|Hometown:||Black Creek, BC, Canada.|
Will Mackenzie is a Canadian bush pilot, and the main protagonist of "The Long Dark".
Flying a routine mail delivery in the Northern wilderness, Will witnesses mysterious lights flaring across the sky. Suddenly, his trusty DeHavilland Beaver loses power and crashes into the dense mountain forest below.
Stranded far from the closest human habitation -- lost, wounded, alone, and with wolves circling -- Mackenzie will have to quickly master basic wilderness survival skills if he's to last long enough to understand what he just witnessed, and how his world has just changed.
Son of a bush pilot, Jack, and logging camp nurse, Marie. Due to his parents’ work, Will enjoyed something of a nomadic upbringing. Will didn’t enter formal school, but his mother was strict about him taking correspondence courses, which Will put just enough effort into to pass and nothing more. Naturally bright but easily bored with book learning, Will preferred the “school of life”, hanging around the camps with much older, rougher adults. He grew up quickly. Not a conventional upbringing, but what his parents lacked in resources they made up for in love and dedication. Will was not spoiled, but never wanted for anything as a child, and grew up feeling close to his parents, and in particular, his mother.
When Will was 23, father Jack had a serious crash which stranded him out in the tundra for days. After a search team failed to locate Jack, it was Will who eventually found his father and managed to bring him back to camp, where Marie tended to his injuries. Grounded, Will’s father was unable to make payments on the hangar space and gear he needed to stay in the air, nevermind getting deeply into debt to buy another plane. Marie’s meager wage as a camp nurse wasn’t enough to keep them going, so losing the plane meant losing the family livelihood. Will had already been working odd jobs around the small towns and nearby camps, but now he’d have to get serious and pick up the slack.
Restlessly bouncing between several jobs, Will eventually got into tree felling and worked the woodlots for good pay. But while this extra money helped keep their heads above water, the Mackenzie family was still struggling, and father Jack’s crash and subsequent long-term (even permanent?) grounding had taken its toll -- Jack turned to drink. Will was 24 and this was the first time he’d sensed trouble between his parents.
Meanwhile, having to step up to help as the primary breadwinner lent Will a more serious and focused air, which caught the attention of a local diner waitress, Anna. Although there was mutual interest, their budding romance was complicated by the fact that Anna had two young kids from a previous relationship. Unconcerned with this fact, Will pursued her despite several run-ins with her ex, a violent alcoholic who would disappear for months on end to work the tarsands in Fort St. John, only to return flush with cash and ready to burn it all on booze, drugs, and strippers. Will took on the role of informal father-figure to Anna’s two girls, even though he was not yet very experienced with life and didn’t have any firsthand experience with children.
After working on the logging crews for five or so years, Will’s father came to him with a proposition. He had found someone who would provide him with use of a plane, which would allow him to get his former remote air transportation business back on track. The family was desperate for money and this could really help solve a lot of their financial woes. But Jack needed a pilot to make the deal work. If Will would agree to learn to fly, Jack would make him a full partner in the business. Will readily agreed, thinking that the money they could save would be just what he and Anna needed to buy a little house on one of the local islands and get out of this rough camp life. After weeks of intense flying lessons Will was ready to enter the family business: Mackenzie & Son Remote Air Transport.
For years, Will dutifully flew the routes and delivered the people or cargo requested of him by his father, but after a while he began to get suspicious. He began to notice small errors in the manifests. Cargo details were incorrect, shipping weights fudged, and often the descriptions of cargo he was expected to deliver didn’t seem to match the cargo itself.
He eventually confronted his father, who angrily denied any wrongdoing, but finally relented and admitted he had arranged for several regular “no questions asked” flights with certain clients. Faced with the realization that he had been smuggling drugs, or guns, or worse, Will faced a tough call: abandon his father and deal with the consequences of crossing paths with these wealthy and potentially dangerous “no questions asked” clients (and also lose out on the healthy revenue stream provided by their transportation company, putting his and Anna’s dreams on the backburner); or, Will could simply ignore what he had discovered and continue making the flights.
