by Jason S. Ridler
I’m dispensing with formalities because it is my last day. Please, read all of what’s below. Some of it is old hat. But the truth is in the details. I want you to know the truth. To help stem the tide of what you unleashed. I’m reminded of my grandfather’s favourite saying, said every morning before he hunted for Soviet incursions with the Rangers, instant coffee in hand, not a wisp of steam. “Yesterday is ashes; tomorrow wood. Only today the fire shines brightly.” I think he’d have approved of my decision.
This is my final report on the Army of You.
You hadn’t yet been dragged from Winnipeg when I found the first strand. In September, Iqaluit Airport contacted RCMP HQ about disturbing notes in the men’s and women’s bathrooms. There’d been a suicide there the past week, one of a rash so bad it even made the country remember our territory existed. Given the suicide, the security at the airport wasn’t sure if it was vandalism or something more menacing. So I trailed out to the sick yellow eyesore of the tundra, an airport the colour of fresh piss in powder snow.
It was the same note in both rooms. Same old font. Same paper. No fingerprints. I’ve included the text below. The original is still in the evidence locker.
THIS MESSAGE IS FOR YOU
You’re powerless. Paralyzed in word and deed. And the loop in your head informs you with relentless persistence that it will not, cannot, get better. It sings the voice of the oppressor, the pretty face in the spotlight that smiles your damnation.
And it’s right.
Because it led you here, to this time, this moment, this place.
The lost find themselves. So please know, that as of right now you are not alone. Ever.
And you have a choice to make. Either one is right. We will respect both. But know that the choice is there.
In your bag or pocket is a one-way-ticket of pills, razors, or perhaps a single bullet from a gun too easily found. That is choice A.
In your hand is this note. And on it these words. Choice Y. Together they form a message. It is simply this:
Every hero has an origin story.
I know, you’re not a hero.
But you can be.
You can have your own origin story.
In myths and comic books, fate chooses heroes. Spider bites and gamma rays, dead parents, and orphans.
In real life, fate rolls a die. Box cars? Good genes. Rich parents. Milk and honey. Snake eyes? Abuse, poverty, starvation and other bastard ponies of the apocalypse.
You? You’re snake eyes.
But you should know that snake eyes shine.
Because snakes don’t play by the rules.
And it’s time to rig the game. Box cars. Box cars from here to infinity.
You roll them by fighting.
You roll them by living.
You roll them by not letting them win. Not without a hellish showdown where their victory will be meaningless compared to the glory of your defeat.
And know you’re not alone.
Do not let fate write your origin story.
And when you must face the unfaceable, when you fight the insurmountable, and when the final confrontation emerges and the supreme effort is spent, you will have left your mark.
And all the tools you need are with you.
Crush those pills into powder.
Sharpen those razors so fine that you can cut someone without feeling a thing.
Save that bullet for the one who made you buy it.
You are not fate’s whipping child.
You are not alone.
You are multitudes.
We are the Army of You.
Next day, the body of Roc Legasse was found frozen to death—just outside the security camera range of the main office at Chidliak mine, in his Chevy cabin—blue as the sky. Bastard had domestic violence charges going back a decade. I’d been called out once or twice to back up the locals. But his wife, Donnie Okalak, never pressed for legal action. They have a daughter, Terra. A dancer. She’s part of the Artcirq Circus. Joined the day he died. When I talked to her, she had frostbite on her nose. But so did I. And her father was a career drunk, so there was no serious investigation.
I didn’t even think of the Army of You until later, when I was finishing paperwork at the office later that month, when Hughes and Wright were laughing as they headed home.
“ . . . more like the loser patrol.”
“Better name, anyway.”
“What is?” I asked. Then they told me. Another note. The same type. Found at Co-Up Gas Bar on Federal Street. Left on the floor of the bathroom. A known place to huff and shoot. There’d been an OD there a while back. Inuit girl named Nessa Suqi. Eighteen. Went to Inuksuk High. Big girl, close to three hundred pounds. Swallowed enough valium to choke a moose. Hughes and Wright called her Moby Chick.
The Gas Bar was on the way home.
They’d installed a blacklight last year after the last Inuit kid slammed gas into his veins and died on the toilet. I found graffiti. Fresh. Cartoons of Suqi and her husky, Sharkie, high above the dull Sharpie dicks, tits, and bad jokes. It was signed “Army of You.”
I asked the clerk, Old Hanson, if he’d seen anyone.
“Some Eskimo in a hoodie, but that’s what they do. Ask for the key and make a goddamn mess of everything. And yes, I said Eskimo, and you can write me up if you want. I’m a quarter-fucking-Eskimo, and we’ve been here a lot longer than you. And I’d never wear that uniform, you Mountie shit.”
Hanson couldn’t identify him. Just that it was a him. A hoodie-him-Eskimo.
That’s when it got serious. That’s when we took down Charlie Ila.
Charlie was a huffer. Inuit. Flunked out. Vandalism and graffiti. When we’d investigated Suqi’s death, his name came up as a friend. Funny thing, investigating suicides: the dead have more friends than the living. Same with Suqi. Lots of tears from lots of girls, and a few boys. But Charlie said nothing. No tears.
Then “shots fired” at Inuksuk High.
Now it mattered.
Gas station suicides don’t get CTV and Lisa LaFlamme talking. Gunfire at a school? Almost as captivating as American Idol. So you were flown in from Winnipeg and the word Task Force was bandied about. The boss said I was to be your right hand as we organized your “assault on Inuksuk.” Charlie was in the girls’ bathroom, the janitor had said. He had a gun. Two shots had been fired. You wanted to go in hard, and almost had a stroke when I handed you my piece. I didn’t want a fire, or ash. If I failed, we could tear gas the school and make it uninhabitable for a year. I saw you calculate the values in your eyes. Deny an Inuit officer a chance to make peace? Didn’t smell good. And that was enough.
