It was early September in the town of Hillsbury. Labor Day weekend, the final long weekend before school returned and the summer tourists departed for the year, was the busiest for the town. Hillsbury was cottage country; families would travel upwards of ten hours to stay in their wood cabins, or the luxurious campsites that had recently been upgraded to provide up to fifteen sites with electricity and new picnic tables to surround the pits used for campfires, for the summer months.
It was a tight knit community, the locals, of which there were few, were all friendly with each other, and the tourists, most of whom referred to themselves as Hillsbury locals, were quite friendly with the residents.
Crime was always at a low, with practically everyone knowing everyone it was a difficult task to commit a crime and get away with it. Save for seven years ago, Jill Carter, the sister of the Hillsbury Park Head Ranger, and Marcia Richter, her lover, went on what was to be a short fishing trip. The couple, who had been dating in secret for several months had just recently come out to their family and friends before heading on this one day fishing trip, they had hoped to catch a cat fish, or something “slimy” as Marcia put it. They packed their gear the night before, Jill borrowing her brother Henry’s equipment, Marcia went out to the local store before and told Jett - the store clerk who at one point had a crush on Marcia before learning of her preference - of her plans and he suggested which rod she should purchase, and so she did. At six the next morning they left Jill’s house, locked the door, gave each other a gentle kiss, and got into Jill’s navy blue pick up truck and made their way down to Cape’s Side Bay, a sort of hot spot for fishermen in Hillsbury.
The past few months before the girls planned trip, fish had been swimming in droves to Cape’s Side Bay. What was typically caught in a month would take just hours. To Jill and Marcia It seemed like the perfect spot for their first time. And, so, at six that morning the girls departed for their fishing trip. At six forty-five they stopped at Thomas O’Leary’s Donuts for a coffee and were never seen from again.
Within hours of when the women were meant to return from their trip Jill’s brother Henry made calls to friends and family. Being the Head Ranger for the national park he had many connections and was not afraid to make use of them when necessary. At Cape’s Side Bay there was no sign of the women, no car, no tire tracks, no fishing gear, nothing. It had not been visited by anyone that day. The missing person’s investigation lasted quite some time, and ended what Henry felt was even quicker. Jill and Marcia were gone. The locals began putting their theories out there, suggested that since Hillsbury was indeed a small Christian town, that many of the residents were offended by the lesbian couple’s coming out, and perhaps they decided it were best to drive somewhere more urban - more metropolitan - where they could live without the judgmental eyes of the locals from Hillsbury. Henry Carter, however, knew his sister better than anyone, and he knew it was unlike her to have just vanished without saying something, at least not to him. And if they were planning on disappearing why would Marcia pay full value for a state of the art fishing rod from Jett? And, why would they each buy a coffee from Thomas O’Leary, the father of Kate Sleen, one of Marcia’s closest childhood friends? People would deduce it all to the fact that they wanted to create a ruse, and the best way to convince the world of a lie is to live the lie to it’s fullest. And so the book was closed on the disappearance of Jill Carter and Marcia Richter.
With the disappearance of the women being a distant memory to the town, everyone had moved on. Henry would still be haunted by the thought of something terrible happening to his sister from time to time, but even he managed to envision her living a happier life now with Marcia. He hoped they would marry and adopt a child or two. The thought of being an uncle always crossed his mind and large smile from cheek to cheek would be thrust upon his face. His wife would smile back and remind him that he is a father of two, and doesn’t need to worry about his possible nieces or nephews. She knew he would only do this to keep him from thinking the worst, but still, she felt it best to remind him of the family he still has in his life, the ones who still need him very much.
