Dec. 12, 2011
Carrie was the first one awake, shivering and focused. To help get warmer, she busied herself building the fire and making coffee, which she achieved by boiling water in a pot, balanced on a metal frame ledge sticking out from the fireplace.
By the time the water was bubbling mildly, Stacy was up and she expressed shock when Carrie told her Kenneth was still asleep.
The generator died half way through the night and Stacy decided that she would go off in search of gas. “There’s a gas station just down the road,” she said as she bundled up.
Carrie, wrapped in a thick, cozy blanket, said she wished she had Stacy’s “sandpaper.”
It was cold outside — about 10 F and several inches of snow had fallen over night.
Stacy brushed the fluffy white powder off the SUV and started it. A minute later, she rumbled away from the B&B.
Carrie poured water into a mug containing a green tea bag and, blowing at the top of the mug now and then, she padded around the B&B, admiring the polished wooden floors and walls. It was wood overload, she thought. Even the furnishings were wooden and not all that comfortable, to boot, she noted.
Dead plants sat in a few scattered pots and judging from the dust, no one had been using this space for a month or two before the disappearance.
She moved from room to room and gauged the owners to be hugely into the western motif.
Shuffling through the kitchen, her gaze moved across a calendar hanging to the right of the fridge. October 2011 headlined the numbers page, below a picture of a painting of cowboys driving cattle down a river embankment flanked with golden and orange foliage.
Carrie started. I haven’t got a clue what date it is, she realized, and flipped it to November 2011. Her eyes zoomed into the 11th and she turned away from the calendar.
It could only be a month or so, she guessed, since her life turned upside down.
She thought of her kids, she thought of me and she thought of her family and friends and an all-too-familiar melancholy covered her again. Carrie returned to the reading chair beside the fireplace and with a “hoomph,” slumped onto its seat. She curled up and gazed forlornly at the dancing flames, blowing at the top of the mug.
Ng jerked awake and wincing tearfully, he groaned upright in the front seat of the Prius. He was freezing. He raised a tentative hand to his nose and winced again. He’d been out for almost two hours. The thought of being so exposed gave him a deeper chill.
Desperately, he battled past the flap of the deflated airbag and fell out of the car, which he contemplated with seething disdain. The desire to light it on fire scratched at him. It would help get you warm. Dried blood cracked on Ng’s face as he grinned.
The fear that drove him earlier had dissipated. Despite the pounding ache in the centre of his face, he felt more like himself.
Ng walked around the crumpled car and located its gas tank, rolling his lighter in his fingers. In his coat pocket he found some tissues and he lit them and stuffed them into the neck of the tank and walked away. He wasn’t sure if that would even light the car up.
He was stepping into a hair salon, about half a block away, when the Prius popped like a hot pocket in a microwave. Ng bounded from the salon back to the car and stood beside the flaming wreck grinning — soaking in the heat.
None of us heard the muffled explosion as we slept but as the light of morning was upon us, we could see the smoke from the burning car.
Andy quickly and efficiently organized us into action.
Hex, Peterson, May and Crest climbed into the Ford and, gesturing with a wave of respect, Andy motioned for me to drive the Dodge. Calder, holding a large machine gun, jumped into the box and wedged himself between two dirt bikes.
The Ford moved north and then east toward the smoke and we went south and then east.
The Ford foursome were first on the scene and Hex reported to Andy when we arrived that the car must have been burning most of the night. “No sign of anyone,” he added.
Once sufficiently warmed, Ng stumbled a few blocks from the car and kicked his way into an apartment. He was sound asleep, snoring painfully, while we nosed around the car.
We were back at the hotel, packing up and preparing to head east when Ng awoke with a grimace. For about the 10th time since he fell asleep, he rolled onto his face, making him snap awake from the searing pain in his beak.
“Fuck this,” he snarled and rolled to his feet. He was sick of being cold. Time to get to Portland for some nice warm companionship and good old fun, he said, trying to pump himself up.
