The Surreal Trapdoor: Abandoned Beauty

Real or CGI – who cares?
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Adieu Disney

Abandon writer’s block, all ye who enter here!

I recently joined Pinterest and picked my Fav Five categories.

How could I resist Abandoned Mansions? I love old things. The intrigue of deserted places overwhelms me. What happens to a human structure left to the elements? Who lived here once? What are the stories of the inhabitants, their history? And most of all, why were these places abandoned in the first place?

Here are some of my favs. I wandered through the maze of images for hours: a  Chinese box of websites within websites of lost stories.

 

There are boards devoted to abandoned amusement parks. Even forsaken Disney parks!

Nara-Dreamland Japan
Nara-Dreamland Japan
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Lost library

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghostly libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where books started – full cycle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ghostly piano

 

Derelict church Detroit
Derelict church in Detroit

Pianos only spirits enjoy today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course the ruin-in-progress, the de-urbanizing legend that is Detroit. In the theme of Wasn’t the Future Wonderful, do check out the extraordinary documentary, Detropia.

More soon! 

 

WANDERINGS: Expo 67 Then & Now

Nothing is more absurd than people’s vision of the future – anon

Last winter, on a visit to Montreal, our daughter insisted we visit La Fete des Neiges, which is held in Park Jean Drapeau, the former site of Expo 67. I was overcome by curiosity.  What did the site look like now, nearly 50 years later?

Hey it's the 1960's. Women weren't persons!
Hey it’s the 1960’s. Women weren’t persons!

Expo 67 was a Big Deal to Canada. It marked our 100th birthday. We had to to show the world that Canada was a real country, not just a British Dominion. History affirms we were successful.

I remember only snippets from our family visits to Expo: like the Sputnik chocolate ice cream sundae I enjoyed at the Russian pavilion. And the split-screen films re-introduced by the National Film Board.

Ghostly American Pavilion
Ghostly American Pavilion

Today virtually nothing remains. Nature has taken over. The site is covered by trees and bush. And the Fete des Neiges is sweet, low-key and family-oriented. Furries entertain the kids, people skate and snow tube and we enjoyed mulled wine and maple syrup poured on snow. Post industrialism lives!

Wasn't the future wonderful?
Wasn’t the future wonderful?

Expo 67’s vision of our future seems absurdly rosy – even quaint.  Were we really expected to live in upside down pyramids, geodesic domes and Gaudi-like apartments? My friend Deb and her parents lived a year in the Habitat apartments as a future model family: isn’t that something to tell your kids?expo-canada

 

 

 

 

Wasn’t the future wonderful? It’s as though resources and land were infinite. Mind you, the burden of overpopulation isn’t acknowledged or envisioned even today. 

Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity – Gaudi would have loved it!
Monorail!
Monorail punctures Bucky Ball!

Strange what has survived from Expo 67 and what has not. La Ronde, the amusement park, was considered tres low-brow and tacky. Well, folks, it’s still there and thriving!

And so, I’m happy to say, is my secret favorite, the American Pavilion. 

I loved it! It had the longest escalator in the world at the time: 37 metres straight up. The monorail drove right through it! And I could watch the crop-dusting plane chase Cary Grant in North by Northwest over and over again. What was not to like?

Critics opined though the exhibits were vacuous pop culture. They wanted meaty hi-tech and military muscle.  They considered the dome a flimsy temporary construct of scaffolding and plastic that might not last the exhibition.

Well, they were nearly right. On May 20, 1976, the acrylic plastic sheathing caught fire and the pavilion burned up in 30 minutes. Here’s the video.

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Bucky burns!

The steel lattice survived though. In 1990  Environment Canada created an environmental museum inside it. Today the biosphere showcases climate change, ecotechnologies and sustainable development.  Bio Bucky: Our real future!

 

 

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Restored Bio Bucky!

 

 

 

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Snakes Alive!

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Ice breaking Canada Geese

Spring is sprung in a cold Canadian way. Canada geese tread water and shards of ice at our cottage. Getting ready to breed.

And they aren’t alone…

On my friend, Gail Hamilton’s farm, on a warm sunny day, you will encounter THIS!

snakes
Garter Snake Orgy. Photo by Gail Hamilton.

Buried under the heap of writhing reptiles are some very bothered female garter snakes. ARGH!!

Important to remember though that garter snakes are not venomous and perform a valuable ecological service in keeping down the insect and rodent populations. More of them is a good thing.

