Josh didn’t like going to the farm. For him, everything about the farm was creepy. Doilies and dolls haunted every desk, bureau and armoire, and every wall had a picture of Jesus spiked to a cross, bloody ribs and looking mildly Ukrainian. The dolls, garmented in white beaded shirts and red embroidered dresses, had cyan eyes that followed him as he walked around the room, their gnarled fingers grasping the air like they were protruding from quicksand. His uncles drank heavily and wobbled around the farmhouse, their mouths devoid of front teeth, flaunting vampire grins. His aunts, all five-feet tall with sturdy builds, lunged at him and left blood red lip smacks across his mouth. This was not a place for city kids.
The Ukrainian farm peaked in the 1970s when family members moved off and financial comfort meant there was much more time for leisure. Josh, aged 14, his 12 year old sister Sarah, Dad Ivan and Mom Kerri drove to Brooksby every few weeks in the summer and once or twice in the winter. Ivan wanted the kids close to their roots, but he knew the family farm was suffering from a long, slow, terminal illness, the blight of mechanization. Ivan loved his Mom, whom everyone called Baba. At 82, she lived her entire life on the same plot of land. Ivan felt she deserved some luxuries so he brought her things from Saskatoon: a vacuum, an iron and a food processor, which she never used, but displayed proudly like a porcelain figurine. Ivan felt the 1980 Celebrate Saskatchewan summer festival provided an opportunity for the family to get together, so like many Fridays before, they loaded the Cutlass Supreme and set out for Brooksby.
For Josh and Sarah the drive was torture: two hours in summer and as many as five death-defying blizzard hours in mid-winter. It felt like they were being sucked into a black hole, with Ivan hunched over the steering wheel madly wiping the windshield, while lazer beams of white snow shot into the headlights like a firefight from Star Wars. Every few minutes, Kerri would implore him to slow down and remind him they should have stayed home. Josh and Sarah memorized all the details of the towns along the way to Brooksby: Aberdeen, Alvena, the onion-domed church in Smutz, Birch Hills, Kinistino, Beatty, Melfort and finally, at the mouth of the gravel road to Brooksby, Star City–population 500. There was one other town along the way: Wakaw, famous for lakes and camping. The sign made it look like paradise and in Saskatchewan it was the closest thing to Waikiki.
The one thing Josh liked about the farm was freedom, especially having grown up in the confines of Saskatoon’s largest suburb, Utopia. As soon as they arrived, Josh ran off with the other boys to plot world domination and gossip about the adults. The conversation usually turned to Uncle George, the hard-boozing farmer from the town of Dirty River. Uncle George was always red-faced and had wisps of white hair that stood up like antennae. He reeked of alcohol, farm grease and purple gas. Sometimes he would slip drinks to his young nephews.
“Here ya’ go, boys, now run off and join the circus.” he would say, his upper lip dangling limply without the support of teeth.
Aunt Gertie, George’s wife, died two years earlier in a freak farming accident. Josh remembered vividly the day Uncle George called his dad, heavily inebriated, looking for Gertie, his mood pulsating between remorse and rage.
“George… George… look, I’m sure she’s fine. No, George, you know she’s done this before. I know, I know. Did you call her sisters? George what happened? What did you do this time, George? Calm down George. Look. Come on George you don’t mean that. George call back when you’re sober. Yeah, I know. It sounds like you’ve had more than one beer. Good bye George.”
Aunt Gertie was found six days later buried in a grain silo, asphyxiated by wheat kernels, her face frozen in terror, taking a final futile breath: a terrible way to die. Nobody questioned why she had climbed in there and while the family rarely talked about it, Josh knew his Dad was suspicious. Accidents on the farm were commonplace, but some smelled of more sinister intentions. Suicides were common too, but they were also made to look like accidents, otherwise the body was relegated to an unmarked grave outside the cemetery; “suicide” could never be etched on a headstone. After Gertie’s death, George’s drinking got heavier and his behaviour more erratic.
George and Gertie’s son, Kevin, was the typical farm kid; he had perpetually dirty hands and fingers as thick as hot dog wieners. He was moody and always wore black dungarees attached by large cream coloured diaper pins. He had a bronze arm tan that stopped mid-bicep then transitioned suddenly to a bleach bottle white torso. George cut Kevin’s hair in a ruler straight bang that encircled his entire head. He was the oldest of the cousins at 18 and generally kept to himself, but Kevin also possessed a strange talent; he could vanish then reappear, unexpectedly, in the oddest places, like a wraith. Perhaps Kevin developed this camouflage to avoid his dad, whose persistent anger towards him was palpable and unnerving.
