The river valley is alive at night: glimmering North Saskatchewan, bird-rustle, woodsy perfumes punctuated with the scent of garbage. Pitch black these days — no light pollution — but Cam’s eyes have adjusted. A child is coming along the path, running an erratic pattern. A howl rises in the distance.
Cam shifts in his coffin-like hideout, eye pressed to the hole, suddenly remembering the comedy of early summer down here: folks out for a stroll, shrieking, awkwardly dodging the lime-green worms that dangle and give chase from their gossamer threads. Bikers and runners busting straight through, arriving home with a passenger or two.
It happened to Cam a bunch. He’d spent so much time down here, beating his best time and chasing the endorphin high that reassured him his illustrations were competent, that Damien (couch potato was too harsh; more an “inside cat”) had finally had enough. He’d left last month, in the nick of time. A day later, they’d have been another doomed couple trapped together in the apocalypse. “You’re selfish, Cam.”
Maybe. Or was he “single-minded?” Earlier today, he’d scoured the ruined streets for hours, passing the dried husks of exotic plants inside the windowless Citadel, the smashed pyramid of City Hall, the tattered RAM banners. He’d found water for himself and the woman across the hall in an hour but pushed further, intent on finding sketching paper — something decent to draw on — realizing, too late, that dusk had melted into night. No one was opening their door after dark. He’d dipped into the river valley, his first instinct to hide up a tree, which was monumentally stupid: they’re feline, he remembered as he slid down the embankment. Giant claws.
Finding the discarded roof box in the brush, a Thule, was a wild stroke of luck: big enough for one person, hard to puncture, a hole bored in the side so the stowaway could latch and unlatch it from the inside. Someone had been thinking. Get in the box, wait until sunrise; those things were nocturnal hunters and lacked opposable thumbs. No problem.
Until now. Cam watches through the hole. The howls are closer, pursuing shadows gaining ground. The kid has 30 seconds, tops.
Cam’s chest tightens; he’s nostalgic for some dangling worm hijinks. Nostalgia and grief are so painfully alike, though, aren’t they? Often indistinguishable from the other.
Cam throws back the lid. “Over here!”
The boy is frantic but the human voice perforates his terror. He changes course, scrambles toward the box, stumble-stops.
The boy sucks wind. He squints, understanding dawning, and hesitates; bloodless face grateful but too guilty to accept. Cam’s heart stutters.
“It’ll be light soon,” Cam lies. It’s barely midnight.
The kid isn’t stupid; his brow wrinkles. “Don’t worry — I’m a runner.”
He latches the lid.
Cam hits his stride 15 seconds later, brush whipping his skin, woodsy air filling his lungs, wild howls closing the gap, shattering the lingering memories, any last trace of grief.
About the author
Kate A. Boorman is an award-winning author from Edmonton. She writes speculative fiction and has a mild obsession with abandoned places, memory, and the darkest parts of the forest. Her books have been published in four world territories and have appeared on a variety of Best Of lists, including O! The Oprah Magazine and Cosmopolitan. Kate’s newest YA thriller, Into The Sublime, was released in July, 2022.