The Girl Who Went Up A Mountain

For years, I’ve told my kids bedtime stories. Not ones from a book, these were created in-the-moment, often with nothing more than a single word, in this case: “stars”.

There once was a little village that lay in the heart of a small valley, next to deep blue lake. In the village were a dozen families that had lived in the valley for as long as anyone could remember. The village had all they ever needed: bakers who made bread, carpenters who made chairs and beds, weavers who made cloth and seamstresses who made clothes, and of course, the farmers who grew the food and raised the animals. 

The people were happy, though every day for them was short and busy. You see, the valley was surrounded by tall mountains that blocked the sun from shining down except for a few hours a day. The morning came late, and the evening came early. The sun shone more on the mountains than it did inside the valley. The villagers watched as the sun slowly crept down one side of the valley, shone across the floor, and then up the other side. And then they would watch as the shadow would start at the top of the mountain, down across the valley, and up the other side. The sky above stayed blue long before the sun rose and long after the sun set. 

No-one ever came to the valley, and no-one ever left. 

In this valley lived a young girl named Lumi. She had long, light brown hair, bright green eyes, and always wore a light blue dress. She loved to run, and laugh, and play with her friends. She had a rocking horse, a leather ball, a stuffed bear, and three books that she read again and again and again. Her parents were both farmers, and spent their short days out in the family’s huge field with their horses, ploughing long troughs for seeds, and harvesting all kinds of vegetables. 

One day, when she was old enough, Lumi’s father asked: “Lumi, would you like to come out and help us in the field?” 

Lumi leapt up from her book, and said: “Yes, I would, Father!” She ran out the door and stepped into the field, and stopped. 

“What’s the matter, Lumi?” asked her mother. 

Lumi was gazing way out into the vast brown plain. It seemed to go on without end. She knew there was a stone fence at the back of the farm, but she couldn’t see it. “The field…,” Lumi breathed, “it’s so big!”

“Yes, it is! We have to grow a lot of food to help the village,” explained her mother. 

“But … how do you farm something this huge?” asked Lumi. She had seen her parents working in the field many times, but hadn’t really understood how they did it. “I can’t even imagine starting!” 

“Well, you can’t plant the field all at once, silly,” said her father, tussling her hair. “You do it one part at a time. We plough the field, turning it over. Then we sow the seeds. And then every day, we water and weed until we have something to pick. When you do it in small pieces, it’s not so bad.” 

“Oh,” said Lumi, still a little confused. 

“Come, honey, we’ll show you,” said her mother, and they went off into the field. 

Lumi worked all day, helping carry water from their well, and pulling the tangly weeds. They stopped only once, for a quick sandwich when the sun was high in the sky. They worked until the last of the sun disappeared from the far mountaintop, and the valley started to get dark again. 

That night, over dinner, Lumi asked her parents: “Where does the sun set?” 

“It sets behind the mountain,” they replied. 

“What’s behind the mountain?” asked Lumi. 

“Where the sun sets,” they replied. 

“But what else is behind the mountain?” asked Lumi. 

Her parents looked at each other. They had never thought to ask the question, nor had any of their friends or neighbours. “We don’t know,” they replied. 

One day a year later, Lumi’s mother suggested that since Lumi had been so helpful in the fields, that they could take a day and have a picnic at the lake. Lumi thought this was the best idea she’d ever heard, and couldn’t wait. They packed a picnic basket, and went down to the lakeshore. 

After they’d had a wonderful lunch of apples, cheese, bread, and sausage, Lumi’s father asked: “Would you like to go for a swim in the lake?” 

“Yes!” said Lumi, and ran down to the water without another word. She ran into the water, her dress still on, until the water was up to her waist, and she stopped. Then she ran back out. 

“What’s the matter, Lumi?” asked her father. 

“The lake is so big and deep!” she said, shivering slightly. 

“Of course it is,” said her father. “What’s wrong with that?” 

“How could I ever swim in it?” she asked. Lumi knew how to swim, but the little pond on their farm was nothing like the huge lake. 

“One little bit at a time, “ smiled her father. “Why don’t you swim from here to that rock over there?” he asked, pointing to a huge boulder a little way down the shore. 

“Okay,” said Lumi slowly, and she went down to the water, got back in, and swam all the way to the boulder. She climbed up on top of it, and jumped up and down, shouting: “Look! I did it! I swam in the lake!” 

“I’ll bet you can swim all the way back, and then out to that log!” said her father, pointing out into the lake to a large log that floated near the shore. Lumi jumped back into the lake, and swam all the way without stopping once. 

One day, a year later, Lumi was helping bring in some firewood under the brightening morning sky. She looked out towards the mountain where the tip was starting to glow from the sun. 

“Mother,” she asked, “where does the sun rise?” 

“It rises from behind the mountain,” said her mother, starting the fire in the oven. 

“What’s behind the mountain?” asked Lumi. 

“Where the sun rises,” answered Lumi’s father. 

“But what else is behind the mountain?” asked Lumi. 

“We don’t know,” they replied. 

So Lumi asked her friends. None of them knew, either. None of their parents knew. The baker didn’t know, the carpenter didn’t know, nor did the weaver or the seamstress. No-one knew. 

“I want to see the sun rise,” said Lumi one day at lunch. “And I want to see it set.” 

“You watch it every day!” said her father. 

“No, I mean a real sunrise and sunset. Where the sun meets the horizon!” said Lumi. 

“But that’s the horizon,” said Lumi’s mother, pointing at the tops of the mountains all around them. 

“That’s the top of the mountain,” said Lumi. “I want to see where the sun rises and sets beyond that.” 

“Oh,” said her parents. 

After a moment, Lumi stood up. “I’m going to climb a mountain!” she declared. 

“Oh,” said her parents. 

“Well, that’s a long, hard trip,” said her father. 

“Then I’d better bring a sandwich!” said Lumi, and went into the house. 

She came out of the house a few minutes later, dressed with a sweater, long pants, her boots, and a hat. She slung her father’s sack over her shoulder, which bulged with a blanket, a full waterskin, a sandwich, and her stuffed bear. She smiled at her parents, and set off for the tallest mountain, which sat at the south end of the valley. 

By the time Lumi arrived at the tallest mountain, the sun had already set on the west side of the valley. She looked up at the mountain and saw that it was much, much bigger than she had remembered. It loomed over her. She stopped. From her home, the mountain seemed not so … “huge,” she said to herself. She stared at it for a long while, then turned, and slowly walked home. It was very dark by the time Lumi got home, and her parents were surprised to see her. 

“What happened?” asked Lumi’s mother. “Did you see the sunset?” 

“No,” said Lumi, sadly. “I can’t climb the mountain. It’s too big.” 

“Do you remember the first time you helped us in the field?” asked Lumi’s father. 

“Yes,” replied Lumi. “It was fun!” 

“But you were scared of it. You thought it was too big to farm,” said her father. 

“I remember,” nodded Lumi. 

“You’re out there every day, hoeing, watering, and harvesting. Does it seem so big now?” asked her father.

“No, it’s a lot of work, but it’s not that big,” laughed Lumi. 

“Do you remember the first time you swam in the lake?” asked Lumi’s mother. 

“Yes,” replied Lumi. “It was fun!”

“But you were scared of it. You thought the lake was too big and too deep,” said her mother. 

“I remember,” nodded Lumi.

“You swim across the lake nearly every week. Does it seem so big now?” asked her mother. 

“No, it’s a lot of work, but it’s not that big,” laughed Lumi. 

“It’s the same thing with a mountain,” said her father. “It just looks big. You just have to climb it a bit at a time.” 

Lumi nodded. “I understand. I’ll try again tomorrow.” 

The next day, shortly after the sun reached the top of the western side of the valley, Lumi left her house again, dressed in her sweater, long pants, boots, and hat. She had her father’s sack over her shoulder, which had the blanket, two full waterskins, and three sandwiches. She left her stuffed bear sitting in her bedroom window to watch.

The sun was high by the time Lumi reached the tallest mountain at the south end of the valley. She looked up again at the mountain and saw that it was still much, much bigger than she had remembered. It still loomed over her. She stopped. Then she looked down, ahead of her. She could see a kind of path that led up the side. “This,” she said confidently, “is where I’ll start.” 

She climbed the path up the side until the path stopped. She looked down. She hadn’t climbed very far. She looked up, and the mountain still seemed huge. Then she saw a set of holes that covered the side of the mountain. She put her hands and feet in them, and started climbing up. She climbed up and up and up. 

When the holes stopped, Lumi found herself on a small ledge. She sat down, pulled out her first sandwich, and ate it hungrily. She looked about and saw that she had climbed a long way up. The valley floor seemed a long way beneath her. The sun was starting to set on the western edge of the valley. She could still see the stone walls that cut up the valley into the farms, including her own. The field seemed … smaller. And beyond it, she could see the lake. The lake was smaller, too! Lumi then looked up and saw that the mountain was … a little less huge than it had been before. 

At the edge of the ledge, Lumi found a trail that wound up the side of the mountain, zigging and zagging back and forth. When the path stopped, she looked down and saw that the shadow had reached the eastern edge, and it was dark in the valley. She looked down and starting seeing the lights in the village being lit. But she could see that the sun hadn’t set outside the valley. 

The valley looked … small. She could barely see the centre of the village. She couldn’t really see her family’s farm anymore. And the lake … the lake looked no bigger than the pond back home! Everything that once seemed so huge to her now seemed so utterly … tiny

Lumi turned and looked west. She saw vast plains that seemed to run out beyond view, a patchwork of browns, greens, golds, and even a few pockets of red, blue, and purple! Silvery rivers cut through them, edged with deep fuzzy green, flowing out to a lake so huge that it didn’t seem to end. “That must be the ocean!” she exclaimed. She looked up, and saw that the mountain wasn’t so big anymore. 

Up Lumi climbed. She climbed up rocks, carefully walked around boulders, until finally, she had run out of mountain. She stood on the very top, and looked all around her. Below, the valley seemed to be a little dark egg, speckled with the tiny dim lights of the village. When she looked to the east, the skies were dark blue, the clouds a bright white. In the west, the sun had turned from the bright yellow-white Lumi had only ever known, to a deep glowing yellow that sent great long dark streaks across the plains as the sun went lower and lower in the sky. 

Slowly, the sun turned the clouds in the skies yellow. Then they slipped to a light orange that darkened with each moment before finally bursting into a bright red, like a fire dancing across the sky. All around her, the clouds lit up brightly, casting a red hue on everything. The red deepened, and then slowly began to fade as the sun dipped below the horizon, the real horizon that Lumi had always known was there, but could never see. And then, the sun was gone. The lights faded, and slowly everything else grew dark. 

Below her, in the valley, it was almost black. The lights were starting to go out as people were going to sleep. Night had already fallen at home. On the mountain, Lumi found it impossible to sleep, unable to stop watching the changing lights. She found a little nook in the rocks, curled up in her blanket, ate her second sandwich, and watched the stars come out. 

When Lumi awoke many hours later, it was still dark. She looked up and saw millions and millions and millions of stars across the velvety black of the night, sparking into shapes and swirls of light. 

And then she noticed that it was becoming harder to see the stars, like they were fading away. Lumi looked to the east, and saw that the sky was no longer black, but a dark blue. The skies slowly began to light, the clouds appearing from the inky blackness as the light caused them to bloom into fluffy whiteness. 

Then, almost imperceptibly, a thin sliver of yellow appeared. The sky around it seemed to jump with reds, oranges, and yellows. The clouds lit up like great balls of cotton candy as the sun crawled it’s way up into the morning sky. 

Lumi smiled, eating her last sandwich as the sun continued to rise. Then she folded up her blanket and tucked it onto the sack, and started her long, slow climb back down the mountain. It took all day. She wished that she had brought a fourth sandwich. She reached the very bottom by the time the sun had almost set in the valley. She looked back up at the huge mountain next to her. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s not that big,” laughed Lumi. 

Her parents were thrilled when Lumi came home. They had been very worried about her. Her mother served Lumi a huge bowl of lamb stew, Lumi’s favourite. She ate two servings while she told her parents all about her trip. The next day, she told the story to all of her friends. Then she told it to the baker, the carpenter, the weaver and the seamstress. 

Slowly but surely, almost everyone went up the mountain to see for themselves. Everyone thought the sight was beyond anything they could have dreamed. 

So, one day, everyone decided that they wanted to live on the other side of the mountain, on one of the plains, near one of the silvery rivers, and watch the sun rise and set every day. The entire village moved to a new village, and every morning the villagers would greet the sun as it rose into the sky, and bid it goodnight as it dipped from sight. 

As for Lumi, she loved the new village. She loved her new farm. She loved her new pond. She continued to climb the mountains, and she swam in the nearby river every chance she got. 

Then one day she asked her parents: “What’s at the end of the river?” 


My Life As A Cat

Another story told at bedtime, this came from my daughter who tends to act more like a cat than she does a human.

“Lannie! Time to get up!” my mother calls from the kitchen. 

I hate mornings. I just want to stay in my bed, under my comforter. I crack one eye open and look. A sliver of sunlight is peeking in through my window, creating a thin pizza slice of brightness across my room. It’s too bright, I decide, and close my eye. It’s too early. Yes, too early. 

“Come on, Lannie, it’s after nine o’clock. You can’t stay in bed all day!” my mother calls. 

Yes I can! I pull the sheets over my head and curl up in the comfy dark. I’m going to stay here all day. There’s no place I’d rather be. I don’t need my friends today, I don’t even need to watch TV. I’ll be happy just to stay here.

My mother opens my bedroom door. “Now, Lannie,” she says, as she walks over to my bed, and pulls the sheets off of me. I start shivering with the loss of all my wonderful warmth. “Nice try, you. Up and at ‘em.” 

“I don’t need to get up. It’s not a school day!” I protest. 

“That’s not the point. You’re not staying in bed all day,” my mother repeats. She throws open my curtains, and my room becomes way brighter than I can stand. 

“Moooooommmmmmmm!” I whine. 

“No ‘buts’. Move!” she orders, and scoops me out of bed. I land on all fours. She then straightens my bed, and puts the pillow back where it belongs. I hadn’t even noticed that I wasn’t sleeping with a pillow. 

“Phooey!” I say, and sit back, kneeling. “I’m not getting dressed!” 

“That’s fine! I just want you out of bed!” she smiles. “Wash your hands and come down for breakfast, please.” She walks out of my room. 

I kneel for a moment, then arch my back, and reach forward with my hands until I’m lying on the warm floor on my belly. I love a good stretch when I wake up. I roll onto my side, then over onto my back. The sun shines on my tummy, and it feels warm, almost like my comforter. I decide that staying in my room might be almost as good as staying in my bed. 