I told Charlie who I was, that I was coming in, that I wanted to talk to him. Nothing. I pressed in the first door, let it close behind me. Told Charlie I was going to open the inner door. Nothing.
The fluorescent lights turned the scene into a macabre still life of slaughter. Two girls, dead and bleeding bright, chest wounds so huge, on the floor, slumped and twisted. Charlie had a torn and stained Oilers shirt that had been a hand-me-down for at least two generations. He had his pistol down. He wouldn’t speak, but his free hand pointed at the bathroom wall.
Black marker over fresh paint. A picture. Of Nessa Suqi, bloated, breaking out of her coffin. R.I.P. FAT FUCK was written in the bubbly scrawl girls use for class notes.
The two girls at Charlie’s feet? Tamar Rich and Dana Opik. They’d cried the most when we had talked about Suqi. Her good friends. One of them held a Sharpie. Charlie gripped the pistol by the barrel and handed it to me.
“We rolled boxcars for Nessa,” he said, as I relieved him.
“Who’s we?” I asked, half-terrified that someone might have hidden in the stalls.
Charlie smiled. Hasn’t said a word since. Just draws on walls, toilet paper, and anything else he gets his hand on. Beautiful stuff. Mostly cartoons about a bear and penguin.
You were interested, Dave. Remember? When the cameras rolled. And the pretty blonde reporter from Montreal with the heart-shaped ass under her parka arrived underdressed for our territory, smiled with glossy lips, and asked you dumb questions? If they’d sent a fat guy, I suspect you wouldn’t have mentioned the bit of strange I’d mentioned in confidence. About the Army of You.
I hope she sucked your balls dry, Dave.
Because here we are. Websites. Copy cats. From Toronto to Tanzania. T-shirts. YouTube vids from bored teenagers across the world. A phenomenon beyond Baffin Island. So the media got the hell out of Dodge. Left Nunavut behind as the funerals grew in our territory. And the truth gets blurred into the other violence of the world. And we’re forgotten. Yesterday’s ashes. No fire burns for them to see. Just some dead-hoodie-Eskimo.
They ignore us again. But I see it.
The suicide rate remained 71/100K into October.
But the victims are older. Moms. Dads. Elders.
No more kids.
No one under thirty. Maybe a handful of teens.
If you were just looking at the suicides, you’d say things had remained the same.
But I know different.
Last Thursday, I was visiting a friend, Marissa, in Apex. She works at Nanook with the elementary kids. Not everyone in Apex likes us. Old hates going back a long time. To see an Inuit in the uniform is a big betrayal, just like Old Hanson said. I’ve lived with that burden for a long time. Part of the job.
Halloween was around the corner, so I went with bags of popcorn and candy that always smell like I’m about to go into a movie. We never had it any other time. The school was filled with ghosts, vampires, axe murderers and laughter. So much laughter. So much joy. Marissa introduced me, and I did the Halloween safety speech that guys like Hughes and Wright won’t touch. They’d rather be at the gym, or the range, or fucking other men’s wives. But I liked the kids. And they seemed to like me as I told them about the buddy system, wearing reflective arm bands, avoiding fruit and veg and anything not from a store. And while looking at that room of giggling monsters, I caught a chill.
They laughed at everything.
Every safety tip.
And then Marissa saw them passing something amongst themselves, from goblin to witch to ghost. She remained stock still, calm and cold, then gave it to me.
“Nick? Where did you get this note?” she asked.
A kid dressed like Spider-Man shrugged his shoulders. “Bathroom.”
The note was of the same paper. Same font.
THIS IS A MESSAGE FOR YOU
I ran, note crushed in my hand, crashed through the double doors, and saw a dark shape crawl through the blinding-white open-window high up the wall. I pulled myself through, shoving myself out. A figure ran south, hard, onto the rough rock of the bay. They were as fast as fire on dry kindling. We ran like hell, straight for the littoral.
“Stop!” I cried, and only when the water lapped their Converse at the edge of the water did they turn. A person in a hoodie. I couldn’t see their face.
“They’re just kids!” I said. “Don’t do this to them!”
The hooded figure’s breath was streaming out of its dark maw. “Read it.” The voice was muffled. Masked. They took more steps into the water. “Read it.”
“Read it!” The school bell shattered our dialogue, and the figure plunged into the dark water. I shoved the note in my jacket pocket, tore off the jacket, and dove in.
Shaking, drying off at the school, I opened the crumpled note from my pocket.
THIS MESSAGE IS FOR YOU
Today is one of change. You wear a costume to feel strong, to be brave, to be more than you are.
Tomorrow, wear that costume on the inside. Be the monster you want to be. And beware those who wear costumes on the outside. Uniforms that tell you what to do. Because those aren’t real heroes. Do not trust them. Trust the monster you were born to be. Let your monster be your guide. When the world scares you, scare it back. When the world hurts you, hurt it back. When it tries to kill you, kill it back.
It’s hard to be a monster.
You feel all alone.
But remember, we are all monsters on the inside. All the lost souls, we sing with one voice.
We are a chorus.
We are monstrous.
We are the Army of You.
All I found was a hoodie.
There was an eerie calm last night. No more Halloween violence. No vandalism. But it’s All Saints’ Day I’m worried about.
So I put in my papers. I’m tired of chasing ghosts. Getting there just in time for a funeral, or the media’s cold glare before it vanishes. Marissa told me they need a new P.E. teacher at Inuksuk. Last one had tried to drink bleach.
I hope I can make a difference. Without a uniform. Because it’s the only true way to stop the Army of You, Dave. Make it unnecessary. That’s what I’ve learned. Prevention, because once the rot starts there is no cure. For me, or you.