long is the way and hard

By chnewell All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror


The pulp and paper mill stands with a decrepit decadence near the Exploits River, the water rages on carrying everything away from the town of Grand Falls. The lifeless building casts a deep shadow which stretches over the water and into the trees behind it as the sun goes up on its ascent over to the West. While the sun sets down, before falling obscure behind a murky horizon, the mill casts an equally towering shadow out onto the town itself, and as Abitibi's business went away the shadow somehow lingered, burned into the landscape; the ash of memory, that heavy shadow glued onto the town, its people and their families, the dusted mark of that stable economy its operations left on them, on almost every business, and you can feel the weight of ghosts on every street, in each brick along the old fashioned sidewalks of High Street. Now, as the empty shell of the mill, those massive metal walls like the iron structures of a heavenly caste, sits unused, discarded, the shadow it heaves onto Grand Falls is a blanket, smothering everyone and everything instead of comforting, providing warmth.

While Abitibi still ran fully functional the woods across the river at its back were occupied on a fairly regular basis, as logging crews went to and from camps at various intervals, inspectors of all kinds at the mill took steady runs to different locations they monitored from week to week, and before former employees left to find work elsewhere or sold off their assets there used to be many locals fishing, hunting, and camping along all sorts of backroads in those woods.

Now, only a fraction of cabins are still used regularly. Aside from Newfoundland Hydro checking their power lines and stations throughout the forest, no other authorities of any kind were travelling along those roads much, nobody to pay attention to the state of decaying properties left rotting at the roadside like dead carcasses left to roast, fall apart in the sun, not a soul to keep an eye on any suspicious, mischievous, or malicious behaviour that might occur on those desolate, dusty roads, on those lonely stretches of trail surrounded by black sky and soaring, dismal crowds of trees; a place for dark secrets, things people only speak about in whispers, in confessionals and chatrooms and anonymous addiction meetings stowed away in basements beneath the Romans and their cannibal god with free coffee and donuts, under harsh lighting exposing the blemishes of the skin and those of the conscience all at once.

That sea of dirt and wood and rock extending out onto the lengthy horizon sat like a ravening animal, awaiting the terrible things people might choose to hide within its arbor maze; all the lost and unknown, forgotten bodies, crimes of every shade and size, the buried money, secrets, mistakes, all the desperate and lonely evil which might someday call those stretching kilometres of forest home, or a tomb.

Still, a few people stuck with their cabins and small hunting camps across the river, though, not all which remained were the sort who were postcard material. The roads were now not just travelled by friendly old hunters, families on ATVs riding through the countryside. Now there were a number of unsavoury types mucking about the main roads with quads on highest speed, painted noses the colour of sleet, trucks tearing down alders and trees all hours of the night to make ungodly new trails which wound up looking more like serrated ditches, big holes in the earth.

Worse than any nonsense activity like speeding or tearing up trees was the influx of criminal activity. Those near abandoned roads became a reef full of life; mostly in the form of nocturnal drug cookers, dealers, anybody who needed or wanted the solitude of the backwoods for their hidden, sneaky desires. The criminal element made good use of all those empty pockets in the forest where once there were nosy people always happening by, and now the deserted roads went on forever like another lurid universe, tucked in a hiding place from the eyes of the town like never before.

The lack of work made Grand Falls a bit rough around its edges. Before there weren't new jobs opening much, but a steady amount of people were working, and other small businesses, big ones too, were reaping the benefits of having such a large factory operating where they could get the runoff, the economic crumbs Abitibi let fall from its jowls. Things moved steadily for quite a time.

Unemployment opened its grasp to snatch many other bodies it never would have ever touched, not before. It stretched on further, that tall shadow lengthening out, and cast itself over the next generations who might have stayed in town their whole lives after inheriting decent paying jobs at the mill; those nieces and nephews, grandsons, granddaughters, the distant and already faded youths now facing a changing world, one that had already beaten their parents down and one in which they still fought to weather against its stormy course.

Baby Boomers in Grand Falls already worried as it was that inexplicable violence and nasty drug use infected the younger people, and that it was only a matter of time before the whole place got worse. The mill closed its doors, and repercussions were felt, like tremors below, inside the earth. Once these echoes ceased things turned dark. It isn't as if methamphetamine is being served at lunch in the high school cafeteria, but the drug's awful, steady rhythm can be heard chattering in the mouths of the creeping zombies who use it, those awful beasts with their mangled faces and painfully insane and psychotic ramblings, the beat of the buzz syncopated with a four-four time on the junkie ribs like a xylophone. Even when they weren't around, people could feel them, hear them scuttling around in the shadows of the concrete and the woods that is the heart of the Grand Falls.

Yet while the gutters of the town seemed full with rancid sewage at times, good people remain. They hope to see their still beautiful home stay as such. New rehab programs and facilities have come in to help combat the influx of drugs, and even the general mental health issues which often plague small towns. It isn't so much small in size as it is small in mind, and the narrow, blinded eyes of such a place can make the setting for terrible things. Sometimes even in the prettiest places, the most gorgeous gardens and clearest of waters, evil and wicked things may grow.

Grand Falls and Windsor together does not make a city. It's a large town, it operates much like a smaller one – everyone knows the next person's family, or if they don't know an immediate member they knew an aunt or uncle by marriage or they went to school with a cousin, every person and their mother can rattle off the sexual partners of most the people they went to school with, the gossip flows thick most of it travelling through the hospital from the nurses to the laboratory specialists, x-ray technicians and the lot, and generally the whole town did things the way an incestuous family keeps everything running in a forever figure-eight fashion, the infinity loop curling and turning in on itself.

