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  • Writer's pictureJay F. Servedio

The Valley (part 1)

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

I was thirty- five when I finally landed a gig as an agent for the FBI. For those of you that don’t know: that’s pretty damn young and pretty damn uncommon. It’s one thing to be a young guy with a hard to get job… it’s a completely different animal when you bust human trafficking ring in the Adirondacks within your first six months of having said job. The chatter about me inside the Bureau began to ramp up, and people got salty that the new guy was off to a hot start. To appease some senior agents, I was supposed to head to Pittsburgh to investigate a biker gang that was probably moving a few kilos of heroin a month across state borders. The small time nature of the case was supposed to put me in my place, but honestly I was just excited to be doing the thing I’d wanted to do for so long.

I was packing my bags, getting ready to head to Pittsburgh, when my phone started to ring. I grabbed it from beside my suitcase, and saw I was getting a call from my cousin, Lauren. I hadn’t heard from her since she had gone out west for grad school, pretty sure she wanted to make movies or something like that.

She never called, so I assumed something was wrong.

“Hey Laur, everything ok?” She sniffled into the phone before responding.

“N-no Frank. It isn’t.” Lauren started to choke up.

“What’s up kid, talk to me. Something happen at school?” We weren’t that close, but she was my cousin regardless. If there was something she needed help with, I’d do my best to help her.

“No… It’s– it’s Issac.” Her brother. Only a year younger than her, but even as a twenty-three year old I had no doubt he’d still be doing stupid shit and putting himself in harm’s way for no reason. I held my breath waiting to hear the worst. “He’s been missing for three weeks.”

“Shit… I’m sorry to hear that Laur-”

“He went up to Canada to go kayaking and camping with his friends for summer break. Nahanni National Park.”

“Where is that?”

“Northwest Territories I think.”

“Ah.” Being that I wasn’t Copernicus, I had no damn clue where that was. Luckily for me, I did have the internet . “Nohabbi National Park?” I asked again as I fired up my computer

“Na-han-ni. N-A-H-A-N-N-I.”

“Found it.” The place looked beautiful, I understood why Issac wanted to head up there. He always loved the outdoors… Then google showed me the nickname for this place.

“Laur, why would he go to a place called The Valley of Headless men?” The minute the words left my mouth, I knew I shouldn’t have even asked.

“The WHAT?” Oh Jesus, I thought to myself. “Do… do you think he got his head cut off?!?!”

“I don’t think anything Lauren. We don’t know anything yet. Did you contact the Mounted police up there, or like, the cops in general?”

“Yeah, apparently they had a search party for him and his six friends, but they haven’t seen a single trace of them up there.” That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. No trace could mean he met some Canadian broad up there and decided to leave the family behind. His parents were always of the batshit crazy variety… but he wouldn’t just leave Lauren behind. They were too damn close for that to happen. “Frankie, mom says you work for the FBI now. She said you solved a really big case a few weeks back or something.”

“Yeah I do… I mean I could ask around to see if anyone has any connections that would be able to get me in touch with–”

“Would you be able to go look for him?” I sighed because I couldn’t find the courage to say no.

“Lauren… I just got assigned to a case in Pittsburgh–”

“Frankie please, I’m begging you. He’s my best friend, he’s your cousin for God's Sake!”

“I can’t just drop everything and head to Bum-Fuckin’-British-Columbia on a whim!” That’s when she really broke down. I could practically hear the tears rolling down her face through the phone, even over her wails and whimpers.

“Please… Frankie– he’s the only brother I’m ever gonna have.” I sighed once more.

My bosses were surprisingly ok with my “sabbatical.” Chuck, the director of my field office, was the kind of guy who believed “ there was nothing more important than spending time with family (or, looking for them, in my case). I continued packing my bags as I threw on some podcast about the history of the area.

