The Road Less Taken
Albert N. Katz
Frank told me. “No need to worry. The canoeing is easy and there are no really
long portages, so none of the four of us will be in any danger at all.”
Although I know
him to be a bull-shitter, we go regardless, Gail figuring this might be our
last chance for “adventure” before our child is born.
two days out were great. Calm, clear lakes, with easy portages, no other
canoeists in sight. I started to relax.
Then on the
third day, all hell breaks loose. Out of nowhere, we were hit with strong gusts
of winds and high waves.
Gail and I
followed the other canoe, with Frank steering, his wife Joyce in the bow
keeping up as best she could.
through a brackish river for quite a while before entering back into a lake,
Frank desperately trying to keep us near the shoreline away from the worst of the
waves, looking for a place to land our canoes.
It was pure
luck that we eventually found an opening between the rocks and bush. We pulled
our canoes up and pitched our tents
as the deluge continued. Cold and wet,
we huddled in our respective tents waiting for the storm to abate.
It was getting
dark when we ventured out. The storm had morphed into a steady drizzle, the
winds diminished. In the chilly drizzle, we started our Coleman stove and cooked
up the freeze-dried food we had brought along.
As the food was
being heated I took Frank aside and asked him straight out, “Do you have any
idea where we are?”
He just shook
his head and walked away. I said nothing about this to Gail.
She and I zipped our sleeping bags together,
and spent the night keeping one another warm with our body heat. I felt her
belly but the life inside her was sleeping.
She was not in the mood to have sex and gently rebuffed me. I kissed her
Gail was snoring
quietly when I heard heavy breathing and grunting outside the tent. I stayed
still in the sleeping bag, frightened, not wanting to face a black bear or
whatever was out there in the dark.
I slept fitfully, thinking I heard grunting
now and again throughout the night.
The wind and
rain was gone by the time the sun came up. Frank just kept looking out at the
lake holding a map of the park with a blank look on his face.
When I asked
him if he had heard noises during the night, he was curt, his usual bravado
“No. For god
sakes don’t spread stories around. The girls must be scared enough as it is.”
As if he and
say a word when we found the supplies bag we had hung from the tree to keep it from
animals. It was torn apart. All of the fresh meat was gone
There were large footprints in the mud. “Black
bear?” I asked.
and in his I-know-best voice called out, “Whatever it was that got our food was
just foraging. Nothing dangerous. We just have to make sure we secure what we
have left better tonight.”
out the remaining supplies. At best, if we figured that if rationed carefully
we could eke out three days. Fortunately, the vegetarian options demanded by the
women were not touched, and Frank had brought a fishing rod. With luck, we
might catch some food. As it was, we had enough, perhaps, to get back to where
we left our cars. That is, if we figured out where we were quickly and could
then re-trace our steps.
“Nothing to worry about, “ Frank assured us
“this is a frequently used route and we will see other canoeists soon. They’ll
be able to point out the quickest way back to parking area.”
thought. We have not seen anyone else
since we started.
Frank and I decided
to explore along the shoreline to get a better lay of the land, and maybe do a
bit of foraging ourselves to see if we could find something edible.
The women in
the meanwhile planned to search closer to the campsite for wood we could use
for a fire while keeping an eye out for canoeists or, perhaps, smoke from a
campsite across the lake, from some other group that had taken shelter from the
As soon as I
was sure the women wouldn’t hear us I asked Frank again what he thought got our
“I have no
frigging idea. Those were not like any bear prints I’ve ever seen.”
coin, because one way seemed as good as any, we walked north, not talking,
marking trees with a knife to ensure we can find our way back to the campsite.
I found some mushrooms that we both agreed
looked edible and Frank found some berries.
minutes in we came to another clearing on the shoreline, with a tent and the
remains of a campfire, with grill. The tent was torn to pieces. There was no
sign of a canoe or of people.
“Hello. Hello. Is anyone around?”
