Beaver view Lodge

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The first stage of the evac­u­a­tion order seemed to go smoothly. 

Three elder­ly cou­ples wait­ed patient­ly on a wood­en deck while a care-giv­er wran­gled their lug­gage. The gen­tle­men wore light­weight grey suits and the women sport­ed knee-length print dress­es with mod­est bits of jew­ellery. They were cheer­ful and coop­er­a­tive, as if trav­el­ing to a favourite grandchild’s wed­ding rather than a local hotel to wait for flood waters to recede.

A mus­cu­lar, tight-lipped young woman in a white polo shirt pushed a cart-load of suit­cas­es towards them.

Offi­cer Schmidt had lived in this neigh­bour­hood for sev­er­al years but was com­plete­ly unaware of the sophis­ti­cat­ed lit­tle retire­ment com­pound that had been con­struct­ed below the embank­ment of the riv­er. Sev­er­al cab­ins were inter­min­gled with com­mon areas, all ele­vat­ed on a mas­sive, irreg­u­lar cedar deck. Appar­ent­ly, there was once a putting green on a beau­ti­ful lawn that sloped towards the water but that land­scap­ing was now obscured by the soupy brown overflow.

A futur­is­tic out­door ele­va­tor pro­vid­ed access to a park­ing plat­form at the top of the embank­ment. “The power’s still out,” Offi­cer Schmidt said, glanc­ing over his shoul­der at the glass tube. “I’ll help lug suit­cas­es up the stairs, Krystyn.” The care-giv­er hadn’t intro­duced her­self but Schmidt had snuck a peek at her ID card, which also revealed a com­pa­ny name: Kom­plete Kare. 

Krystyn bent down so that a key on her neck lan­yard could be fit­ted into a stain­less-steel slot. “They have their own gen­er­a­tor,” she said to the police­man as the ele­va­tor whirred to life. Glass doors opened and she maneu­vered the cart inside. “I’ll be right back,” she assured the cou­ples. The elevator’s lift mech­a­nism, two gigan­tic pis­tons, extend­ed grace­ful­ly. The plat­form rose twen­ty feet and Krystyn exit­ed from the oppo­site-side door. 

“Is Krystyn a nurse?” the offi­cer asked.

“Of course,” one of the ladies answered.

“But much more than that,” a male com­pan­ion added. It was dif­fi­cult to tell exact­ly how the six indi­vid­u­als were paired up. Unlike most elder­ly cou­ples, these peo­ple weren’t latched onto a spe­cif­ic part­ner, they kept shift­ing posi­tions. “She also main­tains the lawn.” He looked sad­ly at the mud­dy water lap­ping at the deck pil­ings. “Well, everything’s sub­merged, now. But we had world class cro­quette and lawn bowl­ing between those beech trees….”

The ele­va­tor returned to the low­er deck, glass doors eased open and Krys­ten pulled the cart back towards the cot­tage complex.

“Lis­ten,” the offi­cer said, “you folks seem to be very well-orga­nized, but I’ve been instruct­ed to ask this ques­tion once again, just as every­one is leav­ing.” Six heads turned towards him obe­di­ent­ly. “You’re pos­i­tive you haven’t left any pets behind?” As the words left his mouth, he thought he heard a scratch­ing sound under­neath the deck.

“Oh!” one of the ladies raised a hand, but a com­pan­ion quick­ly grabbed her arm and whis­pered some­thing in her ear. 

“Those arrange­ments were all made ear­li­er, offi­cer,” Krystyn said as she re-approached the group.

“But thank you for ask­ing.” The ladies smiled tight­ly and the men bobbed their heads. “It’s so con­sid­er­ate.” All six res­i­dents, and their care-giv­er, board­ed the elevator.

Offi­cer Schmidt skipped up a broad set of iron stairs at the very end of the deck and reunit­ed with the group as they were being hand­ed into a Lim­ou­sine van. Their lug­gage was loaded into the cov­ered bed of a king cab pick­up. Both vehi­cles and their dri­vers car­ried the Kom­plete Kare logo. 

One of the ladies poked her head out of the van win­dow. “Do you real­ly think we’ll be gone for three weeks?” She smiled sweet­ly at Schmidt.

“This isn’t a nor­mal, weath­er-relat­ed flood,” the offi­cer explained, again. “The dam upriv­er has been breached and you lost a hun­dred feet of back­yard over night. You can’t return until repairs are com­plet­ed, and I have no idea how much work will be required.” Pri­vate­ly, he won­dered if the hun­dred-year-old struc­ture was sal­vage­able. Any­thing con­struct­ed on the ancient flood­plain might be washed away by tomor­row morning.

Krystyn looked at her watch. “Time to leave,” she said, and waved as the res­i­dents pulled out of the park­ing pad. “I still have to fetch a cou­ple of lap­tops,” the care-giv­er told Schmidt. “I use the cab­in at the far end of the deck as my office.” She moved towards the elevator.

“Wait a minute,” the police­man said. “What’s the deal with these peo­ple? I live just a few blocks away and nev­er knew this lit­tle river­side par­adise existed.”

“Well, the com­plex is com­plete­ly self-con­tained. The res­i­dents don’t get out much, but they seem per­fect­ly hap­py with that. The mid­dle cab­in even has a salon chair so the ladies can get their hair done.” Her eyes made glanc­ing con­tact with Schmidt’s. “They had a sim­i­lar set-up on the banks of a Flori­da canal a num­ber of years ago.” 

Krystyn’s demeanor had soft­ened, slight­ly, now that her charges were safe­ly stowed, so Schmidt kept talk­ing. “And what’s with the sign?” The offi­cer point­ed to a cedar slab arc­ing above the glass ele­va­tor doors. Let­ters were carved into the wood and black­ened with a torch so they could be more eas­i­ly read: “Beaver view Lodge.”

“What about it?”

“I don’t want to seem juve­nile…” Krystyn’s expres­sion became rigid again, but the cop pushed on, any­way. “You know, beaver is sort of a euphemism for vagi­na…”  

“They’re Cana­di­ans,” Krystyn inter­rupt­ed. “When they lived in Flori­da they proud­ly adver­tised the fact with that sign. It was impor­tant to their group iden­ti­ty so they had it shipped here.” She flexed her shoul­der mus­cles in a men­ac­ing way. “I don’t think the ladies are flash­ing their vagi­nas around.”