I nearly fall back to sleep lying there, until I hear the sound of cereal being poured into my bowl. I scamper to my feet and race down the hall, nearly slipping as I round the corner into the kitchen. “No milk, please!” I say, as I hop up onto my chair. 

“Are you sure?” my mom asks. 

“Yep! I like it dry!” I say, taking my spoon and getting a huge spoonful, which I then cram into my mouth. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about the way my cereal tastes without milk, and how it scrapes the roof of my mouth. I could eat this stuff all day. 

“Do you at least want orange juice?” asks my mother, standing at the fridge. 

“Moh fahfs,” I mumble, munching my cereal. My mother disappears to somewhere else I in the house. When I’m finished, I slink off my seat and sneak a cup out of the cupboard. I fill it with orange juice and drink it down quickly before my mother catches me. 

I quickly head back to my room to get my favourite book, and go into the living room to curl up in the bay window, looking out into the backyard. I tuck a large pillow behind me. The sun warms me up almost perfectly. For a few moments, I lay back dozily, not really wanting to read, and just enjoying the lazy day. 

Opening my book, I flip to the page I left off at, and continue. It’s a good book. I’ve read it four times this year, and I’ll probably read it at least another two before Christmas. It’s about a princess warrior who brings peace to her kingdom. I’m not even sure why it’s my favourite story, I prefer stories with spaceships. I think it’s the sword fighting that I like most. 

The morning passes slowly, just how I like it. My big sister isn’t around, my mother is probably downstairs, and my father is … well, somewhere. I have the house to myself. It’s quiet, and I can read in peace. I glance up from my book a few times to look about. I spend nearly half an hour watching a squirrel try to jump on the bird feeder attached to the outside of the bay window. The squirrel manages to get really close, until it notices that I’m watching it. It turns and runs away like I’m going to gobble it up. 

Before I know it, though, it’s lunchtime. 

“Mom! I’m hungry!” I call out, still in the bay window. There’s no answer. “Mom?” Still no answer. Where did she go? “Mom!” Nothing. “Mom! Mommmm! Mommmm! Mommmmm?” 

My mother finally appears from wherever she was hiding. “Good heavens, what is it, Lannie?”

“What’s for lunch?” I ask. 

“Hungry, are we?” she asks. Her hands are on her hips. That’s supposed to mean she’s unimpressed. It doesn’t help me get my lunch any faster. 

“Tunafish sandwich!” I reply quickly

“You have that every day!” she says. 

“But I like it! Tuna is yummy!” I reply. 

My mother sighs. That means she’s going to do what I asked. “Okay, honey. Can you please change into clothes before eating, though? And after lunch, I want you to go outside. I don’t want you indoors all day.” 

“Aw, but Mom, these are my favourite PJs! I’m comfy in them!” They really are my favourite pyjamas. They were a Christmas present from my Aunt Bernice. She always gets me the best things. They’re what my father calls a “dusky pink”, with outlines of cats all over them in black. I would wear them every day, if I was allowed. 

“No way, you. That’s the fifth day in a row wearing those. They need to be washed!” she declares. It’s in “that” voice, the one she uses when she is going to do something whether I like it or not. 

“Fine,” I grumble.

I finish the page of my book and slowly wander back to my room, climbing over every chair, sofa, and table in the living room along the way. I pull out four shirts before I decide on my light blue tank top with sparkles in the shape of a heart. I only have four pairs of shorts, and three of them are in the laundry, so I have to wear my purple knee-length ones. I grab my dark green hoodie as well, since I’m not as cozy in my summer clothes as I am in my PJs. 

Or in my bed. Hmph. I’m still not happy that my mother kicked me out of my own bed. 

“Lannie! Your sandwich is ready!” my mother calls out. I hear the plate clink on the table, and I’m off like a shot. The sandwich is on a dark blue plate, next to a big glass of milk. 

It feels like I haven’t eaten in forever. I wolf down the sandwich, taking long drinks of the milk. I stop only when the doorbell rings. My mother gets the door, while I peer from my chair in the kitchen.

“It’s Grandma!” she calls. I shove the last of my sandwich in my mouth, and slurp in enough milk to finish chewing. I skip in to see Grandma, still licking my lips. 

“Smells like someone had tuna for lunch!” Grandma laughs as I give her a big hug. Grandma is really good to me, so I love her a lot. My mother says Grandma spoils me, but that doesn’t bother me at all. “Have you been a good girl today?” she asks. 

Pshaw! I’m always a good girl! “Yes, Grandma!” I chirp. I can hear my mother snort. 

“Would you like a treat?” Grandma asks. 

“Ohh!” I hug her leg and wrap myself around her. “What is it? What is it?” 

“How about…” Grandma digs into her purse, and pulls her hand out, concealing whatever she’s about to give me, “some chocolate?” 

CHOCOLATE!” I screech. I love chocolate! Really, really, really, really love chocolate! 

“Here you go, sweetie,” Grandma says, handing me a bar of chocolate wrapped in gold foil with a paper sleeve. 

“Yay!” I snatch the bar from her hand, give her a quick kiss, and bound over to the bay window to eat it. 

“Ohh, someone needs her nails trimmed,” Grandma says, holding her hand, “they’re almost claws!” 

“Oh, sorry, Grams!” I say, as I stuff the chocolate in my face. 

“Okay, you, outside!” my mother demands. “And I’m cutting your nails tonight. No excuses!” 

I’m booted into the backyard. My big sister Karen is out there, sitting at the table, listening to her music. There’s a half-eaten tuna sandwich in front of her. I drop down low, hoping she can’t see me, and creep in quietly. I can barely hear her music as I’m just underneath the sandwich, which I can see through the glass tabletop. I reach up ever so slowly, and carefully reach to steal the sandwich when she reaches out and slaps my hand. 

“Mine!” she says, not even looking at me. “Shoo!” 

“Nyah nyah nyah,” I reply, sulking away. I flip onto the hammock in the corner of our yard. The sun’s still shining on it, which is a bonus. I stretch out once for good measure, then settle in for a bit of a nap. 

I’m not sure how long I sleep, if I sleep at all. A rock bounces off my forehead, snapping me completely awake. I sit upright and look around. Did something hit me? Or did I just dream it? Before I can dismiss it as just a figment of my imagination, a small pinecone bops off the back of my head. 

“Stop it, you brat!” I hiss. It’s my annoying next door neighbour, Jason. He and I are actually friends, and we play a lot together, but he has a really annoying habit of bugging me when I’m in the hammock. I think I’ve had two days this entire summer to spend in the hammock without him throwing stuff at me. At least it’s not the ice cold water he used the last time. I hid in my room for two days after that — I did not want to speak to him!

“Wanna play?” he asks through the fence. 

“I’m sleeping,” I say, lying back on the hammock. 

“I’ve got the new Dance, Monkey, Dance video game! We can play it!” Jason suggests. I have to admit, that does sound like fun. I played it at Sue’s house yesterday, and we laughed so hard it hurt. Jason’s a good dancer, too, which makes the game more fun. 

But I’m comfy again. The sun is just right, the breeze is just right, I’m not hungry or thirsty, and I’m in the perfect position in the hammock — I’m worried that if I even move my hand to scratch, I won’t feel as good. You don’t get this comfy without a lot of effort, or unless you’re really lucky. 

“Sorry, Jason, not today,” I say sleepily. 

“Jump rope?” Jason asks. 

“Nope,” I reply. 

“Ball?” Jason begs. 

I close my eyes, and I let myself drift off…

I awake a while later. The sun has moved away from the hammock, and I’ve gotten chilly. I hop off the hammock and look around. The sun has left the entire backyard, blocked by the trees in my other neighbour’s yard. Even Karen has probably gone back inside. I head back to the door, only to find it locked. 

“Hello?” I call, tapping on the door. “Hello??” I walk around to the side window and peer in. There’s no way my mother would have left me home alone. I’m only seven, for crying out loud! I scratch at the window, but there’s no answer. I hop over the fence and walk to the front door. It’s locked, too. I ring the doorbell once, twice, three times. “Hello!!” I yell. “Hi, I’m still here! Someone should let me in!” 

The front door cracks open. I race to it before it closes. Karen is on the other side. “You want in?” she asks. 

“Yeah,” I say, trying to push my way through. But Karen’s blocked the door. “C’mon, lemme in!” 

“I dunno…,” says Karen. 

“Mom!” I yell through the door. “Karen’s not letting me in! Mommmm!”

My mother says something to Karen, and she steps away from the door. I walk in, sticking my tongue out at her. I go back to my room, and hop up on my bed. I take the brush off my night table, and start brushing my hair. It’s long and brown and amazing. It also gets tangled pretty easily, so it takes a while for me to get all the knots out. But it’s relaxing — I like brushing my hair. I can do it for an hour with ease. 

Which is what I do, until I’m interrupted by my father, who yells: “Dinner!” from the kitchen. 

I sigh, have a really good stretch, and head to the dinner table. I think it’s stew. At least, it looks like stew. If stew were a brown blob with little grey bits. I love my father, but can’t cook. He says he can, but the food he puts on my plate never looks like something I could eat. I poke at it with my fork. 

“What’s the matter? Not what you had in mind for dinner?” my father asks. I look at what he’s eating. It looks like chicken fingers. 

“Can I have yours?” I ask. “I think you got mine by mistake.” 

“Nice try, Lannie. This is mine. You didn’t answer when I asked you what you wanted. It’s Leftover Night, so you get what you get,” my father says. 

“You didn’t ask me! When did you ask me? I don’t remember you asking me!” I protest, still staring at the brown blob. I hold my fork just in case the blob comes to life and I have to defend myself. 

“You were in your room. I called you three times, but you didn’t answer. So that’s what you get,” my father grins.

“Hmph,” I hmph. “No fair.” 

I’m the last to finish eating. It takes me an hour. I keep leaving the table to go to the bathroom, or get another glass of milk, or to change my shirt. Everyone else has gone off to do whatever it is that they do, leaving me to my cold lump of brown goo. Admittedly, it does taste good, I just won’t admit it to anyone. 

After dinner, I curl up on my father’s lap as he watches TV. I don’t understand what he watches. It makes him giggle, which makes me laugh. He cuddles me, and strokes my hair, which makes me feel all fuzzy inside. I would stay there all day, if my father were around. He’s only around during the day on weekends. 

Suddenly, my mother appears with a pair of nail clippers. I try to make a run for it, but my father has me by the waist. 

“Mommy said you need to have your claws trimmed, kiddo,” he says. Betrayed!

“No!” I yowl, trying to wriggle free. It’s no use, my father’s grip is too strong. I try to kick, but I’m held tight. I think about trying to scratch my way free, but I realize that I would get on a lot of trouble if I hurt anyone. I make owie noises instead, until they’re done.

When the sun’s down and the stars are out, I’m changed into clean pyjamas — my mother stole my favourite ones and put them in the laundry. My bed stares at me, begging me to climb in. For some reason, though, I don’t want to get into bed. Not yet, anyway. I feel the urge to run around the house for a while. I race down the hallway, skidding around the corner and hide under the kitchen table. My mother looks up from her spot in the living room and wonders what just happened. Then I bolt out from under the table and leap over the chair and land on the sofa next to her, scaring her half to death. I giggle, and leap off the sofa, aiming for the chair on the other side. But my foot catches on the footstool and I crash onto the floor. I burst out laughing. 

“Lannie,” my mother sighs, “go to bed…” 

I’m still giggling as I crawl into my comfy bed. I shuffle around three times to find just the right place to lie down. I carefully pull the comforter up around me, and curl up into a ball. I sigh happily, and brush the hair out of my face.

I might just do the same thing all over again tomorrow. 


The Threehouse

When my kids ask me to tell them a story, I don’t get a lot of prep time, sometimes only a few minutes. So when I start to tell a story, I don’t always have an idea of where it’s going to go, and it doesn’t always go well. Every so often, I surprise myself with a story that shouldn’t have worked at all, but did…

Luke looked out of his window. The rain hadn’t stopped in four days. He sighed. He’d read every book in the house, played every game, listened to all of his music, drew a hundred pictures. He was bored. He wanted to go outside. He wanted to run and play. He wanted to play with his friends, go exploring through the forest, ride his bike, play ball out in the field. When he looked out the window, however, all he saw was water. The front yard was a giant puddle, the backyard a lake. 

Luke sighed again. He sighed mostly to himself, and also for the benefit of his parents, in hopes they might solve his problem. They didn’t hear him. So he sighed louder. Either they didn’t hear him, or were ignoring him — he wasn’t sure which. He tried sighing louder still, but it came out as a grunt. 

“If you’re bored, buddy, I could use your help cleaning up the workshop…,” Luke’s dad suggested. 

“No thanks,” Luke replied, still staring out the window. Being bored was better than having to clean. 

“Do you want to play with your LEGOs?” Luke’s mom asked. 

“Not really,” Luke replied, still staring out the window. 

The rain kept falling. Luke watched the water pour out of the downspout into their rain barrels. The barrels were overflowing at the top, spilling down the sides like a waterfall. Rain dripped from the power line where it curved before attaching to the back of their house. The bird house looked like it had just been plucked from the bottom of a pond. The water pooled, filling with hundreds of rings where the drops of water landed. It was as wet as wet could get. 

And then Luke saw Mr. Sorenson. Luke saw Mr. Sorenson a lot, as he lived next door. Mr. Sorenson was a nice man, and Luke enjoyed talking to Mr. Sorenson whenever he could, because Mr. Sorenson never talked like any regular grown up. Mr. Sorenson also did things that Luke’s father described as “odd”, though Luke usually found them funny.

Mr. Sorenson was watering his plants. That would have seemed normal, except that it was raining. The rain could be ignored, too, if the plants were sheltered from the rain, which they weren’t. The strangest part, though, was that the plants were plastic, stuck in a box that was attached to the outside of the large treehouse in Mr. Sorenson’s backyard. Mr. Sorenson was out in the rain, watering fake plants. And to Luke, that was just weird

“Mom? Dad? I’m going outside!” Luke announced, racing over to the closet next to the back door. 

“Are you sure, honey?” asked his mom. “You didn’t like it the last time you went out!” 

Luke didn’t answer. He knew that if he said why he was going outside, his parents might stop him. He quickly put on his bright yellow rubber boots and his bright yellow raincoat with hood. He opened the door and stepped out into the rain. It was cold, like the rain always seemed to be, but with its hood up, Luke’s raincoat kept him dry. 

Luke trotted over to the short white picket fence at the edge of his yard. Mr. Sorenson stood on a short ladder, carefully pouring his plastic watering can over the equally plastic flowers. 

“Hi, Mr. Sorenson!” Luke smiled. 