“Kevin, git yer’ lazy ass over here right now!” he bellowed, usually followed by a veiled threat, “Unless you wanna visit yer’ mother.”
On Saturday, Celebrate Saskatchewan started with a carnival in Star City then, after a long afternoon in the beer gardens, finished back on the farm with drinks, food and raucous games of kaiser. Sarah, Josh and their cousins ran off to play in all manner of dangerous situations, climbing on tractors and combines, riding the lawn mower, and playing lawn darts with an elevated level of risk. They would make a circle around Kevin who would pitch one dart into the air while everyone scattered to avoid being impaled by the four-inch spike. Kevin would laugh like a hyena and attempt to catch the dart on its way to the ground. He would pick it up, make a crooked death mask, and pretend a lawn dart was protruding from his skull.
The party in the house continued unabated while some of the younger cousins went to sleep in the summer kitchen. Josh was still prowling for mischief so he went for a walk around the yard. Behind the chicken coop he found Kevin, smoking, having stolen three cigarettes from his dad’s pack of Rothmans Blue. Josh scurried over, thrilled at the idea of a secret smoke. Kevin saw him, crinkled his face, then stared down at the ribbon of smoke streaming from his hand.
“Hey Kevin,” Josh asked. “Can I have one?”
Kevin turned up his head tossing his equator straight bangs.
“Yeah,” he responded snidely, “come over here, but let me tell you a story first.”
Kevin motioned for Josh to lean against the red-sided chicken barn, then started speaking.
“Behind the pig barn over there was once the scene of a terrible crime; a crime so horrible that the adults won’t speak of it today. It was Uncle Metro. He was bludgeoned to death with a birch wood cane, he…”
Josh interrupted suddenly, “That’s not true! Dad said he died of the flu.”
“Your dad’s wrong, Josh, he was murdered!” Kevin said making a stabbing motion.
“He was killed, stabbed through the heart with a sharp stick. Right there, as an 8 year old boy, Uncle Metro was found dead. DEAD! And it wasn’t by accident, it was by the bony hand of the…”
“What’s happening over there? Is Uncle George drinking? Baba is looking for him.”
“Ah crap, it’s Sarah,” Josh cursed. “We’re over here, but keep the noise down.”
Sarah came galloping through the waist high grass, her stuffed rabbit “Peddy” flailing in her left hand.
“What are you doing?”
“Shshshshshshsh… keep it down, we’re smoking and Kevin’s telling me a story.”
“I wanna hear.”
“Okay, okay,” Josh said, “but don’t go crying to Mommy.”
“I won’t,” responded Sarah, scrunching her face and suffocating Peddy against her chest.
Kevin glanced over at Sarah, grunted, then continued.
“As I was saying, Uncle Metro was murdered right there.”
“Murdered?” screeched Sarah, throwing her hands to her mouth and sending Peddy plummeting to the soil.
“Shshshshshshshsh! Shut up Sarah. Please continue Kevin.”
“He was murdered by the “Wakaw Walker.” Now, before you scream again, there’s something you need to know. He only kills children who tell secrets and this is a secret. Uncle Metro told a secret and now he’s buried in Maryvale. You don’t want to join him do you?”
Sarah and Josh shook their heads in unison.
“Good.” Kevin said, taking a long draw on his cigarette before squeezing smoke through his beige teeth. “The rumor is that the Wakaw Walker roams the countryside stabbing little children with his birch wood stick, just like this one here. Don’t touch! It could be his.”
Sarah yanked her arm back as if it had just come in contact with fire.
“The Wakaw Walker was a boy named Danny who came home from fishing to see his trailer on fire. He screamed: ‘Daddy, Daddy, Mommy, Mommy,’ but he heard nothing. ‘Bobby? Sally?’ He called for his brother and sister, but again it was only the fizzing and popping sounds of fire. A feeling of deep dread came over him but suddenly he felt a strong urge to walk into the fire. Are you following?”
Josh’s lower jaw was hanging open like a humpback whale feeding, while Sarah’s hands half covered her ears, Peddy resting like a corpse on her shoulder.