Schmidt was embar­rassed. “I just won­dered if it was an hon­est mis­take on their part.” He shrugged, sadly. 

Krystyn turned towards the brown rib­bon of water. “Until yes­ter­day, there were three beaver lodges on the oppo­site riv­er bank, and every evening the ani­mals splashed around at the edge of their property.” 

Schmidt nod­ded. 

“If it makes you feel any bet­ter, about half of those aquat­ic rodents had vagi­nas.” Krystyn got on the elevator. 

The police­man watched her descend in the glass tube, and scratched his head awk­ward­ly. “I shouldn’t have men­tioned it.” 

The next stop in the evac­u­a­tion pro­to­col was much more prob­lem­at­ic. Eight dent­ed alu­minum trail­ers were parked on a lit­tle island a half mile from Beaver View Lodge. A very dif­fer­ent group of friends had estab­lished their own insu­lar com­mu­ni­ty there, but it was one that didn’t include lawn bowl­ing greens or salon chairs. In the nine­teen six­ties, it might have been con­sid­ered a noble com­mu­nal liv­ing experiment. 

An order­ly removal was clear­ly impos­si­ble. The camper vehi­cles had long ago lost their wheels, and any­way, the cause­way to the shore had been washed out. None of the res­i­dents could afford hotel rooms, and they were reluc­tant to vacate land that was only theirs because they were squat­ting on it. 

Offi­cer Schmidt tried his best to con­vince them. “There’s no guar­an­tee that the cof­fer dam on the reser­voir will hold. If the spill­way rup­tures again you might have an eight-foot wall of water rolling through these flats. Your boats and trail­ers will be washed away, and you’ll all die in your sleep.” 

“I’ve gone upriv­er to check out the repairs,” a man named Gary said. He seemed to be the spokesper­son for the group. “The dam itself is fine, it’s just the spill­way mech­a­nism that broke. I think they’ve got things under con­trol, now. The army has set up a com­mand cen­tre there, for Christ’s sake. They won’t allow a cat­a­stroph­ic fail­ure, it would be too big an embar­rass­ment.” Oth­er campers nod­ded their heads sober­ly. Schmidt thought it odd for this group of icon­o­clasts, or social mis­fits, or what­ev­er they were, to have such faith in a gov­ern­ment institution. 

“There are no chil­dren here,” a woman named Gra­cie plead­ed. “We know that stay­ing is a cal­cu­lat­ed risk, but we’re will­ing to take it.”

They argued for half an hour, then Offi­cer Schmidt admit­ted defeat. “Okay,” he said, “you win. But please do me a favour.”

Var­i­ous campers nodded.

Offi­cer Schmidt pulled a hand­ful of indeli­ble mark­ers out of his jack­et pock­et. “Would you please write your names on your bod­ies with one of these pens?” He passed the Sharpies around. “This is sup­posed to be a scare-tac­tic to con­vince you folks to evac­u­ate, as if we’ll be iden­ti­fy­ing your float­ing corpses with­in a cou­ple of days. But if I can take cell­phone pic­tures of the new body-art, they might accept your deci­sion and won’t try to forcibly remove you.”

“I can write my name on my dick if you like.”

“I was hop­ing for an upper arm. You know, roll your sleeve up and look at me over your shoul­der for that Rosie-the-Riv­et­er vibe.” 

The campers liked the sug­ges­tion. “This is actu­al­ly empow­er­ing,” one of the women said. 

After the pho­to-record was com­plete, offi­cer Schmidt shook hands with every­one and said he hoped they wouldn’t have to see each oth­er again.

Fur­ther down­stream, past the town, Schmidt inspect­ed a half dozen fish­ing cab­ins, but they had already been closed down for the sea­son. The offi­cer post­ed notices on the doors any­way, and wrapped some orange police tape around dock posts.

Emer­gency repairs to the dam did, in fact, hold through the night and by ear­ly morn­ing a con­struc­tion barge had arrived so army engi­neers could begin dri­ving pil­ings deep into the riv­er bed to sup­port the aging struc­ture. With each hydraulic ham­mer blow a per­ma­nent solu­tion to the breach seemed increas­ing­ly likely.

The first body appeared just before lunchtime, float­ing onto the mar­gins of the washed-out Cred­it Union park­ing lot. The remains were grue­some­ly dis­fig­ured: head, fin­gers and toes had all been slop­pi­ly removed and every wound trailed squid-like scraps of skin. It was still pos­si­ble to iden­ti­fy the corpse, how­ev­er, because the per­son had thought­ful­ly writ­ten her name neat­ly on the left arm, just below the shoulder.

Offi­cer Schmidt was ordered to meet two homi­cide detec­tives in one of the oper­at­ing rooms of the new hos­pi­tal. The sto­ry of the failed evac­u­a­tion had quick­ly cir­cu­lat­ed around the depart­ment, includ­ing Schmidt’s sharpie gam­bit. That was nev­er part of his offi­cial instruc­tions, he’d stolen the idea from a news sto­ry about a hur­ri­cane res­cue oper­a­tion in the Car­oli­nas and was sur­prised that it end­ed up hav­ing real prac­ti­cal value. 

“There’s very lit­tle decom­po­si­tion,” the doc­tor said. He would start the autop­sy as soon as the police­men left. “I’ve seen these wounds, before, though. Com­mon snap­ping tur­tles scav­enge dead prey in this man­ner, and for some rea­son they devour the head first.” He frowned. “It usu­al­ly doesn’t hap­pen until the body becomes putrid, how­ev­er. Per­haps the flood has stressed the animals.”

“So, this per­son wasn’t killed by hav­ing her head chopped off?”

“We’ll know for sure in a cou­ple of hours, but I’d be will­ing to bet she drowned.” 

Back at the police sta­tion, Schmidt made a report for the homi­cide detec­tives, includ­ing the time-stamped cell phone pho­to he had tak­en of the woman just the pre­vi­ous after­noon. When that was done, he offered to fer­ry the detec­tives to the camp­site to con­duct interviews.

