A tale of Tails – Backpacker Blog


A Tale of Tails by Matthew Oliver Yarsley

I heard a story today, a petrifying recount of one man’s dance with death. Not only did this story leave me unsettled, it also reiterated the cunning abilities of the animal kingdom.

The protagonist in this ordeal is Mark Chantaj, a valued member of the Samesun Banff team. Mark is a burly Canadian. He laughs in the face of danger. For years Mark trained in the Canadian Special Forces and has toured Iraq and Afghanistan. Mark’s moniker in the trenches was “Cut-Throat”, a nickname derived from his blood lust. Some of his comrades said they feared Mark more than the Taliban warlords their unit were pursuing.

After his eighth stint in the Middle East, Mark returned to his beloved homeland on hiatus where he questioned his purpose in life. After several months of introspection Mark was a broken man. The years of merciless armed warfare had taken its toll on Mark’s deepest psyche. After dabbling with the darker side of life, falling to rock bottom and feeling the woes of the lows, Mark re-connected with his inner fighter and summoned that killer instinct and decided to turn his life around. He took yoga, enrolled in counselling sessions and fire breathing. His military crew cut grew into dreadlocks and his tattoos were replaced by peace symbols. He read, he wrote, he redefined his mind, body and soul. Finally, Mark was a new man. This is when Mark found The Samesun. It’s when The Samesun found Mark.

Mark’s initial employment was thwart with challenges. Despite his drastic turn around, the military ways still governed a large portion of his Mark’s life. He wasn’t completely familiar with being a civilian and this shone through in his work. He addressed his manager’s (Tricia and Amanda) as “sir”. He would stand at attention during his shifts until he was ‘relieved’. He put guests through boot camp and did regular armed patrols of the corridors. He disciplined guests through midnight snow marathons and grueling physical labor. Mark meant well, but like an unruly puppy, he needed discipline and guidance. After a comprehensive induction into the hostel world, Mark was ready. Everything was going well, until the incident.

The incident occurred last night. Mark was working night shift. He preferred night’s as he complained the daylight and the glare of the snow reminded him of the desert, and subsequently exacerbated his anxiety.

Mark was happily collaging photos of staff when he saw it coming towards the automatic doors. Mark would collage beautiful and intricate mosaics of people’s faces as he claims: “seeing the faces of the people I love has a calmative effect”. The moment he saw the beast, all sense of calm was totally ripped from his soul. He could feel the anxiety rising, like a heated thermometer, growing and growing. He dropped his scissors and glue stick and froze.

There it was. He had heard of these creatures and even as a Canadian Native, had never seen one with his own eyes. It stood on four legs and was covered in a dense, brown hide. It stood as high as three men. Nostrils were flared, sharp ears pricked and eyes wide, bloodshot and menacing. Hot steam vented from its nose. It paced back and forth, but not once did it take its eyes off Mark. The sound of its hooves “claking” on the pave stones were like the horns of an enemy advancement. All of Mark’s hard work in turning his life around was eroded as his subconscious “fight” mode took over. It was Mark and the beast.

Both were engaged in a battle: man versus animal. This aggressive courtship has existed since the dawn of time. Will be man conquer the beast? Or will he succumb to Mother Nature?

Mark was not going to be a victim. He had endured so much in his life and he wasn’t going to be defeated, especially now at the hands of a wild animal.
He re-awoke from his fear-induced trance, brushed his collaging to one side and readied himself for battle. He stood up and stretched out his arms. His muscles were reignited. They twitched and spasmed as his dormant testosterone surged through his veins. He puffed out his chest and engaged his target. His muscle memory was now driving his body.

At this point the beast was attempting to enter the building. As it neared the automatic door sensor, it was momentarily alarmed as the door sprung open. It took two tentative steps back, but this didn’t deter it. Mark gained ground and the pair was face to face. The raw energy of this moment was palpable. Honing his army training skills, Mark quickly raised his arms, appearing bigger then he was and with a quick goose-step started flailing his arms about, aggressively whilst releasing a deep growl. To an untrained eye Mark appeared to be in a crazed frenzy, but to a highly trained army operative Mark was performing a technical hand-to-hand engagement tactic known as “Shooing”. The beast stood steadfast, its eyes like bulbs. Mark moved in still waving his arms and “Shooing”. The beast remained still. Was it challenging Mark’s tactics? Or was it scared? Mark started the second phase of “Shooing”. He started to stomp his feet and bobbed up and down.

His choreography resembled that of an angry goose. The beast now showed signs of fear. It backed up. One step then two. Its gaze was broken. It blinked. Then it looked left, then right. Then in a flash it released an ear piercing bleat then turned and darted off into the night.

When we found Mark he was covered in a cold sweat. He was pale and was muttering something about finishing his collage. Mark was carried to his bed where he rested for several days. The ordeal had taken its toll on him. He was weak and shaken. When management questioned Mark about the incident, he couldn’t remember anything. His mind was blank. Mark’s brain had shut out the experience. It knew Mark would not be able to cope with any more punishment. CCTV footage taken from the lobby was able to explain what Mark couldn’t. Mark was successful in shooing off an inquisitive White Tail Deer.

Mark’s last shift at The Samesun was on Wednesday 29th November 2012. Mark went to Toronto to spend time with his family.


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