Apparently, it only had about a thousand annual visitors every year. Partially due to its nickname, partially due to its colorful history of disappearances, possible murders, corpse mutilations, etc. Mainly, and most practically, the reason for so few visitors was because the only ways to actually enter the park was by kayak/boat, helicopter, or grueling hike. I found some other wild stuff too about the valley being occupied by the Nahanni people for centuries, until they all mysteriously disappeared. All these haunting facts confirmed my suspicion: my adrenaline junkie cousin was a moron for even considering camping in this place… and yet there I was, preparing myself to embark on the same stupid ass suicide trip he headed out on. Issac went with a pretty large group, four other folks is what Lauren said. He had the right idea there. I sure as shit wasn’t trying to go alone myself. Trouble is, I didn’t know anyone I hated enough to bring into harm's way like this… so I had to settle for a few people I liked. Three of my best friends from high school, who not only had an affinity for camping in the Commonwealth, but for hunting too.

Cooper said yes before I was even able to tell him the stakes. Jimmy was a bit of a tougher sell, being that he was the only one of us with a missus and kids at home, but his brother, Ethan, was able to convince him to come along for the trip. I told them I’d need them to bring guns, camping gear, and about a week and a half of their time.

The trip to get there wasn’t going to be an easy one: thankfully, I’d done my nation “a great service” a few weeks ago, and the offers for “anything I need” were still hot out of the oven. Chuck secured my friends and I a private plane that was able to take us to the Yellowknife Airport, the only one in the Northwestern Territories. From there, boat planes would fly us, with our gear, into the park and drop us at the last place Lauren had said she heard about from Issac: the Northern Point of the South Nahanni River. The river itself is over 500 miles long but the section we needed to navigate was 150 miles and has a stretch of these four, three thousand foot high canyons that we’d have to navigate in order to get to the end of it. We had our guns, supplies, and seven days to find my cousin. Planes would be waiting at the end of the river to fly us out, and we weren’t there by five o’clock PM on the seventh day, we’d have to find another way out of the wilderness. Chuck had set us up for success as much as he could. I owed him big time for that.

But Brett, One of the pilots from the Park’s Commission that he’d called for all these favors, had some words for me before we landed in the river:

“I’m just lettin’ya know now son, this place might be pretty, but she’s got’er fangs.”

“Yeah, the internet did a heck of a job of making this place seem freak–”

“The internet don’t know half of what’s lumberin’ around in these woods. The fact that this little mission of yours even got greenlit should be a sign that yer boss don’t care aboot ya as much as ya think he do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, and I don’t mean none disrespect by this, but yer cuzin’s probably BEEN dead. And yew and yer friends’ll be too before ya even reach the base of the river.”

“Why don’t you keep your opinion to yourself, you old fu--?”

“I ain’t wishin’ ya misfortune, buddy, I’m only statin’ what I believe to be the case based on the empirical ’ evidence I’ve compiled over years; watchin’ Head Strong Harry’s come through these woods, thinkin’ they’s a special sonuvabitch, and they end up being another carcass.” I couldn’t even think of a retort because the next thing I knew, he’d landed the damn thing. “Safe travels, son. Try not to die.”

The four of us got out of the two planes, which took to the sky once more after we grabbed our gear. We waded with our belongings to the river bank. Cooper was the first one to reach it. The second he dropped his stuff into the sand, he took a look at his watch.

“It’s only nine, forty-seven,” he said as the rest of us hit the land. He looked to me before he said “What’re you thinking Frank, wanna sit for a second, gain our barings, or blow up the kayaks and hit the road–”

“You mean hit the river,” corrected Ethan. Jimmy was the next one to chime in.

“Don’t you think that should be a group decision?” Cooper rolled his eyes at this.

“Jim, the guy’s kid cousin is fucking missing, we’re gonna need all the daylight we can get, and we have to stay moving–” I interjected before a conflict could arise.

“Jim’s right, Coop. You all are the one’s doing me a favor. Group decision.” Jim smiled at that. He spoke next.

“While we’re blowing the boats up, I can make us some pre heat meals.” Ethan hit his brother on the arm.

“We ate bagels in the plane! How are you as skinny as you are when you eat more than all of us combined!”

“Alright alright! I can wait to eat, let’s hit the river.” I laughed as the brothers squabble came to an end.

We broke out the inflatable kayaks and the pumps that came with them. Took us about ten minutes to get all four assembled. I decided, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to strap on my holster and holster my gun… just in case. Cooper saw it and nodded at me.

“You think we should all be carrying now?”

“I think it's fine if only one of us does. When we get to the next embankment, that's a different story.”