But Ng felt worn and beaten. Terror takes it out of a person and once his head cleared from the face pain, his heart was again seized with a spasm of paralyzing horror.
Ng had never panicked before — not like this. To borrow and slightly alter a tired saying, it was as if someone had walked over his grave at the same time they passed through his soul. Fear came at him like a flurry of open hands. He was a small child again and his father was screaming at him that he was going to kill him. RUN!
He dashed from the apartment and slammed the front door of the apartment building against a railing as he burst outside. He ran to the first vehicle he saw, a 1997 Ford Aerostar van, and tugged at the driver’s door. It was locked. There were no keys in the ignition.
“Okay,” he said aloud to himself. “There must be some keys somewhere for this fucking thing.” And he ran back inside the apartment building. His nose throbbed as his foot smashed an apartment door open. He dashed inside and frantically searched for keys.
Ng repeated this crazed process another 11 times, until he came to the apartment that he’d slept in. He found a set of keys hanging in the kitchen and snatching them, he raced back to the van. The door opened and Ng let out a happy “yes!”
He hopped in and cranked the ignition. The ratty old van coughed and gurgled and refused to start.
Ng cranked the key again and shouted “c’mon!” The van coughed and wheezed and he shouted “c’mon” with a higher pitch to his voice. The van shook and with a fart of black smoke from its tailpipe rattled to life. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Ng shrieked and with a clunk, shifted the stinky van into drive. He noticed a large amount of hair on the passenger seat and wondered what people did to make their vehicles stink so badly.
He came to a major street and turned onto it, just squeezing between the vehicles cluttering the intersection. Ng pushed his foot down when the van came to a clear stretch and he fumbled with the heater, now that he didn’t have to watch out for wrecks.
He flicked dials and buttons until he was satisfied he had turned on the heat and noticed a sign telling him which lane to be in for the I-5. “Yes,” he said, pleased with himself.
Ng turned onto Highway 20 and rolled northeast toward Albany.
He could taste the pussy; the blood; the sweat; the submission and superiority. Ng hadn’t felt this stoked about things since the door buzzed and he stepped out of his cell for the last time at San Quentin. The explosion of irrational terror that had overcome him was subsiding, like a toe a few minutes after being stubbed.
Ng’s eyes alit on a road sign — Independence Highway — and the van shuddered and farted. It spluttered and died. “Nooo!” he lamented with the nasal intonation of a petulant 10-year-old boy arguing about bedtime. As the van pushed forward without power, he cranked the ignition and it wheezed and sputtered and rolled to a crunching halt on the shoulder. He tried it again and then noticed the gas gauge.
“Fuck!” he roared. “You stupid son of a bitch!”
Ng snarled from the van and stood shivering in the grey, rainy morning. Large fields spread in every direction and the Willamette River curved east around Bowers Rocks State Park. He shivered and cursed again. Ng put his head down and began hiking up the highway, muttering and casting nervous glances over his shoulders.
With a hood wrapped around his head and a steady wind gusting, he didn’t hear us come up behind him about 10 minutes later.
Andy spotted him first and grew excited.
“This’ll be fun,” he cackled and half turning in the cab, made an obscure hand signal that drew a thumbs up from Calder, crouched down among the bikes, trying to keep out of the wind.
Ng felt terror seep into his spine, as if he’d just been injected with liquid ice at the base of his neck.
He turned to see a large black truck roll up to him. Calder had his M249 light machine gun leveled at him and he smiled pleasantly when Ng looked up to see the scratty-bearded man of about 30. Calder had a friendly face, Ng thought.
Calder also had an itchy trigger finger that had gotten him into serious trouble in the late 1990s. He killed three people in cold blood while robbing a bank of $4,400. One, a pretty female teller of about 25, had her left hand and half of her face blown away. An elderly bank guard died slowly, shot in the stomach and shoulder. That rash deed ended up landing Calder in California State Prison, where he first met Peterson, another multiple murderer.