Our daughter had a pet garter snake named Slither. Caring for Slither introduced me to Toronto’s strange sub-culture of reptile fanciers. Did you know that they hold fashion shows for iguanas? And that iguanas make intelligent pets? This knowledge inspired me to write my award-winning story, The Lizard, which appeared in Crimespree Magazine, Issue 52 and was reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014.

There’s a darker side to reptile fancy, too, starting with “pinky”, the most delectable food that no snake can resist. And what exactly is pinky? A euphemism for fresh frozen baby mice. (Ee-yuck!) Snake hoarding figures in a story I’m drafting now, working title Snake Oil. Stay tuned!

Excerpt: “Glow Grass”

cover4The smash success of Thirteen, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s first anthology led to our second collection of twisted tales of time and crime, 13 O’clock.  It contains stories by 14 of Canada’s leading crime writers and just received a warm review by Canadian Mystery Reviews critic, Don Graves.

Don singled out my noir suspense story, “Glow Grass”, for special mention! In this excerpt, Paula discovers an unofficial grave site in the woods of her derelict family cottage.  

 

Sark will realize I’m here alone…

            She ran down the eastern side of the cottage away from the drive, her mind working. I’ll head up to the beaver pond while it’s still light, she thought. Wait him out.

            The trail to the beaver pond started behind Dad’s shed. She had no choice now, she had to cross over the horrible spot. A shimmering tongue of glow grass leaked out into the trail as though pointing the way to the pond.

            Fire shovel in hand, she dashed over the sinister spot and plunged down the narrow track into the safety of the trees. The path snaked deeper into the forest, the glow grass dwindling out behind her.

            The beaver pond lay buried in the woods half a kilometer north of the cottage. At one time, homesteaders owned a farm there with an apple orchard – or so Sark had told Dad. But the settlers had departed long ago and over time their log house had crumbled into the forest soil. The orchard had grown wild until beavers dammed the creek that cut through the forest, drowning the apple trees, turning their dead trunks silver.  

           The lost farm made Dad melancholy. It reminded him of time’s passing, he said. But in the beaver pond all she saw was life: frogs, dragon flies, turtles, snails and minnows. Once a pair of Canada geese nested there. Another time she even caught a perch, which Dad cooked for dinner. She’d always meant to find out who owned the land around the beaver pond. All Dad could tell her was that it lay well beyond their property line.

            The trail suddenly veered right not left. She stopped, bewildered, faced with a tangle of brambles and reeds

            The path turns left here, she thought. Dad cut the trail along the left side of the pond so we could walk along its edge to the far end. Too many cedar trees on the right side: Dad never owned the heavy tools he needed to cut through them. I’ve used this trail since I was a kid. It turns left here, not right

            She clutched the fire shovel as though she could beat her memory into submission.

            Oh, God, this divorce is driving me crazy.

            Crazier, wouldn’t you say?

            Go away, Brian.

            She took the path to the right.

            It led into the shadows of the now-towering cedar trees. A short distance along, she spotted a soft green light: glow grass growing into the trail.

            It spilled out from a tiny track that branched away through a clump of alders. Dodging the leafless bushes, she followed it into a small clearing.

            There a stone garden bench rested in a soft carpet of glow grass. Several small stones bordered its circular edge. On closer inspection, the stones proved to be store-bought garden ornaments, inscribed with a single word like “Forever” or “Remember”. Between the stones stood small plaster statues of angels holding soiled plastic flowers or soggy, bedraggled ribbons. One angel held a glass engraving of the poem, Desiderata, the relic cracked and damaged by the weather. Votive candles in red glass holders lay scattered among the stones, most burned down to the end.

          This was a memorial garden. But for whom?

            She sank down on the bench. The tiny monuments were cheap: she’d seen them for sale in dollar stores. None bore a date or name. Perhaps the strange garden was an amateurish, heartfelt tribute to a family pet.

            But what if it wasn’t?

            She shivered. Who built the garden? Why hide it in the woods away from prying eyes? Was it the unknown owner of the beaver pond?

          Over the years, she and Dad had found evidence of strangers round the pond: cigarette butts, fish line and hooks, empty beer cans… Anyone could pass through their cottage property when she and Dad weren’t there.

            The mysterious gardener had taken glow grass from the cottage and replanted it here. That felt like a warning, a challenge even. As if the unknown gardener was telling her: You abandoned the cottage. Now it’s mine to do with as I like.

           The woods were deathly silent. Yet she had an uneasy sense that someone lurked in the shadows. Watching, waiting, matching her breath for breath. She felt in her jacket for her phone and remembered she’d left it in the car.

