Authors: Lou Allin
A Holly Martin Mystery
is Not Good
the man of the family
and the best bear protection in British Columbia.
Much missed by the women in his pack.
Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
“Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the noonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew grey;
Then fell with the first snow,
Where to this day no grass will grow….
— Christina Rossetti
a Victorian children’s poem, become a “ribald classic” in
? By the stark white beam of her headlamp in the small tent, Maddie Mattoon read the 1862 original. Her lit prof knew how to galvanize a bored class when he showed them what Hugh Hefner’s flagship magazine had done with the story in the seventies. It was hard not to snicker as the well-worn pages passed around the room, illustrated with colourful, provocative drawings. Erotica was in the eye of the beholder.
The poem featured Laura and Lizzie. The little petticoated sisters had been strolling in the quiet English countryside when goblin men hopped from the bushes to offer “bloom-down-cheeked peaches … figs to fill your mouth, dripping with sweet juices.” Wise Laura cautioned: “Their offers should not charm us, / Their evil gifts would harm us.” Unable to resist, foolish Lizzie paid with a ringlet of her golden hair, fatal currency. “Honey to the throat / But poison in the blood” led her to pine away, willing to die for more. Toppling watchtowers, lightning-struck masts, and wind-uprooted trees telegraphed the surrender.
Christina Rossetti had lived as a sheltered virgin even in the circle of her celebrated brother, painter Dante Gabriel, known for his Pre-Raphaelite auburn-tressed voluptuaries. The shy lady poet, wedded only to God and famous for her devotional poetry, would have swooned at
’s innuendos about the “pellucid grapes without one seed.” The professor had circulated a platter of tempting fruit to add to the effect of the symbolic rape scene. “Remember,” he had told them, squeezing the rich, seedy jam from a fig, “that many nursery rhymes had their origins in history, including the succession to the throne and even the plague.”
Reading about ripe peaches and succulent pears, Maddie regretted packing so sparely for the weekend camp-out. All she had in the car was cereal, which would make her thirsty, and a softening banana. She thumbed through the volume to something more sleep-inducing, like Arnold’s dreary
Empedocles on Etna
. Within ten minutes, she felt drowsy from the pontificating and shut her eyes for a moment.
English or history for a major? Next year she needed to decide. Mom said that both choices were hobbies, not professions; that in this recession where people with Ph.D.s were flipping burgers, she’d do better in something practical like accounting or computing. As an overworked nurse, it was no wonder that Mom recommended a less exhausting job. Maddie’s dad was a millwright, proud of his only daughter. He had bought her a small used car for graduation, loading the trunk with a set of chains for crossing the Rockies. “It’s only July,” she’d said, still warmed by his concern. Once away from the Cambrian-Shield spine of Lake Superior, she’d found the Prairies tiresome, but she perked up as the Rockies roared into sight. When she boarded the ferry headed for magical Vancouver Island, her long-time dream, she felt a continent away from the family.
Maddie pushed the glow feature on her watch. Ten o’clock and dark on this early October night. In the pitch blackness, stars winked through the lacy tree canopies. By day here at scenic French Beach, city strollers picnicked in the mild weather. In a few months, locals would come to storm-watch here, a poor man’s Tofino without the hours of travel. Maddie’s digital camera sat in its case in the corner, bearing photos of the temperate rainforest and three varieties of giant slugs: black, khaki, and leopard. Home in Timmins, snowflakes would be in the air, and Skidoos would be getting a tuneup. She missed her friends, but not the climate. If she wanted winter sports, Maddie’d go to the snow, up-island to Mt. Washington or to Whistler on the mainland.
When she returned to the residence tomorrow she’d email the pictures home. Who could imagine that people surfed along the Strait of Juan de Fuca? Shelved at each end by black basalt boulders loaded with clumps of mussels, French had a nice, long, sandy stretch punctuated by pebbles crisping with white foam as the waves surged and retreated. She’d watched the sun go down while eating Hawaiian-style gorp with dried pineapple and papayas, leaning against a driftwood giant, a bleached and barkless mighty Douglas fir like those cousins that towered over the campground. It was romantic out here, making her feel more alone than normal. Maybe Mom was right, that someone would see the person inside her instead of stopping at her face. That was another reason to leave Timmins. Finding a brave new world with people who wouldn’t shield her.