“Uhh.” The two detec­tives were clear­ly reluc­tant. “We’ve seen the size of that crack beside the spill­way,” one of the men said. “I don’t mean to sound insen­si­tive, but I’m not going to risk my life to take a state­ment about an acci­den­tal drowning.”

His part­ner nod­ded. “I think they’re going to delib­er­ate­ly let the dam fail.” His voice dropped an octave. “You know, it was nev­er intend­ed to be a reser­voir, that just sort of hap­pened. The thing was orig­i­nal­ly built to dry up the marsh­es in Port Maitland.”

“Yeah. Peo­ple used to think swamps were unhealthy.”

“But now, peo­ple are clam­or­ing for nat­ur­al wet­lands. It’s not in the government’s long-term inter­est to repair the dam.” 

Schmidt was vague­ly aware that the Springe Riv­er Con­ver­sa­tion Author­i­ty had ques­tioned the neces­si­ty and prac­ti­cal­i­ty of main­tain­ing a hun­dred-year-old dam, but hadn’t real­ized the issue had mor­phed into a well-defined con­spir­a­cy theory.

“Lis­ten,” one of the detec­tives said, look­ing intent­ly at Schmidt, “you seem to have devel­oped a pret­ty good rap­port with those hip­pie weirdos. If you’re com­fort­able with the army’s safe­ty assur­ances, you can con­duct the pre­lim­i­nary investigation.” 

“It would be hero­ic on your part, and believe me, we’ll point that out to every­one in the depart­ment.” They smiled like vac­u­um sales­men but Schmidt had the twin human fail­ings of van­i­ty cou­pled with poor risk assess­ment, so he agreed. 

The offi­cial police res­cue craft float­ed like an obe­di­ent pet, lashed to a wil­low tree near the pub­lic launch. The con­crete ramp and most of the park­ing area were now sub­merged, so Schmidt had to wade through knee deep water to retrieve it. He drove the boat slow­ly upriv­er towards the campers. The tail­stock of the motor kept strik­ing debris that had been loos­ened dur­ing the ini­tial reser­voir breach and the police­man even­tu­al­ly had to adjust the tilt mech­a­nism allow­ing the out­board to bounce upwards when­ev­er it hit some­thing espe­cial­ly large.

When he approached the campers’ island, the entire group seemed to be intent­ly watch­ing his approach. “This is about Gra­cie, isn’t it?” Gary said as the launch bot­tomed out on a mud­dy hump.

“We found her body this morn­ing,” the police­man said and one of the women start­ed to sob loudly. 

“We knew she was miss­ing last night, and tried to call you.” Schmidt had hand­ed out cards with his per­son­al con­tact infor­ma­tion. “But our cell ser­vice has disappeared.”

The police­man was invit­ed ashore and they walked to a stor­age con­tain­er that had been con­vert­ed into a com­mu­nal kitchen and work­shop. Gary hand­ed him a cof­fee and insist­ed on an unedit­ed descrip­tion of Gracie’s body. After­wards, Schmidt lis­tened qui­et­ly while the oth­ers planned a funer­al cer­e­mo­ny to release Gracie’s spir­it. The fate of her phys­i­cal body wasn’t addressed and the police­man didn’t want to appear insen­si­tive by ask­ing about it. There was no need for Schmidt to be offi­cious in order to gen­er­ate a report, every­one was eager to relive Gracie’s last hours of life. She had been set­ting night lines at the down­stream end of their shrunk­en island after most of the oth­ers were asleep. Since the flood had rad­i­cal­ly altered the ter­rain, every­one assumed she had slipped in the new­ly unfa­mil­iar world, and suf­fered a head injury. Schmidt put his note­book away and the group left the container.

“That’s where it hap­pened,” a woman said, point­ing to a gigan­tic Maple trunk that was half hid­den by the flood. “She was going to walk to the end and tie some cat fish lines to that last branch.”

Schmidt took sev­er­al cell­phone pictures.

“I guess I should pull in my fish traps,” a man named Win­ston said. 

Gary placed a hand on his shoul­der and squeezed, but didn’t say any­thing. Win­ston sighed and squelched away through the mud in a pair of pink flip flops. 

Offi­cer Schmidt took a cou­ple of steps towards his launch and acci­den­tal­ly brushed against a stringer of ani­mals that were sus­pend­ed between two small trees, await­ing clean­ing. “Jesus,” he said, and stepped away. The head­less body of an eight-foot black rat snake was draped over the wire. A tur­tle, rough­ly the shape of a shoe box, was skew­ered through the beak with a met­al hook. And there were three lizard-like crea­tures Schmidt had nev­er seen before. Those bod­ies were brown with a sparse pat­tern of large yel­low spots. From flat nose to stub­by tail, they might have been two feet long. “What are those things?”

“Sala­man­ders. They some­times show up in our fish traps.” Gary point­ed to a large bas­ket formed from tan­gled dog­wood branch­es. “We make them ourselves.” 

“I thought sala­man­ders were tiny lit­tle things.”

“Some are.” Gary paused. “These aren’t.” The man clamped his jaw and chewed on his grief. The police­man knew it was time to leave. He placed one foot in the bow of his boat, shoved it free, then tot­tered back to the stern to low­er the motor.

Schmidt care­ful­ly backed away from the island camp then shift­ed into for­ward gear and put­tered towards the riv­er cen­ter. A long, black object appeared direct­ly in front of him. The police­man assumed it was a log until he tried to cir­cum­vent it by veer­ing back towards the island and the black shape moved against the cur­rent to stay in front of him. 

The thing was large, per­haps eight feet long, but it was hard to tell exact­ly because the colour of its body min­gled with dark stri­a­tions in the water. It had far too much mass to be a snake, even a spec­i­men as large as the one hang­ing from the wire in the trail­er camp. It wasn’t a fam­i­ly of minks or beavers swim­ming in for­ma­tion because the line vis­i­ble on the sur­face was ruler straight, not undulating.

And then the shape disappeared. 

