Guns, dogs and relentless rain.
I woke up after the party in the early afternoon, had a long, hard scrub, and drank a glass of water. Physically, I felt alright. At nineteen, real hangovers have yet to exist. My mental state, however, was another matter. Family members said hello in passing, but, as family’s do, they recognized the sight of a brother who has nothing to say, and were happy for the peace and quiet.
I thought about getting away and remembered my friend, Liam, was out with his sister at his parent’s second home in Bamfield for the weekend. Pounding ocean and horizontal rain; it sounded good to me. I stepped out of the house and into the grey.
Bamfield is a fishing village on the west coast of Vancouver Island, located across the Barkley Sound from Ucluelet. Its place of seclusion means it suffers less tourist traffic than Ucluelet and its better-known sister city, Tofino, which is why I liked it so much more. Sitting alongside the Pacific Ocean, with all the huge evergreens and roaring sea lions, crescent beaches and whipping winds you would hope for from such a place, Bamfield is split by a narrow inlet. This requires a boat to taxi you over to the west side, which makes for almost no vehicles in this part of town, and therefore, a more peaceful existence all round.
There is, however, one particularly hard-hitting reason why this little piece of paradise is so less visited by hordes of littering tourists. The drive in is a 100 kilometres of logging road, complete with all the spitting gravel and banging potholes you might imagine, winding its weary way west through the middle of nowhere. Most folks look at their shiny rentals, think it over, and head up the other side of Barkley Sound, paved and true, day-tripper fun for everyone.
I’ve never been one for day-tripping.
With my car permanently out of commission, and no cash for repairs, I was forced to walk across town to where the logging road begins. Twilight was taking over the sky by the time I got there, and I began to wonder if maybe I hadn’t thought this through all the way. Hand in hand with the end of daylight, a rain began to pour down, like a deluge for Noah, washing away the sinners of the world. It was like a sign, but I refused to turn back. Instead, I put my hands to the sky, soaked it in, and waited for the end to come. It didn’t. Only a vehicle roared past, with an odd look on its driver’s face.
My arms dropped to my side with a spatter. Then the right one cocked its way back up, and its thumb protruded skyward, defiant. Having reached rock-bottom, what other way was there to go but up?
It was nearing eight o’clock, almost three hours later, when a vehicle that didn’t speed up at the sight of my sodden self, finally approached. A tinted-out, rusty-black, total heap of a van, grinded to a shuddering halt in front of me. It looked better suited to have been parked outside an elementary school, with a poorly dressed pedophile crouched in the back. Beard and glasses and all.
Not the ideal ride, but as things were that evening, when the big door on the apocalyptic machine slid open, I readily prepared myself to enter its dark belly. Three hours in the rain can change a man’s priorities considerably; especially when the last dry patch of said man’s underwear has been soaked through for the past two-and-a-half of those hours.
The two figures who smiled through the front window didn’t have the glasses, but they sure knew how to grow a beard to its full potential. Their heads were a mass of hair as well. Strands shot out in all directions, declaring their God-given right to be heard. No pedophiles here, only a thought bearing crazy Vietnam vets crossed my mind.
“Get in,” The bushman in the passenger seat called out. “It’s way too wet out, c’mon.”
“Right,” I said, and stepped up to the open sliding-door. A wiry little pit-bull jumped up to meet me there, lunging for my groin.
Who knew I could leap backwards so far, so promptly?
“Rainbow! No!” the driver snapped. The pit-bull balanced at the vehicle’s threshold. Every morsel of its small, completely-muscled body vibrated with an eager desire to eat my nuts.
“Your dog’s name is Rainbow?” I straightened myself up from the puddle I’d landed in. My palms presented their hope for a truce with the van’s protector. Rain continued to soak me, naked under my clothes.
“Yep,” The guy in the passenger seat said. “Cause she’s always in the best mood after a good rainfall.”
“Right,” I said again. “So just a matter of time then…”
“This is Tree,” The passenger gestured at the driver. “I’m Jeff.”
I stepped timidly towards the black van, for a second time. Rainbow quivered on full alert.
“Aram,” I shook Jeff’s rough hand through the passenger window and gave Tree a wave. “I’m trying to get to Bamfield.”
“Nice night for it,” Jeff made what might have been a smile under his thick beard. “We’re turning off before then, got ourselves a sweet little set-up off the beaten track. But we can take you as far as we’re going.”
The vibrating silhouette of a Rainbow continued to hold me back.
“Oh, never mind her,” Jeff made the grin thing again. “Let her smell you out. She’ll be your friend in no time.”
“Right.” It was becoming my go-to word. I stepped up to the sliding door and gingerly held out my hand to the pit-bull’s nose. Never have my fingers looked so plump and vulnerable.
Rainbow sniffed me tentatively. She gave me a little lick. I waited for the chomping pain. I waited.
It tentatively began to look like I wasn’t going to have to learn to write with my left hand, so I bravely stepped through my fear and heaved myself farther into the van.
Inside the back of the vehicle there weren’t any seats. Just a double-bed built to fit the van, a sink in one corner, and wooden cabinets on every wall. It was a home more than anything. I sat on the edge of the mattress and Rainbow’s surprisingly heavy little body jumped immediately into my damp lap. She smiled a lolling tongue up at me.
“Nice,” I commented to Jeff and Tree in the front. “Very comfortable.”
“Built it myself,” Tree replied, beaming eyes reflected in the rear-view. “All handmade.”
“Great.” I pet Rainbow’s big head and she drooled on me a bit. Steam began to fog the windows. The black beast lurched forward into movement, on down the logging road, further into the night.
