Caretakers (Tyler Cunningham)

 

 

 

Caretakers

 

Jamie Sheffield

2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Caretakers”

© Jamie Sheffield, 2014

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author /publisher.

 

Published by SmartPig through CreateSpace and Amazon.com KDP.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. While the descriptions are based on real locations in the Adirondack Park, any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

ISBN-13: 978-1492862307

ISBN-10: 1492862304

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to my wife Gail;

her help, support, understanding, patience, and tolerance of my myriad shortcomings makes life, and my writing, possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

 

Prologue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camp Topsail, Upper Saranac Lake, Adirondack Park, New York
— Saturday, August 22, 1958

 

Four minutes before she disappeared forever, Dee Crocker walked into the dark cabin without reaching for the light switch. She still had trouble finding it, having changed cabins only a few nights earlier, and was more focused on getting to the bathroom, which she needed to use; it also had a light switch that was easier to find. Had she turned on the light, she would have been taken that much earlier by the man who had been waiting patiently for her for nearly two hours in the dark; this way she got an extra three minutes.

The man waited until she closed the bathroom door to move; he could use the seam of light coming from under the door to make his way quietly through the cabin. He was cat-quiet, quite a feat considering his size and workboots, but Dee heard or felt or smelt something anyway, in that way that people do when a house they presume to be empty isn’t. Nothing registered on a conscious level, but she suddenly knew that there was somebody on the other side of the door. Perhaps it was a barely creaking board, the tiny cabin shifting minutely on the four concrete piers it rested on as he moved his bulk across the room, or the latent smell of cigarettes on his hands or from
his lungs; he had changed his clothes, but not washed, before coming here tonight.

Dee ran through her options while running water in the sink to cover her delay, finally deciding, long seconds later, to climb out the window and run to her parents’ cabin. She went so far as to slip her low-heeled shoes off, unlatch and open the bathroom window, and pop the screen-frame out and onto the bed of pine needles below, before coming to her senses and declaring herself a silly city mouse, scared of the woods at night. She closed the window, debated getting the screen right away, and then agreed, with herself, that it was only sensible to wait until morning. She scooped up her shoes, walked out into the waiting darkness, and into the strong encircling arms of the man waiting in the dark.

She had distracted herself from what she considered a groundless and silly fear of the dark by recalling drinking beers and flirting down on the dock with her handsome new boyfriend; actually, watching him drink eight beers while she sipped her way slowly through two. She had imagined being swept up in his arms. Instead, she was literally swept up in an even bigger and stronger set of arms. The man wrapped his arms around her, overwhelming her struggles and screams for help with muscled hands across her mouth and around her waist.

The man held her off the ground and whispered in her ear, “All I want is money, but if you make a sound, I’ll have to kill you.” This had seemed ridiculous to the man, but his partner, his mentor, had assured him that a girl from the city would understand and accept a mugging, even in the woods, at least for a minute, which was all the time that it would take. She relaxed a bit, stopping her muffled shouts and ceasing to wriggle in his arms. He walked her, awkwardly, like his attempts at dancing, back into the light from the bathroom door so that he could see better, and relaxed his hold on her slightly, still holding her by the shoulder in an iron grip.

She turned to speak to her attacker, seemed to partially recognize the man, as he spoke her name. Her eyes went wide and then clever and calculating as she started to work things out. The man cut the process short by slamming her head into the solid doorframe of the bathroom, once, twice, three times, until she stopped moving or making noises, and slumped in his arms.

The man swept Dee up, slung her over his left shoulder, listened to her breathing for a minute while he caught his own breath, and then walked out and into the dark chill of the late summer night. He could see lights from the main building, smell wood smoke from the fire pit back by the lean-to at the edge of the woods, and hear splashing and a mix of laughter as people dove or were pushed into the lake. He was surrounded by pockets of summer fun, but was free to escape into the night with his prize, which he did.