There was no
of the tent was a complete mess. Clothes was thrown around, the two sleeping
bags were ripped to pieces, covered in blood.
Let’s get back to camp, Frank and away from this place.”
“And go in which direction?
Let’s look around some more.”
tent we saw what looked like a pathway had been made in the grass. Trampled
down, as if someone had run through it. Or been pulled through it.
the pathway, I returned to rummage through the tent for food. Reaching under
the strewn clothes, I felt a sharp pain that lasted only a few seconds.
of the tent was filled with small bugs, hidden under the bags and clothes.
Frank called out, “Let’s get out of here, John. There is nothing to see and I
don’t want to leave the women alone too long.”
bugs in the tent Frank, and I think one of them bit me; maybe burrowed into my
carefully examined under the clothes. “They look like some species of ticks. Show
me where you felt a bite.”
looking at my leg, he said cautiously, “I see a small red spot. Hell John, some
ticks carry Lyme disease. Let’s get back to camp and see if I can get it out.”
hell is Lyme Disease”?
“All I know is
it messes up the nervous system; makes people weak, screws up their thinking.
But it is a rare consequence of a tick bite. No need to worry.”
No need to worry? Hell if you had been
bitten I wouldn’t worry either.
On the way
back we agreed not to mention the abandoned campsite, and the shredded sleeping
bags, the blood, the ticks, or whatever they were. Best not spread panic.
to the campsite to find that the women had a rousing fire going and they, like
us, had found berries and mushrooms.
I offered to
be the guinea pig and ate a few of the berries and mushrooms. They tasted fine.
While we waited to see if I would start vomiting or get stomach pains, Frank
heated his knife in the fire and, once it has cooled down, painfully dug around
the red spot on my arm.
“I don’t see
or feel anything John. I think you lucked out and whatever bit you didn’t
burrow in. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
There he went again, nothing for him to
He treated the
sore with antiseptic we had brought with us.
hour or so, and with me feeling no ill effects, we all dug into a makeshift
meal of foraged food.
midday, Joyce cried out that she saw smoke from across the lake. Another
immediately volunteered to paddle across and take a look. I offered to join him
but Gail didn’t want me to leave her, so I stayed behind with the women.
cheerful, ‘I shouldn’t be long. No more than an hour, hour and a half at most.
Hopefully, the folks over there will be able to provide me with bearings so we
can start our way back to the cars tomorrow.”
We never saw
We waited and
waited, but Frank had not returned by nightfall.
between bouts of crying, kept on asking us, as if we had an answer, “Where
could he be? Why hasn’t he returned?”
Gail and I tried
to keep up a brave front but I’m sure we all had the same thought: something
has happened to him. Something bad,
to sleep alone in the tent she shared with Frank, and so, the three of snuggled
together, packed into our too-small sleeping bag in our too-small tent.
Joyce smelled of hyacinths, Gail of lavender. We
all slept fitfully.
By daybreak I was feeling ill, not nauseous exactly,
more like there were bubbles working up my spine towards my brain. I knew it is
probably the power of suggestion what with Frank saying tick bites could impact
the nervous system. I just prayed the mushrooms we had eaten didn’t have some
slow-working toxic effect. I said nothing about my concerns, deciding
additional worries would only add to our burden.
We awoke to
find a trail of those tick-like bugs working across our tent floor.
Both of the
women complained of having been bitten during the night but weren’t sure. I
checked them over as best as I could but could see no obvious sign of a bite.
It was the
first time I saw Joyce naked. She
displayed her body to me, almost coquettishly, so much out of character. Gail
watched her with a sardonic smile.
I wanted to
pack up, and find a bug-free site, or paddle across the lake in the direction
Frank had gone, but demurred to Joyce’s request we wait for Frank until at
had not returned by the time the sun was overhead, Gail and I overruled Joyce, packed
everything in the remaining canoe and paddled across the lake towards where we
had seen campfire the day earlier.
before we left but I doubted it was from the mushrooms or berries, just fear. I
think we all had the same sinking feeling that we’d not find any good news when
we got to the other side of the lake.
