Tickles, Newfoundland, and Arcand, Ontario, she met Victor.
“Watch yourself,” Mere had warned when she heard Joan was taking the Greyhound. “Some fellow cut some other fellow’s head off on one of those things.” Her faraway voice on the phone was quick with concern.
“Don’t worry about bus murderers. With my luck, I would end up dating him.” Joan was only half kidding.
Mere clucked her tongue. “You just get home. Never mind about dating anyone.”
“Yeah well, once I get to Arcand, I can’t date anyone.They’re all related to me.”
She had a two-seater to herself for most of the trip, a good book, a bag of snacks and smokes, and eighty dollars left over from her cheap fare. So when the bus squealed and burped into Montreal with a four-hour layover until her Toronto connection, she decided to hit a bar near the station.
She climbed down the steep steps and hopped out of the bus onto the slushy asphalt in inadequate shoes, her backpack over one shoulder. She looked up into a sky layered to navy past the greasy halo of city lights. Snowflakes tumbled down so huge and slow it was as if they’d been cut from folded paper by a pair of delicate shears. The parking lot was a poem about white. The neon bar sign for Andre’s was a Christmas tree, all dressed. And the fat, black Harleys out front were eight little reindeer all in a row.
Joan ordered the first beer listed on tap and settled in at a corner table away from the loud regulars circling the bartender like thirsty seagulls. Drinkers hunkered over a couple of pool tables on the far side of the room, illuminated by a stained glass fixture of ships at sea. The tables were filled with bodies, spilling out clipped French like a burst pipe. She drank quickly to push back the anxiety of being alone and uncomfortable and ordered another beer when the waitress breezed by. Coming back from the ladies’ room after her second, she stopped by the bar to order another, armed with temporary confidence.
It was late now, almost eleven, and her bus was leaving at half past midnight. The front door opened often, blowing in mostly men but a few women too, and swirls of the constant snow. At some point, she was sucked into a group conversation about Osama bin Laden’s death. She lost track of drinks and details, speaking free and laughing easy with the security of a near departure. But then she saw Victor, beautiful Victor with his sharp cheekbones and old-fashioned tattoos of swallows and pin-ups and knives stuck in thick-lined hearts, Victor with his smart mouth and kind eyes whose colour was indefinite, and she knew she wasn’t getting back on the bus.