In the end, Will chose future prosperity and decided to continue flying, but only if his father would agree to wean the business off these sketchy clients and focus on more legitimate (albeit less lucrative) interactions. He just couldn’t live with the idea that his parents, and the girl he hoped would become his wife someday, or her children, would suffer due to his discomfort with a few forged manifests.
The flights continued for several more months, and despite his misgivings, Will was drawn deeper into his father’s business dealings. At one point, to protest his father’s unwillingness to cut off the illicit flights, he quit flying for a week. When his father came to find him, the elder Mackenzie had been roughed up badly. Apparently the people behind these “no questions asked” flights wouldn’t take no for an answer. Will resumed the flights to help his father, and much to his chagrin he realized that they were now working for organized crime, or worse.
The lies and duplicity started to take their toll on Will. It was one thing to hide the truth about the flights from his mother, who seemed blissfully unaware of the work he was doing on his father’s behalf, but how could he lie to Anna? Mackenzie withdrew from Anna, trying to create some artificial distance between them to protect her from his “dirty” work, and Anna sensed this, fearing the worst. A chill overcame their relationship. Anna started having second thoughts. They were now in their 30s, her kids were growing older, and she was ready to make a change, with or without Will. But Will would not talk to her about what was going on with him, and remained cold and withdrawn. Anna pressed him, eventually imposing an ultimatum -- she would forgive and forget whatever he had done and was hiding from her, provided he would put it all behind him and escape with her. The next day, she would pack up her car, load the kids into the back, and wait for Mackenzie for one hour. If he didn’t show up, she would leave, forever.
Will longed to pursue her but also knew that abandoning his father would likely mean his parents’ death at the hands of violent mobsters. In fact, Anna was better off leaving him behind -- best she not get entangled in Will’s messy life. At least, that’s how Mackenzie justified it in his own mind. The next morning, Mackenzie approached Anna’s small house and from a distance watched her pack the car, load the kids, and check her watch. Mackenzie struggled between his selfish desire to be with her, and his fear that if he joined her, she’d end up in the crosshairs of his messy life. Anna waited until the hour was up, then drove off. Mackenzie felt like his heart had been ripped out of his chest. But he knew this was the best thing for both of them.
For several more years he continued flying the bush plane, transporting cargo and passengers, many legitimate, some not. He remained, relatively speaking, a loner, never really taking up with friends or other women for more than a couple of weeks at a time. None could hold a candle to the fire of his Anna. And so, he flew seemingly endless miles through the deep dark northern wilderness, a faded Polaroid showing Anna and the two girls taped to his plane’s dashboard.
And it just so happens that his thoughts were with Anna -- not an uncommon thing, really -- considering for the millionth time that it was finally time to put the past behind him and pursue her, to look her up and try to right a wrong, the moment he flew through the mountainous valleys of the remote Sitka Islands. Suddenly his instrument panel went dark and he lost power. Mackenzie’s DeHavilland Beaver, plummeting without grace, went into a nose-dive while he experienced the proverbial “life flashing before your eyes” moment. The last thing Will saw through the cockpit window, before the plane impacted with a dense stand of fir trees, was the bright flare of an aurora borealis, unusually vivid for this time of year.
The plane crash was a blur, but Will awoke hanging out the plane’s window with the aircraft suspended in the dense trees, about 30 feet off the ground. With his seatbelt and harness holding him in place as small fires burned at the foot of the trees around him, Mackenzie began to lose consciousness, but not before seeing a pair of wolves staring up at him from the forest below. He had only a moment to reflect on the irony of the crash, finding himself in the same predicament that grounded his father and set Will on this path so many years ago. The last thing he saw before slipping into unconsciousness was the bright flare of an aurora, undulating in the sky above him. And the wolves, coming closer.
Background and skills