For a while, there was a trail of bub­bles, but those soon dis­si­pat­ed as well. Schmidt con­tin­ued to watch, extrap­o­lat­ing where the crea­ture might be head­ing. The police­man saw Win­ston, thigh deep in a pock­et of flot­sam, coil­ing a rope around his fore arm. A bas­ket­ball-sized orange buoy float­ed at his side and a wick­er fish trap was vis­i­ble on shore, a few yards away.

“Win­ston…” It wasn’t a warn­ing, the police­man sim­ply want­ed to ask the man about the odd-shaped ani­mal. Cana­di­an water­ways weren’t like the canals of Flori­da, where you had to be wary of predators.

Win­ston disappeared.

The man looked up at the sound of his name, his eyes became wide for an instant and then he dropped straight down, with­out a splash. His legs must have been pulled out from under­neath, but the action was so quick and strong that there was no oppor­tu­ni­ty to strug­gle or even cry out. Schmidt ini­tial­ly gunned his motor to reach the gen­tle eddy mark­ing the man’s dis­ap­pear­ance but the prop instant­ly bit into some­thing soft, then stalled. The police­man was ter­ri­fied that he had some­how run over the vic­tim and tilt­ed the motor up. Some black goo slipped off the blades not, thank God, cloth­ing or pink flesh. Schmidt unwrapped a few strips from the shaft and dropped them into the bot­tom of his boat. He decid­ed to leave the engine up and use his safe­ty pad­dle to maneu­ver the boat for­ward but that just ensured he would arrive too late to be helpful. 

When the police­man alert­ed the campers, they launched their own flotil­la of flat-bot­tomed fish­ing boats and poked the recent­ly flood­ed areas with sticks but with­out suc­cess. Much lat­er, the orange buoy was recov­ered on the oppo­site bank, wedged under­neath some wil­low branch­es, but Winston’s fore­arm was no longer entwined in the coils. 

Offi­cer Schmidt report­ed the miss­ing man to a coast­guard detach­ment at Port Mait­land. They promised to search for the body, but their coop­er­a­tion was con­di­tion­al on a safe­ty report from the army engi­neers work­ing on the reser­voir dam. No one with a gov­ern­ment pen­sion was eager to work down­riv­er from the frag­ile con­crete structure. 

Once his paper­work was com­plet­ed, Schmidt sat at his desk, tap­ping his front teeth with a pen. 

Sud­den­ly, he opened his lap­top and entered the phrase “Beaver View Lodge” into a search engine. 

The police­man had expe­ri­enced a momen­tary flash of insight as he saw Win­ston slip below the sur­face of the water and he need­ed to test it. 

Of course, Schmidt expect­ed to receive an onslaught of ama­teur porn as he typed in the phrase, but that wasn’t the case. Instead of being tempt­ed to peruse old Hus­tler pho­to-spreads the offi­cer was invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate in vir­tu­al tours of rus­tic cab­in complexes. 

Was he the only per­son in the world who imme­di­ate­ly thought of gen­i­talia when he heard the word “beaver”? His com­put­er was tech­ni­cal­ly owned by the Ormond Region­al Police force, so maybe their IT depart­ment had installed a pro­gram to fil­ter out the dirt. 

It took a while to focus the search para­me­ters, but Schmidt even­tu­al­ly found what he was look­ing for: sev­er­al news­pa­per sto­ries about a small group of Cana­di­an snow­birds in a Flori­da gulf coast retire­ment community. 

The old­est arti­cle was an inno­cent human-inter­est piece about senior cit­i­zens who treat­ed canal gators as pets, feed­ing them pan­fish like you might toss peanuts to chip­munks. It was accom­pa­nied by a bizarre pho­to­graph of an elder­ly lady flip­ping a blue gill into the giant maw of an Alli­ga­tor float­ing a few feet from the man­i­cured mar­gin of her lawn. A wood­en sign embla­zoned with the words “Beaver View Lodge” was vis­i­ble in the back­ground. The brief arti­cle explained that three cou­ples had unof­fi­cial­ly adopt­ed the shy crea­ture, named him “Sam­son,” and trained him to respond to the sound of a plas­tic bird whis­tle. The woman’s face was slight­ly obscured, but Schmidt rec­og­nized the sur­names, Pepp, Hoover, and Arse­nal from the evac­u­a­tion orders he had served in Ormond, just a cou­ple of days ago.

A sec­ond arti­cle described the near fatal alli­ga­tor attack on a teenaged boy employed to cut the lawns of Beaver View Lodge. Appar­ent­ly, his mow­er had stalled and he was clear­ing gouts of heavy wet grass from the blades, while whistling hap­pi­ly. Sam­son lunged out of the water, grabbed the young man by the ankle and dragged him back into the canal. When the alli­ga­tor start­ed its death roll, the young man’s run­ning shoe shred­ded and he was eject­ed from the whirling jaws. 

A third arti­cle described a law suit launched against the mem­bers of Beaver View Lodge. Feed­ing alli­ga­tors was a mis­de­meanor vio­la­tion of statute 372.667 and the Cana­di­ans were accused of will­ful­ly endan­ger­ing their com­mu­ni­ty by erod­ing the animal’s nat­ur­al repug­nance for humans.

The mem­bers of Beaver View Lodge had insu­lat­ed them­selves against liti­gious neigh­bours by pur­chas­ing a gen­er­ous umbrel­la insur­ance pol­i­cy. The three cou­ples moved back to Cana­da, leav­ing a cor­po­rate lawyer to nego­ti­ate a set­tle­ment. The case was expect­ed to take years and Schmidt couldn’t find any infor­ma­tion about a resolution. 

The police­man sighed.

As part of his report to the Min­istry of Nat­ur­al Resources Schmidt includ­ed links to the Flori­da Beaver View Lodge arti­cles, as well as the coroner’s report on the first vic­tim. He men­tioned that there was a remote pos­si­bil­i­ty that a beloved pet alli­ga­tor had been trans­port­ed north from a Flori­da canal and acci­den­tal­ly released by flood waters into a south­ern Ontario riv­er. There were two sus­pi­cious deaths on the Springe, and Schmidt offi­cial­ly request­ed the min­istry to inves­ti­gate. Then Schmidt emailed his supervisor—he couldn’t bear to artic­u­late the bizarre the­o­ry over the phone—and explained that he was about to inter­view a trio of elder­ly evac­uees and ask them if their Flori­da lug­gage had con­tained a large spec­i­men of lethal fau­na named Samson.

