Fiction Friday- read Halloween Harvest

Halloween Harvest

            The sun had set but its slanting rays still cast an eerie light throwing the trees along the road into twisted shadows. Drew steered them deftly along the winding trail.

“I don’t know why you insist on hanging with Keven. He’s so weird.”

Kaitlyn’s frown crinkled her careful Elvira make-up.

“Keven’s okay. He owns a start-up IT company and it’s so successful, he’s thinking of going public.”

It was hard to take Drew seriously, dressed as he was in the cheesy devil costume. The cheap plastic mask was perched atop his head and she knew they wouldn’t make an entrance as the sexy couple they were.

“There now, see that,” he said, as they rounded a final curve.

It was hard to argue. The “cabin”, a large log structure, dominated by spruce trees and alight with Jack-o-lanterns did look like the perfect setting for a Hallowe’en Party…if only the storm stayed away. Ominous, dark clouds could be seen to the left of the cabin, across the lake. Kaitlyn thought she saw lightening but that made no sense…it was October 31st.

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Before she could mention it to Drew, he had stopped the car, jumped out and was looking for the booze in the trunk. On the deck, she could see Keven, in a Grim Reaper outfit. Kaitlyn had to admit it suited him with his tall, gangly build and spidery arms and legs. The black shroud swirled around him in the breeze and the loose hood hid his face. He supported an authentic-looking scythe against the deck floor and its blade curved away from his head. Around him, a werewolf couple, a vampire and a zombie milled. Various interpretations of monsters had inspired the costumes of the ten or so guests. Some unidentifiable music blared, rap or punk or emo or some wicked combination. Maybe it was banshees wailing.

Kaitlyn shivered and followed Drew onto the deck.

“Keven, my man,” said Drew.

Keven didn’t answer but gestured to an old fashioned Coca-cola cooler with his left hand.

“Perfect,” said Drew, grinning as he deposited the beer and hard lemonades into the ice in the cooler. “Want a raspberry to start, Kaitlyn?” he called over his shoulder. He had already popped the top from a can of Bud for himself.

Without waiting for her answer, he opened the drink and held it out to her. Its sweet pseudo- fruit smell mixed with the malty fug of beer. Across the deck, some guests smoked weed, and its pungent odor wafted in the breeze.

Through the windows, Kaitlyn could see two large candlelit tables, one that was covered with catered food- sushi, crab cakes, smoked salmon, vegan offerings and a variety of vegetables. The second featured chips, dip, Cheezies, nachos, any kind of junk food you could think of. The candlelight gave the food a bloody colour and the flickering shadows cast it into disturbing shapes.

A nasty looking witch came up to Kaitlyn and said, “Whoa, I thought Elvira went out in the 80s.”

Kaitlyn stood with her mouth moving but no sound emerged. She looked down at herself. Sure there was lots of cleavage and the outfit was super tight but she could carry it off. Those hours in the gym were worth it and besides, Drew liked her to look good. She knew she looked good.

Drew came over and she could tell he had chugged a couple of first beers.

“Hey, babe,” he said. “Let’s dance,” and he started to contort without rhythm.

Kaitlyn didn’t argue. She loved to dance and it was a chance to show-off her Elvira look. Soon she and Keven had the deck to themselves. Kaitlyn couldn’t contain a smug smile. Then she heard the thunder over the blasting music. The first rain drops were big and cold. The wind rose sending gusts of frigid air churning around the cabin.

“For Cripes sake.”

Keven grabbed her by the waist and they followed the other stragglers into the cabin.

Lightning split the sky, followed by deafening thunder. The icy temperature of the cabin prompted a chorus of complaint.

“Keven,” a vampire shouted. “Get that fireplace going.” There was no answer.

“Turn on some heat.” This from a witch.

There was more carping and moaning. Their host was didn’t hear it because he couldn’t be found.

Kaitlyn had goosebumps and was shivering.