            She stood up slowly, wielding the puny fire shovel. Saw nothing but lifeless bushes and dark cedar trees.

            Heart pounding, she stumbled back to the main trail. She walked briskly, faster and faster through the waning light until she was running flat out. She didn’t stop until she burst clear of the trees.

            The porch light was on. Under its harsh light, the glow grass had turned a chalky, sepulchral white.

            Sark stood on the front porch, his bulky form blending into the dusk.

To read “Glow Grass” and the other 14 fine stories in this collection, download 13 O’clock from Amazon here.

 

NEWS: Great Review of 13 O’clock and “Glow Grass”

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Many reviewers avoid anthologies. That’s why the Mesdames of Mayhem were blessed indeed when noted Canadian crime fiction reviewer, Don Graves, agreed to take a look at their second anthology, 13 O’clock for Canadian Mystery Reviews.

According to Mr. Graves,  we hit it out of the park!! And I’m especially delighted that my story, “Glow Grass”, was singled out for special mention!

Here’s the full text of the review:

A book of short stories is like a box of chocolates. There are those decadent dark chocolate truffles, those syrupy little beehives with a cheery inside and then…you get the picture.

Short story writing is a style where the author gets about a minute to ‘reel ‘em in and land ‘em’. No time to waste words. The author gets one shot to score. Short story writing can be the Waterloo that some authors fear. Enough.

13 O’Clock is a box full of delights. No assembly line writing here. It is short story writing that delivers. Did I like each story equally? No, but all of them got me in that critical first minute. In a long list of fine, hand-made “chocolates” includes “Perfect Timing” and “The Test of Time” by Melodie Campbell, “Thrice the Brinded Cat” by Joan O’Callaghan, “The Bench Rests” by Rosemary Aubert; this story took me back to those poignant legal series featuring Ellis Portal. Stories by Donna Carrick, Catherine Astolfo and M.H. Callway hit the spot. And I must mention one other. I’m sure you’ve heard the oldie about those can’t do…teach. Well, some say, those who can’t write…edit. But “Mirror, Mirror” by Cheryl Freedman blows that saying out of the water. Here’s one of Canada’s finest editors who can write!

Canadian Mystery Reviews. Don Graves

CYBER CAFE: Meet Kristina Stanley

KS 75 High ResThis week I'm delighted to have fellow adventure author, Kristina Stanley, on Cyber Café. Kristina and I first met at the late great Bloody Words conference just after my debut novel, Windigo Fire, had been accepted by Seraphim Editions.

We bonded right away: both of us were finalists for the Unhanged Arthur and the Debut Dagger awards. And we both love to use challenging outdoor settings in our thrillers.

Kristina has had a smash career since we first met. The first two novels in her Stone Mountain Mystery Series, BLAZE and DESCENT, are bestsellers and the third, AVALANCHE, is soon to be released. And she just sold the print and eBook rights to Lucifer-Verlag in Germany for publication in German later this year!

Emerging writers take note: Kristina generously shares her writing knowledge on her blog. And this spring, Imajin is bringing out her manual on marketing, The Author's Guide to Selling Books to Non-Bookstores. I can't wait to buy it!

Subscribe to Kristina's blog at www.KristinaStanley.com. 

Welcome, Kristina. How did you become a writer?

Before writing my series, I was the director of security, human resources and guest services at a resort in the depths of the British Columbian mountains. The job and lifestyle captured my heart, and I decided to write mysteries about life in an isolated resort. While writing the first four novels, I spent five years living aboard a sailboat in the US and the Bahamas.

Crime Writers of Canada nominated my novel, DESCENT, for the Unhanged Arthur award and The Crime Writers’ Association nominated BLAZE for the Debut Dagger.  My short stories have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and The Voices From the Valleys anthology.

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You blog three times a week and you’ve gained an incredible following. Tell us how you started.

I started my blog in April 2011 at the suggestion of a friend. Since then, it’s come a long way. In the early days, I was informal about what I posted. Now, I’m a little more structured. Mystery Mondays is published every Monday where I host another author. In return for publicizing their book, I ask for a writing or publishing tip for my readers.

Wednesdays, I try to post Write Better Fiction. Here I focus on writing tips. On Fridays, my series is called Farley’s Friday. This is the story of my wheaten terrier told from his point of view. On the other days, I usually post about my writing journey and anything related to publishing.

Currently just under 5000 people are following my blog, and I hope this continues to grow. The top five locations of my followers are USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Germany.

What do you especially love about blogging?

