Authors: Katherine Holubitsky
A WEEK LATER
, Eric and I pulled the toboggan past the hangar and the duck house, and down the lane that ran through the woods. We didn't go as far as where the Hippie House had once been. Where the lane turned the corner we cut off onto a narrow path. It took us to a part of the woods where Dad had sent us to collect our Christmas tree.
The snow was deep, soft beneath with a thin, shiny crust. Eric was wearing snowmobile boots that tied just below his knees. I followed close behind him, stepping into his tracks. The powdery snow worked its way into my boots and I wondered if there'd be a time in my life when I'd get through a winter without wet socks.
I stopped to scoop up a glove full of snow from Eric's newest footprint. I tried pressing it into a ball but it crumbled like fine ash.
“Don't bother,” Eric said without turning around.
How did he know what I was planning?
“I already tried. It's not wet enough.”
“Hey, were you going to throw a snowball at me?”
“Yeah, if I could make one.” Eric turned. “And I suppose you were going to huck yours at a tree.”
I threw the handful of powder at him anyway. A slight wind caught it and blew most of it back in my face. Eric laughed.
Dad had already tagged the seven-foot pine he wanted us to cut down. He had cultivated this lot and he pruned the trees
every year. I was sure he already knew which trees we'd be cutting for the next ten Christmases. Eric began to saw the base while I stood out of the way.
“Timber!” he shouted, stepping back.
We waited. The tree remained stubbornly connected to its stump. Stepping forward again, Eric gave it a shove with his foot.
“Timber,” he repeated, sounding a little less confident. Seconds passed. Finally, obediently, the tree fell with a whomp.
Eric lifted the base, I grabbed the top and we maneuvered it onto the toboggan. It left my gloves sticky with sap.
We hauled it back through the woods and along the lane. In the woods, the weight of the tree on the toboggan carried it away on the icy surface, but once we reached the lane it was trampled well enough that we were able to regain control. We passed the hangar and had just come around the corner next to the barn when we spotted Detective Mather's car. He was leaning against it, talking to Dad. Seeing us approach, he smiled warmly. There was something different about him. He wasn't pacing. He was just leaning there, looking almost relaxed.
“Eric, Emma, Detective Mather has something you'll want to hear,” Dad announced. “Let's go inside.”
Once we were seated in the living room, my father leaned forward with his hands clasped before him. His voice was sober as he told us about Mr. Fraser's arrest. He then stood up and while he gazed out the window, Detective Mather took over, filling us in on some of the details of the crimes. As he explained things to us, Eric blinked at the detective. But I could not concentrate on anything that was said after Dad announced the name. I was paralyzed by the thought of what had come so close to happening. I was embarrassed at how gullible and stupid I had been.
So I simply stared at the floor, too numb to cry, as the detective spoke. I could think of nothing but how Mr. Fraser, had
meant to kill me that day of the rummage sale. He'd pulled his van into the farmer's field because he'd meant to rape and kill me like Katie. Mr. Fraser, our neighbor. Mr. Fraser, who I had known since we had moved to Ruddy Duck when I was seven years old. He'd brought us chickens and he'd shared duties with my father, repairing the fence that separated our properties.
With a sudden pang of both anger and sadness I understood better than anyone else why Katie Russell had stepped into the van so easily that November night.
The arrest was nothing to celebrate, I heard my father explain somewhere in the distance. It was nothing any of us could have known about either. It was something that we would have to absorb and, maybe someday when we were older, comprehend.
Detective Mather explained some of the particulars. Part of the evidence linking Mr. Fraser to Katie was some feathers from a specific type of chicken. When I heard Detective Mather say this, I remembered what he'd said many months before. “There are certain things that we don't tell the general public. These are details about the crime or the crime scene that only the killer would know.” Only the Frasers and a handful of farmers in neighboring counties owned this particular breed. The girl he'd abducted in Shelburne had also picked up on the odor in the van. I believe it was something similar that tied him to Fiona. I don't know that I ever really heard.
I never told anyone but Megan about my ride with Mr. Fraser the Saturday before he was arrested. There was no point. Mom would never have let me out of her sight again. But for many months to come I got a chill every time I thought about it and what could have happened to me. Megan was so angry with me I thought she might spit. How could I have been so clueless after all we had discussed? After all the scenarios we had created, working out the details of how we should react. How could I have just sat there like a dimwit when he turned off the road?
After asking these questions, she'd glare at me, waiting for an answer.
But I didn't have an answer for any one of them. Finally I told her that it was possible I'd imagined the whole thing. Maybe Mr. Fraser really did have a broken tailgate and he'd been driving slowly because the visibility was poor.
Megan frowned at me like I was trying to pull something over on her. But eventually she said nothing more.
AND SO IT WAS OVER
. But really it was only the beginning of a more reserved chapter in our lives. Six months later, Mr. Fraser was found guilty of murdering Katie Russell and Fiona Young. When the trial ended, Dad and Uncle Pat helped an emotionally crippled Mrs. Fraser auction off the equipment and put the farm up for sale.
It was a warm May evening the following year when Mr. Fraser left Pike Creek and all that he was responsible for for good. And there was a lot he was responsible forâI don't think he left one life untouched. Megan and I were waiting at the main intersection as the sun settled behind Blane's Pool Hall. Ross Nash had taken up his old position outside the door. An unmarked blue sedan turned the corner.