Because of the small town syndrome, the murders happening more frequent lately over the past six months were troubling residents. Really, the deaths started almost a decade ago. There seemed to be more in the six months leading up to now.
Moving into the 21st century there was always the knowledge, by those who cared about the future, there would be those new age problems with different drugs, changing social issues and problems plaguing both the older and younger generations. The mill had closed up, Abitibi left quick as they could manage, but the town was struggling to pull itself up by the bootstraps, to finally bring in some new business like the rumours would always talk of year after year; a new fast food chain seemed to be coming every few months, always expected to come some time in the near future, all of it talk. Yet with the new influx of the business which actually did make it in came a little more. Then more people finally made it to the oil patch, some got steady and high paying jobs at the mine while others were in Labrador working as much as they could while they had the chance. All the money flowed back towards town. It brought good fortune, it also brings the darker side of humanity.

Every year there are more young people on the streets of Grand Falls and Windsor taking, selling, sharing drugs. In the '80s it was cocaine, as it became the premier party drug around the world. Not everything makes it to Newfoundland on time when it comes to the fads, but when the fad was a drug it certainly made it here pronto. People spent a lot of time at Carey's up above the bowling alley, out around the end of Lincoln Road. They'd have a nose full of the stuff all night, dancing, fighting, having a laugh. Once the '90s rolled around people were getting back into psychedelics like acid, LSD, mushrooms, all those sorts. Then there was the crack that cocaine had evolved into. The Hell's Angels were prominent in Canada, they'd tracked their way over to the tip of the east coast and landed in Newfoundland. Their members biked crack, and their own homemade methamphetamine, from St. John's where they normally operated into Grand Falls where two of the main dealers operating at the time split the load and sold it off.

Coming into the 2000s it has ended up a free-for-all. The drugs are only as good as their buzz, it didn't matter what the current trend was on the media Wheel of the Week. Grand Falls and Windsor together produced disaffected youths, many of them taking whatever they could just to make it through like a prison sentence, hoping one day after the twelve years of school is finally over they can get past the life they were forced to live there, the person they were, and they can shed that skin to crawl out and onward to a better place. Even the city of St. John's, or Gander, Corner Brook, they all felt a million kilometres, as if in the clouds above. As a teenager, hoping to get out and make it to either one of those places, let alone off the island altogether, it felt akin to asking how far Heaven was, how long the distance.

The drugs numb the length, and the kilometres don't seem so far away anymore, they don't even matter. Pills and the drinks and whatever it took, the concoction helped to forget and numbed the location to something less than suicidal. Past the town's signs, the big green placards with the white numbers and the white trim in rectangle rounded at the corners, the road dimmed into fog and misty nothing, as long as the drugs were leading the way.

Yet with all the chaos and the trouble Grand Falls and Windsor have seen, these murders were brutish. In any town or city the world over these killings were disgusting, tragic deaths. Young women found near the Exploits River and just at the edge, behind the old paper mill. They were all found strangled to death, some with plastic bags duct tapped around their entire heads, every one dead of suffocation one way or another. Women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three. Although three of the victims were killed in a triple homicide – a woman, her husband, and their nine-year old girl.
Currently the killer, presumed to be a man, a particularly violent one, judging by all the defining marks on the victims bodies, has claimed nine victims. The first three came over the span of eight years. In the last three years, the killer left behind six new bodies. Worse, two of those four bodies were discovered within the last six months and only several weeks apart.

In the terms of criminal psychology, the killer was accelerating. Kills became more frequent, often accompanied by further brutality than earlier in his progress. This was a killer not only on the verge of becoming prolific, he was getting better, smarter, and the authorities – RCMP, RNC, the OPP was called down along with members of CSIS to consult on the case, the case even attracted such famous names as John Douglas formerly of the FBI and one of the first to pioneer criminal profiling, and Dr. Elliott Leyton the Canadian serial homicide expert, both of whom visited the town and the sites of the murders in an attempt to help the local law enforcement finally track down the savage beast roaming the valley.

A rain of terror poured over Grand Falls and Windsor, it filled up and threatened to drown the entire place. It stormed, on, on, there seemed no clear sky beyond the tempest of murder and violence coming down onto them. Blood soaked the streets and left stains across the beautiful forest surrounding the town, the trees knocking in the wind whispering tales of death.

The victims are a mix, some from town and others across the tracks. People still talk of it that way. Much as they try and act as if they don't, they do, and when it comes to the victims there are plenty of folks who will talk about how two of those girls are from Windsor, two of the first crop killed, and they came from poor families out across those tracks; not to mention one is a twenty-year old Native, remembered only by the single mother she left behind to grieve down the neck of a bottle. Those same folks keep on, they'll say that that is the reason why most in town never hear about those two girls, the first and third of his victims discovered. They will say it until the end of time, and they will be right in what they say.

Everything goes on as usual around here. The good people keep being themselves, the bad continue wreaking havoc on the lives of those who try and live right. Like so many other small towns, so many other cities.

Except the black heart of a murderer lurks, beating hard but low beneath the tree line in the cloak of night beyond the outskirts of town, it hides away and yet there it sits – right in the light during the day – and the days, they keep passing as the calendar flips and folds through the seasons and the neighbours keep on saying hello in the morning, at lunch, in the evening, and the monster with the skin of a person, its dour and shrivelled heart sucking, spitting ooze through the veins, keeps waking up, heading out the door, and looking like everybody else.

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