We packed everything back up, got in our boats, and headed southbound the South Nahanni River.


The rapids were strong, but we were able to manage. Took us the entire day to safely navigate our way to the gates of the first canyon. Around eight o’clock that evening, we pulled up to another bank and set up camp. Ethan got to making a fire, Jim got to cooking, and Cooper and I set up our tents. I appreciated the pre-cooked meal, the fireside bullshit session, and the company. The fact that they came along meant a lot to me. Especially because being stranded in the literal middle of this (historically deadly) section of the Canadian wilderness, looking for my cousin who hadn’t been found by the authorities or Search and Rescue rangers, without cell service or any legitimate means of escape… would suck if I had to do it all alone. My friends knew a little bit about the horrors and history of the forest. I thought it would be immoral to have them come into this blind, but I don’t think they did as much research as I did. They didn’t give a shit about the legends of dire wolves, ten-foot-tall axmen, Giant lizards: none of it. I didn’t believe in any of that myself… but I couldn’t help but think about Brett’s warning from earlier that day after we put the fire out, and I laid down to rest in my tent. The forest was exceptionally quiet and it made those thoughts all the louder. Eventually, I convinced myself that I’d have more time to worry in the morning and I managed to get some shut eye.

The next morning, I was the second to rise. I hopped out of my tent to see Cooper, with all of his stuff packed into his bag, and his gun on his hip. He sent a spooked look my way before turning back to the river.

“Hey Coop. How’d you slee-” he cut me off before I could finish my question.

“You hear all that last night?” I paused. He seemed a bit more shaken up than the initial look conveyed.

“Hear what?”

“Something was rumbling around in the woods last night, Frank.” His tone shocked me a bit. I’d never really seen my friend ‘scared’ in the twenty-seven years I’d known him… but the look on his face told me everything I needed to know about how he was feeling.

“What kind of something?”

“I didn’t get a look at it. I thought it was wolves or moose or someshit like that. I grabbed my beretta just to be safe, and the minute I started unzipping my tent, I heard… I don’t know, whatever this thing was, and it was big, sprinting off into the woods. It wasn’t like a deer, you know, It was… like… BIG big.” I tried to hide my fear with a bit of wit.

“You know, you’ve got a way with words, Coop, I think a side hustle as a poet may be a good-”

“Frankie, I wanna strike camp and get the fuck out of here as quickly as possible.” He wasn’t spooked, he was scared. Fear found its way into his face, his voice, his eyes… My friend was scared straight.

“O-ok. Let’s wake up the guys and hit the water again. We’re gonna have to get through First Canyon today, cuz there’s no embankments for us to stop on.”

“That’s fine, let’s just get moving.” We woke up the brothers, and as usual, Jim gave us some lip when we told him to hustle.

“I just don’t see why we need to get a move on so fast?”

“We’re on the clock Jimmy,” Ethan said. “If we wanna find the kid and get out of here, we need to move when they say to move.” I jumped in to add a little emphasis.

“Coop also thinks he heard some wolves last night.” Jim was listening.

“Wolves?”

“Wolves. As in plural.” After that, he ramped up the speed, and found ourselves entering the canyon about fifteen minutes later.

The sights were breathtaking. I mean, the cliffs just shot up and didn’t stop till they hit the sky. Three-thousand feet up looked more like a million. But it was hard to keep our eyes on it all while navigating the rapids. It took us six hours to get through the canyon. We rode down the river for three more hours till we got to a bank just outside of the mouth of Second Canyon. They called that mouth “The Gate.”

It was 6:52pm. It was earlier than our stoppage on the first day, but we’d made a pretty decent headway. Still, no sign of kayaks or human possessions that may have belonged to Issac and his friends. Since we had some sunlight left to work with, I suggested to the boys that we search the woods in the surrounding area. We set up camp quickly, grabbed our guns, and made our way into the forest. Jim had the brilliant idea of making ourselves a little Hansel trail with some of the duct tape we had. Every couple feet or so, we’d wrap a ring of the silver stuff around a tree and keep cruising on. We searched for an hour, finding nothing in the vicinity. We headed back to camp, but when it got back within our view, we were met with a surprise: five more tents were being set up a little down the way from ours. Five college-ish looking folks were doing the set up. Ethan decided to call over to them.