An early-to-bed girl, Maddie yawned, appreciating the quiet after living with a roommate who bumbled in at two a.m. and started snoring in minutes. Only a few sites were occupied in the off-season. Spacious and generously landscaped with bushes, the spots had privacy amid a protective forest. But signs remained of a huge typhoon, a century storm that roared through in “Ought Six,” a grizzled beachcomber in clogs had told her. Massive stumps had left tons of debris that took bulldozers and frontend loaders to remove. “I found orange starfish in the trees,” the old man had said, his rheumy eyes sparkling in wonder. The thought both thrilled and terrified her. Blizzards she knew. But a typhoon? The west-coast term conjured a storm of biblical proportions.
The triangular tent was barely large enough for her to sit up. Without a breath of wind rustling the bushes, any sound carried in the silence. Cocking her head like her Jack Russell, Finny, she had wondered at first whether the light inside was making a shadow play for passers-by. A hundred feet along the road, a VW van from Washington State had set up camp, and two guys had waved when she pulled in. Steaks had been broiling on the grill when she passed later, and as she nosed the succulence, she thought mournfully of the barely warm canned ravioli she’d had that night along with a chocolate bar. Joining a party of men didn’t seem like a good idea, even if they’d invited her. That might have been asking for trouble.
On the beach, grandparents had helped their little grandson make a miniature inuksuk on one of the driftwood logs. The tide was out, and the smooth and glassy sea looked like you could skate across to the U.S. Suddenly homesick, Maddie remembered how her dad had taken her partridge hunting, teaching her to be patient and quiet in the woods, leading the bird with her sights to take off the head and leave the tender breasts shot-free. Could she go home to visit at Christmas if she saved enough from her part-time job?
Snap out of it, you baby. If you’re such a scaredy cat, you should have stayed home and gone to Northern College
The night was getting chill, so she wore her fleece hoodie and nestled it around her head. Tomorrow if the weather was bright, she could take more photos at the little bridge where the creek came in, and the logs from spring floods were jammed like pick-up sticks. Luminous mosses draped with old man’s beard forming their own biospheres covered the bigleafs. Fall was the one disappointment so far. The dinner-plate maple leaves were a scrofulous yellow, without the dazzling oranges, burgundies, and reds of the sugar varieties. Gramps had an erabliere where she watched the kettles boil and pulled luscious maple toffee. She’d traded the crisp nip of fall for something gentle and benign. Maybe that was why Vancouver Island was called Canada’s Caribbean.
Her ears pricked. Twigs breaking? A bird or squirrel? What about a black bear! The information board at the entrance had said to pack away food, so the banana and cereal sat in the trunk of her old beater in a sealed cooler. At home she’d had a hundred encounters, and in every case the bear had fled from her clapping and singing, not to mention Finny’s barking. She missed his fat little body nestled by her side. Bear bait, they called him.
Then the noise stopped. She took a final slurp from her water bottle, then clicked off the feeble electric lantern and snuggled into the bag perched on top of an air mattress. Call her a wimp, but she didn’t fancy sleeping on the bare ground with rocks poking her. She said a few quick prayers, using her folded coat for a pillow as lines from Rossetti’s poem circulated in her head. “Twilight is not good for maidens.” Sounded like those vampire books set over in Forks. That guy in the movie was a hunk even if he was on the pale side.
She’d pack up and leave tomorrow by noon. They were having their first English exam on Monday. Closed book. Twenty verses to identify from five-hundred pages. The very idea made her sweat.
She rolled over and tried to relax. Last night with all the hiking, she’d drifted right off. Now the mattress was too firm. She fumbled with the nozzle and let some air out, then re-adjusted her position. What was that? Not waves. The night was still. Now she was creeping herself out. Her roomie Bree hadn’t believed that Maddie was camping alone. “Are you nuts? At least take a dog or something. There was a cougar seen on the Galloping Goose in Sooke. They’re not going to run like your stupid black bears at home. They mean business, lady.”
“Where am I going to borrow a dog?” Maddie had asked with an annoyed frown. “It’s a regular park. You can hear the highway. Water taps, bathrooms, campfire rings, the whole deal. You’re talking to a girl from Northern Ontario, not Toronto like you. From what you told me, I’m safer at the beach than on Yonge Street.”