The lake was
calm, and even with the three of us, with all our gear in one canoe, it took
only about 45 minutes to cross over and find Frank’s canoe, pulled up on a
natural sandy beach.
nowhere to be seen.
two tents on the site. One was vacant. In the other was a woman, huddled in a
ball, eyes vacant, making weak, mewling sounds, with those bugs crawling up and
down her arms.
When I brushed
them away and put my hand on her shoulder she pulled away in terror.
Joyce ordered me out of the tent as they tended to the woman.
site that Frank and I had found the previous day the tents were not ransacked. They
were just eerily empty, the occupants, and now Frank as well, transported away.
emerged from the tent.
Joyce by this time was shouting for Frank at
the top of her lungs, between bouts of crying.
me aside, told me the woman was named Nancy, and was in shock, only repeating
the words “No. No.”
that Gail stay with Joyce and Nancy while I explored around the tents and into
the neighboring area. But Gail refused and followed me.
immediately we found a pool of blood, and bloody clawed-footsteps entering the
“Oh my God,
Gail”, I said retching. “What have we gotten ourselves into?” And then, “Joyce!
We can’t leave Joyce, or this Nancy, by themselves.”
do you think they’ll react when they see this?
“I don’t know, but
better than me in such tasks, went up to Joyce. I heard them talking, with Gail
diplomatically suggesting that there were some signs of foul play and that we
best all stay together and take a look around.
mewling, just shook her head, “no.”
with us, seemingly resigned to finding the worst, depleted of tears. She blanched
when she saw the blood, but did not cry.
follow the blood trail”, was all she said in a monotone, and started doing so.
No more than
300 yards down that red trail we found the half-eaten remains of a woman, torn
to pieces, big chunks of her flesh torn off.
I vomited again.
looked at the corpse dispassionately, barely glancing at the remains before
continuing on. “Come on. We have to find Frank.”
“For God’s sake stop, Joyce. This is just
crazy. We have to get away from this place.”
ignored me and continued on.
what else to do, we followed. Around a bend we came across another victim, a
male, as badly savaged as the woman.
walking as in a trance, turned him over with her foot, glanced down, “Not
Frank,” and continued walking.
Hanging from his belt was a flare gun, and
I cried out
to Joyce, “Gail and I are returning to camp. We have flares. I suggest we use them
and wait for help. The rangers will be better than us to track the animal and
put together a search team to find Frank. And Nancy needs medical care. I bet
Frank saw the
bodies, is probably hiding away somewhere, and didn’t canoe back to us because
he didn’t want to take the chance of bringing the animal back to us.”
believe a word I said about Frank, and don’t know if the women did either.
joined us. “I don’t feel well. I have little bubbles moving up and down my
spine. I feel lightheaded.”
” Me too”,
said Gail. And then, “Oh my God, the baby! What have we done?”
By the time
we got back to the campsite the bugs were gone.
wood, and started a bonfire easily seen either from the lake or by air.
When it was
dark I set off the first flare, thinking it would then be most visible. I planned
to set off a second at dawn, and repeat the day after.
that by the dawn of the third day if no one had found us we would take the
meager remains of our food and set off down the lake in a fool’s attempt in
was now talking in short phrases, complained of not feeling well, of bubbles moving
up her spine
canoes ready for a quick getaway, we used the tents already pitched, and the
sleeping bags of the former occupants.
We put two
of the sleeping bags together and the four of us huddled together, trying to
sleep. Nancy, smelling of roses, snuggled into me.
During the night
I heard grunts in the distance but I was beyond fear. What will be will be. I
left the tent to make sure the fire was
still strong and threw on some more of the wood.
the fire the night was velvet black, though, to my surprise, I could see clearly,
well into the distance.