My passion for writing led me to start a blog. I wanted to connect with writers and share the journey with others. The joy of it all is I discovered I truly enjoy online networking. I love to learn from others, I’ve discovered many books to read that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and I do believe the blog helps sell books.

Farley’s Friday is the blog I have most fun writing. Mostly because it’s pure imagination, and it’s interesting to look at life from a dog’s point of view. My personal favourite this year was Farley’s Friday: Top 5 Reasons Dogs Should Be Welcome At Work. (Click the link to read it!)

I have two sets of followers. Those who follow the blog for the writing topics and those who follow for Farley’s Friday. The Farley’s Friday crowd is more interactive with comments. 

My most popular blog though was September 18th, 2012. How To Proofread had 812 hits in one day. I received so many comments that I created a permanent page on my website for readers!

How can we subscribe to your blog?

Readers can subscribe via email on the right side of my website at  www.KristinaStanley.com. From there, they can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or LinkedIn. They can also hit the follow button if they happen to have a blog on wordpress too.

Tell us about your most recent book.

I write murder mysteries with a little romance. I love to explore what would make a sane, typically non-violent person commit murder. I also like to write about remote locations.

BLAZE , my most recent book, was published by Imajin Books in October 2015. It’s the second in the Stone Mountain Mysteries. Instead of exchanging vows, my protagonist, Kalin Thompson, spends her wedding day running from a forest fire near Stone Mountain Resort, and the pregnant friend trapped with her has just gone into labor. Meanwhile, Kalin’s fiancé, Ben Timlin, hangs from the rafters of a burning building, fighting for his life. Can the situation get any hotter?

My favorite review was posted on Writers Who Kill. by E.B Davis who wrote:

What I found, after being hooked by the first sentence, was a primer on how to write a novel. I turned the page to the second chapter and realized Kristina had hooked me right from the start…For all readers, the mystery is satisfying, but for readers who are also writers—this is also a textbook to learn about pacing, character development, and plotting. It’s no wonder that Kristina is a bestselling author.

Read E. B. Davis’s full review of BLAZE here

What is next for your readers?

This spring  Imajin Books is releasing two of my books. The first is AVALANCHE, the third novel in the Stone Mountain Mystery Series. Here’s what happens to our hero, Kalin Thompson: 

On a cold winter morning, deep in the Purcell Mountains, the safe at Stone Mountain Resort is robbed hours before Kalin’s brother, Roy, disappears in an avalanche. 

Under normal circumstances, as the director of security, Kalin would lead the investigation into the theft, but Roy is the prime suspect. The police and the president of the resort tell her to stay clear of the investigation, but she risks her job to clear Roy’s name.

Is her faith in her brother justified? Was the avalanche an accident or did something more sinister happen? Threats against Kalin escalate as she gets closer to the truth. And is the truth worth destroying her life for?

I’m also releasing a guide for authors. The success I had in selling and distributing DESCENT and BLAZE  came came from implementing what I learned by trial-and-error, by talking with other authors and store owners about the process, and from guidance from my publisher. I’ve taken everything I’ve learned and put it into a book.

In THE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO SELLING BOOKS TO NON-BOOKSTORES I explain how an author should plan, prepare and execute getting books into stores and actually making money from it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an Indie author or traditionally published, all that matters is you have a printed edition of your fiction or nonfiction book and you want to get that book out into the world.

Thanks, Kristina. Can’t wait to read your two new books.  And fingers crossed for good news at the Arthur Ellis shortlist event coming up next month!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt – “Amdur’s Cat”

Thirteen

Thirteen is the first anthology of the Mesdames of Mayhem, featuring stories by 13 of Canada’s leading women crime writers. The collection contains one Derringer and two Arthur Ellis finalists.

“Amdur’s Cat” is my comedy thriller based on my working experiences with the government – and on the antics of a notorious Toronto mayor.  Which incidents are true? I’ll never tell! 

Read and enjoy the opening pages!

 

AMDUR’S CAT

On a snowy December night Benjamin Amdur saw a lion. It was gamboling about like a kitten swatting at the fat, wet snowflakes that tumbled through the dark. Right in the centre of Riverdale Park by the children’s wading pool.

 Under the lamps of the park’s snowy pathway, the lion’s tawny fur glowed like the back of an old velvet sofa. For a brief moment – that gap between the surreal world and biting reality – he watched Rousseau’s painted lion come to life.

Then he remembered the sleeping gypsy – the minstrel who was about to eaten.