“Do something, Drew,” she said.

“Excuse me, look out.” Drew wove through the guests and tables to the fireplace built into a fieldstone feature that extended beyond the wall. It was bright, new and looked unused. Drew bent closer.

“Do you know what you’re doing, Bud?” asked a werewolf. “Don’t want to blow us all to hell. Keven’s got plenty more refreshments.”

“For God’s sake, light it,” said Kaitlyn.

Drew fumbled a bit as he looked for the controls which were hidden in a panel on the floor of the fireplace. He hesitated but then, turned the main control. Nothing happened. He tried a couple more times with the same result. Shouted advice from the guests didn’t help.

“Oh, for f___’s sake.” The werewolf pushed Drew out of the way and after a flourish, he turned the control to ON.

A huge ball of burning methane exploded into the costumed crowd. The werewolf combusted in a spontaneous flash. Drew screamed as his plastic mask melted onto his face. Kaitlyn’s Elvira gown dissolved and burst into flame. The unholy screams, the roar of the fire, the crashing thunder turned the cabin into a nightmare inferno. The guests cavorted in a final macabre dance as tendons and ligaments contracted spastically. Upstairs hungry flames flickered and licked around Keven’s comatose body.

Outside, a long shadow stretched from the black clad figure watching the conflagration. The only features visible in its hooded face were red eyes, reflecting the fiery destruction before it. Shrouded in black and leaning on his scythe, the Reaper enjoyed his work for a few minutes before turning to melt into the stormy darkness.

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The Saturday Night Ghost Club

This is Craig Davidson’s fourth book. The other three include Rust and Bone, Cataract City and his real memoir Precious Cargo. He’s a great author and best of all, he’s Canadian.

 

The Saturday Night Ghost Club is a gentle novel, part coming-of-age, part shattered life, and part haunting memoir. It explores memory and how each time an event is recalled, it changes.

Jake Breaker is a neurosurgeon. He understands the fragility of the brain and how mysterious its workings are. The summer he was twelve, Jake made a true friend and learned about his eccentric Uncle Cal. His uncle runs the Occultorium, a spiritual business full of cheap trinkets, real antiquities, and plain strange paraphernalia. Even as a kid, he knows that Uncle Cal isn’t quite “right.”

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Jake’s recounting of his twelfth summer, the summer of The Saturday Night Ghost Club, is full of suspense. There is Billy, his new friend, and Dove, Billy’s sister, dangerous and verging on true beauty. They get into scrapes, put themselves in jeopardy, and hang out with Uncle Calvin.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club is set in 1980s Niagara Falls, nicknamed Cataract City. Uncle Cal takes the Club on nocturnal journeys to its haunted locations and reveals the legend or story associated with each one. Jake finally confesses to their night time pursuits to his parents and his mother is horrified.

This novel isn’t long, a bare 248 pages but it’s 248 pages to enjoy. If you hurry, you can read it before Hallowe’en.

 

 

Cold Comfort

Flash fiction No. 2, Fiction Friday. With the nights getting colder, and furnaces working all over the country, this might be appropriate….

           The voice wakes me in the middle of the night.

           “Arnie.  I’m scared.  Arnie.”

           Scared?  Of what?  I always looked after us. I made money to have a nice house.  If you worked as hard as me, you would enforce some standards in that home.  I wanted a hot meal on time.  I wanted that nice house properly cleaned.  It’s not too much to ask, is it?

“Arnie, Arnie. I’m so cold.”

It was her own fault. I told her a hundred times.  “Don’t touch my remote control.” I didn’t like her watching those stupid soaps. She was watching when she should have been getting my supper and she lost the remote. It didn’t hurt her to watch what I wanted.

“Arnie.  I wanted to watch figure skating.  I used to skate.  I was even pretty good. Remember?”

“Shut up,” I said.  “Just shut your hole.”

“Arnie.  I don’t want to be here alone.”