At dawn I used
the second flare. We had eaten little
for several days now and slept even less, yet we all felt energized. Strangely
sensation up my spine had disappeared.
breakfast, kept feeding the fire and waited. I must have dozed off because I
heard Gail calling, “Come give us a hand, John.”
sitting on a rock, a faraway distant look in her eyes.
Gail and Joyce
were pulling the savaged remains of the woman, trying to move her into a
shallow grave they had dug. “We thought we should cover her up. Leaving her out
will just attract who knows what kind of scavengers. Maybe bring back the
animal that did this.”
drag the body to the hole. We used our feet to kick dirt over her.
The dead woman
had oozed blood as we dragged her, covering our hands.
Gail and Joyce as they licked their hands clean.
I found it extremely
erotic and felt an erection starting. I called Nancy over and she joined me in
watching them. I put my arm around her shoulder. She did not pull away, licked
the blood from my fingers.
us about mid-afternoon. We heard the helicopter in the distance. I used the
third flare, and the aircraft turned towards us.
nightfall a boat arrived to bring us back to civilization.
We each told
them what we had seen and experienced. Nancy told of being awakened by screams
in the middle of the night, seeing this manlike monster and that when she
checked in the morning her companions had disappeared. She remembered nothing
more until we had arrived.
promised that a search for the animal and Frank would start in the morning.
telling them I just wanted a hot shower and large rare steak.
brought to the hospital but discharged after a day with the doctors telling us it
was almost miraculous that we had held up so well.
We were a
minor news sensation for a few days, making it even onto National News; our
story was plastered in tabloids with headings such as “Stalked
by Satan’s Beast”, next to the
latest story on Harry and Meaghan.
As with news
generally, interest quickly disappeared, only reappearing when the savaged
bodies were recovered.
they found Frank, also mutilated.
there were unconfirmed reports in the tabloids that a sect of cannibal
terrorists had been discovered and all killed in a gun battle with Federal
and I knew that was bullshit.
As it is written in the bible;” God said to them, “Be fruitful and
multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea,
over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the
words were meant for me and my kind.
The first son I had
with Gail is
a man now, and he has started his own community, and soon my children with
Joyce and Nancy will do so as well.
But that is
for another day. For now, I revel in my body, my children, and my three mates:
Gail, Joyce and Nancy.
strong, so very strong.
of smell and sight are quite remarkable.
thoughts, think rapidly, see a world humans cannot see.
crave meat, we only need human flesh when the creatures within us are in their
mating cycle. They need us to survive and we benefit from what we they have
given us.. Symbiosis.
I have no
interest in learning about their biochemistry and what chemical properties
unique to humans satisfy their biological drives.
good. I know the time is fast approaching in which we will no longer need to
It will be more
efficient to domesticate them as livestock, alongside the cows and pigs that
satisfy our other more mundane hungers.
After 43 years as
a cognitive scientist, Albert N.
Katz (he/him) retired from academia and started a new career as a writer of
short stories and poetry. The winner of the 2020 flash fiction competition from
Whispering Prairie Press/ Kansas City Voices for his story “Hocus-Pocus”, his
stories have appeared in anthologies, genre-based and literary magazines. His
most recently speculative literature stories include: “An
interview in the Garden of Earthly Delights” (“Dracula’s Guests Anthology”
Hellbound Books, 2022), “Jack
Mary Ann and the Loch Arkaig treasures” (Allegory, 2022), “Forbidden” (Starlit
Bridges Anthology Red Polka Books, 2023) and “Parasite” (Culture Pulp anthology
Cosmic Contact, 2023). His poems have appeared in such diverse
literary journals as Abyss & Apex, Ascent, Backchannel
and Rattle among others. He lives in Fredericton, NB Canada
with his wife and two rescue cats, far from his three children living across
the wideness of Canada.
He can be reached at; Albert Katz,
7- 634 Brunswick
Street, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.