by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson
Part 1 appeared in issue 93.
The road wasn’t paved, but it was reasonably straight. Only a dozen or so bends and curves. It led into the woods for just over thirty kilometers before it brought him to a small town, filled with large stately houses. Kinda like a suburb in the middle of the woods. There were some people around, and they watched him as he rolled in.
Not knowing where he was, he decided to ask. He stopped the car close to a man walking by, and asked him where he was.
“The town doesn’t have a name.” the man said, but asked who he was. Ed told the man he was just a tourist passing by, on his way to Alaska.
“You have a long trip ahead of you.” the man said, and added in a friendly tone: “since this place here is probably the last you’ll see of civilisation for the next week or so, apart from gas stations, why don’t you come and have dinner with us?”
Ed couldn’t say no to such a friendly offer. It would have been downright rude of him. So he went home with the guy, met his wife, his children, and a couple of his friends over dinner. They talked about trivial things, Ed’s bogus trip to Alaska, the over-surveillance in the cities, and bears. Canada is full of them, you know. That is what they said. Ed couldn’t tell. He had not seen one yet. But the guys were convinced that the whole country was swarming with them critters.
“Don’t go wandering into the woods, or they’ll eat ya!” they said.
The food was good. Pork-steak. Nice and juicy. They served Coke with it. “I thought you rich people only drank wine with food.” commented Ed.
“Nah. Coke is better.” The man said.
After dinner they had brandy and chocolate.
Night crept in, and Ed saw no end to the invitation. There was apparently enough to talk about. Ed was becoming sleepy, and the guys noticed. The host offered him a room for the night, and one of his friends offered to get him a woman to sleep with. Ed gave him a sideways look; he had not expected to find a pimp out here in the woods. But he was drunk by now, and tired, so he said okay. It was easier to accept than to deny. No questions, no arguments.
The host led him to the guest bedroom, and a minute later the woman arrived as promised. She was not much over 20 years of age, and looked shy. But she undressed before him, went into bed, and waited there after him. This was most unusual, Ed thought, but undressed and got in with her. She crept up to him, and kept him from sleeping for over an hour.
In the morning he woke up with her still holding him. Sleeping, but holding on. He got out of bed, and got dressed. There was a special toilet in the guest-bedroom, and a bath and a shower. The whole setup, it occurred to him, was bigger than his apartment back home. He looked out the window. Across the street, well over fifty meters away, was another great big house. Beside it, another. Beyond them were the woods. Some kids were playing in the yard. Boys. When Ed came to think about it, there weren’t any girls there. Just grown women. It struck him as a bit unusual, but it could probably be explained away somehow.
When Ed got down from his room, he was treated to a good, wholesome breakfast: steak and eggs. Some orange juice went down well with it. He had never in his life met as hospitable people as lived there. He even got provisions for his journey to Alaska.
Ed drove out of there, and hit the road. He knew he was late for his route, so he tried to contact his brother to have him deliver the cat food for him. The phone didn’t work. It got no signal, which was weird, because it relied on a satellite uplink, and was supposed to work from north pole to south pole, even from under water. And from Poland. There were supposed to be something like three satellites over North America at all times, guaranteeing connection from Newfoundland to Alaska. Ed thought the thing must be broken, and continued on his way.
After he had driven a 100 or so kilometers, the phone rang. It was a telemarketer, selling hot tubs. Ed hung up on him. He parked the car, and phoned his brother. This time it worked. His brother agreed to take on the job this one time, and Ed explained in detail what to do, and where to go. When that was all fixed, he wondered why his phone hadn’t worked back then. There was something rather strange about that little village in the woods, but he couldn’t lay a finger on it. The complimentary woman he got was a bit suspicious. The men hadn’t resembled Eskimos that much.
He decided to contact the government about it. They’d have the info on all real estate in Canada. Knowing his brother would take care of the cat food for the week, he decided to give the Canadian government a visit.
The census department had to have the info he needed. He explained what he wanted, told them straight up where the people he wanted to know about lived, but got a rather strange answer: the place didn’t exist. Ed insisted that he had indeed been there, and pointed to the rough location on his map. His map, of course, showed nothing there. The government agent pointed this out to him. But Ed wouldn’t give in, and pointed to the fact that not all details get printed on the map. It would just be confusing.
In the end he was directed to the people who worked in the field. The people who went to the obscure locations not on maps, to confirm what satellite photos had told.
“Can’t help you there. Everyone that has gone to the location you specify has come back alone, saying there is nothing there but bears.” Said the guy over the field operations.
“What do you mean “alone”?” asked Ed.
“We always send two, as per regulations. But only one ever returns. The story is always the same: the partner went into the woods to have a piss, and was eaten by a bear. The remaining one comes back in a horrible shock, and usually quits within a week. There have been suicides. We understand, it’s always horrible to see your co-worker eaten by a wild animal.”