In time the amount of fish in Cape’s Side Bay diminished until there were hardly any fish at all. The town lost the tourists from the fishing at Cape’s Side, and so it was decided by Mayor Tremblay that the town end summer with a big fireworks festival, filled with beer tents and candy trucks. It would be the festival to end all festivals, as he told Henry. The Sunday night of Labour Day weekend at ten o’clock Hillsbury Park would be lit up with the grandest display of fireworks one had ever witnessed. The town was now in their fifth year of the fireworks and festival at Hillsbury Park on Labour Day weekend, each year became a bigger success than the last. Large stones were placed as a dam separating the Bay from the fresh water lake it once drew it’s liquid from. The Bay was now more or less a swamp. The thoughts of vanishing women and lack of fish in the Bay were distant memories to the cottagers and campers, and in those past seven years since the disappearance there had been no major crimes committed in Hillsbury.
The day had been mostly cloudy. Most people either stayed inside or lounged on their decks on this day, the Thursday before the Labour Day weekend. There was - most would tell you - an unsettling feeling in the air. It was humid and dark, most wished for rain, if nothing else to cool off. Hillsbury Park was rather quiet, some dog walkers, couples, a few kids playing tag, but nothing grand about it. As day turned to night, activity began pick up in the park. Nothing scheduled on this night, no bonfire, no fireworks, and no fair to speak of. The park was cold and damp; a mist began to fill the night air. A local boy Joel Liman and his friends, Chris Randall whose parents owned a summer home in Hillsbury and had visited the town every summer for five years, along with two local boys, David Curtis, and Mitchell Rooney, all snuck out of their homes just after nine o’clock and made their way to the woods in Hillsbury Park, just north of Cape’s Side Bay. The boys settled beneath a large tree and formed a circle around each other. Mitchell Rooney removed an object from his pocket; it was wrapped in a cloth. He looked around at his friends and asked who wanted it. Each boy, aged thirteen years old, looked at one another, no one willing to take it. Joel finally reached his hand in and grabbed the object. He quickly removed the cloth and saw that he was holding a gun.
“Holy shit you dumb ass, where’d you get it?” Chris Randall shouted.
Mitchell snatched the gun back from Joel’s hands, “Shut up, someone’ll hear you.”
Mitchell looked carefully at the gun, with a small grin on his face.
“But, seriously dude, where’d you get it?” Chris continued.
“My step-dad, keeps it locked up in the liquor cabinet. I found out where the key was.”
Joel looked at Mitchell with a confused look on his face, “What’re we gonna do with it?”
“Hunt” Mitchell grinned.
“Hunt what?” David Curtis, the quietest of the group chimed in.
“Animals, what do you think, dumbass? We’re men, my step-dad hunts all the time, and what is he?”
He didn’t wait for a response from his friends before offering it up, “A man. And what do men do?”
This time Mitchell waited for a response; unfortunately for him none of the other boys offered one up.
“Hunt!” Mitchell raised his voice in frustration.
“It’s getting dark, aren’t all the animals sleeping?” David once again, quietly, asked.
Mitchell just looked at David and laughed, “You’re such a child. Come on, don’t be a pussy. Let’s kill something!”
The boys all looked at each other. Joel was the first to reluctantly nodded, followed by Chris. David stayed still. He was unwilling to participate in these shenanigans, though he knew at some point soon he would be talked into it.
“Come on David, let’s be men!” Joel egged him on.
Mitchell held the gun out and placed it in David’s hands and said “Man up.”
There it was. The moment David feared and had no interest in. He couldn’t back away now. And, so he joined them on their quest to find a living creature and end its life.
The boys quietly walked through the woods towards Cape’s Side Bay. The water - which over the past seven years began to dry up in the bay area and now resembled more of a swamp - was covered with fog.
By the shoreline a broken down tree stump lay limp across the water. Mitchell placed an empty can of pork and beans atop the log and nodded to David. David was in no way a violent boy. He was the quiet one of the group, but also the most impressionable. David was slave to Mitchell’s commands. He did not possess the backbone to stand up for himself, and if Mitchell Rooney handed him a gun and demand he fire it at an empty can of pork and beans, David would do so. It’s not even that David respected Mitchell, quite the opposite, in fact David almost despised Mitchell to a point and would much rather hang out with Joel or Chris without the presence of Mitchell. He didn’t feel this to be a plausible option, however, as he had known Mitchell the longest, and Mitchell at several points in their young lives referred to David as his brother. And, so, even with being made continually uncomfortable by Mitchell, they were friends and would be until the bitter end. The only weapon, to this point, David had ever so much as touched was a water gun, and not a particularly good water gun, it was a cheap no brand one that his father got for him when they were at a flea market one Saturday morning three years earlier.