Ng didn’t want to look at the windshield of the truck and kept his gaze locked on Calder.
The black truck clacked before him and Ng shivered when Andy cracked his door ajar. It sounded like a raven crying in a narrow canyon.
Andy stepped out of the truck and stepped toward the front.
I couldn’t hear his voice over the truck engine but Ng dropped to his knees, so I assumed Andy wanted to check him for weapons.
Unfortunately for Ng, he had left his handgun on the front seat of the van, which we paid no mind to as we passed it a kilometre back. The thought of his warm cell in San Quentin flashed through his mind and he closed his eyes. He could taste the cold of the rainwater soaking his knees.
Andy walked to Ng and stood over him. About 6’3” he presented a sinister sight, with the knee-length sailcloth coat fanning out, like wings. Ng couldn’t look up. His lips trembled and a sob blubbered forth. Snot billowed from his nose and he sobbed from the centre of his gut.
“Forgive me,” he wept softly to Andy and reached a hand out to touch his boot. Andy stepped back before his hand could reach him.
“I know what you are,” Andy said gently. “Don’t be afraid. Do you feel me? You do, don’t you?”
Ng nodded weakly and drawing a shivering breath said, “Forgive me?”
Andy smiled at the change in his tone. He’s lived this long and he is now hoping I will spare him. Not this one. No chance.
He commanded Ng to stand and he complied, rising up like a heavily creased, rusted stovepipe in a gale force wind.
I noticed this small, older Asian man appeared utterly devastated. Maybe he is like me, I thought.
Andy laid a hand on his right shoulder and the little man stumbled back a step. Andy gripped his shoulder and steadied him.
In the warm environment of the truck, I did not realize that Ng had soiled himself.
Andy knew. It gave him great pleasure.
This was one of the truly evil ones, he thought, forcing his gaze deep within Ng’s dark mind, eliciting another tremor through his rapidly decaying nervous system.
Since the ‘evacuation,’ as Andy called the disappearance, he had come upon many truly evil souls but none wore their sin with more shining black auras than this man.
Each member of Andy’s crew was warped, sick and ruined by circumstance and poor luck of the draw in terms of the cretinous shits who sired and whelped them. They cast misery and woe on people for their own misguided needs and to feed misunderstood chasms in the centre of their souls.
“You haven’t been eating well,” Andy said softly. “And your joints are giving way from all the cold and wet. Poor soul.”
Ng sobbed and stared at Andy’s boots. He trembled when he moved away from him and he wanted to look up when he heard a truck door slam shut but he couldn’t find the courage. A face flashed in his mind. It was his first victim. He filmed her rape and torture and masturbated repeatedly to it for weeks after he strangled her and then cut her to pieces. It was his crowning moment – when he rose from the ranks of the ordinary grunt and became a relentless hunter; a savage reaper of souls with razor sharp wit and finely honed violence skills. Ng was a terrifying force when he unleashed his full fury.
Standing in a cold Willamette Valley rain on an empty highway in the early days of a sinner’s paradise lost, Ng was a quivering shell of his former self. He thought of the shocked security guard he shot in Calgary when he gave himself up. He could see the look on the old man’s face – the surprise that he had been shot in the arm. Then the ashes of an almost burned life cast him the ground. It was Ng’s end game and he showed mercy, he always reasoned. “Could have killed him with my bare hands if I wanted to,” he said to himself.
“Go around him,” Andy said to me, settling back into the truck seat. “We don’t need his company.”
I shrugged and steered the truck past the sobbing, broken little man.
“What do you have for tunes?” Andy asked and jabbed a finger at the ‘on’ button on the truck stereo. Pantera snarled out of the speakers and he smiled. “Sweet! Aggressive, angry… fun.”
I spun the volume up and hit the gas. The black Dodge growled toward Albany.
I failed to notice that the Ford foursome weren’t behind us, but Ng noticed.