“Eaten by a bear?” Ed said, disbelievingly.
“Canada is full of bears, you know.”
“But there’s people there, aren’t there?”
“No. Not one.”
“I was just there. There is a small village. Maybe a couple hundred people.”
“There’s nothing there but bears. Believe me.”
Ed gave up on talking to the census agent. He got the name of the last man to go to the area, and visited him.
The man was haggard and unkept, definitely suffering from a particularly bad nervous breakdown. Ed mentioned the village in Canada to him, and got a blank stare in return.
“There’s nothing there but bears.” He said to Ed.
Ed could see he was lying. He flicked his eyebrow when he said it. Ed asked him about his partner.
“I... he... he... was eaten by a bear. The woods are swarming with bears. Everybody knows that.”
“Didn’t see a single one.” Said Ed.
“That’s because they move around in pairs.” Said the man.
Ed rubbed his forehead.
“Why did the bear eat your partner?”
“I don’t know. He thought he was delicious, I guess.” The man avoided eye-contact.
Ed formed his own theories. He asked the man, “Did the people in the village kill your partner?”
“So there is a village?”
“No. There’s nothing there. No mansions, no cat food factory, no nothing. Just bears.”
Ed said goodbye to the man, and left. He did mention a cat food factory. One that wasn’t in Canada, and didn’t exist. Just like the village of mansions wasn’t there. Ed thought about it, and the more he did, the less did he desire to continue his work for the Happy Kitten Cat food company.
Ed had a new theory in his head. But it didn’t fit well enough with the facts. The cat food couldn’t be just census operatives, there just hadn’t been enough of them: just one every three or four years. Ed checked up on all reports of missing persons. It didn’t clear it up any. Only one over the last ten years in that area. Hardly enough for even one week’s worth of cat food. Then again, maybe the secret ingredient wasn’t human, or cat. Maybe it was bear. Or maybe it was just cow, or horse, like all other cat food on the marked, just dropped into the organ grinder whole, explaining the traces of shit in the mix. The village was the mysterious center of evil, not the cat food plant.
Ed went home, returned the car, and waited for Dr. Henderson to appear with explanations to what was wrong with the cat food. He never appeared. A week later, Ed got an envelope in the mail. He opened it, and found therein some test results. Rob had sent them, for sure. Ed tried to call him at work, but was informed he had quit, and moved to some unknown location.
The results were simple, but to the point. Sample: 1 kg cat food. Brand: Happy-Kitten. Maker: Williams Corporation, Canada. Traces of six (6) different individual DNA specimens found in sample. Sample specimens 8% likely of being related.
But they weren’t cats. It was human DNA in there, all female, and according to certain markers on the DNA, not older than 25.
Now Ed knew that the cat food wasn’t so much feline, but female. But what could he do now? He was sure to be tracked down and neutralized. He thought about fighting back. He even went so far as to try to buy a gun. That was little help. There was a three week “cooling off” period before he could get it. And he really needed one right away.
They came to him the very next night. His door was opened silently, and three men slipped in. He was awake when they came, and noticed them. It didn’t matter. A gun would have come in handy. The men were all considerably larger than he. He could do nothing. He tried to scream, but was quickly gagged, and held down by force. He felt a needle in his arm, and... bliss. He’d never before felt so good. Suddenly the three men meant nothing. They could hold him as they bloody well wanted, saw his arms off, shoot him with a harpoon, whatever. He was numb, floating, happy... no... ectatic.
When Ed woke the following morning, he was no longer ectatic. He felt quite horrible. He stumbled out of bed, feeling sick, and went outside. He went to the coffee shop to have coffee and read the papers. He ended up with his head in the toilet, vomiting. It was horrible. And he had felt so wonderful the night before. He was there for hours. Eventually he got himself up, and had a cup of coffee and a sandwich.
The papers were all on this new cat food matter. There was a brand of pet food somewhere, that had as an ingredient some human meat. They swarmed with jokes on the matter. Ed sensed that next month it would all be forgotten. Partially because the product involved only shipped in 750 kilograms every month in a very limited area; partially because nobody was missing. The papers had inquired into the matter, even funeral homes and morgues. Nothing unusual. Ed was himself wondering where the victims came from. The village in the woods? There were no young girls there. Just boys. Maybe that was key to the answer, somehow. According to the papers, birth records showed nothing. They had to be making their own from scratch.
The whole deal was great publicity for the company. The demand increased tenfold. But in the end, no more was produced than usual. The price didn’t even go up. It was like the owner didn’t care wether the company made a profit or not. Nothing made sense.
It was time for Ed to get out of the country, like the good doctor, before somebody had him added to the ingredients list. South America sounded nice. Maybe Colombia. He might get a job as a mercenary. Safer than delivering cat food, he thought. And less bloody confusing!
Copyright © 2004 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson