Town

Town was quiet at night.

 

Set in the valley between two mountainsides – Whitemelt and Splitcliff – the town of Skm̓xist Pass attracted the winding highway for the town's weighstation between the Sm̓x̌ikn River and the train at Salmon Rail. Formerly a migratory camp then settlement for the mountainside's coal mining, the truck scale had been constructed mid-last century and solidified the town. Without any accessible bodies of water, Skm̓xist Pass kept its local to tourist ratio at a considerable low year round. Ranchland followed the highway out on either side of town and a campground was tucked into the woods a short walk from the first row of houses, but otherwise Skm̓xist Pass was boxed in by sudden elevation and the winding roads that climbed them. Most of the businesses in town were run by committees within the community, or out of the strip mall that had sprung up during the turn of the century boom, the proprietors of which left soon after the mall's completion, and so anyone in town could apply for a shop space as desired.

 

It was the sort of town where folks rode horses down the roads and half of the roads were unpaved, packed earth; dusty and solid in the arid climate. There was more than one coffee shop, but only because one of the three doubled as a book and video library, another was run out of a laneway house. The conventional schools had closed from failing to meet provincial requirements, but Deermouth Elementary and Skm̓xist Secondary continued to operate in name by a score of folks working with the homeschool system.

 

It was a town that had kept itself from drying out. Through community, through communication and support, through gossip, through public notices in windows and on street posts. Skm̓xist Pass was still alive.

 

It was a town that was quiet at night.

 

Street posts were covered in missing pet posters, every other post featured a particular goat amongst the missing cats and runaway dogs.

 

McGinnis was a dairy goat from Phan's Ranch a ten minute drive out of town in the direction of hills and Salmon Rail. Their primary traits were the shaggy, pale coat hanging from a dark undercoat, a propensity for eating walls, and a particularly blank, indifferent stare even in the face of mountain lions or absolutely livid farmhands having found a chewed-through fence. McGinnis' poster said they had been missing for a week on the date of posting, was prone to wandering into people's houses, and would not come when called.

 

It had been two weeks since Phan's son Huy had pasted the posters across town in search of his favourite individual of his least favourite animal on the ranch. Within that time, McGinnis had reportedly been seen walking down the back alley of the strip mall, and eating coffee grinds out of the laneway house Prolatteriat Coffee's compost. These sightings were old.

McGinnis, with their shaggy, pale coat hadn't been seen for some time.

 

With the Spring-turn-Summer, deer peppered the valley and cougars prowled through. Huy resigned to the belief McGinnis had finally been taken by an amber-eyed toothy menace.

 

At Prolatteriat Coffee, someone sung, wailed, and rasped lines over a rapidly strummed guitar. The crowd watching them would leave in a mass talking openly, keys jangling on belt loops, jingle bells hanging from a backpack; warding away mountain predators at a time lit solely by celestial bodies and the lights of houses still awake. The crowd fractured, a group of five walked past the strip mall and along its oddly juxtaposed 'heritage' homes. They froze at the familiar shuffle of bodies moving. They didn't stop talking, rather talked louder. Wudi started hopping up and down, the keys at his hip mimicking the missing drum accompaniment of the night's show.

 

A crash preceded a pail rolling onto the street from behind the longhouse. Wudi bounced twice more before large and tawny, an adult cougar ran from the rear of the longhouse, darting across the street at a gallop. Behind it, with shaggy, pale coat, McGinnis the goat halted its full charge with hooves skittering to a stop on the dirt road. The pail's roll came to a stop in the path of the group. McGinnis slowly raised their horned head, their rectangular pupils set forward where the cougar had continued between houses, paths and streets. They glared after it until it took a hard turn and disappeared out of the edge of town.

 

Wudi had stopped bouncing. No one was talking.

 

They watched as the shaggy, pale goat turned their head and set their eyes on them.

 

Overhead, the moon shone bright and two days shy of full, the peaks of Whitemelt and Splitcliff bore down on the valley a humbling measure of enormity.

 

McGinnis snorted, their breath hot and a cloud in the night air. They tossed their horned head away from the group, pale, shaggy coat following suit, and walked out of view behind the longhouse.

 

Fran scrambled to catch up as the group rushed forward, narrowly avoiding a scrapped knee as she floundered close to the arid dirt road surface. She was caught by Wudi before she could slam headfirst into the group's new fixed position.

 

Together, with Fran's heavy breathing filling the night air, they stared into the empty space behind the longhouse, devoid of McGinnis the goat.

 

The group of five went home, slowly, reluctantly, only becoming loud and lively once again out of a protective measure – now with a nervous edge. Splitting to their respective destinations, they were hesitant to break away, as though the encounter would cease to be real once they separated.

 

Fran stayed awake late into the night, sketching McGinnis between a scribbled detail of the event. There was morning birdsong when she finally settled to sleep.

 

Town was quiet at night.