On his way to the hotel, Schmidt stopped for a cof­fee and peri­od­i­cal­ly checked his phone, giv­ing his super­vi­sor ample oppor­tu­ni­ty to pull the plug on his mis­sion. But with­out an offi­cial coun­ter­mand he was oblig­ed to exer­cise his own poor pro­fes­sion­al judg­ment. Schmidt antic­i­pat­ed a year of office pranks. 

The Pepps, Hoovers and Arse­nals had been installed in three adjoin­ing ground floor suites in the Hyatt Exem­plar. Offi­cer Schmidt found them all in the cen­tral unit play­ing bridge and crib­bage, laugh­ing, and drink­ing red wine. Krystyn the Kom­plete Kare giv­er was in the suite as well. It wasn’t clear what her offi­cial func­tion was, since she seemed to be read­ing a fit­ness magazine. 

Schmidt re-intro­duced him­self, apol­o­gized for hav­ing to ask an awk­ward ques­tion and begged for their indul­gence. He couldn’t even raise his eyes, but he informed the group that he was aware of the Flori­da neg­li­gence law­suit. He told them of the two recent mys­te­ri­ous riv­er deaths and final­ly asked if they hap­pened, by any chance, to have brought their pet Sam­son with them when they moved to Ontario.

The ques­tion was met with absolute silence. Schmidt wasn’t sure what he expect­ed to hear, per­haps laugh­ter or incred­u­lous out­rage, but this non-response was unset­tling. He tilt­ed his eyes upwards. All sev­en peo­ple, includ­ing the nurse, were frozen in a guilty tableau. Mouths and eyes were unnat­u­ral­ly broad cir­cles, and upper bod­ies had stiff­ened like the trunks of spindly, wind-deformed trees. 

“Uh… your reac­tions lead me to believe I may have stum­bled on the truth.”

There was a long pause before Mrs. Pepp vol­un­teered an expla­na­tion. “Oh no, dear. We didn’t bring the poor ani­mal here. You see, Sam­son was mur­dered. One of the neigh­bours was incensed by the… the inci­dent… and whis­tled to draw him on shore then blew his low­er jaw off with a fifty-cal­i­bre rifle.”

 “The poor thing man­aged to swim away, but he bled to death and his body was dragged out of the canal a few days lat­er.” Mr. Hoover con­tin­ued the sto­ry. “Those morons cut up his body with shov­els. We couldn’t stay there after that.” 

Mrs. Pepp reached into her purse and pulled out a yel­low plas­tic bird whis­tle, shaped like a log. She placed the flut­ed end in her mouth and blew. A lit­tle plas­tic bird perched on the log twirled his wings and pro­duced a yodel­ing song. The three cou­ples bowed their heads as if they had just heard “The Last Post” at a Remem­brance Day ceremony. 

“Well…” Offi­cer Schmidt had trou­ble for­mu­lat­ing a fol­low up question.

“It’s Delilah,” Krystyn said. She had low­ered her mag­a­zine to join the conversation.

Schmidt rubbed his chin. “Is Delilah anoth­er alli­ga­tor?” he asked tentatively.

“Oh no, Dear,” Mrs. Arse­nal said. “We’ve learned our les­son with that par­tic­u­lar species. Delilah is a giant sala­man­der.” She pursed her lips as if sud­den­ly con­sid­er­ing some­thing. “I sup­pose it’s pos­si­ble that some­one may have mis­tak­en her for an alli­ga­tor. She’s six feet long and weighs more than a hun­dred pounds. And, of course, she’s aquat­ic…” Her voice trailed off.

“Excuse me a minute,” Offi­cer Schmidt said weak­ly as he felt his phone vibrate. “I’ve got a call.” It was a mes­sage from the Min­istry of Nat­ur­al Resources that read: “Alli­ga­tor the­o­ry asi­nine. Stop watch­ing so many movies.” And in brack­ets, an adden­dum that must have referred to the coroner’s report: “no punc­ture marks on the vic­tim.” He replaced the device in his pocket.

“Here’s a pic­ture.” Krystyn was hunched over her phone, scrolling through a series of images. She stopped, made an adjust­ment and passed the instru­ment to the policeman. 

At first, it was hard to tell that the black blob on the screen was a liv­ing thing. It looked like a giant mound of out­door hobo shit. But after a peri­od of adjust­ment, Schmidt could see tiny eyes like bro­ken mar­bles set above the cor­ners of a flat semi-cir­cu­lar mouth and a pair of mal­formed front legs. A pair of attrac­tive red pumps plant­ed on neat­ly trimmed grass pro­vid­ed some scale. The ani­mal seemed to have a dec­o­ra­tive bit of orange rib­bon on the top of its head.

“Could you send me that?” Schmidt asked. Krystyn’s thumbs gen­er­at­ed the com­mand. “By the way, what’s the point of the lit­tle bow.”

“That’s a tag,” Mr. Arse­nal said. “Every­thing we’ve done is above board. We res­cued the ani­mal from a shady pri­vate zoo and we’re in the process of get­ting her trans­ferred to a breed­ing pro­gram in Dal­las.” He rubbed his nose. “We’ve learned our les­son,” he said, “From the Flori­da thing. All above board.” 

Schmidt com­posed a reply to the Ministry’s email. “Sor­ry about men­tion­ing gators,” he wrote, “but the peo­ple involved in my inves­ti­ga­tion did keep one as a fer­al pet. I’m cur­rent­ly inter­view­ing them and they have just admit­ted to own­ing a giant fuck­ing sala­man­der (see attach­ment). Could that thing drag a per­son under water? Regards.” 

He received an almost imme­di­ate reply: “Giant sala­man­der the­o­ry not near­ly as stu­pid. Those things actu­al­ly like cold water and have some cachet as exot­ic pets. Of course, we would need to exam­ine the ani­mal to see if jaw line match­es abra­sion on vic­tim. Hugs and kisses.”

“Lis­ten,” the police­man said, while putting his phone away, “you didn’t let Delilah go for lit­tle swims in the riv­er, did you? Then whis­tle when it was time for bed?”