“HEY!” A tall young man with brown hair who was setting up a blue tent waved at us.

“Hi Neighbor!” We made pace and got back to our site. The waver, who’s name was Desmond, as we found out, was kayaking and camping with his college buddies (Kyler, Theo, Xavier, and a guy who goes by “Sauce”) because they wanted to see the vast wilderness and beauty of Canada’s Northwestern Territory.

“You guys are aware of the fact they call the next canyon, ‘The Valley of Headless Men,’ right?” I asked.

“Hell yeah!” said Theo.

“We live for living on the edge, my man!” emphasized Kyler.

“Besides, I doubt it’s really that dangerous.” asked Xavier.

“What brings you guys to Nahanni?” asked Sauce.

“We’re looking for my cousin who’s been missing for three weeks and was last seen here.” There was an understandably awkward silence after I finished my sentence.

“Bro.” said Sauce. “That sucks, bro.”

“Thanks.” Just then, Desmond’s eyes lit up.

“We could help you look for your cousin, my man!” All of the other college fellas affirmed this idea with asynchronous agreements. We decided to let them help, and after sharing some premade’s and stories, the nine of us took to our respective tents and hit the hay. I didn’t sleep as soundly as the night before. Around three o’clock am, I was woken up by a loud splashing noise. I tried not to think about it too much, being that you expect woods to be filled with animals. but when I heard the muffled scream, and the wet smack, I had all the evidence I needed that something was wrong. I grabbed my gun, opened my tent, and rolled out, ready to put holes in whoever or whatever was out there.

But nothing was out there. Nothing seemed wrong either. I walked around camp to make sure nothing was out of order, even looked through the treeline behind us, to no avail. Everything was perfectly fine… save for the missing kayak.

I checked the vicinity once more to make sure I hadn’t over looked it… but my senses hadn’t lied to me. Things were out of order. There was not only a missing kayak, but the zipper of Xavier’s tent was open as well. I made my way over to the structure, just to see if he was still there, but all I found were his belongings. Not a sign of him anywhere. I went back to my tent, and went to sleep.

I was woken up again at 9:07am to the sounds of the other college boys calling Xaviers name. I made my way out of my tent to see, the same thing I’d seen last night. No Kayak. No Xavier. I told the boys what I had heard last night. Jimmy, Coop, and Ethan rose shortly thereafter. It became clear that we wouldn’t just be searching for Issac and his friends anymore. We’d have to add another name to the list.

The Eight remaining of us striked camp and headed into the river. We paddled past the gate, and headed into Second Canyon. As we trekked further and further into the canyon, I remembered something from my research before our trip. There was a bank towards the end of Second canyon that led to the forest. That bank was The Valley of Headless Men. Over the course of centuries, hundreds had been found dead, headless, and mutilated beyond belief. By what, no one knew. The last occurrence of it happening was 1967. I wasn’t the superstitious type, but this whole experience had made me a bit suspicious of the land we were traversing.

The trip was a bit more perilous than the one prior to it. The rapids were rougher than any of the others we’d crossed since our trip began. It took us about seven hours to make it through the stretch. We almost lost Sauce, as well. He capsized as the river bank came into view, and he didn’t come up from under the water for about twenty seconds. When he finally did, his gear had become lost to the river. He was just thankful he didn’t make out with a boulder while the current carried him. Ethan was able to get a hand on Sauce’s kayak as it float by him and Desmond helped Sauce get back to the boat. It was then that I heard Kyler say,

“Bro… There’s kayaks on the bank!” He was right. There were… six. Six kayaks that rest on the bank. A little further down the way, I could make out tents as well.

Five of them.

Theo was the next to chime in.

“I think that orange one is Xavier’s” As we got closer to the shore, couldn’t help but think of Brett again. I was hoping this wouldn’t be a regular thing. It was then that my eyes saw, what looked like… Xavier’s feet. They were poking out from behind the Kayak.

“Holy shit, guys, I think Xavier is over there!” Shouted Jimmy.

“Xavier! Xavier it’s Ky–” Kyler stopped mid sentence. We pulled up to the bank behind him and– “Jesus fucking Christ…” I saw what he saw. There was a puddle of blood around the Kayak. what the hell, I thought to myself. Kyler was the first one out of his boat.

