Joseph trudged through the dense forest as his stepfather kept up the chatter behind him.
This stupid fishing trip was all his mother's idea.
Joseph had reluctantly agreed, if only to please his mother.
“You know Joseph, I came fishing up here in Elk Falls Park with my old man all the time.” Peter couldn't take the hint.
Joseph Marston had loved his father.
Not this impostor, but his real dad.
A couple of years ago it was just him, Dad and Mum. The perfect family living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. His Dad was a Park Ranger, at Elk Falls.
“Check out that track, Joseph.” Peters' voice interrupted him.
Glancing down he noticed a set of tracks leading off into the wilderness. Possibly a Vancouver Island Wolf, he told himself. His countless camping trips with his dad told him the tracks were a few days old.
“Yep, I bet that bear was here only a few hours ago.”
Joseph didn't correct him.
Here on Vancouver Island, the wildlife was different to that on mainland British Columbia.
Tourists in their thousands visited every year expecting to see towering grizzlies and were always disappointed.
“Yeah, how 'bout that” he muttered.
The last six months, ever since his mum and “Try Hard Peter” got married, saw Joseph subjected to endless hours of torture as his new dad tried to fit in.
His real dad disappeared on a hiking trip about a year ago, or so the papers reported. They had never found his body.
The memories came flooding back and he fought back tears. His dad had been trekking through The Vancouver Island ranges, alone, and was only meant to be gone a few days.
When he didn’t return, Joseph’s mother had phoned around but no one had seen or heard from him. They searched for weeks, but came up empty handed.
Theories flew around, much to Joseph’s disgust.
A wolf had gotten him, was one. Another supposed that he was caught in an avalanche.
The third, and most preposterous, was that he had gotten sick of his life and wanted to live in the wild, full time, away from everything. Maybe he just snapped, people would say.
“How 'bout it sport, let's set up camp right here.” Joseph fought back tears and nodded without looking up.
He hadn't slept well since his mum delivered the dreadful news.
He had been working on a school assignment, calm peaceful, content.
What happened next was like a bolt of lightning in the dead of the night.
His mother had knocked on his door and came straight in.
Unusual, he thought, she usually waits for me to answer.
He looked up and her face said it all. Her mascara had run and she hadn't bothered to wipe it away as she fought back tears.
Her voice trembled.
“It’s your father”. His heart skipped a beat and he dropped his pen, sending it crashing to the floor and he started sweating.
“He's disappeared, somewhere up on the ranges.”
His father, his hero, his idol, was gone.
The loud snapping of twigs brought him back to the present.
He began setting up his new tent Peter had bought him especially for this trip. He looked up and noticed Peter was having trouble with his own tent. Smiling slightly for the first time in ages he wandered over and within minutes had the tent ready.
“Thanks Joe” Peter smiled warmly at his stepson.
A week from now it would be exactly a year since the accident.
An office manager back in Courtenay, Peter couldn't stand things being messy or out of place which got on Joseph's nerves. He couldn't relax around him.
Give him a go, the voice inside his head told him.
“You should treat every day like it's your last; you never know what could happen next.”
Peter sounded like he'd been watching too much Dr Phil.
As he stared into the fire and the night closed around them, he couldn't know how chillingly accurate Peters' advice would turn out to be.