He grasped the icy black iron fence beside him. The house it surrounded lay dark. At two in the morning, its inhabitants, like most normal people, were in bed. By the time he woke them up screaming for help, the lion would have torn out his throat.

With infinite caution, his eyes on the animal, he edged back into the shadows of Winchester Street, the road he’d weaved down moments before. Behind him, three blocks away, lay Parliament Street with its strip bars, eateries and mini-marts. Surely to God one of those places had to be open!

The lion leapt in the air. It snapped at the snowflakes as they fell. He heard the crunch of its jaws, saw the flash of its teeth. Its tail lashed back and forth.

 Then it paused, raised its huge head and sniffed the air. Its nostrils twitched.

   It saw me!

Amdur turned and ran like a mad man.

Adrenalin buoyed him up for the first few feet but deserted him almost immediately. He was forty-eight and twenty pounds overweight. His regular habit of walking to work did nothing to bolster his panic-stricken need to run. He tore down the slushy sidewalk, his mind fixed on the zebras of the veldt. Zebras who ran far more swiftly than he. Zebras brought down and eviscerated alive…

 By the time he reached the yellow lights of Parliament Street his chest was heaving. He doubled over, gasping for oxygen. If the lion got him now, he was dinner. But he couldn’t take another step.

He looked frantically up and down the street. Every storefront was dark.

No buses, no taxis, no cars.

Then he spotted an angel standing under a streetlight a few yards to the south. Well, not an angel exactly, but a young police officer, her uniform immaculate, the brim of her cap spotless, her leather boots and gun holster gleaming with polish.

He summoned his remaining strength and stumbled over to her. “Oh, thank God…an animal…danger…” He couldn’t stop panting. “Very dangerous. Over by …Riverdale Farm.”

She raised a tidy eyebrow. “Are you quite all right, sir?”

“No…no, I’m not all right.” With the dispassion of his medical training, he estimated his heart to be thumping at 180 beats per minute. His blood pressure didn’t bear thinking about. “You…help…must get help.”

“How much have you had to drink tonight, sir?”

 “Drink?” he echoed.

 “Quite a few, I’d say. Identification, please.”

 “What?” Finally he caught his breath. “Please, you don’t understand. There’s a bloody great animal running around loose. It’ll rip someone apart. We have to stop it.”

 “Your ID. Now!” Her hand moved toward her baton.

Amdur dragged out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license. Her laser stare burned through its laminate cover.

 “Dr. Benjamin Amdur.” She studied his face with more than an element of disbelief. “So you’re a doctor.”

  “Yes, I’m with the Ministry of Health. I’m Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of OHIP.”

That made no impression on her whatsoever. “OHIP?”

   “Your, I mean, our free medicine in Ontario. Look here, we’re wasting time.”

    “How many drinks have you had tonight, sir?”

“What the hell does it matter? I was at a Christmas party, for heaven’s sake. At the National Club.” That lofty name made even less impression on her. “I tell you I know what I saw. There’s a lion on the loose.”

   “Lion! Why didn’t you say so!”

  “I did say so.”

  “Where? Where did you see it?”

  “In Riverdale Park, by the children’s wading pool…the farm.”

She shoved his license in her tunic and tore down Winchester Street, leaving him standing there like an idiot. He chased after her, but she set a blistering pace. He only managed to catch up with her at the edge of the park.

No sign of the lion.

 Amdur squinted through the heavy curtain of falling snow. Where was the beast? Where was it? The grounds of the park stretched out before him, white and featureless under the thick drifts.

To read the rest of the story, download your copy of Thirteen from Amazon.

 

Excerpt – Windigo Fire

12000831_10154197942864018_1649104801334232488_oRead the first chapter of Windigo Fire,  published by Seraphim Editions, September, 2014. Windigo Fire was a finalist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel and under different titles, short-listed for the Unhanged Arthur and the CWA Debut Dagger Awards.

Windigo Fire is available in print through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo and in public libraries. It is available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle.  You may also access it through Kindle Direct’s library program.

 

CHAPTER 1

                   Evil exists and he was no better than the others. He knew that now.

Danny Bluestone twisted the spliff in his nail-bitten fingers, feeling the weed roll under the thin white paper like twigs and pebbles in a stream. Couldn’t bag any decent bud this morning, so he’d settled for homegrown. Go organic. Support local industry. Smoke only nature’s own Red Dog Gold.

 Midnight on Fire Lake, stuck on an island deep in the forests of Northern Ontario. Fifty miles from the nearest town – if you’d call Red Dog Lake a town. The raucous sounds of the hunters funnelled down from the lodge buried in the thick woods behind him. He breathed in deeply, letting the pungent pine sap purge his spirit of their meaty white presence. Clear the landing. Get ready for takeoff. His Zippo lighter rested heavy and cool in his hand.