I got my earplugs I wear at work.  Those jackhammers are hell on hearing.  I put the earplugs in.

“Arnie, come on down.  I’m so lonely.  I’m scared.”

Damned earplugs aren’t working. I don’t want to hear her whimpering but I can. Why can I still hear her?

“Arnie, come down for a minute.  I promise I’ll be quiet then.  Please.”

I am a reasonable man.  I just feel stressed sometimes.  I have to go down and see if she’ll shut up. Doesn’t she know I have to work tomorrow?  Doesn’t she know that I had ended it yesterday?

Darlene is right.  It is colder than Siberia in the basement.

“Arnie, please.  I’m so cold.”

I go past the furnace to the storage room. There she is, dead.  Just like I left her.  So why do I hear her voice?”

“Arnie, I’m turning blue.  I’m so cold. Let me come back upstairs.”

I look at Darlene.  She should be blue.  I pushed her yesterday but not that hard.  She fell and hit her stupid head. All she has to do is look after me and the house.  I work hard.  It’s not too much to ask to have a nice home.  To have a good meal.  So when she asked me I said, no.  Why does she have to go to her sister’s all the time?  You’d think she’d learn.

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“Arnie.  It was her birthday.  I just wanted to see her, that’s all.”

That voice. She has to be dead.  How come I’m with dead Darlene…AND I CAN STILL HEAR HER DAMNED WHINY VOICE???

“Arnie, you can’t hurt me now.  But Arnie, I’m so cold.”

What does she think I can do?

“Darlene,” I say.  “Of course, you’re cold.  You’re dead, you stupid woman.”

“Arnie.  I’m so cold.  Arnie.  I’m scared and I’m alone.”

I turn my back because I’m done.  I’m going back upstairs to my bed to sleep.

“Arnie, don’t go. You have to stay with me.”

I try to walk out.  It’s like moving through mud.  So slow.  Then I can’t move at all.

“Darlene, baby.  Let me go.”

“Arnie, I want you to stay.  I’m cold and scared and lonely.  You can’t go.”

“Let me go get you a blanket.”

I forget what Darlene’s laugh is like but it isn’t like this. I try to reason with her. Crazy, she’s dead.  I couldn’t get through to her when she was alive.

“I’ll get you a hot water bottle.”

More lunatic laughing.  I can’t get it out of my head.  I cover my ears.

“You can’t go Arnie.  I want you to turn up the furnace. Turn it up high.”

Stupid woman.  The thermostat is upstairs.  She lets me move to the furnace.  I bend over and pretend to adjust a dial.

That damned laughing gets louder… it’s- WHOOOOSH!

“I’M BURNING.  HELP, DARLENE, HELP.  I’M SORRY BABY.”

The last thing I hear is that crazy laughing and my own dying scream.

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The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

The old saw, you can`t judge a book by its cover, is proved by The Casual Vacancy. The cover is a garish red and yellow, the title, white script with a big X in the middle. The only thing going for it is J. K. Rowling. I was so put off I didn`t pick the book up until now. It was published in 2012 so it`s been out for six years.

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Pagford, England is the setting for J. K. Rowling`s first novel for adults. There is an ancient abbey, an idyllic park, and a nearby river. It is a place for people of means and of aspirations, a British microcosm. Pagford looks peaceful and attractive but under that facade, a cauldron of racial tension, suspicion, and class arrogance roils. It comes to a head when Barry Fairweather, beloved member of the Parish Council, dies suddenly of an undiagnosed aneurysm. His seat is vacant, the casual vacancy, and the local political rivalry is set in motion. Wives are set against husbands, teenagers experiment with danger, and it doesn`t end well.

There is intrigue and deceit everywhere. Characters from all walks of life play a role…

I`m sorry I waited so long to read The Casual Vacancy; it`s a good read, a bit of a page turner. I think J. K.`s publishers dropped the ball (to use a cliche) when they designed the cover. They owe her an apology…

Fiction Friday

I have always liked to write and I thought my blog must entertain some people. My daughter suggested adding fiction to the offerings.”Why don’t you write some poetry or short stories and post them?” So, here is a flash fiction piece.

Opening Soon

 Geoff punched at the GPS with his finger but it remained stubbornly mute.  Beside him, Heather slept on, her mouth slightly agape and head turned toward him.  He smiled. For a spitfire, she looked deceptively sweet with a mop of blond curls she hated.  They resisted her best styling efforts.  She had that pink complexion that you sometimes saw on redheads and if her eyes opened they were an innocent blue.  Looks are deceiving.

In some ways, he was glad she wasn’t awake.  He could only imagine the fuss when she woke up and discovered they were lost.  It wasn’t his fault the GPS crapped.  Or that they were out in the north woods somewhere without cell service.  It wasn’t even his fault that his uncle was an eccentric near-survivalist –type hermit.  Or that he was a crazy rich weirdo.  Geoff had cleared everything so he could accept Uncle Bob’s invitation to his place in the bush.  Yeah, so Bob’s your uncle, all right.

Geoff glanced at the dash.  The fuel light blinked merrily. “Shit,” he swore, aloud.  When had that come on?

Beside him Heather shifted and sat straighter.

“Where are we?” she asked peering into the spruce trees that dissolved into blackness at the edge of the road.  “How much farther?  What time is it?”

Heather never eased into wakefulness.  One minute she’d be asleep and the next peppering him with questions like she was now.

“It’s 8:13,” he said, quickly.  It was the only one of her questions he had an answer to and he didn’t want her checking the dash.

“Where are we?” she repeated, her voice rising.  Heather was a city girl and though she’d never admit it found solitude un-nerving.

It was solitary here, though.  It had been over an hour since there’d been another vehicle on the road and there hadn’t been any welcoming lights from acreages or farms, either.

Geoff sighed.  “I don’t know where we are.  There’s no cell service, the GPS crapped and the fuel light is on.”

There was a shocked silence.  “Goddamn it, Geoff.  What are we going to do?” Heather demanded.

Geoff shrugged and when he glanced over to Heather, her face was twisted in annoyance and in the light of the dash, looked almost ugly.  He did not need this.  Did she imagine he wanted to be lost, out of gas and beyond reach of communication? That old bugger Bob better make this trip worth his while.

They drove on in a silence that grew more hostile as their gas burned away.  Heather saw it first.

“There, up ahead.  It’s a service station.  We can get gas there.”

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As soon as Heather spoke, Geoff could see the light, too.  The heavy darkness smothered it but it was there.  Off to the right, a lone building occupied a gap had been cleared out of the forest.  It flashed gray and weathered in their headlights and the asphalt in front of it was cracked and potholed.  Geoff steered them carefully into the reddish glow that fell from the light on the single old-fashioned gas pump and turned the engine off.

The service station looked deserted except for the shimmer of the red letters in the cracked front window.   Sputtering red neon spelled OPEN.  The hand-lettered sign over the front door was faded and he could just make out the business name.  Last Chance.  Last Chance was right.  He snorted.

Still, if he could get gas, he could buy new filters or whatever the gas out of this antique pump plugged up.  Surely it would get them as far as Uncle Bob’s.

“Geoff, I don’t like it.”  Heather’s voice quavered a little.  He looked at her sharply.  It wasn’t like Heather to go all scaredy-cat.  Her eyes were wide and her skin had lost colour.  It looked ashen in the dim light.  She was staring at the Last Chance.  “Let’s just go.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Geoff snapped.  He was uneasy himself.   It wasn’t like the owners hadn’t heard them drive up.  The only other sounds out here would be owls hooting and -the hair rose on the back of his neck, wolves howling.  These weren’t thoughts he planned on sharing with Heather.

“We can’t drive off.  We’re all but out of gas.  We can get gas here or we can sleep in the car in the middle of nowhere.  No one knows where we are.  It’s take a couple of days for them to look for us.”

Immediately, Geoff regretted his hasty words.  Heather seemed to curl back into her seat and he could hear her sniffle.  Unaccountably, he felt annoyed again.

“You stay here,” he said.  “I’ll go and rustle up someone to serve us.”

“Don’t be long.  This place creeps me out.”

Geoff didn’t want to admit it but the service station wasn’t sending warm vibes his way either.  The shadows were too dark, the building too dilapidated.  Crusted dirt and cobwebs decorated its cracks and crannies.  Old oil stains darkened the pavement and when he stepped outside the air had a close acrid smell.  How much spilled gas had seeped into the asphalt?  A dry wind scraped across the road, driving a crumpled plastic bag against the base of the pump.

Geoff took a breath and leaned back into the car to say, “Lock the doors behind me.  I’ll be right out.”  The quick snap of the locks was lost in the whining wind.

Four steps to the door.  Geoff knocked tentatively and nothing happened.  Silence.  Then he knocked again.  Still nothing.  No sound except the lonely moan of the wind.   The sign said, OPEN, so he tried the door.  The old-fashioned handle moved easily at his gentle pressure.  The door wasn’t locked.  Geoff called, “Anyone home?” and stepped into the dim interior of the service station.

Heather watched through the passenger window.   She saw Geoff knock and then try the door.  Then he disappeared into the blackness of the service station’s interior.  “Geoff,” she whimpered and sank further back in her seat.

The wind picked up tiny bits of gravel and drove them against the car.  The light over the gas pump flickered and faded.  It was getting hard to make out the gas station door.  How long had it been?  Geoff had said he’d be right out; he’d promised.  Heather grabbed her phone and got the same message.  No service.  Where in god-forsaken hell were they?  No GPS, no cell service, no gas.

Heather waited a bit longer.  Where was Geoff?  She peered out at the filthy, fractured glass of the main window.  The neon glow was the only thing she could see.  Why hadn’t a light come on?  This was crazy.

BANG!  A wicked gust of wind picked up the Last Chance sign and flung it against the storefront.  One hinge tore loose and the signboard twisted crazily.  Still no Geoff.

Heather turned and looked in all directions.  Nothing but the wind and the night.  The sign was the final straw.  She was not sitting in the car and waiting for…for who knew what demented thing to come for her.  Geoff was going to get a piece of her mind.  She gripped the car’s door handle.  A quick yank and it was open.  Heather nearly fell onto the asphalt.

God!  It reeked out here.  Spilled diesel, gas, old oil.  The wind drove dust into her cheeks and lifted her hair wildly.  Heather ran to the service station door.  It opened quietly and with a banshee howl the wind blew her in.  The door slammed shut.

Dead calm descended.  The car settled and one tire fell flat.  Dust collected on the windshield and over the gas pump, the light popped and blew out.  In the streaked window, the neon sign crackled.   A faint light smoldered behind it.  The red of neon flared a last time and died away.  Silence reigned.

A ghostly hand appeared in the window.  It unhooked and removed the OPEN sign.  A moment later the same pale hand lifted a printed placard into place.  Opening Soon, it read.

 

 

 

The Triangle Factory Fire Project

Nothing is quite as engaging as live theatre, even bad live theatre has something about it that grabs you in a way film cannot. It is immediate and real- no need for artificial 3D,1.Triangle.showcard-300x300 (1)

yet it allows  the imagination to play a part. Friday, I had the chance to see The Triangle Factory Fire Project. The story is true and horrifying. In 1911, a fire broke out on the 8th and 9th floors of The Triangle Factory in New York where immigrant and poor women laboured over sewing machines to produce shirtwaists, the latest fashion craze. They were paid a pittance and could be fired at the whim of the managers.

On March 25, 1911, 146 women died because of the fire. Some of them perished in the flames, others leaped to their deaths on the sidewalk below. They had been trapped. The elevator didn’t work, and one door to the staircases was locked. In the ensuing panic, some of the women didn’t get to the second door to escape.

 

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This picture shows how many women were crowded into a sewing floor…

The Walterdale production of the The Triangle Factory Fire Project, a play first produced off-Broadway, was professional in every way and the theatre itself  provides an intimate venue for its presentation. In act one, it introduces the facts of the fire through headlines and characters announcing them. Then the scene switches to a re-enactment of the fire which captures the chaos and terror of the 27 moments of the blaze.

Act Two features the trial of Max Blanck and Issac Harris, factory owners. It is 1911, women can’t vote, have few rights, and the jury is all male. The defense lawyer is arrogant; he sneers as he bullies and questions the female witnesses and the fire chief. Blanck and Harris are acquitted, even though they had ordered one of two doors locked so women had to leave by a single route and their purses could be searched for stolen shirtwaists.

Three years after the fire, on March 11, 1914, twenty-three individual civil suits against the owner of the Asch Building, where the Triangle Factory was located,  were settled. The average recovery was $75 per life lost. The owner received $475/per woman from insurance.

The Triangle Factory Fire Project brings this dramatic story to life. The 146 lost lives did energize the suffragette and labour movements. Women got the vote in 1920 and the tragic deaths of the Triangle women had aided in the struggle to achieve the franchise. The strengthening unions also made advances in safety guarantees for workers and helped increase their pay because of this evil and preventable tragedy.

Live theatre, whether is be community theatre or a production by a professional group gives you great value for your entertainment dollar.

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The ruins after the fire had burned itself out.

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Educated by Tara Westover

Educated is Tara Westover`s memoir of family control and ignorance and an awakening as she seeks answers and knowledge. This was a book recommended to me by a friend and neither the title or the recommendation suggested the kind of horror and abuse that Tara Westover and her family suffered.

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The Westovers are a Mormon family whose fanatic father has re-tooled the religion into his private cult. He selects snippets from the Bible or the Book of Mormon and dictates to his family how they will act and what contact with the outside world they can make. His twisted beliefs come from feelings of deep paranoia. He is sure that the government, educational institutions, and health care are in a conspiracy to harm him and his family.

In her memoir, Tara Westover, tries to patch together a childhood of fear and abuse and fierce love. Her memories are confused and like all of us, some recollections might have planted themselves as memories because other family members have recounted them so often. Nonetheless, her life story is compelling and appalling.

The rules her father makes have no logic. Dairy products are taboo, a year`s supply of food they preserve themselves, must be stockpiled so when some government Armageddon descends, they can hide in the Idaho hills and survive until the crisis passes. To this end, Tara`s father insists his wife become a midwife and healer. It makes them more self-reliant. Tara is her mother`s assistant when she isn`t helping with the family scrap business. Her father and brothers work at this except when they are trucking. The work is dangerous, hard, and performed without concern for even minimal safety standards.

Horrific injuries have to be endured and her mother struggles to provide healing. Burns, brain injuries, deep wounds seldom receive medical attention and if they do, the patient is taken home long before a proper recovery is realized.

From this chaotic, illogical environment, Tara Westover, a young woman with no formal schooling, no birth certificate, and a strange mixture of fears and beliefs, studies for and gets the marks on the ACT exam which assesses students on high school curriculum and their readiness for college. Tara is admitted to Brigham Young University of the strength of her results; she has never heard of the Holocaust, of the American Civil Rights Movement, yet somehow her hard work and quick brain make up for these omissions. She is invited to Harvard and to Cambridge in England.

Tara Westover`s story makes compelling reading. You are drawn along with the kind of urgency that a thriller or horror novel might demand. The best part of this memoir, is that there is a resolution of sorts and that against all odds, Tara has prevailed.