“He picked up a birch wood stick from the front yard and walked into the flames like he was sleepwalking or something. The fire was so thick that he had to use the stick to poke around, then he hit something. It was his Dad, but he was black and crispy like Baba’s over-done chicken. Danny poked him and busted his ribcage like an egg. Guts started oozing out everywhere.”
Sarah pulled her hands back to her mouth but this time Kevin thought she was about to puke, so with a sly grin he continued, staring straight into Sarah’s distressed eyeballs.
“The next body Danny poked was his sister, but she looked worse, like she was wearing a Halloween mask of a skeleton. When he jabbed her, his stick got stuck in her eye socket.”
Sarah inhaled harshly then gagged.
“Whoa!” Josh said.
Kevin took another long satisfying drag on his cigarette then turned to Josh.
“Then he found his younger brother, Bobby, who looked like burnt toast. His black arm crumbled into a cloud of dust when Josh reached down to help him up.”
“He… he… was dead too?” Sarah asked meekly.
“Poof!” Kevin said kicking a mound of soil.
“What happened to his Mom?” Josh gulped.
“Well, this is where things got really bad. Are you ready?”
At this point, Josh was mesmerized by Kevin, his hair that shook like a grass skirt and his cigarette that made an orange comet streak as he swung his hand around in the sullen moonless night.
Sarah’s lower lip started quivering as she crushed Peddy against her face.
“Danny saw his mom come running from the kitchen, her hair and clothes engulfed in flames but still alive, screaming at him!”
“She was alive!” Sarah said, instantly relieved.
“Not for long!” Kevin responded abruptly, “Danny angled his birch wood stick towards her then impaled her through the neck. She fell off the end of his stick like a burning rag, then lay dying in front of him, blood gushing out of the doughnut-sized hole. She gurgled the name ‘Danny’ as he thrust the stick through her chest and into her beating heart. He watched her boiling blood form a fiery puddle on the ground.”
“Eeeeyiw!” Josh said.
Sarah screamed into Peddy then ran away, crying, running through the grass like a spooked gopher.
Josh stood in silence for a minute, trying to understand what he was told. He finally mustered the will to speak.
“So, what happened to Danny? I mean, how did he survive the fire?”
“Oh he didn’t.” Kevin replied, “That’s what makes the Wakaw Walker so dangerous. He was already dead and to this day he still walks around these farms murdering children with his cane because he doesn’t want anyone to know that he killed his Mom. If you ever say anything about this to anyone, he will come for you too and he can’t be stopped.”
Kevin paused to look askance towards the house ablaze with orange light, laughter and Ukrainian patois emanating from inside.
“Who’s there?” Kevin whispered intensely towards the row of grain silos, his eyebrows angling down to form a V above his nose.
“What?” Josh said, rotating his head around like an owl.
“The Wakaw Walker. I thought I just saw him. It’s probably nothing. The wind. You should go.”
Josh, walked away slowly, got to the edge of the chicken coop then started running back towards the house. He stopped next to the outhouse when he heard Sarah vomiting inside.
He looked back and saw Kevin glance down to his pocket then pull out the two remaining cigarettes. He tossed one into his mouth then raked a match across the weathered boards and smiled in silence. Josh’s horror turned to anger. He felt betrayed that Kevin didn’t appreciate giving up one of his cigarettes so he fabricated the entire story to make them go away. He rapped on the outhouse door.
“Sarah,” he cursed. “C’mon we’re going back. He’s a filthy liar.”
Sarah crept out, wiping her mouth with the sleeve on her bunny hug.
“What do you mean?” She asked timidly.
“He only told us that story because he wanted us to leave. There’s no Wakaw Walker and Uncle Metro died when he was a baby, from the flu. He wasn’t murdered.”
Josh turned around and started walking back towards the barn. The night hung like a black curtain behind a bare light bulb dangling over the chicken coop. Kevin stood there, leaning against the barn. He took a long pleasing drag and exhaled a phantasm of white smoke into the darkness. He reached down to the birch wood stick leaning against the barn beside him, swung it up and admired the end he had carved into a sharp point.
Josh stopped walking then looked over at Sarah.
“C’mon Sarah,” he said, “let’s go back to the house.”
Uncle George died in a house fire later that summer. The cause: excessive alcohol consumption while smoking in bed. Kevin’s remains were never found; “Presumed dead” was the official story. Josh never told anyone about the Wakaw Walker, until now.