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The Apparition Trail
EDGE and Tesseract Books are distributed in Canada and the United States by Fitzhenry and Whiteside (more)
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The Apparition Trail
I awoke with a start, my heart pounding, certain that I’d heard someone shout my name. Yet all was silent in the darkened barracks. Outside in the night, I heard an owl hoot softly, followed by measured footsteps on the boardwalk that surrounded the parade square: the constable on night picquet making his rounds. His footsteps passed the barracks door, then faded into the night as he walked in the direction of the stables.
|A premonition - The Commissioner’s curious summons - My first ride on an air bicycle - A terrible storm - Superintendent Steele’s unusual request - An unsettling dream - Chief Piapot’s defiance - The sergeant’s bluster - Our strange ride back - Death on the sand - My first assignment|
Despite this reassurance that all was well, I had an overwhelming sense that ill fortune was about to befall me. The dream I’d just awakened from had been troubling. In it, I’d spotted a carrier pigeon winging its way to me with a message clutched in its feet. A moment later the pigeon was joined by a second, larger bird, and then these two became an entire flock-so many birds that they darkened the sky like a thundercloud. As the flock drew nearer, so too did a sense of dread. The birds were coming for me, calling for me, clawing at me....
I threw off my blanket, which had suddenly become oppressively hot and heavy, and swung my bare feet to the floor. The straw-filled palliasse sagged under me as I fumbled about on the table beside my bed. At last I found the box of Lucifers I had been searching for. Striking one, I lit a candle. Its pale yellow light revealed the sleeping forms of the other policemen in the barracks. Their slow, steady breathing should have further reassured me, but I could not shake my sense of dread. I knew in my heart that some doom lay just beyond the horizon, and would rise with the sun that day.
I consulted my pocket watch. Assuming that it told the time correctly, it was three a.m.- three hours before the morning reveille. Knowing I would never get back to sleep, I scooped up my pipe and my pouch of Imperial Mixture and crept quietly outside the barracks.
I screwed the pipe together, tamped tobacco into the bowl, and lit it with a match. Taking several quick puffs, I coaxed it into a cheerful glow, then savoured a long, slow draw. As I exhaled, I looked up at the full moon, which was just setting in the western sky. I marvelled at how different it looked, these days. Nearly seven years had passed since the comet had struck it, and the moon’s “dark side” was now almost fully turned toward the Earth. Gone was the familiar face of the man in the moon, with its wide, smooth patches of white. It had been replaced by a much more rugged surface-a face as pockmarked as that of an Indian with smallpox.
Although the smoke steadied me somewhat, I was still restless, still gripped by a sense of approaching calamity.
I needed something to busy my hands. I knocked out the last of my tobacco and returned to the barracks, then collected up my dress uniform and kit bag. Although the sky to the east was already lightening, I needed more illumination to see by than this false dawn afforded. I walked over to the orderly room, which was brightly illuminated by that wonder of our age: electric lighting.
The detachment to which I had been assigned-Moose Jaw-was one of the first to have been fitted with electrical lights. The blown glass bulbs with their glowing filaments had first been displayed just three years ago, at the Paris Exhibition of 1881, by American inventor Thomas Edison. His invention had been eclipsed, however, by an even more miraculous device that was exhibited for the first time that same year: the perpetual motion machine.
One of these devices sat in the corner of the orderly room, behind a protective metal screen. It stood as tall as a man, and looked like a four-armed windmill, mounted on a wrought-iron tripod. Rods and hinges clattered and squeaked as the hollow brass arms spun round, driven by piston weights inside the arms that alternately fell and were drawn back with each revolution. A coil that crackled with electrical energy was mounted at the back of the device; thick black wires conducted the current from this generator to the pendulous glass light bulbs. They had also been strung up in the inspector’s office, the officers’ mess, and the guardrooms.
The orderly room was currently unoccupied; the constable on picquet duty would stop in only at the end of the night, when it came time to write out his report. I laid my kit bag and uniform on the table that stood under the single electric bulb and pulled up a wooden chair. As I did so, I thought I heard the perpetual motion machine make an odd whining noise, but it may just have been the scuff of the chair across the wooden floor.
I fancied that the machine had sped up a little, and the bulb overhead seemed a bit brighter, but I told myself it was only my imagination. Forcing my eyes away from it, I pulled out my brushes and polish, then set to work.
I burnished the brass buttons on the front of my red serge jacket, polished my boots until they gleamed, and whitened my helmet and gauntlets with claypipe until they were as bright as new snow. I even took a brush to my spurs, cleaning every speck of dirt from them. When this was done, I oiled and cleaned my Enfield, then spun the revolver’s cylinder and pulled the trigger several times, watching the hammer rise and fall and ensuring myself that the gun was functioning properly.
Only when everything was in perfect order did I begin to relax. Even so, the sense that something momentous and terrible was going to happen that day did not entirely ease. My nerves must have been wound up more tightly than I’d thought, for when the constable on picquet duty barged into the room, I jumped from my seat. The chair fell over backwards, striking the screen that protected the perpetual motion machine.
The constable, a sandy-haired, weedy lad by the name of Fraser, scooped the chair from the floor and set it upright. He was new enough to the force that he snapped a salute at me, despite the fact that I was out of uniform and in my bare feet.
I nodded, and started gathering up my kit to let him use the table, but he stopped me with a hand on my arm. Outside, I heard a trumpet sound reveille.
“I was just going to come and wake you, Corporal Grayburn,” Fraser said. His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “There’s a telegram, addressed to the Inspector. It concerns you.”
“Oh?” My mouth was suddenly dry. I worked up some spit and tried to swallow, but without much success.
The constable reached into one of the pockets of his jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “This telegram was received at the CPR station just a few minutes ago,” he said, holding it up where I could see it. His narrow fingers were curved in a manner that reminded me for some reason of a pigeon’s foot. I suddenly felt loath to take the piece of paper they held.
“It’s from headquarters,” he added. “And it’s marked urgent.”
Snatching the telegram from his hand, I unfolded it and read. The message it bore-addressed to my commanding officer-was a summons from North-West Mounted Police headquarters in Regina, from no less a personage than Commissioner Acheson Irvine himself. I was to report to headquarters with all due haste. So urgently was my presence required that headquarters was sending one of the new air bicycles to whisk me across the forty miles that separated Moose Jaw and Regina. The air bicycle was expected to arrive at my detachment around noon.
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