David was quite nervous. He lifted the gun, closed his left eye as he had seen done on some of the Westerns his father watched on TV and aimed. As he pulled the trigger he closed both eyes and… Nothing. Nothing happened. No bang, no ultimate power between his fingers, no anything. Mitchell snatched the gun from his grip.
“You gotta take the safety off, dummy.” He said as he switched off the safety and shoved it back into David’s chest.
David swallowed; sweat was beginning to form from his forehead. He began to think the absolute worst; what if he misfired and hit one of his friends by accident? What if the bullet ricochets off the can and hits him? Guns were not for kids; in fact they were barely for adults. That’s what his mother used to tell him. As the thoughts raced through his mind he could feel the peer pressure from his friends surround him, suffocating him, drowning in the quicksand that is teenage life. His index finger pulled back and the gun fired. The bullet missed the can, in fact if one were to have witnessed the shooting and had not been told he was aiming at the can, they would not know that that was his intended target. Mitchell chuckled as David calmed himself with deep breaths. Firing a gun was an exhilarating feeling so much power and force tucked between his fingers and thumb. It was remarkable. He would have been embarrassed, but honest, to admit that he had liked it.
Mitchell took the gun from David’s hands and handed it over to Joel. Joel’s mother was the town librarian; her family had lived in Hillsbury for seventy years. Her father was the town Mayor before passing away of a rare liver disease. She’d often cautioned her son of staying away from Cape Side’s Bay, even before the women went missing all those years earlier. She would tell Joel stories of her childhood, and of bears living in that area of Hillsbury Park. At the East end of Cape’s Side Bay there is a cave, roughly seventy-feet above sea level, the school children used to make up stories of a bear living there high above the water. This was all of course later confirmed to be nothing short of an urban legend. Even still, Patty Liman believed there to be a bear in Cape Side’s Bay, and she warned her only child of it. This of course made the entire experience of sneaking out after dark and going to Hillsbury Park, and then the Bay all the more intriguing and exciting to Joel. He loved his mother and had never once, not until this moment, gone against her wishes. Joel’s father passed away before he was born, leaving his grandfather to act as a father figure. Orville Liman was a no nonsense individual. The straightest of shooters, and quite possibly the most noble and only honest politician the globe has ever seen. The town loved him, and if it were not for his terrible illness, which took his life, many believe he would have served as mayor for much longer than the three years he held onto the reigns. Orville was raised by a hunter and in return became a hunter, though he never enjoyed it as a sport. He would often time hunt deer, or duck, and use the meat to serve as a dinner for Christmas or Thanksgiving. At certain times he would donate the meat to a shelter just outside of town for those less fortunate. Orville was a man the world would most likely never see the sights of again.
Joel was comfortable with a gun, though he had never handled a live weapon, his grandfather had taught him how to use a pistol and hold it properly, how to aim, and most importantly how to respect it. Joel’s eyes focused on the can. Mitchell leaned in closer to him, Joel could feel his breath on his neck, and swatted Mitchell away.
“Oh, he’s so serious!” Mitchell laughed.
The other guys took a step back and waited with baited breath for what would happen. Joel’s finger pulled on the trigger ever so gently, the bullet launched out of the gun and made its way towards the empty can grazing it ever so slightly on it’s right side just enough to spin it around three times over. Joel was visibly disappointed he had missed. He lowered his shoulders in disappointment and handed the gun to Chris, who patiently waited his turn. As Joel made his way over to the tree stump to take a seat, something was heard that would change all of their lives forever.
A roar so ferocious it shook the surrounding trees. The only animal the boys figured could make such a sound would in fact be a bear! Joel stood and looked around. Mitchell grabbed the gun from Chris.