Under the rising moon, the black silhouettes of the pines fringing the shore were etched as sharply as crystal, and Fire Lake had morphed into a silvery flat expanse. He wet the end of the spliff, straining to hear the eerie banshee call of a loon.

Nothing.

When he was a little kid, and his dad was still alive, they’d flown in here to fish for trout. The birds’ snaky black shapes had been common at twilight when they’d camped on the island, but today he hadn’t seen even one. And no fish in the acid clear waters of the lake.

No animals. No nothing.

“Hey, Danny boy!”

He started, barely rescuing the Zippo from sliding into the dark water at his feet.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Like all day he’d been the invisible man. Now when he needed to be alone, trust them to whine for entertainment with him as the target. He hesitated, thumb on the lighter. Noises travelled in the still night air.

“Where’d he go?”

“Maybe he sprung a leak.”

Drunken titters. What if the smoke of his smouldering joint travelled, too? Would the hunters’ campfire mask it? They were using that stone oven on the veranda, the one that looked like a ripe beer gut. Dangerous, but way out here who was around to see? Sparks poured up in a fountain from the stove’s chimney and drifted over the tops of the trees.

Damn, Danny thought. All along Highway 11, from Temagami on up to Red Dog Lake and Cochrane and beyond, the white forest fire signs were cranked to red on the dial. Extreme hazard. No camping. Especially no fires. The sharp-needled powdery ground under his bare feet was so dry that it crackled.

“Hey, where is the little jerk?”

That was Ricky, the American with the shaved head, the one who claimed to be some old rock star. His voice had a dark edge, matched by a flicker of something Danny had spotted in his small blue eyes this morning when they’d hit the island. Like he knew the joke and you didn’t, and the punch line wasn’t going to be pretty.

“Maybe hunting guides in Canada don’t like getting paid.”

“Sure they do.” That was the flustered, placating voice of the older guy, Morty Gross, who had some political job down south in Toronto. “Danny’s off being a native, some spiritual thing. Like I promised you. Authenticity.”

“Sure you did, and a load of other bull.” Ricky sounded closer.

Danny scrambled up and jumped lightly onto the rock face behind him. The heat of the August afternoon lingered in the ice-smoothed stone. He crept up its clean bare surface, climbing till he reached the thicket of blueberry bushes he’d scouted out earlier. From here, he could spot them easily enough, and they’d never see him.

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.” Ricky emerged from the trail, a bulky dark outline against the shimmering water. “Maybe he’s watching us. He conned you, Morty.”

“You wanted a native guide, I got you one. He came highly recommended.”

“By you, no less. Turn around, I got some business here.”

Danny heard the rasp of Ricky’s zipper. Oh man, he thought, I have to drink out of that lake. All day long Ricky had been watering the blueberry bushes like a dog making his mark. Like toilets were for weaklings.

“Tell me you enjoyed the show,” Morty said.

“Uh-huh.”

“Look, I got us something to celebrate. Two words. Single malt. The best, used to be flown in special to the lodge, OK?”

“So don’t disappoint me.”

Morty coughed out a laugh, like he still had control of the party, and vanished back down the trail. Ricky sat down on a boulder by the shoreline, merging into the night.

I hate this job, Danny thought. Forget the money. Working at the stupid children’s camp wasn’t so bad compared to this. I want my old job back. Even though I’ll have to beg for it.

He glanced down at Ricky and tucked the joint and lighter into his shirt pocket. He loved the crisp crackle when a spliff first caught fire. He could almost feel the acrid burn of its pungent smoke, resin and tar coating his lungs, almost see its end blossoming, shedding sparks into the night.

He pulled a plastic baggie from his jeans. The mushrooms were shrivelled ugly things, like shreds of dark flesh, but they were quiet and didn’t cast an odour. Doing ’shrooms wasn’t smart since he ought to stay alert, but …

He ate his usual number.

Then one more.

An ice-age boulder had carved a natural hollow into the granite beneath him. He settled his back into it and waited. He’d be safe enough up here. Unlikely to roll down into the water or anything.

“See? Here we go.” Morty was back.

“So give the nice bottle to daddy,” Ricky said, reaching out a heavy arm.

This is what I get for studying English Literature, Danny thought. Government gave me free tuition for a useless degree, a one-way ticket to that crumby counsellor’s job at the kids’ camp. Take it or go back on pogey like every other Indian round here. Some choice. He breathed quietly, waiting for Huxley’s doors of perception to open.