“And cells don’t work past Sooke. You
know that.” Bree had gone into lecture mode and was wagging her French-tipped finger.
“So what? I’m headed for peace and quiet, not socializing. I don’t tweet 24-7 like some people.” Bree’s fuchsia Blackberry was her lifeline to the world. If Maddie heard that ringtone of “Bad Romance” one more time….
“You wish,” Bree had said brushing her long black hair and sticking out her studded tongue. A recent pink-rose tattoo made her scratch her upper arm. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you if something happens.”
“I’ll be fine, Mommy.” People from the big city thought they knew everything. Let’s see Bree muscle a snowmobile out of the slush.
Now more awake than ever, silence was pushing at her ears, and she was poised for the slightest sound. Perversely, she almost missed the sirens and muted noises of the city around the university, the burbling of Bree across the room. Minutes passed. She tried a trick her mother had taught her as a child.
Pretend you’re in a snug cabin in a snowstorm. The woodstove’s warm. You have plenty of food. Think about making bacon and eggs for breakfast
. Bad idea. Not only was she hungrier, but she remembered that blizzards meant being sent up to shovel the plow line in the dark while her father blew out the drive. Another five minutes passed. She had to stop looking at her watch like a dumbass.
Then, to top it off, her bladder sent her a message. That extra Coke after the salty dinner. Cola had tons of caffeine. And the chocolate in the candy bar. Damn it. Now she’d have to get up and fumble her way to the toilets. Where was that little flashlight? She’d have to avoid shining it near the other campsites.
Shivering at leaving her warm bed, she arched her back to ease into her scrub pants, then stuffed her feet into camp mocs. At the ocean, it was at least five degrees colder than in the city. Slowly, she unzipped the tent flap, wincing at the noise. No need for the mesh screen. She hadn’t seen more than one mosquito since she hit salt air in Vancouver.
Maddie ducked out of the tent and blinked in the dark to orient herself. In seconds, her eyes adjusted. She had taken a site far from the bathrooms to avoid the noise, not to mention the smell. A devil in her brain said, “Why not just squat outside the tent? Nobody can see you anyway.” She was too good a citizen, and she had no paper. Sometimes guys had the advantage. She giggled to herself as a bluff of reassurance.
The far-off moan of a foghorn made her jump. The fog had been lingering across the strait like a line of whipped cream. Suddenly she felt galvanized, the hairs on her neck rising. Step by step she advanced as the asphalt on the road guided her. The campground roads looped around in all directions. Take the right fork, she remembered. Dark shapes loomed a hundred feet lit by the feeble beams of a moon sliver. Lines from “Sir Patrick Spence” came to her. “Last night I saw the old moon with the new moon in her arms.”
Come on, come on. Where’s that gravel path marking the cubicles?
She wouldn’t — would NOT — use the flashlight until she got to the bathroom. Her teeth were clamped so tightly that they ached. How much farther? Another hundred feet? Her nose caught the whiff of disinfectant and she moved faster. Suddenly the moon ducked behind the clouds like a shy girl. Pitch black. She tripped over a root and fell, her hands roughed by the ground. Without a light she might end up in a ditch with a broken ankle. Bree was going to pee her pants laughing when she heard this story. A giggle escaped her lips.
She fumbled fingers for the plastic switch nub when something clapped over her mouth. A leg shoved between hers. “Hey, what….” She felt herself dragged from behind by someone taller and a hell of a lot stronger. Toned from jogging and lifting weights on her brother’s home gym, Maddie was proud of her 18 percent body fat. Something snaked around her throat and pulled. The pain brought tears to her eyes and she kicked her feet, lifted in the air. “Stop it,” the man’s voice growled. Her lungs were twin bombs of pain and her fingers tried to get a purchase under what felt like a burning wire. Anything to stop the pressure.
She was pulled along, gasping. Then she found herself pushed through a door, stumbling at the threshold. Not the bathroom. There was no smell. Hands roamed from behind at her elastic waistband. She screamed, but realized to her horror that she was making no noise. Her temples were throbbing with blood. Then an old self-defence move her brother had taught her made her stomp down on the man’s instep. He yelped and released her. She lost her balance and reeled, windmilling her arms, gulping huge droughts of air.
“Hey, what’s going on over there? Don’t you know there are quiet hours in this park?” A dog barked in the distance. Then a blow clipped her chin and she fell senseless.