Mr. Sorenson looked about, and quickly spied Luke. “Eh, Lucky!” he waved. Mr. Sorenson never got Luke’s name right. He was an older man, though not as old as Luke’s grandpa. He wore a wildly patterned red, blue, green, and yellow button-up t-shirt, a pair of long beige shorts, winter boots, and a pink toque over his scraggly white hair. He looked like he should be wearing eyeglasses, but never did. 

“What are you doing?” asked Luke. 

“What’s it look like I’m doing?” Mr. Sorenson squawked, throwing his hands at the fake plants. “I’m watering my flowers!” 

“But it’s raining!” laughed Luke. 

“So? Plants need lots of water, and this rain ain’t nearly enough!” said Mr. Sorenson. Luke looked down at the puddle he was standing in.  

“But they’re plastic flowers! They don’t grow!” Luke giggled. 

“Says you! I’ve been raising these beauties for years. They’ve never looked better,” he smiled at the slightly faded green and yellow flowers. “Why don’t you come give ‘em a sniff?” 

“Okay!” said Luke, and ran for the fence. He opened his own gate, ran around the corner, and through Mr. Sorenson’s open gate. He ran right up to the front of the treehouse.

The treehouse had always fascinated Luke. It was no mere treehouse. Luke’s friend Todd had a treehouse, which was only a small wooden box perched up in a v-shaped branch. Todd’s treehouse had a single doorway, with no door, and a hole for a window, with nothing else. It was cold when it was windy, and you couldn’t play in it when it rained. 

Mr. Sorenson’s treehouse was huge, wrapping around the massive oak tree, a full ladder’s height off the ground. The house was short, big enough for Luke, with a low-sloped roof that extended out over a deck that went all the way around the house, creating a sheltered porch. The outside of the treehouse was painted white, with a little bright red door. The windows were real, also painted red, and even had glass. The door was about Luke’s size. Around the deck was a white railing.  

The treehouse looked nicer than Mr. Sorenson’s house, a red bricked building with windows that were always closed, and curtains that were always drawn. The door needed a coat of paint. At night, the lights never seemed to be on. 

“C’mon up!” said Mr. Sorenson, climbing up the ladder, and hunching down low to walk onto the deck of the treehouse. His back pressed against the roof overtop the deck. Luke followed up, and hopped up onto the deck, too. Luke could stand on the deck without any trouble.

“See, they love the rain!” said Mr. Sorenson, looking at the plastic flowers. They were stuck in a box full of dirt. The flowers were wet. The dirt was so soaked that it almost looked like mud. 

“You’re silly!” giggled Luke. “Those can’t grow!” 

“You don’t think so, eh?” asked Mr. Sorenson. “Are you a botanist?” 

Luke kept giggling. “No!” 

“Then how do you know they’re not going to grow?” 

“Because they’re plastic! Plastic plants don’t grow. My grandparents have plastic plants that look the same every time I visit them!” laughed Luke. 

“That’s because they don’t take care of them. Every plant needs water, sun, and food!” explained Mr. Sorenson. 

Luke tried not to laugh, but he couldn’t stop. “Well, they look hungry to me.” 

“Well, I’ll just have to get some plant food, then!” said Mr. Sorenson. He turned to the door of the treehouse, opened the little red door, and walked in. After a moment, he called out: “Are you comin’?”

Luke had never been inside the treehouse before. He’d always wanted to go inside. “Coming!” he cried, and raced inside. He stopped just inside the door and stared. “This place is nicer than my house!” 

The treehouse was a single room, with a large sofa on the left, bookshelves on either side of a small fireplace along the back wall, and a table and chair on the right. Two sets of shelves sat on either side of the table, lined with all sorts of boxes and bags and jars and canisters. A large patterned oval rug in rainbow colours lay in the middle of the floor. The walls were wallpapered with a dark purple, with a deep red trim at the top and bottom. The room felt cozy and inviting. Luke wanted to grab a book, curl up on the sofa, and listen to the rain hitting the roof. 

He noticed that there were windows on all the walls, not just next to the door. He could swear that he could see a mountain out of the windows next to the fireplace, and a lake out the window over the table. He was too scared to move any closer to the windows so he could be sure. 

And then he saw it. Or rather, he didn’t. 

“Where’s the tree?” blurted Luke. From the outside, the house wrapped around the tree. Inside the house … there was no trunk in the centre of the room! Outside the house, branches came out of the roof. Inside the house, the roof was wooden beams, and no sign at all of branches. 

Then Luke saw Mr. Sorenson crouched over a shelf next to the table. Or rather, he didn’t. 

Unlike on the porch outside, Mr. Sorenson was standing straight up. Luke turned around and looked at the door. It was still Luke’s height, exactly what he’d seen before. But the rest of the room looked … bigger. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, to make sure he wasn’t seeing things.

“What kind of crazy treehouse is this?” Luke asked. 

“Threehouse,” corrected Mr. Sorenson, not looking away from the shelf. “Ah, here it is!” he exclaimed, picking up a box. 

“You mean treehouse,” said Luke, correcting Mr. Sorenson. Luke corrected Mr. Sorenson a lot, though he had given up trying to get Mr. Sorenson to say his name properly.

“No, threehouse,” repeated Mr. Sorenson. “Read my lips. ‘Three’. ‘House’. Threehouse.” 

“What’s a threehouse?” asked Luke. 

“What’s a … what’s a threehouse?!” exclaimed Mr. Sorenson. “Goodness boy, don’t they teach you anything in school?” He looked at Luke, who still looked terribly puzzled. “I guess I’ll have to show you! Come with me,” said Mr. Sorenson, and led Luke back outside. 

Climbing back out onto the porch, Mr. Sorenson first he leaned over to his flowers. “First, I need to feed my beauties.” He shook out the contents of the box onto the flowers. Small blocky bits in green, blue, and yellow fell onto the soil.

“LEGOs?!” Luke exclaimed. 

“Plant food!” said Mr. Sorenson. “How else do you think I’m supposed to feed plastic flowers?” 

“You’re weird,” said Luke. 

“You listen to your parents too much,” said Mr. Sorenson, grinning mischievously. 

“My mom told me she feeds her flowers with, um, fern and liner,” said Luke. 

Fertilizer,” corrected Mr. Sorenson. “And that only works with real plants. That does nothing for fake ones.” 

Luke scratched his head. It hurt a bit. “I’m confused.” 

“Well, yeah, you’re thinking too hard,” smiled Mr. Sorenson.

Luke nodded. That sounded like good advice. He looked back towards the closed red door. “Can we go back inside?” 

“Of course we can!” said Mr. Sorenson. He turned back to the door, and knocked with a rap-rap-raprap-rap. Then he turned the door handle and ushered Luke inside. 

The sofa was gone, and a bed lay in its place. A large comfy chair sat on the other side of the room where the table and chair had been. The bookshelves were replaced with a dresser and a small table with a wash basin on top of it. The rug was rectangular and white and very fuzzy. The walls were light blue with a white lace pattern. Out one window he saw a dozens of skyscrapers, out another window he saw a huge bridge, while out of another he saw endless farmland and a big red barn. The only thing that looked familiar was the fireplace, which sat in the same place. 

Luke looked as puzzled as he felt. “How…? What…?” 

“What? Have you never seen a bedroom before? You do have a bedroom, don’t you?” asked Mr. Sorenson. 

“Well… yes, but not in… the same room… as my, uh, living room,” said Luke, pausing only to figure out how to say what he was seeing. 

“No, no, no! This is not the same room, Lucky! This is my bedroom. The last room we were in was my living room. Honestly, can’t you tell the difference?” 

“But … we only went outside and came back in!” protested Luke. 

“No we didn’t.” 

“Yes we did! When you go into a different room, the other room is still where it was!” said Luke. 

“Yes,” agreed Mr. Sorenson. “And so is my living room.” 

“Where?” asked Luke. 

“There!” said Mr. Sorenson, pointing to the door. 

“But that goes outside!” said Luke. 

“No, it goes to my living room,” said Mr. Sorenson. “I’ll prove it to you!” 

Mr. Sorenson ushered Luke back outside again, and closed the door. Then he knocked on the door with a rapraprap-rapraprap, and flung it open. Luke walked back through the doorway.

In the centre of the room was a huge white bathtub, sitting on huge clawed feet. One end had large brass taps and a brass faucet, the other end was raised and curved, looking almost like the back of a large chair. There was a toilet over where the bed and sofa had been, a towel rack where the table and comfy chair had been. The fireplace remained again, but was alone on the wall. There was a desert sand dune through one window, a jungle through another, and igloo through a third.

“Oops!” exclaimed Mr. Sorenson. “Sorry about that. This is my bathroom.” 

“It’s a nice bathroom, Mr. Sorenson … wait, how did you get a bathtub in this room?!” blurted Luke. 

“House,” corrected Mr. Sorenson. “It’s in my threehouse.” 

“But … this is impossible!” shouted Luke. 

“Bah! That’s what grown-ups say! Nothing is impossible if you’re willing to believe that it’s possible,” said Mr. Sorenson. 

“You can’t have three rooms in the same house!” 

“Of course you can! Your house has more than three rooms, and you don’t have a problem with that!” said Mr. Sorenson.

“That’s not the same thing!” said Luke. 

“I just use my rooms better than you do,” said Mr. Sorenson. “That’s why it’s a threehouse.” He pushed Luke towards the door again. “Otherwise I’d had a really hard time living here.” 

“You live here?” asked Luke. 

“Well, of course I do! Where else do you expect me to live?” asked Mr. Sorenson. 

“What about your real house?” asked Luke, pointing in the direction of the large brick house. 

“That thing?” asked Mr. Sorenson, pointing to the house with disgust. 

“Don’t you live in that?” asked Luke. 

“Goodness, no! That’s just for guests. I hate going in there. Too many rooms to clean! I hate cleaning rooms,” said Mr. Sorenson. 

“Me, too,” added Luke. 

“Okay, now let’s see if I can get the right room this time,” said Mr. Sorenson, and balled his hand into a fist. 

“Can I try?” asked Luke. 

“Sure, why not?” said Mr. Sorenson. “I think you need to knock with a ‘tap-tap-tap’. Can you do that?” 

“Sure!” said Luke. He stood in front of the closed door, and knocked with a rap-rap-rap. Then he opened the door and they walked in together. 

The room had shelves all the way around the outside, filled with every toy Luke could have ever desired. A TV hung from the wall where the fireplace had been. A small table sat in the middle of the room, on which sat a snack of cheese, crackers, and apple juice. Luke walked over to one of the shelves, and picked up a soft stuffed rabbit. 

“Why do you have a room full of toys?” asked Luke. 

“I didn’t know I did,” muttered Mr. Sorenson, looking around. He picked up a few toys himself, put them back down, and walked to the table. He stared at the snack for a moment, then picked up and munched on a cracker. He put his hands on his hips, frowned, and said: “Well, darn!” 

“What’s the matter?” asked Luke. 

“Now I’ve got a fourhouse!” 


The Killing House

In October 2018, the CBC ran a short story contest. I didn’t really have a hope in hell of winning — the only things I’ve successfully published are short articles. Winning a fiction contest was going to take a whole level more practice than I’d ever done before. This is my submission. And no, I didn’t win. Didn’t even make the short list. Oh well, it was a good experience.

Little fingers slowly spread through the tussle of tightly-curled cream fur, desperately willing for the return of a departed life, periodically touching wet wounds from sniffles and stifled sobs. Over and over, the hands caressed the softness, refusing acceptance. 

“It’s gone,” came a voice, flat and plain. The little fingers paused only momentarily. 

“Mother!” came another voice, caring and critical.

“It’s dead,” was the flat reply. “She has to accept reality.”

“Mother!” a repetition hissed. Attention turned away, and larger fingers stroked soft, brown hair. “Mirabel…” 

“He’ll wake up,” said little Mirabel, her fingers still entangled in the small dog’s coat. 

Mirabel’s mother’s arms embraced her from behind. “Honey…” 

“This is pointless!” came Mirabel’s grandmother, her arm flung like an arrow at the former beloved pet. Eyes darted between the older women in the room, first accusingly and answered with uncaring, then countered with anger. An aloof front negated any further discussion. “Mirabel!”  The little girl looked up slowly and silently, her light green eyes reddened and swollen. “Come!”

The elder woman marched to the thick closet door and flew it open, drawing out a heavy dark green coat that draped to the mid-thigh of her clean and pressed dark grey pants. She drew up the buttons and flipped up the hood, covering her tightly-bunned white and grey-streaked hair. “Mirabel! Now!” 

“Moth–!”, but Mirabel’s mother was silenced with a single straight and taut finger. She turned and left swiftly.

The girl gently lay the lifeless bundle on the floor, and with several sobs, slid towards the closet and her grandmother. Her coat — a near-perfect copy of her matriarch’s — was held out expectantly. Mirabel reached up to take the coat and found it firmly clamped in demanding, bony hands. She looked up to two old blue-grey eyes. She looked down to Mirabel. “Get it.” Mirabel craned up, her eyes still watering, confused. “The dog.” Mirabel glanced to where her mother had been. “Now!” Beatrix pinched Mirabel’s ear tightly, drew her back to the dog’s lifeless body, and guided her down. Sobbing, Mirabel scooped up the lifeless animal with both arms. “Come.” She opened the door and waited for Mirabel to pass through before closing it behind them. 

The great log house stood on a slight rise over the ranchlands, the door opening onto the western fields that dropped away to long-disused grasslands that burbled towards the distant river, which wrapped around the southwestern edge of the massive property before following the setting sun. The grasses whished in the autumn winds, a million hollow scrapes that sang in a low, melodic hiss. 

“Mirabel!” called Beatrix, already several steps onto a well-worn path that led up the rise to the north. But Mirabel was still on the front step, crying. The weight of the dog tugged at her small arms, wanting to fall to the ground. She arched her back against the pull. Beatrix blew a breath, spun, and marched to her descendent. Mirabel’s feet urged to step back, but were held in place. A pair of strong, old fingers pinched at Mirabel’s shoulder. “You will come when you are called!” The girl and her dog were propelled forward. “Stop crying.” 

Mirabel followed the path away from the house, up the rise, struggling with her burden, fighting every need to weep. Beatrix remained a step behind, a constant urge to move forward. As the path bent to the west, a route Mirabel had followed countless times before, a hand shot out from behind and prodded Mirabel to continue forward into the grasses. Though long overgrown, Mirabel’s feet found an ancient path hidden under the yellowness. 

They walked until nearly reaching a partially-collapsed, moss-grown rail fence. The house was a small peak of roof far behind them, hidden behind the rises and dips. A dark bird cried high above them, drifting in the breeze, circling. 

“Drop it,” Beatrix ordered. 