He could never tell when he’d crossed the threshold. Back in college, he’d be wide awake, thinking he’d been sold Campbell’s mushroom soup, then he’d meet one of Hunter S. Thompson’s lizards on the Toronto subway, sitting there in plain view, reading the paper or something.

Even this long after sunset, the day’s heat seeped from the smooth stone into his back. That’s what they used to heat their houses in Scotland, wasn’t it? Rocks. Once upon a time, he’d wanted to study at the University of Edinburgh, to visit the Isle of Mull to see if he could spot ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Stupid, right?

“This isn’t single malt, you liar,” Ricky said below him.

“It’s rye to tide us over.” Morty sounded desperate to turn the insult into a joke. “Our friend Anderson, the Norwegian, is looking through our supplies. It’s here, I swear. Where could it go? There’s no way off this island.”

“Maybe it’s taken a walk with your guide.” The beach pebbles screeched under Ricky’s feet as he stood up. “Where’s your Aussie pal, Hendrix? I’m thinking it’s time for me to get in some crossbow practice.”

“Ricky, for heaven’s sake …”

Fear erupted through Danny’s chest, but he was falling into the soft fist of rock, tumbling, plunging into the clear lake water. It parted in fronds like syrup, till he stared into the droopy grey face of Old Devil, the trout monster of Fire Lake. Oh God, I’m drowning, he thought. Breathing water without knowing it. Or was he? Huxley’s one-way door had closed and he was lost in the funhouse of perception.

From afar, Morty’s voice: “Here comes Anderson. He found it, so make nice.”

“Yeah, right, after he helped himself.”

“See for yourself. The seal …”

The seal … Danny gazed up at its vaporous grey form in the clouds. The hard ground left his back, and he was lifting off, soaring on an iridescent dragonfly that droned through the air. Fire Lake fell away like a sheet of dark metal and they shot past acres and acres of green forest, wilderness as far as the eye could see.

No light penetrated through the trees. Their branches arched over him, forming a dark cave. Something stirred, a matted black bearskin that rose from the ground and took form. No flesh, no bones. Only darkness behind its eye holes. He pressed his face close to the black snout – still moist – and asked it what it wanted.

Are you a spirit?

Black ooze crept from the eyes. The white teeth parted and the stench of decay rolled over him.

I’m sorry, Pasha. I’m so sorry.

He buried his face in his hands, but tears were useless. Nothing would make it better. Ever.

Shivering and wet with dew, he sat up. His back and muscles ached from the cold rock that had drained the warmth right out of him. A thick blanket of white mist lay over the water, obscuring the dawn, drawing colour out of the world. Was he still ripped? He rubbed his face, shook his long hair. Standing up shakily, he felt a surge of telltale nausea, the flu-like fatigue that would dog him for three days.

The ’shrooms must be done. Must be morning.

He stumbled down to the slate-grey shards of the beach where he’d been sitting last night. A flash of gold. Something was floating in the water, bobbing gently with the wavelets slapping the stones.

He blinked. What was it? A dead fish? Without thinking, he waded into the lake to get a closer look.

A white arm stretched out through the clear water, fine blond hairs waving like seaweed, fingers spread like a starfish above a gold-linked bracelet.

Oh, hell, Danny thought. His throat was parched but his feet were icy cold. He scrambled back out. It’s a flashback, that’s all. A mirage.

Heart thundering in his thin chest, he staggered down the trail to the lodge. Darkness slept under the trees, the way he’d dreamed it last night. Utter silence except for his panting breath. Too early, too early, he chanted silently. He’d find the hunters asleep. Remnants of the ’shrooms lurked in his system. He couldn’t be sure about reality just yet.

He reached the clearing.

He smelled it then, the metallic slaughterhouse reek of blood.

Images, but no focus.

The hunters were lying all over, splattered in garish colours. Humans couldn’t bend that way, could they?

Dead, all dead.

A screech of panic tore out of his throat. The screams kept bursting from deep within, and he couldn’t stop them even when he clapped his hands over his ears to shut out his own noise.

No one knew where he was, except Rachel, a ten-year-old kid back at the children’s camp. The bush plane wouldn’t be back for two days.

And, like Morty said, there was no way off the island.

To find out what happens to Danny, download Windigo Fire from Amazon here.

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Drunken Painting!