“Look!” Megan pointed. “Emma, it's Mr. Fraser.”
I strained for a glimpse of him after the car turned. But I could only make out the profile of three heads in the backseat. It was possible it was him, but I couldn't be sure. Mr. Fraser had been shuttled between Toronto and the county courthouse over the course of his trial. He'd been sentenced that morning.
“Yup, there goes the creep,” Ross said from behind my back. “Off to the big house.”
I turned around and looked at Ross. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, but hesitated before taking one. He held it toward me instead. “Want one? You're old enough now, aren't you?”
I shook my head. But then I changed my mind. “Yeah. I'm old enough.” I walked over to where Ross stood and helped myself to a cigarette. He flicked a lighter. I inhaled as smooth as silk when he held the flame to the tip.
“Emma?” Megan said, blinking at me.
“Uh, the streetlight. It's changed.”
I thanked Ross, stepped from the curb and began to walk. As I did, I took one more perfect drag to be certain that I could. Once I was on the opposite side of the street I tossed the cigarette in the gutter and squashed it with my foot.
Megan walked quickly next to me. “God, I'm glad he's gone. Just knowing he was still around gave me the creeps.”
The drop-in center never reopened. It became only a memory and a storage space for cast-off hockey equipment again. Many years later, after Mr. Dikkers had retired and my cousin Carl maintained the arena on his own, he hauled away what was left of the stage, took down the spotlights and painted over the graffiti. He would rent out the large room to various organizations for special functions, but these were groups with specific purposes and they paid for use of the space.
We were never quite sure what happened to Mr. Gillespie. He seemed to simply disappear. One rumor had him in Alaska, working as a chef in a mining camp. Another had him riding the Canadian National Railway, cooking short-order meals for passengers on the train. It's possible that he did go to North Dakota to open a new Dairy Bar like Eric saidâbut that would be only a guess.
The Dairy Bar sat empty for a year before it finally sold to some businessmen from Toronto. After that the building was renovatedâthe curved exterior walls were squared off and the white stucco was replaced with brick and glass. A new restaurant opened. Something Sophisticated, it was called. Many people said Pike Creek was long overdue for a decent place to eat out,
but Megan and I felt differently. There was nowhere to go after school where Mandy Green could fire chips at Doug McCrae because he criticized her hair.
Admittedly, we were too old for that anyway.
Donny Russell continued to wave to me in the hall at school, but eventually his acknowledgments turned to little more than a nod. I would always be a reminder of what had happened to his sisterâI guess he knew that. No matter how much time passed.
Eric, Jimmy and Miles all went to university in Toronto the following year. On an August day before he left, I sat on the chair in his room and watched my brother pack. Halley lay beside me, sleeping. She didn't do much else anymore, although she still rolled over to get her tummy patted, pawing at me when I stopped.
I hated seeing Eric's room so empty. His empty drawers and closet. All the stuff that was necessary or important to him in his suitcase with only the little-kid stuff left on his dresser, the model airplanes turning from the ceiling, and the posters of Cream and Jim Morrison on the walls.
“Are you taking your posters?”
Eric shook his head. “No, they can stay. Besides, Cream broke up in â68 and Jim Morrison's dead.”
This was somehow comforting. Not that Cream broke up or Jim Morrison was dead, but that on top of everything else I wouldn't have to stare at his empty walls.
“How about your guitar?”
I was trying to sound brave, like I was helping him out by suggesting things he might need. But as soon as I said it I had to bite my lip to stop it from vibrating.
Eric picked up his guitar and played a few chords. When he stopped, he stored the pick beneath the strings at the top of the neck. He continued to look at the guitar in a reminiscent wayâI thought perhaps he was thinking of Malcolm. I know
I was. He lay it on his bed again. “No, I think I'll leave it here. It's too likely it would get damaged. And besides, I'm not going to have time.”
I had never felt so empty and abandoned. It hurt deep down in my stomach and a tear rolled down my cheek. Eric must have seen it.
“I'll tell you whatâhow be you keep it in your room? Then if Carl comes over I don't have to worry about him sitting in here and wrecking it or getting it all out of tune.”
Lifting the guitar by the neck, Eric passed it to me.
I accepted it in my arms like I would a baby. I carried it to my room, placed it carefully in the corner next to my sewing machine, flopped on my bed and cried as though it were the end of the world as I knew it.
It was true that with Mr. Fraser's conviction the immediate threat to our lives had been removed. But the experience had cut deep and the inherent trust in the world we had known as children was gone.
Megan and I continued to be leery if we were stopped and asked for directions. We never walked alone at night again. We never got in a car if we didn't know the driver. Only once, a year later, did Hetty suggest we hitchhike somewhereâI think it was to see a band play in Shelburne.
“Are you out of your mind?” Megan responded. “Remember Katie Russell?”
Hetty rubbed her forehead in an apologetic way, as if she had temporarily lost her sanity and forgotten. Yes, of course we remembered Katie Russell. How could we ever forget? There was a twelve-by-sixteen-foot scar on the ground next to Fiddlehead Creek to remind us.