Dee Crocker disappeared that night in what would become an overnight sensation in first local, then regional and statewide, and finally, national news: gossip to some, cautionary tale to others, family tragedy to those who knew her. The story faded quickly though, with no ransom demand made or body found. It was widely assumed that she had either run away with a secret lover, drowned in the lake, or been taken and killed by a wandering tramp who had escaped from a lunatic asylum and just happened on the poor girl; unlikely though it seemed, this sort of thing was popular in the fiction of the day, and was accepted as an outside possibility.

 

The truth was much worse than anyone imagined.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I lived a life

in a sunlit world,

a world with sky and light

and doors and people;

all of those things are gone…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stoney Creek Ponds, 7/13/2013, 2:27 a.m.

 

When the sound of a snapping branch and loud chuffing breathing behind and over my left shoulder woke me, I hoped it was a bear. I was gently swinging in the breeze off the northernmost lobe of Stoney Creek Ponds, a fleshy piñata for a bear to bite if it was so inclined. I had heard the bear snuffling around my campsite looking for food the last few nights (
it wouldn’t find anything, I always hung my food and smellies
), and knew that I would not make its top 100 list of favorite foods. Whatever/whoever was blundering through the woods towards me was clumsier than the average bear, so I wasn’t worried … I don’t worry, as such … about the bear so much as other nighttime visitors. I couldn’t easily picture who/what else would come for me in the middle of the night, but it wasn’t likely good news.

“It’s the forest-cop Tyler. He’s come to roust you for squatting, ya homeless fuck!” Barry suggested, with a bite of savage glee in his voice.

Barry’s suggestion was most likely correct, but it was bothersome for a number of reasons nonetheless. I had seen the DEC ranger a few times in the last two weeks, and he had doubtless seen me. They all knew that I tended to overstay the three-day limit in places ... without benefit of the required permit, but they hadn’t seemed worried about it in the past (
I’ve been camping like this for nearly twelve years
). Saranac Lake, the small town in northern New York that I live in, is like a fishbowl ... everyone sees what everyone else is doing. If I got ticketed for squatting/overstaying/permitless-camping, it might draw attention to the fact that I am, in point of fact, homeless (
I have an office, but no home address
). None of this, potentially troublesome as these points were, was as disturbing as the fact that the man who made this suggestion, Barry, was dead … a ghost … and my brain was the house that he haunted.

I had met, and subsequently murdered, Barry ten months ago while investigating the disappearance of my friend Cynthia (
insofar as I’m capable of making and maintaining friendships, she was a friend
). In the days and weeks after the events of that tumultuous time, Barry started to creep back into the world … or at least my perception of the world. I don’t believe in ghosts, and know that Barry isn’t real, that he is a construct my psyche supports for reasons that I don’t yet understand. While he talks and looks like Barry, he thinks and notices things like I do (
which makes sense, since he is an outgrowth of my mind
), so I took his word for it that the person snap-crackling his way through the woods towards me was the forest ranger.

“Over here,” I said in a voice quiet by city/daytime standards, but certainly loud enough to guide the ranger to my hammock/campsite. I provided further assistance by standing up and out of the hammock, and turning on my headlamp. He clicked on a handheld light, and walked the rest of the way over to me.

“Good evening, sir. Everything okay?” he asked.

“It is … or was, until I heard you coming, so I should probably ask you the same question?” I answered.

“Sorry to wake you (
I don’t believe that he was, a friend of mine was similarly rousted by this ranger a few years ago, also in the middle of the night, about some empty beer cans left neatly piled by his fire-pit when he had gone to bed
). I wanted to be certain of the location so that I could find the site tomorrow. Your car’s been parked in the lot across Route 3, by Old Dock Road, for about a week now, and you’re only allowed to camp in one spot for three days.”

“Do you need me to pack up now, or can it wait until morning?” I asked.

“Morning will be fine, but I’m sorry to say that I’ll have to ticket you for the violation.” He didn’t look or sound very sorry about the ticket, but I’m notoriously bad at reading emotions from facial or tonal variations.