Hex stopped the truck beside Ng and May sneered down at him. She was the kind of victim Ng enjoyed — someone no one would miss, or so he believed. He glanced up and saw the funky woman looking down at him.
Snot was slathered over his lips and his crotch was warm and sickly sticky.
“What’s your name?” May asked sweetly.
Her tone caught Ng by surprise and deep within his heart he felt a twinge of optimism.
“It’s Charles,” he said with a cracked, broken voice and looked back at the wet, grey road surface. He felt relief. A woman won’t hurt me, he thought.
May squeezed her trigger and Ng fell hard to his side from the impact of the nine-millimeter slug to the side of his head. The remains of his brains slopped across the road like wet soil from a tipped plant pot.
One final, barely noticeable twitch of an index finger signaled the end of Charles Ng.
When we approached Albany, Andy asked, “Hey, where are the others?”
I cast a look in my side mirror and shrugged. “Dunno.”
We pulled over and waited and a few minutes later they pulled up beside us. May gave a happy wave and returned a thumbs up to Calder, whose ability to withstand the cold in the back of the truck impressed me.
“Is he going to stay back there?” I asked Andy.
He nodded. “Doesn’t feel the cold,” he said and cranked the tunes back up. He pointed an index finger forward. “Onward hoooo!” he bellowed comically.
It was 10:10 a.m. when we crossed over a badly cluttered I-5 overpass and continued east on Highway 20. As we rolled up into Tombstone Pass, rain turned to snow and our slow going became interminable.
At 2:22 p.m. I steered the Dodge into a metallic chaos afflicted gas station at the outskirts of Bend. Andy and Calder went in search of possible power while Hex and Crest worked at manually obtaining diesel fuel for our trucks.
Andy was dandy. The familiar staccato drone of a generator purred dimly somewhere within the gas station and lights blinked, flickered and snapped to life on the pump.
As I pumped fuel into the Dodge, I became aware of the fact that we were at the junction of Highway 97. Carrie, Stacy and I had passed this way on our way south.
When Andy reappeared, I said, “I was through here a few weeks back. This place seemed to have been pretty badly ransacked.”
“Most places have been or will be,” he said flatly.
May emerged from the station clutching a crossed arms load full of junk food and said, “Grab what you want.” Not satisfied with my delayed response, she tossed several bags of salty snacks in my open window.
I tore open a bag of hickory sticks and paused before pinching some with my fingertips. Hickory sticks were Carrie’s favourite road-trip snacks. I chewed with depressed reason.
Andy filled the passenger seat next to me.
“All right,” he said cheerfully. “Let’s find a place to stay for the night then.”
I reminded him about Bend having been ransacked and he shrugged. “It’s okay,” he said. “We’re good.”
Incredibly, power was still on. A main breaker had gone on the hotel, likely a week or so after the disappearance, but Bend’s power grid was still lit up.
This fact made everyone nervous except Andy, who kept saying, “It’s okay. We’re good.”
While we slept, he paced the exterior pathways of the complex, explored rooms and kept watch. Evil crawled in Bend; Andy could sense it, as he had sensed Ng. He first sensed the criminally insane little prick when he was inside the coffee shop shivering with horror. Sensing evil brought a sensation to Andy that was similar to a young, inexperienced man knowing he is about to get laid.
But evil would not come near the Riverhouse Hotel and Convention Center. Evil pressed its belly down as low as it could when Andy appeared in town and it prayed into an echoless void, hoping the fear that had burst from its collective chest would subside.
Evil whimpered and stirred all night long, while we slept like babies inside a glowing resort. The Deschutes River coursed past and the heavy snow that began to fall around midnight disappeared in its frigid blackness; but lined its banks and everywhere else.
Almost 700 miles due east, Carrie, Stacy and Kenneth were bedding down after a simple day spent napping, talking and eating.
Ian Cobb/e-KNOWTags: 11:11Ian Cobb
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