“Oh no.” Hands wag­gled defen­sive­ly. “We’ve learned our les­son. Delilah was kept in a forty-foot fenced pond under­neath the cottages.”

“She needs lots of shade.”

“But part of her enclo­sure extend­ed beyond the deck. She needs a cer­tain amount of sun­light to reg­u­late her body temperature.”

Schmidt didn’t recall see­ing any sort of fence pok­ing out from the end of the deck. Mud­dy riv­er water had cov­ered every­thing to the height of the floor boards. “The part of the cage that extend­ed past the deck…did that have any sort of lid?”

There was a sus­pi­cious pause. “Of course, it did,” Mrs. Pepp said. Her lips pressed so tight­ly togeth­er they seemed to dis­ap­pear. “I’m just not one per­cent pos­i­tive that I closed the latch after we said good­bye. I went last.”

Schmidt didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t imag­ine any mean­ing­ful exchange with the black blob in the photograph.

“I’m very sor­ry,” Mrs. Pepp said. Mrs. Arse­nal squeezed her arm. 

“Excuse me,” Schmidt said. He had a text from his duty offi­cer. It read: “Jesus. We’ve got an envi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter on our hands that might kill dozens of peo­ple. Don’t start yam­mer­ing on about killer alli­ga­tors or we’ll look like idiots.” 

Schmidt typed a reply: “Already feel like ass­hole for men­tion­ing alli­ga­tors. But it wasn’t that far-fetched (see email chain). How­ev­er, have deter­mined that giant fuck­ing sala­man­der is prob­a­bly roam­ing the low­er riv­er. Check out pic­ture and tell me you won’t have nightmares.” 


The reply was almost imme­di­ate. “Pre­vi­ous email was per­haps a lit­tle hasty. I meant to say con­grat­u­la­tions on a bril­liant inves­tiga­tive effort. Could you go back to that hip­pie com­pound and see if they’re moti­vat­ed to evac­u­ate now?”

Schmidt dis­cov­ered anoth­er body while he was attempt­ing to unteth­er the police launch. This vic­tim wasn’t human how­ev­er, it was a black, mal­formed, pre­his­toric-look­ing giant newt with a deep pro­peller gash in its neck. An orange rib­bon, pinned to an ulcer­ous fold of skin above the left eye meant it was Delilah.

The police­man glanced into his launch and saw the black scrap of filth that had clogged his motor ear­li­er that day. He col­lect­ed it in an evi­dence bag. Then he slid a blue vinyl tarp under the giant sala­man­der and dragged it out of the shal­low water onto the park­ing lot. He let the water drain away, and bent over the corpse and sniffed. It didn’t reek yet. 

Schmidt bunched up the blue tarp to cre­ate a hand­hold and dragged the sala­man­der behind his cruis­er. He took the shot­gun and body armor out of the trunk and placed them in the back seat. Then he twist­ed the tarp around both his wrists, squat­ted down, and man­aged to heft the sog­gy lump just high enough to slide it into the trunk.

He emailed the Min­istry of Nat­ur­al Resources again: “Acci­den­tal­ly killed giant sala­man­der with my out­board motor. Hope­ful­ly, God will cut me some slack giv­en his own record of flood-relat­ed col­lat­er­al dam­age. Dis­gust­ing ani­mal corpse will be in the morgue room of Ormond Gen­er­al (the new one).”

The reply was swift and sar­casm-free: “A biol­o­gist is on his way.”

After the sala­man­der-deliv­ery, offi­cer Schmidt resumed his ear­li­er mis­sion. He left the trunk of the cruis­er open in the park­ing lot because he had bad­ly mis­judged the dead animal’s lack of odor. 

The riv­er cur­rent seemed a lit­tle stronger as Schmidt drove upriv­er to the trail­er camp. Maybe the engi­neers were clos­ing in on a final solu­tion and reliev­ing some pres­sure on the struc­ture in prepa­ra­tion for an ulti­mate repair. 

Schmidt could see the campers, lin­ing the shore as if wait­ing for him when he approached. There was a pile of gear stacked behind them. Schmidt’s launch bot­tomed out and he leapt onto the bank. He could tell their sit­u­a­tion had dete­ri­o­rat­ed even further.

“What’s the matter?”

“We lost anoth­er one. Amy. She was canoe­ing to the bank so she could dri­ve into town for sup­plies. We have a truck parked in a turnout, a hun­dred yards or so down that log­ging road.” Gary took the police­man to the oppo­site side of their lit­tle island and point­ed out the swampy patch of water now sep­a­rat­ing the camp from shore. “It flipped her boat over. We only heard a bump, no scream­ing or thrash­ing. No body.” Schmidt took some more cell­phone pic­tures. The canoe was vis­i­ble down riv­er, upside down and tan­gled in the branch­es of a wild cher­ry tree.

“When did it happen?”

“Ear­li­er this morn­ing.” Schmidt sad­ly real­ized that this third attack hap­pened after he had run over Delilah. Per­haps the motor blow hadn’t killed her, just made her angry enough to upend canoes.

Gary looked down, apolo­get­i­cal­ly. “You were right. We should have left when you first talked to us, in fact we were just about to pad­dle to shore. But frankly, after what hap­pened to Amy, we’d feel safer in your launch. Can you fer­ry us to the town side?” 

The most direct path to the city was across the flood­ed riv­er to the deck at Beaver View Lodge. Schmidt placed four peo­ple in his launch and car­ried them to the plat­form. Four more peo­ple went in a sec­ond trip. Gary remained behind to help load the boat with knap­sacks full of cloth­ing and camp­ing sup­plies. It took two addi­tion­al pas­sages to trans­port the belong­ings. The police­man called their social ser­vices con­tact and an Angli­can Priest soon showed up with a fleet of vehi­cles to trans­port every­one to an emer­gency shel­ter set up in his church’s basement.

The campers solemn­ly shook hands with Schmidt. Gary pulled up the sleeve of his T‑shirt to reveal his name in indeli­ble mark­er print­ed on the shoul­der mus­cle, and rubbed it gen­tly with his thumb. “You think you know what you’re up against,” he said sad­ly. “I thought it was just water.”

