The Spirit of Michael John

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Pique came out with its annual Halloween stories last week. Here’s my contribution.

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

October 27, 2011

It was cold atop Mt. Currie. Yet there stood Michael John in the middle of October, gazing down on a Pemberton Valley blanketed in strokes of red and yellow.

That he died 40 years prior allowed Michael to survive the climate. He didn’t feel the minus 40 C temperature at the mountain’s summit, but he still felt cold and alone. His new form defied description. He could not be seen. He could neither touch nor smell nor speak in a manner that humans could comprehend.

But still he could sense people, and they could sense him. He could see them, and travel up and down the mountains to observe the affairs of humans at close range. They could feel his presence whenever a draft passed through their front doors, or the poor weather stripping on their windows.

For four decades he watched loved ones grow old, their children graduate from high school. He could fly in and out of people’s houses, sit with them while they were watching television, even float above people’s beds in intimate moments.

He watched helplessly as his wife Gail lived alone in their house on Rancheree Street, keeping the fireplace lit and his seat at the kitchen table clean should he ever return.

He watched her speculate whether he’d simply left her. Was she not intimate enough with him? Not welcoming enough to his friends? Did she tie the knots of marriage so tight that they suffocated him?

None of it was true. She knew he did not simply run away. She knew, as did he, that he was murdered in cold blood, and that because his body was never discovered his spirit couldn’t go to the Creator.

Michael died in 1971, at the age of 25.

He was a fierce, strong-willed man his whole life. As a child he avoided going to residential school when, at seven years old, he struck a Jesuit priest in the face with a rock.

The priest sought the police’s help to find him, but when they arrived he could not be found. For the two weeks they searched, Michael lived in an istken (pit house) near Signal Hill, a place where before recorded time his people fought off the Tsilhqot’in who, coming from agriculturally decrepit lands, would raid other territories just so they could obtain food.

At only seven, Michael fended off a new breed of raider, one who wanted to kill him by stamping out his language, his traditions and his identity.

Eventually priest and police gave up, and before he was even a teenager, Michael got a new name: Eagle, the most powerful and authoritative of mythic creatures.

He grew to be revered in his community, fiercely protective as he was of his language and his heritage. He spoke English only grudgingly, because so many of his people had gone to residential school and taught not to be themselves.

He met Gail at 17. She was then a shy woman of 16, who didn’t talk much but loved to sing her people’s songs. One day at a community gathering he found her sitting alone with a drum, quietly singing to herself, afraid that a people cut off from their heritage would not appreciate her songs.

Michael went to her and asked her to play for him alone. Her voice carried like a wolf’s cry and he told her to never again be ashamed of whom she was. From then on, they were inseparable.

As years went by, two men from out of town began to get comfortable in their community. They would come in a white pickup and park themselves at the local pool hall with a flat of 16 and a carton of cigarettes.

There they met Roland Jim, a short, weak, lonely man who would drink alone in the hall, watching the clock run to midnight before he went home.

The men befriended Roland and so gave themselves a reason to play at the pool hall. There were there visiting their “buddy,” and in the meantime plying women with alcohol and taking them home to bed.

They grew to scare the community. On the way home from the bar they would smash empty bourbon bottles on the road, stumbling out of a smoky haze, then drive home.

One night Freddie and Frank Leo were playing pool when the men arrived. With three beers each down already, the men demanded that they get their time at the table. It was their time, they said, and their table. Freddie ignored them, took his shot, then one of the men broke a pint glass across his head. He and Frank were thrown out.

They were walking home angrily and stopped off at Michael’s house. They told him what happened and Michael was infuriated. Gail tried to stop him from going but his fury overtook his reason.

He stormed into the pool hall and found the men drinking, smoking and laughing. Shouting at them to get out, Roland walked behind him and smashed a pool cue across his back. Then the two men began kicking him around on the ground.

They threw his wounded body in the back of their truck. Writhing in pain, he could not see, for it was dark out and blood blinded his eyes.

What happened then, no one knows. Michael was reported missing. The police investigated and called it a cold case. At a meeting with community leaders the acting sergeant said he was sorry he could not find him… and as he spoke he felt a draft waft in across the back of his heck. The office door was closed and there were no other openings to the outside.

The men returned to the pool hall weeks later as though nothing happened. Roland was no longer there… but Michael was. Though it was mid-summer, they felt cold in the enclosed space, shivering as they downed whiskey to keep themselves warm.

As they left, Michael rode in the back of their truck once more. He followed them home to a trailer park in Pemberton. The breeze they felt in the pool hall followed them each to their beds and no amount of drug nor drink could prevent it.

Michael spent nights in each of their trailers, entering their dreams to remind them of what they’d done.

The men continued to drink, trying hard to suppress the memory. Michael hoped that one would simply come forward and show where his body was buried so that he could pass on to the Creator. They drank and drugged themselves so much that their livers and lungs betrayed them. Michael haunted them to their dying moments and, living alone, he would be the only one visiting them for days before they were found.

The only one left was Roland Jim, and Michael opted not to haunt him, for fear he would do the same as the other men. With Roland gone, there would be no one left to tell the authorities where his body was buried.

Roland continued to live alone, hardly leaving his house, for he never visited the pool hall anymore.

Gail sought him out, trying to discover whether he knew anything of Michael’s disappearance. She knocked at his house, but he never came to the door.

Forty years later, Michael remains missing. Gail still lives alone and Roland will not come to his door. His body has not been discovered and his killers have never been held accountable.

So still, 40 years later, in the summer and the fall, a strange breeze flows through the community.


About jesseferreras

Sea to Sky-based journalist. Snowboarder, cyclist, cinephile, bon vivant.
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