“XAVIER? DUDE?!” He shouted as he ran to the orange kayak resting in still fresh blood. He got to the other side of the boat by the time we all got out of our crafts.

Kyler’s face turned white and he screamed louder than I thought was possible. He vomited right there on the spot.

“He–” He puked once again. “HEAD!” The other seven of us rushed to see what I already knew was behind that kayak.

Xavier’s headless body, laid still in a pond of his own blood. The others began to freak out accordingly. Cooper shot me a silent look, shaking his head.

“WHAT THE FUCK?”

“Who the hell did this?”

“Why would he just leave camp and come here?” The questions just kept coming.

I looked past the corpse of the college student though… and found another one poking out of the first tent down the way.

Oh God.

I sprinted over to the five tents.

The first of the five corpses wasn't only headless. He was charred to a crisp.

The second one was missing its head as well, but sitting by what was once a lit campfire.

It was decayed as all hell.

So was headless corpse three (which was also missing an arm), corpse four (which was missing EVERYTHING from the ribcage up), and corpse five (which was a torso and arms, without a head or legs).

I’d been preparing myself to see stuff like this for my job but… I’d be lying if I said I didn’t piss myself a little. I went through the tents, hoping to find some indication of who these dead folks were and how long they had been there. The wallet I found in the tent of corpse five told me everything I needed to know: I found a University of Oregon student ID with a picture of my cousin Issac on it.

That's when dinner from the night before left my mouth.

I found my cousin.

I couldn’t even sob. I emptied my stomach of whatever else remained in it. I heard the group finally making their way over to Issac and his friend’s final resting place. I heard their footsteps replaced by their horrified screams, but I couldn’t manage to look away from what remained of my cousin’s mutilated corpse. I remembered holding him when he was a new born baby. We weren’t close, but we were family. The reckless kid I watched grow up was now a decomposing torso with a missing arm. The worst part was, I couldn’t even see his face one last time… because I had no clue where it was.

“Frank-” I cut off Coop before he could even ask.

“It’s him.” Ethan put his hand on my shoulder.

“I’m sorry brother, this… this is fucking horrendous.” I finally looked up to Jimmy, who was mortified.

“I… I just don’t understand what the fuck could’ve done all this? WHY someone would’ve done this.” Desmond asked the next question.

“Why would Xavier leave camp man? It just doesn’t make sense? I mean how the hell did he even make the trip over night?”

“I don’t think we're ever gonna get an answer for either of those, Dez” I said. “The only guy who could answer them is missing his Goddamn head.” I was a little harsh, and I forgot I wasn’t the only one mourning until Sauce said,

“How about a little sympathy man, that guy was our friend.” I nodded.

“You’re right kid, I’m… I’m sorry.” Sauce started to choke up.

“I just don’t get how this could happen.” Theo said, before looking at me. “You’re FBI Frank, you gotta have some kinda detective-clue-finding-shit going on in your head!” It took me a second, but I realized there were some questions we should be asking.

“How the hell did Park police not see five corpses on the bank of the river, when they swept the area looking for the boys three weeks ago?!?” It grew silent. I could tell both my friends, and the college kids knew that was a valid concern. Cooper piped up, ending his long bout of silence.

“What if they didn’t sweep this area…”

“Why wouldn’t they?” asked Jimmy. Brett’s warning popped into my head again. I decided to finally share my experience with the crew.

“Brett… the service ranger who flew us in… he uh… he said the woods had like, something in them. Something I think that even the Rangers don’t want to fuck around with.” Kyler butt in.

“What… what kind of something–”

“I… I don’t know to be honest.” I thought long and hard before I decided to share my next thought. “Look, I read a bit up on the place before coming up here, as I assume you guys did too.” My comment was met with blank expressions from the tagalongs. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Theo spoke up.

“I mean, we knew there were no roads to get up here.”

“Then how DID you get up here?” asked Jimmy. Desmond chimed in.

“Xavier’s dad paid for boat planes to drop us down. They have a chauffeur waiting in a hotel to meet us in twelve days.” I could not believe the level of stupidity some people had. The woods are in the middle of nowhere, have a history of deaths and disappearances and IT’S CALLED THE VALLEY OF HEADLESS MEN for fuckssake! How could that not mean anything to ANYBODY?! I managed to keep my anger on the inside by walking away from the camp for a moment.