I read,
almost literally, everything, and know from Adirondack news sources that there are only a few rangers to cover this part of the Adirondack Park, and that they mostly do backcountry patrol … and mostly during daylight hours; so this visit was unusual, to say the least. I have some difficulty with the concept of grudges (
lacking the emotional software to hold one myself
); but this particular ranger would likely need to have some reason to seek me out in the middle of the night to ticket me for staying too long in this small chunk of wilderness. I was struggling to connect a series of dots that I couldn’t understand or relate to when Barry cut in with the answer.

“This muttonhead must be friends with Mike Todd and, seeing that stupid toaster-car you drive in the same place everyday, he figured out a way to get back at you a bit.” Mike Todd works for the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), which is housed over in Ray
Brook, along with the DEC offices and this ranger (
when he isn’t ticketing people in the middle of the night for camping too long in one spot
). I had recently sent a letter-to-the-editor into the Adirondack Daily Enterprise with some valid, but apparently embarrassing (
and compelling
), reasons why Mike Todd would not be a good candidate for the school-board. (
I don’t care about his candidacy, or the school board, or his indiscretions, but my friend Meg, a counselor in the Saranac Lake Central School District, cared very much, so I had looked into things for her a bit
). Barry had made the logical leap that must have been knocking around in the back of my brain, but I still had trouble with his pseudo-presence … especially since nobody else could see or hear him. It’s not surprising that I hadn’t made the connection instantly, as I was still 43% asleep; what was surprising was that “Barry” had made it (
and a number of other useful ones in the 98 seconds since the snap had awoken us
).

“Okay,” I offered, “then I’ll be going back to bed now,” and I shuffled back towards the trees I’d hung my hammock from.

“Please be sure not to stay in any one place for more than 3 days unless you have a permit, and to get in touch with me or the DEC offices in Raybrook if you have any questions,” the ranger said to my back, and then feet, as I climbed back up and into the Hennessy hammock through its velcroed hatch.

I grunted in the affirmative, and as an afterthought, said, “Please put the ticket in one of my boots, and I’ll make sure to pay it first thing in the morning.”

He started to say something else about the severity of the violation, and monetary penalty attached to the ticket, but I wasn’t interested, and as I do with things that don’t interest me, I shut him out, and focused on getting back to sleep; it took me 71 seconds.

As I was drifting off to sleep, I could hear Barry whispering from underneath my hammock (
living—Barry was a mountain of a man, who moved ponderously and likely couldn’t have fit between the ground and the underside of my hammock, but hallucination—Barry moved without a sound and often appeared in unlikely spots
). “Living in the Tri-Lakes is like livin’ in a small pond, Tyler; if you make waves, you better know that they’ll come back and splash you eventually. There’s no such thing as privacy, and no secrets either. You pissed locals off messing with Mike Todd; his people have been here for almost 100 years. Smart as you are, you still don’t get how this place works. Sleep tight, I’ll keep an eye out for the bear, and make sure the forest-cop doesn’t mess with any of your silly camping crap.”

Dead he might be, but Barry had a point. I had found out at numerous points in my life that my keen intelligence doesn’t help much when it comes to interacting with people. I don’t understand emotions, how they affect the decision-making process in normal humans, and why history and tradition seem to trump logic and fact in people
’s thinking … but it certainly does, and when I make mistakes, it is most often because of these factors. It had happened last year, in my dealings with George and Barry and Justin (
and it nearly resulted in my death
). Now, with Mike Todd, this ranger’s vendetta might possibly endanger my wilderness camping lifestyle. It would continue to prove to be embarrassingly troublesome over the next few weeks in my exploration of Adirondack socio-cultural rules and norms and taboos surrounding summer-people and year-rounders.

With the words of a dead man echoing in my thoughts as I fell asleep, I resolved to try to be more careful/aware/circumspect when dealing with complex (
and sometimes even simple
) human interactions and customs. For someone wired differently than other humans, this sort of minor miss was likely inevitable. My fervent hope is for the more dangerous type of misunderstandings/ underestimations (
like what had occurred last summer
) to become entirely evitable.

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