“Northwest Passage”, by Vancouver writer Barbara Roden, is on my list of Top 10 Best Creepy Stories, Ever. It stays with you.
How then am I so different from the first men through this way?
Like them I left a settled life, I threw it all away
To seek a Northwest Passage at the call of many men
To find there but the road back home again.
– Stan Rogers, ‘Northwest Passage’
They vary in detail, the stories, but the broad outline is the same.
Someone—hiker, hunter, tourist—goes missing, or is reported overdue, and there is an appeal to the public for information; the police become involved, and search and rescue teams, and there are interviews with friends and relatives, and statements by increasingly grim-faced officials, as the days tick by and hope begins to crack and waver and fade, like colour leaching out of a picture left too long in a window. Then there is the official calling off of the search, and gradually the story fades from sight, leaving family and friends with questions, an endless round of what ifs and how coulds and where dids pursuing each other like restless children.
Occasionally there is a coda, weeks or months or years later, when another hiker or hunter or tourist—more skilled, or perhaps more fortunate—stumbles across evidence and carries the news back, prompting a small piece in the ‘In Brief’ section of the Vancouver Sun which is skimmed over by urban readers safe in a place of straight lines and clearly delineated routes. They gaze at the expanse of Stanley Park on their daily commute, and wonder how a person could vanish so easily in a landscape so seemingly benign.
Peggy Malone does not wonder this, nor does she ask herself any questions. She suspects she already knows the answers, and it is safer to keep the questions which prompt them locked away. Sometimes, though, they arise unbidden: when outside her window the breeze rustles the leaves of the maple, the one she asked the Strata Council to cut down, or the wind chimes three doors down are set ringing. Then the questions come back, eagerly, like a dog left on its own too long, and she turns on the television—not the radio, she rarely listens to that now—and turns on the lights and tries, for a time, to forget. …