“Why are we here?” Mirabel asked quietly.

“Drop it.” A threat. 

Mirabel stooped and gently lay the dog on the ground. As she did, she noticed a large rock on the ground. Aged from decades of summers and winters, she could still see a name in worn black paint, the lines having been redone several times. “Who’s Rupert?” she asked. 

Beatrix’s nostrils flared with a quick exhale. “Come.” She turned west and followed the fence line. Mirabel looked to her pet and started to pick him up again. “Leave it!” Mirabel looked to her departing grandmother, then petted the still animal gently and whispered. Hearing the cry of the bird above her again, she removed her coat and placed it over the dog. 

Mirabel ran to catch up to Beatrix, who had already traversed down one rise and up another. She was standing over a steep drop, looking down to a large, dilapidated building. She looked as if she were being held back. “Do you know what that is?” 

Mirabel shook her head. She had only known it to be off-limits. “I’m not allowed to go there.” 

Beatrix drew in a deep breath with a barely noticeable shudder. Mirabel spied a drooping in Beatrix’s shoulders. “My grandfather founded this ranch, built it from nothing. He raised sheep,” she explained calmly. “Ten thousand head, feeding cities far to the east. We used to own all the land you see.“

“Why aren’t there any here now?” asked Mirabel.

“Because,” Beatrix replied, and offered nothing else.

“Oh,” said Mirabel. “I like sheep!” Mirabel smiled. 

Beatrix glanced down. A rare smile, pulled unnaturally taut. “I liked sheep, too.” The smile slunk away and the shoulders snapped to position. “Where does the lamb on your dinner plate come from?” Beatrix asked, her voice clear and sharp.

Mirabel shivered despite the sunshine. “Mommy gets it at the … store?” 

“It was once an animal,” said Beatrix, wrung her hands tightly in front. Her breaths had gone shallow. “A living, breathing creature that was slaughtered, cut up, packaged, and sold for your enjoyment.” She could not see the horror dawn on her companion. “This farm raised sheep for their wool, and for their meat.” She stared at the building for a long moment, then nodded. “Come.” 

Beatrix started to walk through the fields, following no path. She walked carefully, looking more through the grasses before her feet than ahead of her. Mirabel, her leadened feet initially unwilling to move, slowly followed. Down the rise, around some unkempt bushes losing their leaves, until they found their way to a long-abandoned road that had circled the property, unseen from the great house. The windowless building was long, with two great, sliding doors at the front. At the far end of one side, Mirabel could see the rotted remains of a corral. They stopped at the front. 

“All things die, Bea,” Beatrix said quietly, looking at the sliding doors. She started to take a step forward and stopped. “You…,” and her voice faltered. She took a breath. “You must accept death, Mirabel. We all must.” Beatrix stared at the sliding doors. “Many things died, here,” she added softly. 

“What happened in there?” asked Mirabel.

Beatrix continued to stare. “It’s an abattoir,” Beatrix said plainly. “It’s where they…” She rubbed her throat. “So many years,” she whispered. “So many lambs.” Her fingers trembled as she crossed her forehead. “I thought I could come here…”

Mirabel went to Beatrix and held her hand. “Grandma? Are you okay?”

Beatrix sniffed, and wiped at her nose. “I had a pet lamb, once,” she said, cracks forming in her voice’s regalness. “His name was Rupert.” She dabbed at her eye. 

Mirabel pointed up the hills from where they had walked. “His name was on that rock.”

“He was a lovely lamb,” Beatrix remembered softly. “He had blue eyes. Do you know how rare blue eyes are with sheep?” Beatrix didn’t wait for a response. “He had the softest coat, he always wore a yellow ribbon around his neck. I fed him carrots every day.” Her face glowed in the setting sun, and she smiled slightly. “He slept in the shed next to the house. I made a bed for him out of straw. I tried to get him to sleep in my bed at night, but my mother caught me sneaking him into the house. I gave him one of my blankets so he wouldn’t miss me.” 

“Why is there a rock with his name on it?” asked Mirabel. 

The smile blew away with the breeze. “One day, when I was about your age, one of the farm hands was chasing an escaped lamb and found Rupert in the yard where we had been playing Hide and Go Seek. Rupert was a terrible hider, but he could always find me. The farm hand didn’t think about why the lamb had a yellow ribbon, he just took Rupert. I saw him when he was almost here. I ran after them, falling down the hill, screaming and begging. The farm hand didn’t hear me as anything but a little girl to be ignored.” Beatrix walked unsteadily to the doors and placed her hands on them, feeling the deep crevices of the weathered wood. “Like you, I was told never to come here, never to go inside. I should have listened and stayed outside. I should have let go. But I wanted my Rupert. I was young and impetulant … and I ran through the doors.” She moved her hands to the old handle, and pulled. With a shearing screech, the hung door jostled to the side.

The building seemed like the maw of some ancient serpent, the light pouring in through the doorway, fading to empty, cold black. Cracks in the roof let in faint slits of light that did little to illuminate. Then the smell of long forgotten death seeped out in an invisible fog. Beatrix closed her eyes and cringed; Mirabel’s eyes were wide and as rigid as the rest of her. 

“Back then, the building was full of the sounds of … killing,” Beatrix’s voice was quiet. For the first time in Mirabel’s life, her grandmother sounded old. “I went through the door,” she said, as she skulked into the building, “and saw a dozen men slicing through … meat,” she looked to an empty space as if someone were standing there, “laughing.” She stopped only a few paces in the door. Mirabel peered in, but refused to enter. “Then they saw me. The only sounds in the room then were the crying lambs in their pens.” Still looking to the empty space, Beatrix’s eyes slowly went to the other side of the wide room. She turned her head, then the rest of her, and shakily walked to a spot on the floor. It was empty, the wood well-worn and broken. She crouched down and touched an empty patch with reverence. “It was here,” she whispered.  “I remember the scream.” She touched her ears. “My scream. 

“My father found me,” Beatrix’s voice fluttered in the massive void, “holding my dead Rupert. His workmen had no idea what to do and just stood there. My father pried Rupert from my hands.” She held them up and looked, the old memory projecting like a movie. “I wailed like a banshee. He tried to tell me. I couldn’t … wouldn’t listen.” Beatrix tried to stand, but her dignity failed and fell to all fours. She sniffed lightly, cleared her throat, and pushed her way to a bent-over stand, the weight of time holding her down. “I kicked him,” she whispered. “I cursed him. I hated him. He took my Rupert.” Beatrix turned to see Mirabel, still standing at the door, then slowly shuffled towards her. “I did the only thing I could do. I ran away,” Beatrix continued, her voice stronger, though caught in her throat. “It wasn’t hard to do, this used to be a very large ranch. I fell asleep under the stars, but I woke in my bed in the house.” 

Beatrix reached Mirabel and tried to reach out, Mirabel took a few steps backwards. Mirabel’s eyes were red, her cheeks washed from tears and rubbed red. “My father came to me that morning and tried to cheer me up. He gave me a lambskin.” Her face sunk with the next memory. “He told me it was Rupert’s,” she shook her head. A single tear fell across the creases of her withered face. “I cried that entire day,” she said, her wet gaze casting far over the hills for several moments. She then stepped out of the barn and tried to pull the door closed. She struggled for a few moments before she stopped and sighed, and looked at her granddaughter. “Help me,” she held out her hand. “Please.” 

Mirabel slowly came to her grandmother’s hand, and took hold of the aged fingers. They were cold and leathery, not the warm, strong hands Mirabel had only ever known. The hand did not pull nor grasp and seemed delighted just to be held. Mirabel came close to her grandmother, put her arms gently around the heavy felted coat, and hugged. Beatrix looked down and patted Mirabel’s head. “I’m so sorry, Mirabel. I forgot.” 

“Forgot what?” asked Mirabel. 

“My innocence,” Beatrix replied. “My youth.” She smoothed out Mirabel’s hair, then moved her hand to the small face and gently wiped away the wetness. Mirabel smiled and sniffed. Together, they wrenched the old door back into place, then hand-in-hand, started the slow walk up the old road. “I gave Rupert a funeral. I felt it was the only decent thing I could do. I buried the lambskin, and his yellow ribbon. That stone marks his resting place, in the fields we played in.” 

“Do you miss him?” asked Mirabel. 

“Very much,” said Beatrix. “More today than I have in too many years.” 

“Did your father ever say he was sorry?” asked Mirabel.

“No,” Beatrix replied softly. “He told me to grow up,” Beatrix shook her head, “so I did.” Beatrix could feel Mirabel shivering in the chill air, the sun having set behind the hills beyond the property. “Let’s get your coat,” said Beatrix. “After we get your parents, and a shovel.” Mirabel looked up curiously. Beatrix smiled brightly, “I think Rupert would like to rest with a friend.”    

Non-fiction Photo Essay

The Westgate Moose

We live in the Westgate neighbourhood in Calgary. It’s “inner city”, which is not really an accurate statement though everyone tells me that’s correct — to be picky, we’re about halfway out of the city. Despite being tucked well beyond our borders and fairly well separated from the green spaces, we periodically get some interesting visitors.

I was in the backyard, doing backyard work. Nothing particular strenuous, probably just tending to the irises that grow behind the outdoor fireplace that’s in need of a rebuild. That I was doing something isn’t the important part, however, it’s that I was outside. And being outside was important, because that’s how I heard the call: “Moose!”

To be clear, not the call of the moose. One of our next door neighbours was in her yard, doing whatever it was that she was doing, but echoed the cry from other houses further down the alley. “There’s a moose in the alley!”

I perked my ears — I mean, honestly, who doesn’t think that’s a strange statement to begin with? — and walked over to the alley fence (also in need of a rebuild) and peek over the edge.

Excuse me, but do you have any Grey Poupon?

Honestly, these leaves are bland...
Honestly, these leaves are bland…

I blinked. The moose blinked back. I slowly backed away from the fence, turned, sprinted and ran into the house, ran to my camera all the while shouting “there’s a moose in the alley!” to my family, and bolted back outside to find our visitor casually stopping for a drink.

Downward moose

Downward moose

Now I’m no biologist, nor do I have the faintest idea of moose anatomy beyond they’re part of the deer family, have massive antlers, and you really, really, really don’t want to run into one (literally) with your car, ‘cuz they’ll just shrug it off like you would a mosquito, leaving you in a crumpled pile of metal, but I could tell that this was a juvenile, because we could literally look him in the eyes.

Yes, I’m going with “him”. It could have been a “her”. I genuinely don’t know. But there’s buds on the head that are where antlers would grow, and cows don’t grow antlers.

He stayed a while in our alley, taking advantage of all the lovely leaves that our overgrown trees throw over the fences. (One advantage of being in an older neighbourhood: bigger trees.) The neighbours who knew about the moose, of course, flooded into the alley to watch. Most of us — like most people who’ve ever seen a moose — haven’t seen one who wasn’t penned up in a zoo. (I’d only ever seen two moose ever before, which crossed a road in front of me so many years ago I don’t really remember where.) This moose was pretty chill, nonchalant, and didn’t give a moose hoot about the humans watching it.

The whole neighbourhood is out…

The whole neighbourhood is out...

He munched his way down the alley, taking his time, not concerned in the slightest about being corralled in an alley. I stayed in front of him with a wide margin of safety, namely mine (and the others further back in the alley) — I didn’t want to spook him, nor did I want even a half-grown moose wanting to charge me. Eventually wandering out of the alley, he walked back up our street, right in front of our home to the amazement of both of my kids, eventually settling on a lawn a couple of houses away, where he stayed well after dark, slipping away under cover of night and bright street lights.

Time to rest

Time to rest

This isn’t quite the end of the story, though.

The next day, the family was out on family things (possibly a dental appointment, I’m not really sure). I returned from work by bike, swinging in through the gate as I often do, depositing my ancient wheels in the shed. I went inside and got myself sorted, stripping the very stinky bike clothes and showering, and started to work on dinner. As I worked away in the kitchen, I happened to glance out the back window.

The gate that I had come in through was open. I swore to myself that I had closed the gate. Given, we have a bum latch, but … well, why was the gate open? Then I thought: Moose.

Walking slowly towards the french doors that lead into the backyard, I saw our friend sitting next to our garden.

Oh, the moose came back the very next day…

Yes, the moose came back, he thought our backyard was comfy and quiet.
Yes, the moose came back, he thought our backyard was comfy and quiet.

The Girl Who Could Fly

When she was about six or seven, all my eldest wanted to do was fly. I remember those years, the dreams I had where I flew, and the unbelievable feeling of freedom and lightness.

“No you can’t!” said Trina. She always said “no”. 

“Yes I can!” said Loretta. 

“I don’t believe it!” said Trina. 

“Me, neither!” added Carly. Carly didn’t always agree with Trina, but even this sounded a bit too fantastic. 

“I can, too!” protested Loretta. 

“Can’t!” said Trina. 

“You’re a liar!” added Carly. 

“Am not!” said Loretta, stomping the ground. 

“Are too! And we’re not playing with a liar!” sneered Trina. “Right, Carly?” 

“Yeah!” added Carly. She followed Trina as they sauntered off. 

“Pfbbbbt!” Loretta stuck her tongue out at her departing friends. “I’ll show you! I can fly!” 

And so Loretta took a step back, braced her left foot behind her, crouched down, took a deep breath, and focused on the field in front of her. Then she silently counted backwards from five, and took off in a great sprint. She ran as fast as she could, pumping her legs as hard as she could. Then she took three great big leaps, and flung herself into the air…

And landed hard on her belly, her pink t-shirt staining with grass and dirt, her face planted right into a dandelion. She could hear the squealing laughter of her two now-former friends as she picked herself up, brushed off some of the grass and dirt, and started to walk away quickly, pretending to not hear the names being yelled at her from across the field. 

Loretta threw open the door to her home, a small two-storey red brick house a block from the school field. She ran right to the stairs, raced up two steps at a time, slammed the door to her room shut, and flung herself on her bed, face down into her pillow. But there were no tears, nothing to console her. She just felt angry. 

Why hadn’t she flown? She had done it before … well, in her dreams, anyway. But it was always so easy to do — she just had to run and jump, and she could soar like a kite. She punched her pillow in frustration. She sighed deeply, which was hard to do with the pillow in her face. She rolled over onto her back and stared up at the clouds on her ceiling. 

Loretta’s mother had decorated Loretta’s room when she was five. Her floor was carpeted with a green shag that looked and felt like grass. Her walls were tall grasses, flowers, and shrubs, except the wall with her bed, where there was a pasture and a distant hill. Blades of grass had little ladybugs and ants, the flowers had bees and butterflies. Above the plants, the walls went light blue, which turned to a darker blue on the ceiling, which featured the clouds. Most of the clouds were fluffy-looking, but two looked like animals: a bunny and a cat. 

The room had always made Loretta feel comfortable and relaxed. It was her space, her private place where she could forget all the things that bothered her. First was Steven, her little brother, who was always drawing little moustaches on her ladybugs. Then there was Trina, her supposed best friend who had a knack for saying just the right thing to make Loretta feel bad. Homework! Homework always made Loretta feel bad. But then, so did dance lessons — she just couldn’t get the pirouette right, no matter how much Madame Janet tried to keep Loretta steady. Loretta loved dancing, but she always failed the tests. Tests. THE TEST! 

Loretta leapt off her bed and went to her book back, and pulled out her history textbook. The Wright Brothers. Why did history matter? Why did she have to learn about people who’d been dead a hundred years? Loretta could learn anything off the internet in a few minutes! Why spend any time memorizing things that she would never need? Loretta crawled onto her beanbag chair, and wiggled around until she was comfortable. 

She soon found herself staring at the clouds on the ceiling again, the textbook laid flat on her lap. It wasn’t that the textbook was boring, it was … well, the story was boring. It was hard to learn when there was nothing for Loretta to relate to. She closed her eyes and sighed, long and softly. She felt restful, even a bit sleepy.

Why was it so hard for Trina to believe that Loretta could fly? Had Trina never flown before? The more Loretta thought about it, the more it made sense: Trina probably hadn’t flown before. Anyone who had flown wouldn’t have objected so much. 

Loretta popped her eyes open, and looked at the clouds drift across her ceiling. The grasses on her walls swayed in the gentle breeze, and the ladybugs buzzed from grass to flower to bush, across the walls. Of course Loretta could fly. And the only way that Trina would believe that Loretta could fly was for Loretta to show Trina! 

Loretta hopped up from the beanbag chair (a difficult thing to do), putting her textbook on the floor as she got up. She went over to her window, and lifted the lower pane. She then backed up to the other side of her room, braced her left foot behind her, crouched down, took a deep breath, and focused on the open window in front of her. Then she silently counted backwards from five, and took off in a great sprint. She ran as fast as she could, pumping her legs as hard as she could. Then she took three great big leaps, and flung herself into the air…

Loretta sailed through her open window like a dart. She spread her arms, tilted herself to one side, and glided effortlessly around the huge red maple tree in her front yard. She reached out with her hand, feeling the leaves tickle her fingers as she spiralled around it, before climbing up into the air. 

She had that feeling in her chest, right under the lower edge of her ribcage, that came only when she flew. It was excitement, exhilaration, almost halfway between breaths. She felt light. She smiled uncontrollably as the wind blew her long blonde hair over her shoulders and down her back like a cape. 

With a movement that looked like a fancy dive off the high board at the swimming pool, Loretta bent in half, touching her toes, and dove towards the ground. She went faster and faster as she descended. She pulled up from her dive, and swooped under her neighbours’ huge pine trees before flying just over their rooftops, as she headed back towards the field, and the playground. 

Trina and Carly were still there, playing with each other on the jungle gym. “Hi Trina! Hi Carly!” Loretta called as she came closer. Trina looked around, but couldn’t see who had called her name. “Up here, silly!” 

Trina looked up, and saw Loretta fluttering over the playground. “How… how are you doing that?!” she yelped. 

“I told you, I can fly!” laughed Loretta. 

“I saw you… I saw you fall flat on your face! I thought you were making it up!” said Trina. 

“Yeah!” breathed Carly, not sure what else to say.

“Nope!” grinned Loretta. “Wanna see what I can do?” She didn’t wait for Trina or Carly to say anything else. With an effortless pirouette, she flew upwards into the air, so perfect that Madam Janet would weep with happiness. She then arched backwards into a perfect dive, tumbling in perfect grace until she was barely a body length above the ground. There she stopped, the palms of her hands held together. Then she giggled and cartwheeled all the way around the playground without ever touching the ground. Then she flew under the playset Trina and Carly were standing on, and floated up next to them. 

“Wow…,” breathed Carly. “That looks like so much fun!” 

“Yeah, it really is,” said Loretta. 

“Can I fly with you?” asked Carly. 

“No way, me first!” shouted Trina, pushing Carly to the side. “Take me!” 

Loretta wasn’t sure about Trina. Her meanness aside, Trina was quite a bit bigger than Carly. There was a question of if she could fly. “Um… I want to try with Carly first. She’s about my brother’s size, and I sometimes fly with him.” 

“You fly with your brother?” asked Trina. 

“Well, more like dangle him by his feet until he tells me where he’s hidden my dolls,” admitted Loretta. “Wanna fly, Carly?” 

“Y-yeah,” said Carly, slowly. She looked at Trina cautiously. Trina was pouting. 

“Give me your hand,” said Loretta. Carly reached up slowly, like reaching out to an unfamiliar dog that may or may not bite. Loretta took Carly’s hand, and gently pulled up. Carly squealed as her feet left the playset and dangled freely. Somewhere inside her, she felt light, like she was halfway between breaths. 

Loretta took Carly on a low, slow pass around the field. Carly reached down with her free hand, and brushed the top of the grass as they went by. She plucked a dandelion that had gone to fuzz. The fluffy white seeds blew off on their own as Loretta sped up, taking Carly faster, and higher. Soon they were above the treetops, whipping along the streets, diving behind houses and scaring squirrels. 

When they came back to the playground, Trina was sitting on the edge of the playset. She had been crying. She wiped her eyes and sniffed as Carly’s feet touched back to the ground. Carly’s eyes were wild, her hair messy, and she smiled so widely that her head looked almost cut in half. She let out a tremendous cheer and raced around the playset laughing. She stopped only when she saw Trina’s face.

“Trina? Are you okay?” asked Carly. 

“Nevermind!” snapped Trina.  

Carly walked over to Trina. “Don’t you want to fly? You should try, it’s a lot of—“

“Shut up!” cried Trina, tears starting to flow again. “Just … be quiet, you!” 

“That’s not nice to say, Trina. Carly’s your friend,” said Loretta. “I’m willing to take you, too.” 

“Why didn’t you take me first?!” Trina demanded. 

“Because I didn’t know that I could. But Carly wasn’t hard at all, so I think I can take you. I’ll just need to start slow to make sure.” 

Trina sniffed again and wiped her eyes. “O-okay. You’re sure?” 

“Yes,” smiled Loretta. “Give me your hand.” 

Like with Carly, Loretta carefully picked Trina up off the ground. As she’d thought, Loretta wasn’t much harder than Trina, though it was a little harder to go fast, and turning was a bit more difficult. Still, it wasn’t long before Trina was laughing, shouting for joy, begging Loretta to go faster and faster. 

They raced over their school, looking at the workers who were tarring the roof. They flew through the parking lot of the corner store, flicking the antennas on the cars, leaving them wildly wobbling back and forth. They raced down an empty street, kicking up dust and leaves and a stray plastic bag with their wind. Finally, Loretta took them up to the top of the tallest tree in the area. They floated just above the highest leaf as it twisted in the breeze, unsure if it should obey Mother Nature, or Loretta. 

“It’s so amazing up here,” said Trina. “I wish I could see this all the time. Could you teach me to fly?” 

“I don’t think I can,” said Loretta, sadly. “I’m don’t even know how I can do it. I asked my dad once how I could fly. He said it’s because I’m a birdbrain,” she laughed. 

“Your dad called you that? That’s a mean thing to say!” protested Trina. 

“Oh, my dad’s a goofball. He calls me all sorts of funny names,” giggled Loretta. “You know, you call me names, too. And they’re not all nice, either.” 

“I know,” said Trina, hanging her head. “I’m sorry. I— I just don’t know what I should say.” 

“Sometimes, say nothing. Just listen. You’d be surprised what you can learn by listening to someone.” 

Trina looked up. “That’s a good idea,” she smiled. “I’ll try to remember that.” 

“You do that,” smiled Loretta in return. 

“Loretta!” called a distant voice. 

“Uh oh, that’s my dad,” said Loretta. “It might be dinner time. I gotta go!” She flew Trina back down to the playground, then flew off, waving as she left. She raced over the tree tops, ducked behind her neighbour’s house, and aimed straight for her open window. 

Loretta sailed in through the window, tucked and rolled, and with a twist plopped right into her beanbag chair, which always made a handy and soft landing. 

“Loretta!” called her father again. 

Loretta’s eyes popped open. The clouds on her ceiling were still. The grasses and the ladybugs were frozen in place. 

“Coming!” said Loretta, and leapt up from her beanbag chair. She bolted from her room, and raced down the stairs two at a time. Her father was standing at the bottom. She collided with him and hugged him tightly. “Yeah, Dad? What is it?” 

“Your friends are at the door,” he said. 

“Oh! Thanks, Dad!” said Loretta, and went to the front door. Waiting there were Trina and Carly. Carly was smiling and waving happily. Trina looked unhappy. “Hi guys. What’s up?” 

“Oh, we thought we’d stop by and…,” Carly looked at Trina, and elbowed her in the ribs. “And…?” 

“Srmm,” Trina mumbled. 

Carly looked at Trina sternly. “Excuse me?” 

Trina wasn’t much louder. “Sorry.” 

Carly prodded Trina. “About?” 

“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you,” said Trina. “I wasn’t being nice.” 

“And I’m really sorry I called you a liar,” added Carly. “That was a dumb thing to say.”

“That’s okay,” said Loretta. “It’s a pretty weird thing, anyway. You want to come in and play?” 

“Yeah!” said Carly. Trina nodded hopefully. 

They climbed the stairs to Loretta’s room. Loretta plopped down in her bean bag chair.  

“You have the best room,” said Trina, looking at the walls and ceiling. “I wish I had a room this cool!” 

“I love it. It’s my own little world. This is where I feel my best,” said Loretta. 

“Is this where you fly?” asked Carly, looking at the clouds. 

“Yeah,” said Loretta shyly. “It’s … it’s pretty easy to that in here.” 

Trina spun in a circle and looked at everything. Then she knelt next to Loretta. “Can you show us how?” 

Novels Science Fiction The Banshee

The Banshee: Chapter 1

This is the first chapter from a book I’ve been writing for … um … carry the three … well, since I came up with the idea in my last year of university. I’ll publish a chapter every week.

Warning: This story is not for children.

Joanna Maria de Leon stared up at her bedroom ceiling in the dim light. It hadn’t always been her bedroom. It was once her closet. A wonderful walk-in closet for her various outfits … or the ones she had dreamed of having, anyway. It had been a luxury, one afforded to her because she was allowed to design her own room. Not that she’d had the room to herself for very long. The ARCH’s population had swelled so quickly that she had moved into the closet, her last real possession, her one privilege for being an Engineer. She was the only one who clung to her entitlement, the others had given up theirs for a small bunkhouse a few levels down. 

Sleep never seemed to come when the Banshee wailed. Even buried deep inside the ARCH, a half-dozen levels below the outside, there wasn’t an escape from the sound. The low frequencies reverberated through every empty space, the higher ones seemed to find a way to attenuate through the structure itself. Though only a shadow of the sound near the outer hull, even in her room the booming scream was more than enough to steal away any sense of rest.  

The paint was cracked and peeling. No, make that peeled. What little of the original paint that remained had long since been covered with the reddish-beige dust that covered almost everything. What had the colour been? Teal? No, it had been something more exotic … Green Tea! That small can she’d found abandoned in the Lowe’s outside of Kingman. Aesthetics mattered back then. How many years? Six? No, maybe nine now. If only Behr knew their paint wouldn’t hold up to this kind of punishment. 

She laid spread-eagled on her thin and worn cot in a vain attempt to ward off the endlessly oppressive heat. She wore only her underwear and a thin top so old and stained that she couldn’t remember its original color. Her long, wavy, and thoroughly untamed black hair spilled over one end of the cot, tied in a simply pony tail, to keep her neck and shoulders free and cool. She always felt like she was swimming in her own perspiration. 

Dust drifted imperceptibly in the stagnant air, illuminated only by her small hand lamp. Without the light, the room would be dead black, like the room beyond her thin door, and the hallways beyond that. Working lights were a commodity more valuable than gold. Vibrations shook loose more fine sand and gypsum from large cracks in the ceiling. Everyone slept with a cloth over their nose and mouth, at least when anyone could sleep. The light flickered. Jo fumbled around for the lamp, slapping it twice on the floor to reseat the battery. The room went black. 

“¡Maldito!” Jo panicked, half-falling off the cot. She struggled with the light, banging it rapidly, desperately. Light leaked out weakly. “¡Ánimo!…” She massaged the casing to wedge it on tighter. A final solid thud against the floor returned the light to near-full intensity. Jo slumped against the wall, sighing. She picked up the little light like a delicate flower and held it to her chest. 

Over the sound of her own panting in her ears, beyond wailing that leaked from every surface, she heard a steady beeping. She picked up her pants from the floor and rustled through the pockets. She pulled out her Nokia 3310, its cracked and worn case hidden under layers of duct tape. She could barely make out the numbers “13” and “1” through the scratches on the screen. 

“¡Mierda!” She quickly pulled on the patched beige cargo pants, followed by a threadbare pale blue button-up long-sleeved shirt. She tried to avoid aggravating the thinning areas, so she wouldn’t have to patch or darn the holes. She picked up her pair of too-large work boots, and with boots and light in hand, darted out of the room.

What had formerly been her bedroom was, like nearly every other room in the ARCH, a bunkhouse. A dozen three-tiered frames housed nearly seventy, and nearly every space on the floor was occupied. Some organized themselves strategically, keeping the space for them and their families. Others lay randomly. Some looked like they’d been poured into what little space remained. Jo picked her way carefully, but quickly, towards the room door, the work light showing the way. 

She took the stairs two steps at a time. Only a floor up, the stairwell walls opened up into the atrium, a soccer field-sized common space that was filled with more semi-sleeping residents. The bunks rose high into the atrium, welded from countless pieces of scrap, each tower holding at least a hundred. The Banshee’s wailing screeched through the space in near-visible waves. Within two flights from the top, the stairwell was empty. Up there, the wind roared like an immense colony of upset seabirds.

Jo quickly put on her oversized boots and tied them as tightly as she could, and raced down the empty hallways. Entering the top floor of Block 1, she paused and craned her hearing, even though she cringed at the powerful sound. Over the roar, she could hear a higher-pitched tone, sort of like someone blowing over the mouth of a broken beer bottle. Turning around until she could get a direction, she strained to hear the volume rise and fall. 

“JO!” a voice barely penetrated the noise. She wheeled around to see a tall man with curly blond hair, and a scruffy beard. In the absence of razors, nearly every man in the ARCH had a beard. The owner of the beard was Erik Larsen, the second most senior Engineer. “I’m sorry we paged—!”  

Jo wasn’t in the mood to banter. “Where’s the breech?” 

The man jerked his thumb over his shoulder, spun and marched off. Jo followed quickly. He led her to a portable wall, around a corner. A shorter, mostly bald man was staring through a heavily-scratched Plexiglas window. “What’s it look like, Bob?” Jo shouted. 

“It’s a big one!“ he yelled. “Nearly killed me getting the patch in there.” 

“Pero no podías terminar el trabajo,” Jo muttered, knowing even if he heard her comment, he wouldn’t understand. She peered through the portal herself. Inside, the dim lights built into the other side of the portable wall illuminated the hallway beyond. She couldn’t see far for a warping haze that spun and twirled: sand, caught in a violent wind that had broken through a tear in the roof. “So why couldn’t you get the patch in place?” she asked. 

“Bob’s screwed it up, and you know I don’t fit in the suit,” Erik answered.

“Oh, cariño, it’s a good thing you love me!” Jo replied, punching Erik in the shoulder. 


“It’s a good thing you called me!” she yelled over the wind. “Why me, anyway?”

“It’s already been open too long and the patch’s bent! What do you want me to do, Jo, let the roof cave in?” Erik shouted back. “I can’t do it!” He shifted his eyes to Bob. “And you know…!” 

She knew. “Alright, ¡dámelo!” 

Bob threw her the motorcycle suit. It had seen far too many jobs, and its heavy patches were kept in place with old duct tape, tar, and too much prayer. The coloring was long since been scratched off, leaving behind the thinning dull tan leather. Jo slipped into the heavy pants, pulling the cuffs tight over her boots and pulling the belt as tight as she could. The long, heavy welding gloves went through the jacket’s sleeves with difficulty. Bob buttoned the jacket’s cuffs for Jo, and did up the front of the suit. He did up the collar, and then wrapped a long, tattered cotton scarf around her neck a half-dozen times before putting on the helmet. The clear visor was easily as scratched as the wall’s Plexiglas window. 

“You good?” yelled Erik, slapping Jo on the helmet. Jo did a few bends and twists to ensure she had her mobility. Unable to yell back through all the padding, she nodded.

Jo picked up the rivet gun, check to make sure it was well-loaded, and clipped it to a ring at the bottom of the jacket. The rivet gun was an invention of necessity. Pop rivets required a 1/8” hole, which the gun itself could not make. Bound to the rivet gun, mounted ninety degrees from the rivet gun itself, was an ancient battery-powered drill with a long 1/8” bit. A good riveter could drill the hole in about three seconds, and bind the rivet in about another three seconds. A bad riveter usually got hurt when the patch was blown free before it was anchored.

Erik and Bob went over to the door, and took a hold of a long pole to the left of the door’s hinge. She stepped to the door and looked at Erik and Bob. They pulled back hard on the pole, and the door ached inwards to the hallway beyond the wall. Immediately, a hurricane blew through the doorway, nearly blasting Jo off her feet. She leaned forward, and grasped the edge of the doorway, and pulled herself forward. She wedged herself between the door and the wall, then banged the door twice with her fist. Erik and Bob let go of the handle, and the door slammed shut with the force of the wind. Jo was thankful that the helmet had drowned out the storm, though it still sounded like a hundred whistles of every size were being blown all at once. 

The hallway already had several inches of sand, and it was collecting quickly. The roof had a large hole; a piece of the hull had been torn free. The outside storm was expressing its anger through a jagged hole the size of a kitchen table. The trailing edge was bent outwards, the wind shrieked as it raced over the metal’s edge. The sky beyond was a lifeless pitch dark, but Jo always felt she could see something staring back. With a shiver, she went back to the wall, and pounded three times, then three times again. It was followed by two beats. 

“Oh, come on!” She snorted, and repeated her pounds. Two responded. “Gilipollos,” she muttered to herself. She turned and looked at the battered drywall lifter that was positioned under the hole. Bob had laid out sandbags on its support to keep it in place, yet it still rolled in the thrashing breeze. She looked around to see where Bob’s mistake had ended up. In the corner against the portable wall, she found the patch under a forming dune. 

The corner had been folded back into a loop, rendering it impossible to rivet without pulling out the bend. Jo looked around at what still remained in the hallway. The hallway, long abandoned, had been stripped down to the struts that once held the walls for the adjacent rooms, and the main beams that held up the roof itself. Even in their heyday, the rooms had been nothing more than storage. Wrestling the table-sized patch from the sand was relatively easy, compared to gripping it against the wind that was determined to pry it free again. Almost immediately, the sheet slid through the heavily-taped fingers of her gloves, and Jo had to throw herself onto the metal to keep it from being whipped away. Immediately, she understood what had happened to Bob: he had let go, the sheet had slammed into the portable wall, and bent around. The dent was plainly visible.

Keeping the sheet low to the ground, she pulled it over to the side of the hallway, and hooked the bent part over the edge of a strut. Using the wind as an extra pair of hands, she managed to straighten the sheet enough that she could attach it. From the struts to the lift jack was a challenge. Even dragging the sheet across the floor as low as she could was difficult. The sheet constantly fought against her, yearning to fly. 

The lift jack was an old drywall lifter that had been modified to deal with hull repairs. It still lifted flat panels to the roof, only it did so using a pressurized ram, putting a panel in place in the blink of an eye, and held it there. 

Jo pulled a sandbag from the jack, and placed it on the end of the sheet to keep it down. Using a shovel, she scooped as much sand as she could around the jack, then slid on the patch. The sheet quickly began to rattle like a caged animal desperate to break free. Jo quickly dug through the sand under the panel, pulled the pin free from the trigger’s safety mechanism, and pressed down on the handle. The result was a slamming of the aluminum sheet into the ceiling with a WHAM! that temporarily drowned out the wind. 

Before the sheet had hit the top, Jo had already pulled out the rivet gun and loaded the first rivet. She whipped out a short stool and popped the first rivet in before the patch’s abrupt contact had stopped echoing. She had the third and fourth rivets in before you could count to five. It would be another twenty minutes before she was happy enough with the seal to back away, and lower the lift from its position. The patch was far from perfect — the bent edge refused to flatten — so there was still a wicked shrieking from the gale trying to force its way in. 

Sand scratched at Jo like a army of cat claws. She returned to the door, and pounded on it once. A moment later, the door creaked open, and she walked out. 

“No es perfecto,” Jo groaned as she pulled off the helmet. “It’ll hold, but we’ll need another patch to seal it properly.” She pulled off the scarf, dumping several handfuls of sand onto the floor. “Did you try to go hang-gliding with that, Bob?” 

“That thing nearly killed me!” Bob yelled, his hand thrown in the direction of the now-secured patch.

“No, your own stupidity nearly killed you!” Jo retorted. “Perhaps you didn’t notice the tornado in there? You can’t carry a sheet that big. Why didn’t you call for backup?!” 

Bob shook his head. “I didn’t think it would—“ 

“That’s right, Bob, you didn’t think. ¡Nunca piensas! One day, you’re going to hurt someone by not thinking!” Jo yelled. “And it had better not be me!”

“Hey!” Erik leaped in between them. “Enough, the both of you. Thank you, Jo,” Erik said as calmly as he could, despite still having to shout above the sound. “How many rivets did you have to put in?” 

“About forty. Easily twenty too many, but I wanted to try get that corner down as much as I could,” said Jo.

“You’ve probably got a couple of loose ones in there?” Erik asked, peering through the window. 

“Yeah,” Jo confirmed, taking off the jacket and pants. She shook out another handful of sand. “There’s at least a couple that missed the hull.” 

Erik turned to Bob. “Go get another patch. And get Dylan to give you a hand. Let’s make sure that’s going to hold.” 

Bob glared at Erik. “But—!” 

“No buts! We should have called up Dylan in the first place,” said Erik. He looked to Jo. “Hell, we probably should’ve just gotten her out of bed to start with.” 

“So can I go?” asked Jo. “I was trying to get some sleep.” 

“No you weren’t,” Erik smiled ruefully. “No-one is.” 

“A girl can dream, right?” Jo winked. Erik gently slapped her on the shoulder as she turned back down the hallway towards the stairs. 

The return trip was less hurried than the one up, though Jo didn’t dawdle to get away from the noise. If there was any advantage to the emergency, it had been to assault Jo’s senses, and returning to the relative quiet of her closet-room was enough for her to try to slip into a light sleep for a couple of hours. As she lay back down on her cot, she stared up at the ceiling. It was coming. It always did. 

A scream. A cry for help. A wail. Jo didn’t leap out of bed, knowing already what it was. The crowd had already formed at the stairs. Jo had to push her way up into the Atrium. Not ten paces from the stairway was the prone form of a young woman, about the same age as herself. Her long, black hair formed a hair around her head, mixed with the pooling blood. There was no way for her offer sympathy. It always happened. 

The Banshee always screamed when someone was about to die.


The Dream Road

I love trains and I always feel a little sad when I come across an abandoned railway line. It feels like it should be something more important, but our love affair with the automobile led to the death of a trusted friend that we only see in our dreams.

Liam was out walking with his father one late summer’s afternoon, strolling through the fields near his uncle’s house. Liam’s family had visited with his uncle every summer for as long as Liam could remember, and long before that. 

Walking in the fields was one of Liam’s great joys. It didn’t matter what the farmers were growing. Some grew hay for livestock, some grew long lines of lettuces or cabbages. Some had sheep or cattle. It was the walk through the openness of the fields, which was only broken up by property lines in the form of low ivy-coated stone walls, or the odd line of bushy trees that rustled in the easy breezes. The lines crossed over the low and gentle hills, like someone had laid down a huge patchwork quilt, made with a hundred shades of green. 

Except for the odd car, the only other thing Liam could hear were the distant bleating of sheep, and his own feet as they walked through the grass. The sun shone bright, he felt warm and cozy, like waking up in bed on a Saturday morning when the house was still. He walked, listening to the stories his father would tell about when he was a boy, coming out to visit with his relatives, and walking around the fields with his father.

“See that tree?” asked Liam’s father, pointing to a large oak. “There was a tyre swing on that big branch. You can still see the band where the rope was.” 

Liam squinted at the tree. There was a thin line, which looked sort of like his father’s finger whenever he took of his wedding ring to cook dinner. He could almost see the hemp rope dangling, the worn tyre swinging back and forth, with himself wedged in the centre, his legs dangling. “Yeah,” said Liam wistfully. 

They walked further, crossing through a gap in another stone wall. Trees ran thickly in a line, splitting two fields. The walked into the next field, which was smaller than the others, empty grass except for five trees towards the north end, which were separated by a huge gap in the middle. They walked diagonally across the field, towards the middle of the gap. 

“Whoa!” Liam squealed as his foot caught on the ground, and he started to tumble forward. He quickly caught himself and stood up. 

“Are you okay?” asked his father. 

“Yeah,” said Liam, and looked down. He realized that he had caught himself on a raised bit of ground. He then noticed that the raised bit of ground was a long raised bit of ground, and that the long raised bit of ground seemed to go in a fairly straight line. In fact, the line seemed to go back through the stone wall and off into the next field, and the field after that. Trees grew out of the side of the raised bit of ground, making the line easier to follow to the east and west. “Dad, what is this?” 

“Huh?” asked Liam’s father, distracted by a distant memory. 

“What’s this?” asked Liam, stamping on the ground with his foot. 

“Oh, that? That’s the bed of an old railway that used to run through here,” said Liam’s father. 

“There was a railway here?” asked Liam excitedly. He had a model train at home that he loved to play with. 

“A long time ago. It was gone when I was your age,” said Liam’s father. “Actually, it might have been gone even when my dad was your age! I’m not sure.” 

“Where did it go?” asked Liam, following the bed’s line. 

“Out to the coast, I think,” said Liam’s father, looking to the east. “It probably connected with the main line,” he turned and faced the other direction, “about three or four miles that way.” 

“‘Main line’? What’s that?” asked Liam.

“The big railway. The one that goes near our house?” Liam’s father suggested. They hadn’t taken the train to see Liam’s uncle. Car rides weren’t nearly as fun. 

“So… trains used to go through here?” Liam asked. 

“Oh yes, big ones, too.”

“How big?” asked Liam. 

“Real big. Back then, they were all steam trains.” 

“Really?” exclaimed Liam. Steam trains were his favourite. “Where did they go?” 

“To be honest, I’m not sure. Probably out to the cities. That’s where everyone wanted to go. That’s where all the dreams were made,” said Liam’s father with a smile. “Where the people went to see the sights, where you could find anything you could imagine.”  

Liam looked down at the ground. The grass on the bed was thinner than on the ground to either side, and some of the heavy gravel that made up the bed was still visible. He shuffled his feet a little, and felt the stiffness of the stones. “Dreams,” he said to himself. He let his mind wander, and started to daydream.

He noticed a faint outline of a piece of wood. It was about as wide as his foot, and as long as the width of the road bed. Then he noticed another one near it. And another. Slowly, more of the wooden ties slowly rose up through the grass, growing like strange long brown mushrooms. The grasses between the ties grew backwards, diving into the stones and disappearing, exposing the whitish-grey rail bed. 

Liam looked up. The field looked … different. The trees were shrinking into small bushes and shrubs. The stone walls between the fields seemed to sink into the ground like a strange submarine. He looked about, and could not see his father. But Liam wasn’t scared — he wanted to watch. 

The ends of each brown wooden tie sprouted something that unfurled like a fern frond. They were a darker brown than the tie, and much taller than any frond Liam had ever seen on his walks near the brooks and creeks. They grew up and up, then fell down to lay atop the ties on either side, one frond upon another. They kept unfurling, twisting together, growing larger and stronger until they formed a solid rail. 

A train track lay beneath Liam’s feet, extending as far as he could see in either direction. The walls and trees and bushes and roads that had once covered the tracks were gone. He bent down and touched the track. The rail felt cold in his hand, the top shiny and smooth from the train wheels. 

Under his hand, Liam felt a vibration. Something was coming! He leapt off the tracks just as he heard a whistle coming from around a bend in the tracks some distance away. From behind a clump of trees he saw … smoke! Smoke was flying into the sky, moving across the tops of the trees. He heard the whistle again just as he saw the front of a steam train coming around the bend, heading towards him!

Liam stepped back a bit further as the train barrelled towards him like a bellowing iron dragon. The head of the dragon was a kingly sky blue locomotive with long curves from the front to the rear. Behind it were eight beautiful passenger coaches, a light tan on top with a deep, rich brown on the bottom. The train didn’t slow, and the locomotive whistled loudly as it roared past. The massive wheels twirled, the huge piston rods banged. Liam waved mightily to anyone on the train who might notice him. 

And suddenly, Liam found himself standing not on the grass, but in the middle of a passenger coach. It seemed like the inside of some grand hotel he’d seen once before: deep reddish-brown wood that lovingly wrapped around the windows. The carpet on the floor was like a deep grass green, and wonderfully soft. Instead of benches, there were huge stuffed armchairs with deep red leather, gathered around small round tables in groups of four. Liam listened to the rapid clickety-clack of the wheels as the train sped along. 

“Welcome aboard, sir!” said a voice. Liam spun on his heel and saw an older man in a dark blue suit with bright brass buttons, and a cap that read: Conductor. 

“I… I… I…,” Liam stuttered, trying to think of how he got on a train. A train that was riding on rails that hadn’t even existed a few moments earlier! 

“You don’t need a ticket, Liam!” said the Conductor. He cupped his arm around Liam’s back and took hold of Liam’s shoulder. He walked him through the car to the largest, most comfortable-looking chair of them all.  

“Where … where are we going?” asked Liam.

“Does it matter? Sometimes it just matters to be on a train. Where it’s going is unimportant,” suggested the Conductor. 

“But … well, I guess the ride might be nice,” said Liam, looking out the window as the countryside sped past. 

“Would you be hungry, by chance?” asked the Conductor. 

Liam’s stomach growled as if the question had been meant for it. It had been a couple of hours since lunch, and after all the walking… “I would very much like a snack, thank you!” he said. 

“Waiter!” called the Conductor. 

Almost immediately, a smaller man with a thin layer of dark hair, wearing a stark white jacket with brass buttons that matched the Conductor’s, appeared pushing a small cart with a cream tea set. He quickly laid out the small tea pot after pouring the first cup, a small plate with two scones, the clotted cream, strawberry preserves, along with a small pitcher of milk, a slice of lemon, and a little jar of honey. 

“How did you know?” asked Liam, startled. 

“Why, it’s your favourite, of course!” said the waiter, as he bowed, and disappeared. 

“Enjoy your tea, sir!” said the Conductor, who headed off down the car. 

Liam looked out the window. The rolling hills drifted past his window like clouds on a sunny day. The trees blurred past. Every so often, they would approach a small town, announced by the shrill whistle of the locomotive. The townsfolk seemed to all be lining the tracks, and waved enthusiastically to Liam as they went past. He waved back, regally twisting his hand at the wrist. 

The hills sudden gave way to a tremendous valley. The train crossed the valley atop an equally tremendous viaduct that curved to the other side, rising from deep in the valley in arch after arch. Down the valley, Liam could see a vast sea that sparkled in the late afternoon sun. 

“Are you enjoying your trip, Liam?” asked the Conductor, reappearing at Liam’s side. 

“Oh very much, yes, thank you. Though I have been wondering…” 

“Where are we going?” smiled the Conductor.

“Could you give me a hint?” 

“Where you’ve never been before, and always dreamed you could go!” the Conductor laughed. 

Liam thought about that. Where had he always wanted to go? Sure, there were all sorts of neat places he could think of, but none of them really seemed like somewhere he’d wished to see. The world was full of big cities, or football pitches, or sunny beaches. He could go to them any time he wanted. “What’s it called?” he asked. 

“You don’t know?” asked the Conductor. He leaned forward, placing his hands on his knees, and came face-to-face with Liam. “But it was your dream!” 

“My dream?” asked Liam. 

“You don’t remember?” asked the Conductor. 

“I … I don’t know what I dreamed I wanted to see,” said Liam quietly. He felt bad, like when he’d lost his favourite marble. 

The Conductor leaned in close. “Think of a great city on the sea…” 

A faint spark burst in the depths of Liam’s mind.

“…With great towers of white stone…” 

The spark grew brighter. 

“…The winding streets filled with lights…” 

Liam’s eyes flew open. “Castle Liam! I remember!” 

As if Liam’s announcement were a command, the sun quickly set into the horizon, somewhere in the distance ahead of the train. The stars popped out one at a time, quickly turning the deep black sky into a field of tiny sparkles overhead. The rolling hills outside the coach had flattened, the grass disappearing into the cracks of cobblestones. And suddenly, they entered a great trainshed, covered with immense glass-filled arches.  

“We’re here!” the Conductor crowed, and led Liam to one of the doors. The Conductor threw open the door, and Liam stepped out onto a steamy, misty platform. At the front of the train, the locomotive sat, hissing and humming to itself. They walked through the huge station building, which had huge stone columns and gilded arches, with a huge gold clock that hung in the middle of the huge room.

Out the front doors they stepped, into the edge of a city he had only ever seen in his mind. Above him, the stars in the sky seemed to dance to an unheard rhythm. Before him, lay the huge Great Gate that led into the centre of the city, where lay the massive Castle Liam, which rose above the coast in a great white spiral from the ground. Towers sprang from the spiral as it grew, each a different width and height, but all topped with shiny blue cones. The walls had countless portals, which formed into bridges above houses and halls, whisking countless people from where they were to where they wanted to go. 

Lights seemed to burst from every corner, from every street, from every rampart, in great iron stands that held a wonderful yellow light. It glowed like the warmth of the sun, casting beautiful shades on every surface, turning the white of castle to the colour of warm sand. The shadows the lights left behind were playful, moving in tune with the people who seemed to fill every street. Even the sun wanted to play a part, and stopped its decent, leaving a thin strip of light where it met the edge of the sea. 

The city was coming to life, woken from its long slumber. Music erupted from every street, the joyous notes filling the late dusk sky. Flags leaped out from their poles, banners unfurled from the tallest towers into the night breeze. Whistles and shouts were followed by firecrackers and the bright booms of fireworks. 

“Is that Liam?” asked an unseen voice from high on a wall. 

“It is! It is Liam! Liam’s here! Liam’s returned!” shouted another. 

“It’s Liam!” rippled through the city streets, followed by great cries and hollers. “Let the celebration begin!” 

“Shall we?” asked the Conductor with a great smile. 

“Yes!” smiled Liam, and they walked through the Great Gate into the city. The streets were narrow, with two- and three-storey houses that nearly touched across the streets at the top. The streets weaved back and forth towards Castle Liam, under the bridges of the spiral. From every door and every street, people appeared in their finest dress, singing and dancing, joining into a massive crowd dressed in every imaginable colour, in a thousand different costumes. Some wore masks, some wore silly hats adorned with bells. Some wore floppy shoes while some wore no shoes at all. Together, they entered the Grand Plaza, at the entrance to Castle Liam. 

The Grand Plaza was ringed with stores selling cakes and sweets and breads and pastries. Every tree was lit with tiny lights. Along ropes that strung across the square in a huge X were lanterns of a dozen sizes, which lit the performers who were entertaining all who came. Some ate fire from a stick, then blew out huge balls of flame from their mouths. People juggled, people danced, people sang, people swung on swings that seemed to hang from the stars themselves. 

“Have some cake!” squealed a woman, thrusting a piece of cake right into Liam’s hands. He quickly took a bite, and tasted fresh strawberries and raspberries, with jam filling, and a vanilla whipped cream icing. 

“Have a lollipop!” said a girl, who presented a huge circular candy upon a large stick. It was a rainbow-coloured swirl that seemed to change taste with every lick. 

“Candy apple?” asked a clown dressed in purple and red frills, with bright yellow hair, as he rolled past on an impossibly small tricycle. Liam nodded and bowed, and took a huge bite of the deliciously sweet treat. 

“Your attention, please!” called a voice. Everyone turned to look at the man standing on a balcony in the centre building overlooking the Grand Plaza. “In accordance with his majesty, we declare this to be Liam’s Day! All hail King Liam!” The crowd, of course, gave a tremendous cheer. 

Several people picked Liam up, carrying him on his shoulders. All around, the crowd began to chant: “Liam! Liam! Liam!”


Liam snapped out of his daydream, and looked up at his father. He quickly looked down to his feet. The rails had disappeared, the wooden ties sunk back into oblivion. He blinked a moment. The dream, for now, had gone. “Hey, dad, why did the railway go away?” 

“I guess it was too hard to run, the company ran out of money. It happened a lot back then. The only thing left of it is the bed,” Liam’s father explained. 

“Hey Dad, can we follow the tracks?” shouted Liam, and started running down the line. “Who knows where they’ll lead!” 

Novels Science Fiction The Banshee

The Banshee: Chapter 2

I have a bit of an odd affinity for the Spanish language. I’m by no means fluent, so I apologize for anything I’ve mucked up. For those of you non-Spanish speakers, I suggest Google Translate.

“¡Hola, Anita!” Jo yawned as she walked into the greenhouse. It was a massive space that ran the width of the ARCH and nearly its length. Dozens of rows of plants produced green leaves and shoots, the ARCH’s food supply. It was the only space in the ARCH that had bright lighting, supported by a dwindling number of lightbulbs stacked near the edges. The greenhouse lay at the lowest levels of the ARCH, nearest to the water supply, furthest from the intense vibrations that came from the storms. The sounds of trickling water were everywhere, as pipes diverted the small, dammed outlet across the growing space. It was also the coolest part of the ARCH, though only by a few degrees from the temperatures above. 

“¡Jo!” Anita cried happily. “¿Dónde estabas? ¡Ha sido siempre desde su última visita!” Anita was a smaller woman than Jo and easily a decade older. She, like the rest of the gardeners, wore deeply-soiled overalls, the same ones they had been wearing when they’d stumbled into the ARCH so many years earlier. The remaining gardeners looked up and waved intermittently at Jo. 

“Estuve aquí la semana pasada,” Jo said defensively, waving back at the others. 

“Como he dicho, ‘para siempre’,” Anita smiled. “Tú no visita suficiente.” 

“Lo siento. Estoy ocupado hasta allí. ¿Sabes, me quedo con todos nosotros con vida?” 

“Nope. No tengo ni idea de lo que se siente,” said Anita, holding a clump of asparagus in her hand.

Jo laughed. “¿Más espárragos? No es de extrañar este lugar apesta tanto.” 

Anita wagged her finger. “¡Sólo si tú huele!” 

“¿No podéis crecer más brócoli?” Jo suggested. “¡Su sabor es mejor, y no huele!”

Anita threw her hands towards Jo. “No eres el único que se quejó, ya sabes. Creo que he oído una queja al menos dos veces a la semana. Pero ¿sabe usted cuánto tiempo se tardó en llegar los espárragos para crecer? Pasaron dos años antes de poder cosechar un solo cultivo. Podríamos cambiar, pero si no crecemos lo suficiente, la gente de hambre.”

Jo held her hand up to stop the tirade. “¡Lo sé! Lo sé! Me has dicho que una docena de veces.” 

“Entonces deja de preguntarme por qué crecemos espárragos,” Anita smirked. “Es una buena cosa para comer. Al igual que las hongos.” 

“Ugh,” moaned Jo. “Odio hongos.” 

“La última vez que lo comprobé, que no tenéis ningún ganado, y lo que necesita para obtener su proteína de alguna parte.” 

“Mataría por un burrito,” grumbled Jo. “Incluso un muy malo.” 

“Coma más patatas. Usted necesita la energía.” 

Jo laughed. “Confía en mí, yo como mi ración más rápido que nadie. Me gustaría comer cuatro raciones más, si alguien me dio la oportunidad.” 

“Oh!” Anita snapped her fingers, and walked over to a low bench at one side. “¡Oye ven aquí!”

Jo walked over to Anita. “Por favor, dime que es una planta de hamburguesas.” 

“Es mejor,” said Anita. “Es un pimiento.” 

“¿Ah sí?” exclaimed Jo. “¿Que tipo?” 

“No sé aún,” said Anita. “He encontrado una semilla en el fondo de un contenedor de hace unas semanas. Ni siquiera estaba seguro de si sería brotar. Si tenemos mucha suerte, va a ser un habanero. Extraño a picante.” 

“Estás soñando. Será una dulce. Espera y verás,” said Jo. 

Anita pushed her friend gently. “¡Eres un pesimista!” 

“Si yo fuera un pesimista, yo diría que ‘no se moleste’, porque el techo se derrumbe y estaremos muertos para mañana. Soy realista. Considere que una buena cosa,” said Jo. She walked over to a large metal beam that came out of the floor, running up through the ceiling. “¿Has oído el alma en pena de anoche?” she asked. 

“¿Que no lo hizo? Usted debe venir aquí, Jo. Se envió escalofríos hasta ahora por mi columna vertebral que yo pensé que iba a saltar fuera de mi piel,” said Anita. 

Jo looked closely at a thin string with a plumb bob, attached to the beam near the ceiling. At the bottom, the beam had deviated so that the line overlapped the beam. Jo pulled her tape measure from her belt, and held it out against the line. “Dios mío,” she whispered. “Two more centimeters.” 

“Oh-la, chick-os!” announced a scraggly-looking man, in deep blue coveralls bearing patches of a dozen colors, bounding through the greenhouse doors. 

“¡Dios mío!” muttered Jo. “Phil, learn to speak Spanish properly. You’re embarrassing yourself, and making me look bad.” 

“Meh,” dismissed Phil. “Why can’t they learn English?” 

“I’m sure they could,” said Jo. “But perhaps you’ve forgotten — again — that they’re all hispanic, as are more than half of the residents? You’re in the minority, Phil.”

“Minority, shminority!” he snorted. “English is the superior language.” 

“Intente aprenderlo,” Jo muttered. Anita burst out laughing.

“Huh?” Phil asked.

“Nothing,” said Jo. “What’s up?” 

“You’re late,” said Phil, starting back towards the door. 

Jo looked confused. “Late?” She closed her eyes and sighed loudly. “Dammit. Sorry, last night threw me off. I’ll be right there!” She waved at Anita as she ran after Phil. “¡Hasta luego!” 

“Sleeping in again?” said Professor Richard Batesworth as Jo entered the Council room. Batesworth’s rusty-white beard bristled. He kept it, like his similarly-coloured hair, well trimmed and short. He was the only one of the engineers not to wear work clothes, preferring a series of short-sleeved button-up shirts, and at least one of his dozen pairs of shorts. They were the black ones, for a change. 

“You know me, sleep the day away,” replied Jo. She took her seat at the table, next to Erik. 

The Council room was barely able to hold a small battered circular table that had once been a shade of beige, with six mismatched chairs surrounding it tightly. The walls of the room were plastered in ARCH schematics, all of them appended, amended, and marked up, indicating the extensive additions and changes the ARCH had experienced over its short lifetime. Several of them had pieces of yarn and string stuck to them, showing paths and borders and supply lines. A bare lightbulb hung from wires in the middle, casting hard shadows on the walls.  

“Thanks for the hand again, Jo,” said Erik, who sat to Professor Batesworth’s right. Erik’s blonde hair was tied tightly in the back to keep out of his face. 

Jo nodded. “You don’t keep me around for my looks,” Jo said wryly.

“That’s for sure,” said Carl Young, another of the people at the table. He was on Batesworth’s left. Carl’s hair was as dark as Jo’s, and his eyes were nearly the same. 

“Carl,” Batesworth cautioned, casting a firm stare. After a moment, he picked up a small chalkboard and looked at the notes. “Okay, let’s keep this short. So… who?” 

The question had been asked hundreds of times, and it was never easy to answer. Heads remained still, but eyes cast about the room’s occupants. As with so many times before, all the eyes eventually turned towards Jo. “A young woman,” said Jo quietly. “She threw herself from a balcony into the Atrium. Amazingly, no-one else was hurt.” 

“Stress, again?” asked Batesworth. 

“Probably,” said Jo. Erik and Bateworth both nodded.  

“One less mouth,” said Francis Porter. He was next to Carl. His light brown hair was kept to a few millimetres of his skull, which when combined with his duties working the forges most of the day, lent the appearance of a dark fuzzy ball. 

“Real sympathetic, Frank,” Erik said. Francis glared back at Erik. 

“Look, I know we didn’t get a lot of sleep last night,” said Batesworth, “but let’s keep this civil, please?” 

“Sorry, Rich,” said Erik. “Let’s continue.” 

“As I was going to say,” said Professor Batesworth, looking briefly at Jo, “our population is down by one. I’ve learned there’s a birth due any day, so we’re pretty much status quo. Anyone else know different?” Heads around the table shook. Batesworth wiped the slate and put it down. “Still no contact on the radio. Erik?” 

Erik looked at his small chalkboard. “We had a breach at the top of Block 1 last night. A pretty big one, too. Jo helped Bob to patch it. I think Block 4’s roof might have buckled, but we can’t get to it to check until the wind dies down.” Erik put his board down and scratched his head absently. “I’m a little worried about the structural integrity—“

“You should be,” said Jo.

“Wait your turn!” snapped Carl.

Erik ignored Carl. “That sounds ominous.” 

“I was looking at the main struts just before the meeting,” said Jo. “Nineteen millimeters.” 

Erik whistled. “You’re sure?” He immediately waved off the impending reply. “No, of course you’re sure.” 

“That’s under Block 4, isn’t it?” asked Francis. “It would explain the roof.”

“Yes,” confirmed Batesworth. “Can we reinforce it?” 

Carl tried to answer. “No—“

“If we can steal a couple of beams from one of the collapsed areas, we might be able to weld them into a brace to keep it from shifting any more,” said Jo. 

“Hey!” Carl shouted. “Can you wait—“

“If we wait, the ARCH collapses. So, no, no I can’t,” snapped Jo. She and Carl burned at each other. 

Batesworth ignored the two and turned to another man. “And with that update, Smiley, we’re hoping you’ve got good news.”

Gerald “Smiley” Holland, seated next to Jo, wasn’t an Engineer. He knew a few things about digging holes and keep them from caving in, which had made him the de facto Tunnel King. His head had a near-permanent ring from his hardhat’s band, his face and bone-white hair were perpetually caked in bits of rock and sand. He preferred being in the tunnels, which kept him from the uncomfortable meetings in the uncomfortable room with the uncomfortable people. “Well,” he said, running his hand over his head, scattering debris on Jo and Francis. “We could be better.” 

“We know, Smiley. How long until we can move in?” asked Batesworth. 

“Well…,” Smiley twitched. “Two, maybe three months.” 

“Three months?!” Jo blurted. “You said it would only be a week two days ago! We’re patching holes almost every day, now. You were supposed to be done last month! We’ve got a two centimeter deviation on a main support that could bring down Block 4, and maybe Blocks 6 and 8. We’re out of time, Smiley!” 

“Dunno what to tell ya, Jo. It’s hard work,” Smiley shrugged. “We had two major collapses yesterday, and there’s been damage to a lot of the shoring. The sandstone’s not too bad, but the shale’s hard to deal with. We have to get in there, clean out the unstable parts and replace all the braces. And there’s a fault in there—“

“Can we move into the finished areas?” asked Batesworth.

Carl shook his head. “Not yet, it’s still too dangerous. The upper levels are fine, but if the lower section collapses, a lot of people could be hurt.” 

“What if we put in more workers to help?” asked Batesworth. 

“It’s already tight in there. We’ve got every pickaxe swinging and anyone not on the face is hauling muck,” said Carl grimly.  

“Alright,” sighed Batesworth. “Francis?” 

“We’re turning out shoring as fast as we can. We’re running short on useable materials, though. We’ll salvage what we can from the cave-ins, but unless we can get some more old decking, we’re going to have to spend more time breaking down larger pieces like girders,” Francis reported. “We were focusing on putting shoring together. If you want pickaxes, we can do pickaxes…”

“But without shoring, there’s no point in tunnelling faster,” finished Jo. Francis nodded. “I need beams, then. And I need to inspect all the other main struts to make sure they’re not bending too much, either.” 

“Your team can’t handle it?” sneered Carl.

“I’m sure they could,” replied Jo calmly. “But you stole them all for tunnelling.” 

“Jo, your priority is to do inspection. Let’s make sure we don’t have any other surprises. Erik, I need you to cover Jo’s emergency shifts in the meantime,” said Batesworth. “Francis, see if you can step up the shoring production. The sooner we get the hallway bracing repaired, the sooner we can get some more pickaxes, and the better off we’ll be. Carl, focus on shoring the tunnels. And Smiley, let’s focus on that fault. I want to make sure we’re not going to shear off a few thousand tons of rock.” 

“Yup,” said Smiley, standing up. “If I ain’t needed for nothin’ else?” Smiley asked. Seeing no further question, he continued out the door. 

“Now, then,” said Batesworth with a heavy breath after Smiley was gone, “to the matter of our convicted rapist. We need to discuss his punishment.”

“Banishment,” Carl said plainly.

Cabrónes,” Jo hissed. “Robert’s one of us! He built this place, helped us all to survive. He sat at this table. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t even be here. All of us owe him our lives, and we’re going to treat him like trash?!”

“We know, Jo,” said Erik, before Carl could open his mouth. “But Robert was caught and convicted.“

“And nearly beaten to death,” said Jo, glaring at Carl. “Isn’t that punishment?”

Erik continued. “I don’t like this any better than you do, but you have to respect the tribunal’s decision. The General population made that call, Jo, not us, it was a fair process.” 

“I’m against it,” said Jo, glaring at Carl. 

“Why is that, Jo?” asked Batesworth. 

She looked towards her mentor. “You know why! It’s a death sentence, nothing survives out there! You put him outside and he’s as good as dead. I know … the trial said he did it. And if … if … he did, then, okay, he should be punished. This isn’t right, it’s too extreme. And we still need him, Rich. We don’t have enough people. Robert’s the one who got us this far. If he … what he did was terrible, but…” Jo trailed off. “It’s just that…” 

“We get it, Jo,” said Erik. “None of us,” he glanced at Carl, “are taking this lightly. But we don’t have the ability to confine dangerous people, let alone rehabilitate them.” 

“I know,” said Jo irritably. “How did we end up being being executioners? We act like we own the place…”

“We do,” growled Carl.

Erik intervened. “So what are we to do with convicts? We’ve talked about this a lot before—“

“But it wasn’t one of us before,” Jo protested.

“We shouldn’t be held to a different standard,” said Batesworth. “People view us fairly poorly as it is.” 

Erik continued. “We can’t confine people for years, even if the ARCH could stand for a century. Those tunnels are even smaller than the ARCH. We can’t have them them running around free. What if he relapses? Can you live with that?” 

Jo gritted and ground her teeth. 

“I think we can assume Jo will stay with her vote,” said Batesworth. “And as Erik’s noted, I’m afraid I must also cite our previous decisions. I agree with Carl: banishment. All those in favour?” Only Jo didn’t raise her hand. “Then it’s decided. Banishment will take place tomorrow.” He took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Is there any other matters we need to discuss?” Everyone except Jo shook their heads; Jo remained motionless. “Alright. You know your tasks, let’s get back to them. Jo, if you can remain a moment?” Once everyone else had left, Batesworth stood and walked around to Jo, sitting on the table next to her. “I don’t like the decision any more than you do, Jo.”

“You just sentenced Robert to his death, Rich. You didn’t even blink.” 

“For God’s sake, Jo, I’m a teacher, not an executioner—“

“Then why are you acting like one?!” Jo screeched. She immediately retreated into her chair. 

“We’ve got a few thousand people in here who need to know that there is some kind of safety—“ 

“I get it, Rich!” Jo snapped. “Sorry. I … I’m just so damned tired. I feel trapped in here, and I’m terrified this place is going to collapse any minute. We need Robert. I know that the tribunal found him guilty—“ 

“But you don’t believe he did it.” 

“Do you?” 

“It’s not my position to—“ 

“¡Por el amor de Cristo! Stop being so damned cold, Rich! He was one of your friends! You’re actually allowed to take a side on this! And don’t give me that maldita crap about leaders being impartial.” 

Batesworth sighed and hung his head. “Like I said, Jo, I don’t like it any better than you. Robert … he betrayed us … Betrayed me.” 

“So you believe them.” 

“I have to believe in our justice. We gave it a fair trial.” 

“What part of it was fair? Robert was unconscious throughout the whole thing. He couldn’t even defend himself!” 

“We were facing a potential riot, Jo!” Batesworth’s irritation reverberated in the small room. “Either we managed the problem or we’d have had even more deaths. We weren’t given an option.” 

“That doesn’t mean he has to die.” 

“We have to be impartial. We banished rapists before. We can’t stop now just because Robert was one of us.” 

“We’re going to suffer for it. We need him. The tunnels are taking forever to build. And Carl…!” Jo snorted. “I swear, Rich, I’m gonna kill him if he keeps this up!” 

“You’re easily as much of a pain in the ass as he is, y’know,” Batesworth smirked. “You also believe you’re superior to him, which doesn’t help.” 

“I am superior to him,” Jo retorted. “The guy is useless with a hammer, Rich, and you know it. Ask the man to get a screwdriver and he’ll ask you where the orange juice is.”

Batesworth laughed. “Be that as it may, you need to meet me halfway on this, okay? At least until the tunnels are done.” Jo stood up and grumbled noncommittally. “Do what you can for the main struts. Beg, borrow, and steal. See if you can keep a roof over us for a few more weeks,” he said, placing his hand on Jo’s shoulder. “I have faith in you.” 

“Don’t worry about me. Put your faith in Smiley.” 

Non-fiction Photo Essay

Chasing a Sunset

My wife and I have had a habit for … well, about as long as we’ve known each other: watching sunsets. Admittedly, it’s not a particularly original habit, as there are countless people who do the same thing. It’s one we note whenever we can when we’re at home in Alberta (which has some pretty fantastic skies); it’s a mission whenever we’re on vacation.

In July 2019, our family went out to the East Coast of Canada, most to visit with the portion of my father-in-law’s family that lives in Nova Scotia. My little subsection of the family wanted to see as much of the Atlantic provinces as possible with the limited time we had, so threw a couple of extra days at Prince Edward Island to see what it could show us.

One day in particular, we had decided that we wanted to see a cèilidh (“cay-lee”), which is most simply described as a Celtic music show. There’s more to it than that — they often also include dancing, story-telling, and the community aspect is important — but that’s a different story, one I can only tell after I revisit PEI and see a few more cèilidhs.

Cèilidh at Malpeque Community Centre

The building was 151 years old, the music was sometimes older, but the music was lively, the characters on stage amazing.
The building was 151 years old, the music was sometimes older, but the music was lively, the characters on stage amazing.

This particular cèilidh (regrettably, the only one we saw) was held in the Malpeque Community Centre, a 150 year-old building that has probably seen more music, dance, and stories than anyone in that room could reasonably conceive. The performers were as close to professional cèilidhers (cèilidhites?) as they come, frequently performing during the summer months. They were wonderfully talented, engaging, and very much worth the price of admission.

For almost everyone, anyway: our girls were unimpressed. It might have been the day of travelling about the island, it might have been the lack of appeal of the music, I still don’t know to this day. However, they wanted to leave and go back to the house we called home on PEI, and … well, this is where I was so baffled why they wanted to leave: there wasn’t anything to do there. Also, another story.

As we left, we couldn’t help notice that the sun was setting. My wife immediately whipped out the map to determine the best possible place for us to watch the sunset. Quickly realizing that although the Malpeque Community Centre sits quite near water, there wasn’t ready access to a shoreline.

This, dear reader, is when I need to truly relate my joy at being the last generation to learn how to read a paper map. There have been several times — in recent years — when I have trekked into areas with minimal-to-no wireless signal. Those awesome features on the iPhone become little more than fancy buttons, ‘cuz they can’t do anything without data. Western Canada, with its huge open and largely underpopulated land, has many spaces that have no coverage. Interestingly, even comparatively tiny places, like PEI, have the same issue.

In a moment, I had my driving instructions: South for two kilometres, right onto the 104, two kilometres and then right again, and go until we ran out of road.

The urgency at which we tackled this challenge might be viewed with the same skepticism one might throw at someone stops to pick up a penny: there’s 30,000 sunsets in an average (Canadian) human life, so why rush one? Because it’s the moment.

While there may be 30,000 days in an average human life, how many of those days are indoors, obscured by inclement weather, occupied with events, locked in soulless commutes? Let’s say we have 10,000 good days in our lives that present us with an opportunity to have a moment. Even if you see only the best part of a sunset, that’s 10 minutes of your time, about 69 days in total over your lifespan. How much time have you lost due to being trapped under a roof, staring at a storm or a blizzard, trapped in a bus?

I’ve taken every opportunity to watch a sunset, even if I’m stuck in traffic.

Sunset on a bus

Must ... bring ... SLR ... to ... work ...
Must ... bring ... SLR ... to ... work ...

The trick isn’t to just witness a sunset, it’s to experience it. It might be only a shifting of the sky to the Earth’s rotation, it’s one of the few times you can look at the sun and enjoy it for what it is: a bringer of warmth and life and light. Most of the time we’re trapped under it’s harshness, having to cover up and protect. At the end of the day, as it wanes through our atmosphere, there’s a moment like a held breath, when the sun is holding a place in the horizon, a final look, a promise that it will return the following morning.

Barely six minutes later, we stood on the shore of Malpeque Bay.

Sunset over Malpeque Bay

Sunset over Malpeque Bay

As far as sunsets go, it was decidedly better than average on my scale. And at my age, I’ve seen a lot of sunsets. I sincerely hope to see quite a lot more before the sun sets on me for the final time.