Schmidt was a lit­tle puz­zled by the campers’ fatal­ism. He didn’t want to men­tion his own mis­ap­pre­hen­sions, giant sala­man­ders and alli­ga­tors, but he thought the campers would be more inter­est­ed in assign­ing blame. They seemed strange­ly detached. “Aren’t you curi­ous about the thing that attacked three mem­bers of your group? Do you won­der what it was?” 

“Oh, we know what it was.” Gary said emphat­i­cal­ly. Offi­cer Schmidt just stared blankly, so the camper con­tin­ued. “It was Gigoon.” Sev­er­al of his group nod­ded sagely.

“I beg your par­don?” The word sound­ed vague­ly First-Nations, per­haps it was the name of some venge­ful sprite.

“I think the word is Ojib­we,” a lady said. “Loose­ly trans­lat­ed, it means ‘giant fuck­ing blue catfish.’”

“It was swept out of the spill­way plunge pool by the first rup­ture, and it’s angry.”

Schmidt didn’t know how to respond. The campers had retreat­ed into a world of myth to explain the tragedies. The police­man couldn’t be too crit­i­cal, how­ev­er, after pro­mot­ing a trans­plant­ed Flori­da Alli­ga­tor as the culprit.

Offi­cer Schmidt climbed back in the department’s res­cue craft, dri­ving back to the pub­lic boat launch when he heard an air raid siren. It had been installed as part of a secu­ri­ty sys­tem in the ear­ly nine­teen fifties when peo­ple were para­noid about Russ­ian sleep­er agents blow­ing up their dam. The only time it had ever been sound­ed was a week ago when the spill­way open­ing par­tial­ly collapsed.

Offi­cer Schmidt looked back over his shoul­der, but the riv­er seemed unchanged. A moment lat­er there was an addi­tion­al fren­zied howl from the siren.

As those harsh vibra­tions dis­si­pat­ed the police­man became aware of an odd rustling noise. He looked back again and saw a large wil­low tree pitch for­ward into the water. A crescen­do of snap­ping and crack­ling sounds were cre­at­ed by a wall of debris being shoved between the mud­dy banks of the Springe Riv­er. The mass appeared to be mov­ing slow­ly, like a train in the dis­tance, but the police­man knew it was an opti­cal trick.

Schmidt gunned his motor. 

There must have been anoth­er rup­ture at the dam. 

The first breech had been rel­a­tive­ly small, but even that minor fail­ure had filled the flood plain of the riv­er to absolute capac­i­ty. Addi­tion­al water would wash over the banks and through the town itself. 

Schmidt looked over his shoul­der again and saw a tan­gled black and green ridge just a foot­ball field to his stern and gain­ing rapid­ly. The lead­ing edge of the flood seemed to be enor­mous­ly high, and roil­ing with shore veg­e­ta­tion that had been scoured loose.

Schmidt turned into the flood­ed green­space con­tain­ing the sub­merged boat ramp and beached the police launch in the park­ing area. Then he jumped out of the boat and lum­bered to the only high­point with­in sight: a piece of ele­vat­ed play­ground equip­ment shaped like a pirate ship. The offi­cer scram­bled up some rig­ging, flopped on the pres­sure-treat­ed deck and grabbed onto a dec­o­ra­tive ship’s wheel just as a moan­ing brown swell com­plete­ly engulfed the park. 

Schmidt heard his cruis­er make a “Harumph” sound as it was swept towards the wash­room build­ing. There was a fan­tas­tic amount of human detri­tus mixed in with the mat of reeds and tree branch­es. Sev­er­al bar-b-ques clat­tered against the stan­chions of the play-ship, Sty­ro­foam bait con­tain­ers lit­tered the brown sur­face like snowflakes and there was an inex­plic­a­ble flotil­la of shoes.

The flood crest­ed at the deck of the pirate ship then retreat­ed some­what as the water explored a net­work of creeks and runoff ditch­es and filled some low-lying soy bean fields on the oppo­site bank. The park was a vul­ner­a­ble space because its clay banks had long ago been exca­vat­ed to cre­ate a water­front play area. When Schmidt final­ly decid­ed it was safe to climb back down the pirate rig­ging, he had to wade a hun­dred meters through a waist-high swamp to reach dry pavement. 

Offi­cer Schmidt’s inves­ti­ga­tion of the ear­li­er riv­er deaths was put on hold for almost a week while var­i­ous low-lying build­ings were secured and searched. Offi­cial­ly, four peo­ple had died as a result of the sec­ond dam fail­ure: two army engi­neers on the con­struc­tion barge and a home­less cou­ple who were sleep­ing under­neath a low-slung rail­way tres­tle down riv­er. It was impos­si­ble to be absolute­ly cer­tain of the casu­al­ties. The home­less cou­ple were a sur­prise because they hadn’t shown up on the orig­i­nal evac­u­a­tion cen­sus. Their bod­ies were found wedged into inter­stices of the bridge’s I‑beam struc­ture, but oth­ers might have been washed into Lake Ontario. The three campers were list­ed as vic­tims of the first breach, although impor­tant details, like the fact they had been dragged to their deaths by an aquat­ic crea­ture were not pub­licly mentioned. 

When Schmidt final­ly fin­ished his report, some offi­cial infor­ma­tion replaced spec­u­la­tion. The orig­i­nal vic­tim, Grace Kline, had indeed drowned after being dragged under the sur­face of the water. A gen­tly curv­ing welt on her calf indi­cat­ed that she had been grabbed by some­thing. The Min­istry of Nat­ur­al Resources biol­o­gist said the giant sala­man­der wasn’t respon­si­ble. The bite pat­tern indi­cat­ed Gra­cie had been attacked by some­thing with a much larg­er mouth and a dis­sec­tion of the sala­man­der proved it hadn’t even scav­enged the corpses. And based on analy­sis of the scrap of flesh retrieved from Schmidt’s prop spin­dle, he had killed the sala­man­der before the third vic­tim, Amy Wright was attacked.

Win­ston and Amy’s bod­ies were recov­ered in the Cred­it Union park­ing lot, with­in a few yards of each oth­er, tan­gled in a wire fence after water from the sec­ond breach reced­ed. Autop­sies demon­strat­ed that they had drowned, but the corpses were too bad­ly dam­aged to yield evi­dence of the thing that had grabbed them.