I walked over to the headless body of Xavier who was still… in a puddle of his own blood.

Wet blood.

Not dried.

Wet.

Oh no, I thought to myself. Yes, my cousin and his friends had been dead for some time now. The decay showed that. But Xavier…

I touched the gaping and still leaking wound where his head used to be.

Wet and Warm.

Xavier had to have been killed just before we got there.

Which meant– Jesus Christ

“GUYS!” I called over to the other seven. Just as they turned to look at me, I felt the ground begin to shake. “XAVIER JUST GOT MURDERED.” Cooper looked down at the ground. His eyes widened. He looked at the brothers, and pulled them away from the camp, and towards the boats, starting to sprint.

“No Shit!” Screamed Sauce, still standing by the corpses.

“NO YOU FUCKING IDIOT, HE JUST GOT MURDERED! AS IN MAYBE TEN MINUTES AGO!” The rumbling began to get more intense, and the trees behind the other men began to rustle and part. My three friends got to me as the four college boys turned to face the forest.

“What’s that? Asked Sauce.

“GET IN THE BOATS!” screamed Cooper to us. I didn’t want to wait to find out what was heading toward us. Apparently neither did Jimmy and Ethan because they were already ahead of me down the river by the time I started rowing. I turned to see that Desmond, Theo, and Kyler had a similar plan, but Sauce… Sauce kept his eyes glued to the woods.

I began to make out what exactly was coming out of them. It looked like…

A man.

A… ten-foot-tall man. But it wasn’t really a man.

It had a boney frame, skin pale as snow, bloodshot eyes with iris’ blue as the sky, black hair atop its head, a dead expression on its face, no…

No lips. It had no lips.

And mangled, shark-like teeth.

Its body was covered in animal pelts, and in its hand, it wielded what looked like an axe with a blade made out of some kind of black metal.

It lumbered out of the woods, with Sauce staring right up at it. Theo, Desmond, and Kyler stopped in their tracks, before they even got into the water. Cooper and Jimmy paddled still while Ethan and I stopped and watched the unsightly creature look right into Sauce’s eyes. It dropped its axe at its feet.

“RUN AWAY SAUCE–” before Kyler could finish his thought, the thing picked Sauce up by his head with his left hand and pulled his body right off at the neck with its right.

“SAUUUUUUCE!” shrieked Desmond. “NO!” He charged the behemoth with his kayak oar.

I screamed “Don’t do it kid!” but it was too late. The Giant picked its axe back up. Desmond got within five feet of it, but the Giant, with one hand, swung its axe in the air and diagonally cut through the college student’s chest like he was made of cheese cake. The top half of him flopped onto the ground and the bottom half followed suit. Blood and lung and intestine and entrails began to flow out of both halves of the boy at the same speed the river was moving.

“DES!” screamed Kyler. Theo was already in the river, paddling toward me and Ethan, but Kyler dropped to his knees, sobbing. It raised the axe above his head again, and separated Desmond’s head from his top half… then the creature turned its attention to Kyler.

“Jesus–” said Ethan. “Start paddling, Frankie!” Instead of following his orders, I drew my service pistol from my chest holster. Theo paddled past me as I did so. It was wobbly as all hell in that kayak and I didn’t have a good shot but I needed to give Kyler a chance to get away.

“Kyler get in your boat and go!” The kid didn’t move, but the giant started moving toward him. I had to act now.

BAM!

Missed.

“FUCK!” The Giant swung his axe again.

BAM!

I hit it in the shoulder and it dropped its axe, wailing in pain… but Kyler stayed still, frozen in fear.

“RUUUUUN!” Kyler just started shaking and the humanoid beast was able to gain it’s composure. It brought its foot to Kyler’s chest, kicked him back, and stepped on him. I could hear his spine and ribs crack from all the way down stream. He was done for. I holstered my gun and cursed myself before I got back to paddling. I started to row, but as I looked over my shoulder one last time, I saw an image I’d never be able to forget: The giant pulled Kyler’s head right off of his body like he was picking a grape off a vine.


TO BE CONTINUED.


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