Conversation yelled itself across the noisy van and I learned of the two bearded boys’ general outlook on life. Basically, the government was corrupt, corporations were not to be trusted, and paying taxes on land you ‘owned’ was bullshit. With this in mind, they preferred to squat it out.
I agreed with some of their words, but in the reality of the ongoing moment, I felt obliged to nod in agreement to all. It was good to be on my way to Bamfield and close friends.
My uneasiness lessened as my clothes dried and the hot doggy heat surrounded me.
Marijuana smoke filled the interior of the van to calm my heart further.
“For you?” Jeff held up the burnt offering.
With a smile of thanks, I took the joint and swiftly melted into the furniture. Every time I smoked weed these days, I found myself making a deeper peace with the Christian devil of my youth. I hadn’t started shooting up heroin yet, not even the slightest urge, so began to figure that, just maybe, marijuana wasn’t so much deadlier than the Lord’s wine after all. Certainly less death surrounded the former.
My fingers ran absently through Rainbow’s wiry fur, and as the two bushy men talked on, I began to groove to their general all-round ‘screw the world’ point of view. Three joints burned their way into our souls, and by the time the third one was torched I was more than ready to join the front lines in my own heartfelt battle against illegal taxation. To say fuck it, buy a black van, own a scary dog, grow a beard to my knees, and live off wild mushrooms in the forest.
I noticed Jeff had become a giant before realizing he’d just stood up from his seat. I attempted to focus on him from where I sat trapped beneath a Rainbow. A Cheshire style grin took over the entire front-side of my face. I wondered briefly where a face’s backside was.
Jeff nodded, stepped past me, and opened one of the vehicles many cabinets. Turning back to me, all wild hair and spinning eyes, a steel-black, pump-action shotgun screamed at me from its tight grip in the man’s vein-filled hands.
The devil was laughing now.
My grin remained, but I wasn’t disappearing fast enough. I focused on my breathing. I tried to swallow. My throat offered no help as it had obviously opted to try and hide itself in my lungs. I thought about throwing the pit-bull. Instead, using the greatest of efforts, I coaxed some words from my dried-up vocal cords.
“Wow.” I pointed at the gigantic shotgun, not wanting Jeff to think I only meant his belt or something. “Unexpected.”
“I bet.” The bearded man’s left hand clutched the weapon firmly in its grasp. His right hand slid the chamber open. “It’s a Winchester Defender, as in ‘defend your home’.”
Jeff stuck two huge cartridges into the Defender, oblivious to my unrehearsed impersonation of the star in a snuff film. The man with the gun locked it shut and smiled down at my next impression: a turkey at Thanksgiving. He grinned at my expanding pupils. I wondered where to try and hit him with the dog.
“It’s just to be ready, in case we see any deer.” Jeff took the forgotten joint from my loose grip. He patted me on the shoulder like a brother. “Okay?”
I nodded weakly and the bushman made his way back up to the front. Tree and he were laughing loudly a moment later. I couldn’t quite catch what it was about.
We roared on through the ‘nobody can hear you scream’ wilderness. Outside was darkness. Rainbow snored on in my lap, oblivious. My hand began to pet her again.
The high grew less intense, and I was beginning to feel like a survivor, when the van swung off down a side road. I sat bolt upright.
“Where are we? What’s happening?” I stared out into headlights and rain.
Tree brought the vehicle to a stop and leaned around the driver’s seat. He smiled at me through his face-full of beard. A fourth joint’s red ember somehow avoided burning his hair.
“This is our turn. We live down this way.” He gestured vaguely out the windshield.
With some effort I nudged Rainbow from my lap. “All right, guys, cool, thanks for the ride.” I wrenched open the sliding door before Tree could reply.
Jeff twisted around to face me as well. “Where’re you going? It’s still pissing down. You’ll be soaked in no time.”
“Yeah,” I acknowledged. “But if this is as far as you’re going…”
“Never mind that.” Tree looked at me with concern. The gun rested harmlessly against the consul between them. “We’ll wait here with you, till another car comes by.”
I glanced out into the blackness of the stormy night, and felt the wind and rain blowing me back inside. The door slid shut with a bang, and I fell back into the world of my misconceptions, a slightly wiser man.
“Thanks…thanks a lot.” We sealed out the darkness once again, and I joined Tree, Jeff and Rainbow, for another full hour of potent weed and a fully-forgotten conversation. All to the beating of four warm and dry heartbeats.
We waved down the next car that finally came along, and upon it stopping, the lone woman driving readily agreed to take me the rest of the way. She probably thought she was saving my life.
I shook the two radicals’ hands with a genuine grip, and even Rainbow looked a little sad to see me go.
“Fuck the government!” Jeff yelled after me. “Fuck ’em all!”
The black van lit up, and drove away to a place of warmness.
“Who were those guys?” my new ride asked, visibly moved by their send-off.
“Not what you’d think,” I replied. I didn’t bother to explain further, mainly because I couldn’t find the words. Being high again didn’t help.
The woman was a Bamfield local and offered to take me across the inlet in her boat. It meant I didn’t have to call Liam for a pick-up, and got to march into his place unannounced. I always did love making the surprise visits. I like to think my friends appreciated them to.
“I can’t believe you made it out here tonight!” Liam slapped me on the back.
“Yeah, Aram, you crazy nut!” His sister, Synova, gave me a playful punch.
That night, after a few cold beers, mixed with warm friendship, I lay in the spare bedroom and thought of the brief connection I’d experienced on the road. Now I knew what I wanted to do for awhile.
The next day there was a break in the weather and bright sunshine lit up the ocean, beach, and evergreens. I smiled, knowing that somewhere, in direct comparison to the large span of colours arcing its way across the sky, there must be one darn happy little Rainbow.