Schmidt made anoth­er vis­it to the elder­ly res­i­dents of Beaver View Lodge. They were busy por­ing over maps, scout­ing out poten­tial loca­tions for the next iter­a­tion of their compound.

Krystyn, the nurse and gar­den­er, seemed to be part of the deci­sion-mak­ing process so she may have been plan­ning to move away with the three couples. 

The police­man had two pieces of news to deliv­er. One: Delilah the sala­man­der wasn’t respon­si­ble for any human deaths. And, two: he had per­son­al­ly run over the ani­mal with his police launch, sev­er­ing its spine.

The three cou­ples were incred­i­bly relieved that their pet hadn’t killed any­one, and didn’t seem over­ly con­cerned that Delilah had been muti­lat­ed by a boat propeller.

“Pets are such a both­er,” Mrs. Arse­nal said, shak­ing her head with a tight quiv­er­ing motion that could have been an invol­un­tary pal­sy. Schmidt noticed a large ter­rar­i­um on a side board. He didn’t inspect it close­ly, but at a dis­tance it appeared to be full of gigan­tic spiders.

Krystyn accom­pa­nied the police­man to the door and extend­ed her hand to shake.

“Lis­ten, Krystyn, I don’t mean to be intru­sive, but I’ve been think­ing about your busi­ness brand­ing.” He risked brief eye con­tact. “Krystyn’s Kom­plete Kare. Your logo is KKK, and I won­dered if that was an unin­ten­tion­al mis­take…” His voice trailed away uncertainly.

“Like Vagi­na View Lodge.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Schmidt rubbed the back of his head.

“It was delib­er­ate,” Krystyn said. “The Ks are with­in a base­ball. It’s sup­posed to rep­re­sent a pitch­er strik­ing out the side, the epit­o­me of excel­lent per­for­mance.” She tilt­ed her head. “Your world view seems to be a lit­tle dark.” She closed the door but the police­man saw her thin smile, like some­thing swim­ming just below the sur­face of a pond. 

A week lat­er, the police­man received an email from the Min­istry of Nat­ur­al Resources biol­o­gist who had per­formed the autop­sy on Delilah. He was pass­ing along some new infor­ma­tion relat­ed to the Springe Riv­er deaths. A man on a salmon fish­ing char­ter on Lake Ontario had hooked a gigan­tic blue cat­fish while trolling the dark edge of the runoff cloud from the Springe riv­er flood. The email includ­ed two pic­tures of the beast. One was an under­wa­ter shot pro­vid­ed by a cam­era attached to the boat’s sonar bea­con. It showed a tiny human hand clutch­ing the gill plate of the enor­mous fish. The animal’s broad mouth was open, as if it were decid­ing whether or not to speak, reveal­ing a sparse set of long, nee­dle-like teeth. The sec­ond pic­ture was tak­en by a drone fly­ing at the side of the char­ter boat, and it showed a dark flat line more than six feet long just bare­ly break­ing the sur­face of the water.

The biol­o­gist sug­gest­ed that this very cat­fish was the most like­ly killer of the three campers. He spec­u­lat­ed that it had been liv­ing in the plunge­pool of the dam spill­way, like a piscine Hen­ry the eighth, gorg­ing itself on spawn­ing salmon and seden­tary carp until it had achieved an esti­mat­ed weight of one hun­dred and six­ty-five pounds. The ini­tial dam breach had dis­placed and dis­ori­ent­ed it and the sec­ond fail­ure had washed it right into Lake Ontario. 

The biol­o­gist spec­u­lat­ed that Grace Kline’s calf might have fit between the wide­ly spaced, snag­gled teeth, and that was why there were no punc­ture marks on her corpse. The giant fish had snapped the fisherman’s tough braid­ed line soon after it was brought along­side the boat, so an autop­sy of the ani­mal wasn’t pos­si­ble. It would have been inter­est­ing to see if its stom­ach con­tained the undi­gestible remains of Winston’s plas­tic sandal. 

Schmidt imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nized the sim­i­lar­i­ty between the giant cat­fish and the mon­ster Gary called Gigoon. Schmidt had assumed the campers were talk­ing about a local leg­end, but maybe they were refer­ring to some­thing they had actu­al­ly seen. They might have noticed a spec­tac­u­lar­ly large cat­fish near the dam spill­way but fish­ing with­in one hun­dred meters of a dam is tech­ni­cal­ly poach­ing, and that might have made them reluc­tant to speak more plainly.

Offi­cer Schmidt want­ed to ask Gary about it direct­ly so he con­tact­ed the Angli­can priest who tem­porar­i­ly housed the campers. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that group had already moved out, hav­ing bro­kered per­mis­sion to build a new camp on the mar­gins of a cat­tle farm on the Grand Riv­er. Gary, their leader, remained in Ormond because he had cut his hand on a shop­ping cart while assist­ing with the com­mu­ni­ty clean up of the park that con­tained the play­ground pirate ship.

Schmidt drove to the Ormond gen­er­al hos­pi­tal to inter­view Gary, only to dis­cov­er he had died that very morning.

In a world full of alli­ga­tors, giant sala­man­ders and colos­sal cat­fish Gary had been killed by a tetanus germ weigh­ing less than a tril­lionth of a gram. His death was even­tu­al­ly includ­ed as part of the final flood-relat­ed toll.Officer Schmidt sub­mit­ted a final report to his super­vi­sor and then drove home. His neigh­bour­hood had been shield­ed by a par­tic­u­lar­ly high sec­tion of river­bank, and was undam­aged. The police­man delib­er­ate­ly altered his route so he would pass by Beaver View Lodge, and he hap­pened to see Krystyn and one of her employ­ees perched atop steplad­ders remov­ing the dis­tinc­tive wood­en sign. Pre­sum­ably it would accom­pa­ny the three elder­ly cou­ples to their new loca­tion, where ever that might be.

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Mark Thomas (he/him) is a retired Eng­lish and Phi­los­o­phy teacher, and ex-mem­ber of Canada’s nation­al row­ing team.

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