My kid often leads me astray. She feels an overwhelming urge to educate me, an urge born out of anxious impatience with parental inertia with a soupcon of glee at my possible ineptitude. Despite feeling like a century-old sturgeon out of water at the things she’s shamed me into, sadly the experiences have enriched my life. Hell, I’ve survived dirt bike riding, horrific black diamond ski runs and now, drunken painting!  

Scary blank canvas
Scary blank canvas

Drunken Painting is more politely known as Paint Nite. In 2012, two guys got the idea while partying at a friend’s art studio. Why not drink and paint at the same time? Let alcohol unleash your creativity. Thus the “paint and sip” industry was born.  I mean, after one, two or ten beers: “Hey, man, you’re a nartist!!”

“Paint and sip” is win-win for everyone. Local bars and restos sell more alcohol and ladies get a novel girls’ night out. (Yes, 99.99% of the happy painters are women.) Not only do you get a scary bar bill at the end of the evening, you get to take home a scary painting, too! 

Fearing my child’s wrath if I opted for no-show, I dutifully arrived at Proof the Vodka Bar .  Everyone on my mother’s side of the family is an artist, but those genes merrily skipped over me. I landed a mighty C- in art in elementary school and wisely chose science as a career.  I dove into the “sip” part of the evening straight away. 

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Hope to Paint this (Not the exact one but close enough)

 

A tiny young woman was busy setting up 20 easels and blank canvases, covering the long table with green plastic sheets and depositing dabs of blue, yellow and white acrylic paint on paper plates.  She seemed overwhelmed. We students donned aprons to protect our clothes from permanent souvenirs of the evening and took our seats, while listening to her dire warnings about rinsing off our brushes in our drinks instead of the cups of water provided.

“Can you see the painting?” the lady next to me asked.

“Um, no.” In fact none of us could. The set-up was proving less than ideal.

“First, paint the mountain,” the teacher announced.

“There’s a mountain?” several of us echoed.

“Yes, like this.” She painted two white breast shapes on the white background to demonstrate. “The mountain is masked by the trees but you must paint it. And make shadows. Lots of shadows to make a nice mountain. And the lake, too, in front.”

Invisible mountain
Invisible mountain

“There’s a lake?” I downed more beer.

“Now paint the northern lights. Mix colours. You must make green.”

Ah , yes, one thing I did remember from my C- art class was that yellow and blue make green. We all mixed and splashed away without benefit of further instruction.  The northern lights soon proved to be everyone’s undoing. We looked at each other’s work and agreed that our efforts were irreparably cheesy. I ordered a second beer.

“Now make trees!” The teacher circulated with the black paint she’d forgotten to dole out.

That we could do. Trees were easy: lots of unfettered brush strokes. And more trees covered up more cheese. We asked for more black paint. The teacher got frustrated: she was running out.

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My Masterpiece

“Now make stars!”

I kind of overdid the stars but making white dots was so much easier, I got carried away. Leaning back to survey my masterpiece, the teacher announced: “Now you must make shadows on the snow. Trees throw shadows in moonlight.”

Bad idea. Or rather no idea how to make shadows. I made a half-assed effort, then erased everything with white paint leaving smudges of grey snow.

By now my husband was waiting for me at the bar. I staggered over to show him with my masterpiece. “What do you think?”

“It’s good, um, good,” he replied, sounding like Banksy when confronted by his friend, Terry’s disastrously hopeless film in Exit Through the Gift Store.

My friend, Roz, was much kinder when she saw it. “I like it!” she said. “It shows a lot of emotion.”

Hmm, that must be the happy black trees, but more likely the two beers. My masterpiece now proudly decorates our upper hallway and  even better, our kid no longer insists that I take  painting lessons.

 

WANDERINGS: Gems from the Cemetery

Greetings, Readers!

Just a short post this week from Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. My running buddies and I use it in winter because its curving lanes are cleared before our city streets.

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Eaton Mausoleum

Edward Greenspan, Toronto’s flamboyant defence lawyer, is buried here. He became (in)famous after defending a rogues’ gallery of wife killers, including Peter Demeter and Helmut Buxbaum and sharpish biz types like Garth Drabinsky and Conrad Black. Ironically, he got none of them off. They were all found guilty!

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Edward Greenspan
Greenspan did do his part for society, too. In 1986, he successfully thwarted an attempt by the federal conservatives to restore capital punishment. And he took on controversial cases of self-defence and euthanasia involving ordinary folks.

A brilliant and witty speaker, he was a popular MC at many annual banquets of the Crime Writers of Canada. His epitaph reads appropriately:

“The Defence Rests”

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Greenspan’s resting place