“What the hell was that?” Chris asked.
“The bear.” Mitchell grinned.
“There’s no bear.” Chris returned.
“Bullshit, hey Joel didn’t your mum always tell you stories about the bear in Cape’s Side Bay?”
Joel nodded; she had, yes, but not lately, not since it was ruled out as an urban legend. She had no interest in being known as the “town loon” and so she kept whatever thoughts she had of the bear to herself.
Mitchell began to walk closer to the Bay.
“What’re you doing?” Chris asked, still unsettled by the roar.
“Gonna check it out, what does it look like?” Mitchell held his gun up.
“Are you nuts?” Chris questioned, clearly at this point he had no interest to stick around.
“Here’s an idea, why don’t you stop being such a pussy and come for a walk with me? It’s not like we’re not armed?”
“And it’s not like any of us have any aim.” Chris fought back.
Mitchell, not saying a word, turned and fired his gun at the can, hitting it right in the centre. He then walked towards the bay. Joel followed him.
“Where are you going” David asked.
“We can’t let him go alone.” Joel answered and continued to walk. The other two boys followed close behind.
By now the fog had completely covered the Bay. The water was barely visible and tree trunks could only be seen when directly ahead. The boys walked carefully through the woods of Hillsbury Park until they were standing directly on the shoreline of Cape’s Side Bay. They looked around, Mitchell commented on the fog being bad. David tried to use it as an excuse for them to leave, but Mitchell pressed on regardless. Walking over rocks they made their way to the area of the Bay that sat directly below the cave. David slipped on the rocks no less than twice, lucky for him Chris was following close behind and was able to grab him by the shirt both times, negating his fall into the waters of the Bay.
As they stood under the cave they all remained silent, all with the same thought in their minds.
Joel was the first to say it, “Now what?”
Nobody moved, nobody reacted and nobody answered, because none of the boys had an answer. Mitchell was the first to attempt to scale the rocky wall of the Bay, but could not manage to find decent enough footing.
“Why don’t we just go home? We can come back another day with a rope or something?” David spoke softly, he knew he would come across as the weak link of the guys, but he also knew he no longer wanted to be out there.
“Dude, shut up!” Mitchell was eager to get to the cave on this night.
Joel, on the other hand sided with David. As much as he wanted to get to that cave and as much as he wanted to prove his mother right, he also knew they didn’t have the resources to make the trek up to the cave. He let his thoughts be known to Mitchell, and told them how desperate he was to explore the cave, but that they would be better off waiting till daylight. Mitchell, though not immediately, agreed. The boys started on their retreat, walking back across the rocks, David slipping three times now, and his feet fully entering the water once. When they reached the shore David had them stop so he could remove his shoe and let the water out.
The fog was now everywhere, what little the boys could see before was now surrounded in a thick grey mist. The fact that they were all locals, with the exception of Chris who had been to Hillsbury more than enough to know his surroundings, helped them figure out where they were in regards to their houses. David drained his shoe and put it back on.
“I hate wet socks.” He grumbled.
As he stood up to continue walking Mitchell raised his hand to stop him. Mitchell squinted his eyes hoping to see through the thick night fog.
“What is it?” Chris asked.
Mitchell had no intention of answering; he heard the rustling of leaves in the distance. He turned and whispered to Joel, “You hear anything?” Joel simply shook his head, knowing enough to make as little sound as possible in case more could be heard. Mitchell lowered his arm and slowly moved through the woods.
Joel walked up to his side “What’re you thinking?
“I’m figuring it was a rabbit or deer or something.”
“Me too, but –“ Joel was stopped as Mitchell put his hand on his shoulder.
“Stay here.” Mitchell walked into the fog.
Joel watched his friend walk away from him as long as he could until Mitchell’s body vanished in the mist.
“Where did he go? Where’d Mitchell go?” David asked in a panic.
“It’s alright, he’ll be back in a second.”
The three boys all stood in the middle of the misty woods waiting for their friend to return. As they waited several minutes longer than expected Joel was about to open his mouth and suggest to the other boys that they follow Mitchell into the woods, but then suddenly the sound of a gunshot was heard. The boys, all terrified, looked at each other one by one.
"Go go go!” Joel yelled.
The boys all took off like a flash through the thick air. As the boys got further and further out another loud roar could be heard, followed by a second gunshot.
Nothing else was heard. No rustling, no gunshots, no roaring, just complete and utter silence. The boys stopped to catch their breath.
“Come on, let’s get going.” Joel placed himself in charge of the boys.
David and Chris were both concerned for Mitchell, but they were more concerned with getting themselves to safety. If there was a bear in the park, they had no interest in sticking around to meet it.
As the boys walked the fog began to feel as if it were gripping at their bodies. They could feel the heaviness around their legs and arms, and their throats as if it was intending to strangle them.
“Mitchell will be OK. Heck, Mitchell’s probably already home.” Chris mumbled.
“Absolutely.” Joel returned as he moved a branch from his vision then as if out of nowhere the ground from beneath him vanished.
The three boys were on a cliff. Chris grabbed Joel’s shoulder and pulled him back. They looked down and saw Cape’s Side Bay, and directly across from them was the cave, about one hundred yards out.
“How did we get here?” Joel had been in these woods hundreds of times, but he had never made it to the top of the park, the part looking down on the bay.
“How did we go up? We never went up.” David cried out.
“We went straight.” Joel said in an almost whisper. David wiped his glasses clean and looked across at the cave. He could see an object, just slightly out of his range of vision lying on the ground.
“Guys, what is that?
Joel squinted as hard as he could to see the object. None of the boys could make it out, but it was large in size. It rolled over and David got the sense it was looking right at him.
“I think it looked at us.”
“Don’t be –“ Joel could not finish his centre as he saw the eyes of the being across from him. It was Mitchell, covered in blood.
“Oh my god.” Joel gasped.
“Is that?” Chris tried to lean in closer, but began to lose his footing before taking a step back.
“Holy shit I think that’s Mitchell, guys.” David spoke out.
“Yeah, me too.” Joel agreed.
“Hold my shoulder” Joel asked of the other two boys as he leaned forward and called out Mitchell’s name. The object didn’t budge. Joel looked at the other boys and cried out Mitchell’s name once again, this time the object rolled over to the edge of the cave and once again looked up. It’s eyes open the object was definitely Mitchell. He tried to catch his breath as Joel this time screamed his name. With all of his energy Mitchell let out a giant yell.
Blood was dripping from Mitchell’s eyes. He cried and wept in terror. The boys stood frozen in fear before Joel pushed them back the way they came and ran. They ran as fast as they could into the belly of the woods. Joel was at least two strides ahead of Chris who was about three ahead of David.
“Faster David, faster.” Chris huffed out.
David, near tears, was running out of energy. He was tired; his family had taken a trip earlier that day to the hilltop for a picnic. It’s a three and a half mile walk from parking, and the heat, while grey and gloomy, was blistering during the day.
“You’re doing good, everything’s good.” Chris looked back to give his friend a reassuring smile when his body was nowhere to be seen. Chris stopped running. He looked around for David.
“David! David?” He called out, his mind was spinning. What was going on? He thought.
Joel continued to run as fast as he could. Ahead of him, maybe two hundred yards was a light. A bright shiny light, oh how he had never been so happy to see a streetlight. Joel ran and ran, a second wind of energy kept his feet moving. As he got closer and closer to the light an eerie feeling came over him, as if he wasn’t alone. He looked to either side of himself, but nothing was there. He kept running towards the light. As he got closer and closer the light got further and further, as though he hadn’t been running at all. Joel began to tire, he ran, and ran and then began to slow down and each leap became a step, and each step became a crawl. He was done. He stood in the middle of the woods and looked around. All he could see was fog. No trees, no shore, no streetlights and no night sky. Simply fog.
Joel passed out from exhaustion.